Reflection

My reflection. Well, I think I missed once week posting, so I feel a bit guilty.

I liked the writing; I found it difficult and interesting and enlightening. I got a bit more empathy for the writing that I ask my students to do. This type of personal writing about teaching left me feeling exposed to my colleagues, and I realize how scary that it is to be honest about frustrations. I think I used my posts to kvetch about some of the annoyances and troubles and to look for a little compassion, comradery, and guidance. I think as an instructor, I want to appear in control and in charge at all times, and admitting that some things are difficult feels awkward and wrong.

It was interesting reading what my colleagues wrote, but here’s where I have a suggestion. I’d like to write one week; then read and comment the next week. There was a lot to read, and I would find myself skimming when I really wanted to read, cogitate, and comment. I am amazed at the ingenuity and creativity of my colleagues. I was able to learn things in the posts that I could never learn in my brief interactions with colleagues.

So enlightening. I liked to watch the thought processes of other people as they played out in the posts. David Graser’s posts were works of art with so much energy. I’ve learned a lot from reading Laura Cline’s posts, and we’re in the same department and our offices are just a few doors apart. The thing is, in our daily interactions we’re cordial, but her posts have given me great instruction and ideas that we don’t have the room for in real time.

But this brings me back to my suggestion: let’s do one week writing, one week reading and commenting. I haven’t gotten through all the posts, and I want to. There’s gold in them thar posts! (<get it?)

Two questions to ponder

November 4, 2014

I’m excited to be heading out to a conference with my colleague Nancy Schafer. It’s the College Reading and Learning Association, and the focus is on developmental education and student success. I need to get recharged for this last month of the year.

  1. Since mid-term, attendance has been plunging. OK, I’m exaggerating. Here’s the reality: Class 1 is down two students, Class 2 is down three students, Class 3 is down seven students! What happens to the students? I’ve tried to structure assignments so that the students can’t get behind, can’t procrastinate, but they manage to anyway.

What’s a reasonable attrition rate? If I do the math, 60 students to start with less 12 who’ve dropped or disappeared, that’s 5%. Is that all right? What about the class that has lost 7 of 20, that’s 35%, that’s pretty bad. What’s a reasonable drop rate? What part do we have control over in the retention of students.

  1. I have a student in two classes, so I see him Monday through Thursday at 9:30. One or two days a week, he has alcohol on his breath. He’s in his late 40’s, so it’s not illegal. About the third week of the semester, I told him he shouldn’t drink before classes. He nodded his head, but didn’t say anything. However, I continue to smell alcohol. He’s not disruptive in class, but he’s also not getting much out of class either: he seems confused a lot of the time. I sent in an incident report to Shar Jennings, Director of Campus Life, but she’s at a loss of what to do as well.

That’s what’s on my mind regarding teaching and learning this week. I’m off to St. Paul; my first time in Minnesota! Maybe I’ll find the answers to all our questions. OK, maybe one or two.

I wish I’d known then what I know now!

First, information for you: I talked to a friend who is a psychologist, and she says that the name of the disorder that I described in my 10/14/14 post is borderline personality disorder. There are no meds for this disorder, but with cognitive behavior therapy, people can have better relationships.

This brings me to my next post: graduate programs need to include information not only about content areas, but about teaching strategies and psychology (or social work) as well.

As with any job, there’s a lot of on-the-job learning that comes with being a community college instructor. Sure, I’d spent a lot of time in classrooms, observing instructors, getting to know what I liked and disliked, but I never took courses that taught me how to prepare a balanced, semester-long course. I never took a course that brought up issues like classroom civility. And I don’t think it’s just me: when I presented on the topic of classroom civility at a Winter Institute, I had a full house of instructors who were grappling with the same issue.

I feel pretty embarrassed about the classes I taught during my first few years. There was so much trial and error, and I’m afraid students got shortchanged as I learned to do my job..

Reading articles from journals like The Teaching Professor is helpful. Talking with colleagues and sharing solutions is helpful. But I think a class about 21st century classroom realities and fundamentals should be required for most graduate programs. I’d like to teach that class. I’d like to talk about

Planning a semester and planning one class.

Dealing with student issues: motivation, discipline, crises.

Avoiding burnout

Even with this class, there would still be plenty of on-the-job learning: times change, and this profession changes. But a solid foundation would be a great help for both instructors and students.

(As an aside, I think that our new faculty orientation covers this material, and I think that it’s a good thing. I wish that our adjunct received the same information.)

I guess that’s all for now. Have a great week.

Name the Disorder Game

I’m not a psychologist, but I like to play one, so I want to know the name of the disorder for people who spend their energy blaming others and ducking responsibility. I’ve had students like this before, maybe one or two a year since I started teaching.

My current is a returning student, maybe in her 40’s. She’s also in classes with two of my colleagues, and she is not happy with any of us. (The student is also working with the Learning Center, but according to her, they are not doing what they are supposed to either.)

When she started complaining to me about Ms. X, I suggested she go talk to the instructor herself. She refused, so I attempted to answer her questions. What a got was an earful about how Ms. X wasn’t doing anything right. I let her vent a bit, then I redirected her and got her working.

Now I know Ms. X to be a great teacher, so I figured that there was some disconnect in the communication chain, and I decided to talk to Ms. X and see if I could get some information that might be helpful to the student.

The talk with Ms. X was instructive. Apparently, in a previous discussion, my student told Ms. X what a bad teacher I was: I didn’t answer questions and wasn’t helpful at all. And the student complained about yet another instructor, Ms. Y, who wasn’t doing her job.

Her problem isn’t just with YC. The K-12 system let her down; all of her English teachers were just there to get a paycheck.

She is a supreme victim. When I ask her what she’s working on and how I can help, she gives me a litany of problems that she’s encountered, through no fault of her own. I let her blow off a little steam, then I redirect her and ask again what she’s working on and what she needs help with.

A conversation with her is like playing tennis: she lobs a problem at me; I lob a possible solution; she lobs it back with, “Yes, but (A) hasn’t done (B), so I can’t do what I need to do.” The match goes to the perfect victim.

According to her, she’s working hard, but since her instructors are not doing their jobs, she’s unable to be successful. OK. What do we do with a student who is angry, defensive and full of blame?

On the one hand, I would like to say to her, “Stop. All you’re doing is blaming. What do you need to do to be successful this week?” I just read Charles Lohman’s blog about no excuses; I think I’d like to pass that on to her. I wonder what her response would be?

I’ll admit that I’m not a perfect instructor, but I’ve done what I am supposed to do in the class. What else can an instructor do?

Are there people who are never satisfied? Are there people who always find someone else to blame? (Am I turning into one of those people?!) Seriously. Is there a diagnosis and a method for working with students who accept no responsibility?

It’s not me; it’s you

Boy, howdy, do I have a doozy of a student this semester. Actually, I’ve had students like her before, maybe one or two a year since I started teaching. She’s also in classes with Laura Cline and Nancy Schafer, and she is not happy with any of us. When she’s with Laura, she complains about Nancy and me. When she’s with me, she complains about Laura. I’m pretty sure that she complains to Nancy about Laura and me. (Although in one piece of writing she said that Nancy was strict but fair, and she was learning a lot from her. Yeah Nancy!) She’s working with the Learning Center, but they haven’t finished what they were supposed to. According to her, we aren’t doing what we’re supposed to be doing and what she expects us to do. And her problem isn’t just with YC. The K-12 system let her down; all of her English teachers were just there to get a paycheck. She is a supreme victim. When I ask her what she’s working on and how I can help, she gives me a litany of problems that she’s encountered, through no fault of her own. I let her blow off a little steam, then I redirect her and ask again what she’s working on and what she needs help with.

I’m not a psychologist (but I like to play one), so I wonder if this is some type of disorder that has a name. A conversation with her is like playing tennis: she lobs a problem at me; I lob a possible solution; she lobs it back with, “Yes, but (X) hasn’t done (Y), so I can’t do what I need to do.” The match goes to the perfect victim.

According to her, she’s working hard, but since her instructors are not doing their jobs, she’s unable to be successful. OK. What do we do with a student who is angry, defensive and full of blame?

On the one hand, I would like to say to her, “Stop. All you’re doing is blaming. What do you need to do to be successful this week?” I just read Charles Lohman’s blog about no excuses; I think I’d like to pass that on to her. I wonder what her response would be?

I’m not a perfect instructor, but I’ve done what I am supposed to do in the class. What else can an instructor do?

Are there people who are never satisfied? Are there people who always find someone else to blame? (Am I turning into one of those people?!) Seriously. Is there a diagnosis and a method for working with students who accept no responsibility?

I sure could use a fall break

I drove to work yesterday and today, and I couldn’t figure out why traffic was so light. I thought at first that I was just a lucky woman (and I am), but then it hit me: FALL BREAK.

My sister teaches 3rd grade at a private school, and she’s on break this week. (This is the only time that I’m jealous of her. Except for her thick hair, but that’s not YCs problem.)

I want a fall break. But it’s not just for me: the students need it.

I have people who miss class because they need to take care of their kids who are on fall break. And what about the mid-term hoo-ha’s experienced by students and instructors? We all need a break to relax and catch up. I’m sure it would help retention.

We always have a spring break, so why do we discriminate against fall?

I approached the Senate with the idea a couple of years ago, and they didn’t even pass it on to a committee to study. They just rejected it!

We could start two days earlier and finish three days later. This semester we could have started the semester on August 13 and ended on December 9. That still leaves a long enough summer and Christmas break, doesn’t it? Then we would have nine luxurious days to catch up on reading, grading, and napping.

There are logistics that need to be considered. We could see when the majority of K-12 schools across the county have their fall breaks and use that date. It won’t help all the parents with kids, but it will help the majority. Students who are a little behind can catch up. Instructors who are a little behind can catch up. There’s no down side.

Let’s do it, colleagues! Let’s try a fall break!

Verboutian Theory of Extended Adolescence

First, I must confess that this posting is late. I was debating about what to write about and was kvetching with Curtis when it hit me. The Verboutian Theory of Extended Adolescence. Here’s how I stumbled upon my theory. I read the book In the Middle by Nancy Atwell. It is about middle school students, so I thought it would be interesting but not applicable for me; after all, I’m teaching college students. In one chapter Atwell describes her students: insecure, unsure of what they want to do, posers trying to impress each other. It hit me: she’s describing my students! The more she described the behaviors, the more I recognized my own students. Why is this, I pondered. Here is what I came up with. Americans are living longer and longer, and adolescence has stretched out from 12-18 and now it stretches through the twenties. Think about it: isn’t it conventional wisdom that people will switch careers three (or is it five? Seven?) times in their lifetimes. The average life expectancy in the US is close to 80 years (according to InfoPlease). If we’re going to live a long time and need to change careers, does it make sense to drag out the young, fun part as long as possible? (Or is it the helicopter parents? Do we have helicopter parents stalking their kids through YC? But I digress.) For whatever reason, I believe that for many students, adolescence has stretched through their twenties. They are much more concerned with fitting in with their peers than with what we have to offer. So how do we gently guide them to the reality of college? Do we all read the book In the Middle? Do you tell them to snap out of it? Do we complain to each other and hope that the students will change into the kind of dream students that we were back in the day? (Really.) Here are a couple of the things that I try to do. First, everything has to be specific. The paper is due in Blackboard by 11:05 a.m. on Tuesday, October 7. Second, there have to be consequences for everything, and they have to be implemented consistently. If your paper is one minute to 24 hours late, you will receive 10% off. This is a lot of work, but it seems to be necessary to teach and retain students. However, I think it is Parker Palmer who wrote that if you’re working harder than the students, there’s something wrong. Is this accurate? What do the rest of you think? Should I continue to work on my Verboutian Theory?