Archive for the ‘education’ Category

A little advice for noob teachers

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

I’ve had a pretty good couple of weeks. I’ve finished my comps reading. I’ve been enjoying teaching my grant and proposal writing class. A colleague was even kind enough to share with me a compliment a former student made about my teaching.

Since a lot of my work has revolved around not only comps, but teaching a new class with new preps, I’ve been reflecting on teaching quite a bit. This is my seventh year of teaching. Recently I found old files from my first year of teaching, when I taught composition, and felt that mixture of shock, slight embarrassment, and hilarity while I read through those documents. I remembered getting student evals while a beginning teacher and one of the better ones I remember was “Someday Jessica will be a good teacher.”

That evaluation from a student you can probably read in a number of ways. One way is that I wasn’t a strong teacher at that point. Another one, and the one reading I have held on to is that the student saw something in me that maybe I didn’t see at the time and something that told me that I was in the right profession. It was an affirmation.

Now, seven years later, I think I can say that I am a fairly competent teacher. Sure, I still get students who don’t like my class, but so far their feedback has told me it is mostly for the content–it is a writing class and it is a required class and therefore it is a stumbling block toward their desired career. I have had students who didn’t respond well to me on a personal level and made it personal in their evaluations, and those are the kind that you just ignore because you are not their to get people to like you. But, mostly, my evaluations are very positive and I think I saw some of my strongest evaluations from this past spring semester (and I feel I need to thank the teacher I shadowed for the class I taught last spring as well. He is also a very competent teacher.)

But with this, I have been thinking of things that I wish I had been told as a new teacher, as the noob in front of the classroom. So here are some things, but realize this is not a comprehensive list and it just a list that relates to my own experiences in the classroom and what has worked for me and those things that have worked for me may not work for you.

  • Get anonymous feedback from your students: If you aren’t sure how you are holding up as a teacher, or if you are unsure of how students are responding to the content, ask  them, but make it anonymous. Also, be honest and explain why you are asking for this feedback. Finally, make sure you actually read and respond to the feedback for the students. For example, I asked my afternoon grant class for feedback recently because I was not sure how they were getting the course content, and so I asked. I found that there were a couple who needed a review of the logic of proposals and more that sometimes found the worksheets from the textbook were confusing (they are sometimes confusing). And so the next day in class I reviewed information on proposal logic where I tried to explain it in a different way and I also asked them to bring their textbook next week so we could use that to contextualize the worksheet on the benefits section of the proposal, since that is probably one of the more confusing worksheets anyway. I also explained how when I took this class, I also found the worksheets confusing at times, but using the textbook to contextualize them usually helps. What I found by doing this is that students appreciate you took the time to respond to the feedback they gave and start to trust you more as an instructor. So even if you are having a really rough semester, this will help you gain that respect and structure back.
  • Don’t take too many shortcuts in grading: I know this is tempting. I know it is tempting to create a list of comments and just copy and paste them into papers. I actually did it during my second year as a teacher, but I don’t recommend it unless you also take the time to make the feedback personalized, but even then it may be a big time waster to even create a list of comments to copy and paste. I know it sounds time-consuming and almost painful, but take the time to give individual feedback to each student on their paper. To ease up the workload, it may even be helpful to ask for drafts and comment on those so when you actually have to grade, you can ease up on the commenting. The reason I say this is because students do talk with one another about the feedback they get, and if they notice you are repeating things, word for word, they will have less respect for you, and probably rightly so. I realize that sometimes things do sound similar, but at least put an individual spin on it by addressing the feedback to them or contextualizing the feedback with their actual language in the paper. It also shows them that you actually took the time to care about their work. 
  • Prepare for class: During my first year of teaching, I do remember having 30 minutes before class started and not knowing exactly what I was going to do that morning in class. I also remember coming up with lesson plans as i was starting my computer. Please don’t do things like this. Students have written that they appreciate that I put time into my teaching agendas and that I come to class organized. If you come to class and you, as the teacher, look like you are not organized or have no idea what is going on, you will only find that your job becomes more difficult. This doesn’t always mean writing a lesson plan and putting it on an overhead, like I do, but simply knowing the material for the day. It is also helpful if you relate the layout of class for that hour to your students so they know what is coming up during that class period. I think the only thing that ever got me through those “last minute” days was that I am a good problem solver and a relatively quick thinker and sometimes I work good under pressure. If you can’t say any of those things about yourself, don’t even try this. But mostly, don’t do this. Ever.
  • Remember that you know the content better than your students: This is probably the most useful bit of advice/pep talk I was ever given during my first year of teaching. You will have students who intellectually are smarter than you, so having this in mind is super helpful to you as a teacher. You also will have students that are very dispassionate about your class, particularly if you teach a required general education requirement as I do. If you realize and understand that you know the content of that course better than they do, things will always go much smoothly and you will just feel more confident.
  • Meet students on their level: If you are teaching a class where students are in a particular profession, like engineering or business, start reading professional journals and news articles in those fields. Then, when teaching, bring up some of that information during discussion or activities. Seriously. Not only does it show that you also know some of the information they know, but it helps you integrate that information into the course as a whole. I know in a FYC class, or any first year class, this may be a difficult task, but you know how you always have that one student who likes to show off what he or she knows. Yeah. That student’s major/field may be something you want to look into. Sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it is worth trying. And I really was taught this from the instructor I shadowed for Business and Technical writing. I saw how he used that knowledge in his lessons and I saw how much respect he earned from his students for that work, and so it is an invaluable activity. And  relevant news and information sources on Twitter in those fields can be really useful to learn some of this information, so it really isn’t as time-consuming as you may think. And to add to this, you could also add simply knowing what is going on in the field you are teaching. Students also notice this and respect it.
  • Stop any disruptive behavior ASAP: This is something that even I need to get a bit better at, but if you see a student acting disruptive (talking during lecture, coming in late frequently, etc) call it out. Realize that this kind of behavior not only disrupts what you are trying to do as a teacher, but also annoys other students. A recent example for me would be the student who answered the phone and had a conversation before class. Even though it was before class started, I still talked to that student by letting her know that it probably wasn’t wise to let every student in the room in on her plans. Sometimes it helps to talk to students outside of the classroom about these issues, or at least for me that is most effective, but sometimes it takes time to understand how to approach this as sometimes students get more disruptive once they are called out in class. But no matter what, make sure you respond to any behavior that you find disruptive to you and your students.
  • Be consistent: Always be consistent. When you find what works for you in the classroom, keep doing that. For me, I find that writing out teaching agendas, going over the tasks for the day immediately, and sharing the homework for the coming class period and repeating that at the end of the period is the best approach for me. It emphasizes my organization, my focus on tasks, and responds to my introverted nature since I know that as a student myself I like to know what is going to happen in class that day instead of just dealing with it happening as it goes along. I like to know if I will be doing group work, individual work, or both during a class period beforehand and so I share this with my students. And I don’t deviate from this at all because it is what works for me.
  • You don’t know the answer to a question? You will get back to them next class: Yes, I have been asked questions I could not answer. Yes, during the first and second years of teaching I tried to fake it. Don’t do it. Just tell the student they asked an interesting question, but a difficult one, and so you need to look that information up and get back to them. One time I did this, I had a student slightly snicker. I responded with the fact that even though I am teaching a college class, I am not a Google search and so sometimes I do need to look that information up. Student never snickered at me again. But all other times I have done this have gone well, thankfully. And yes, I always was able to find the answer for the next class period, so far anyway. Just realize you do get tough questions, and sometimes highly philosophical ones, and you cannot prepare for those on the spot, so just say that was an interesting thought and that you will respond to it during the next class. These also sometimes create fun discussions.
  • Don’t be married to your lesson plan or teaching agenda: Students are people. People have emotions. Sometimes you may have what you think is a fun activity for the day, and notice it isn’t working. Don’t force it. Find another way to relate that information, or if you can, work on it another day and move onto something else. This is partly why I try to write the entire week’s teaching agenda’s before hand. This is why I always have a syllabus schedule. This is why you always have a Plan B and even a Plan C. Things don’t always go as you expect them to, and so don’t force it. Note how your students are reacting and respond thoughtfully.
  • Don’t lie about your teaching experience: When I started teaching, my mentors told me that if I want, I could say I have taught before, if I felt I needed that extra confidence in the classroom. I even heard this when I sat through the TA training class for my PhD. I don’t recommend doing this unless maybe you are a really good liar and you know you could pull it off. I could not pull it off and I feel like, at least for me, saying that I had taught before during my first semester of teaching backfired, so I made sure to be honest my second semester. I feel that students can figure out if you have experience or not anyway, so it is best to be honest if you are unsure if you can get away with it. Just remember no one is going to walk into that classroom and be awesome right away. It takes time, so be honest about the time you have or have not spent in front of a classroom. 
  • You are not there to be their friend: This was the hardest lesson for me to learn. You are not their to be your students’ friend or get them to even like you. That is not the point. The point is to teach them the course content to the best of your ability. If they don’t like that or you, oh well. You are doing your job.

Like I said, the list is not exhaustive and maybe contains some things that are skipping ahead of new teacher status, but I think it contains some thoughtful and affirming advice and I’m interested in hearing what other advice other teachers have for the less experienced, or noob, teacher.

Feedback and making connections

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

First off, I do think it is important that we, as teachers, develop connections in the classroom with our students, though I think the older we get, the more we may find this difficult. For example, once you have been out of school for a while and find yourself less and less understanding what is “popular culture” to these students, the more you may find it difficult to foster those connections.

Of course, you can also do this through love of the subject matter, which we all as teachers should always have, and sharing that appreciation with our students, some of whom feel the same way we do about that subject or maybe parts of what we teach. Or maybe they just cling to our enthusiasm and reciprocate that. I mean, as a student myself, I’ve always appreciated the more passionate teachers and even if I didn’t particularly like the subject matter, I usually was able to connect on some level with a teacher who showed passion for the subject. I respected that. I compared it to my own feelings about writing and literature and in that way I was able to at least feel all right in the classroom, even when I struggled with the subject matter, though I still always hated being called on since it was something I struggled with (I am thinking math here).

One of the things that, for me as a teacher, has always helped foster these connections is encouraging feedback from students and encouraging their questions. For new classes, I usually ask for feedback a few times during the semester, I usually try to time it out in 3-4 week intervals, and that works pretty well in terms of being able to change things and improve them based on that feedback. Students also seem to appreciate the openness as well since the more you do it, and are consistent with it, the more helpful the feedback becomes. I’ve found that the more open I am for questions, and the more I make myself available for these questions, the better the class progresses. When teaching a new class, I think this becomes even more important since it is not only new material for the students, but also for you as the teacher.

Sometimes this feeling of newness causes an appropriate level of panic, even in us teachers. We think this like oh no, what if I am going to be exposed as a fraud? We also think things like oh my, I have to make myself even more available for questions now since this material is as new for me as it is for them. And this kind of thinking sometimes leads to what I call crazy ideas, such as giving way too much personal information to students or allowing students to seriously contact you any time of the day, such as giving your phone number, even if you have a policy that states it can only be used during X amount of hours.Those ideas are all bad. For one, you are not teaching 24/7. Everyone needs time off. Everyone needs some level of privacy. For example, do we really want to hear about what our students did last Friday night? Not really. I am sure they wouldn’t want to know what we were doing either, though they may make up some funny or sad stories about it, if they wanted to. Giving too much information could lead to that information being abused, probably not by all students, but maybe one or two.

When I teach online, for example, there is the assumption with some students that because I teach online, I was always online and so if I didn’t answer their email within the hour they sent it, there was sometimes another email to follow, sometimes with all caps in the subject line. I mean, I could see this as amusing, and on some level it is now that it is in the past, but at the time all I could think was really? I am not online 24/7, much less do I typically check work email after 5 or 6 in the evening.

Because of this I’ve developed email policies that state a student should expect about 24 hours for an email reply during the weekday, but if a student emails Friday afternoon, that student may not get a response until Monday morning. I also never give my phone number out in my syllabus or elsewhere, even though I don’t have an office phone, though this has never been a problem since students typically email or talk to me after class or during office hours anyway. Though, I have given my number out to students who have had emergency or personal situations (a death of a parent and being 9 months pregnant, for example). In these instances, I thought it was OK and it wouldn’t be abused and it wasn’t abused.

But this isn’t to say that I don’t try to make it easier for students to contact me, as I am very concerned about my availability since I don’t have an office phone and because I am teaching a new class this semester, and so I have started to welcome students to use Twitter and given my course a hashtag so it is easier to ask me questions or communicate with me online. In my syllabus, I share my Twitter username @adventuresinphd and the course hashtag #engl459 so they can contact me with questions, share resources for the grant writing class, or just share any information they find relevant to the course. I encourage students to engage with the class using this as well. I also have them do a semester-long (or unit long, if they wish. I’m flexible to a fault) Twitter assignment that I have shared here.  I also had a similar assignment for my online summer class as well. Along with this, I also open a forum discussion thread in Blackboard for questions and encourage students to ask questions there as well as encourage students to answer, if they know the answer.

What I have noticed in doing this is that students will use whatever they are most comfortable with in terms of communicating with a professor and so far that has been email. I’ve had probably more students use the Blackboard discussion forum than Twitter, so far. But I also blame this on the Twitter assignment not being semester-long, only as long as an assignment. I think maybe a longer Twitter assignment will spark more engagement, or that is my theory, at least, though I also realize some students will be highly resistant, as is typical with social media assignments.

And so I guess I will just be updating you with how this all turns out. I feel teaching this grant writing class will in some ways be similar to getting thrown into the fire, but I always a like a challenge, so I guess I am OK with that. I know that, as a colleague has stated to me, it is probably the hardest class to teach in the upper division writing curriculum, and after writing the first unit, the agendas for the first two weeks, and the syllabus and schedule, I totally believe that.  I’ll keep you updated, as always.

How do you use Twitter in your classroom?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

So I’ve been working on the assignments for my Grant writing class this fall and paying close attention to how I set up the twitter since it is entirely new and I’ve never taught Grant Writing before, as the most I’ve done is led some mini-lessons, so this will be new.

I figured there are two ways I can approach and use Twitter in this class that I think could work out well considering past experience with Twitter in the classroom:

  1. Have each student create an individual account where they follow organizations who promote or work with issues the student is interested in. For example, if the student is interested in looking at gender issues for their final project, they could follow organizations related to gender, such as gender in education and so on. They would do this throughout the semester, engage in a number of tweets and retweets, and be graded on elements of consistency, engagement and design. This is a brief overview of the assignment I have written up.
  2. The second option involves a group twitter profile that they create for the Mary’s books proposal. The Twitter would represent their company and they would tweet about their projects, such as Mary’s books, follow relevant organizations and basically this would be a type of fictional account, since the company does not really exist. And i imagine that there may be a group in the class who wishes to create a twitter presence anyway if we are already using Twitter. There is always one group that really enjoys this project and does a lot with it, or at least this is true from what I have seen in the class.

While I think #2 could be fun, I ultimately choose number one because when I took this class as a student, I had no idea what I wanted to do for my final project. I was new to my program. I had no remote idea of what I wanted to pursue for a dissertation. At the same time, I wanted the project to count for something beyond the class, which sadly didn’t happen, but that is mostly my own fault. So my main motivation for writing out the assignment related to number one is because of my own experience and the fact I have thought way more about option #1 than number two. Plus, I’ve had students do similar assignments in my Business Writing class and in my Writing in the Humanities and Social Sciences class.

But my questions are how do you use Twitter in your classroom and do you have any feedback for the ideas above? I welcome any suggestions or further ideas. Thank you. Below is the assignment I have created, so feel free to use it in your own classes if you think it sounds interesting:

Twitter Assignment

Genre and Length: A social media profile to be completed throughout the course. 16 tweets/retweets total plus appropriate design and followers/follows

Due Date: The final exam time, TBA. Please email your twitter profile address to me or follow me on Twitter at @adventuresinphd

Assignment Description: You will be asked to first create a Twitter profile (www.Twitter.com) for use in following organizations related to your social, political, and personal interests and other non-profit entities and/or people who are involved in non-profit organizations you are interested in to learn more about issues, discussions, and other information relating to your interests. With this assignment, you will be required to tweet relevant material that is related to these interests or goals. This means you will have to do some research on your own to learn more about these interests and/or find relevant news articles. You will also have to retweet your followers as well if something they tweet is relevant to your own interests, goals or motivations. I ask that you follow at least 10 organizations/people/etc, but you may follow more. I ask that you have at least 16 tweets and retweets meaning 8 tweets and 8 retweets during the semester, but you may have more. Each tweet and retweet should be relevant to your goals and motivations, which should be outlined on your short profile biography.

Purpose: Doing this will provide an excellent opportunity for you to see conversations regarding your interests that are happening now. Also, this may help to give you ideas for your final project. Also, using social media for organizations is very important, and I believe this assignment will give you good examples of how organizations use social media and get some practice doing it for yourself.

Rubric: Twitter Assignment

Content:

  • Tweets and retweets are 16 in total
  • Tweets relate to interests student chose to focus on, as reflected in 140 character bio
  • Student has followed at least 10 relevant organizations or people
  • Student has included other media when relevant, i.e. multimodal elements with video, pictures, or other links.

/50 points

Design and Consistency

  • Twitter profile has a professional design that is appropriate to the subject at hand
  • Tweets and retweets took place at different times throughout the semester, i.e. student didn’t do a number of tweets or retweets in last days or weeks.

/20 points

 

Engagement

  • Student shows an engagement with the audience and has an awareness of the audience in terms of organizations, tweets, retweets, tagging, design, etc.

/30 points

/100 points total

Disclaimer:  I place a lot of emphasis here on engagement, precisely because that has been my biggest concern in grading Twitter profiles. Students often don’t show any engagement–they just make sure they have the required amount of tweets, retweets, and followers and that they use multimodal elements. So if you do decide to teach Twitter, I would put emphasis on seeing how students are engaged in the task at hand, and you can do this simply by looking at the contextual/content quality of the tweets, who the student follows, if the student engages with their followers, if the student just did the required work in a week or so, and so on. I know the term “engagement” may be somewhat open ended, and I did my best to explain it in the assignment sheet and rubric, but just be open to the importance of emphasizing the quality of the work and not just the content of the work. Realize as well that you will need to emphasize this in class quite a bit and describe exactly what you mean by engagement to them and give them some good examples, via your own twitter profile and/or other twitter profiles.

When work does not feel like work

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

While I have been spending each day, more or less, reading for my comps, I’m also prepping to teach a new class this coming fall semester, Grant and Proposal Writing. I’ve been in this class as a student and was able to TA for the class last semester, and now I am transitioning into teaching it. So, most days, once I get done with reading and annotating a few articles for my exams, I’ve been working on getting this new class together.

Today I wrote up the agenda for the first week, which those of you who teach know that this also means my first couple assignments are nearly ready to go and my syllabus and schedule is probably complete. (Yes, this is true.) As I was writing the agenda, I was looking over the agenda of the previous teacher so that I could use her ideas as a springboard for my own as well as incorporate the activity she does for the first couple days, which as a student and a TA I really liked. But, of course, as with anything that suddenly becomes “your own” in some sense, changes occur. For example, I’m using Twitter in this class as as a semester-long project. Students will create a twitter account and follow nonprofits, organizations, or people related to their interests that will hopefully apply in some way to their final project ideas. In the grand scheme of things I know this won’t happen for all the students, but I also think Twitter will be a good arena for them to keep up on discussions, sometimes as they happen, regarding social, political, and/or personal interests they have. Plus, I try to have some type of social media professionalization in all my classes and I have probably already demonstrated my somewhat notorious love for Twitter to far more people who would even care to know. The thing is I have just learned so much from following my interests on Twitter and networked with many people because of Twitter.

Aside from Twitter, as I worked on the agenda, and because of something a tweep shared with me on Twitter, I got to thinking about how writing the agenda, as well as writing the syllabus, schedule and first few assignments never felt like “work” to me. I actually enjoyed working on these documents and critically thinking through how to teach what grants even are to my students on that first day of class.

But the Twitter share relates more strongly to how I was procrastinating on reading for my comps just a few days ago. Instead of doing my reading, as I had vowed to do according to my agenda, which I sadly even keep during the summer months, but then I am a graduate student, I started creating an online portfolio for when I go on the job market. I did this because  I knew that while dissertating (yes, I made it a verb because it is really) and looking for a job, I am not going to have the patience to work on also creating an online portfolio. I know this about myself. I will not have the patience to care. So right now I have what is an in-progress online portfolio geared to getting me, with any luck, a good teaching job somewhere not where I am at.

But also while working on the website, I didn’t feel it was work. I instinctively knew it was work because really, why the hell else would i do it? But it didn’t feel like work. In fact, the digital writing I do, and at times the non-digital work I do, doesn’t ever really feel like work. Not like how writing those seminar papers that I loathed felt like work. (Though I did not loathe every paper I wrote. Just a lucky few.)

The article that was pointed out to me by someone on Twitter is from Computers and Composition by Leon and Pigg (and Stacey Pigg actually spoke at our institution a couple years ago about her work in the WIDE Program at Michigan and it was cool stuff) regarding how graduate students professionalize in digital spaces.  (and yes, you need to find it on your own university database, as annoying as that is.) As I was reading it, I could totally relate. That is pretty much what I was doing in the creation of the online portfolio. It is my reason for being on Twitter, and for trying to get my students to use Twitter in professional ways. I also love iAnnotate on my ipad for reading PDFs of articles since I can highlight and take notes without having to print out the article and file it who-knows-where in my tiny office space or my small apartment.

I’ll admit that teaching students the importance of digital professionalization is not easy. Some students are downright resistant, and remains so, throughout the semester, for example. But as digital arenas become the ways by which we see professional organizations and businesses, it becomes imperative to learn how to use them in a professional context. And really, this is already happening. If someone wants to give a business a bad name, they’ll call them out on Yelp or Facebook. In this sense, these digital spaces are powerful tools and I always do read the reviews. I just need to get better at teaching these skills to my students, and use them in the classroom, because as much as we use them to form consensus, we can also use them for dissent.

The four week course: A “convenient” style of teaching?

Friday, May 24th, 2013

We have wrapped up the second week of the four week class, which means we are half way through, and since I have to leave early for the Computers and Writing conference, this means I am a little over half way, at least if you ignore the grading portion of my work, which I really can’t ignore.

Last night when I couldn’t sleep, I was thinking about if this style of teaching works or not, or at least how well this type of teaching works. My job is to teach a typical 17-week long semester within a four week time period. When you do this, I learned that there are some important things to consider and some important things you have to do.

  • What I teach in a week is what I teach in one class period. This stuff, you all, is rough. While I really don’t have too much trouble cutting things down and keeping what must be done to the point, I really feel as if we are losing some of the “fun” classroom work. What I normally use to teach genre (music) I really didn’t get to do. The way I use art in the classroom sometimes got shoved to the wayside so I could open time for activities that can more effectively teach the ins and outs of assignments. Even so, I think there have been some fun, more creative activities going on. And sometimes when you do these activities that are more directly related to assignments, you still get some creative, innovative responses.
  • This also goes back to first bullet point: can I really teach a 17-week semester in a 4-week time span and still get the same results? No, I am learning. Not necessarily. For example, I’ve seen struggling writers improve in a semester long writing class. Not all, but some. I’ve also seen students start to enjoy writing more in a regular semester length class, and honestly this happens more often than the aforementioned example. The problem I am noticing in this four week class is that everyone is tired. Almost every student is enrolled in another class. People are not only tired, they are exhausted. It shows in their in class work, the expressions on their faces, and it shows in their desire for extensions, which admittedly I give without requiring a reason.

Despite the negatives above, however, there are some positives I have noticed. One is that collaborative work has seemed to almost spike. Maybe it is because no one is sick of each other yet. But I think it is also because everyone is treading water here with more than one class, turning in more than one assignment a week, and these students need the peer support. In class they seem to enjoy group work. I have also noticed they help each other a lot more in this class than I have noticed in regular semester classes. These students also tend to use class time far more wisely than students in regular semester classes. They tend to stay more focused on what needs to be done and I’ve even seen some students look ahead if they complete a task early. So there is a good community going on in the classroom, which is nice to see.

Another positive is students also seem to be more upfront and “chatty” with me than in regular semesters. Today, for example, I got into a discussion with a couple students about music. I was wearing my Red Hot Chili Peppers T-shirt, which I honestly wear more often than not, and he made a comment about how I must like the band. This got us off to talking about music from the 90s, and the Goo Goo Dolls were mentioned, which is a band I haven’t thought about in ages, but I so do remember Johnny Rzeznik’s hair, especially from the video for “Iris.” 

When it comes down to it, all these students are here for the same reason, though other different reasons apply: convenience. On the first day of class, students commented on how taking this class now would “ease up next semester” or “give them more time for more demanding classes” or “get the writing requirement out of the way.” It is just convenient. And while as I reflected on this, I begin to see a lot more positives than negatives, I still have some doubts about what students actually take from these more accelerated courses. With all the pressure millennials face to get a college degree, be successful, and really do it all, it concerns me that we as a society just feed into these desires. Oh, you want a degree in 21 months? Fantastic. I got a deal for you. While all of this in some ways is well and good for some people, quality is something we, as a society, should be thinking more about.

Looking back on the first week of the four week writing course

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Oh my gosh, you all.

So, when I first started planning this class, I was excited because now I can finally really focus on what is important to learn and emphasize those things in a four week class. I was having a blast. And I imagined most of these students would be motivated, dedicated, and maybe even a little interested.

Wow, Jessica, what beautiful fantasies you have.

For the most part, I still like the quick pace. The thing I still find strange, though not difficult, is basically teaching a week’s worth of material in one class period. But I like how this makes me focus more on what is important in the information and the activities. This also makes me grateful that I write such detailed agendas. This way, students can easily review notes from that day.

One thing I don’t like is how some students are simply taking this class because they aren’t good writers and this way they only have to “work on their writing” for four weeks. I feel frustrated by this because they could learn so much more in a regular semester long class, which I happened to tell one student. The student responded with something about his/her plan of study and wanting an “easier” fall semester. OK. But you still need to know how to write and while even a regular semester length course cannot solve every writing problem, it can force you to write more and work more on your writing for a longer period of time. But therein lies the rub, I guess.

All the same, I get where these students are coming from. For example, I am awful at math. Math is something akin to a foreign language to me, and one that isn’t Spanish, so maybe Greek or Latin. I look at Algebra and I have no idea. I read a story problem and the ideas get jumbled in my mind. I think, the train goes how fast for how long? What? When we were working on budgets in grant and proposal class, I had to take close and careful notes. I had to review them to make sure my math was right. When I calculate grades, I review my math at least 3 times to make sure I did it all right. So if this were a four week math course, yeah. I can see what these students are thinking. But, of course, that doesn’t make it any easier for anyone. As a teacher I know this. As a student who did this herself, I know this.

But most of the students in the class can take this without so much as a pit stop. They are in this four week class because they are accelerated learners themselves, which makes them quite a lot of fun to teach and to have class discussions with. Most are smart and not overbearing about it, and if you are a teacher, you completely know what I mean by that. If you are not a teacher, what I mean is that often the really, super smart kids are the ones who get a little uppity from time to time. They will point this out to peers or to you as the teacher, just to show off. They hold their intellect over you as the teacher and the entire class like a sword lunging at you and you keep bracing for it. But I haven’t noticed this yet. Everyone has been pretty cool.

So far, the class has been fun, if not incredibly busy and at times exhausting. I am at the office by eight, in the classroom by nine, but I “get done” so early. But then of course there is more lesson planning and grading and responding to emails. (Oh emails, the song that never ends.) I always just hope I remember my coffee in the morning before I leave my apartment. When time moves this fast, it really is the little things that make all the difference.

Students and bullying

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Today I led a meeting for fellow English 358 instructors at my university regarding our classes, where we should go from here, and so forth. Since I am a person who likes to make plans, and who desperately wishes it was possible to create a solid ten-year plan that would without a doubt become reality, I don’t mind meetings or committee work. I mostly dig it and I always learn a lot from it.

At the end of the meeting today, bullying behavior from students was brought up. As teachers, we deal with bullying students probably more than is reasonable. One individual at our meeting today suggested that she thinks bullying has gotten worse between teachers and students, just as how it has gotten worse between students themselves. In fact, it is hard to find a news day that doesn’t mention bullying.

You may be asking what types of bullying behaviors we, as teachers, have received from students. I think there is a lot of answers to this, but the one that is most prominent centers on students bullying teachers for better grades. Here are some things I have encountered as a teacher from students who want better grades without any actual extra effort, or show other bullying behaviors:

  • Passive Aggressive emails about how they uploaded the assignment correctly, mistyped the email address, or did some other error that isn’t really any fault of theirs, even though it is, and so they should not get a grade decrease for a late assignment. 
  • Students who use whatever authority they can think of against you in efforts for a better grade or to make up for absences.
  • Students who tell you sob stories or other information in order to excuse them from class. If they get away with this once, it usually gets to be unreasonable, I have learned.
  • Students who will come to your office hours continually in hopes you will eventually “give in” and give them a better grade.
  • Students who turn in medical excuses that are not from the recent semester in hopes you will raise their grade on an assignment or in a class.
  • Students who turn in a revision, but don’t do all the required work for it, and expect a higher grade. When the higher grade does not appear, then they do whatever they can to “get back” at you. This can include poor SROI scores (yes, we sometimes can tell, but grades have already been posted), unreasonable complaints online toward the teacher, and passive aggressive behavior inside and outside of class.

I know I used second person in that list, but I am sure other teachers who read this can relate. Plus, I want you, as the reader, to try to understand a bit more where we, as teachers, are coming from. For example, in a simple google search, I could find some  information about “students who bully teachers.” I could, however, find a lot more information regarding “teachers as bullies.” 

This quick and simple google search tells me we, as teachers, need to work on creating a better discourse around dealing with students who bully for better grades, higher performance assessments, and more lenient deadlines in our classes. During the meeting for fellow instructors today, we decided having a “brown bag seminar” may be a good way to discuss strategies for dealing with bullying behaviors from students. Some strategies I already use include the following:

  • Requiring a memo for a revised assignments that details the revisions made, why those revisions were made, along with a previous grade the student received for the assignment. I also ask my students include the original assignment with the rubric and comments I left. 
  • Use policies from my syllabus, such as behavioral policies and other course expectations, as ways to rhetorically approach and combat these behaviors. I’ve noticed students are less likely to argue with syllabus policies that are in print and in front of them. Sometimes it actually helps if you make them read it to you.
  • I do my best to keep written documentation of EVERYTHING. This includes rubrics, attendance sign in sheets, passive aggressive emails I receive from students. The whole works. I keep these records for at least one academic year, just in case a student does come back to complain about a grade the next semester.

Even with this, I have not completely solved the problem. I doubt I ever will. In fact, it seems that parents today are more or less raising a generation of negotiators, according to this article documenting letters to the Tooth Fairy. While that article may seem cute and funny, I think there is a ring of truth to it. In fact, I think teachers like me are already dealing with this kind of negotiating behavior. I won’t argue knowing how to negotiate is bad, but there is a time and place for it. Negotiating over grades, issues of attendance, a lack of engagement in class, and other poor student behavior is not appropriate nor does it look promising for an individual who is soon to enter the professional workplace.

Job Packet reflection for English 320

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

The first major assignment has been graded and handed back to my students. In some ways, the timing was good since there is a career fair coming up at my university and I will spend about ten minutes on Thursday prepping students for it. But I also feel that the timing of this whole assignment was off.

First of all, I’ll admit I didn’t do as good of a job teaching the research memo portion as I usually do. I say this because I could have worked a lot more with them on audience in regards to this assignment. What I should have done was get students into groups and talk about the rhetorical situation for the research memo as a group, instead of me simply giving this information to them since I don’t think all were listening and/or some people may not have understood certain concepts, such as social context and audience, well enough at this point. So I think when I teach English 320 next time, I will simply start with the marketing unit since  they will learn a lot about social context and audience in that and they simply seem better prepared for it. For example, they can all pretty much articulate the importance of marketing to me. And some of them have done similar marketing assignments before. So they simply have a greater foundation for this.

But what I discuss above is basically my reasoning for the poor timing of this assignment. They were not ready. There was not enough of a foundation. While I think of the resume and cover letter as “common” genres, many students in my English 320 class did not have a resume already composed, unlike other courses I have taught where most students have written a resume before and often have it on hand. And I had similar problems with the cover letter, though I will say that the cover letter documents went better than the resume and probably because there is a definite formula to writing them and the formula is actually fairly effective.

If I do choose to teach this earlier in the semester again (possibly because of the nearing of the career fair. It is just more convenient for a lot of students), I will simply spend a lot, and I mean a lot more time on the rhetorical situation for these documents. Usually when I teach this assignment, I do teach it early in the semester. Usually, students have some background with these documents. If not, they usually understand its premise and importance relatively quickly. I did not see that this time. And, to be honest, I was noticing it as I was teaching it, but of course one cannot go back from that. Once you put something in motion, it has to stay in motion. Otherwise credibility is easily lost.

The good news is that I did see some assignments that were well done. And quite a few students did look at the examples I provided in class and in Blackboard, as I could tell from their own assignments. But I do think this was just ill-timed, for the most part, and I went in with too many assumptions about what they should already know at this point. I need to stop making those assumptions.

On the plus side, I did and am allowing revisions, no matter what their grade was because I do feel these are important genres to learn and know. I am also taking time this week to go through their resumes one more time and make sure they are strong examples for the career fair next week. Yes, this does take more time out of my schedule, but I think it is time well-spent, especially considering the flaws I have seen in these documents, my instruction of them, and the whole timing of this assignment.

It is hard though, because as I was telling a friend today many of these students are not yet ready for the “real” world. To teach them the importance of these “real” world documents is difficult. No matter what you do to frame their importance, you get denial, ignorance, or sometimes anger. But like my friend told me, that isn’t my fault. These students have been brought up in that kind of culture and it is hard to get them out of it, if not impossible. But I have to try and deal with it anyway and hope that they will eventually learn the importance of good and clear communication in business and their profession. Right now, I don’t think some of them take it very seriously.

Adapt, revise, adapt and revise again.

Monday, February 4th, 2013

The first thing you learn about a new class after you have watched someone else teach it for a semester is that you are not the teacher you observed. For observing and learning how to teach English 320 Business and Professional Communication  I observed Josh, who teaches Business and Technical writing at my university. While we have some similarities  such as we do not deal with with BS and are very direct in our ways of communicating with students, we also have many differences. While the similarities helped me in observing and learning strategies in how to teach business and professional writing, such as how we are both direct in our instructions and feedback, the differences have led to some stumbling blocks for me as a teacher of English 320.

The most memorable example of this occurred in class during the very start of the semester. In fact, I think we were in the first or second week of class. Josh has an activity where he has students analyze him as an audience in preparation for the professional email assignment. I also tried this, but it didn’t work as well. This is partly because I do not have the same presence in the classroom that Josh does. I do not inspire the same reactions in students that Josh inspires. Students tend to immediately respect, and perhaps feel a little intimidated by Josh pretty quickly. I do not have that ability.  What I have noticed, is that students think I might be fun to grab a cup of coffee with or share personal problems they are having. In fact, I tend to hear a lot of sob stories, which I ironically dislike hearing. I must look comforting, I guess, which is deceptive considering my true personality, which Josh totally knows about and probably could tell you some good stories about.

But the activity also failed because I have done some work to revise the assignment has a whole. The clues I gave to how to read me as an audience in the assignment sheet were almost all I needed. Thus, the activity fell flat. It fell so flat that I simply abandoned it and I moved the class onto something else.  And, as mentioned before, I don’t have the persona to carry it through. For example, when I told Josh I had tried his audience-reading activity, he did laugh a bit. I just don’t have the Josh persona or presence to carry it through, or at least not in the way he carries it through. I like the idea, so I think I just need to revise it so that it fits me a little more.

And of course, while I did some work to revise each assignment, I know there will be other revisions made in this course. I still haven’t got to the Marketing portion of the class, which I am the most curious about since A. While I have taught parts of marketing before, I have never had an entire Marketing unit and B. All my prep for this has been my own readings and observing Josh, who teaches Marketing juxtaposed with the other assignments. I chose to teach Marketing on its own, in the latter half of the semester. I felt I would not be as adept as Josh, nor have the time, to teach marketing alongside everything else. Taking classes and doing research kind of eats up a lot of time that could be spent prepping (and actually sometimes vice versa happens. I tend to spend a lot of time prepping for what I teach and TA for, which means maybe prepping more than I actually need to prep, but that is another story.)

While I enjoy English 320, I know I will feel I won’t have this class “down” like I feel I have english 358 down until my third or fourth time teaching it, or a class similar to it. That is the bad part of teaching a lot of classes at this level: it is difficult to develop that strong expertise and ethos a teacher develops after teaching the same or similar class 4 or 5 times in a row. What a professor who has taught this class for ten semesters knows, versus me in my one semester apprenticeship, is vastly different.  So I suppose that is something that while it is good to acknowledge, is also good to think about in terms of making this the best learning experience possible for everyone. And it is a hard lesson to learn when you are taught a class through observing and working alongside someone else, only to turn around and teach that class on your own. You realize you are not that other person and so you adapt, revise, adapt, and revise again.

Changes for Spring 2013

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

I’ve spoken a bit about what I plan for my spring semester teaching wise here a couple of times. I stated that I would be teaching English 320, which focuses on business and professional communication. I was excited to teach the class and had two sections lined up for the course, so no double preps for me. But after the semester ended, I realized one of my classes had a low enrollment. Not surprisingly, it was the class that was scheduled for later in the day. But my first section had a high enrollment and was nearly full.

I contacted the chair of my department about the low enrollment and stated I was fine with any of the options to keep my stipend and TA status, though I was most interested in the opportunity with the writing center on campus. All the same, I wasn’t sure how they felt about doctoral students there since I had previously heard that doctoral students couldn’t use writing center work in place of one of their teaching loads. Apparently, this was incorrect information since the chair stated that the writing center would be happy to have more doctoral students. So I sent off a letter of application, my CV, and in the body of the email explained my situation of the canceled class and needed an alternative. I also expressed my excitement about working in the writing center.

One of my goals for the long-term future is to work in administration. I’d be interested in working with WAC, WID or directing some type of writing program, whether first year, upper division, or both. The opportunity to work in a writing center would serve as good guiding experience in this goal.

I have also worked as a tutor before, though never worked as a writing center tutor. I have worked as a tutor for international studies at my undergraduate university where I worked with international students on work they had to do in their literature and writing classes. As a MA student, I worked with the McNair Program prior to obtaining my first TA.

I am excited for this opportunity. I also have to admit I like the fact my grading will be cut down significantly. For the graduate student, grading always feels like the biggest chore. I enjoy responding to student work, but having to give that work a grade is the thing I dislike. I always confess my dislike for grades and explain why on the second day of class and explain the difference between responding to their work and grading it. This semester will be no different.

Having only one section of a class also means, of course, that when I screw up in my first class, I can’t redeem myself for the second session. 🙂

Another benefit of having only one section is that I am now able to take a Tuesday night class I wasn’t willing to take since I was teaching that second section. Now I am free to take that class and it will work out much better for my degree anyway. The history class, while useful if I keep my dissertation topic, is only really useful if I keep my dissertation topic. 😉

I’ll know more about what is going to happen to my spring schedule when I get back to school in a couple weeks. I know that if the writing center takes me, I’ll be working there 10 hours a week. Right now I have Fridays off, but I doubt that will continue with the ten hours I would need to fulfill.

A girl can dream. Even a graduate student can dream.