Lessons Learned

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I have had two outlier terms in my teaching career. And, one was in the last year. When things work well, you feel like every damn thing is in order, and you want to pinch yourself. In a similar way, when things begin to go wrong you want to stop and fix them, but they continue to slip out of your reach, it feels like a train wreck. Well, I had a term like this and I’m looking back, so that I can look forward.

I used some new materials, had some strong personalities, and did my best. Well, things did not go as planned, and I need to do a few things. I need to own it. I need to move on. But, right now I am reviewing things. What could I have done to make things better? I know it was not just the books, the students, and me. There are always more factors at play when a class is mediocre. I pride myself on how much I enjoy teaching, as I view it as a form of mentoring and I find teaching fulfilling. And, when things go offside, I feel responsible.

I chose a few new books in order to push my class to read about debates in the field. If I could go back, I would have chosen one new book. The material was provocative enough to cause uncomfortable feelings, debate, and a good measure of animosity between the students, and some directed at me. It is far easier to teach the usual suspects. So, there is a part of me that stubbornly thinks that I would not change the books. I did explain that the material would push the students and that they should feel uncomfortable, but it was not enough. From the papers, I could read that a handful of the students did not like the book or both books. Now, whether or not I had a deep reflection about the content is a different story, but I did hear about the materials vocally. “I want a different book suggestion, since I cannot relate to this one.” I did not give the student another book option.

Course materials are important and I reviewed several books and was really happy with the overall syllabus and assignment. I can reluctantly admit that I would not teach both new books again. One did not work. I won’t name it, as it will do a few things. It will make the students realize that I am talking about their class, and it’s likely better that they not know which of the courses I am referring to in this post! Well, on their own, both books are intellectually engaging or problematic. I do not want to teach perfect books, as that is too darn easy. What else would I have done differently? I think I would have noted that this course had fewer readings and pages of work due to me, than previous terms. From reviewing the evaluations, it is clear that some of the students thought that I was asking them to do too much work. I was not.

The good news here is that I take each class as a learning experience. While teaching feels like it comes easy to me, it is good to know that I will still have an off term. It is good for me to reflect on the course. And, I am not a rock star every term. I have been fortunate to have so many awesome courses and experiences–this year reminded me to be humble! And, the few unhelpful evaluations say more about the student, than they do about me. Thanks for reading the post. I’d appreciate any feedback you have about awesome or crappy terms. We all have them.

 

Conferences and Conferencing

This Spring is extremely busy or perhaps more busy. I have been to four conferences in less than two weeks. I have had ample opportunity to re-connect or meet new people at each of the conferences and I have some advice for networking. This is not an exhaustive list.

  1. It’s great to introduce yourself, but make sure that you pause and listen to the people that you’re meeting.
  2. You’ll need to re-charge after the networking, and it’s important that you self-care and have some down time.
  3. Try to follow up with the new connections that you’ve made. This might be via an email or liking/sharing something that they’ve said on a social media platform.
  4. See if you can meet new people! At some conferences, work colleagues will congregate and the conference is the perfect opportunity to build your networks. You can meet new people and introduce them to others, who you know at the conference.
  5. Learn. Go to sessions that you’re interested in and be open to learning about new topics.

Regroup after the conference and think about how you can share what you have learned with your colleagues.

Why it’s important to share our rejection stories

Great post!!

ALAWUNTOHERSELF

Rejection sucks. It can affect us like physical pain. But like we would the genesis of an old scar on the forehead, let’s keep sharing our tales of rejection. 

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Each year, around this time, some of my students greet me with sad faces. They’ve tried their best to get a training contract or a paralegal position, but they haven’t been successful. In our weekly clinic meetings we often discuss what happened at vacation placements, interviews or assessment days and my students and I share tips for application forms and interview questions. But this doesn’t necessarily provide comfort. My students tell me that they still feel hurt from the rejection. And so, each year, around this time,  I tell my students a story. It goes something like this:

When I was a law student I applied to a significant number of law firms for a job. Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Chester, London…

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Friday Fun Facts

I am trying to get back on the Friday Fun Facts bike. My Fun Facts will be about conferencing.

  1. I started attending academic conferences when I was an undergrad. One of my mentors was supportive and shared that I  needed to get used to presenting  my work and the entire conference experience.
  2. My first terrible conference experience was at an APSA. I was a grad student and the discussant was unpleasant to the entire panel. I listened and learned and have taken my discussant role seriously. I am thoughtful and supportive.
  3. Once I earned my PhD, I always made sure that I took a grad student out to breakfast or dinner at a conference. And, I always introduce grad students to my network. I know what it is like to feel like an outsider in the at times clique-ish academic environment.
  4. If I see poor behavior by a discussant at a conference, I contact the conference organizers. I will not be a bystander to someone needlessly being an ass to people. See number 2. I will usually respond to the colleague who is not using a filter.
  5. I have multiple copies of my presentation and travel with my own dongles/connectors. I learned the hard way and have become very agile and ready to present my talk.
  6. I often invite a student or more junior colleague to present with me on a panel or round-table.

Hope these six, fast facts are useful. Share your conference facts! Sharing an image from Twitter. I love this mug.

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Is is Better to be a Leader than a Manager?

I agree. It’s not an either or…the two roles can vary in a day.

The Accidental Manager

In the last week, the comparison of leader vs. manager has popped up a couple of times in my LinkedIn feed usually through a quote that implies that it’s better to be a leader than a manager. Here is one as an example, from someone whose ideas I admire:

Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.  –Tom Peters

While I am hoping that Tom intended to demonstrate the different skills inherent in managing and leading, it is likely taken by most people as an either or statement.  If you are a manager, all you do is arrange and tell, but when you are a leader, the choirs sing and the heavens part as you nurture and enhance your team. Most readers would also take those attributes and assign them by proxy to managers and leaders – because surelyit’s better to be a leader…

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Reflections: No Glares

Now that another term has almost ended, I can look over my shoulder at the previous school year and think reflect. Each year I reflect and try to learn from the previous year and then resolve to make some changes in the next year in the classroom, for my professional development or my ongoing efforts to mentor/coach students and peers. What did I do differently last year in the classroom, office hours or other interactions with my students? I resolved for more honesty. I was blunt. I was diplomatic, but more so, I was blunt. I am helpful and professional; however, I refuse to waste my students’ time with circular conversations. I do them no favors if I try to sugar-coat conversations.

What were the repercussions for me, if any? I heard more of these comments:
Thank you for being honest. I’ve never heard this before. Why am I almost done and no one has told me this? I didn’t know that this was plagiarism. Thank you for your time.

I did not have any incidents where someone stormed out of my office or a conversation escalated. If anything, I had meaningful conversations about assignments, interactions, writing, grad school, and other issues. As I have noted on numerous occasions, part of my job means that I have the good fortune to work with young people in the classroom or in my office. I love it. I would not trade this job for another as I get to teach, mentor, coach, and lead.

This last year I also thought more about my time. I strategically chose to focus my time differently. Part of it is that I had to, given a job change, but that is cause for a different post. I was not as available for extended office hours and the world did not fall apart. I expected a few day’s notice for extra appointments. What I am saying is that I established better boundaries for office houring and mentoring students. I had to protect my time thanks to the job change and I was working more. I managed my time effectively and accomplished more. And, at the same time I did not field complaints from my students. If anything, the change was better, as they commanded my full attention at times that were not pressed between meetings and I could listen.

My writing prompt for this post comes from a Swedish Proverb, “Fear less, hope more; whine less, breathe more; talk less, say more; hate less love more; and all good things are yours.” This last school year was filled with so much good and change. I welcome the change with a big smile and an open mind. The 2015-16 school year is half way through and I am in a great place. And, I’ll add that my little Grumpy Cat agrees and has her head on the desk!

Affirmations

What are some of the mantras that you repeat? I love different quotes and use them as power ups, to share or to remind me about positive things. I have a few books of different quotes and refer to them, as needed. On an older version of my business card is the quote, “I believe in women.” My partner had the cards designed for me when I finished my dissertation.

What are some of your favorite quotes or affirmations that you say to yourself before a tough situation? This book is great. It’s perfect for writing prompts or just writing down the mundane. 20140227-173735.jpg