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.

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.

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

 

Do Not Glorify Busy: Friends

This post is revised, but provides a timely reminder. Our lives are not about competing with one another about how busy we are. No one wins the busy olympics. Do not glorify busy. Do not proudly say, “I am triple booked.” One-upping does not make you more important. We are all busy.

My mantra for 2013 was: I will not glorify busy. This mantra deserves its own post, but I will speak to something more specific here. I continue to not glorify busy, since I know that everyone is busy and it’s relative to our lives. I will not make myself more busy than I need to and pass on social situations that I have to “phone in.”  This does not include work meetings or commitments, as that is different since I have to attend these meetings. I had a loved one in my family go through a major health crisis a few years ago and it was a wake-up call for better life balance and here I am thinking about things. I am better at taking time off. I have not perfected it, but I am getting better. One of the things that I am more cognizant of that is extremely important that I take care of myself. I am not talking about the basics: food and shelter. No, I’m referring to a more nuanced way of taking care of myself. If I have better balance in my life, my family benefits. If my family benefits, so do my friends, and then my co-workers and students. When my family was in crisis, I saw which friends were available and offered help and more importantly I also saw who I wanted to spend time with during my down time or me time.

I want to surround myself with people who are good friends. I want to spend time with people who are not vampires–you know the ones. You might refer to them as emotional vampires. Now, that I am trying to take better care of myself, I am more careful with my free time. Friendships are important and I am surrounded by some wonderful people in my life. But, I took stock during the last nine months and have forged some stronger friendships with some friends and have walked away from some other more shallow friendships. Surround yourself with people who have your back! This post is germane given that I am off to BlogHer and will surround myself with like-minded people. My hope it to make some new friends and finally meet some “old” ones in real life.

This post is reposted with a few things added. Overall, the sentiment is germane. Do not glorify busy. You will not get a gold medal or cookie for being busy. Take care of yourself!

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5 Facts About Me

1.  I am committed to lifelong learning. I regularly read books outside of my area of education and training to learn and grow.

2. Related to number one, I am reading an array of books, magazines, and articles. I never leave the house or my office without something to read.

3. I have an irrational fear of zombies. My family and friends tease me about this. This fear does not stop me from reading zombie lit and watch terrible zombie movies. <This also didn’t stop me from buying a shirt about zombies liking us for our brains.>

4. My family centers me. Sitting around the dinner table or talking with them takes me to my happy place. As my kids get bigger I find that our conversations about life offer insight into the people they are becoming.

5. I will never get tired of working with students. The other day I shared an enthusiastic high five with a student, when I verified that he was ready to declare his major. This was his moment and we shared it.

 

When Students are Petty

This is an old post, but worth sharing. As an academic, you must develop thick skin. We are constantly critiquing one another and praise is not common. However, I try to rectify this with sending note cards via campus mail and positive emails to colleagues and people who work with and for me. Overall, at times people can be petty. This post speaks more so to some of my experiences with students.

Once again, I’m in the process of reviewing my annual Faculty Activity Report. For those of you not familiar with this process, once a year you meet with the department Chair and review your productivity. The array of information includes publications, service, and teaching. I just reviewed the teaching portion with my evaluation scores that the department is most concerned with for my review. My numbers have always been pretty good as a part-time worker and now as a full-time employee. However, I did notice a blip, if you will in one course from the Fall 2009. I had to think back and I recall two industrious people who were so kind to remind me, “We don’t care if you were in a car accident, keep your personal life out of the classroom.” Now, this isn’t a direct quote, but rather a paraphrase from two of the written evaluations. These same two lovely people also scored me with all 0’s. This was the first time ever in my academic career that I was scored with the lowest score.

In July of 2009, I was in a car accident and consequently to this day am still recovering from injuries sustained in the accident. This particular class was in the afternoon and afternoons in the Fall 2009 were hard for me. During the first week of classes, I explained to the class that I was going to stand at the podium more than usual. Usually I work the room–I walk around the room and am very animated. That term–not so much. The truth was that there were some days that I held on to the podium for fear that my left knee might just give out and I might collapse. On one other occasion, I was walking into the class and my knee did give out. I heard a few students gasp.  I was quite embarrassed and explained that this was part of my health issues and end of story. I never belabored my accident more than this.

I was frustrated when I read these two written comments. And, the 0’s factored into my overall score did influence the numbers for that particular course. What is really interesting for me is that per the university guidelines, I have to work with students and their learning disabilities, illnesses, and other registered issues. Students can register with the Resource Centre for Students with a Disability. Their learning plan might include more time with exams or more flexibility with due dates. But apparently for some students–I am not allowed to be human. I cannot mention twice that I am not as mobile around the classroom. I certainly hope that those two people look back at the class and think fondly of those two minutes when they chose to write a cruel comment and circle a series of 0’s.

The good news is that my evaluations were still at or above the department mean so this didn’t mean that I wasn’t eligible for a raise. However, I don’t think that some students realize how they can be cruel. I was more troubled with the statements than the 0’s. The 0’s are really an outlier for the statistical scores. I know that I take the written comments more seriously.

Updating that in 2012 when my partner had a serious illness the vast majority of my students were patient; however, a few were clear that my turnaround for graded work in 10-14 days was unacceptable. I wish them good luck in their lives. I am usually a super star and get graded work returned in 3-7 days. But, alas, my partner was in the hospital and I dropped the ball. <Note sarcasm>. Did I see a drop in my numbers for one class–yes I did. Were the qualitative comments interesting? Yes, the first year students applauded my availability knowing that I had a family crisis, while some of my students in an upper-division course complained about the turn around time for graded work. I had to smile. I cannot please them all and surprisingly the first year students were the most patient.

Continuing the Conversation About Leaning In

Many are still responding to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. People have both applauded and attacked the book and Sandberg. I was recently catching up on my magazines and read a review in the April issue of the Atlantic and came across Garance Franke-Ruta’s “Miss Education.” Franke-Ruta notes that women are doing a great job in seeking higher education. Women are leaning in at university, but once they leave they fall behind. In short, we do well at school, but when we get our first job we do not negotiate well. I do not really agree with all of her article. Franke-Ruta uses dating as a metaphor. She explains that women are waiting to be noticed or wooed and this is different for men, since they seek out the job and feel more comfortable negotiating their salaries. Many articles and books point out that women do not negotiate their salaries and benefits well or as well as their male counterparts.

What the author is getting at in an interesting if not problematic way is that women are socialized to not negotiate well and to not find work in the same way that men do. This might explain why some 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women (28). What we might actually need is more leadership training for women, better mentoring programs in university, and in the workplace. Franke-Ruta is correct that education is not the panacea, but it is not just the formal education that is needed, but re-education of peoples’ expectations about women and men. We need better career education and mentoring all along the education and work pipeline. And, we need stop dismissing the career advice in Lean In and other books. They are targeting professional women and we need to embrace the message and not just attack the messenger. These books are clearly not for everyone–which career book is? I am including a screen shot from the article that assesses other similar books. Many thanks to the Franke-Ruta for her provocative review. You can see that these books share one major point: it’s important to ask for a raise.

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