Working on saying no

For the past year, or so, I have been resolving to be better at saying no. And despite my resolve, I find myself coming up with every excuse or reason to say “yes” to things. I’m speaking professionally here. And I have reached saturation. At least for me. I’m on enough committees and other service activities that combined with my teaching and feeble attempts at research mean I’m maxed out.

Which means, I need to start saying “no” as new opportunities arise.

One such opportunity is to attend a workshop at the end of the month that would help me design course assignments to align with Learning Outcomes. This is actually something I am currently working on! How great it would be to go to a workshop and get some guidance and expert opinion on that very thing!

But to do so would mean making some other arrangements to get my kids to school that morning (likely getting dropped off at daycare by dad a full 2 hours earlier than they normally wake up) and then missing my son’s last soccer game for which I already volunteered to bring snacks (it’s a 2-day workshop on a Friday and Saturday).

It’s just got to be a no. It’s too high-cost personally and I’m already feeling like my plate is full.

And yet.

I’m having a hard time writing that email to officially decline the offer.

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Back at it

After a much-needed hiatus, I’m back at it. Blogging, and school.

It’s my third year on the tenure-track. I definitely feel like I am coming into my own. I’m more involved in the campus community. Taking on an important role in assessment for the university. My classes are starting to be more organized and targeting skill-building, instead of just content-delivery.

Now if I can just get my research game going. That’s definitely my weakest link right now. Work is being done – I hope it turns into genuine progress and published papers in the next 3 months.

Fingers crossed!

How is this fall shaping up for you?

I still struggle

I still struggle with knowing the line between being a supportive, but firm professor and essentially, wiping my students’ collective asses.

Here’s the deal. My particular university tends to serve lower-income, rural, first-generation, minority students. Our clientele, as it were, are simply not college-ready when they arrive. Broadly speaking, of course. Which presents an interesting challenge in teaching, because not only do I teach content, I’m teaching study skills and “how to life” skills as well. I tell you, this wasn’t exactly in the job description.

And I suspect many professor simply don’t do it. They just let the students fail. And there’s some merit to letting someone fall on their face, assuming they will learn from that spectacular failure, and be more successful in the future.

That’s the tricky part for me – how do I identify when it’s the right time to let them fall face-first, and when they actually need a steadying hand? Because if they’re not ready to learn from the spectacular fall, they will continue to fail and eventually will leave the university. And maybe that’s best for some folks. But my state is currently pushing to up college grads across the board and I see the general trend that a college degree today is what a high school degree was 30 years ago. It opens doors. And, beyond that, I am all for educating the masses. We need an educated population.

But when that population is lacking the very skills needed to even learn…how then do you educate the masses?

My general feeling is that at the 100 level, there’s a lot of ass-wiping. Second, third, and fourth chances. Hand-holding. I refrain from singing kum-ba-ya, but it’s close. But at the 300 level…I think the hand-holding should be a minimum. They should wipe their own backsides. They should be close to fully independent learners.

I am teaching a 300-level course this term. It’s an interesting course as it is required by several different majors on campus and is generally interesting to a wide range of folks. Which means I have a wide range of interests and abilities in the class. There are some students who have mastered the “how to learn” and “how to life” skills and they are ready! READY! To seize the education I have to dish out.

Then, there are folks who are, frankly, still completely unaware and unable to function properly in a classroom. Folks who are consistently late. Turn in their work late. Miss quizzes and do not even realize it. It boggles my mind that this kind of behavior and general lack of awareness continues into what should be that student’s 3rd year. In fact, consideration of student data shows some of these clueless students are in their last term of college. So I’m left to wonder if it’s a complete apathy for the course (they just needed 4 more credits to graduate?) or if they truly are about to leave our institution, degree in hand, still completely and utterly under-prepared and unable to function effectively in a classroom.

And it’s all well and good to say a classroom is an artificial environment; the real world is something else entirely. True. No argument here. But…the problems they’re having in my classroom: poor communication, tardiness, absenteeism, lack of awareness, poor quality of work, for example; will be problems in the real world if they continue into the work place. That list of issues in a single individual is likely to get said individual fired. Repeatedly. And what then? Will they finally learn their lesson? Is that when they finally fall on their face?

It would have been better had it happened in university, right? That’s what the artificial environment is for. A safer place to fail and fail until finally, one learns. I just wonder at how they got this far (to their last term of university) with the lack of skills they are presenting.

It’s concerning.

Does it mean I should stop with the hand-holding and ass-wiping at the 100 level? Am I contributing to this gross failure at the 300 level? Or is the 300-level the right time to let them fall on their faces and see how that turns out?

That feels right to me – lots of support at the 100 level, and then face-falling at the 300 level. But then they’re IN IT. Right? At the 300 level you’re in your 3rd year. You’re in IT. If you don’t have what it takes…wouldn’t it have been better to have found that out your first year? Before you were too invested?

Anyone know the answer here?

Settling In

Apparently it takes about 2 years to start to feel like you maybe know what you’re doing. It helps when you can teach something more than once. I’m finding my second time through a class right now is going quite a bit better.

Could also be because I have started to let things go. Good enough is still good.

Spring Term

I’m on the quarter system, and we are coming up on Week 3 of our Spring Term. Something about the quarter system’s Spring Term is just brutal. You’re chugging along through winter. You get a week “off” and then, Spring Term. Inevitably, THAT is when the weather turns nice (not during your break) and things start to bloom and the world beckons you outside. But, it is not meant to be as you have 10 weeks of class and 1 week of finals to suffer though with nary a 3-day-weekend in sight. Oh sure, we get one at the end of May…but that is not “in sight” right here in Week 3. No sir. It just seems to draaaag on. And the students feel it too.

I put this awful feeling high on the list of reasons why I prefer semester over quarter. Somehow, you don’t get the same drag effect when you have a Spring Semester. Probably because by this time in the year you’re more than half-way through, which gives a more positive feeling than, holy-shit this is just getting started?

Now I do enjoy my late September start in a lot of ways. So we do get that perk. Balance in all things I suppose. But right now. In April. I’m feeling the drag.

Wonder what that means?

I have a problem with middle-men. Most people would call them sales representatives. But in general, these folks just seem to get in my way.

I’m thinking about two of my larger recent purchases: our house and a new car. Oh yes. We fancy!

In any case, we had the usual real estate agent for our house deal. And…let’s just say we were less than happy with their service. Our chief complaint was that they were not good at communication. To the point I started communicating directly with the builder and his real estate agent. And, while we’re on the subject, I actually found the house too. So…as far as the “service” being provided by our real estate agent…I’m just left wondering what exactly that was. They became more of an obstacle than anything else.

Though. To be fair. I think they thought I was a big pain in the ass.

I think our current car sales guy shares their opinion. We went into the dealer with a pretty good idea of what we wanted. We’d done the online research. We knew about the deals they were offering. Had an idea the price we wanted for our trade. Test drove a few. He was necessary for that! I couldn’t have gotten the keys without him!

But when it came down to it, we wanted a different color and they didn’t have it on their lot. Allegedly, he and his boss-behind-the-glass-partition (I hate that show and dance so much) couldn’t find the trim and color we wanted. I asked about the one on Autotrader on my phone that said it was at their lot. What about that one? He got the VIN from me and lo! That car would be coming in next week.

So. Just like the house. I found the damn thing and the sales person felt more like an obstacle that had to be suffered to finally get the deal we wanted.

I wonder what that means?