Sara Lewis

Aug 2011

I’m going to give an objective opinion on Sara Lewis. She is very sweet and nice, however, whoever hired her to teach a writing course should be fired. I’m sure Sara is talented in certain areas, but I’m just about positive those areas are somewhere outside of the scope of academic writing. This woman was unable to tell the difference between active and passive voices, could not distinguish an adverb from a preposition, and repeatedly gave me contradictory advice on my papers. On one occasion I went to her office hours in which she told me that she couldn’t review my paper until my works cited page was finished, however, she had no problem reviewing my class mate’s paper just minutes later who had no works cited page whatsoever. Sara strongly favors papers written on subjects related to her fields of research, no matter how badly they are written. How do I know this? I had a class mate show me his paper and laugh about getting an A despite having over 20 misspelled words. This event was only further substantiated by Sara’s opinion of the course, in which she declared, “This course is not so much about writing as it is about content.” Really Sara? I thought the course was called “University Writing.” One disturbing event put a final bad taste in my mouth regarding Sara Lewis. Near the last week of class, one student made a joke and said, “Hey, since this is your last time teaching UW, why don’t you send us all out with As? Her response was, “Yea, that will do wonders for my credibility.” I understand that Sara is just a graduate student instructor, but why is she connecting her credibility with the types of grades her students earn? Since this event, I’ve asked other graduate student instructors as well as highly accomplished professors if they’ve ever been under any kind of pressure to give a limited number of As, every one of them non-hesitantly told me “no." The Final Word I don’t mind getting a B in a class if I actually learn something, but the truth is I learned absolutely nothing in Sara’s class. I can honestly say this is the first and only time I have literally thrown $4000 (the cost of the class) to the wind. My experience with Sara was so bad in fact that I came dangerously close to filing a formal complaint. I came to Columbia to learn, and that just did not happen here.

Apr 2011

Once you walk out of UW and actually have to write professional research papers for real classes, forget everything you learned in her class, it will only hurt you. I took college writing courses for four years before attending Sara's class and have never witnessed a worse "writing" professor. Only those students completely new to college level writing will claim to have "gotten something" out of her course. You will not learn MLA, APA, or Chicago style format in Sara's class, or any other style pertinent to university research papers. What you will learn is how to give a whiney graduate student what she wants - papers written around subjects related to anthropology. Being an effective writer or even the best writer in class will not earn you an A. Giving Sara Lewis her way will get you an A. Treat this little girl like your six year old niece and just "play nice" until it's all over. The saddest part about all of this is that students completely new to college level writing are going to get a big wakeup call when trying to apply Sara's techniques to upper division courses. The Sara Lewis way only works for one person - Sara Lewis. Getting an A in Sara's class is easy, just follow these simple steps... Type up a complete rough draft and make sure it is in on time. Take this rough draft to her office hours at least two times before you turn it in. Don't make fun of Sigmund Freud or any other prominent figure in anthropology. Don't ever disagree with her or challenge her ideas.

Jul 2010

Initially, Sara comes off as sweet, encouraging, and genuinely interested in the course; in this regard, I’ll admit that I shared previous reviewers’ feelings at the beginning of the semester. But I have to admit how surprised I am by the overwhelming positivity of these reviews, since, by the end of the semester, I was deeply disappointed with the experience Sara made of University Writing. Part of my frustration with the class had to do with how Sara structured the curriculum of our section, which she summed up well during an essay workshop: “I think the content of your essays is more important than how they’re written.” I’m sorry, Sara, but University Writing is a writing class, and the point of any other class that requires some kind of writing is to teach us how to write about specific content. Isn’t every essay you write for a history class, for example, a lesson on how to write about history? What Sara seems to miss is that the point of a writing class, or at least that of a required composition course like University Writing, is to teach us the kinds of writing skills that we can apply to other classes. While she taught us quite a bit about how to speak intelligently about and frame an argument around her areas of academic expertise, I was troubled by how often talking about this material took precedence over learning how to improve our writing; our in-class presentations and collaborative PowerPoints on Sara’s favorite subjects (i.e., a whole lot of Freud), fun as these assignments might have been for her, didn’t really help me figure out how to write an essay. The class ended up feeling like a watered-down seminar on anthropology, religion, or epidemiology that also happened to be on writing sometimes, yet writing ended up being the subject about which Sara left me the most confused. This last comment brings me to my greatest disappointment with the class: Sara seemed more perplexed about writing than most of my peers were. During one lesson on style, she taught us the long-outdated rule that one should never end a sentence with a preposition, but her definition of “preposition,” as suggested by her comments on our essays and her responses to student questions, somehow included the words “are” (a verb), “it” (a noun or pronoun), and “so” (a conjunction, pronoun, adjective, or adverb). On another occasion, we were asked by Sara to give her examples of the passive voice; when we offered a list of egregiously passive constructions (the clause before the preceding semicolon, for example), she insisted that several of them were active, apparently unable to tell the two voices apart. When we eventually convinced her otherwise, she told us with some bewilderment, “I’ve turned you into monsters! You guys pick up on everything.” Correct me if I’m wrong, Sara, but isn’t it your job to get us to pick up on these things? Of course I’m not suggesting that a writing instructor should be nothing but a grammar hound, but these seem like the sort of basic principles of English that a Ph.D. student trained to teach writing shouldn’t disregard on a regular basis. Is it too much to ask that a class leave us less baffled about writing than we had been at the beginning? Just as troubling, though, was coming to realize how much resentment seethes below Sara’s warm and cheery surface. I noticed several times that, when Sara asked a question and a student then gave an answer with which she disagreed, Sara would respond by smirking or raising her eyebrows in surprise; these gestures were demeaning, of course, but also unwarranted, especially since several of the student answers she shut down in this way were correct. On a different occasion, we had been assigned to read an article on mythical monsters, and one student mentioned in class that the assignment had given him a nightmare about being in a cave described in the article; he wasn’t trying to be ingratiating, but understandably thought that Sara would appreciate that the course material had some relevance to his life outside of class. She responded that what he had said sounded “nerdy”—not in the playful way that teachers sometimes do, but in a pretty belittling tone. It was comments like this that made many of us feel uncomfortable just speaking in class, let alone mistakenly saying something that Sara might deem, in her words, “nerd central.” Another time, when uploading an article to CourseWorks for a group project, one of my peers accidentally uploaded the wrong kind of file; instead of just telling her to upload the correct kind of file, Sara sent the student’s group this email: “As I stated very clearly in the instructions, please post a PDF of your article. As you will see if you check it yourself, this link you provide does not link to the article.” The accusation was pretty much false: her instructions requested a PDF in passing, but nothing was “stated very clearly,” and the link that the group provided even went directly to the original version of the article online. Silly as the incident might have been, it seemed like totally unprofessional behavior for anyone but a full professor, who would at least have tenure and grey hair as possible excuses to talk down to undergraduates in such a passive-aggressive way. Let me conclude on a positive note: Sara often leads engaging discussions, has way more enthusiasm than anyone should have at nine in the morning (or any time of day, for that matter), is lenient with deadlines, and has a pretty good sense of humor. Unless one or more of these things is what you want to get out of the three- to four-thousand dollars Columbia requires you to pay to learn how to write an essay, switch to a different section.

May 2010

Sara was a great UW professor. I truly believe that she helped me grow as a writer. I'm sure everyone in highschool had english teachers that just gave them A's on their papers without constructive criticisms. Sara is both honest in her assessment and gives great advice on how to improve your writing. A word of advice: go to office hours and participate in class. Sara has the ability to boost the final grade by half of a letter grade, so you want to give her a reason to help you out. By showing enthusiasm for the class where most people don't (a writing class, and my was a 9 am) you both make the time go faster and earn Sara's appreciation and respect. Another thing: you turn in a draft and a final paper. I'd recommend trying hard on your drafts for two reasons. The first is that everyone reading a crappy draft knows that it is crappy and that you put no effort in, which counts against your grade booster at the end. The second is that you cut out the stupid work for yourself like writing the paper and can just edit it and refine it. YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE WRITING YOUR PAPER RIGHT BEFORE IT IS DUE! I found that I scored higher when I turned in a final paper with a few major changes like adding a paragraph or switching some sentences around than when I didn't take the advice I was given.

May 2010

Sara is a great professor. Although I found U.Writing to be an absolute waste of time, Sara really tried to make it worth something. She encouraged group participation and tried to engage us in meaningful dialogue about our readings and writing assignments. Even though I had her at 9am, she made me want to be alert and focused because she asked questions that mattered and tried to connect the course work to real life. Sometimes, though, I felt like she was thought she was teaching a high school course. Her handouts contain a lot of DUH! information that most people learn in middle school. Also, sometimes her feedback is very broad and vague, but that may be a ploy to encourage students to go to office hours.