Missing Frank

One reason why I love teaching at the college level is because every sixteen weeks or so usher in new classes, a new crop of students, and new possibilities. There’s not really time to get into ruts and coast.

Generally, too, I’m pretty flexible with change. New textbook? We’ll work it in. New course to teach in English? Why, yes, I’ll give it a go.

Some people fear change. What I used to believe I feared more than change were ruts. That said, I’ve had more than my dose of change these past seven months, and with these changes have come the proverbial lessons. However, I’m a life-long student, and, as such, I’m willing to learn.

My father died in July. While he’d been steadily declining for eighteen months, his death still felt unexpected. Since he’s been gone, my entire work life feels different. This was a surprise to me.

However, for my father’s entire career and my entire life time, he worked in higher education as both an academic advisor and an instructor. When I was an undergraduate student, I attended and worked at the university where he worked for over thirty years, Wayne State University, and received half off tuition. My professors were his colleagues, and I worked hard after underachieving spectacularly in high school. My dad was proud of me. I found my niche in the English Department, specifically in creative writing, and I worked on the literary magazine my senior year and did poetry readings about the Detroit area my last two years there. I also minored in anthropology and Spanish. As a social scientist who loved language himself, my choice of studies delighted him.

I continued on to graduate school, and for a little while after I graduated, I even went back to Wayne State and taught English 101 as an adjunct. My dad and I met every Tuesday at a Lebanese restaurant on campus for lunch.

My dad followed my career with great enthusiasm and interest. Even after I moved cross country, he called me at least weekly to check in. My working in academia was absolutely a common ground for us, a way of for us to connect on several levels: intellectually, professionally, even pedagogically. While I don’t think I ever took this connection for granted, I also don’t think I realized how profound it was until it was gone.

When the new academic year started this past August, I wandered around GCC’s campus feeling lost. Even though my dad lived back in the midwest, and I’d been teaching west of the Mississippi since 1999, I still felt his absence acutely. When I received my first full-time faculty position in northwest Colorado, he was so excited that he even helped me drive the U-Haul across five states to get there. When we pulled into the tiny town that sported a community college with dorms and one traffic light, so different than the Bronx he grew up in and the Detroit he worked in for decades, he pulled over on Main Street and said to me philosophically, “Well, I guess you’ll just have to pretend you’re in the Peace Corps.

With my father gone, I had no one to review the batch of new students with, the new semester’s classes, or my latest research or poetry project. At first, I couldn’t understand my own situation. How could a father’s absence feel so acute when daily he lived so far away? I not only felt lost, I also felt confused by my disorientation.

Obviously tbe degree of change varies, and some of how we respond to change has to do with the magnitude of it. When my father was declining and I thought about his being gone, I never considered what effect it would have on me professionally. However, the effect has been large and daily. What I realize only now is this: change, when it’s self-initiated, is a form of control. I can pick my new classes, and often, depending on the course, I can choose my textbooks. Although I don’t pick my course outcomes, I pick the curriculum that helps meet them. But certain changes, the kind we can’t at all control, bring loss and thus grief. And for me grief is the most mysterious of emotions–appearing and then lingering when least expected. This academic year has indeed been a lesson for me in change–the hardest kind. The kind, I guess, that makes me more independent and, inevitably, a stronger person. But it’s also the kind I wish I didn’t have to face.





And There They Went…

During my Lunar New Year Celebration, I could not recruit any international students to do the fashion show.  In an act of desperation, I asked my Spanish students to help me present some very fancy and beautiful Chinese outfits.  I was able to get 8 students who, for 25 extra points toward the class,  would go on stage and model.   I have never seen a group of 8 so excited about going on stage with some Chinese fancy outfits.  Only 4 were able to make it to rehearsal the night before the event, but the day of the event, they just knew what to do.  The 4 who had gone to the rehearsal instructed the other 4; and on stage, they looked like professional models.  I have attached some pictures for your enjoyment.  I learned that sometimes the most spontaneous actions come across as the most prepared, and rehearsed ones.  After I saw my 8 heroes on stage, I sighed and thought to myself, why worry so much about every single detail?  Life is too short!unnamed


Using Social Media to Collaborate and Spread Love

That title is so vague, right? Well if you’re reading, it worked. Next week is Open Education Week, and as part of the Maricopa Millions Steering team, I will be using social media to help share all the love for OER we have in Maricopa. My job is to organize the team to get our word out using the hashtag #openeducationwk. Let’s just say that is an impossible job, but I’ve got this. I have a great plan to make this work. So here’s what we want to happen. It might be similar to what you might want to happen in a class. We have 12 people on the committee. Everyone is responsible for writing at least one tweet and a blog post in one of these five areas:

  1. What is OER? 
  2. How do I find OER? 
  3. Faculty experiences developing OER,
  4. Faculty experiences with using OER, and
  5. FAQs.

We then want to tweet and post all that content using the designated hashtag. We’ll be using the same Twitter handle @MaricopaOER and posting to the same blog: https://maricopamillions.wordpress.com, but having everyone logging in using the same credentials can get quite messy, plus you risk the chance of someone just messing the whole thing up. So I set up a shared Google Doc with all five categories and the names of those responsible for each category and then left a blank spot for each to fill in their contribution. Here’s an example below:

  • Faculty experiences developing OER – Sian Proctor, Alisa Cooper
    • Tweet
    • Blog/Email:
    • Tweet:
    • Blog/Email:

TwufferEveryone knows how to work in a shared document, so this step was a breeze. The team has been adding their tweets and blog posts to the document. Next I started scheduling the tweets and blogs posts to go out in a timely manner next week because no one person has time to be tweeting and blogging all day, every day for a week, right? So we used Twuffer to schedule our tweets to go out 2-3 a day for a week at 10:00 am, noon, and 2pm. Twuffer allows the Twitter user to compose a list of future tweets, and schedule their release. We have 14 schedule so far, and I had my work study student set all this up.

For the blog posts, we are using our WordPress blog, so there’s a feature in there to schedule blog posts. Just cut & paste the content from the shared doc into a blog post, add the appropriate title, tags, and categories and then choose the day and time you want it to go out. We’ll be posting blogs every day at 9:00am and noon if we get enough posts. That’s a hint if anyone from the steering team is reading.

Finally for an added bonus, WordPress gives you the opportunity to automatically tweet out your blog post every time you post. So what that means is when the blog posts go out an additional tweet gets sent too. The tweet automatically sends the Title of the post and a link for people to read it. I had to go in and add the hashtag for open ed week, so those tweets will be a part of our arsenal next week too. Below is an example of what auto tweets from a blog look like. This is from our Write6x6 blog posting to our CTLE twitter account. Our WordPress stats show that many people click through from Twitter to read our blog. That’s because of these auto tweets.

Tweet from Blog

So we’re all set for Open Ed Week next week. If you want to follow us or all the tweets about open education week. Click through to Twitter by clicking the links in the previous sentence. Or maybe you can think of a way to set something up like this for your students to tweet and blog together about a special topic in your class.

Learning to Let Go

Like many, I am back in school trying to meet the new HLC qualifications while pursuing a yoga certification. Although I am no spring chicken, there are always new things to learn if we stay open to the possibilities and let of of ego.

Last year, I signed up for an intermediate-level asana class. I had been doing hot yoga for five years prior to registering and thought that I would claim the coveted teacher’s pet award.  After all, I had ten years of youth on my classmates and am incredibly  fit. I have run marathons, competed in triathlons, and spent years on a swim team. On the first day, I showed up in my new Lululemon top that showed off my muscular pecs, and I was ready to downward dog with the best of them. I took a wide stance, threw my rear in the air, and put myself into the pose. As I was  mediating in the pose and relishing some inner glory, I heard the teacher yell across the room, “dear God, someone help that new student”.  Being the helper that I am, I pulled out of the pose and was ready to instruct the student with the poor posture.  To my surprise the misaligned student was me!

I spent the rest of the class, actually the rest of the semester, with an aide who properly adjusted me into EVERY single pose. After five grueling years of practice, I had strengthened nothing except my ability to do every pose incorrectly.  My first instinct was to withdraw, but my fierce sense of competitiveness with myself would not let me quit.  I  persisted, perspired, and complained for sixteen weeks. I did not experience one minute of enjoyment through the two-hour workout.

I am glad that I put my ego aside. I have since graduated to an independent practitioner and the yoga assistant has found a newbie to readjust.  Every once in a while, I hear the teacher grunt-good work, Mary.

Yoga really is about letting go. Through this experience, I have learned to let go of my pride and realign my expectations. I have learned that it is okay to need help. Had I held onto my ego, I would have never grown or pursued my passion.  I have four classes left before I graduate and can call myself a yoga teacher. Yippee.








The Magic in the Classroom

Have you ever experienced that magical moment in the classroom when everything seemed to be just perfect? The class session when you might not have even planned for the activities but the students took you down a path where one thing led to the next and before you knew it…there was magic?

I’ve been very fortunate over my 23-year history teaching mathematics and have experienced several of those moments. It was those moments of magic when I knew the students were engaged, learning from each other, and I was the proud teacher on the side. The moments when the students were working together in groups and found they didn’t agree with the answers from another group. This is what I always referred to as a “controversy”, followed by telling students that “Controversy is good for the soul and this is the time to listen and learn from each other”.

It happened quite by accident. I was teaching College Algebra (MAT151) and I had a wide range of learning levels in this class. Actually, this was a regular occurrence in my College Algebra classes. Some students would enroll in this class after having taken the mathematics placement test, which usually meant they had a very high level of mathematical knowledge and ability, while other students enrolled because they had earned a C or better in the previous class, Intermediate Algebra (MAT121).   This latter group usually had a mixture of mathematical knowledge and ability. This is the group that Michael came from.

Michael was a very large and imposing young man, probably in his early 20s, and an admitted felon. Michael was a nice young man with a quick smile, big laugh, and a limited understanding of algebraic rules. He tried hard, came to class everyday (probably because his probation officer made him), participated in all of the group activities, but wasn’t passing the class.

We came to the part of the class where we were solving radical equations…sorry to all the non-math folks for the technical part of this story, but it is very important. All semester, I had been working with the students and helping them to understand that there was more than one way to solve an algebraic equation…there was the traditional algebraic method, but there was also a numerical method and a graphical method. We regularly used a graphing calculator, TI-84, for just about everything in the class but particularly to see the numerical and graphical answers.

So, we were knee deep into learning about radical equations and they were familiar with the possibility of having an Extraneous Solution…that pesky problem where you might be able to algebraically solve the equation but the solution doesn’t check out when you substitute the answer back into the equation…blah, blah, blah.

My students were working in groups and five of the six groups all came up with the same answer… all except Michael’s group. This is where the magic happened. In Michael’s loud booming voice, he said, “You all are wrong, there’s No Solution!” To which I said, “Michael, can you come to the front and show everyone what you mean?” We regularly used the Pad Camera for the class so Michael makes his way to the front and using the graphing calculator, shows the class that the two sides of the equation, each representing a function, did not intersect. The class erupted in cheers and Michael had his moment of validation in the sun.

I don’t know what happened to Michael after the semester, I can only hope and pray that he stayed on the straight and narrow path and is living a happy life. I know that he made a huge difference in my life and serves as a reminder of the potential that lives within all of our students.


Two (Very) Brief Reflections on How We Bide Our Time

Leap day came and went in a blink. So did leap month. February escaped me.

What have I learned?

I have learned that if you get sucked into your routine, you won’t actually accomplish anything. You might think you have done something, but you have nothing juicy to show for it.

When you wake up in the morning, do you immediately reach for your phone, check your email and spend 20 minutes responding to other people’s agendas? Yup, me too.

Experts recommend that you take this time to look at your own personal and professional goals and decide which action item you are going to spend time on. Plan to be creative, solve problems and be energized by that awesome feeling of accomplishment.

I passionately read in Brendon Burchard’s The Motivation Manifesto, that if you want to slow time, you have to actually pause and reflect. I love this. It is so simple! Hold this moment for two extra beats to “amplify your senses.” You will begin to notice things that you never saw or felt before. Please enjoy this excerpt from p. 229:

“Do not breathe so quickly. Take in air for two beats longer.

Do not scan the room. Sense the room by gazing into each shadow and corner for two beats longer.

Do not merely glance at her. Look into her eyes and hold them for two beats longer.

Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.

Do not send the heartless note. Read it once more and spend two beats longer sensing the pain it may cause another.

Do not give a perfunctory kiss goodbye while juggling everything on the way out the door. Make the kiss count, make it firm and solid and true, holding the moment passionately for two beats longer.”

Tomorrow is March 1st. Another opportunity for new beginnings. Leap forward and try something that moves you to the next level of awesomeness!