Category Archives: Adjunct Faculty

Gather Around the Coffee Mug

The significance of building relationships is often overlooked in education. As a teacher, it is easy to fall into that boss/employee relationship with your students. As a professor, it is easy to get the feeling that you are on your own, with little support outside of the occasional observation from a superior.


Fortunately there is an easy solution to both of these problems:

Coffee.

Cup of Coffee
You can almost smell it. (c) giphy.com

When I first started teaching I had a difficult time managing the classroom. Despite their classroom antics, I found they still would always say hello or try to strike up a conversation when I was on my lunch break having a cup of coffee.

Eventually this evolved into a post-class ritual: I would leave the class, go the to the lunch area, and have coffee. Those students who did not have a class to go to would join me. We would chat about things, sometimes English related, sometimes movies, and sometimes just idle banter.

As the semester moved on, my insecurities within the classroom started to diminish. I was more comfortable with the class, and they realized I was just as human as everyone else.

Fast-forward a few years and I found myself in a similar situation in the Adjunct Faculty Office. There was always a silence there, the room serving as a cross street as we sped to our various destinations. On the rare occasion a question or idea would come up, but it was far from a daily occurrence.

Busy intersection
Off to class I go. (c) giphy.com


The solution was to make things more personal, have a chat, offer that cup of coffee. It wasn’t long before I started having lunch and coffee with a few of my fellow adjuncts. At those short meetings I was able to discuss assignments, classroom management, teaching techniques, and various other topics that made me a better instructor and a better person. One person in particular, Gary, even encouraged me to pursue publishing my short stories after the topic came up during one of our lunch breaks. That one conversation had a major impact on my life.

So the final message I leave is this: Students are people. Teachers are people. We all have similar fears, desires, struggles, and pursuits. Discovering that bond in a structured environment can be difficult, but put a lunch or nice hot cup of coffee in the mix, and friendship is just around the corner.

 

Seizing Confrontational Teaching Moments

I was teaching Developmental English during the last controversial national presidential election cycle. In addition, the Arizona voters faced a highly contested Proposition 206 proposal to raise the minimum wage from $8.05 to $10.00/hour. The highly publicized political arena prompted many lively discussions in my class, which often times erupted during my open ended lessons. I capitalized on the vibrant enthusiasm, which my students displayed by having brainstorming sessions during class time concerning the pros and cons of raising the minimum wage in addition to other student-driven inquiries. After a classroom mini-debate concerning raising the minimum wage in Arizona, my students wrote exceptional argumentative papers with rich details and enhanced vocabulary due to front loading the rough draft preparations. Another indirect, but equally important lesson absorbed by my first-year college students addressed the manner in which to”argue” appropriately and to listen to (not just hear) one another’s ideas without being totally dismissive. No matter what content area we teach, our students are continually learning life lessons through unscripted and unanticipated teachable moments, which are diamonds in the rough if we choose to dig deeper into the makings of our students collectively. Therefore, I urge all of you professors/instructors out there in the 21st century, to seize the moment, and face the classroom debates head on!


Professional Relationship Building

It is important to have a balanced relationship with one’s students. One that has professional distance, as not to be overly friendly and remain objective, but yet a genuine interest should be taken in the students’ lives inclusive of values and activities. Many educators in all arenas are voluntarily taking professional development courses in “Pop Culture” so that they are better able to bridge the generational gaps that exist between them and their target student population. I believe that it is essential to directly ask the students, without prying into their personal lives, about what they specifically deem important and applicable towards their lives. As every effective educator is aware, knowledge and skill retention is not only enhanced but multiplied when the students are able to directly to apply the learning to relevant, real-life situations.


Making an Entrance

In my heart of hearts, I genuinely want those around me to succeed, and I take pleasure in watching them do well as they develop. I’d rather help people work out their problems than tell them what they need to do. I don’t consider any of those things character faults, but very early in my teaching experience I learned that certain actions can be confused with weakness. Weakness in the classroom leads to problems that are not easy to correct.

To say I was nervous on my first day in the classroom would be an understatement. I made the mistake of not wearing an undershirt, and my  light blue dress shirt was a drenched dark mess by the end of the 45-minute period. I imagine I seemed as ridiculous as Sir James Martin from Love & Friendship:

That lack of self-confidence and abundance of nerves  lead to problems throughout the rest of the semester. I found out very quickly that if a classroom doesn’t respect you as a person, they also will not respect your lectures, your grading, or your discipline.

That was a difficult semester, but as time went on I gained confidence and my nerves subsided. This lead to better relationships with my students and more success in the classroom. Year to year things improved incrementally. Eventually though, something happened.

Image of Luke from Star Wars about Overconfidence.
Ah George Lucas, your horrible dialogue rings true.

With my nerves fully at bay, my inner-nice guy came out again. With it, the entire catalog of issues I had in my early years started to manifest themselves again. Why?  Because while my students may have liked me, they did not respect me.

So here we are at the heart of the lesson folks: Respect is key. Respect should always be in the back of your mind when standing behind that desk. Whether it was nerves or being “Mr. Nice Guy”, I lost the respect of my students, and with it, full control of my classroom.

It wasn’t easy, and I still make mistakes, but I have learned to balance my kind demeanor with the responsibilities of being an educator. I found that I can still joke, have fun, and be myself, as long as students know I am serious about my job.

The most effective method I have found to encourage a healthy classroom dynamic is to start off strong. I like to make my first week of class filled to the brim with activity. I like to give students things to do, show them the gamut of what is to come: a journal, a discussion, a short essay, a quiz, and a reading. I do it all, because it lets students know that the primary goal of my course is for them to learn. If we end up having fun in the process, that is a bonus.

The classroom is a world with its own environment, dynamics, and life. It has the power to evolve and overtake you if you let it. Start off strong, confident, and focused, and that classroom will turn into an environment that encourages both learning and respect.

 

 

 

The Sleeper has Awakened

There are really two kinds of dreams, dreams we have for ourselves (personal goals and desires) and those we have for the world around us. But dreams don’t have to be these surreal or unobtainable goals, no matter how big they are. For those who enjoy viral internet trends, you may have seen a little gem with Shia LeBeouf giving an inspiring “speech” entitled, “Just Do It.” During the motivational and comically energetic rant he utters one very important line, “Don’t let your dreams be dreams.”

The dreams we have for ourselves usually involve work or family. On the surface they seem much more obtainable. For example, I often dream of working as full time faculty and finally being able to move on from ten years of working part time at multiple schools. I dream of raising a child with my wife and doing the best I can to provide the same support she has provided me ever since we started dating fifteen years ago. I’d like to think those are obtainable dreams. But dreams don’t come true if you fail to act on them, they require action. My adjunct work at GCC allowed me to start working towards some of my personal dreams. I have been given the opportunity (and even encouraged) to present at meetings, develop curriculum, and even help design entire courses. Those are all very real opportunities that serve as important and needed experience. I may not have reached my dream yet, but those opportunities acted upon are progressive steps.

The dreams we have for the world around us are usually far more reaching, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be acted upon just like personal goals. My far reaching dream would be to live in a world free from prejudice and bias. When I lived in Detroit I was able to see firsthand how horrible and destructive those forces can be. I may just be an adjunct English instructor, but even from that position I can act on my dream to create that better world. By encouraging critical thinking, healthy debate, and empathy in the classroom, slowly but surely, one student at a time, the world becomes a better place through my actions. I can’t have an impact on everyone, but each student I do have a positive influence on creates a ripple, and those ripples may be felt around the world.

Image of water ripples
Surface Waves (c) wikipedia commons

So don’t just sit and dream, take action, even a small step. Let the sleeper awaken and watch the world around you slowly change into to the one you imagined and hoped for. Just do it.

 

Educational Dreams

Even though, “No Child Left Behind” legislation has formally left the American public school agenda, now there are the “College Readiness” standards, which all high school students must receive advisement. Now, every high school student is expected to go to college and secure a high paying, technological-advanced job. High school guidance counselors are doing their best to monitor between 200-400 students regarding their strengths and personality match ups with professions, which would not only be rewarding for them, but also pleasing goals.

The community colleges offers first semester college students a college preparation course, valued at three credits, to ensure that not only will the student have the time management, goal setting, and organizational skills necessitated for college courses, but also a clear direction towards declaring a personal strength compatible major. However, the question remains…where is the “dream” factor in this collegiate recipe? Are students going to reach for the stars and aim to achieve the near impossible during their lifetimes, or are they going to play it safe with a prescription academic path?

It is possible that the first couple of jobs which the students will obtain will be practical, and pay the bills. However, as one ages and seeks a deeper purpose in life, it may be an ideal time to explore careers outside of one’s comfort level and dream big. I would have never envisioned myself getting a PhD in Performance Psychology after retiring from elementary school teaching, but I am reaching for the stars, and I encourage others to do so as well.


Humility + Assessment = Success

I have always been fascinated by assessment, unfortunately I know not everyone shares my feelings on the subject. I have had colleagues who consider it a dirty word. They dread the thought of it, and treat it as just another hoop to jump through when the time comes to participate.

A pre-test here.

A post-test there.

A journal reflection.

Or the ultimate avoidance, just saying a regular class assignment is, in fact, assessment.

Unfortunately, those who avoid confronting the challenges of assessments are not helping with the end goal, to improve student education through meaningful analysis and feedback.

The reason that some fear to participate in a group assessment and decide to take a solo route is that assessments are looked at as inconvenient or difficult; however, these approaches often overshadow efficient strategies for approaching this dilemma, strategies that which rely on one, simple trait: humility.

I love my standardized rubric for essays. It isn’t perfect, but it is consistent, and students appreciate that. The rubric is based off of one that is required to be used in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System. That system consists of 16 colleges and every writing instructor uses the same rubric for their essays. I was lucky enough to see that rubric be initially implemented as well as its evolution over the last decade into its current form.

Now there was significant pushback when the rubric was first forced upon the faculty. Arguments ranged from “but I don’t grade essays with a rubric” to “my rubric is already better than this one”, but top to bottom it was adopted.

It is difficult to adjust teaching habits, but understand that a standardized rubric doesn’t change the way we teach, it simply unifies the way we grade. In that way, a standard rubric is even less intrusive than requiring a specific assignment for assessment.

So what is gained from using the same rubric for every essay?

Starting on the class level, it is easy to get a snapshot of student’s skills improving (or not improving) over a semester. It also allows the teacher to see if the class as a whole is struggling in a specific area (I’m looking at you point of view slips). This lets allows class needs to be addressed on a holistic level through lectures. I do this with my youtube series “English Power Lectures”, but setting aside 15 minutes when essays are handed back to address major problems does the trick as well.

When multiple faculty start to use the same rubric the assessment becomes that much more valuable. Now trends can be seen over a much larger group of students, it is also possible to see where one class struggles and another doesn’t. With this knowledge, teachers can share techniques for dealing with that particular issue. This is the beauty (and truly the purpose) of assessment. It serves as a common tool and focal point that can start an analysis, conversation, and implementation of course wide improvements.

Now implementing something district or even school wide is difficult, so start small. Talk to a group of fellow faculty (or adjunct faculty) and do your best to develop a rubric that works for multiple assignments or essays. Use that rubric in a course and compare notes. It won’t be perfect, but assessment can always be improved upon. It may be difficult to unify your grading techniques with others, but remember that teaching isn’t meant to be a solo endeavor. Instructors are stronger as a community, and students will benefit from that community. All it takes is a little bit of humility.

 

Relevant, Student-Driven Teaching

Those of us who are very fortunate to have a variety of cultural representations within our classroom brick-and-mortar walls, it is imperative to give each and every one of those students a teaching voice. Not only will the teacher/professor become worldly and culturally enlightened by primary human sources, even more importantly, the peer students will be learning first-hand from native, first-generation immigrants and newly arrived refugees. We need to value and empower our precious human resources, the richly evolving cultural diversity molding moment-by-moment in America’s ever-changing society. As a developmental English and English as a Second Language college professor, I am very proud and honored to be facilitating cultural enrichment within the Maricopa community in Arizona. I encourage all teachers across America to capitalize on their human resources, which are richly present in their classrooms.


Facilitating Classroom Leadership

When asked to comment on instructor leadership techniques, I immediately self-reflected upon the many leaders and teachers who regularly attend my classes. No matter what age my students are, I view all of the participants as teachers. Learning is most powerfully committed to memory not by just viewing and listening to the instructional input,  but rather by teaching another learner the skill or knowledge set will solicit about 90% retention of presented material. Hence, cooperative learning has become very common place within American classrooms ranging from preschool even through the university platform. Considering the heavy influences and integration of various technology devices, I question whether or not learning will be enhanced or diminished through lessened physical face-to-face interactions. Network connectivity is a progressive technological phenomena and possible teaching pedagogy, which will enter the performance educational psychology domain in the near future.


On Kindness

Practicing it won’t make you perfect but it’ll make you aware. We’ve all probably been taught at some point in our lives of its virtues, but have we examined its meaning? What does it mean to be kind? To understand, perhaps it’s best to know what it feels like to be treated in an unkind manner.  I’m pretty sure we can all remember the last time we felt like that.  But can we remember the last time we treated someone with kindness?  What were the circumstances under which we chose to act in a kindly manner.  And no, I’m not talking about patronizing manners or obligatory responses.  I’m talking real.  Right here and right now. Starting with today. We’re all too busy thinking and worrying about ourselves and “what’s in it for me.”  And in doing so we’ve missed the opportunity to respond to an overwhelmed student or coworker.  All because, if you please, we were thinking all about “me” instead of “them.”  We know what it feels like when we’re left to feel the sting of a perfunctory thank you or please. My challenge is this:  let’s think ahead and outside of ourselves. So the next time we’re in a situation which may require compassion, we think instead of how we can best be prepared to respond to a need selflessly and with compassion for someone in need of a kind act instead of an eye-rolling dismissal. You see to be kind, we must think of someone other than ourselves. That’s how I wish to be remembered. As an example of kindness.  We’ve been taught the lesson, but so have we learned?  What a difference kindness can make.