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.

Busy is Hard to Unlearn: Having It All

An article in the Globe and Mail that discussed how students today don’t really take a Summer break gave me pause. If you search the Globe and Mail’s site for students + busy lots of articles are found–including the one that I shared. While the article is dated, the sentiment is important as we get through the first month of a new year.

Once I was in high school I found a love for running and spent my Summers training for Cross Country and Track Seasons, but I also took the occasional Summer School class up at Mt. SAC. I was also enrolled in some Honors and Advanced Placement courses, so by the time I graduated I had more than the first term of college courses completed. While in university I also took Summer School and ultimately graduated with my BA in Women’s Studies and Minor in Political Science in 3.5 years. Yes, you read that right.

I was a first generation college student and the eldest of 5 kids. College wasn’t really about having the time of my life and finding myself (well, I did a little of this), but was about being  busy and serious to get it done. I had my family to think of and how they would help all five of their kids go to college or university. Three of us have degrees and the two others took some coursework, but never completed to earn the four year degree. Two of us have multiple advanced degrees.

The crux of this post, though, is the article about teenagers not having Summers today. I can recall being in middle school and getting bored after one month and I was ready to return to my school schedule. I was a good, focused student. Today, though, I am a workaholic and not saying this out of pride, but just sheer honesty. I work hard and I love my job, but I have to remind myself that I am not my job. I say this, as I want to be a good example to my own teen and her little sister. I want them to have a Summer and decompress from the busy school term that is filled with classes, competitive swimming, piano lessons, and more.

What does it mean to be so busy? What does it mean to have it all? Yes, I’ve linked to the now infamous NYT and Atlantic articles. What some of this means is that it’s getting harder to relax. I’ve blogged previously about the electronic umbilicus between me and my gadgets. I’ve also blogged about Breaking Up with Foursquare. I’m mindful of my work balance issues and trying hard for better balance. But, I also know that my Type A personality is at work, and I work in a field where my job is not the traditional 9-5 gig. I always have a project to work on, a chapter to revise, or journal article to write. And, I need to say “no” more.

It’s no wonder that during my first week of vacation I was at the office three days for meetings. Meetings planned months in advance with four or more people and our busy schedules meant that we could only find time in July–my month off. The second week of my vacation I was also at work three times. Each time I came into work the wonderful, Graduate Secretary smiled and me and said, “Now, I thought you were on vacation?” I love her to death for her humor and support! It’s work for me to relax and I’m trying to get better, as I don’t want to pass on this attribute to my daughters.

This third week, on Monday I met with some mentees and I’m finally ready to get to my own projects and writing! But, as any of us working in higher education knows, there is still work to be done on courses and other work related stuff during the month off. This post is the first in a series thinking about what it means to be busy or attempt to have it all. I think I just about have it all, but it means that I’m busy. Cue the big sigh.

Time Management: Todoist and Other Tools

A new year is here. I’m updating this post. Which apps are you using for time management or productivity? I’m still using Todoist.

I have previously blogged about how much I enjoy my job and offered advice for students and others about time management. Like most people I am juggling multiple deadlines, projects, and trying hard to get stuff done. How I have done this over the years has varied. Last Fall, I downloaded a few apps that worked like glorified lists and some were useful and fun.

A fun app that I used for a short period of the Winter was Carrot. This app gamified my productivity and rewarded me with praise when I accomplished lots and punished me with insults, when I fell behind. Of course, I wanted the accolades and not the missives from Carrot. I see that there is a Carrot exercise app, but I have not interest in that. I have since deleted Carrot, as it was not really an effective app for my use at work.

carrotone carrottwo todoistone todoisttwo

My productivity changed drastically by my immersion with Todoist. At first I was using lightly; however, I started to increase my use as I got more busy with the demands of teaching, administrative work, and service. Where was Todoist, when I was a grad student? I have talked about productivity apps with my TS 300 students, and students in my office and I keep on referring them to Todoist. It is important that I note that I am a Type A person and enjoy apps of this nature. Todoist keeps me organized.

What I like best about the Todoist is that I am able to manage projects with different deadlines, integrate the app with my Outlook, and look long-term at projects or deadlines. I also like the way in which I can prioritize or share projects. I am not using the priorities as much as a I did at the start; however, it is useful for me to track what I am doing and what is coming up for me. Did I mention that I also like the look and feel of the app? I’ve bought other productivity or list apps and used them for a day or a week, and most of them were not intuitive for me or aesthetically pleasing. Developers will smile here, as they think of the app experience. I need the app experience to work for me. For all of these reasons I am an evangelist for Todoist.

BlogHer Exercise: Letter to Younger Self

I attended an afternoon session at the Pathfinder event at #BlogHer 2011, ” My Blog as Life Changer.” One exercise was a letter to your younger self. (Now, this is a great book that I just read in Huntington Beach.) I did the exercise and this was my first stab. So many examples of passive voice, but this is unedited–my first draft. What a great exercise! I have three working topics. This letter refers to my work in higher education. I’ll post one of the other ones later this month.

Dear Janni:

You will be pleasantly surprised that you end up not only really enjoying teaching, but are pretty good at it. This teaching in the classroom will translate into your hands-on style of mentoring. Not all students will get it, so don’t be disappointed. And, not all of your colleagues will appreciate it, as for some of them their research agendas are more important. Don’t worry about what they think and continue to focus your energies on what you are good at in the classroom and during office hours.

Students need a fair advocate and at times some of them will bristle when they don’t get their way. Don’t be surprised. You are going to save your emails for a year after a class—do that. It will protect you and the student. And, always document any interesting situations for the same reason.

There are going to be hard times when you have to speak out to support a colleague or a student—don’t be scared to do so. You won’t lose your job over it. If anything, people will respect you for these efforts. There will be times when it will be hard to be in your 9th, 10th, 11th year of teaching full-time as a part-timer. You will get a full-time tenure track job in a city that you want to live in. So, don’t bother stressing about applying for jobs in places that you aren’t sure you would like to work at for whatever reason.

Also, no job is a sure thing—no matter what connections you have. When you are given special information about a job—don’t take it. It will backfire on you. And, if you do take it—note that the person who gave you information was a saboteur.  Move on with your chin up and don’t look back.

You are going to work with thousands of great, intelligent, caring students. You will become a mentor, friend, confident, and in some instances connector for many. Be prepared for office hours and to decompress afterwards, as they can be exhausting. You will find out things that will make you angry—so be prepared to send students to the appropriate offices for help. This really is part of your job description with the way you work.

You are going to use your dissertation research in different ways. Try to get chapters published, but please note that the entire process: research, writing, and networking will serve you well throughout your career. And, continue to go to meetings to network. These networks will prove invaluable and you will eventually have a leadership role in some of the Political Science associations and on campus. You will use your powers for good.

Don’t wait to get a smart phone, blog, or attend Tweet ups. You will expand your networking into the community that you call home.

Your research agenda will include all the things that you care about, so don’t leave Political Science. You will make Political Science work for you and you’ll be content.

2016 additions: You will find different opportunities that take you out of the classroom some. Do not be afraid. Take them. You can make a difference representing women on campus. And, when you are asked to think about a job in administration do not  pause. Say that you’re interested. You’ll make a good academic administrator. And, you’re going to meet Glenn Beck–hell doesn’t freeze, but believe his assistant when he calls.

Janni on the blaze_Beck

Some of You Will Like Me

Another term is ending for me and one theme that stands out for me is part of a lecture that I gave my students in my American Politics class. (The department renamed the course United States Politics, but my default over twenty years is American Politics. I know, I’m exercising American exceptionalism here or you can accuse me of that). The lecture was a primer one on how to do well on the assignments and I spoke to critical thinking and need for a higher level of analysis. I also advised them to come see me in my office hours. Then, I did something that I do not normally do. I referred to that site that allows people to rate instructors. You know which one that I am referring to–don’t you? It is like Voldemo…you cannot say the name!

The reason I referred to the site, as I explained to my students was that the last time I had quickly reviewed my ratings, I noted one person say that it is important to get me to like you. I recall having a quick laugh and smiling for the next twenty minutes, as this is not true. I told the students in my class, “I like all of you. The difference is that some of you will like me back.” I explained that my life is quite full and I am content. I also shared with them that my teaching philosophy statement notes that I am not in the habit of chasing the 5, which is the perfect score on our teaching evaluations. Yes, I had included this sentence in my dossier for a teaching award, the Faculty of Social Sciences Excellence in Teaching. I was honored to get the award! Back to my comments to my students, I was extremely honest with this group and later left the classroom feeling satisfied with this moment of brutal honesty.

The fact that a person or some people would think that instructors only “give” good marks to students that they like is false. Trust me, I have run the Excel equation and said, “Oh, no.” This is that moment when you really want a student to do well, but one assignment or two assignments sealed their mark with a C or worse. You feel for the student, but there is nothing you can do. Ultimately, what I told my students is that I try to have an open mind and that many of them come from various places across the province and some out of province. Regardless of where they are from there is a whole host of different views and more importantly different abilities with writing, thinking, and success with the work of being a student. I also explained to them that they will perform better in courses that they are interested in and should try to take courses that appeal to them. Then, they need to show up. Go to class, go to office hours, and get to know their instructors or Teaching Assistants. I even referrred to Wil Wheaton’s comments in a high school yearbook and he said the same thing: go to class, go to office hours. I agree with him. (Hey, follow him @wilw). In my opinion, it is not a matter of my liking you. No, it is about my assessment of the work and hopefully seeing an improvement through the term. This puts a smile on my face. It is great to write on the assignment: your work has improved, bravo!

The students who I mentor or coach I get to know better and subsequently do like them in a different way. I have had more opportunities to get to know them. And, I must say here that I have mentored more students who hold political opinions that are quite different than my own. My mentoring or teaching does not take this into consideration. Most years, I find that I am mentoring an equal number of women and men students; even though our campus is 60% women and 40% men. Overall, I would be hard pressed to say that I dislike a student. No, I am more apt to feel a negative thought about a colleague in another unit, who pontificates about how teaching is beneath us or questioning my presence on Senate as a teaching focused professor. These sort of statements rub me the wrong way.

I have a special place in students’ lives. I am part of their college experience. I can be a mentor or coach. I get to work with them and I think that is an honor. I do, but today I have 70 items to mark so it feels somewhat burdensome, but overall I think that I am in a great place. I was reminded of this last night when I attended a former student’s wedding. I had met her parents before, but to hear that to this day she still talks about my classes–I was touched. Over the course of my career, I have met many siblings and have taught all the siblings in several families and have had coffees to meet my students’ babies. Like I said, I am lucky and know that some of my students will like me. The tumbler below is from a former student. She has also worked with my kids–it is a small community. I wish her luck with what is next!

It’s interesting to see that being liked by students is often viewed as a negative thing by some colleagues. One of the things that I have now resolved to not do is apply for teaching awards. I have won one and I have been nominated for another on more than one occasion. I am done. I know that I am an effective professor, and love teaching and working with my students. And, that is all that I need. The force is strong in this academic administrator!

20130628-085435.jpg

The Way You Work: Revisited

Academic work requires so much solitary work and this makes it flexible and at times impossible. Work always beckons and the to do list can become burdensome. We are at the start of Summer term at the campus where I work, and it is the perfect time to think about how you can re-focus on the way you work. What works for you?
Right about now academics are thinking about the long list of things to accomplish during the Summer. Honestly, though, how do you work?

I find that I need some white noise when I am doing certain tasks and other tasks requires quiet or music at a low volume. At the day’s end when I am completely alone this is the time that I listen to music set high. I like to chunk out as many tasks as I can during these evenings alone at work. My job requires lots of meetings and this means that I have to catch up from the meetings. I am an early riser and tend to get lots completed before anyone else in my family wakes up.

I have blogged previously about the importance of having good work and life balance and boundaries. I know that this is extremely important, but the reality of work is that some months are more busy than others. I am also trying to think about the way I work and what keeps me organized and able to get things done. I love coffee and the entire process of making and savoring it. This ritual is part of my morning and reading the papers. I also realize that the caffeine is necessary most days.

I need desk time to plan and think, and I need to walk around and will find myself in walking meetings. <They are awesome!>  . I will talk into my phone and dictate notes from a meeting or send myself emails to update. I also use this time to clear my head and plan for the next meeting, task, or day. I need some alone time to organize my day. I use Todoist to organize my tasks and I have found this tool works well for me. While this is not a feminist rant, I was thinking about this quote and feel it fits.

Aragon Rant_Twitter

 

Cyberbullying

I read Sarah Darer Littman’s Backlash. The book’s cover notes, “What happens online doesn’t always stay online…” The book is a mature read in the Young Adult Literature #YALit genre. I read the book in one sitting staying up later than I really wanted to, but the book was a compelling page turner. Unfortunately, there are numerous cases of cyberbullying that make the mainstream news, so we know that this story is too real for so many young people.

The book does a great job of sharing the painful lesson that Cyberbullying is not a victimless crime. I suggest that parents, teachers, and young people read the book and then have discussions about the content. I encourage you to read this book.

backlash.PNG