By P.D. Lesko
I’m starting to get jealous of AdjunctNation.com’s Juggling 101 blogger Kat Kiefer-Newman. Her blog posts are shared and shared and shared on Facebook with a regularity that I just can’t seem to match on my own blog. Not that I’m competing. Really. It’s just that her Thanksgiving post “I’m NOT Tarting Up Thanksgiving in the Classroom (or Anywhere Else) This Year, Thank You Very Much” was shared on Facebook 16 times. Then there was her hysterical entry, “Wardrobe Duplication and Mismatched Shoes. What, Me Worry?” That one was shared 19 times on Facebook. Actually, Kat’s blog posts are clever, witty and very funny. I enjoy editing them, because when I am editing I don’t often guffaw. Read Kat’s most recent entry, “My Students’ Heinous Spelling Is Killing Me” and you’ll understand exactly what I (and she) mean.
Our New Adjunct blogger Melissa Miller’s most recent entry “When A Student Dies,” broaches a subject that I actually never had to face in the many years that I taught college. I am positive I had students who wished I would drop dead, I’m sure. Mostly because, like Kat, I thought spelling and grammar should count significantly toward a student’s paper grade— regardless of whether the course was Speech, American Literature, or Argumentative Writing. My middle school son doesn’t wish me dead, but when I go through his classwork/homework and start in on the fact that his teachers deserve his best handwriting, his best reasoning, his best work, I am sometimes afraid his eyes won’t come down from the spot they go to when he rolls them while I speak in what I consider very reasoned and measured terms.
I her post, Melissa writes very eloquently:
However, what I want to remember as I start and end each course is this: It is a privilege to be able to teach these men and women. When stressed about late work, department meetings, school policies and deadlines, negative attitudes, and unmotivated learners, I need to remember that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m lucky to share this precious time with my students, fellow humans, with their goals, dreams, and plans. I’m privileged to have shared this time with them, to have gotten to know them.
I wonder if any of you have had to deal with the death of either current or former students. If so, how have you dealt with the situation?
Like Kat, Rich Russell, who writes our Teaching in Pajamas blog is someone whose posts are frequently shared and shared on Facebook. His great post “Don’t Poke Me: Professors’ Privacy In The Age Of Facebook” was shared a dozen times. In his most recent entry, “Chivalry in the Online Classroom: How Often To Log In; How Frequently To Respond,” he tackles this same issue from a slightly different angle. How available, he writes, should faculty expect to be to their online students? Rich writes:
I judge my best traditional classes to be those when I have spoken the least; so too online. Online, however, it is essential that students know you are listening to them. They must know that you’re paying attention to what is going on — and that you’re not asleep behind the scenes (even if you are wearing your pajamas). This is why I stay busy responding to posts in other, less formal discussion areas (the “General Comments” section, for example), while permitting the more serious issues being debated, to be debated by the students themselves, without too much interjection from me.
This is simply one of the most astute observations about teaching I have read in a good long while. In essence, Rich argues that college faculty should just shut up, listen and teach. I share Rich’s belief that the best classes taught are the ones in which the faculty member had not monopolized the conversation, but rather allowed the students the time and space to learn. I can’t (Sorry, Kat. I like to use contractions) tell you how many times I have spoken to students of part-time faculty members and been told that the faculty member simply stands in front of the class and rambles, or worse still wastes time regaling students with personal anecdotes that have nothing to do with the subject matter. This behavior comes very close to professional negligence, both on the part of the Department Chair and on the part of the offending faculty member. Students deserve the best efforts of their faculty instructors, and to be able to expect to have their instruction time used as efficiently as is humanly possible.
I want to welcome a new blogger, Jenny Ortiz. Jenny is, yes, young. Don’t hold her youth against her. She’s hard-working and smart. Her first entry for the site’s Freeway Flyer blog, “Gatorade and Bathroom Breaks: Common Sense Freeway Flying” is full of practical suggestions that even the most seasoned part-time (and full-time) faculty could benefit from. She suggests, for instance that faculty make copies in advance. You’re rolling your eyes, right? Who has the time to do that? You run to the Department’s copy room 15 minutes before class, slap the paper on the glass and then press “start.” Then, when the machine jams, your access code doesn’t work, or there’s a line to use the damn machine, you freak out. How do I know this? I’ve seen it happen. Perfectly nice, normal faculty members become crazed maniacs as they search for someone, anyone, who knows how to clear a jam, someone with a code that works. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!
Ron Tinsley has begun contributing to the Adjunct By Choice blog, as well. I thought his entry “Rescuing Yourself From The Technology Booby Trap” was particularly timely. Ron wrote in that piece, “But what are the pitfalls of being totally and constantly wired?” When I get off my cell phone, text my kid, and am finished IMing with the programmer, I’ll get back to you on that one. If you haven’t read Ron’s entries, take a few minutes and check out his posts.
The AdjunctNation.com Mentor, Bruce Johnson, poses a great question in this his final entry about student engagement. Bruce writes, “Does active involvement equal engagement?” In other words, if your students are participating in class frequently, can you presume they are engaged and, more important still, succeeding? It’s a question that deserves some thought, because I think it’s pretty common for faculty to presume students who are yakking it up in class are engaged and understand the material. However, Bruce presents some very interesting ideas about how to encourage, and gauge the effectiveness of student engagement in your classroom both on campus and online.
Finally, I want to tell you about an email I got today from Erik Hanson. You may remember that Erik contributes infrequently to the New Adjunct blog. His most recent entry was “The Night Classes of the Living Dead: The New Adjunct (Slightly Late for) Halloween Edition.” He sent me an email today in which he wrote that he assumed because he’d been contributing sporadically, that I had fired him. No such luck. I like this guy’s writing. A lot. I wrote back that I do fire people, but generally these are people who promise to do something and then break their promises. I had a writer, recently, who agreed to contribute regularly, missed two deadlines, then wrote a breezy email to tell me that she was really busy. That’s nice. Her, I fired. Imagine skipping a few days of work, then breezing in and telling your boss how busy you’ve been. Erik agreed to contribute sporadically, and has contributed sporadically. I wish he had time to write more frequently, but he doesn’t. Maybe he will in future; I don’t know.
I want to end by saying that I feel very fortunate and privileged to be working with all of the writers who produce content for both the E-Zine, as well as our blogs. If you’d like to join that group, I’m always open to new voices. All you have to do is send me an email and a writing sample that knocks off my socks. I look forward, as always, to hearing from you.