Some days I feel like I have everything under control, and some days I feel like I have been sucked into a vortex of everyone else’s problems that have suddenly become mine.
I do three things. Smile, breathe and listen. I know it sounds too simple, but it really helps!
Smile. Just a half smile, so you don’t scare people. The smile releases endorphins and tricks your body into relaxation. It gives a sense of personal control, a feeling of “I’ve got this!”
Breathe. Take a few deep breaths to connect your mind and body. As you breathe in, take your time and feel your belly rise. Allow your lungs to absorb the oxygen, and then exhale fully. Repeat three or four times and scan your body for tension as you breathe.
Breathing pulls you into the present moment and prevents you from dwelling on the past or fearing the unknown future.
Listen. The reason that there is a problem is because you don’t yet have a solution. The solution can only found when you have all the facts and you have listened to all perspectives with an open mind and heart. Listen to a variety of people that you respect so you can hear some non-biased perspectives. We generally listen with a filter or a specific lens due to our innate biases. You have to remove these roadblocks to gain a clearer understanding.
Take some time away from the situation and let your heart and mind get to work without your cognitive influences. Go for a walk, hike, bike ride, swim, lift weights, do yoga or pilates, nap, listen to music or just get a good night’s sleep.
Not all problems can be solved this way, but it is worth a try. It does not cost anything and it will help you build a positive habit that will help you in the future.
“My love, do you ever dream of Candy coated raindrops? You’re the same, my candy rain”
Soul for Real
Do you ever dream of candy coated raindrops? No? Well, me neither. However, when I think of dreams it always reminds me of that Soul for Real song from the 90’s, “Candy Rain.” I used to love that group. I loved them so much I named my online persona after them. For the longest time, I was soul4real on everything social media account available. I’ve cut back over the years, but my Twitter handle is still @soul4real. As a result, every time someone wants to share that they are listening to a song from this group, they always tweet it like the one to the right. I get a few tweets a week like this.
So I wrote all of that because for some strange reason I can’t think of anything I dream of. I’m sure that has everything to do with me being on sabbatical. Maybe I should dream of having another sabbatical, but I’d have to wait 7 years for that and I hope to be retired by then. And when I return in the fall, I’ll already be going through a bit of a job change, transitioning back to teaching composition full time. It’s been four years, so I don’t have the barely hidden disdain for grading hundreds of essays every 3 weeks in me. I’m actually looking forward to it. Hopefully that feeling will last a few semesters. I guess I could dream that my students will be the best students to ever take a freshman comp class at GCC, and we all enjoy every minute of our time together. A girl can dream, right?
In the mean time, while I get back to enjoying my sabbatical and trying to think of things to dream of, you should enjoy the soulful stylings of a great group – Soul for Real singing “Candy Rain.”
Assessment and evaluation are not exciting words. Are they? Maybe it is the connotation surrounding the words. In twenty years of being an educator, the amount of essays I have graded must be in the billions. A hyperbole? Perhaps. Billion certainly feels like an accurate number sometimes. As a composition teacher, when I think of assessment and evaluation, I think of my students writing essays. It was not until I attended a conference about ten years ago when my view of assessment changed. The district I was working in, at the time, began assigning us to Professional Learning Communities. The definition of a PLC was a group of teachers at the same level, all the senior teachers for example, working together to create common assessments for all of the students. We would meet once a month. At some point, I became the Lead Senior Teacher. All of the PLC Leads were sent to a conference on Learning Communities and Assessment by Solution Tree. There, I heard inspirational solutions from Rob Marzano, Richard and Rebecca DuFour, and Anthony Muhammad. The culture of assessment presented was ground-breaking, research-based, and credible with real-world examples of proof. It made me want to change the world. Well, the assessment world. While I was exposed to definitions and examples of formative and summative assessment, the vital piece of information about assessment that I gleaned from the summit was a protocol of three questions to ask myself about evaluating students:
What do I want students to know?
How will I know if they learned it?
What will I do if they do not?
To me, there was not a choice but to choose to incorporate this innovative way of thinking. Once I embedded the above into my pedagogy, there was no turning back. Of course, the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy is my guiding statement of always doing what is best for students; however, it could not be accomplished without assessing their learning by asking hard questions and being honest with the answers, especially with number three.
Patience can make or break a teacher; consider the following examples:
The first time a student struggles while others want to get through the assignment
The ever-evolving battle of classroom management
The realization that three years of lectures are now obsolete and need to be remade
The endless forms, regulations, training, seminars, webinars, assessments, observations, and reviews
The implementation of new technology that is routinely phased and replaced
The grind from tutor to adjunct to associate
Much like a nurse without crisis management skills, the realization will quickly set in that an error in career choice was made if an educator lacks patience.
Teachers may not always feel patient. I know I have lost my patience during trying moments, but no other career path exemplifies the concept of patience better than education.
Time itself slows for an instructor. Where many jobs provide tasks to be completed in a week or day, educators live in a world of semesters. This is a world where careful planning is followed by laborious execution and capped off with in-depth assessment.
It is fitting that the mother of all virtues is the most important trait for the mother of all other professions.
I always remind my writing students that they should choose interesting topics based on their own life and experiences. I try to give them examples from my own life that I think might engage them. So when we begin discussing how to write a “process” paragraph, I tell them about how to catch a scorpion.
Let me explain… During the summer, my wife and I regularly find scorpions that wander into our house. I say wander because I know that they’re not doing it maliciously (even if they do have menacing pincers, a poisonous stinger, and armor that always makes me feel that I’m face to face with a creature from one of the Alien movies). They just happen to wander through a crack while looking for water, a cool environment, or a bug to eat. But most of my life, without giving it a second thought, I would smash any six- or eight-legged creatures that wandered into our house.
Then one day, I questioned myself: Why was I automatically defaulting to smash-bug- scrape-remains-off-the-floor mode? I realized that, 99% of the time, I didn’t really have to kill them. So I decided to devise a catch-and-release method. The next time I saw a scorpion in the house, I got a clear plastic cup and covered it, slid a heavy sheet of paper underneath, then flipped it right side up, allowing the confused creature to fall into the cup. I then took it outside and tossed it over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. Just kidding – I tossed it in the farthest corner of our backyard where it could hide in the bushes or under a rock.
So last semester, when I introduced my students to the process paragraph, I began by discussing my scorpion-catching method. To make it engaging, I brought in a real scorpion to class. Just kidding again – I brought a rubber scorpion, a plastic cup, and a heavy piece of paper and then demonstrated the steps of how to do it. I then asked for a couple of volunteers to try it. They were a bit uneasy (a fake rubber scorpion can be almost as scary as a real one) Then, as a class, we worked together to craft an example of a process paragraph outlining the steps.
For more than a year now, I can proudly say that I have no scorpion blood on my hands. When I told a friend about all this, he commented, “That’s very Buddhist of you.” Yes it is, although I’m not a Buddhist. I’ve just become more conscious of how we treat the creatures among us.
But before you begin complimenting my humane treatment of arachnids and other critters too much, I must also let you know that when it comes to flies, it’s a totally different story. I catch them and pull their wings off, then watch them hop around trying to get airborne. Once again, just… you know.
Last evening, a chance of winning the Powerball lottery prompted my unrealistic of dream of “What would I do if…??? 45 minutes was all that stood between me and some unimaginable amount of cash. I told my husband, “Enjoy the next 45 minutes because our life is going to change at 8 o’clock.”
During those 45 minutes, I basked in the dreamy thoughts of my philanthropic calling…starting an organization to fund the charity work of others. I imagined myself sitting at a board room table listening to the enthusiastic ideas of concerned people who want to make the world a better place. Wow…just think of the ripple effect…this is going to be awesome…
45 minutes later, the reality buzzer rang as the winning lottery numbers failed to appear on my ticket. OK. Whatever. It’s fun to dream.
My take away: What we dream today can create our reality tomorrow. Maybe yesterday’s dream is moving me toward explicit action to make a positive difference today and in the future. Maybe the lottery dream was just a warm-up for my real philanthropic future.
That’s how many instructors and students feel about assessment and evaluation. It’s a lot of needless pain and suffering. It always seems so punitive to students who struggle. But assessment doesn’t have to be that way. Many instructors have found ways to teach and use assessments in a way that encourage students to do better the next time. The key is that there is a next time, and that can be the challenge.
In writing courses, instructors can get overloaded with grading. The more a student writes the better that writing becomes, but who has time to grade all that writing. Apparently writing instructors do. However, there are ways to break down the concepts and skills needed to write well and have students practice those concepts and skills without the need of instructor grading. For instance, much of the bad writing that I see, stems from poor sentence structure. Students love a good run-on sentence, with a few fragments thrown in for good measure. It drive me crazy. “Use a comma or a period somewhere, please,” I beg.
Lucky for us at GCC, we’ve found an adaptive learning tool to help us teach students the grammar and mechanics skills, including sentence structure that they struggle with. If you’re not familiar with adaptive learning, it “is an educational method which uses computer algorithms to orchestrate the interaction with the learner and deliver customized resources and learning activities to address the unique needs of each learner” (Wikipedia). The tool we adopted from McGraw-Hill is called Connect, which includes LearnSmart Achieve. LSA provides an adaptive learning system designed to identify students’ areas of weakness. It uses supplementary content, such as videos, interactive activities, additional readings, and even a time management feature, all intended to guide students through content and resources at an appropriate pace. You can see an example below.
The beauty of this type of tool is students are being assessed all through out the process, and the system is adapting to their needs. If they’re struggling with the content they get more resources and more practice. If a student clearly understands, they hit mastery sooner and complete the lesson. So instead of a lot of pain and suffering, students get what they need. Missing a question doesn’t seem like a punishment. It becomes and opportunity to learn why and try again until they get it right. And as an instructor, I don’t have to grade any of that work. That’s the real beauty. My assessment comes when they put those skills to the test on an essay assignment.
Unfortunately, we can’t eliminate all the pain and suffering. At some point students have to write an essay, and instructors have to grade it. Well, more like grade 100+ of them (24 students x 5 classes). And we assign 3-4 essays in each course, so it’s still a lot of grading. But I digress. Once a student submits a finished essay, eager with anticipation of a passing grade, it takes some time to get that feedback back to students. During that span (1-2 weeks on occasion), students forget all about that paper and the effort or lack of effort they put into it. And when the paper is return, the process often ends there. There’s no motivation to do better. We teach that writing is a process, yet we make the process end when we’re ready. I believe with a C paper and especially an F paper, the process is not over yet. The student needs to continue to work on that essay, not the next one, in order to improve his/her writing.
So my assessment technique involves giving students an opportunity of a rewrite. Yep, more pain essays for me to grade. But it works because students have to tell me what it is they did to improve the essay. What skills did they work on? What help did you seek? Did you work in LearnSmart Achieve? Did you visit the Writing Center? Did you schedule a conference with your instructor? So the process doesn’t have to end with an F paper crumpled and thrown in the trashcan as the student walks out the door (clearly that’s an old reference to times gone by). Writing is a process and the only way to get students to write better is to keep the process going for as long as they need.
After reading this week’s suggested writing prompt, I first thought “oh no – I don’t want to analyze my dreams,” but – alas – rather than the subconscious expressions of stress coming to me in sleep, the question asks about goals and wishes for improvement. Maybe one wish should be for positive dreams. But enough silliness.
What’s my dream (at least for work)? I want to be the best teacher I can be and to get to know my students as well as professionally possible. I want to make a difference in the lives of my students that lasts well beyond the time they spend in my classroom. And I think I do that. I appreciate the comments I get personally, on Facebook with the few students I’ve allowed to “friend me” after they were in my class, and on Rate My Professor (see previous post).
But there is always room for improvement. What I feel is lacking right now is the ability and time to innovate and renew my classes and the way I present content. Some of my loss of time and energy is a year of hellish health problems that stole half of last Spring and all of summer from any emotional/energy recuperation but there are also all the stresses and demands of District, Campus and Department issues and my committee commitments. I feel like too much of me is taking care of things outside of the classroom – and the classroom is why I do this job. So my dream is to get back to “being me” health- and energy-wise but also to figure out a better way to manage time so that I’m back to development and my own learning and growth rather than putting out continual fires and just keeping my head above water. The burn out point looms and I want to reroute the train before I reach it.
I know this is more of a personal than professional post, but I thought there might be some broad agreement and/or someone might have suggestions of how they deal with similar emotions/situation. Anyone? And on that note, I hope you’re having a good week (anyway). 🙂
Everyone could use a little more confidence. Imagine a campus where faculty, staff, and students walked around with a little more confidence, it would make a significant difference in the academic environment. When you have more confidence you feel like you are a person of worth and value and you feel like you can take on anything. You feel like what you do matters. Below you will find 3 tips on how to improve your confidence. Hope you enjoy!
What do Casper the Friendly Ghost, Ben Affleck, and Miranda Priestly (the fashion guru portrayed brilliantly by Meryl Streep in the Devil Wears Prada) all have in common? Not much until you step into my financial accounting class during a discussion on internal controls. I’ll admit financial accounting can be a bit dry. It is a highly technical course and most students take it because it is required for their degree. I always look for ways to spark interest in the topic. For our discussion on internal controls, I always diagram a scenario on the whiteboard which involves a boss, an employee, and an accountant. Then I ask for volunteers to assume each role. The student who selects the boss role is assigned the Miranda Priestly avatar. The student who selects the accountant role is assigned the Ben Affleck avatar. For those you who don’t know, Ben Affleck played the badass accountant in the movie of the same name. The student who selects the employee role is assigned the Casper the Ghost avatar. Then I explain the roles of each in a scenario in which the employee is hired by the boss and paid by the accountant. Then I pause and ask each student to think like a crook. Be deceitful. Do what they can to circumvent the controls and steal from the company. Critical-thinking skills? I say yes. The goal for the students is to determine a way to steal from the company so that we can identify the controls that are missing that would prevent this kind of theft. In the end, the problem with the scenario is that the employee was hired by the boss, had time approved by the boss, and had a paycheck delivered by the boss. There was no evidence that the employee really existed. Employees who are on the payroll but not working for the company are called… Anybody want to guess? You got it! … ghost employees.
When I ask the students the term for non-working employees who are on the payroll, they usually make the connection between the Casper avatar and the ghost employee terminology. “I see what you did there” is a typical response. The use of pop culture avatars is a simple addition to a class that captures the students’ attention and appeals to visual learners. Visual learners prefer pictures and other forms of visual presentations (charts, graphs, diagrams) versus words. Visual stories help them understand material that is not easy to comprehend. By adding a few avatars and a diagrammed scenario I was able to add interest to a topic that could be dry and appeal to those learners who prefer visual learning.