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.

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.

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?

 

#BCTech: 2nd BC Tech Summit

Tuesday marked the first day of the second #BCTech Summit. This year the event was considerably bigger and better than last year. However, last year’s summit was amazing. Bar raised. It is clear that the technology sector is big in British Columbia. And, the summit highlights this with the Research Runway, Trade show, Start Up Alley, Tech Talks, and more at the summit. bctech one

Tuesday’s opening plenary included lots of different speakers. BC’s Premier Christy Clark also spoke and offered different data regarding the tech sector. Her speech was peppered with the usual political moments, but the most telling moments were the ones that she made reference to other countries. The other countries and the policies were really about the United States or that is my perception. BC and Canada will look outward and embrace diversity. This perhaps is a chin wag to the US with the recent travel bans and overall culture of fear.

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My political perception aside, the first day was fabulous and I look forward to day two at the #BCTech Summit.

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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