A Few Things I’ve Learned

When I first started teaching, I was too nice. I had to establish better boundaries for deadlines, protecting my time, and protecting the learning environment of the classroom. Then, I swung to hard to the opposite side and was too strict and demanding. I’ve taught at four institutions and they spanned the gamut of a community college, comprehensive, and research one institution. What happened?

1. I caught a cheating ring in a class. All of the students submitted the same paper, but had moved some paragraphs around throughout the paper. They all earned a 0 on the assignment. One of the guilty students saw me in the library a few weeks later and bellowed at me, “You’re the reason I am not staring law school in September.” I knew most of the libraian staff and some came closer. While my heart was racing, I looked over and said, “You’re the reason you’re not going to law school in the Fall.” I walked away. This student was the only one who tried to deny that he cheated. The others dropped quickly and admitted it. Occasionally, I wondered if he did get into law school and if he’s a practicing lawyer. What I can say, he was a cretin. He was terrible to me and if I got treated this way today, things would play out differently.

2. I accepted any excuse for late work and was surpised to bump into deathly ill students in the campus pub, staffing a table, or at the gym. I soon realized that I needed to have a late policy that was more firm. But, I also didn’t like this “gotcha” culture with late work. I had to work almost full-time throughout my university experience and I’m sympathetic to work/life balance. Now, I rarely ask for proof. It’s just not worth my time or my students. The wording in my syllabus is firm, but in reality, I just want them to be successful and I don’t need them to go spend $25 on a doctor’s note.

3. I dress up for work and class. The first time I wore jeans to class at one institution a few of my students talked loudly about how I had jeans on and it was not professional. I had a nice blouse and blazer on and ignored their banter and started class. Fast foward almost twenty years and I still tend to dress up for class. But, if I could relive that time, I think I would have asked the two students to stay after class and chat about their comments. I wore jeans again, but in a more defiant way. I belonged in that classroom and in that institution even if there weren’t many who looked like me.

4. When I was pregnant and teaching, this opened up my eyes to the way in which my body was viewed as public property everywhere and how my body excited some and repulsed others. While lecturing the Cletus the Fetus moved its arm, and through the shirt the students could see an elbow and I thought a few students were going to pass out. Their eyes opened huge and they looked startled. It was quite funny to me. What I didn’t like, was the touching. I announced to the class that I did not want anyone touching my pregnant belly. It was uncomfortable. Imagine my surprise, when the chair of the Women’s Studies Department emailed me during the Western that a student had complained about this. The Chair supported me, but I still smirk that a student contacted the Chair and argued that it should be OK for her to touch my pregnant belly. It’s comical.

None of these scenarios took place at my current institution, but they all impacted me during those first five years of teaching. The biggest takeaway for me is that I am not here to police the students, to weed them out, to punish them or belittle them. I am here to ensure that they learn about the subject matter and during this time they’ll get a feel for the learning environment that I am in charge of and get a chance to think, write, and interact. This is simplistic, but this is one of several posts about what I’ve learned in two decades of teaching in Political Science, Women’s Studies, and Technology and Society.

I’m a Political Scientist

I’ve been at the annual American Political Science Association #APSA2017 meeting this week and I’ve been thinking about my two decades as a political scientist. Part of it is the fact that I have attended an array of focus groups and started off with the Women of Color in Political Science Conference #wcps17 in San Francisco, California.

#APSA2017 has been fraught with so much awesomeness and introspection. The focus groups have caused me to reflect on my time in Political Science. I’ve had some strong mentors and some great experiences; however, I’ve also had some interesting or terrible experiences. And, from the focus groups, I know that these situations and anecdotes are more systemic in higher education and perhaps not unique to Political Science. I want to blog more about this and this brief post is only part one.

Exhausted with the News

I'm finding that reading, watching, and listening to the news is at times exhausting. Exhausting in a way that is personally taxing and I am not used to this. I can usually consume the news and compartmentalize well. This is not the case. I find that I am playing with the kitten and cat more so and watching videos with lots of cuteness. Right now, I have gone to re-watching television shows for a few minutes after I consume news. The news feels raw. It hurts. I've included some cuteness here, Arwen and Buffy.

Book Review: On Tyranny

I read Timothy Snyder's latest book, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017) last week. It's more of a novella with the 20 concise sections, but it is a timely political book. My copy is dog-eared and I wish that I was teaching first year Political Science this year, but alas, I am not. His book is timely given the current political culture in the United States, but the book is useful for most to read and reflect upon today or tomorrow.

There are many takeaways and provocative points in the book. I was really caught up on the section about language. I kept on going back to my lectures on Fascism and the way that language is used under totalitarian regimes in order to scare the citizenry into blindly following the leading party or regime. The book provides a timely warning. One can likely read this book in a sitting, but I chose to savor it over the weekend and think of current examples related to each section. Unfortunately, the book has so many examples pulled from the headlines that it's as if Snyder is the political Dick Wolf.

This book is a must read.

Radical Self-Care

I practiced yoga with a new instructor and she wore a shirt that read “radical self-care” and it positively affected my practice. The ability to take care of oneself is often viewed as a luxury or even unnecessary. Self-care is crucial to a healthy lifestyle. And, at times self-care seems antithetical to academe. There is always another paper to read, write, or a meeting to attend. The vagaries of an academic life means that we often do not leave the office. Wait, maybe some do, but the rest of us do not do this well. 

Radical self-care means not apologizing for leaving work early. 

Radical self-care means that taking time to get better from an illness is acceptable. 

Radical self-care means setting boundaries. 

Radical self-care means that you don’t have to do everything. 

Extra Serving of Angry Flakes

I am not a celiac. I have not been tested, but I know that I have a gluten or wheat sensitivity. I have periodically restricted my intake of wheat and saw a considerable difference in my sight, complexion, blood sugar, and my moods. I am more agitated or less patient when I have too much wheat. I also will suffer from headaches, and the usual array of stomach or digestion problems thanks to this sensitivity. I feel less resilient when I’ve had too much wheat and I know that this might sound silly. I joked with a friend that it’s like I had an extra serving of angry flakes for breakfast. 

I’ve has this sensitivity all of my life, and only realized it about twelve years ago. This does not mean that I am always careful. Recently, I was traveling and had a full day’s worth of wheat and suffered. The next day all the usual things were there–what I call the wheat star on my cheek and the blood sugar consequences. I don’t think I could take ingesting wheat for two weeks in order to be tested. I’m quite sympathetic to people with Celiac disease, IBS or other issues. I’ve added a photo that I took of Cowichan Bay. 

Relax

If you’re anything like me, you don’t really like having someone tell you that you need to relax. So, I will not tell you to relax, but I will say that I am still in a post-vacation bliss. I took a family vacation last week and am almost through the first week back at work. What did I learn? 

I like vacations. And, I need to take more occasional tech detoxes. I had an unplanned tech detox thanks to problems with my Smart Keyboard. I was able to read Twitter posts, but not reply or type. That pretty much meant that I wasn’t on Twitter that much. I didn’t travel with my laptop and I ended up reading several books and caught up on some magazines and Netflix series. I also made lots of memories with my family and had ample opportunity to sleep in and do very little. It was perfect. 

It’s great to be back at work. And, I am looking forward to my next vacation, which will be more of a staycation. I have included a photo from my vacation. I had my first cup of coffee most mornings on this deck.