» Juggling 101 News, Opinion, Analysis and More For the Adjunct Faculty Nation Thu, 29 Sep 2016 17:23:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 EdTech: Engaging Students, Increasing Productivity, and Impacting Success Thu, 14 Apr 2016 20:21:03 +0000 by Greg Rivera, Senior Digital Educator

We can’t deny that technology is here to stay. However, that is definitely not a bad thing! In fact, using educational technology can help engage students, improve retention, and help students succeed. There are several educational technologies, including free or almost-free ones, that can help you with these endeavors.

Think about our contemporary (millennial) students and some of their characteristics when it comes to technology. First of all, they embrace technology. That doesn’t mean they’re good at all technologies, but they’ve grown up with them. So, technology has always been a part of their lives. Face it, our students have probably never popped popcorn except in a microwave, never changed the channel on a TV without a remote control, and probably never ridden in a car without a seat belt. Second, they expect immediacy. They want it and they want it now. That includes answers to homework activities and an immediate answer to an email about an issue they may be having. Third, you the professor are not the only expert, and students deem all sources of information as equally valid (i.e., Wikipedia, YouTube, and even what their friends tell them).

Technology has changed how we communicate with students, how we share information in class, how students read and use textbooks, how students find and process information, and how they do class work and homework. If you’re over 40 years old, think about how you had to plan when writing a research paper. First, you had to check the hours at the library, plan that trip, go to the card catalog, and go to the book stacks or the dreaded microfiche. Then you had to photocopy your materials and inevitably forget to write down a resource and have to go back the next day! Today our students can wake up the morning—I mean wake up the afternoon that the paper is due—and write it from the comfort of their homes!

One of the things that technology has done is taken us from a culture of standardization to a culture of customization, and I don’t think we can argue that that is a bad thing. Not every student is created equal and not every student prefers to learn the same way. Technology has helped us shake this up. It is not fair for us to think that our students are going to be engaged and learn the same way that we did!

Research overwhelmingly concludes that educational technology can impact learning in the following ways:

  1. Engage students
  2. Enhance student success
  3. Improve efficiency and save time
  4. Create a student-centered classroom
  5. Provide opportunities for creative and critical thinking
  6. Provide convenience
  7. Increase productivity
  8. Provide individual and total class assessment data
  9. Enhance flexibility

Who doesn’t want to achieve all of the above outcomes?

So, you do not have to be tech-savvy to incorporate technology into your course! I always tell people to start with baby steps. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel. The best start is using publisher-created content like interactive multimedia e-books and learning solutions like MindTap. You can always customize the content to include the content/materials that are important to you and you can always hide/delete unneeded content.

If you want to go a step further or if you want to create your own edtech presentations or activities, I recommend the following:

1. Jing allows you to capture a screen shot or record a video of your screen to help you communicate with more clarity and have a greater impact than you can with written words alone. (

  • Record procedures or tutorials and answer frequently asked questions.
  • Give students audiovisual feedback, the next best thing to a one-on-one conversation.
  • Record lessons that students can access anytime, anywhere.
  • Make a video to help a guest teacher or students if you have to miss class.

2. GoAnimate allows users to quickly and easily make videos consisting of animated characters. It features easy-to-use drag and drop tools and libraries filled with a variety of characters, props, backgrounds, and music. (

GoAnimate can be used to:

  • Explain or review a concept and make it more memorable.
  • Summarize a reading.
  • Provide remediation.
  • Give directions or instructions sessions.
  • Practice language skills (writing and listening).
  • Allow students to express creativity.
  • Flip your classroom.

3. Padlet is a web space where you can add files, links, videos, and more and then share the content publicly or privately. Imagine having students go up to a wall and sticking stuff to it. Well, that’s Padlet, only virtual! (

Use Padlet to:

  • Create a KWL chart, which tracks what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) about a topic.
  • Have students collaborate group work or group research.
  • Post content for students in flipped classrooms.
  • Brainstorm ideas.
  • Assess student knowledge.
  • Showcase students’ work.

If you need some one-on-one help, there are several groups within Cengage Learning that can help you. In fact, they’d LOVE to help you! On a local level, we have Implementation Technology Specialists who visit your campus and train instructors on Cengage Learning technologies in groups or one-on-one. We also have Digital Solutions Coordinators who work at a desk, are just a quick phone call or email away, and who can usually help you that same day! And finally, my group, the Digital Educators (DE), go a step further. Not only do DEs know how to use technologies, but since we are all educators in this group, we always frame technology from a pedagogical standpoint. In other words, along with showing you how to use the technology, we will also give you best practices from a first-hand perspective. Your first step should be to call one of us here at Cengage Learning. We are eager to help you learn and succeed!

Read more on EdTech here.

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A Perspective from Canada—The Wage Gap that Plagues Non-Tenured Faculty is a Political Issue Wed, 16 Sep 2015 20:09:24 +0000 by Gail Lethbridge

With Frosh Week drawing to close and Labour Day still fresh in our memory, it’s a good time to ask who is teaching our university students.

Many are full-time professors with good pay, health care benefits, vacations, job security pensions and tenure privileges such as sabbaticals.

And many are not.

About half of Canadian university students are being taught by contract workers with low pay, no benefits or vacations, no pensions, no job security, no tenure and no sabbaticals.

Officially, they are known as contract academic staff (CAS) but they also go by terms such as adjunct lecturers or sessional teachers. They have to reapply for their jobs each year and some have multiple contracts at different universities in order to make ends meet.

This is because their pay is significantly lower that that of their full-time peers. An average salary for a full-time tenured professor in Canada is somewhere north of $100,000. A sessional teacher with the same course load is looking at $30,000 for full-time work.

At many universities and colleges, a janitor would be paid more. Not that a janitor shouldn’t be paid more, but it is a useful comparison.

Increasingly, universities in Canada and the U.S. are relying on contract workers to teach students. Sometimes referred to as the “fast-food workers” of the university sector, many of these workers are feeling exploited by a system that is cranking up tuition for students, building beautiful glassy towers bearing the names of benefactors and paying presidents and senior administrators princely salaries.

Take the former president of Dalhousie University, for instance. Even in retirement, Tom Travers has been receiving a salary of $442,000 per year with his administrative leave clause. Current president Richard Florizone receives $390,052.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers and its Nova Scotia counterpart have expressed concern about a trend that has university teachers overworked, under-resourced and living on the borderline of poverty.

To be fair, not all sessional lecturers rely on university work to make a living. Some are lawyers, accountants and other professionals who are teaching a course to share on-the-job expertise. They have other income, but many do not.

Universities say they need to hire these workers due to pressures of government cutbacks. Universities have adopted a business model to attract the best “talent” at the top because they are competing with the private sector to find the best people so they have to fork out the big bucks.

The problem is that universities are not private-sector corporations. They are funded by taxpayers and students.

This is a problem for more than just the low-paid university teachers. Students who are paying those rising tuitions are being taught by people who don’t always have offices or office hours to spend with students outside the lecture halls. This affects the quality of the education. Would a parent sending a child to an expensive university want his or her child being taught by an contract worker on the poverty line?

But even more than that, this has long-term implications for a country that relies on excellent higher education to make its way in a global economy requiring knowledge, innovation and research. Encouraging a system in which teachers are allowed to live in poverty speaks to the value a country places on its post-secondary education.

It would seem that universities are responding to the gap in government funding by raising money in the private sector, thus the big bucks to the senior administrators who “know people” with money and who secure donations for new buildings.

This is fine, but the real value of a university is in its human capital, to use the cynical business terminology.

This hasn’t been raised thus far as a political issue in this election, but it ought to be. Education is key to the future of Canada.

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The College Budget: There Isn’t Enough Money to go Around. Why Don’t Adjuncts Get It? Wed, 13 Mar 2013 19:55:28 +0000 By Sandra Keifer

It’s good business, isn’t it? We’ve heard it a thousand——no, a million times, and we’re sick of it: the Wal-Mart model. The company that uses this model runs on the backs of hundreds or thousands of low-paid workers, lavishly rewarding executives and higher ed. administrators at the sharp point of the pyramid. Alongside the English ivy, diversionary wailing about the budget crunch creeps up the walls of our hallowed halls. (Of course, if the school cuts 90 percent of the adjuncts and gives those courses to full-time faculty, there may be a real budget issue—that’s another story.) Golly, there just isn’t enough money to go around. Why can’t adjuncts understand this simple concept?

Because we received the email.

It’s the email the admin forwarded (accidentally?) to ALL of the teachers—adjuncts and full-time faculty alike. It’s the email that described the college’s success in glowing terms along with the wonderful building projects, new degree programs, and general programs that were ahead. It described cost of living raises for full-time faculty, administrators, and custodians. It talked excitedly about new administrative positions that were coming to help the current army of administrators handle their finger-crushing workload. It may or may not have mentioned the IRS’s intention to establish health insurance requirements for adjuncts, and the school’s willingness to comply.

But it didn’t mention adjunct pay. Not once.

What does that mean? I asked a few of my colleagues, and if they didn’t simply shrug and turn away sadly, they said, “It means we’ve been overlooked again.”

soupNo soup for us—not even a spoonful.

I know an adjunct who likes to use a simple sheet of printer paper to illustrate this situation. She holds up the paper in front of a group of adjuncts who have decided to work toward equity, loudly announcing, “This represents our college’s budget for 2013!”

Then, she tears it in half. After several rounds of halving and tearing, and explaining what portions are for the building program, maintenance, admin and faculty salaries, she is left with a section the size of a postage stamp.

“This,” she declares triumphantly, “is what is left over for the adjuncts—and they teach 80 percent of our courses.”

She finishes her illustration by piling all of the other papers on top of the poor little postage stamp.

Of course, this postage-sized piece of the budget goes to support what the college is all about: instruction—not greeting shoppers, hanging baby clothes, or stocking shelves with sports equipment. These instructors had to jump through a few more hoops than the average Wal-Mart worker (whom we certainly respect for her/his hard work in another field).

Perhaps many of the adjuncts will not see the email because they are too busy teaching an outrageous number of classes at multiple schools. Others may see it and not read it; others may read all or part of it and become discouraged. In the end, perhaps a group the size of a postage stamp may critically read and intellectually process the email. Will they share it with other adjuncts? Legislators? News sources? Will anyone pay attention to a postage stamp in the age of email and canceled Saturday deliveries? They might if that stamp represents 80 percent of instructors—all of whom deserve a fair and equal portion of soup.


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The Clothing Makes the (Wo)Man Wed, 27 Jun 2012 16:01:02 +0000 By Kat Kiefer-Newman

Do the clothes really make the (wo)man? This is a debate that frequently comes up in my classrooms, and I’ve also dealt with it at home while raising two daughters. As academics, we like to believe that we are above superficial judgements, but can we really be?

In the face-to-face world, what we wear is the first thing that people notice about us. I recently assigned an observation exercise to my writing classes whereby they had to choose a subject (person) and observe that subject interacting with an object for a period of time. Then, my students needed to tell me the story of that observation. The task likely sounds easier than it always proves to be. One of the keys to a successful story (fiction or non-fiction) is building the setting. Writers know that setting isn’t just background material to get paid by the word, although it does happen (Charles Dickens, anyone). Setting establishes the mood, tone, even the theme of the piece; setting can also be in the character description, which further enhances a story. All of this leads to what people are wearing: people choose their clothes to communicate something about themselves, even if that choice is unconscious or if it seems to be based on external factors that are outside the individual’s control.

Back in 2009, the all-male HBC college, Morehouse, took a lot of heat for establishing a pretty controversial dress code. Their policy stated that male students would not be allowed to wear dresses. The “Appropriate Attire Policy” also stated that students couldn’t wear hats indoors, pajamas in public, scarves/bandanas over heads, sagging pants, sunglasses inside classrooms, or go barefoot. The controversy, though, is with what critics see as an attack on the LGBT community. In October, 2010, the policy was once again a point of discussion over at Vibe magazine. A flurry of back-and-forths ensued both in and out of the gay community (here’s a terrific article as well).

In the case of the Morehouse policy, clothing becomes a political statement—but there’s more to it than that. In the name of school spirit, last week at the University of California, Riverside the campus bookstore allowed students to trade-in their other college attire (sweatshirts, t-shirts, and anything with another college’s logo) for sometimes higher-priced alternatives. School spirit, rather than political statement, is the motivator here. While all definers and enforcers of dress code believe that it’s in the students’ best interest, sometimes the dress code is undeniably aimed at helping students. Here’s a recent article about a technical college giving interview clothes to students (and another).

School spirit seems like a natural at college; some might argue that political statements are also a part of the college oeuvre. I think it’s even more basic than all of that, though. When I give the observation assignment I get some push-back from students, and it’s usually the older students, about how it isn’t right or fair to judge people on their clothes. I patiently explain each time that while it is a goal to not judge on first appearances, it can’t really be helped. We strive, of course, to overcome those first impressions. We consider ourselves “good people” when we look past such outward indicators, truly.

In that latest assignment, my students wrote about their subjects in comical, serious, and descriptive ways. I send them out onto the campus in groups of three and tell them to pay particular attention to the clothes, as the clothes reveal the details of the situation. Is the student wearing a jacket? Well, that can tell the audience the time of day, season, or how fashion-aware the subject is. Does the subject look like s/he just rolled out of bed? Does the subject wear provocative clothes, extremely baggy clothes, or some other type of clothing that witnesses might deem “inappropriate” to the situation? These can be indicators of a rebellious nature, or inattention to detail, or some kind of insecurity that might play out in the story later. As my students found, despite how some of them resisted, for better or for worse, what a person wears does affect how that person is perceived. This goes for faculty members, too, of course.

That’s why I never go to class in cut-offs and flip flops, even when it’s 110 outside. Now unmatched shoes, that another story. Read about that here, and try not to laugh at me too awfully hard. Oh, and that sexy Dorothy-from-the-Wizard-of-Oz Halloween costume I wore. Read about that here, and please try not to laugh at me too awfully hard.

Oh, never mind. Go ahead. Laugh.

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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Kat Goes Blue: Swearing 101 Tue, 25 Oct 2011 15:04:38 +0000 photoBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

I really try not to swear in class. Many of my students have been gently raised and believe that authority figures should behave with decorum and set a @#*$!^& example. These students are usually recognizable by their insistence on calling me ma’am. Every time they ma’am me, of course, I get another decade older, but I try to be understanding. And my sped-up aging isn’t really their problem; they mean well.

I am also lucky enough to have an enormous age-span of students. This means that any given semester I’ll have 15- to 60-year-olds smiling up at me across the desktops. Yes, I said 15. In fact, this semester I have two 15-year-olds in my Death class as part of that college’s Middle College program.

I’ve caught already caught myself dropping “s-bombs.” When this happens I see their beautiful, round, rosy cheeks flush. Then their bejeweled hands come up and cover their giggling mouths. I apologize each time and one or the other of them reassures me: “It’s okay, Ma’am, that isn’t the worst thing we’ve heard today.” The 55+year-olds are usually less forgiving.

Many of my colleagues in the public Community College system choose to take the high ground and not use any foul language in the classroom. Not all of them, though. Last semester in one of my writing classes a student shared with me her frustration in dealing with a member of the full-time faculty. This instructor regularly swore in class and she was hugely offended by it. I won’t use the actual terms here because I don’t want to immortalize my own comfort and capabilities with swearing, but let’s just say that her worst issue was when he impugned another student’s parentage. She worked through all of the appropriate channels to get this instructor dealt with in some way, but to little avail.

While I feel badly for students who are forced to listen to language that they find offensive, I am also a big proponent of my own and other instructors’ free speech. Yes, it’s more and more difficult for students to get the classes they need, but they aren’t being chained down in any particular classroom. That word “forced” becomes subjective, and relative, at best. Back in 2006, History teacher Stephen E. Williams was let go from his untenured job at Harrisburg Area Community College in Lancaster, Pa and he didn’t, I’m sure, feel it was relative.

In response to this, Chip McCorkle wrote, for The Daily Princtonian: “Students speak freely at Princeton, and faculty who use obscenities in class are not questioned. Attitudes are accepting of the diversity of speech and, as outlined in the “Rights, Rules, Responsibilities” booklet given to all members of the University community, University policy protects freedom of speech.” But is that really true? Maybe at Princeton-circa-2006, but last December at Hawaii Community College a “blue” philosophy instructor was let go.

This cursing situation, though, goes both ways. As I said, my students tend to be very mannered and respectful, and I am the usually the worst offender in the classroom. But that isn’t always the case. As recently as last May, USA Today offered an article about students being fined for swearing by Hinds Community College. I was rather shocked by this policy because, well, it’s college not high school.

Where do we draw the line on academic freedom and free speech, though? Isn’t it strange that (at least at my school) if I had tenure it would all right for me to use even the most foul language but I am cautioned to be careful about announcing my political or religious affiliations? No one has said anything officially, but I did have an interesting conversation with a colleague when I first started about this subject. Sometimes I teach Religious Studies and students always seem to want to know my faith. And in my Argument class they want to know my politics. I do share these things, but with the caveat that they certainly don’t need to agree with me on anything, and that I would never grade them according to my beliefs.

Some in our field consider it academic freedom (for students and faculty); some consider it a level of professionalism and decorum. Maybe, though, it’s all just a @#*$!^& boondoggle?

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Juggling 101: Adjunct Summer Activities — Extreme Couponing & Selling Old Books Online Wed, 27 Jul 2011 11:00:24 +0000 By Kat Kiefer-Newman

Did I post an “off for the Summer” blog just a few weeks ago? You bet I did! Some adjunct-y things have come up, though, and I thought of all people, you would commiserate with me (and maybe laugh a little at my silly, very-juggled life).

So there I was, tearfully saying goodbyes to students. Many of them have been with me for several classes and these goodbyes were particularly bittersweet. I love when they finish, graduate, and move on to the next stage of their lives. I’ll get emails months, even years later, and they tell me what they’ve been up to. I’m not always good at responding (it’s a horrible character flaw, I’m in therapy to fix it), but I love hearing from each of them. Despite my joy for them, I’m really going to miss them. I had the pleasure and honor of knowing a young fire fighter who just graduated and plans to get his BS in Fire Science. I also had the pleasure of meeting several really terrific returning students who are finishing up certification programs. Returning students are just as much fun for me as the recent high school grads — I was a returning student and I often keep in contact with them after they graduate. I have several, actually, that I consider dear friends now.

My students have since-we-met gained custody of children, lost homes and gotten new ones, been married and/or divorced, started and/or stopped new jobs. I had not one, not two, but three pregnant young women in classes this past year – I expect baby pictures very soon. I met a magician, a beautiful goth-girl who wears amazing boots, a guy I can only describe as awesome, a collective of really smart Biblical scholars, a minister, a DJ, several former Veterans, more than one reformed felon finding their way in the world now, and on and on. Next year I’ll meet and fall madly in love with 100+ more students, of course; but for now I feel the loss of these.

Finals were, as usual, full of hugs and email exchanges.

As the door closed for the last time, I grabbed my laptop and took a few minutes to fill out my unemployment forms online. Last summer, I was one of the few adjunct faculty I knew doing this. Times, they have a-changed. Blogs are written about it, now, forums have multiple discussions, I’ve been getting Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter messages from adjuncts telling me (and all group members) to be sure and get the paperwork done ASAP.

We’re all hurting.

And summer is a mixed blessing, for sure.  I love the time to write. I love that I get to spend time with my family. I love that I can organize course lectures and Powerpoints and make some much-overdue Vodcasts. But I also love eating and making my car payment.

Yesterday, I read this bitter but sadly true list on called 5 Things Nobody Tells You About Being Poor, by John Cheese. WAIT: If you’re squeamish about foul language, don’t click that link. Cheese outlines the five least talked-about pitfalls for the working poor. As I deal with my local EDD I feel Cheese’s pain. First, my old claim ended, so I had to refile. Next, I had to register for their work program. Hey, I want a job, I’m happy to do it. I just don’t know any colleges that need to go to the EDD for candidates. Last summer, I had to go in for an interview and my assigned counselor kept apologizing for taking my time with the required procedures. This year, I have a phone interview scheduled for Friday. I have all of my documentation about how I’m entitled to this money. My fingers are crossed I do everything right.

Even though this isn’t the college season for hiring, I keep trolling the job listings hoping something miraculously shows up. My friend Emma, who went to the job fair with me a few months ago, was offered a job in another state and since she was down to one class, she took it. Sadly, the job didn’t pan out, and Emma is scrambling once again on the resume treadmill. Because she changed states, she lost her unemployment. She’s a fighter, though, and is contesting that.

Meanwhile, my younger daughter was able to land a terrific summer job doing research at her university. She keeps lecturing me on coupons (she’s a big fan of the show Extreme Couponing) and sale-shopping. It seems she’s now a pro at saving money. I keep telling her she’s planning for the Zombie Apocalypse; she doesn’t find that joke funny, though. My older daughter has been selling all of our old books online. This has been a great help and we haven’t had to cut out luxuries like blockbuster movies because of this extra cash.

I’m sure you have all sorts of great tips for summer frugality. My best advice for adjuncts is to get talking. Summer can be especially lonely and frustrating when we’re out of work, the regular hiring cycle is past, we can’t afford to go anywhere on vacation like other teachers, and we don’t have a daily routine anymore.

Hang in there! Meanwhile, I’m going back to my dissertation edits and prepping for my EDD phone interview. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is (hopefully) in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, commiserates with her fellow-adjunct husband about juggling their mutually crazy schedules, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (Also, though she will never admit it, she reads trashy vampire novels.)

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“Vacation, All I Ever Wanted…” Mon, 27 Jun 2011 16:01:11 +0000 It’s almost May. The weather has changed and it’s making me think ahead.

I’m already planning my meager summer vacation. Most of this summer I’ll be desperately working 8 and 9 hour days getting my dissertation finished so I don’t have to face my scary committee chair and ask for even more time than I’ve already taken. I’ve been blessed, or cursed, depending on how you see it, with no classes this summer.

Blessed, because this dissertation isn’t going to write itself. I’m mired in Chapter Three and finding the time to even finish that has been difficult, at best. Having dedicated time, even just the sporadic hour here or there, is always a gift, and I appreciate it whenever it happens. Obviously, I’m cursed, because having no classes can mean dire financial consequences for part timers.

As for the upcoming summer vacation, one of my oldest friends is planning on visiting here in June. She called me last week to ask if I was “in.” My only criteria for going along with any of her crazy plans was that I needed to be able to read trashy novels (no laptop, no Blackberry) and laze by some kind of body of water. She ended the conversation quickly; later, she texted me that we would be going out on another friend’s sailboat for four days. Four days. I’m in shock thinking of how wonderful getting a four-day break will be.

Along with the anticipation of relaxing days under a deep blue sky, dipping my toe in the rippling waters of the Pacific ocean, I am also thinking of all of the work still to be done between now and the actual end of the semester. There are final projects to be graded, stacks and stacks of essays to get through, more online discussions than I know what to do with to comment on and grade, and then the finals to write.

There are also the bevy of worried student-faces hovering around me at the end of each class, their pleading eyes and wistful voices hoping for some kind of extra credit for assignments earlier blown off and now (belatedly) causing gpa concerns.

The semester has gone by so fast, it seems. Actually, the entire year is a blur. Like my students, I see my own as-a-student work, my dissertation, and what it means – work I’ve put off, and now must face. Because I am anticipating my soon-to-be loafing I will likely be more understanding with my needy students. I get their anxiety. I’m going to try and not pack that when I back my sunscreen and swimsuit.

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Summer Is For Reading (For Some Lucky Part-Timers) Fri, 27 May 2011 12:00:18 +0000 katBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

We talk about breaking news. We talk about local events and history. We talk about politics, cultural issues, and contemporary problems. We talk about the economy, the state of college education, and future goals. Many will share personal experiences and worries.

And we talk about books.

In all of my classes (but especially my writing classes) students really want to know what books I recommend. More than my advice on their life plans and more than my views on world current events, the students seem to think I’m someone who can recommend books.

I’m just happy they want to read.

I’m always flattered when they tell me they read my blog; those who do know my views on books like the Twilight series. I don’t have an issue with all young adult fiction, of course, just the stuff with sparkly vampires in it. Save the hate mail, this isn’t a “high brow/low brow” blog post. I get the fan-love for serial fiction; in fact, I said last time that I also love serial fiction.

Because some of my students do read this blog; because friends and acquaintances who don’t read a lot but want to; because I had a few minutes tonight to look over my GoodReads, Powell‘s, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon history….

Here it is, Kat’s Summer Reading Recommendations:

  1. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  2. House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  3. The Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir by James Brown
  4. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
  5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  6. The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko
  7. Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
  8. Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros
  9. Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
  10. Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
  11. Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
  12. The Probable Future by Alice Hoffman
  13. Killing Floor by Lee Child
  14. A Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach
  15. The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
  16. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  17. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
  18. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  19. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  20. A Window Opens by Ardyth Meyers Philyaw
  21. Silk Stocking Road by Carla Landrath
  22. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  23. Housekeeping by Marilyn Robinson
  24. American Gods by Neil Gaimon
  25. Widdershins by C. D. deLint

I know 25 is a daunting number. And this probably seems like a weird gathering of titles. I will tell you, though, that each one of these has something (or many somethings) so special that if you do read one you’ll be recommending it, also.

I start with story collections – some are fiction and some are memoir. Usually I list collections for folks who really haven’t done a lot of reading but want to start. The vignettes are rich with textures, fleshed-out and rounded characters, and really give you a sense of accomplishment when you finish them. But as summer reading you can’t beat this short story/vignette format. One of the books, in particular, is always toward the top of any book list I make. Jim Brown’s work is vivid, lyrical, and though his autobiography is often sad, there’s an uplifting transcendent quality that makes it worth any tears. I had the pleasure of taking a class with the author of Los Angeles Diaries: A Memoir, Jim Brown, and you won’t regret getting yourself a copy.

I also like to mix it up with both more (so-called) literary works and really great popular fiction. I have Frazer, O’Connor, Steinbeck, and Morrison on the same list as Gaimon, Child, Larson, and Harris.

Richard Bach’s A Bridge Across Forever is there because idealistic fantasies are the stuff that summer reading is made of. Likewise, American Gods and Widdershins are windows into other worlds, perfect for an afternoon sitting on your fold-up lawn chair in the grass, next to a plinking sprinkler, sipping iced lemonade.

Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon (factoid: I recently found out that Harris based Hannibal Lecture on Ted Bundy) introduces a complicated bad guy while Lee Child’s Killing Floor introduces a complicated good guy (oh, and Jack Reacher is someone you wish you knew if you ever get into trouble).

Ardyth Meyers Philyaw and Carla Landrath are relatively new writers. If you love historical romances you’ll start following them on Facebook like I do. I am very lucky to know both of these gifted women, and consider myself a “super fan.”

Marilyn Robinson, Maya Angelou, Annie Proulx, and Alice Hoffman are there for their stories told in stunningly poetic language.

Then there are slightly creepy romps, like Bradbury’s and Juster’s great stories; both will give you a little evening shiver when the shadows start to stretch across your room; I love that delicious chill late on a warm summer night.

This will be my last blog of the school year. It’s been really great getting to share my stories for the second year with you all. I’ve been so lucky in the terrific students I’ve had (I wish I could name them all here), and thankful to you for taking your precious time and spending it with me as I talk about those students. I hope your summer is relaxing, filled with wonderful moments, and exactly what you need it to be.

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is (hopefully) in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, commiserates with her fellow-adjunct husband about juggling their mutually crazy schedules, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (Also, though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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At The Top of My List? Make A To-Do List, Of Course Tue, 17 May 2011 10:00:41 +0000 katBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

Do you make lists?

I had a boyfriend long ago who accused me (with dripping superiority) of being a compulsive list-maker. The fact is, though, that while my life would definitely be greatly enhanced through the employment and application of lists, well, I just can’t get into writing them. Worse, I can’t stick to a list once I do write it.

The former boyfriend, you see, superior tone notwithstanding, had it wrong about me.

Mostly, I’m just not organized enough. Even sexy list-making doesn’t appeal to me. (What is sexy list-making? Check out The Steff Metal Guide to Writing To-Do Lists).

I’m also not dedicated to the follow-through process. List-makers impress me with their follow-through. People like Paula Rizzo, at her website The List Producer is one of those. Just the other day she wrote a post called “5 Reasons to be a Compulsive List Maker.” Sheyeah, like we needed five reasons. I like number five: because famous people make lists. Hey, that’s endorsement enough for me.

Here’s the thing, if I take time to make the list, I usually forget to look at it later.

Worse, I tend to lose them.

Yeah, that’s how disorganized I am.

I’m not the only person who loses lists. Bill Kaeggy has made an entire writing career on lists that he’s found and put into his books, blogs, and website. You may have heard of his book Milk, Eggs, Vodka.

In an effort to “juggle” my crazy schedule I’ve been considering a return to list-making. Maybe I won’t start big, on this list thing. Maybe I’ll just make a list of things to do this afternoon.

  1. Gym
  2. Shower
  3. Lunch
  4. Bills
  5. Grade
  6. Dinner for Dad

OK, it’s a yawner, I know. And it’s likely if Keaggy had found my list he’d never have had the career he’s made for himself.

My daughter tells me there are all sorts of memes about lists. Maybe I should try out one of the lists on Urban75’s webzine. They say you can amuse yourself by 1) using your secret mind power, 2) scratching yourself, or 3) trying not to think of penguins. (Now I can’t stop thinking about penguins. D’oh)

Less strange, but equally entertaining is ProfGrrrrl’s list, which includes books she “wants to read this summer,” annoying tasks she “needs to take care of,” and people she is “somehow coordinating this summer.”

Summer lists seem all the rage. Blogger JaneB and blogger Chris Summer List are on-board with this meme.

This got me to thinking about my own summer plans. I’m hoping they’ll include reading some fiction. Those of you who’ve been following me for a bit know I am desperately finishing my PhD Dissertation. I ran into some snags with a couple of my committee members, and now it isn’t done in time for graduation. This means that my Summer List must start:

1. Finish Dissertation Edits

Being an optimist, I think I should follow that with

2. Breathe

3. Sleep

And then maybe

4. Read some fiction

I miss reading for fun. I have a nasty sweet-tooth for really silly novels, and have been known to polish off an entire series in a weekend. (Charlaine Harris has my, pardon the pun, undying love with her Southern Vampire series with Kim Harrison a close second with her Hollows series).

Don’t judge me. I know you have some embarrassing “junk food” books tucked away under your mattress.

I also read important and meaningful books. Recent books that I’ve managed to squeeze in are The Great Mortality, about the Black Plague; Water Wars: Privatization, Pollution, and Profit a terrific economical/environmental/political examination; Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness; and Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Factors that Shape Our Decisions.

Because I’m hoping to be back among the reading soon, I recently joined the social cataloging site called GoodReads. (Social Cataloging is like Social Networking except it’s main focus is, well, lists…in the case of GoodReads, it’s lists of books, right.) Maybe next blog-post I’ll look at Summer Reading Lists for Students, since I keep getting asked (both by students and by fellow faculty) what I recommend. Until then, I have some lists to lose, ahem, I mean follow.

Are you a compulsive list-maker? If so, what would your Summer List look like? Care to share?

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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I’m An Idiom, Are You? Wed, 11 May 2011 10:00:01 +0000 katBy Kat Kiefer-Newman

We love our mothers. And because we love our mothers we’ve dedicated a day every year to saying so. By we I don’t just mean here in the US: in Bangladesh, Slovakia, Curaçao, New Zealand, Belize, Iceland, Peru, Chile, Greece, Bonaire, China, Aruba, Denmark, Suriname, Zimbabwe, Italy, Japan, Malta, and more mothers are honored with a special day.  We don’t just love our moms with coupons for spa days; we love our moms so much that we give them idioms. I hope all of you had a terrific Mother’s Day; I did. This all got me to thinking…

Some of the best idioms in the world are mom-related, and I’m not just talking about a few. Moms get a mother lode of idioms.

Wait, did someone ask “what’s an idiom?”

You must be in one of my writing classes. Last semester I had a student insist that she had no “idiots” in her paper, and that she was offended that I would suggest otherwise. (OK, I made that up, but I did have a student get upset when I told him he’d said an oxymoron. I felt badly when I learned that he’d thought I was saying he was a moron, and he was confused about the oxy part).

An idiom is a figurative word or phrase, or it’s an expression, or a figure of speech that isn’t intended to be taken literally. Moreover, as I am constantly reminding my students, idioms don’t really translate well, so they make for bad writing (even though I know that some writing guides suggest using them for “color” or “flavor” in your writing). An example of an idiom is the phrase motherland, which can be interchangeable with mother country, and from where we get our mother language. Or, maybe, it’s all about the mother ship?

We also honor our mothers with wisedoms, often learned at mother’s knee, because mother knows best. Not only that, but necessity is the mother of invention, and diligence is the mother of good luck. For better or for worse, we’ve also experienced that a woman is often like mother, like daughter. Mothers, you see, miraculously know things that others don’t. That’s why we know that he that would the daughter win, must with the mother first begin. And who could forget “Mama always said that life is like a box of chocolates” (Forrest Gump 1994).

Mothers love unconditionally, which is why we cherish them so. I grew up hearing the phrase “bless his heart, he has a face that only a mother could love” and I knew it meant, well, maybe you get the point. We know it’s sad to be a motherless child because it means we missed that love. Loving is great, but you don’t want to date someone who’s called a mama’s boy. Perhaps because he’s tied to his mother’s apron strings?

When we’re 5 or 6 we like being mother’s little helper, but sometimes a substance can be mother’s little helper and that’s a whole other thing entirely.

Idiomatic mothers are both good and bad. One can be an earth mother, a mother goddess, Mother Goose, a Mother Teresa, Mother Courage, Mother Nature, and she can also be the mother from hell.

There’s mother love and mother’s milk – both are terrific but for completely different reasons.

If you want to get at the truth of something, then make someone swear on your mother’s grave (this doesn’t work if she’s in the other room, though). And, last, if we wanna really curse then we use our mothers for that, too: your mother wears combat boots, or the more elaborate your mother is a fraggin’ aardvark, but a purist will stick with the clean and simple yo’ mama.

About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)

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