All posts by Isaac Sweeney


What Goes Into an ‘Honors’ Program?

I’ll be the adviser in Richard Bland College’s pilot honors program in the fall, and there’s been some discussion among friends and colleagues about what an honors program should be. Richard Bland is affiliated with the College of William & Mary, and we’ve been around for 50 years, but we’re not very well known. I live in Mechanicsville, Va., about 40 minutes away from the campus. When I tell people I work at Richard Bland College, they typically look confused or they politely nod. I then take i…


A Father’s Sad Truth

On June 24, Nora Lynn Sweeney was born. She is my second child; I also have a 4-year-old son, Gavin. As with most parents, I have changed my perspective of the world since having children. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about money (probably because I have an expensive infant in the house), and, as I get older, I realize more and more just how important and necessary money is.

I remember that, when I was a kid, my family, friends, teachers, and other role models told me countless times that mon…


Summer Work

I’m the adviser for Richard Bland College’s pilot honors program beginning in the fall. For this, I will receive some release time in the fall. The problem is, I need to plan for the program now, before my contract starts in August. I’ve been talking with the administration about getting some money to do that planning, and it’s still up in the air if I will get any or not, but I wanted to pose the question here, from a young tenure-track faculty member (that’s me): How much should I work in the …


I Decided to Self-Publish

I recently wrote about an unusual manuscript I was shopping around. The manuscript doesn’t “fit the mold,” as they say, so I’ve decided not to waste any more time sending it out and waiting for rejections; I’ve self-published it.

I’ve self-published some other things, but this one feels different. Those were mostly short stories that I put out into the world as little e-books. This one is book-length, though short by publishing-house standards. It’s also maybe a little more important to me becau…


A Grading Contract

I want to try contract grading, probably in the fall. My hope is that this approach will make students feel more responsible for their own grades instead of merely hoping that I “give” them good grades. This contract is based on a few sources, most notably Remixing College English and Hastac.

Here’s a rough draft of the contract for ENG 101: Writing and Research. Of course, I welcome any feedback:

Your individual performance will be evaluated by me and/or by your peers at various times during th…


Why I’m a Bad Student

As I’ve written, I had registered to take a MOOC through Coursera. Turns out, I’m a bad student. First I got behind, then I just stopped doing anything for the class. Much has been written about MOOCs lately, but I just want to lay out a short list of reasons why I did poorly or, more accurately, why I did mostly nothing for an English Composition I MOOC.

Most U.S. citizens have some sort of high-speed Internet, but more than a hundred million still do not. I don’t have it at home. Wh…


The Spider-Man Principle

During the semester, I have my students do a lot of low-stakes writing, and I was thinking the other day about something a student wrote this spring. This student is interested in being a teacher, and he wrote about how some teachers don’t maintain enough control over their classrooms and therefore lose students’ respect. This writing assignment came not long after an intense class discussion that went from heated opinions about a current event to heated student-to-student personal attacks. The …


Remaining Relevant

I’d like to tell readers about a couple of cool things Richard Bland College is doing. This is partly because I love my institution and I want it to be a successful place, but it’s also because I think these programs are innovative and might help put Richard Bland College of the College of William & Mary on the proverbial map.

The first program is called the Language Institute. This is a partnership with Main Street Virtual Learning, and it uses an online platform that looks like one of the best…


Should I Consider Self-Publishing?

I have a manuscript. It’s a memoir of sorts, chronicling my path from the newsroom, to the classroom as an adjunct, to getting fired, to unemployment, to a tenure-track job. My purpose is multifold: to encourage college administrators to look to the adjunct pool first when hiring, to help adjunct faculty members realize that there can be life in academe beyond contingency, and to present an entertaining tale of an underdog.

But there’s a problem with the manuscript. It’s short. Not incomplete, j…


Should Class Be Harder?

Students think I’m an “easy” teacher. For a quick and not-so-credible example, I have a 4.5 out of 5 “easiness” rating on RateMyProfessors. I also catch bits and pieces from the rumor mill. My classes fill up quickly, in part because students have heard that class is “easy.” While this still does get to me a little, it’s beginning to bother me less.

Hearing students say my class is easy used to really bother me. I thought that I wasn’t challenging them enough. I thought that I was too lenient. I…