On Being Human: Teaching Expectations

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I’m about to embark on my 20th year of teaching. I cannot believe it. It seems like just a few years ago, I was a graduate student. But, it’s been more than a few years. I love teaching. One consistent thing that I’ve witnessed though, is that I cannot get sick or have a family emergency. A small percentage of my students, must think that I live under my desk and have a super immune system, but alas occasionally I do fall ill. When I do get sick, it’s a whopper of an illness. Oh, like whooping cough and coughing so hard that I pass out or a terrible flu strain for almost three weeks.

I have had an accident, family emergency, and illness affect my teaching life three times in the last twenty years. Each time this meant that I returned grading a bit later than usual. It also impacted my office hours or availability. I did not think that it was a big deal, as I was honest and clear with the students. However, each time it was clear that a group of students did not find my personal situation relevant and were quite brutal on the official student evaluations, that one rate your instructor who you love/hate site, and in office hours/email communication.

I know this might sound like a whiny post, and perhaps it is. I would like some breathing room, so that when I get really ill every seven years I can get back in the classroom and not have a barrage of negative feedback about how my illness impacted their ability to come see me or better understand the assignment that is explained thoughtfully in the syllabus. Professors are people too, and sometimes we get sick or are family members get sick. There, I feel better.

The image is from interwebs–Yik Yak. I’ve never used my iClicker as anything except its intended use. My use of it here is cheeky.

Failing

I saw a job posting that noted that a strong candidate would want to fail miserably. I don’t have that link, but honestly I think that I have done that recently by taking some chances with my courses. And, guess what? I am fine with it. I am willing to take risks and have it fail. Fail miserably. It is a learnable moment. Sure, I often note the importance of a teachable moment; however, when I have failed miserably with a course I am learning. It is important to push boundaries and push myself.

My happy place is to push my students. But, recently I have pushed and failed. I have failed with books that my students did not like at all or assignments that did not work well. I held office hours in the last week and was a bit surprised to hear that the students liked the assignment. I am not convinced that it was a resounding success, though. Either way, I will have at it again with the next class.

3769283867_01c3214399 image is via Chris Griffith

Let Them Eat Cake: US Politics

The latest cover of the Mexican edition of Vanity Fair is particularly telling. While the photo of the First Lady is recycled, it’s a telling photo given the recent budget from the President’s administration. Some of the responses of the photo essentially say that the photo is in poor taste. I saw the photos and thought of Marie Antoinette saying, “Let them eat cake.” Although we do not have proof that Antoinette said this–the phrase fits. Let them eat nothing, while I twirl  my diamond necklace like pasta. One would think that the timing of recycling the photos could not be worse.

I was watching The Purge: Anarchy with my daughter and once the movie ended she asked if this situation could actually happen. Then, we had a conversation about US politics and the current administration’s treatment of the poor and aged. We talked about the probable dismantling of the Meals on Wheels program if the proposed federal budget is realized. I’m no Pollyanna and know that throughout the history of the United States there is no love for the poor. Somehow we are supposed to be industrious and be magically successful and not have to rely on the government. Note sarcasm. This current administration appears to hate women, the poor, most people of color, immigrants, queer people, and more. Gone are the days of compassionate conservatism or Ronald Reagan Republicans.

It is no wonder that George Orwell’s 1984 and other novels set in a dystopic future are selling well. We watch, stream, or listen to the news and we wonder if it is an episode of Saturday Night Live since it cannot be real. We have a Twittler in Chief who seems to angry tweet and has no problem libeling and slandering people. We are a witness a Bully in Chief and a change in US politics. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s site detailing the increase in hate crimes makes me sick. I wish I could not take this seriously and count the days until the next election. However, that is not my way. How are you coping with the current events?

 

On the Fly

Innovation requires that you are willing to fail. I am not willing to always do what is easiest in the classroom. Occasionally my assignments include working with a non-profit or another entity and then reflecting on this work or having students do podcasts or vidcasts. I find that there are some students who are most comfortable with papers and exams.

The students need to trust me with the assignment. How do you support non-paper and exam assignments?

To Take Roll or Not

After 19 years of teaching, I decided to not include a participation and attendance mark. I did have people sign in to assess attendance unofficially. But, what I really wanted to see is if not having participation marks made a difference. Oh, it did. And, the biggest proof is in the marks. I have taught my Gender and Politics course numerous times during my academic career at four universities and I can confidently say that there was a noticeable change in the students’ attendance and their assignments.

  1. Attendance was mediocre at best. And, by not attending announcements were not heard regarding assignments. My syllabus is lengthy, but I speak to each assignment in more depth during a class meeting.
  2. My office hours were not as busy as usual. While some might think that this is a good thing–it’s not. Office hours are important. This is when many students will get the check in to make sure that they are on the right track or the chance to chat about their assignments.
  3. Overall, the marks were the lowest that I have ever seen. Now, they were not terrible, but 3-5 points lower than usual.

My takeaway is that by not having a participation and attendance mark some students do not feel the pressure to come to class, to show up. I’m teaching in the again and I’m going to have a participation and attendance mark. My students benefit from it. I’m going to ask them to show up!

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Self-Care

Self-care might feel like a luxury, but it’s not. It’s hard to remember this during the hectic parts of a day or week. I make no excuses for having to schedule time to self-care. I know that if I didn’t, I’d regret it. My self-care routine varies from acupuncture, massage, yoga, and regular workouts.

Another part of my self-care routine is to read the paper more methodically, since I have found that the headlines have become something out of a book set in a terrible future. Everyone starts off the new year with resolutions and good intentions, as we move half way through February remember to take care of yourself!

 

Kindness in 2017

Be kind to yourself. Make this your mantra for 2017 and beyond. This is not my suggestion for a resolution, but perhaps a suggestion for thinking about the importance of self-care every darn day. Do not give into the need to prove you are worthy. You are. You are enough. Do not think that you need to list or proclaim how busy you are. We are all busy. You are important. We know this. Be kind to yourself and in turn to others around you. Kindness and compassion begins with you. A new term begins for me and my students. Don’t forget kindness.

In 2017, treat yourself well. Take moments to balance yourself so that you can function. Remember that you are happier and more centered when you have a positive outlook about your life and the way that you treat those you encounter. Kindness is contagious and is not just about you. We can be our own worst enemy. Be a friend. Don Marquis noted, “The chief obstacle to the progress of the human race is the human race.” Do not be an obstacle to your own happiness and success. Be an asset. This short post is not filled with platitudes. No, it is a reminder about the importance of kindness. Think about what you want. Happy New Year! Think about your super power for the year! I am sure flying would be great or being invisible would be awesome to awkward, but I want a super power that helps me and others. Kindness will work. Compassion will work. Empathy will work. OK, those are superpowers.

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