Tag Archives: learning

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.

 

 

 

Getting to know you…

Sing with me (again)!

Getting to know all about…your colleagues

source

So a couple of weeks ago, the new group of GCC Residential faculty (lovingly referred to as the FYRE group) embarked on a tour of GCC that each of them partially lead. The “FYRE Guided Tour” is an opportunity to show off the different areas of campus where each member of FYRE works on a regular basis. Instead of parading the FYRE group around campus with me posing as the all-knowing tour guide, I created an opportunity that helps build community and connection between the group, while also learning about different programs and resources available to students.

I personally have learned quite a bit about GCC from the three FYRE Guided tours I have been on, and I know many of our new faculty have enjoyed learning about their colleagues and the campus at the same time. I mean, think about yourself and how well you really know what is happening on our campus. Even if you know of many of our programs, there is a good chance you have not seen some of the interesting, hands on learning opportunities many of our faculty create on a regular basis.

I am sure most of you know we have a fantastic nursing program, but have you actually seen the simulation lab that our students learn in? Have you seen the capabilities the mannequins have? Do you have any idea how the faculty that teach and operate these simulations plan for and pull off these lessons? Wow! Check out some our very own GCC students running through simulations.

Or did you know we have a Children Lab (or know what one is for that matter)? In our Child and Family Studies department, there is an active daycare that is part of the learning environment for our students. Through a two-way mirror and an intercom system, GCC students are able to observe the behavior of children in the daycare and analyze the way the childcare professionals interact, teach and play with the kids, all while the professor connects theory to practice. Awesome!

There are many other programs and resources on campus besides these two, and as I mentioned already, many of us know of them, but  unfortunately, we don’t really know them.

We haven’t really seen the materials, the labs, and the behind-the-scenes rooms (full of costumes and rocks and chemicals and plastinated body parts and props and fire engines and grand pianos and toys and boom mics and pinned insects and Corvettes) all over campus.

We know the people who work in these fields, who have dedicated countless hours planning and prepping, and we love catching up with them in the common areas of campus, but we often haven’t seen them in their domain, which means we don’t really know what our colleagues do here at GCC.

Is this a missed opportunity? Might this be the clue we’ve been searching for in our quest to tear down (or at least connect) the silos? It could be, or it might just be me wishing we could all see more of the inner workings of different departments and different disciplines. Anyone game to host an “Open Department” someday?!


Finding Inspiration from Isolation

This year marks the three-year anniversary of my teaching solely online as an Adjunct Faculty at GCC. At first glance teaching from the comforts of home might seem like a win-win situation, but I can assure you there are many setbacks, each of which deserving its own article. The most obvious and problematic setback is that of isolation. I don’t get to see my students face-to-face unless it is via a rare Skype conference. I don’t get to have my treasured lunch outings with Gary or Andy. I don’t even get to participate in Assessment Day or Adjunct Appreciation. I am, by most respects, a ghost in a machine that sometimes sends out e-mails and makes videos to remind the world I exist.

So where do I find inspiration in such a situation? Fortunately, even behind a keyboard and monitor, there are those who have managed to help keep me improving my courses and teaching, and grading all those essays.

Although not a part of GCC, my wife’s support is essential to my improvement. She is a workaholic, a zealot for her career and passions, and a stickler for punctuality. Her work ethic and drive have, over the course of our fifteen years together, rubbed off. I do my best to seize what opportunities come my way now, one example being that I volunteer as an emergency substitute teacher at my community’s local school. When my schedule permits, I get to work with and teach children ranging from kindergarten all the way to High School seniors; it is a blessing, and something I would not have pursued if not for my wife’s example.

Despite being a solid twenty-hour drive away from campus, I still treasure my conversations with the faculty at GCC. This includes both full-time faculty and fellow adjuncts like myself. Alisa Cooper has been my bedrock ever since I left the desert valley. Her drive and curiosity about new and exciting technologies has prompted me to reform how I approach online learning, all for the better. During her time as my direct supervisor she pointed me in the direction of opportunities and helped me correct and learn from my mistakes. Thanks to her I am now a video fiend. I’ve started my own youtube series of power lectures, and made myself less of a digital phantom to my students by posting videos and voice overs regularly. This continued with Beth Eyres who took over for Alisa after “Dr. Coop” (#cooperize) moved to the CTLE. Beth has helped me feel like I am still connected to the English faculty and community at GCC. She often informs me about events that I can take part in from a distance, like this blog. Most importantly she has made me feel like a contributor. I have worked as adjunct for four colleges in my ten years as an educator and she was one of the first supervisors to make me feel like my opinion mattered. Helping to create and develop the online English 101 shell has been one of the best experiences of my career, and I have Beth and her faith in me to thank for that.

Inspiration, even in isolation, is not hard to find when you stay in contact with the right people. My family at home and my family at GCC continue to be the right people to help me improve and better myself every day.

 

The Perfect Lesson, Or What I Learned This Week in the Pool

Yesterday, I graded ENG 102 papers. *Why aren’t they getting it?!* I kept asking myself. *Why is analysis so hard for the freshman writer?*

In my frustration, I thought to take a break. I thought to swim.

Having grown up in Detroit, I still marvel that I live in a place where I can swim outside in February. I marvel that I can walk across campus right in the middle of my day, jump into the pool, swish around and get my heart rate up, and then go on with my day like swimming is my own secret I carry with me everywhere I go.

In a way, it is. I have been an avid swimmer my entire life. I don’t much remember life without swimming. My mother cannot swim, but her daughters swam competitively. We even did synchronized swimming in the summers. My mother’s girls can swim.

After shivering for years in the unheated city pool where we swam on cool June mornings in Michigan, I finally understand that through her own inability in the water my mother gave me one of the best life skills I could ever have. There are many times I doubt myself in any given day, but I don’t doubt myself in the water. On one vacation about five years ago, I even found myself in choppy seas treading water trying to help another person who was having a panic attack. We were supposed to be snorkeling and we had no business being out in the water with such high wind and waves. But we had paid our fee, and the company took us out along with a few other tourists. I was the one who didn’t panic. I knew enough to be mindful of the danger I was in, but I also trusted myself enough as a swimmer to keep myself and others safe.

Yesterday, I took a swim lesson. This was probably a full forty years after one of the first ones I ever had.

At first I thought: What could I possibly learn about swimming? Well, apparently a lot. After forty years of swimming, what I know really well is my comfort zone, and when I’m not in the high seas attempting to snorkel on vacation, I generally stick to what I know. Yesterday, I Had to Do a Different Stroke. I had to use kickboard. I held on to the red foam float-able like I was six again and tried to imitate the motions that our instructor gave us. I moved no faster than a canoe going against fierce rapids.  At one point, I actually looked at the numbers on the side of the pool’s walls to confirm that I was going forward. Why wasn’t my body working right? When it came time to add the arms, my lower body and upper body wouldn’t cooperate with each other. It was complete discord. I was failing in the pool.

This is what I learned from this week’s failing moment. It was simple. It was profound. No matter how good we are at something, there is always another aspect of that something to learn. There is always another way to become the student, yet again, and learn about learning.

I watched as my lower body told my upper body to take a hike. I watched myself struggle. Mary Jane Onnen in the next lane over watched me struggle, too. It was the perfect lesson, returning me to a state of gratitude, and returning me to that group of ENG 102 papers later that evening with a lot more understanding and humility.

 

Professional Development and Reflection

     I have always been a reflective learner and thinker.  When I began teaching, I had a long drive to and from work, and I used that 45 minutes to think on the day and its lessons--my lessons--and how students had learned or become engaged.  So when reflecting became a mandatory part of our teacher portfolio each year, I thought No problem.  This is amazing.  And did I ever reflect.  I liked knowing that the person who evaluated me was getting to see such a valuable piece of teaching that was beyond the reach of a classroom observation.  And I'll just say right now, this is one reason why [NERD ALERT] I like writing my IDP.  I want my colleagues and evaluators to know more about my teaching.  Reflection is a critical part of teaching that takes place all behind the scenes.
   
     And this takes me to professional development.  I've always liked professional development, including the time we played with marbles or had to put on skits and even the time I had one of my most embarrassing moments with all the English teachers in the district present.  Nope, not getting that one out of me.  But the key to professional development, for me anyway, is having time to process all the learning, to really anchor it in with my current knowledge and understanding.  I'm sorry to say I haven't always had that time.  I'm lucky to have been able to work in two districts that so value professional development and really lucky that the second one allows me more time to do the reflecting.
   
     So when I attended Mary and Jennifer's LearnShop on Friday--Developmental Education: Teaching Learning Strategies and Critical Thinking--I was happy to get time to think and reflect during the time there, on the drive home, and over the course of the weekend.  I already applied what I learned to one of my courses.  As my friend Alisa Cooper said, "Learning is my passion...[and]...I want to learn new things."  I will continue to take advantage of as much professional development as I can and, if able, share it with people who want to hear about it.

The Curse of Week Four

     What is it about week four?  I arrived at work bright and early on Monday, eagerly anticipating the day.  But it just felt odd.  Stressful?  Already?  It's only Monday, I thought, determined to figure out why this week had me on edge.

     There were a few pieces of old business hanging over from the previous week: the Write6x6 blog post (ahem), some work coming in from students, some planning I had not finished. And there were thoughts of what I had to do coming up, one item not until April that I was worried about. Then there's that one troublesome student who seems determined not to learn from me all while I try desperately to learn from her in hopes I can actually find a sneaky way to teach her.  Maybe all of this unease is the settling in of the semester for all of us, students included. Yep, the semester really did start. Yep, weekends are now mostly about grading or doing homework.  Maybe now is the time to really work on balance. Yes, today I'll work on balance and get rid of some of this unease.

     This plan might have panned out at some point had Wednesday, the day some refer to as hump day, allowed me to have the time to think about balance. Instead my wife texted me to say we were overdrawn in the checking account (we just got paid last week). "What happened?" I texted. "We're supposed to be rich."

     "I don't know.  I lost track.  Bills.  Students loans.  I bought some clothes."

     Dollar signs appeared before my eyes. I imagined trucks pulling up in front of the house, delivering racks of clothes. How much could someone spend on new outfits?

     This bump in the hump was just a bit of a slow down midweek, but it was not awful, just perplexing.


     Shortly after arriving home, later than usual, I greeted the animals with sweet talk and lots of pets. It was just a few moments later that I realized our cute and sweet Lila was having another bout of diarrhea. It wouldn't be so bad if she weren't long haired and if she didn't curl her tail under herself in the catbox. I grabbed for some paper towels and then grabbed her tail--it's never a good idea to grab a cat's tail. She
tried to run, and she hissed. Her hind claws caught my toes which were only protected by socks, one of which has a hole in the toe I noticed.

     This was a job that needed more than just a dampened half paper towel. I grabbed and wetted a wash cloth and went in again. After much hiding under tables, running, hissing, and clawing--both of us--I got her to a spot where I could really hold down her tail and wash it, and surprisingly she let me do it. I think she was just tired. She's having a week four, too.

     I'm not sure I'm the only one having a week four, but it is certainly my challenge to work out the rough spots this week. I need to find a way to sand down the edges. There are two things that sometimes work for me:

1.  Read a book that has a little depth.  Right now I'm reading When the Heart Waits: Spiritual Direction for Life's Sacred Questions by Sue Monk Kidd. It feels a little heavy for what may just be a strange week, but books like this challenge me to wonder about the big picture and, in doing so, I can generally put into perspective the little things.

2.  Do a brain dump and prioritize.  There's a formula I use for this. (I've had students do this at high stress times of the semester, too. Takes about ten minutes in class, maybe a few more if you talk about it.)   Here are the steps.  Math ahead.
   a.  List everything you can think of that you have to do that you can't stop thinking about.  (Here's where I'd make my list and actually put down that thing I have to do in April.)
   b.  Give everything a number from 1-4 based on when it has to be done (1=in the next day, 2= in a few days, 3=within two weeks, 4=long way off).  Rule?  You may not give everything a 1.  Rule?  Don't put down eating or sleeping.
   c.  Give everything another number from 1-4 based on how serious the consequences are if you don't do it (1=jobs lost, people die, you get the idea; 2=serious, but not life altering; 3=even less serious; 4=who cares?).
   d.  Multiply those two numbers together to give all items a new and final number.
   e.  Rewrite the items from 1-? and then cut the list in half.
   f.  Work on the top half.  Forget about the bottom half for now.

     This might seem obvious to everyone else, but I find it really helps me to focus, and maybe that is the key to conquering the curse of week four--to focus on what really matters and let the little things go.
   

I am a Teacher!

When I tell people I work at a community college, they usually ask if I teach and I always say no I work in the business office. Earlier this week I realized that I do teach, but my students are not enrolled in courses taught at GCC, my students are the faculty and staff at GCC. We know in the Business Office that it is not easy navigating the fiscal processes. On the Fiscal page of our website it says, “Our goal is to provide employees with the tools and guidance necessary to secure the goods and services essential to providing a quality learning experience to our diverse student population.” We are here to teach and guide and we do that so we can all succeed in our jobs and not pull our hair out while doing it.

As a fellow employee stated to me earlier this week, “Every day is a learning experience.” I am glad I make a small contribution to the overall learning going on at GCC.