More Thoughts on Coaching, the Humanities, and More Things We Can’t Measure

If you read this blog regularly, you know I used to swim and coach swimming. I received news the other day that one of the swimmers I coached in the past got a head coaching job. This past year, a girl I used to coach (when she was, like, 6) qualified for the the World Championships. I felt a tiny little bit a pride in seeing these two swimmers succeed in swimming. Here are two very, very successful swimmers in two different areas of the sport.

But, looking at it, that’s two swimmers out of, how many? A couple of hundred? By that measure, I’ve been an absolutely horrid failure as a coach. I guess no less of a failure than I was as a swimmer; I’ve never came anywhere close to making Nationals, let alone a national team. My parent and I spent thousands of dollars on training, equipment, swim camps, and trips to swim meets. I don’t even want to count the number of hours I spent in the pool, at the gym, in the weight room, training. For what? To what end? And all the time I spent on pool deck as a coach, breaking down video, planning workouts, organizing swim meets, and holding swimmers hands through nerves and disappointment. 
These two swimmers are not the only swimmers I take pride; I am friends with many of my former swimmers on Facebook, and they are all successful people in their own right. They almost all do something other than swimming, although some have gone on to become lifeguards and coaches themselves before embarking on their chosen career. Many of them still swim, for fun, or run, or cycle, or play soccer, or some other form of physical activity. I’d like to think that their success is, in part, because of my influence as a coach. 
I feel pretty confident in this assumption because despite my “failure” as a swimmer, I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. I learned so much more than just how to swim from one end to the pool to the other over and over as fast and efficiently as possible. I learned how to be a part of a team. How to deal with failure. How to persevere. How even the smallest success can be overwhelmingly satisfying. How important health and fitness are to my well-being. These are lesson that will stay with me the rest of my life, that I can call on when I need them. 
While I teach writing, which is possibly the most practical and necessary of skills in this information age, my “training” (ugh, I hate that word) is in comparative literature, often seen as one of the most superfluous and decadent of majors. I don’t miss the days of going to undergrad recruiting fairs and answering indignant parents when they ask, “What can you do with a degree in comparative literature?” While I never appreciated the question, “Are you going to the Olympics?” when I revealed I was a swimmer, I was never asked, what are you going to do with that? The (gag) return on investment on my years of swimming is negligible if you use any sort of objective metric (my best times, success of the swimmers I’ve coached). But no one expects those sorts of returns. So why are we so resistant to seeing the biggest picture of the value of the humanities?
The skills and experiences I had studying literature will also stay with me, regardless of my career. There are books that have literally changed my life, and books that have also literally saved it. In the same way that I can go to a pool, throw on a pair of goggles, dive in, and immediately feel better, I can pick up a book and have the same experience. My life is richer for having swam and for having studied the humanities. But only I have to explain and justify one of them. 

Ed Tech Savvy?

This post originally appeared on So Educated.
I have a confession to make. I don’t know how to use a smartboard. I’ve had one in my classroom for the entire fall semester, and I never used it beyond as an overhead to show students things on the computer. When it comes to class discussions and (yes) lectures, I use good, old-fashioned chalk and blackboard. Or whiteboard, depending on the classroom.
I have no idea how to fix the rss feed for my blog. In fact, I only have a vague notion as to what an rss feed even is.  I don’t subscribe to any feed; I wouldn’t know how if I wanted to. I find out what’s going on or if there’s any new posts, once again, the old fashioned way: I visit their website. 
These luddite-lite confessions may come as a surprise from someone who blogs, encourages her students blog, is actively engaged on Twitter, and is generally open to new forms of technology that can be used to teach, do research, learn, and share knowledge and information. But in the race to stay technologically relevant and on the forefront, I often feel overwhelmed and overmatched. Between teaching, my own (traditional) research and writing, my family, my blogging, and my hobbies (I swear, I’m going to start swimming and reading science fiction again this semester), and, you know, sleeping and eating, I can’t keep up, let alone catch up on all the things I missed while trying my best to be a “traditional” academic.
I often admit this to my students when talking about the magic bullet that some claim education technology to be. How do we help and encourage educators at any level to learn, use, and embrace education technology? I’ve heard some complain that this is yet another education fad that will pass, so why bother learning it? Others wonder why they should bother when the skills they acquire will probably be outdated in six months. And still others, like me, have enough trouble staying up-to-date in their field, let along the ever-expanding field of how to teach my subject matter.
Before we accuse teachers of willfully staying in the dark ages and thus robbing our students of valuable skills and opportunities, we need to make sure that we have provided an environment for them where they can learn and grow their knowledge about educational technology. We also need to understand that every teacher is different, and thus will see different types of educational technology as useful with regards to their styles, goals, and students.
I don’t have any easy answers. We have a whole office at our university devoted to helping faculty use the technology (albeit mostly hardware and proprietary software) available to us. But most faculty don’t use those services.  How can we get teachers to a) take advantage of the professional development opportunities and b) integrate it into their courses?As one fellow higher ed blogger points out, one of the reasons faculty don’t learn about the technology available to them is that the format and content of the training methods (the workshop) just don’t work.
I think it comes down to really involving faculty and teachers in developing opportunities to learn about education technology and to be involved in the decision on what types of education technology the institution or school district purchases. If we can find a way to work together, faculty, staff, and administration, in order to make education technology meaningful and useful.

Bad Female Academic: I’m Loud (and not Funny)

Have you seen or heard about one of the sitcoms on NBC, coming this fall? It’s called Whitney, and while it’s a show about “relationships” (shudder), the title character is described as “loud and/or obnoxious.” The boyfriend, of course, endures and seems to love her in spite of, not because of, this particular character flaw. 

Loud women are a difficult breed. As Rosanne Barr (probably the loudest of the pack) recently opined that for all of her attempts to receive proper recognition and respect on her show, she was labeled a bitch, a diva, and crazy. Loud women are either obnoxiously outrageous side-kick (think Karen, from Will and Grace) or promiscuous (think Samantha, from Sex and the City). When a woman speaks out, it is “obviously” a result of some other “character flaw.” Could it be that the “character flaw” is a result of the message that it isn’t ok for a woman to be loud?
Often women who are loud turn to comedy to use their voice, but in my mind also that comedy softens it. The message is softened to a certain extent when the loud woman becomes the butt of the joke. Rosanne avoided this; her humor was dark and so grounded in reality, she wasn’t the joke, the rest of us were. But often being “the funny one” (and thus taken less seriously) is a way for women to deal with the label “loud.”
(Note that this isn’t a criticism against those women who do succeed in comedy, a notoriously male and chauvinistic profession. I’m just observing that being loud is softened by also being funny. Now satire, on the other hand…But note there are very few female satirists, too.)
I’ve always been loud. My voice carries, as they say. When I first started teaching, one of the criticisms I received was that I didn’t need to yell (I wasn’t yelling). You can hear my laugh from a mile away (almost literally, depending on the acoustics). But just because I’m loud, volume-wise, doesn’t mean that I’ve always used my voice to speak up and speak out. 
I do not get intimidated easily. I speak up for what I believe in, and while I am open, I have the courage of my convictions. I walk into my classroom like I own the room. My class is not a joke. I do believe that you have to earn your students’ respect, but I carry myself like I deserve that respect from the first moment they meet me. I speak up in meetings, I speak out, and I make sure that I am not talked over or ignored. 
This, of course, is problematic when you’re a Female Academic; we’re supposed to be seen and not heard, apparently. I have had numerous people passive-aggressively suggest that I am too loud when I teach. I can’t imagine them saying something like that to a male professor. I’ve had others gently suggest that I keep quiet or keep my head down, for my own good, like I need to be protected from myself. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth on more than one occasion, but I also know that it’s a risk I’m willing to take in order to make sure that I’m heard. 
And to show that I’m not a joke.