Energy Focus

It’s that time of the year when you have to reframe requests. I was chatting with some faculty colleagues about student work, and noted that I do not accept late work. The truth is that I do with qualifiers. I have a sentence or two in my syllabi that notes that students need to contact me before an assignment is due if they are deathly ill or an emergency has come up for them. I find it easier to specifically state my expectations. But, I also know that I have to be flexible. Life happens. 

I do not have enough mental energy to stress about late work. I was more rigid about deadlines, and then moved to rolling deadlines. And, an amazing thing happened, the percentage of students with excuses dropped. They knew that the first deadline meant more comments, and the last deadline was not late. This works well for my students. But, overall, my opinion with late work is one with less frustration. In some of my classes there are no rolling deadlines and just the policy–no late work is accepted. 

I have to choose what is my biggest concern. I want my students to be successful in the course. I do not want to hound them. I will not. They need my energies focused in the classroom and office hours. 

The photo below is the flip side of my Social Media name tag. My name is on the other side, but this side works. 

Why I Run Review Sessions

I am revisiting this idea. While I am not teaching a large first year course anymore, this post is relevant. I started this post a few years ago and saved it as a draft. Now, I am finishing it and mindful that it is a good reminder for my teaching and learning. I am an advocate of review sessions and workshops for students. We want students to think about how their professor is helpful. I include a screen grab from a search for “my professor is.”

my prof is

I am co-teaching a first year level course with three other faculty and one of the things that I take on as the professor of record is offering review sessions for the exams and other major assignments. I have taught first year courses for most of my academic career and the review sessions are important to helping my students with their learning. Review sessions or re-visiting “how to be successful” is not pandering to our students. It is an important part of active teaching.

Now that I have started my 19th year of teaching, I have come to realize several things. My students want more guidance about assignments. For an array of reasons, when I first started teaching the typical student would come to office hours or ask a question about an assignment in class. Now a majority of them want me to give them more information about the major assignments during class time. They likely feel that the stakes are higher for them and they want to fully understand my expectations.

I have also found that when we are blogging, uploading to Wikipedia or using any educational technology platforms in the classroom they need more than one workshop session to learn the technology. Some colleagues are surprised to hear this, “but they are the digital generation.” Yes, we can refer to our students as such, but when marks are involved it is a different story. This is not an exhaustive list of what I have learned over the years. I will certainly add to this post, as I ruminate why I am fine with clarifying, review sessions or otherwise digging deeper.

 

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.

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

 

Epiphanies

Most instructors have likely experienced this. You get your mail in the department and you have a card from a former student that essentially says the following: I took your class a number of years ago and wanted to say thank you. I thought you were crazy, but now that I’ve been working I find that I think of you and the class fondly. I am sorry for being a jerk. Your class was important. Thank you. I appreciate the thanks, and I also appreciate the apologies for sarcasm or making the class discussion more difficult. These notes are quite meaningful.

Approximately ten times per year, I get emails, cards or Facebook messages like the above from my former students. Funny enough the cards are from an array of students and it is sloppy to say it is from the haters. The cards come from former students who are being honest. Some might think  that they were difficult, but I find that their memory and my memory vary. I can think of two very difficult groups over the years, and I have heard from one person out of that group, and the apology appeared honest at first. I say that, as that former student appeared lots in my social media being rather antagonistic. I wish I could say that the above is pure hyperbole. It is not.

Lately, this has happened more than most years. I think it’s the fact that the numbers of students that I have taught has increased or maybe it is the fact that I just finished my tenth year at the fourth university. They know how to contact me via snail mail, email or social media.

My point here is I have found that the students who send these notes surprise me. I am happily surprised that they contacted me. I am happily surprised with the thanks, and reminded about the privilege that I have working with them in the classroom. But, each card notes that I was approachable, enthusiastic or that my playing devil’s advocate made a difference. My students are not jerks. They are diligent, hard-working, exhausted, balancing lots, and do what they can. They are imperfect. And, so am I.

Great caption, excuse the f bomb

 

What My Students Have Taught Me

I submitted my students’ grades and I have now completed my 18th year of teaching. I want to reflect on this year, but also begin to think about the next school term. This post offers some thoughts about what my students have taught me.

What have I learned from my students?

  1. Some of them are at university as a placeholder. Everyone tells them it was next for them. For many of them they are in the right place, but for some they will need some time off or to do other things, and this is fine. We have to support them.
  2. Their first year is hard. They are acculturating to university life and possibly living away from their parents. You have to treat the students with extra patience during the first term. Be firm, but patient.
  3. They are excited. You really want to keep that enthusiasm up, as it will for them when they are exhausted, homesick or second guessing themselves.
  4. You are part of their university experience.
  5. Working with first years for the bulk of my years, you are one of many who have impact on their ability to get through the first year. It is important to set guidelines, but be kind.

Overall, my first years have taught me humility. They are the hardest students to work with, as they demand the most of me. They also offer the most harsh quantitative and qualitative assessment of my teaching. It is ironic that a class full of people who are for the most part new to university are assessing my ability to teach. Who are they comparing me to? But it is important to hear from all my students, and learn from them. They make me smile with their compliments and criticism. It’s interesting to see that three students might like my use of “keener,” but one thinks that it is offensive. Yes, offensive. I cannot please everyone, and I do not try to do so. It is impossible!

I really look forward to year 19, which starts next month with the new term. I include a photo of my favorite Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is also known as the Notorious RBG.

notorious rbg

 

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