Hybrid teaching started on Monday, October 19, 2020, and now there are three reported cases of COVID in three different schools in my school district. I am concerned about my safety and the safety of my colleagues, some are approaching retirement age or grappling with underlying medical conditions. As my anxiety rises, I am trying to stay positive. In March 2020, my school district transitioned to a full remote learning during the third marking period, then we shifted to an A/B Schedule for the fourth marking period. During the summer, I along with my other colleagues, anticipated a continuation of remote learning for Fall 2020, then in August, the Superintendent decided to switch to a Hybrid Schedule, then by the end of August, he decided to continue with remote learning until October 19 with a MTRF Schedule and the a Wednesday all-remote schedule. Within a seven-month period, I had to adjust to six schedules. I am sure that my colleagues are feeling the same anxiety that I am feeling and trying to find ways to cope with this anxiety.
I do not want to take medication nor do I have time to commit to talk-therapy. Therefore, I find writing my weekly blog therapeutic in that I am able to express my uncertainty of the future. Since I am a planner, I feel helpless and uncomfortable with uncertainty, especially when spontaneity has never been my friend. My students ask, “Ms. Pham, will they make us go back during the second marking period?” I recognize the anxiety in their voices.
“No worries, they will let you decide if you want to remain remote or if you want to go back to school. You will have a choice.” I try to reassure them. I try to remain strong and positive around my students. I try to hide my own apprehension.
When I returned to school, I visited the copier room. God, I missed the feel and smell of paper. I went crazy and made copies of class rosters. I miss pens, white composition paper, paperbacks. I am struggling to read and teach from a PDF on Kami. Reading from a PDf is a very different experience from reading a book. To my dismay, my students prefer to read online. Even before COVID, a majority of my students did not want hard copies of novels. They preferred reading e-books. I am afraid that books will slowly disappear from my school. The library, once filled with books, is now the media center. At our English Department meeting, the Supervisor announced that we do not have a budget for new paperbacks. Will the district allocate money for books after the pandemic? Teaching English without paper, pens, and books. It is indeed a brave new world.
I shudder at the thought of a paperless English class, then I start printing out my 25-page research proposal. With great pleasure, I watch the machine churn out sheets of paper. I smile at the stack of paper. Oh, how I missed the copier room. Now, I am in the process of crossing out sources on my Works Cited and revising my Introduction by hand and not by machine.
Last week I appreciated the writing conference with Dr. Zamora. I appreciated her advice to write without fear. Write freely.
Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on.
Pandemic life has given me more precious time. As a working mom with three active teenagers, I spent my days at work; then after I work, I spend my evenings ferrying my children to games, activities, and friends’ homes. I also spent a lot of time on preparing meals: purchasing groceries from three different stores (Costco for fruit and bulk items like paper towels), Wegman’s for meat and vegetables, and Hmart for my Asian vegetables since as Gai Lan and Ong Choy; trying to cook like the great chefs I see on the Food Network like Pioneer Woman; and cleaning up the mess afterwards. By the end of the day, I was too tired to think, read, or write. I was living my life on cruise control.
Now, I have more time. I do not have to play chauffeur. I allow myself to use grocery pick-up at Whole Foods. I allow myself to purchase the pre-cut, pre-peeled, pre-washed vegetables at Wegmans. I came to the realization that I can not always make elaborate homemade meals. Growing up, I remember coming home from school, the smell of jasmine rice greeted me. As I walked down the hallway to my bedroom, I would pass the kitchen and see a delicious pot of pho simmering on the stovetop. On a random Thursday, my dad made my favorite meal of lobster with scallions. I came to the realization that I can live up to the standard that my father set since he was a great cook, and I am not a great cook. I do not feel guilty when I warm up frozen crab cakes and fish sticks in the oven for my children’s evening feast.
I have learned to give myself a break. Also, my father was a clean and neat freak. He kept a spotless house where my brother and I mopped the kitchen floor everyday after dinner. In comparison to my father, I have also ‘failed’ in the cleaning department. What would my father say if he saw dirt on my kitchen floor? During the pandemic, I have learned to enjoy cleaning. I must say that my house is cleaner now than before the pandemic. I have more time now to vacuum and to disinfect the bathrooms several times a week. I also have time to mow, fertilize, and overseed my lawn! My summer garden is in hiatus, so I have shifted my focus to yard work. I am enjoying manual labor and the fruits of my labor.
“Where have you been this past 20 years?” my husband asked.
He’s right. He was the one doing all the yard work. I was the one doing all the laundry. It was a division of labor. Now, Home Depot is one of my favorite stores.
While I toiling the land, I am thinking about my Master’s Thesis. I am thinking about how I have evolved as a writer and as a teacher. Before pursuing my Master’s Thesis, I was in a methodological rut in that I was teaching the same courses, the same curriculum, the same novels for 15 years. When I entered this Master’s program, I was searching for something that was unbeknownst to me. Yes, I wanted a MA degree, but I wanted more. I had taken several classes at another university but I did not want to pursue a degree in English literature. I wanted more writing. I wanted to write. I wanted to be creative. I wanted to write more, to think, and to save myself.
A year later into my graduate studies, I have evolved as an educator and as a writer with the help of my professor Dr. Zamora. She is one of the best professors I ever had. I am glad that I found her. She has given the opportunity to blog my ideas, which I find so therapeutic in that I unearth hidden parts of my past. I am like Professor Dumbledore collecting pieces of my memories and writing them down. At times, I have thoughts swirling in my head, and by writing them down, I am able to release my thoughts just like a balloon waiting to burst. By the time I am finished writing, I have some form of clarity and direction. I am the type of the writer who needs to know what I want to say before I start writing.
However, freewriting is very different from revising and editing. Freewriting allows me to be more expressive, while revising is more strenuous in that I rethinking my purpose, the organizational structure of my research proposal, and omitting irrelevant articles from my Bibliography. I find it challenging to whittle down my Bibliography to three sources on my Works Cited, as required by the English Journal.
Revising is more laborious than freewriting; and a grammar checker no matter how good the algorithm cannot help a writing with writing style. In one my case studies, Auto Crit, claims to be an online mentor and editor for writers.
I signed up for a free version, and it provides me with a Summary Report with sentence analysis, grammar, readability, word choice, so forth. It did not offer any specific suggestions for improving my writing style nor did it highlight any grammatical errors. I did not find the Summary Report too helpful for myself nor for my students.
In my article, I want to provide case studies of various online grammar checkers to teachers and students who are interested in editing their writing.
Will I find a better online editor than Grammarly?
Readers, I am moving into uncharted waters. I have never really thought about my revision process as I am doing now for my MA thesis. I may have thought about the citation style for a couple of weeks and even attended an APA workshop to later discover that I am going to use MLA. Deciding on the citation style earlier on will obviate late-minute revisions with my parenthetical citations. I was able to make this decision after researching the requirements for submissions of the English Journal website in that the editors want
Embarking on my Journey
“Use the current MLA style for any in-text documentation and for your Works Cited page.” Actually, the “Checklist for Authors Preparing an Article Manuscript” is a gem of a find since it gave me guidelines for submitting my article for publication. Yes, I want to submit my MA thesis for publication. No, I do not want to sit on a proverbial shelf.
“Use MLA citations…”
After perusing the NCTE website, it dawned on me that the editors will require me to do more revisions and more edits. I have been revising this MA thesis since March 2020 and will need to continue to revise it until 2021! I have revised essays for papers beforehand but not to this extent where I am revising for at least one year. At this point in my educational career, I can empathize with William Zinsser when he asks, “Do you know what it means to revise?” Up to this point, I would have to day, No. I also appreciate E.B. White’s advice when he exhorts, “Find a suitable design and stick to it.” In my journey, I found a “suitable design” and “will stick to it.” If my manuscript is rejected, then I would need to change my design.
I need to improve my writing style.
Based on the English Journal’s Checklist it appears that I have a lot of work to do, so I am going to begin my Herculean task of revising this research proposal.
Revising is hard work. Therefore, I admire Kate’s tenacity for writing and revising 30 chapters of her book while teaching full time and preparing for her first child. She has an important story to share with the world, and by writing her story, it will heal her; and by writing and sharing our collective experiences, it will heal us. What is underneath these passion projects is a story of pain and of catharsis. For some of us, we are unearthing layers of suppressed secrets from our past and trying to learn, share, heal, and grow from these experiences. For me, writing gives me time to reflect. In my attempt to cross everything off on my To-Do List: 1.) preparing to teach my five classes remotely; 2.) assessing my students’ work (I am grateful that I have only 92 students this year); shopping, prepping, and cooking meals for my three children who are also learning remotely; working on my passion project; and trying to take care of myself. At times, I feel as though I am rock, which reminds me of the “I am a Rock” by Simon and Garfunkel.
I AM A ROCK
A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December
I am alone
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow
I am a rock
I am an island
I’ve built walls
A fortress deep and mighty
That none may penetrate
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain
I am a rock
I am an island
Don’t talk of love
But I’ve heard the word before
It’s sleeping in my memory
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died
If I never loved I never would have cried
I am a rock
In terms of my story and my contribution, I was a good student in school but never thought I was a good writer. I have always considered myself more of a reader than a writer. During my MA journey, I reflected on the source of my insecurities as a writer as I read about writing theories. Was it the red pen? Did I have memories of the teachers’ red pen? Was I more focused on the number of errors that they were able to find even after my attempts to revise and edit my writing? Was there a lack of positive comments on my papers or was it because I focused more on the corrections rather than the comments? Were the teachers more concerned about grading my paper rather than building my confidence as a budding writer? And, as a writing teacher, how would I use my experience with writing instruction to help my students and other students? I want my students to experience writing success and to build their confidence as writers. I want my students to enjoy writing and view themselves as good writers. I do not want to simply grade an essay and return it to them. It leaves an indelible mark, which remains with me now. The irony here is that I am pursuing a Master’s in Writing but do not feel confident as a writer?
In my passion project, I offer a tool for empowerment, an online grammar checker, that will at least check the students’ grammar. Growing up in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, I did not have online grammar checkers. I had to rely on myself to revise and edit my writing. Peer review was not used in my English classes, so I had to revise and edit my own writing. For important assignments, I would ask my best friend Robyn who was a confident writer and editor to help me revise and edit my papers. Later on in life, Robyn went on to be an Managing Editor for Black Enterprise magazine. Interestingly, Robyn and I both went product of the same school system and went to the same college and graduated with the same major, English. One difference is that Robyn’s parents were highly educated with PhDs; whereas, my parents were political refugees from Vietnam. My mother attended community college in the United States, and my father graduated from high school in Vietnam. Robyn grew up in a household filled with English, while I grew up in a household filled with Cantonese, Vietnamese, and broken English.
I revised and edited my essays and still had pesky errors. Since I did not get help from older siblings nor my parents, I had to rely on my limited revising and editing skills, which was not formally taught to me in secondary school. By using a Writer’s Checklist and by reading, I had to self-teach myself how to revise and edit. Now, as a writing teacher, I schedule peer review sessions for my students and allow them to revise their essays once they receive my feedback. The opportunity to revise for a better grade is always on the table, which helps the student focus on growth rather than just the grade. I also recommend that they use Grammarly Basic to help them with capitalization, punctuation, and spelling. It gives them confidence.
Recently, an ESL student volunteered to present his Unit I Vocabulary Slides. I was surprised that he volunteered to go first, but he responded confidently, “I used Grammarly to check my sentences.”
After class, I am planning to attend my former student’s viewing. She was only seventeen years old. I was informed via email that her death was “sudden and tragic” over the weekend of September 19-20, 2020.
I remember Alicia (*name was changed*) sitting in my 10-2 English class. She had beautiful curly brown hair, big brown eyes, and porcelain skin. She was very bright and did not belong in a 10-2 class, but she appeared distracted and perhaps bored with a slow-paced Level II class. By the end of the year, I recommended moving her up to a Level I, college prep class.
“I may look like a tomboy, but I love make-up,” Alicia told me.
When I had experimented with a Laura Mercier purple eyeshadow, Alicia noticed and complimented me on my new look. When I had a new black eyeliner or bright red lipstick on, Alicia noticed. She was a normal teenager who liked make-up, Sephora, boys, her friends, and video games. In the hallway, I would see her smiling and laughing with her boyfriend, Craig (*name changed*), who was also one of my former students. She looked happy, and I was happy that she found happiness.
Alicia was only 17, and her entire life ahead of her. There were no warning signs in 10th grade. Something must have happened between junior and senior years. I cannot get her out of my head. I see her face and reread her past assignments that were saved in my Google Drive. This is the first time in my teaching career that I am attending a former student’s viewing.
I feel distracted, sad, and helpless. I look at my own three children who appear to be doing well with pandemic life. I am sure that Alicia’s parents thought that she was doing well, too.
Before news of Alicia’s death, I felt recharged after the Purple-haired Librarian Craig Anderson’s presentation on Graduate Student Intro to Digital Library Resources Webinar. I have researched online grammar checkers on Google Scholar and wanted to research more information on WorldCat. In terms of my Annotated Bibliography, I have compiled a list of 17 sources and would like to see if there are further sources on online grammar checkers. It is reassuring to know that I can reach out to Craig and his staff for research assistance. I also attended an APA Workshop that was offered by the Kean Writing Center, and it was very informative. As an English teacher, I am more familiar with MLA rather than APA; so, a refresher was much appreciated, especially when I am using APA for my Master’s Thesis. I also signed up for Cite it Right: Endpoint Workshop since I am unfamiliar with this particular software program. As recommended by Dr. Nelson, I am currently using Zotero and find it quite user-friendly.
Currently, I am in the process of revising my Annotated Bibliography.
An Act of Rebellion and A Tool of Empowerment:
Compiled by Linda Pham
21 September 2020
A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated-Thomas Groenewald, 2004. (n.d.). Retrieved
-Provides background on the founders of Grammarly, Max Lytvyn and Alex Shevchenko,
who want people to write well. The writer Harry McKraken who writes for a living uses
Grammarly to help him find errors.
Moré, J. (2006). A grammar checker based on web searching. Digithum, 8, 1–5.
Naber, D. (2003). A rule-based style and grammar checker. Citeseer.
On Students’ Rights to Their Own Texts: A Model of Teacher Response on JSTOR. (n.d.).
Retrieved May 11, 2020, from
-Claims that teachers should treat students’ writing with respect. The teacher should return control of writing to the students by adopting the mindset of helping the student improve as a writing and not comparing the students’ writing to an Ideal text.
Pitard, J. (2015). Using Vignettes Within Autoethnography to Explore Layers of Cross-Cultural
-Uses vignettes (or anecdotes) to serve as a “window” into a different culture. She distinguishes autoethnographies from short stories by connecting the self to the larger cultural text, and the self to the larger social context.
Potter, R., & Fuller, D. (2008). My New Teaching Partner? Using the Grammar Checker in
Writing Instruction. The English Journal, 98(1), 36–41. JSTOR.
-A seventh-grade teacher, Reva Potter, describes her positive experience of teaching
online grammar checker. She concludes by saying that she can teach technology
and writing simultaneously.
Semke, H. D. (1984). Effects of the Red Pen. Foreign Language Annals, 17(3), 195–202.
At the 2020 Writer’s Retreat, I listened to moving creative passion projects and learned that my master’s thesis does not necessarily have to be a traditional research paper; rather, it is a passion project and can be a work of fiction. That new information gave me pause.
During my 2019 Summer Writing Workshop with Professor Keifer, I started a children’s book about Vietnamese refugees titled BoatChildren and thought about writing a memoir. I started it, but then abandoned the idea. I found myself returning to my research proposal that I wrote for Dr. Nelson’s class.
Since I haven’t written a research proposal before, I found the task of writing a 25-page research paper along with an annotated bibliography intellectually challenging; even during COVID-19 and remote learning, Dr. Nelson refused to lower his academic standards. Trust me, we tried. We asked if he would omit the Annotated Bibliography. He gave us extra time, but we still had to produce a substantive research proposal with an annotated bibliography.
In retrospect, the last part of Spring 2020 pushed me to my intellectually limit. During the day, I taught myself remote teaching; at night, I was toiling away on my research proposal. By the middle of May, I was proud to produce a well-researched proposal on online grammar checkers. I learned how to create a bibliography using Zotero, research articles using Google Scholar, and write a literature review. I survived hours of IRB Training. I felt like a scholar!
I still have more work to do on my research proposal and look forward to revising my introduction, conducting more research on online grammar checkers, and developing my ideas.
Most importantly, I firmly believe that this research will help my students.
For years, I was never caught. I typed my parent’s divorce parents; I filed their citizenship papers; I wrote affidavits. They did not realize that a 12-year old girl was completing all the legal paperwork. One sure giveaway was the baby-blue font color. In seventh-grade, my favorite color was baby blue, and I was thrilled that my parents had purchased a color printer with baby blue ink.
Unbeknownst to the clerks at the Atlantic County Court House, a seventh-grader completed all legal documents for her parents along with their friends who were also Vietnamese political refugees. My ‘clients’ came bearing homemade Vietnamese spring rolls with plump shrimp, papaya salad with roasted peanuts and doused with fish sauce, boxes of red and gold mangoes.
Now, as an adult, it amazes me that these families entrusted me with their legal lives. I did not graduate from college. I did not graduate from high school. I was still in middle school.
I was a good student, so I approached these cases as homework assignments and projects. I completed all the paperwork with care. At times, I accompanied my father’s countrymen to court. The Judge asked if I was legal counsel. Me, legal counsel? No, I said.
I am an advocate. At a formative age, I was an advocate for immigrants. As a teacher, I am an advocate for children. I have been in education for my entire life and have been teaching for over 15 years. I love my students, and I love English. However, it is time for me to take a path less traveled.
I came to this epiphany as I wrote my blogs in my graduate classes and during the writing retreats. In class, I was surrounded by classmates emboldened to follow their dreams and was inspired me to pursue my dream of going to law school and perhaps becoming a lawyer for a nonprofit or a judge or a politician. I hear horror stories of law school and lawyers. However, I hold Langston Hughes’ poem close to my heart. I reread when I am gripped by the fear of failure. I quietly remind myself,
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Pursuing this Master’s degree provided me with the time to think, write, research, and follow my dream, interrupted by raising children and by paying the bills.
As for my Master’s Thesis, I will continue to develop my research proposal on Online Grammar Checkers: An Act of Rebellion and Empowerment. During the Writer’s Retreat, I gained some valuable feedback on my thesis. I look forward to learning more about thesis writing.