Stray Thoughts Sunday: Planning for a REAL Break

It is unbelievable to me that in one week I will be on Spring Break.

And this year, I’m going to work really, really hard THIS week in an attempt to not work at all next week.  I have a lot to do.  I have a lot to do for work, at my house, and for speech and debate.  But, I really feel like if I push myself to get things done this week, I can take a real week off next week.  My plan is to check email once a day during break and that is it.  No grading.  No class prep.  No dealing with crises.  Just having it all done and relaxing, reading a lot, watching some movies, binge watching some TV, taking my DD in for her annual biopsy with a fun night in the hotel and swimming in the pool, etc. and a fun trip with friends to Turtle Bay (not the resort, just a small park with recovering wild animals and open space and some educational things).  That’s it.  But, that is going to mean I have to push myself this week.  I have to be productive and focused and probably skip some sleep.  But, it will be so worth it.  I have not taken a real Spring Break in quite a while.  I am so ready for one this year.

And here is where the stray thoughts come in this Sunday:

I am also contemplating where I am going with my life right now.  I really feel like I’m tugged in about 50 different directions and need to figure out what I want to spend my time doing.  I am considering taking a year off of coaching (if I can shift my job to just teaching for a year) to focus on other things and allow me a little (perhaps a lot) more flexibility.  I feel like I’ve been doing Forensics for some 20 years plus now and I haven’t taken a year to just be in all that time.  There are always tournaments happening and research to be done and paperwork to be finished and preparation and travel planning.  It really is a year around activity.  And I think a year off would allow me some perspective.  But, I’m afraid I will take a year off and never want to go back.  It is not an easy job and I think being away from it for a year may just give me a taste of freedom.  A taste I would want to continue to savor.  We’ll see what the remainder of this year brings and what some of my options are for moving forward in a more sane way.  I just feel like I’ve reached a point where what I’m doing is no longer sustainable for me.  I want options.

I also realize that I need to tame my grading monster.  I am going to really look at what I need to be grading and what I can make more automated and what doesn’t need to have a grade attached to it.  Right now, I just have too much that requires my attention each week.  I need some automation.  I need some systems.  I need routines.  And I need to minimize my teaching like I need to minimize my possessions.  I need to figure out what really matters, what really helps the students and what should and should not have points attached.  And then look at it even more closely and get rid of some more.  Minimalism should work with teaching like it works with managing the household.  I need to prioritize, purge and focus on what matters.  In class and at home.

So, yeah.  Mid-life crisis perhaps?  What do I really want to be when I grow up?  Or grow old, as the case may be.  I love so many aspects of my job, but it is also really hard to do and takes so much time away from family and my teaching and living life.  I just am not sure what to do at this point.  But, the REAL Spring Break should be helpful in my being able to sort some things out.  And if I am honest with myself, being more organized and on top of my stuff would make my job much easier, even with all the travel and planning and time away.  So, in part, I could fix the problem without having to take the year off.  But, a year of weekends at home sound really, really good to me right now.  Perhaps that is a Mid-Spring semester crisis?

Politically Correct or Simple Respect?

 

Today in my class, we were discussing euphemisms and doublespeak.  One of my students raised his hand and asked if political correctness was a form of euphemism or doublespeak.  I quickly started to answer no and then rethought that response and asked him to define what he meant my “political correctness” as I felt that there were a number of different ideas about that phrase.  He provided the following definition:

It is a change in language based on some perceived social injustice that is forced on others.

I probed a bit further, asking him who the social injustice was “perceived” by.  He explained that it would be the person or people demanding the change in language.  I asked if that perception was “wrong” in his view.  He stopped to think about it and said, “well, I just think they are overclaimed.” I nicely asked again, “but, do you think the people perceiving it that way are wrong?” He thought about it and said he didn’t know.  I told him that because of that, I think of political correctness, not as a euphemism where I’m trying to make something sound “nicer,” but not really changing the underlying thing, but as a form of respect for others.  In their view, there is a social injustice perpetrated on them through the use of that language and we should respect that viewpoint, even if we challenge the reality of the effects of that language use.  I asked if I were an African American and requested he and others not use the N-word around me if that was political correctness.  He hesitated.  I said, “don’t you think it is politically incorrect to use that word?” and he said, “yes.” and I said something like, “but you would respect that request because YOU agree that the word is not acceptable.  So, the question is not whether some language is offensive, but whether it is offensive to YOU.  So, I always think it is better to err on the side of respecting what others find offensive because I realize I experience social injustice differently than others.”  I did say that I thought that outright “forcing” people to change their language is not acceptable, as I am not one for censorship.  We also spoke about whether “shaming” is a form of “force” or “coercion,” to which I said that I did not think they were the same because you would be making the decision based on social norms and expectations in the case of shame, and that is still YOU making the decision to change your language.

I’ve thought a lot about the idea of political correctness.  I have a hard time not using the term “guys” and I have been corrected by feminists in the past for using it to reference mixed groups or groups of females.  I sometimes struggle with using non-gendered terms to refer to what appears to be gendered individuals.  I am not perfect.  But, I do not think that the individuals asking me to change my language are “forcing” me into anything.  I do not judge people for using language that is not politically correct, but I do judge people for “fighting for the right to be politically incorrect”.  I think of that as basically saying, “I am fighting for the right to offend others and show them disrespect without any societal repercussions.”  That is ridiculous.  You have the right to be offensive.  Others have the right to tell you that you’re offensive and react to that offense.  Many times those ridiculing political correctness are the first to say that they should not have to listen to messages or see things that go against their beliefs or “offend” them. And often, they will tie those wishes to legal demands, which goes far beyond the societal guilt and shame that is attached to political correctness.

I thought this was an interesting discussion and hopefully one that helped to open some different lines of reasoning in not only this student’s mind but others as well.  I hope that this post does the same.

Mind Blown: Mind/Cognitive Loads at Home and Work

You know those days when something becomes so clear to you that it is like when the eye doctor switches those lenses and everything that was previously blurry and dark becomes perfectly clear and strikingly bright?  Yeah, that just happened to me in a way that makes both my personal and professional life so much more clear and bright that I had to share. It seems especially poignant in my year of “making a home,” since it focuses on how much mental effort is really expended (mostly invisibly) in making a home.

d-e-b-u-t-s-i-n-g-l-e

So, the first thing that popped up in my Facebook feed earlier today is this Real Simple article, shared by Working Moms Against Guilt.  The article focuses on the “invisible workload” that women carry in their brains:

Walzer found that women do more of the intellectual, mental, and emotional work of childcare and household maintenance. They do more of the learning and information processing (like researching pediatricians).

They do more worrying (like wondering if their child is hitting his developmental milestones). And they do more organizing and delegating (like deciding when the mattress needs to be flipped or what to cook for dinner).

Even when their male partners “helped out” by doing their fair share of chores and errands, it was the women who noticed what needed to be done.

The article struck a chord with me, not only because it quoted a poem written by a favorite blogger of mine from back when I first realized what having a chronically ill child was going to mean to my life, Ellen Seidman at Love That Max.  My daughter is not in any way comparable to Max in all that he (and therefore his family) has to deal with on the medical front, but she had a way of making me feel better about myself as a mother and she offered guidance for how to deal with all of the doctor’s appointments and anxiety and hospital stays and so much more.  But, back to the article…I recognized our own family, where my husband often asks me to “give him a list of two or three things to do” as if he can’t see the laundry piling up or the dishes sitting dirty in the sink or the garbage that needs taking out, etc., etc.  I make and record all the medical appointments.  I deal with most of the pharmacy issues for medication.  I schedule babysitters and dog sitters.  Now that our dryer isn’t working, I do loads of wash and then pile them in the car and take them to the laundromat to dry.  I then bring them home and fold them and put them away.  I keep our calendar.  In the day-to-day, it doesn’t seem like much, but as the article indicates, it takes its toll.  And as the author of the article includes, it isn’t just all the household management that we are having to think about:

It’s about housework, yes, but it extends to having to consider what neckline, hemline, height of heel, and lipstick shade is appropriate for that job interview, afternoon wedding, or somber funeral, instead of relying on an all-purpose suit; it’s about thinking carefully about how to ask for a raise in a way that sounds both assertive and nice; it’s about worrying whether it’s safe at night and how to get home; for some of us, it involves feeling compelled to learn feminist theory so as to understand our own lives and, then, to spend mental energy explaining to others that the revolution is unfinished.

I must admit that I’m not one for changing my neckline or hemline or heel height.  I am lucky to work in academia where I am not going to be the best-dressed faculty member, but I’m also never going to be the worst dressed faculty member.  But, as a female debate coach, I know what it is like to have to think about how to approach a conversation with others.  And yes, the revolution is unfinished, although now I figure I can just show this cover of Washington Post’s Express in response to anyone who challenges that notion:

express2_010716twitter

So, I can’t say I feel “good” about the article’s findings, but I do feel somewhat vindicated in feeling overwhelmed and exhausted much of the time and a bit frustrated some of the time.

But, it didn’t end there.  That was me noticing my own pain and suffering.  The real turning point came when I then read “Enhancing Learning through Zest, Grit and Sweat,” in Faculty Focus and I came to this last advice under the “sweat” section:

Mind cognitive load. Complex assignment instructions, confusing website navigation, and disorganized course materials increase unproductive cognitive load. Cognitive load should focus energy on the subject, not on the periphery.

And I thought about my prior classes.  I thought about how I have now realized how poor some of my navigation was designed on our Learning Management System.  I realized how at times, the course materials were disorganized and sometimes late being delivered.  I realized that, in the same way that I am suffering from a heavy mind cognitive load at home, I am placing my students in a situation where they are suffering a heavy mind cognitive load because of ME!  And I realize now how important it is to relieve that load.  I realize that, in the past, I have expected my students to “let things go” or I have told them to “remind me to post materials because I might forget” and that, my friends, is really not fair to them.

So, although I have already done quite a bit of reorganization and increased the clarity and focus in my classes and the assignment instructions, etc. I have a new understanding of the WHY.  I have a personal connection to my students’ frustration.  I am able to see like I have not been able to see before.

To conclude, thinking is hard work.  I am sure that I will continue to carry the load of thinking jobs at home.  But, I can now be more aware of when it is starting to wear on me and I can be more able to voice my concerns about it.  I will also work at ensuring I do what I can to allow my students to focus on their learning of the subject matter and not the peripheral “unproductive” cognition caused by my lack of preparation or awareness.  In the end, I hope that we will all have a year with less of a mind/cognitive load.

January 2017: A Look Ahead

Instead of doing a “year in review” for 2016, I decided to do a “look ahead” for the month of January.  I thought it might be fun (or scary) to lay things out for my month on the first day of each month and then do a check in at the end of the month and see whether my planning came to fruition or fell by the wayside.  There will be some affiliate links below.

january-scene-skating-early-1820s

January is a relatively relaxing month for me.  Grades are in and I don’t start teaching again until the 23rd.  BUT, this year I am in the midst of a course redesign for one of my classes and I will be working through the final stages of that before implementing in the Spring.  But, I don’t have any teaching or grading to do, which is a great relief.

I have decided to do Stephanie O’Dea‘s calendar pages for my “homemaking“.  I only got a month to see how they work out, but I absolutely love the way they look and the motivational messages on each page for January.  I was using Motivated Moms calendar and it worked okay, but I like the fun and more motivating design of O’Dea’s.  So, we’ll see if I can keep up with it.

We are going to my in-law’s for a few days this next week and I plan to leave my laptop at home (!) and just deal with absolute emergency work things while I’m there (hopefully there are none).  I’m going to be focused on reading a book for a new book club I’m starting on January 10 (we are reading The Girl With All the Gifts).  I will also be reading Blogging For Writers: How Authors & Writers Build Successful Blogs in an effort to learn more about this blogging thing and take me to the next level, hopefully.

When we return, my DD heads back to school for a day, then we have to head to Stanford for a heart clinic appointment. We will also be starting a new activity for her – our local regional children’s theater!  She loved doing the school play and a couple of friends of hers are signed up for this production, so she is going to do it as well.  She will have a practice every Monday and Wednesday until the end of April for it so, it will mirror her rehearsals this Fall, but now she will have to be there EVERY day (for her school play she got quite a few days off while they worked with the bigger parts).  So, the Stanford trip will be a quick one.  We will leave after play practice on Monday, appointment on Tuesday morning and drive back so I can make the book club meeting that evening.  Wednesday of that week, I have a parents’ meeting for our Girl Scout troop because we are headed into cookie selling season (!), then a service unit meeting for Girl Scouts on Thursday.  That weekend, we may be traveling back down to my in-laws for another visit as my hubbie is going for a competitive shoot in Ojai and that Monday is a school holiday, so we can stay an extra day, but that is a crazy week right there.

The next week, I have a Girl Scout meeting with the girls where we will start our Money Manager badge.   That Saturday, there is a Digital Cookie Training session that my DD will probably go to for Girl Scouts.  Then…SPRING 2017 SEMESTER BEGINS!!!

My schedule this Spring is four days a week, but days mostly instead of two evenings/nights, which I think I will like much better.  On Mondays and Wednesdays, I teach at my Community College regional center here in town (I had to commute 20 minutes to main campus in Fall, so this is a welcome relief as well) from 9 – 10:15 a.m. and then another class goes from 12:30 – 1:45 p.m.  So, I think I will try to stay between the two classes and do prep and grading.  It is nice because I don’t have people coming by to talk to me there like I do at my full-time teaching office hours, so I can actually get quite a bit done.  So, I’m done teaching completely on Mondays and Wednesdays at 1:45 p.m.  On Tuesdays, I have office hours at my full-time, four-year University from 10:30 – Noon and then I teach two classes back-to-back from 12:30 – 3:15 p.m.  I then have a break when I can come home and actually eat dinner with my family before returning to teach my one night class at 7 p.m.  Thursdays, I’ve scheduled office hours from 9 – 12:30 p.m., I then teach until 3:15 p.m. and I’m done for the week!  I am really looking forward to this schedule.  I am hoping that with this schedule, we can have family dinners together at home every night.

The last weekend of January, I travel to St. Louis for a Speech and Debate competition.  I am gone Thursday night through Monday afternoon (I think) so, I will have to plan something for my students for that Monday.  And then Tuesday is the end of the first month of 2017.

So, yeah…that’s my relaxing January.  Now that I type it all out, it doesn’t seem all that relaxing.  But, I know that not having classes and grading makes a huge difference in my life, so it will be somewhat relaxing for me.

What’s your January looking like?

Bad at Goodbyes – Ending the Semester

I am bad at goodbyes.  I was always horrible at breakups.  I tend to let friendships fade out rather than end in some kind of fiery glory of true “Fin!”.  And this all equates to my final few weeks of the semester being horrible.  I used to think it was because I was tired of my students or burnt out from all the grading and stress of end-of-year events, etc.  But, no.  I now believe it is really because I’m bad at goodbye.

good in good bye

I want to be the kind of teacher that has that last day of class that looks like a scene from Dead Poet’s Society, where I stand on my desk and provide my students with a life-changing soliloquy of life and love, lost and gained.  But, instead, I drag in, carrying a way-too-full work bag full of papers that need grading, pass out their multiple choice final (which tests little of their knowledge gained during the semester) and then tell them “Have a good break.” as they walk out the door, many of them to never be seen again.  None of them finding the experience life-changing in any way, shape or form.  They may have enjoyed the class (at least some of them say they did), but none of them are walking away from the experience with any real sense of closure.

Its funny in a way, because I teach public speaking and one thing that beginning speakers are usually poor at doing is closing their speech.  You get those awkward endings with people pausing, and the audience wondering if they should applaud or if the person is going to continue, and the speaker has to say, “That’s it.  I’m done.”  That is what I feel like my finals are like.  An awkward pause while the students are thinking, “is this really IT?” and then me saying, “that’s it…have a good break.” and everyone leaves slightly let down.

So, I can’t change it for this semester, but it is something I plan to work on for next semester.  I’m considering doing away with any kind of traditional final exams in my classes.  No more Scantrons.  No more multiple choice questions that fail to capture the true learning that has (or has not) taken place during the semester.  But, I need to figure out something to replace it with.  I like what this Professor from Georgetown has to say (and I don’t think I remember a single final I took – papers I wrote, yes, but finals I took, no): “Meaningful Exams for a Meaningful End.”  My friend reads “Oh, the Places You Will Go,” by Dr. Seuss, but he teaches mostly seniors and I teach a lot of Frosh.  End of the semester conferences, like these discussed in “Ending the Semester on High Note,” also sound intriguing, but a little difficult to fit in those last few weeks (since I have performance-based classes where speeches are being given, etc.).  There are a lot of ideas floating around out there in the internets…I just need to figure out which will work for me and my classes.  But, I am definitely open to suggestion!

So, that is one of my “teacher goals” for the summer.  To figure out how to put the Good in my end-of-semester Goodbyes.

Six Word Saturday – Final Countdown Edition

Now officially in the final countdown!

final countdown pic

Sorry, but for most of you that is probably true.  I actually love the commercials with that song in them.  It was a fave of mine back in the day and I think the commercial is hilarious.

But, seriously, I AM in the final countdown.  One of the campuses I work at is done for the semester (other than a pile of grading I have to do in those classes, but I’m making pretty good progress this weekend) and the other is in finals this coming week.  So, three more class meetings and I. am. finished.  So thankful.  I am tired this semester.  More tired than usual I think.  But, I also think that teaching is like childbirth.  If anyone really remembered everything that happened in the process, they would never return to do it again.  So, we have some selective memory that allows us to continue doing what would otherwise seem insane to do a second (or third, or twenty-third time – well, not childbirth unless you’re part of that Duggar family and they really may be legitimately insane – at least some of them. But with teaching, people definitely teach for upwards of 20-25 years and that is 40-50 semesters or more).  So, yeah.  We remember the good, tend to play down or forget the bad and we go back the next time feeling like we have a good idea of what is coming, but not realizing our memories are all distorted somehow.

Well, that took a direction that I didn’t plan on at the start…but, that is the beauty of the Six Word Saturday!

Six Word Saturday -Summer is Coming

Joining up at Six Word Saturday over at Show My Face.

Summer is Coming.  End in Sight.

That is basically my mantra these days.  I have four weeks left.  Three weeks at one campus and four weeks at the other.  And then I have some time “off”.  I put that in quotation marks, because although I won’t be teaching and coaching during that time, I have a lot of things I would like to get done.  But, it is so nice to not have to prep for class, go teach and grade.  It really does make a huge difference.

Five Minute Friday – Pass

Participating in Five Minute Friday over at Heading Home again this week.  This week’s prompt is “Pass”.

Five-Minute-Friday-new

So, here goes:

At this time of year, “pass” is all tied up in grading for me.  I am a teacher, after all and we are nearing the end of the semester.  I consider myself to be a decent teacher.  I’m not great…yet.  But, I’m working on it and I think I do a pretty good job right now.  But, some of my classes are doing pretty poorly.  It is always a question as to whether their pass and failure rate are a reflection of you as an instructor or them as students.  In the end, it is probably a combination.   As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.  I am someone who believes that you can make the water a little more appetizing to them.  You can even give them a way to drink that makes it easier for them to access the water.  But, in the end, you really can’t force it down their throats.  But, it is my goal to do more in my teaching to make the water attractive and to make it easier for them to drink.  I guess I want to be able to make them so thirsty, they can’t possibly turn the water down.

It is not easy though.  I need to improve.  I need to be more engaged.  I need to have a better plan and strategies and activities.  So, this summer will be somewhat dedicated to just that.  But, I’m excited about these changes.  I’m excited about the possibility of serving up water to thirsty students who WANT to drink it down!

 

Teacher Talk: Three Things to do Mid-semester

Oh, the dreaded mid-semester mark.  The major holidays are over and everyone is looking down the barrel of the weeks left in the semester.  Instructors are having midterms and midterm projects.  We have inevitably fallen behind the schedule and are trying to play catch up.  The weather is starting to warm and students are looking to revisit their Spring Break rather than their textbooks and notebooks.  So, what to do to keep momentum going and students from rising up?

midsemester meme

Really, we don’t plan these things as instructors, but it would be much more enjoyable if we did.  Especially if we were all followers of Dr. Evil…

But, alas, we are not.  So, here are some things to do:

  1.  Figure out if you can cull anything from the remainder of the semester.  I have started to really question everything I teach each semester now.  It used to be that I taught whatever was in the textbook.  And sometimes there was much more in the textbook than there were days in the semester, but I would try to shove it all in there anyways.  When I switched to not using a textbook in one of my classes, I really had to ask what I NEEDED to teach in order to reach the learning objectives.  After all, the textbook is not often written with our learning objectives in mind, yet, we teach it, without question and often without purpose.  So, no more of that.  This semester we may have a week long strike, so the culling becomes even more important.  Some things are must-haves others, my students can probably live without and still achieve all learning objectives.
  2. Switch it up.  Go somewhere new for class – a computer lab, outside, the student union.  Just get out out of the rut that has become your classroom.  If you can’t do that, switch up the classroom a bit for one or two sessions.  Move desks around or have an activity where everyone has to stand and walk around (I have what I call “public speaking cocktail parties” where people mill about, introduce themselves and talk about their speech topics – no alcohol is included).  Have a guest speaker come in for a class.  Show a Ted Talk.  Anything that will get your students (and you) feeling like everything old is new again.
  3. Start planning for next semester.  It seems kind of counter-intuitive to start planning for the next semester before you’ve even finished this one, but I’ve found if I wait until its all over, I forget what happened in the first half of the semester.  So, I’ve started doing a little “mid-term review” of my own.  What worked?  What didn’t?  What did I want more of and what did I want less of (or even none of)?  It helps to note all this somewhere and it makes me start to feel a little more positive as I can look forward with fixes rather than looking back with disappointment.

So, those are my three things to do mid-semester.  What about you other teachers out there?  What do you do mid-semester to keep the momentum going?

365 Days of Thankfulness – Day 3

I was going to try to stay up late and get some grading and cleaning done tonight, but after waking up around 4:30 a.m. this morning, it just isn’t going to happen.  The time change has really thrown me and I’m afraid my sleep patterns are really off.  I am exhausted tonight, so I’m hoping to go to bed early and get up early and get some grading and cleaning done tomorrow.  But, before hitting the bed tonight, I wanted to be sure to get my 365 Days of Thankfulness post in (and my 3rd day of the Nablopomo as well).  For my first two 365 Days of Thankfulness posts you can go here and here.

Thankful_zpsd6bc7c2d

Today, I am thankful for enthusiastic students who really enjoy learning.  I tend to get caught up in the drudgery of grading and prepping and just getting through classes and I don’t take enough time to really connect with students and their interests.  I realized today that by teaching that way, I miss out on a lot that students have to offer.  Not all students bring a true enthusiasm and interest to learning, but the ones that do make up for all those who do not.  This semester, I’m teaching the writing class for our major and we are just starting on the final papers and the students are coming up with their topics.  Some of them are really excited about their topics and that excites me.  When I was a student, I loved doing research and learning more about things.  I sometimes feel like my students don’t have that same enthusiasm.  But, some do and I need to figure out more ways of giving them the chance to really explore those interest areas.  I also want to make them lifelong learners, so teaching them how to find information, how to interpret and then how to use that information is really important.

So, today I am glad that I did not cancel my class (like I thought about all afternoon) and instead was able to talk one-on-one with some students about their topics (while having them do some peer feedback groups).  I am glad I was able to see the enthusiasm in their faces and hear their interest in their voices.  And I am excited about some of the emails I have received about their topics.

Teaching is a very social activity, but too often, I let it become a somewhat isolating activity.  I need to get more social and get to know my students and their interests and their likes and dislikes.  That will make me better at what I do and also more enthusiastic about my own job.