Miann Wilson was a student in my Fall 2014 First-Year Seminar course.

Miann Wilson was a student in my Fall 2014 First-Year Seminar course.

In addition to my ongoing writing assignments, I am an adjunct professor in the Journalism and First-Year Seminar departments at Columbia College Chicago. I have taught half a dozen or so different courses over the past two decades. Each one took a couple of semesters before I felt at ease with the material and its presentation. Here I share some of the lessons I’ve learned that may smooth your own teaching semester. And, please share your advice as well!

* First-day introductions. Yes, it’s hokey, but do it anyway. I used to skip this exercise in the mistaken belief that they all knew each other, but they don’t. Commuter students in particular have a difficult time making campus connections.

If you simply tell students to introduce themselves, they will rotely give their names, hometowns and majors. Period. Ask them to share the best day of their lives or to reveal something surprising about themselves. I often ask my First-Year Seminar students whether rabbits should be allowed to vote.

(The question is not totally bizarre: Later in the semester, we discuss the rights and responsibilities of humans versus non-humans, and, ultimately, in the Mary Shelley novel “Frankenstein,” who is guilty of the crimes–the creature or his creator?)

* Repeat, repeat, repeat. When I was a younger teacher, I thought saying something once was sufficient. It isn’t. I repeat assignments, summarize lectures, review student work in the classroom for good and bad examples (anonymously, of course). I comb celebrity and trending news to reiterate a point or concept. Sometimes I feel as though I am driving myself to catatonia, but I also get better papers and fewer missed deadlines.

* Plan for syllabus mishaps. No matter how hard you prepare or how much confirmation you do, on some days plans go awry. Maybe your speaker cancels at the last minute. Maybe the DVD you intended to show won’t play. Always have an extra lesson plan or activity ready (handouts photocopied, presentation loaded onto a flash drive, a local field trip figured out, etc.) just in case. You will thank me for this one.

* Relax. It’s scary to face new students at the beginning of the semester. Remember, they are afraid of you as well. They also trust you. You are their expert. It’s okay if you show them nine ways to properly use a comma but forget the tenth one. They’ll figure it out, or they won’t need it to live satisfactory lives. And after a few class sessions, you’ll be able to tell apart Kristin, Christy and Chrissi.

* You are not entertaining. Year ago, before I came to Columbia, I had a story assignment to interview graduate students about their teaching experiences. One of them said: “From the deadpan faces in my classroom, I learned that I am not nearly as funny as I think I am.” You aren’t, either. But the students can be funnier than you ever imagined. Enjoy the laughs.







July 19, 2013—Fashion consultant Jackie Walker and fashion writer Pamela Dittmer McKuen are on a mission to help young girls ditch their fashion doubts, love what they wear and accept who they are. In their new book, EXPRESSIONISTA: HOW TO EXPRESS YOUR TRUE SELF THROUGH (AND DESPITE) FASHION (Beyond Words/Aladdin; September 3, 2013; $16.99), Walker and McKuen incorporate self-help techniques into the ever-present dilemma of fashion, giving girls the inspiration to embrace their style and express their authenticity.

Through fun quizzes, insider tips and relatable case studies, the authors help girls, ages 8-12, how to:

  • Dress for her body type
  • Develop confidence in her fashion choices
  • Track fashion trends
  • Shop on a budget
  • Organize her fashionable closet

 EXPRESSIONISTA teaches readers to approach fashion without fear, with the support from tween-favorite superstars:

“It’s all about finding your own beauty, not wishing you looked like someone else.”—Zooey Deschanel

“Today is another day for your inner goddess to step out and shine.”—Jennifer Lopez


About the Authors

Jackie Walker is a longtime fashion consultant and coauthor of I Don’t Have a Thing To Wear, which helps women develop a healthy relationship with their clothes. Coined the “Dr. of Closetology”, she has spoken to groups such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Nordstrom.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen is a full-time feature writer specializing in homes, design, fashion, travel and architecture. She writes for myriad publications including the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Life, a magazine that appears in regional editions of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.



How to Express Your True Self Through (and Despite) Fashion

By Jackie Walker and Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Beyond Words/Aladdin

September 3, 2013


HC ISBN: 978-1-58270-429-6

PB ISBN: 978-1-58270-248-9

Expressionista authors Jackie Walker and Pamela Dittmer McKuen at a Mother-Daughter Breakfast and Book-Signing, Little Traveler in Geneva, Illinois

Expressionista authors Jackie Walker and Pamela Dittmer McKuen at a Mother-Daughter Breakfast and Book-Signing, Little Traveler in Geneva, Illinois