April 21, 2015

When life lessons are more important than a lesson plan.

Today was a tough teaching day for me, emotionally speaking. It was a good day in some ways–we are at the presentation season in my classroom, and that is always fun–I love hearing students struggle through their ideas, seeing the dawning realizations on their faces as their points start to make sense to themselves and each other. I am also happy, because today we hit the one week mark to the end of term. Yay!

But today was also one that hit me for a loop a few times, and reminded me that sometimes we are not just teachers, but counsellors, friends, and mentors. As I walked into my first class, I was almost immediately confronted by a student sobbing in the front row. I quickly assessed the situation and took¬†her out into the hall. She couldn’t even talk, so I just comforted her and told her that there was no need for words. I think she mumbled something about dying, so I of course interpreted the situation and told her to sit down while I grabbed her things. Once back in the hall, I hugged her, gave her her bag and laptop, and sent her home. “Email me when you are ready,” I said. She looked at me gratefully, and then left–tears still in her eyes, but also a little relief.

She was supposed to present today, but would that have been the humane thing to do in this situation? Obviously not. Instead, I remembered a day when I was a sophomore in college, getting my own bad news and starting to cry in the middle of class before I hurriedly left. My professor came out, found out what was going on, hugged me, and then told me to go home and we’d work it all out (it was my grandfather’s passing, and I ended up having to take an Incomplete and miss my presentation in order to attend his funeral). That prof. has always stood out to me as one of the most compassionate individuals I met during my undergraduate studies. I hope that today I did my own professor proud.

Fresh off of this experience, I went to my next class–full of dread at what I was going to have to do. You see, last night I was reviewing some of this section’s work on the discussion board, and I came across two very hurtful, very abusive and inflammatory responses to some student work. Appallingly so. I instantly deleted them, but was so furious that I fumed all the way home from the office. And other students had read those responses, so I did not feel I could let it slide quietly by.

So today, I determined that I would not take the easy way out–I would talk about this in class, and make it a “life lesson” moment. Sure, I might embarrass the student, but I was more worried about the other students and what it might say to them if they thought I would condone or ignore such behavior. I of course did not refer specifically to the individuals in question, but I’m sure everyone knew who they were if they read the posts. I reassured the class that I did not condone this behavior, that it was deleted and that thankfully the individuals¬†who were being discussed were not in our class, so hopefully no direct harm was done (they were commenting on anonymous student proposals from a variety of my sections.).

It was important to me that my students–both the culprits and the innocent–understand that it is not ok to be abusive or inflammatory on a public forum. They are preparing to do final online portfolios, and I wanted them to understand and appreciate the significance of this fact. Most importantly, I wanted them to remember that humans read these things–I’m human, my students are human. Even if they don’t say anything about or to me directly, I care about the people they were defaming. That hurts.

I was shaking with emotion while I addressed the issue, and then I composed myself and moved on. I didn’t want to dwell on it as the final thought for the day, but it needed to be done, and I’m glad I did it.

I’m a bit drained now from all of this–it certainly wasn’t what I expected to encounter on an otherwise regularly scheduled class day. But it was a good reminder that we can’t let our classroom agendas interfere with common sense, or with basic human values. In fact, those might be the most important lessons that we can share with our students.

And I hope I never lose sight of the fact that students are people, too.

February 4, 2015

What I’m up to (since it obviously isn’t this!)

Times they are a changing…or maybe it’s just that I’m changing (and that’s always a good thing, I hope!). This blog has served a variety of purposes over the years, and I have enjoyed seasons of intensive writing and engagement here as well as times when the posts were a bit thin. However, nothing compares to the seemingly complete abandonment of the blog that I have demonstrated over at least the last 6 months, if not more.

A major contributing factor to my absence has been a series of significant health issues that have shifted my focus quite dramatically. I won’t go into all the specifics, because this isn’t a strictly personal blog. What I will say is that I learned a lot about teaching through a variety of life issues, and I only wish I had had the energy at the time to share what I was learning along the way.

In addition to this, however, has been a growing move towards more intimate writing, and more often than not this was happening in long hand, not on a computer. I had a personal blog until last year, for instance, and then just felt like I didn’t want to share my thoughts so publicly anymore, at least not in that venue. I kept up here a bit longer, but then the same inclination decided to creep in again. I just don’t really feel like blogging anymore, at least not for now.

I’ve also been pursuing some other avenues of creativity, so perhaps that too has shifted my focus–drawing, music, and journaling have consumed much of my interest, and so when I do have a spare moment, it’s rare that I’m thinking of what else I can say here.

All that to say that while this has been fun, I think I might be reaching the end of the road here, at least for now. I am going to keep the blog open for a while, in case anyone feels like wandering through the archives. But don’t be surprised if one day you turn here and find me gone.

The internet is a strange and sometimes wonderful place, but it just doesn’t interest me as much these days. Nothing personal; I just have other interests to pursue at the moment, and only so many hours in a day.

I wish you all well on your teaching journey, and thank you to those that read or shared comments–it was truly a valuable experience!

September 1, 2014

Back to school…again

I can’t even keep track of how many “back to school” seasons I’ve participated in at this point. Well, I could if I really sat down and did the math, but it’s a bit depressing, so I avoid it. I thought about posting here sooner with all my sage advice to help you prepare, but honestly there’s already so much of that sort of thing on the web that I didn’t see the point. Instead, I thought I’d just sum it up by sharing a few of my favorite “go to” articles from this year for rekindling inspiration at the start of a new school year.

The Chronicle of Higher Ed: “Back to School Supplies”

Mind/Shift: “Four Skills to Teach Students in the First Five Days of School”

Faculty Focus: “Reality Check: Helping to Manage Student Expectations”

University of Venus: “Fall Excitement”

Like me, many of you may have already started the school year (we are actually in week 3 of the term, if you can believe it!). Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of my own strategies and experiences for embarking on the new year, but I’d love to hear from you as well. What did you try to do differently this year? What missteps did you make, and how are you trying to fix them? What are your goals for this coming year? I’ll be sure to add my own as well in subsequent posts!

June 2, 2014

Hello…and goodbye (for a time)

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for a while. (Ok, I’m sure no one noticed except me!) Between the continuous onslaught that is the end of term/end of year experience in academe (quite dreadful, I promise) and the seductive enticements of “summer break” (which blessedly starts in May for me), I have not had much inclination to come back to my dear old blog. In fact, the only reason I’m here is to offer up a formal notice of my absence for the next few months.

As with most years, I crossed the end of the academic year finish line limping, but still thankfully in one piece. Unbelievably, I managed to stay fairly organized and on top of my grading this term, and actually stayed fairly sane through the whole grading process, even finishing up a bit earlier than usual. Not to say that I didn’t have a few that lagged behind; in fact I just turned in change of grade forms for a few Incomplete grades today (students will be students, don’t ya know). Still, all in all it wasn’t that terrible. I’m alive, aren’t I?

This summer, I’ll still be teaching (my children, mostly). I’ll still be writing (drafts, proposals, in my journal–which I’ve grown back in love with–it’s so PRIVATE!). I’ll still be learning (always!). But I probably won’t be doing much or any of it here. So, for now, I’ll bid you adieu, and wish you all a very wonderful, recuperative, refreshing summer break (if you get one). Hopefully I’ll see you around this fall, when I feel like talking about all that teaching, and writing, and learning again.



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