Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's a Trap!

This afternoon, I went to talk to a class of TAs at SDSU. I had been asked to be there by the TA Coordinator, who had been my professor when I was in grad school. I was happy to go to the class and chat with them, answering whatever questions I could. His idea was that he wanted to give them a recent grad's perspective on how to go about getting a job at a community college.

Again, I need to stress that I was happy to do it. It was fun to be back on campus and to see students who are going through what I went through. It's a difficult time. For those who will be graduating next month, they are really nervous about getting jobs, and we hear all the time about how awful the market is out there. I wanted to go there and let them know that there is hope. I also wanted to give them some "real talk" about what they need to do.

That being said, I was kind of caught off guard when a student said, "My plan is to teach as an adjunct for a while and get my PhD. I want to teach at a university. So how does one avoid getting caught in the trap of community college? I mean, I don't want to get stuck there, so how do people avoid that?"

Wait. What?

It isn't a trap. People who teach at the community college level are there for a reason. I'm here for a reason. I'm not here biding my time until something better comes along. This is where I want to be. I told him that there is no trap. People who "end up" teaching at this level are here because this is where they want to be. Sure, they may have had other plans, but sometimes, plans change. People actually like teaching at a JC! *GASP* I told him that if his goal is to teach at a university, he should stay on that path, and that's where he will end up. It isn't a trap. It isn't a punishment. No one is settling for anything.

I don't think I changed his mind. I'm sure he's dubious of my answer. I would like to say that he thought about it later, or maybe he will think about it when he's an adjunct biding his time for his "real job." What I do know is that for other TAs in that class, they were able to see that I like what I do, and I don't feel like I fell into the trap.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Zombies, and Faulkner, and Letters, oh my!

This semester, I am teaching two hybrid 116 classes, so both of those are new for me! Prior to this, I taught basic writing courses at UCSD, tutor training at Mesa, and a couple 115 courses. Because I was a new teacher, my friends helped me out A LOT as I pieced together course schedules, reading materials, and lesson plans. I don't know what I would do without my colleagues.

This semester, I was given the opportunity to peek in on some of my colleague's courses, but from there, I chose all of my reading materials and let my excitement run free. I am thrilled at the choices I made for our readings this semester. I am, of course, cautiously optimistic as sometimes we think we have the most exciting, engaging, thought-provoking material around, and it falls flat.

My "theme" in the class is relationships: our relationships with friends and family, our partners, and our communities. To delve into the topics, we will be looking at epistolary texts, an awesome group of short stories, and a unit on zombies.

I'm not going to lie: the students have expressed a lot of interest in the zombie literature. We are looking specifically at a few zombie short stories (beginning with a chapter from Zora Neale Hurston's book Tell My Horse) and the students will be writing their research papers on our culture's "obsession" with zombies. I'm excited to see what they come up with. :)

After listening to our opening day speaker, I have been thinking a lot about the kind of student I was. I'm trying to connect back to her to remember the classes I had to miss when I couldn't find a babysitter, the buses I had to leave class early to catch, and the hours of sleep I missed because between working two-three jobs and having two kids, I didn't have much time to both sleep and do homework. Sometimes the homework won, sometimes it was sleep. I had quite a few caring and understanding professors. I had some who weren't. I want to make sure that all of my students know that I want them to succeed. I write that on my syllabus, so I want to make sure that they believe it.

Here's to a new semester.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Aaaaaannnnnnd Break.

So last night, before the festivities, I finished posting my grades. And today, after festivities, I entered in my SLOs. I think I'm officially on break. :) It feels good.

See you all soon! Happy Holidays!!!!!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

What's a Break?

First, some background...I waited a while to get my own career going. I graduated college in May and my second son graduated HS in June. Now that I'm getting my career in gear, I am also realizing that I am going to miss the time I spent with them. I still have the youngest boy at home, and he has special needs that require quite a bit of my attention, so a lot of my time goes in to making sure that he doesn't fall too far behind. One of them is leaving for boot camp in March, so I'm trying to spend as much time with him as I can before he leaves, and really, now more than ever before, I realize that time goes by so fast...

But we all know that when it's break time, amiright?

I am lucky to have gotten two classes for the Spring semester, but it is a class that I haven't taught before, so I will be spending some serious time this break figuring it out. I'm really excited that it's a hybrid class, and that I get to look at literature in 116, but I'm always a little nervous about new things. I mean, I LOVE trying new things, and if you know me, you know I will say yes to just about anything... so I'm stoked! But still, a little nervous. I have been tossing around different ideas for the Spring. I'm definitely going to be exploring epistolary texts because its something that I am very interested in and I'm hoping to get students hyped about them, too. I'm also thinking about a unit on zombie lit and what our fascination with zombies says about our society...but like I said, it's in the planning stages right now. :)

I have a pile of books that I have started...and I haven't finished. I need to read them. I mean, I want to read them, but I really just, for the sake of being me for just a little bit, I NEED to read them. I miss reading for pleasure, getting lost in the world that someone so painstakingly created for me to get lost in.

And I need to clean my house. During the semester, I feel like I'm shuffling around piles and just taking care of the day-to-day stuff. But the projects pile up. My son's walls are almost finished getting painted...My closet is almost organized...The things that have fallen apart over the last few months are almost put back together. ("Screws fall out all the time; the world is an imperfect place.") So I am looking forward to getting some of that done.

This break is a time for me to get my ish together. Sometimes, during the last semester, I felt a little loopy... (Think of the Kermit the Frog moments when he runs around with his arms up in the air shouting.) Now, I need to sit and pluck my thoughts out of the air and line them back up. That is what I'm looking forward to doing during this break....After I finish this pile of finals.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Can't you just...?

I have to start off by reiterating that I haven't been at this teaching gig very long. This is my third semester being "in front" of the classroom, and I am still in that period where I am constantly surprised at the questions that I get from students. For the most part, my students are inspiring. They have jobs, kids, other classes, transportation issues, etc., and still manage to show up, participate, ask awesome questions, and turn in their work. Recently, I noticed that I was focusing on the ones who weren't. 

I think this is because I want them all to do well. I have some part of me that thinks if I will it hard enough, if I just want it bad enough, they will be present. But I have a handful of students who show up sometimes, turn in homework sometimes, and participate sometimes. And about three weeks ago, many of them started asking about turning in late work or getting extra credit. And the questions were something like this:

Can't you just accept my late homework?
Can't you just offer more extra credit?
Can't you just drop the lowest quiz?

"Can't you just" has become one of my least favorite starts to a question...

I have one particular student who has been a handful. Throughout the semester, she has been absent or very late and hasn't turned in much work. She didn't show up to our mid-semester conference because she forgot the scheduled time (it was posted on our class blog). So I told her that I didn't think she was going to be able to pass the class. (She didn't have enough points for it to be possible.) But she kept coming to class, sometimes. She blames her tardiness on her mom (she won't babysit). She says that she hasn't gotten a check, so she can't pay to print her paper (I suggest that she print it in the lab we go to). Still, she has so many excuses. And I want her to have solutions. I offer her solutions. I guide her to solutions. Still, the issues persist. 

She hurts my heart. I realize that I see my former self in her. I see the former "me" who was a single mom and taking the bus to school while working two or three jobs. I know it is hard. I know it. And sometimes I didn't go to class. I even failed a class because I didn't go to the final...ask Rebecca Wolniewicz... 

I wanted it to "click" for her in my class. I wanted to be the one to inspire her to make it work: to succeed in spite of all of the problems. But last week, she came to me and said, "I know that I'm getting an F in the class, but can't you just give me some extra points so I can at least get a C-?"

No. No, I can't. I want her to succeed. I really do. I really think I did everything I could to guide her to the point where she could make that decision. But maybe she isn't ready yet.

So the blog post was to write about my horror story...and I think, in my mind, the horror is that I just can't do all that I want to do to make it "click" every time.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Tackling the To-Do List

Whew! I'm sitting down to write my first blog, taking part in the Connect@SWC blog challenge, and honestly, I really should have put fingers to keys prior to today to respond to the prompt. This debut is being prompted by this week's question: "What are your strategies for maintaining focus and motivation at the end of the semester?"

I am a fairly new instructor, so I only have the experience from the summer and this fall semester to glean from, so I can't profess that I am a fount of knowledge about this topic. Like my colleague, Henry, at Bayan Professor points out, the Thanksgiving break didn't do much to  re-energize my battery. Prior to the break, I was looking forward to it being some kind of respite and an invigorating renewal of my commitment to guide and shape the young minds in my classes. 

Instead, I spent my time organizing, grading, eating, rushing around, cleaning my house, and worrying.

Being so busy flying around to different campuses and teaching a few different classes leaves my life a little crazy. My personal life and responsibilities don't pause while I'm taking care of my class' responsibilities. Rude. 

So what do I do? I have always been someone who makes to-do lists. I like the feeling of accomplishment as I cross completed tasks off. Lately, because there has been so much to do, I have also started ranking those tasks on the to-do list. I rank them according to urgency, which can sometimes cause a little bit of stress. Who am I kidding? It can cause a lot of stress. 

I don't find enough time in my life right now to take care of myself. Last year, I lost a considerable amount of weight and I was very proud of myself. I ran every day and I felt strong and healthy. In the last eight months, I have gained almost all of the weight back, I haven't been able to run, and I just feel awful all the time. I have developed some kind of pain in my right knee (I call it freeway flyer knee), and my right wrist gets sore often. I take a little too much ibuprofen. I'm tired. Always. (This is one of many reasons why I am blessed to be married to my coffee supplier.) 

All of that being said, I love my job. I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I love being in the classroom and working with my students. So at this point, I know we are looking at the end of the semester and I get a little emotional because I have spent so much time with a great group of students for months, and I will genuinely miss them. At this point in the semester, it's my job to help them finish strong. They are feeling the same kind of energy slack that I'm feeling, so I have to "bring it" when I am communicating with them. 

In the last week, I have cleaned my desk, reorganized, and I've managed to get everything lined up to help them through the end of the course. I went out with my sons and bought our Christmas tree last night (in the pouring rain), and we moved our living room around, so it felt good getting organized. We only have a few days of classes left, and we should be proud of the work we've done. It has been a great semester, and we have accomplished great things! YAY!

So now, I'm going to mark another strike through on my to-do list and publish this post.

*Feeling accomplished*