Finish the Term Strong: Redux

This post is all about suggestions for student success. As a former Undergraduate Advisor and an instructor, I am supportive of student success. I have one more week in the term and due date are looming, but I realize that many of my colleagues have one to two more months left. This post will speak to some suggestions for how students can finish the term strong

1. Go to class

2. Read the syllabus

3. Go to office hours

4. Review points one through three

Seriously, I am not kidding about the above as they are extremely important to student success. As I told a group of librarians today, I might as well say that the sky is blue; however, it is key to emphasize the obvious. There are moment when we need reminding about what is the obvious Beyond the absolute obvious, I also suggest that during the last part of the term that students manage their time well. Now is the time to focus on ending on a high note. It is to easy to finish with the best that you can do in that moment, but that will not make you stand out above the others. I encourage you to become a hermit during the last week or two as you write your papers.

What else can you do? You can visit your Writing Center and then ask if your professor is willing to chat about your draft or to review your draft. Please note that most professors will not copy-edit your draft. Please remember that your professor may have 30-400 students that term, so don’t be too hard on your professor if they are only willing to chat about your paper. If you have a Teaching Assistant, by all means go to her or his office hours. Own your education. Take charge and act like you care. Acting like you care about your education and success really does count for something.

My last words of guidance are about reading the assignments and following directions. I am always surprised and frustrated by the number of students who do not read the syllabus and think that this is not important. A student approached me recently saying, “This is a 12 point font.” I responded, “Yes, it is but it is not Times New Roman 12 and is a huge font. Please review my syllabus.” Following directions is the first part of an assignment and reflect attention to detail. Good luck with the last few weeks and your papers and final!

Graduation is a mere two months away and I can’t wait to sit on the stage and witness this momentous event. Until then, I send positive energy to my students as they wind down. Finish the term well!

 

 

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Thinking More about Evaluating Student Work

This is timely for me, as I have been marking lots. The first part of any assignment is to read the syllabus or perhaps to read the assignment. Right?

My blog post on Equality 101 about Student Evaluation  got me thinking about grading this past weekend. I was in the midst of marking quizzes for Gender and International Relations and had just marked more than one dozen papers for The Worlds of Politics. One of the things that I was first struck with for the latter class was how some students refuse to read the assignment directions. This term I also provided a paper checklist, which I borrowed from one of my Teaching Assistants.

Some students attached the checklist and checked off the points that they had followed, but then left other requirements blank or unchecked. This baffles me. If an assignment states that you must cite 5 sources; why cite 3? I dedicated an entire class period to this large paper assignment, made my lecture available as a podcast, and posted my PowerPoint presentation on Moodle, for the students’ review. I also sent a few Moodle (CourseSpaces) messages to the class reminding them about the assignment. Even by doing this, though, I know better than to be too surprised when I start marking. I have done my part. My point here~ follow directions!

Thinking of the upper division course, Gender and International Relations, I was also noticing a pattern of merely restating the question and reviewing the material, but not offering any analysis. I did something different this term in the class and I did not require student attendance. I did not take roll and now into Week 11 of the 13 week term, I realize that I will not do this again. Several students are not coming to class and I think that they would have been persuaded to do so if class attendance influenced their course grade.

What I am getting at here–there is a correlation between attendance and overall course grade for some students. Come to class!

Thanksgiving 2014

It is Thanksgiving weekend in Canada and I am sitting here thinking about the things that I am thankful for with this new school year. In the spirit of brevity I will number.

1. I am thankful for my mostly good health.

2. I am thankful for my sweetheart’s good health.

3. I am thankful for my wonderful family–both made and born. Not a day goes by that I do not think of all my family in California.

4. I am thankful to have such wonderful friends near and far. I know that I can text or email this inner circle and hear from them quickly. Thank you.

5. I am thankful for my job as a professor. As I have noted before, I have the great fortune to mentor young people.

6. I am thankful for my admin gig. I get to help other faculty, staff, and students and enhance their learning environment.

7. I am thankful for my peer mentors. You know who you are. Thank you.

8. I am thankful for my students. I enjoy interacting with them in the classroom, office hours, and the mentoring moments.

I have lots more to say, but I think this is a great start for Canadian Thanksgiving. Smiling. The photo below is from UVIC Communications, Photo Services.

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A New Term: The Promise

It is week 2 of 13 at work and it is filled with new faces, new courses, and lots of promise. I did something a little different last week during one of my lectures. I spent a good chunk talking about my expectations, good habits, things to avoid, and reminded my students to get involved. These points speak to the Fall term at university. I want big things for this term.

The reminder is also important for me. I am in my 17th year of teaching and this means that I am comfortable with my job. Comfort is great and has some pitfalls. I must remember that this new environment is filled with its own jargon and the new students are just figuring out the place–let alone my expectations on the first or second day. As I walked to the lecture hall last week, I had that bounce in my step and I was excited. It was great to see the new group. Welcome to campus, and welcome to my classroom. I know that this particular class is different, as it is team taught.

When I walk into the classroom, I think about my job and how important it is for the students. It is privilege to have an important part in their education. But, as I told them, they need to show up. They need to own their education. I am looking forward to this term. And, I really hope that my students are, too. I’m raising my coffee to my students. Rock this term!

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Fill the Right Cup

Ray Bradbury explained, “We are all cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.”

Which cups do you fill? Do you fill the cups of optimism, pragmatism, or pessimism? It is important to think about where you expend your mental energy. Thinking back to my grad school days there were moments when the pessimism cup was the cup that I filled and that was not a good thing, but those moments of overwhelm and impostor syndrome were intense. I have to thank my peer mentors and faculty mentors for helping me fill the other cups.

My networks helped me stay grounded during grad school. Sure, we had our moments when would complain about our workloads and our financial situations, but overall it was pretty fabulous to read, research, teach, and write for a living. My peer mentors were primarily from the cohorts ahead of me and to this day some of my closes friends are from my grad school days. I met both of my best-friends in grad school.

Related to this, peer mentors listened. The listening cup was overflowing and there are times when I miss that interaction–the ability to have long conversations. The cup that we need to keep filling is the listening cup. Listening is an important part of a supportive and honest network. As I am working with undergraduates through graduate students, I am thinking about the importance of them finding good peer networks. I am only one part of the puzzle and know that the rest of the puzzle must include peers.

I knew that at home I had support, and my friends and networks at work in the department and larger academic community helped me through my grad school days. Peer mentoring is invaluable and if your cohort does not feel supportive, seek out peers ahead of you for guidance or go outside of your department. This advice is appropriate for those of us years out of grad school, too. And, if you are years into your career remember to connect your students to other students and to other faculty. Expand your students’ networks–this is part of the mentoring or coaching process.

 Fill the cups! Confer, trust, connect, mentor, listen, and celebrate your success…

 

Study Political Science

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My normal routine is to read the local paper and then one of the national papers. I was on my third cup of coffee and came across the above letter to the editor. I had to smile. I was in a former student’s class earlier this week speaking to the upcoming American mid-term elections and social media in politics. My former student is finishing up his student teaching and had taken courses with me in Political Science. He is one of many former students who has chosen to go into secondary or post-secondary teaching. Many of my former students are also serving in public office or doing other non-partisan work for the government. The letter writer’s binary is a false one and I am sympathetic to her easy comparison; however we cannot assume that all politicians have a Political Science degree.

Over the course of 17 years of teaching my students have gone into virtually every sector of the economy. I am seeing more work in communications and the tech industry lately, but overall, they are everywhere and hold a Political Science degree. And, many of them are double majors or took a minor in another field in order to round out their education or pursue multiple areas of interest. During my next 17 years, I hope to see this continue. When students ask me, “What can I do with my degree?” I answer that they can do almost anything–it’s up to them. The classroom or office hour experience is only one part of their education. My hope is that they will get involved in campus and local opportunities.

Political Science is diverse field with many sub-fields and I am proud to call myself a Political Scientist. I am also proud of my Political Science students. Keep up the good work!