Last week, I had a massive argument with my almost-four-year-old daughter about (wait for it) whether or not a piece of bread had butter on it. It did, but because she hadn’t seen her father actually spreading the butter on that particular piece of bread, she refused to believe me. I call it an argument, but it devolved into a stressful version on Monty Python’s The Argument Sketch (note how the next sketch featured is “Hitting on the Head Lessons”; it was that, too). The argument devolved into foot stomping, yelling, door slamming, tears, and a lonely little piece of buttered bread waiting on a stair to be eaten. In my role as mother, I wanted my daughter to calm down, see reason, and eat some food (one of the reasons she was being irrational to begin with). In her role as head-strong toddler, she wanted to be right, even if the bread clearly was covered in butter.
One of the first things I talk to my students about at any level is active reading. They’ve all had the experience where they’ve gotten to the bottom of a page of reading and realized that they have no idea what they’ve just read. And then they keep trying to re-read without any change in the situation. So they go through the motions of looking at the words on the page, feeling good about having technically done their homework, but showing up to class with little to no ability to participate in the class discussion.
My week has been awesome (see title). Both the professional and the personal have gone better than I could have hoped this week. Here’s a brief run-down:
There is something really different about the energy of students in January versus their energy in August/September when Fall semester starts. It’s not the same enthusiasm, optimism, and excitement. No, January starts in opposition to how December ended: full of relief and the holiday spirit. All of that get left behind when they head back to school and start their classes.
Or, how to lose the job before you even get to campus.
I grew up in Canada, aka The Great White North. Snow days were unheard of when I was growing up. It didn’t matter how much snow was on the ground or how cold it was outside, we went to school, often walking there. And we went outside at recess and after lunch (at least in elementary school). The buses may have been late arriving, but you got on and you showed up at high school. I can remember driving home for the weekend from university in one of the worst snow storms; there’s nothing like an hour and a half trip that takes four hours in a beater car where we have to pull over every couple of miles to scrape the windshield to prove how brain-damaged young adults really are. And I was back at school on Monday.
Today, I had my usual second-class lecture on the advantages of active reading and how students usually read for pleasure/emotion and thus need to change how they read “school work” in order to engage their brain. It always goes over well, as students realize that basically staring at words on a page for two hours every week and then living off of energy drinks and little sleep for a week while they cram for finals is really not a pleasant, effective, or ideal way to spend four years and thousands of dollars. But today, I added a little unplanned and wholly instinctive wrinkle to the second-day lecture: I don’t expect perfection and it’s ok to get the answer wrong.
That’s right, I used scare quotes. I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about the work/life balance in higher education. I think about how many of my female academic role models were childless, never-married, or divorced. About how unreasonable the expectations are when it comes to the “life of the mind” in academia. (Check out this excellent post on expectations and priorities and this one on the two-headed problem). I usually think that I’ve done ok with the work/life balance, and I end up feeling pretty good about myself.
Targett [fictional administrator at the fictional Poppleton University] also pointed out that female academics were “more likely” than their male colleagues to have a range of outside interests such as cooking and child-minding. He believed that to burden them with further duties might be tantamount to discrimination.
This cut a little to close for comfort for me. Higher education often tells aspiring academics, men and women, that outside “interests” such as family are not acceptable. I think I internalized this attitude and it is manifesting itself in what I choose to write about on this blog. No more. While you won’t hear about every snotty nose and cognitive milestone, I will start writing about how my family impacts my work, for better or for worse.
Yup, I finally started teaching today. Finally. The syllabus was done yesterday afternoon while the children napped. I used a great deal of “Readings: TBA” in part so I can be more flexible as the semester moves on and in part because I really have no idea what we’re going to read. Yet.
The good? I was able to move all of my classrooms into rooms with a smartboard (I still don’t know how to use one, but maybe I’ll learn this semester), a computer, and Internet access. I also found out that there is a computer lab that I can use with my students. Time to revise papers on the spot! I am very excited about this.
The bad? Blackboard was acting weird, and so I had to actually go over the syllabus in more detail than I would have liked because my course was still reading “unavailable” and thus the students couldn’t access anything I had put up there. It’s fixed, but it’s still annoying.
The ugly? The textbook I selected for my 100-level class, the one without readings? Turns out, we could have selected the one with the readings, and that is the version that the bookstore brought in, charging the students more money than they needed to spend. I didn’t even know we had the option. So now my students have “wasted” money, or I have to change my syllabus (hey, Readings TBA, right?). Or, some students may have bought it with readings and some without. Ugh.
Live and learn.
But it’s great to be in front of the classroom again. This semester, I’m a lot more confident about the courses I’m teaching; when my 200-level students’ eyes glazed over when I said that we were going to be discussing education reform, I knew with a decent amount of certainty that I will have won most of them over by the end of the semester. You know, why high school sucks.
Now if I could only get a chair in my office that puts me in a good position to type and work on my computer…
As I have admitted before, I was not the best undergraduate student. I routinely didn’t go to class. I can count on one hand the number of courses where I attended every class. Most of them were taught by the same teacher. She was an adjunct, and she taught some of the most thankless courses. Our first course with her was Technical Writing. And yet, we all attended every class, did every assignment, and were usually lined up around the corner to see her during her office hours. I don’t remember if she had an attendance policy in her syllabus (she probably did), but it wasn’t for fear of punishment that we did or did not attend her class. We wanted to be there, and we saw the utility of attending her classes.