Vincent Walsh has been a friend for many years. It was evident when I first met him that he was talented and a person of deep compassion, with real promise. We have stayed in close contact since, and my impressions have only been confirmed and strengthened. Vincent’s achievements while teaching at Lehigh University have been quite significant. He became deeply immersed in quite perceptive and original scholarly work there, on American literature in the late 19th and early 20th centuries primarily, along with counterparts in colonized societies, with quite sensitive analysis of the interactions and mutual interpretations.
Edward P. Morgan
I got to know Vincent Walsh through my interaction with his introductory Peace Studies class which he last taught at Lehigh University in spring 2012 to approximately 80 students, while working on his doctorate. I sat in on the class, and also reviewed many of the lengthy student evaluations he received. I am also aware that Vincent’s teaching in Lehigh’s introductory writing class used a similar method like the one I observed in the Peace Studies class – with great success. Vincent is a very gifted and motivating teacher.
It is my pleasure to write on behalf of Dr. Vincent Walsh, who I have known for the past eight years. I first met Dr. Walsh in the summer of 2007 when I took a Praxis II English preparation course, which he instructed. Immediately upon leaving his class at nine o’clock in the evening, I would feel inclined to start working on the tasks he had assigned for our next meeting. This was something I had NEVER done before, as I had always required some initial “down time.” Because of his roundtable-style of teaching, Dr. Walsh was able to make the course content come alive in such a way that his students felt inspired to inquire and argue their viewpoints freely, applying their newly-acquired insights to real-life, in a safe, welcoming, supportive learning environment.
In my education before college I have always dreaded my English classes. English was challenging for me because unlike classes such as math or science, there was no definite answer or formula in writing an essay. From that I would always be afraid to write because I would feel that maybe my ideas or grammar would always be wrong. I didn’t hate English but it was my least favorite class to go to. I never really like most of my English teachers in high school because I would have a hard time getting help from them. If I ever went for help, they would make a few corrections and have me try to edit my own work. On top of that I would have to write essays that were about topics that I had no motivation write about or discuss. Therefore, I felt like a slave writing about topics that my teacher liked and wanted us to talk about.
Walking into the first day of my last semester of Freshman English I was ready for just one thing. Like every other engineering student who is forced to suffer the year of mandatory English classes, there was nothing I desired more, than for my career in English to be over. Looking around at the twenty-or-so other young people who had scattered themselves around the room, I thought, “There is maybe one person in this classroom who wants to be here. There is maybe that lone journalism major mixed in here with the rest of us.” With a required full year for all students, engineering and business majors included, Lehigh makes it clear that it places a strong emphasis on English. Yet after experiencing a full semester of what college English had to offer, I found myself shaking my head and asking the question…Why?
Dr. Vincent Walsh brings a unique style of teaching to the classroom, encouraging students to openly express their individuality, but emphasizing collective collaboration to improve reading, writing, and analytic skills. Since taking his course in Literature and Composition, my knowledge and understanding of literature and how it relates to humanity is broader and deeper than I could have ever imagined. I am now more confident in my ability to interpret, analyze, and respond to literature through my own writing. The class time was enjoyable as well as informative. I was absolutely thrilled to attend every class and I feel as though I’ve learned more during his classes than I have in most of my other college classes.
If there were only more Walshes around campus, students would be much more engaged, energized and excited about their work. Instead of pumping out ten pages of bullshit to make the quota for a paper, I have the ability to think out my ideas and analyze them thoroughly. Your class is not about quantity, it is about quality and I think that’s one of the best things about it. When you have so much work you forget about what you’re learning; you are only focused on completing it just to complete it. This is what I find erroneous about some of my other classes. When you have so many things to study, read, and write about you cannot enjoy your work and take pride in what you are doing. We are here at Lehigh to learn and be engaged in what we are studying because this is it; the next step is into adult life. If students are always rushing through problems, readings, and such, they are never going to find out what they are really interested in.
This is what your class has taught me how to do. It has taught me how to express, rhyme and write from the heart. It has given me the confidence to express my ideas and thoughts through text, which has always been a struggle. You have told us that others have been skeptical of your teaching methods, but I really have to question why? I ask myself why, one because your class has been one of the only classes I actually look foreword to going to and go even when not mandatory. Two because your teaching style of English has been the only one that I feel has made me become a better writer.
English is a language that is composed of hundreds of thousands of words, with new words constantly being created. This language gives us the option to express ourselves in countless ways. It is safe to say that the majority of English speakers do not struggle choosing words to express themselves in writing. Rather, they have difficulty following all the countless grammar rules; some of them are petty rules that no one follows except for grammar freaks. What’s more confusing is that people have their own methods of following the rules. For example, my freshman year English teacher had a love for commas. Every time I received my graded papers, they would be full of red commas added in random places. Now, she wasn’t wrong in adding some of the commas, but her overuse of commas could not be justified.
As the semester winds down and my time as a member of Walsh’s Fam Jam comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on how the Jam has helped me as a person. Coming to Lehigh for the first time, I had no idea what to expect from “Composition and Literature I.” I received a score on my AP English Literature & Composition exam that would have allowed me to take the credit and place out of Walsh’s class. However, something in my head told me not to. I wondered if college writing would be completely different from high school writing, if “English 001” would have a serious effect on my abilities as a writer. Now, after completing my semester in “Composition and Literature I,” or “The Fam Jam” with Walsh, I realize that that decision was one of the best I’ve ever made. Becoming a member of Walsh’s Jam has transformed my writing, my personality, and my confidence in myself.
High school English was so full of classic literature and essays on metaphors that the purpose of writing was completely taken away from me. I have always struggled linguistically, both from having a lisp and being dyslexic. High school made me despise reading and writing because it was always a struggle and nothing seemed the least bit interesting. The literature was to be interpreted eye-to-eye with my teacher, and one’s grade would suffer if conformity were not met. I was expecting something similar in college, but at a higher level of difficulty. However, what I discovered was something beyond just an English 001 class.
I failed grammar in sixth grade, which might explain a lot about my writing. From then on I accepted my shortcomings and did what I could just to get by. I would dread English classes in high school because teachers expected an academic form of writing from all the students, a form of writing I struggled with. I was never a strong writer and lacked a lot of motivation to better my grades and style. I am a bullet point writer, and I would do it now if it were acceptable. I couldn’t focus my thoughts into one piece. While writing papers things would distract me, then when I would return to writing I would have already lost my train of thought. I would also change my “claim” halfway through an argument.
In a classroom on the bottom floor of Drown Hall, a group of 20 first-year students sit quietly in a cluster of desks arranged in a circle. It is their first day of Lehigh classes, and they are waiting anxiously for their English professor to arrive.
Suddenly, a tall man wearing a rugged leather jacket, casual flannel shirt and washed out jeans bursts into the room. Grinning from ear to ear, he sits on the edge of a desk within the circle and introduces himself as Vincent Walsh, but then adds he prefers to be called, simply, Walsh; “You can drop the Professor, it takes too long to say.” He then tells the class that he has developed a unique style of teaching English that he calls the Fam Jam.
Ever since 6th grade, I had not enjoyed English class. It was always my least favorite part of the day and I dreaded going. I felt it burdensome to be forced to write an essay on a topic I had no interest in. Teachers would tell me to analyze the protagonists in a book I had no desire to read. Therefore, I lacked the understanding needed to write a good essay on the book. The books they assigned ranged from boring to boring. After reading Shakespeare for the 8th time in high school, I felt like he was one of my closest friends.
I had been assigned promptless papers in the past but this was a little different. The looming thought of reading my writing in front of the class frightened me. I had never spoken with these people before; I had no idea how smart or up-to-date in the world they were. At the end of a long night of starting and scraping papers, I crumbled under the pressure and resorted to what I was used to, I wrote my first paper on the book I was reading. It wasn’t a particularly interesting paper and I didn’t have much fun writing it. It was some early hour in the morning, the day after it was supposed to be submitted, and I buckled down to crank out a paper. I read it aloud in class slightly embarrassed at how docile and plain it sounded.
Throughout high school I barely made it through English class. I saw those sixty minutes everyday as time to power nap. I was able to pass with high B’s because of Sparknotes; without Sparknotes I do not know if my grade would have been as high as it was. However, there was one problem with sleeping during English: when it was time to take the tests on the books we had “read” in class, I and many other kids were in trouble. I have no problem with reading; I have a problem with reading a book that is being forced down my throat. My high school was filled with many books that we as high school students could not relate to, nor quite understand. So when the test or the essay question came up about the meaning of the book, it was very difficult to answer.
Hi, I’m Ozzie Alam and I am 11 years-old. I have been studying with Vincent for almost a year now. Already Vincent has made a significant change in my writing and reading skills. Like most children, I was reading books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and now almost a year later I am reading books from A Farewell to Arms to The Great Deluge. Books that are very shallow like Percy Jackson books, The Hunger Games, and Divergent will not push kids to infer and use critical thinking, and they are very easy to read. Books that Vincent gives me to read really go deeper than just the words on the pages. They make you think, how did this happen, why is it important, and who did it affect? Vincent will have your child write an essay to explain what he/she learned or thought about every week. This will push your child to excel in writing. He/she will look beyond the school curriculum. Vincent will have the right book for your child no matter what interests them. I have written so many essays for him and he keeps guiding me step by step to better writing.
One of the hardest parts of any class is being given work that both you and the teacher know is useless and will be immediately forgotten after it’s handed in. Assignments that seem to serve no purpose negatively influence the way that students view writing, as well as detracting from doing good quality work in general. When I am given a paper with a black and white assignment that has to be a certain number of pages, using a certain number of sources, and due on an exact date — with no exceptions — any previous excitement I might have felt regarding the assignment quickly slips away.
Professor Vincent Walsh is one of the most trustworthy and honest people I know. He is not afraid to tell you how events and actions appear to him, and that is what I like the most about him. I am a personal fan of bluntness, and that is Walsh’s most outstanding feature. Despite this, he does not state his opinions in a manner that demeans the students. His opinions are just that, opinions; merely advice or another view on an issue that we, the students, may not have realized before. In addition, he does not place himself above the class. Rather, he equalizes himself with us in that he sits in the circle just like us, talks to us with the respect we deserve, and discards all titles such as “professor.” He does not ridicule or preach to us. We are adults, and are capable of making our own decisions. Walsh is one of the few teachers I’ve had who realizes this. Another thing he does that no other teacher did before is hand our papers back to us promptly.
It has always been my understanding that college brings a lot of new experiences. Yet when I arrived at Lehigh in August I found that everything was just as I had expected it to be; and my new life fit the typical college mold. I was meeting new people, practicing, and becoming acclimated to my new environment. It was not until the first week of classes that I found that one aspect of Lehigh was going to be much different than anything I could have ever predicted.
I wake up Thursday morning to the buzzing sound of my alarm clock. It is nine o’clock and my English 1 class starts in twenty minutes. I haven’t touched the book that we were supposed to have read for class today, and I am looking forward to my hour long nap in class. When I get to class I sit down at my desk and bullshit the reading quiz I see in front of me. After the quiz I lean my head back and close my eyes while I listen to my teacher try and lead a discussion about some book that half the class didn’t read and the other half the class hated. This was the way that my Tuesday and Thursday mornings started all of first semester.
Aside from a select few, writing is almost never anyone’s strong point when it comes to academics. Everyone is capable of having great ideas, but organizing them is extremely difficult, especially when it is in the format of written words on a page. That is what is so difficult about writing. On top of format, there is also grammar. Nobody likes grammar because it is this odd, totally confusing set of rules that defines how we can talk or write; while learning grammar in school, I had multiple teachers say: “I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s just the way it is,” or “I know it seems like a drunk person created these rules, but that’s the English language for you!” This just proves no one can ever really master the rules of grammar. So then how does one learn to write? Just keep writing! Like any sport I’ve ever tried to play, you have to practice in order to get better; the more you practice, the better you get. That’s exactly what the famjam is about. Writing essays every weekend, although sometimes a bit stressful, allows one to improve on their writing skills. I have now written fourteen essays this semester—it’s all about practice! Every weekend this semester I had to think of a topic, form an argument, and format my thoughts to write another paper. If I am doing something so frequently, obviously I will get better at it. I definitely have improved as a writer; I have not just become better at clearly expressing my ideas, but also with my use of grammar.
Coming into college, there was an array of classes for me to choose from. I had no specific requirements to take, except for English. But I took no pleasure in knowing I had to take a course, especially if it was English. I like to read, but English classes were not enjoyable in high school. We were forced to read books that would bore us to death, and write essays that had no meaning except repeating what the teacher had said in class. Even though friends had told me that English I is a joke and it starts at square one, I was irritated that I could not leave the life of writing papers sooner – that is until I joined the famjam.
When I signed up to take English 102 at Three Rivers Community College, I had no idea who my teacher would be because the teacher hadn’t been assigned. So on the first day of the semester, when I was sitting there waiting for the mystery teacher to come in, Dr. Vincent Walsh was the last person I was expecting. I was expecting another English teacher who would automatically assign the usual throw-away papers. Instead, Dr. Walsh walked into the classroom wearing a casual long-sleeved tee and a pair of old jeans, smiling ear to ear. It turned out that he’d only found out he would be teaching our class the previous evening. I don’t believe in coincidences; I believe in fate. Walsh was the teacher I never had but always needed, though I didn’t know it yet at the time. He specifically asked us to call him “Dr. Walsh” because he had recently obtained his doctorate in English. I can’t blame him; if had a doctorate, I’d have my [future] children calling me “Dr. Mom.” Of course, we all eventually dropped the “Dr.” and just started calling him Walsh. It seems this is how students have referred to him for many years.
As home school parents we must be willing to admit that there are just some subjects that are more challenging to teach our own kids. There’s an emotional button that gets pushed and then the learning comes to a screeching halt. Vincent Walsh deserves credit for easing the struggle between my son and me when it came time for him to gather his thoughts and face a blank page.