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!

Dr. Seuss

“Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” Dr. Seuss

I used my writing prompt book and I have to say that I appreciate this quote from Dr. Seuss. It speaks to me at the moment. I’ve read lots of his books to my kids and remember reading the books a long, long time ago. There is something about the books and reading them aloud that is soothing. It’s the wit and the nonsensical stories that entertain. I also think that Dr. Seuss holds a place in my memory as an academic due to the collection at the UCSD Library.

I spent many days at the library working on my grad school papers and my dissertation. The foyer occasionally displayed some of Dr. Seuss collections and I would at times procrastinate and pore through the holdings. Well, Dr. Seuss also had some war propaganda pieces and part of my work focused on Mass Political Behavior–I was doing research! In all seriousness, this quote is an important one for reflection. People who care about you ¬†aren’t apt to take offense at what you say. The people who care about you get you and are more willing to accept you and your quirks. And, well the people who have problems with what you say…they might not be worth your time. I know that this is not a truth; however, it is worth thinking about when you interact thoughtfully with people.

Make a Difference

I bought a writing prompt book and I do not use it as much as I would like to do so. This post is a response to, “Believe with all your heart that how you live your life makes a difference” by Colin Beavan. This quote made me think about work and university life in general. I use the quotes as a writing response and try to put pen to paper (yes, I hand write them out first) my first thoughts to the particular quote. Here are my first thoughts about Beavan’s quote.

Some people like to think of the university as this quaint place where professors reside in Ivory Towers or perhaps silos and are completely shut off from the rest of society. In fact, some opine that professors are clueless about the so-called real world. We professors are at times depicted as this uber-privileged class who are disinterested in students and teaching. Our students are often depicted as this group of youth who are hiding out in university learning about books or issues that will not help them get a job. Yes, that coveted job is the end result or want for our students. These depictions might offer an accurate view of some of my colleagues and some students; however, I would argue that for most these stereotypes or caricatures are false based on 16 years of teaching in universities in the US and Canada. Yes, this is my opinion.

The reality could not be further from the truth. Many professors are engaged in a myriad of work related projects that stem from research, teaching, service, governance in their units or across campus, as well as some community building in their disciplines or the wider community in which they live in locally. Sure, there are research intensive colleagues who are focused on that next book and their army of graduate students that they supervise. The university needs these different types of professors. This post is not about the army of exploited contingent faculty, as that deserves a monograph or at least its own post. It speaks volumes that I have this footnote or sidebar note in my scrawl on the writing prompt sheet.

Many do not understand that prior to smart-phones and other advances with digital technology, professors’ flexible schedules means that there is always work to do. There are always assignments that require marking, emails to get to, research to do, writing to think about and maybe do, and then more emails to respond to from students, colleagues, and others. With the advent of increased use of technology, people expect to hear back faster and in many instances you will get follow up emails about an email that was sent 15 minutes earlier or perhaps a few hours earlier. I have been emailed three times within my lunch hour by an administrative assistant about a meeting. The meeting was not a life threatening situation; however, my lunch hour meant that I was available. I did not respond until I was done with my lunch and my errand across campus. But, let me say that I was not keen to see a flurry of emails about something that was not pressing. My point is that boundaries are thin. Perhaps you think that I have moved away from the quote. But, I’m sitting here thinking about work and how I try to live my work life as if it makes a difference to those around me: my students. Do not get me wrong, I like my colleagues across campus, but my primary role right now is teaching and mentoring. This means that I need to go in each day and remember this quote. The little things that we do can make a difference.

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Thanksgiving Monday

What are you thankful for in your life? On this Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada, many are thinking about great meals and time spent with family. And, we are reminded to reflect about thanks. I’d like to think about education. I’m thankful for my education and to have a place in my students’ education. I’m also thankful for the great education that my own children are afforded (OK, it’s not that affordable, but that is another post) here in Victoria.

During the last month, I have received the annual array of Facebook messages or emails from former students. These contacts share one major theme: thanks. Now, I’m not going to make this about me. Instead, I want to focus on how these former students are thinking about their university educations and how they are thankful. This puts a smile on my face for numerous reasons. One month into the school year they are reminiscing and somehow reminded that they are thankful for that education and that they miss it–warts and all (assignments/deadlines, oh my).

Well, I’m thankful for the contact. That they remember me and that they look back fondly at their time during university. But, if anything, I am also reminded that an education is a life-long process. And, we all should know that education takes place in other places than the classroom. My education cup runneth over and I feel content.