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

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.


Finish the Term Strong: Redux

This post is all about suggestions for student success. As a former Undergraduate Advisor and an instructor, I am supportive of student success. I have one more week in the term and due date are looming, but I realize that many of my colleagues have one to two more months left. This post will speak to some suggestions for how students can finish the term strong

1. Go to class

2. Read the syllabus

3. Go to office hours

4. Review points one through three

Seriously, I am not kidding about the above as they are extremely important to student success. As I told a group of librarians today, I might as well say that the sky is blue; however, it is key to emphasize the obvious. There are moment when we need reminding about what is the obvious Beyond the absolute obvious, I also suggest that during the last part of the term that students manage their time well. Now is the time to focus on ending on a high note. It is to easy to finish with the best that you can do in that moment, but that will not make you stand out above the others. I encourage you to become a hermit during the last week or two as you write your papers.

What else can you do? You can visit your Writing Center and then ask if your professor is willing to chat about your draft or to review your draft. Please note that most professors will not copy-edit your draft. Please remember that your professor may have 30-400 students that term, so don’t be too hard on your professor if they are only willing to chat about your paper. If you have a Teaching Assistant, by all means go to her or his office hours. Own your education. Take charge and act like you care. Acting like you care about your education and success really does count for something.

My last words of guidance are about reading the assignments and following directions. I am always surprised and frustrated by the number of students who do not read the syllabus and think that this is not important. A student approached me recently saying, “This is a 12 point font.” I responded, “Yes, it is but it is not Times New Roman 12 and is a huge font. Please review my syllabus.” Following directions is the first part of an assignment and reflect attention to detail. Good luck with the last few weeks and your papers and final!

Graduation is a mere two months away and I can’t wait to sit on the stage and witness this momentous event. Until then, I send positive energy to my students as they wind down. Finish the term well!




The Art of Phoning It In

What does it mean to “phone it in.” Generally speaking this means to give something little effort. To phone it in means that you made an attempt to do something. This does not mean that you tried hard, as you merely phoned it in. There are the occasional work outs that I phone in and hopefully get inspired to do more half way through the work out. There are days at work when I phone it in at a meeting or go through the motions, when I am not feeling well. However, I do not make a habit of doing this, as my job is too important to me to do this. Plus, students are smart. They know when a professor is phoning it in, and frankly, they do not like it. Can I blame them? This is my job. But, alas, I have expectations for them, too.

When do you phone it in?

I’m done teaching for about seven weeks and I am thinking about the last school year and the moments when I have phoned it in or when my coworkers or students phone it in. People say that Cs and Ds earn degrees, while this is true these sort of grades do not normally expedite getting jobs. Some students are clearly going through the motions, and I understand that. Some students do not want to be at the university or are not ready to do the work. But, there is something to say about a focused, hard worker who might have those occasional moments of phoning it in, but does not make a habit of phoning it in at work. Yes, I am saying that school is work. Students learn critical thinking, writing, time management, and hopefully get opportunities to collaborate with classmates. School is work and work is school. Success in university does not necessarily correlate into success off campus, and many college drop outs in the tech industry can attest to this. But, I have a word of advice for the rest of us:

Do not phone it in.

The photo below is a beautiful cake made my Real Food Made Easy, @toots11, Janice Mansfield. She never phones it in!


Rona Manynard Rocking it at Breathe Now

I’m sharing my almost live tweets about Rona Maynard’s keynote today at #Breatheyyj. @ronamaynard Wow, great preso. Any keynote coach would say: Brava! #Breatheyyj Thinking about her comments about resentment. She grew up in alcoholic household, but on the outside everything looked fine. Maynard knew that she wanted more–a different type of life. Trailblazer.

She was part of the generation who was trying to do it all. Remember she was the Editor in Chief of Chatelaine. But, it was hard to do it all–hard to keep balance. Lots of head nodding in the room, as she shared these points. We think we have to be Super Women. This can be an issue in a hostile work environment. We will burnout. We will get sick or worse. Maynard left one job and worked at home and slipped into a depression. “With trembling fingers I made the call to a women’s mental health clinic.” I’m glad that she’s sharing this story with us today. We need to get rid of the stigma about mental illness, as it is so common.

“Say no to unreasonable demands.” Rona Maynard

This is really hard to do. People expect us to say yes. Oh, this is important to me right now. I’ve recently said no to a few things and stood my ground much to the surprise of those around me. I said no to protect myself and my integrity and refused to get bullied. Back to Maynard, I really want to read her book, My Mother’s Daughter: A Memoir. I want to read her life story, as I think I have something to learn from her.

“Saying no is not about fighting with people.” Rona Maynard

Her preso is reminding me that I’m not alone in parenting a teen. You do have to pick your battles. You do have to call a truce on certain issues with your teen. Boom. Thinking maybe a family meeting is in order to chat about things. Maynard’s speech is making me think of so many things.

“40 is a magical age for women.” Rona Maynard

Maynard shared that her articles led women to write her letters. She was motivating them. It’s refreshing to hear that she made a difference in so many women’s lives. I am impressed. What a perfect fit for @BreatheNow. I am so proud of the team of co-founders, sponsors, and volunteers in making this possible. This is our little slice of community building in Victoria #yyj.

“My gift is building community through stories…” Rona Maynard

I really love her comments about resentment. Makes me think of the resentment olympics. It’s important to protect your time, so that you don’t feel resentful. You need to keep the well-spring full. We need certain mantras to stay happy. It’s work. Can’t say, “Accio balance. Accio happiness.” You have to work on it and keep your boundaries in order to do it. And, I will be honest, I do keep the positive emails and when I need to–I will review them. It’s grounding after a tough day.

Thank you, Rona for giving me food for thought.