Excuses du jour

In life, things happen.   There are things that disrupt the flow of our lives.   I’ve had a few of those the past few weeks (some bad, some amazingly good),  which I’m going to blame now for not posting last week.   (Remember:  good stress is still stress…)

This has been a good term, for the most part.   By the middle of most quarters, I usually have a few people who make me want to be an oyster, and just wrap those irritants up tight.   I find myself over halfway through this term and happy with both of my classes.   They work hard, and I’ve only been getting apologies from students who aren’t as far ahead as they want.    Earlier in the quarter, I asked them to do more work… and they listened.

I like my classes this term!

I don’t know if this is true for other instructors, or if this is just a pattern that occurs in my own classes.   Every term seems to have it’s preferred excuses for absences.  Two quarters ago, it was “Sorry, I had a family emergency” or “my kid/husband/wife got sick.”   After the fourth different person told me this, I took note.

Yep, we needed a headshot after she came back as a zombie.

Last quarter, it was “my mom/dad/grandparent has cancer, and I’ve had to help them with [treatment/life].”   I will note, that this only started happening after I revealed to one of my own students that my mother was undergoing treatment for cancer… and I suspect she told others, which generated the wave of sympathy seeking excuses.   Not particularly nice on behalf of those students if that is what they were doing, but that is also why I require doctor’s notes.

This quarter it is “car troubles, and I can’t make it in.”   This would bother me, if it weren’t my best students telling me this (my not so good students don’t show up, but they don’t bother making excuses either).

There are reasons why I keep the attendance policies that I do:   I give some allowances for life, after that, I want real documentation.    The stories that I get told I get told do move me, but I will also say that I stick with my policy.    You may be a good mom/dad/husband/wife/whatever, and that is good.  But I only judge you on how good a student you are… it isn’t anything personal.

So, I will understand if you decide to judge me for not posting last week.   My excuse is still:  stress.   (Good stress and bad stress)    If you want to judge me as a bad blogger… that’s fair.     Otherwise, I’m still a rockstar teacher.

Sick days

Ever look at a teacher, and knew they weren’t well?    You could smell the cough drops, or hear the congestion when they spoke… there were times I used to wonder why they came to school.

Not anymore.

Gone are the days when I could wake up, realize I had a fever and a cough, call in and go back to bed.   As a teacher that doesn’t always work.  Injury?  Meet insult.  The things that stay the same:  waking up sick, and calling in.   Instead of going back to bed though, you look at your class (or classes) are at,  make up lesson plans for a substitute and email them (for each class)… then you can go back to bed.   When you wake up, then you can do things like answer your student emails and get a jump on your grading, because you know you are going to be swamped when you get back.   You can do the same thing tomorrow, too.

It is so much work being sick, that most teachers don’t have the time to do it. **

Teachers get exposed to 30 to 100+ students every day, so getting sick is inevitable.    This is why I carry my little mini-pharmacy.   It has cough-drops, pain killers, Benadryl, and enough Dayquil to get me through a day.    Along with soothing tea, it has gotten me through a couple of rough days.  Altoid tins are a good size, and I have a small stack at home that I can grab on my way out the door.

There is the good news if you are teaching sick:  you are the teacher.   You can tell your students (periodically) that there will be no homework and give yourself a break.   The bad news:  you are the teacher.  You can’t do that too often.   It is going to take extra work to get your classes back on track after you are out for a day or two.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying, I hate being sick.  I don’t like it, and frankly I miss my classes and my students.  I would so much rather be there, than stuck at home, recovering from whatever it is that I have.   Zeus help me, I even miss grading homework at this point.

Sick Days

** This also applies to parents.   Not quite the same… I at least get to go home at the end of the day.

Evil League of Teachers, now EXTRA STABBY!

Many changes are incremental: one, two, three…

Some changes are more transformative: one, two, chrysalis, butterfly…

Evil Butterfly

I’m hoping that the Evil League of Teachers is out of it’s plodding phase, and is moving into its chrysalis.   Soon, we can be a beautiful butterfly, spreading doom even as we pollinate young minds.   Which is to say, I’m making some changes to our site that will hopefully transform us into a powerhouse of EVIL!   READY FOR WORLD DOMINATION!!!  Just after I get my coffee.

Some things will never change, of course.   Students occasionally learn their lessons the hard way after they discover that procrastination is not a winning strategy.  And teachers learn from their students (hopefully) new winning strategies for their students.  Which is to say that learning isn’t always easy, and requires a healthy dose of humility from time to time.   Which sucks, because I’m not especially humble.

Which is why I’m here a the end of the week, and I’m feeling extra STABBY.

Partially because I’m being pushed out of my comfort zone (which is good), but also for more personal reasons.*   But I will say, this is about growing.  Busting out of caterpillar status, and moving on to be a scary evil butterfly!  And now I’m going to lay this belabored butterfly metaphor to rest.

So you can continue to count on continued things like finals week playlists, midterm misanthropy, student and teacher horoscopes, as well as our going critical (critical thinking) segments.  We can look forward to some new things like confessions from an ex-corporate whore, more teaching advice from a dominatrix, and maybe (let’s say it softly) a new blogger or two? The Evil League of Teachers marches on,  with a new look,  weapons-grade sarcasm, and extra stabbiness!

Now go forth, educate, and use your powers for whatever the hell you want to… they are your powers.

 

 

*Honestly, I don’t like it when the people I love get sick, and there is nothing I can do to help them feel better.   It’s a kind of helpless feeling.   Also, migraines suck.

Potpourri of Crap

There is a lot of things I could write about today.   I could write about this week’s proud teaching moments, this week’s lame excuses, the danger of oversharing with students, or the willful ignorance that is predominant in American Culture.   I just find myself drawing a blank when I start to write these things today.

Sorry Evil League of Teachers, I’m just distracted.  So I’m going to ramble instead.

My life, how I love thee…

So many irons in the fire, and not enough time to tend them! Here is a general list of the stuff that keeps me preoccupied:

Here on the Evil League of Teachers:   we may be getting a new blogger or two, but I’ll need to revamp the site a bit before that happens.   (1) First up, our disclaimer statement… since much of our material is satire (I don’t abuse my students, I don’t in fact fill my red pens with their blood, and I don’t own a student skin coat!) it is good to have a statement on here saying as much.     Which brings us to (2), we will hopefully be getting a new look.   If you know any graphic artists or web-page gurus who would be willing to work for beer money, let me know (click the comments section!).   (iii) My pie in the sky dream for the ELOT would be setting up an LLC for the League, and associate with some fantastic other educational sites… maybe publish books of teaching with zombies…

At school: (d) if I get a decent microphone and capture software, I’ll start making my own education videos.   This of course means that I will pay out of pocket, teach myself video and audio software, and host the videos.   (fiVe) I’m trying to plan my “other duties” centered on accreditation, as well as maintain having a social life in between quarters. And there is also () maintaining content for my classes and refreshing myself on the esoteric subjects that I tutor twice a year.

The rest of my life: (Libra) I’m digging myself out of debt so I can go back to school, and officially be either “Doctor” Evil. Then there is also (1001) applying to teach in the Seattle Community Colleges (because a 4 hour daily commute is less fun than it sounds). But I also need to (10) finish my physical therapy so I can (XI) start training for a marathon.   And (M.) learning guitar.   I even may be able to play a video game or two now and then.

… all of which are less important than maintaining my relationships who get the bulk of my free time. That and taking over the world.

My life, how I love thee!

Hungry Minds

Two questions have plagued me for my entire life.  How and why?

Before curiosity kills it, the cat learned more of the world than a hundred uninquisitive dogs.  ~Tom Robbins

There are two things that I always associate with intelligence:   perception and curiosity.   Awareness of the world is a trait that is undervalued, I think.   Beyond that, the desire to know more is what drives people to learn – not just because it means that they will be more skilled, have better job prospects, or whatnot.   Just the desire to know for the sake of knowing.

“I don’t know” isn’t an admission of weakness, it is a first step towards strength… if you choose to.   Curiosity drives exploration.   The thirst for knowledge will drive a person to find new answers.  And along the way, new questions.  Eventually, if you search long enough and hard enough you either find the answers you are looking for, or you can find out that there aren’t answers.  Yet.

 

Curiosity filled the cat

I like questions in my classes.   A class is supposed to be a safe place to learn… and I know that I’ve had a few challenging students who just wanted to know.   I remember those students far more than those who just wanted to get through to get their degree.

Curiosity isn’t just a first step, it is a bonfire, burning in the leather armchair of the soul.   It doesn’t let you get comfortable.    I know how to ask questions better now than I ever did… but eventually I come back to the basics:  How?   Why?   And I want my students to keep asking questions – I know that it is difficult to keep letting them at times.   Admittedly I also know that students in my developmental math classes may not go on to find the secrets of the universe, but I like to think I can help the overcome their fears about asking the questions they’ve wanted to ask.

I want them to keep asking: How?   Why?

And as for myself… I’ll keep searching for answers.

 

No Drama Tuesdays

I like people, but they are so strange sometimes.   Something that confounds me is how some folks make so much drama in their lives.    Some days it feels like I’m dealing with wave after wave of unreasonable demands and people’s overinflated narratives!    Somehow people manage to escalate the most minor problems into harrowing personal crises, or will claim incredible victories over molehills, or will just generally make an ass out of themselves…Things are so peaceful... it must be time for me to make a scene

Students are great at this.   I’ve noticed how some students manage to, week after week have some story of woe that keeps them from turning in their homework, studying for tests, or otherwise doing their schoolwork.*

I would like to start a tradition:   No Drama Tuesdays.   Don’t create drama, don’t feed drama, and fix problems rationally with as little fanfare as possible.

So here is what I would like to see, on Tuesdays**:

  • If it isn’t your problem, mind your own business
  • No whining about your own troubles
  • No gossiping about other people’s troubles
  • Take responsibility for your own problems, quietly and gracefully.
  • As much as possible keep your ego out of problems
  • If trouble seems likely, think how to avoid it, fix it, or ameliorate it
  • Realize that there is no actual pressure on you to be happy, or sad… and no one can actually tell you what to feel.

 

Is that a deal?

 

* Yes, I know life interferes in the best made plans.   At a certain point, it becomes clear that the only common element in the person’s life drama is the person.

** If this tradition happens on other days of the week, that would be nice too.

Mental in the Classroom

One of the reasons I love teaching in a community college is that my students want to be there.   The biggest hurdle I think any instructor can face is the indifference of a student.  In order to learn, a person has to want to learn.   Otherwise, there isn’t the motivation to put in the time and effort that is necessary to learn and grow.   People often bring their own obstacles to learning, both inside and outside of the class.   Scheduling, family and work obligations make up a good part of these obstacles, but the subtle problems of mental illness can be more challenging because they are obstacles we can’t directly see.

Accepting mental illness

The first hurdle with dealing with mental illness is bringing it out into the open.   It’s common for a person (not just students) to think that they are stupid, lazy, or incapable of focus when they have a mental illness.  One of the things that I like to emphasize is that brain and body are all one piece, they cannot exist without the other.

Aristotle should have been drowned after proposing mind-body duality.   You aren’t the ghost in the machine, you are the machine.   Get over it.

It makes no sense to tell a person with a broken foot that they “just need to try harder to run” or to call a diabetic lazy for not producing enough insulin.   The brain is a complex organ, and it can malfunction as well.  Our brain creates our sense of self,  so when there is a problem blame can get misplaced on the ‘mind’ rather than on a misfiring brain.   Too often mental illness is a disease that tries to tell you it isn’t a disease.   It is victim blaming at it’s worst, and misunderstanding outsiders will often reenforce that misconception with their own myopic judgements.

To these students:   stop shoulding all over yourself.   It’s messy to experience, and it is awkward to watch.   You can get help.  And to those others who think it is all a matter of willpower, or that they can “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” I would kindly invite you to piss up a rope.   Be supportive, or get out of the way.

Getting help

I know a lot of folks tend to think of treating mental illness as just taking medications.  Taking medications can feel foreign, like an admission of weakness, or a crutch.   Pharmaceuticals may be a step, but they are only part of a treatment.   Counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists use combinations of mindfulness, cognitive behavioral therapy and a host of other things to help a person overcome or work with their mental illness.

Medication may be part of ongoing treatment.   Just like a diabetic can’t produce enough insulin, there are times when you can’t produce enough (or produce too much) neurotransmitters or other hormones.   No shame is attached.

real courage

Teaching Needs

Again and again, patience isn’t just a virtue it is a necessity.  Remember that people under stress may act out in different ways.

Many students don’t know what they need in order to learn.   Standard scaffolding and reinforcement may not be enough to help students with special needs, but they also won’t hurt either.   Different students will have different needs… it seems self evident, but I find (some) teachers will keep pushing one tactic without exploring others.   Not all of students in a classroom have the same strengths.

ADD or ADHD and other executive function disorders:  often the instruction of “sit still and listen” is untenable.   One or the other is often the choice for these students.   Having something physical to do is often what is necessary to let them cope in class – this can be anything from chewing gum to tapping their fingers (quietly) against their leg.   Having a class notetaker is also very helpful, because these students especially will have difficulty following a lecture and taking meaningful notes.   If you have a quiet environment for testing, that can be helpful for these students.

Anxiety & Depression:  Combinations of stress, low-self esteem and guilt often send these students into a spiral.  So as much as possible, take the pressure off!   If you can soften deadlines it can remove some time pressure.   Praise is essential for these students.    I like to give them some easy exercises to begin with, to help them get started.   A little bit of forward momentum will really help these students.  Getting students to build their confidence (and over prepare) outside of class can also help during exams.

Dyslexia/Dyscalculia:   Dyslexia is often misunderstood as well as being misdiagnosed.   The classic notion of reversing letters or words isn’t accurate, it simply takes a longer time to process and parse information (and frequently bad behaviors of second guessing themselves is also reenforced).   Trying to take notes and understand what is going on can be incredibly difficult for these students.   If you can, arrange for a note taker, or allow the student to record lectures.     An additional trick is to limit the focus of the student:  too much input can get overwhelming, so while working an expression or equation I will block out all but the current step with a piece of paper.    Finally, where reading and symbolic manipulation may be difficult for students with dyslexia, you may find that they have good kinesthetic or verbal skills so you can show them how to “walk” and “talk” their way through a problem.

Often we see students get frustrated with repeating the same techniques over and over again.   If you have time, talk to them and get them to try different styles of problem solving.   Getting these students to work with their strengths is a win for them, and for the classroom.   It diversifies the problem solving methods that all of your students can use.

Attitude check…

There is a world of difference between the students who need help because of a mental illness and those who are failing because they don’t want to put in the work.   If a student complains that they aren’t getting the material, the first thing I ask is how much time they are putting in per week.   If the student is putting in 15-20 hours per week, then there may be a problem, and the student can get what they need.  Then there are the students who tell me “Oh, I dunno.  I spend an hour or two.”   Then they may complain that they have a learning disability.   ADD, depression and dyslexia can be overcome, but self-indulgent laziness are much harder to  deal with.    My ability to give a fuck is reserved for students who give a fuck about learning.

*grumblemumblelazyentitledgrumble*

So to all of my students:  the ultimate responsibility for learning rests with you.   I will work with you, but you have to be willing to work.

Mental illness is very real, but don’t let that stop you.

Rage is better than coffee

Teaching is one of those professions that will take as much time as you can give it.    Unless you are perfect about managing your time, it is near impossible for teaching not to intrude into other parts of your life…   and the rest of your life will demand attention too.    Grading, making new lessons, answering emails, then scheduling time with family and friends.  *

Sleep isn’t always the top priority, which makes coffee is an important part of my day.   Certain types of problems require coffee to solve.   The real thing that will wake you up though?  Rage.

I made the mistake of typing “feminism” into the search bar of YouTube.  Half of the links were criticizing, lambasting, or parodying feminism.  They ranged from stupid rants laced with contempt and sexism, to slick productions with misleading statistics.   A few of the others (from the feminist perspective) also included some good arguments, but there were catharsis seekers there as well.    If you want rage, try it yourself.   Type in your favorite topic:  vaccines and autism, teaching evolution in schools,  women’s rights… there will be someone there saying horrible things.

Outrage will wake you up.  **

There are other things that will wake you up as well.   Teachers, you know those students who should be classified as an allergen because everything they do is an irritant?   What happens when one of these students makes a statement like “I could teach this class.”

Thinking isn't your strong suit.Set aside the fact that the student may barely pass.   Set aside the classroom disruptions they cause.   What goes through my head: You think you could teach this class?   Let me tell you about what teachers do:   we are subject matter experts.  That means that we know multiple ways to do most types of questions that you know one way to do.   Can you, on the fly, come up with example questions that work, that are progressively more challenging, and lead 30+ people with different backgrounds and understanding to learn?   Can you set aside personal crises, family and personal illnesses, and other worries, in order to teach effectively?   Do you think that you can work a 10 hour day before trying to energize a group of people? Are you capable of disciplining someone your own age or older?  How about remembering 75 student names, what their specific challenges are, and have a sense of what they collectively and individually need to succeed in class (and in the next class)?  Who has child care and work issues that impact their attendance?  Who needs individual attention?  Can you maintain a balance of a fun and functional class while not being overly disciplinary?  How are you cat herding skills?  Do you want to be on call on your days off to answer student questions?  Do you want to work a second part time job to survive while you do this?  Do you have the fucking credentials to teach a discipline like math?

If you can, do, because there aren’t enough of us.   If you can’t, then shut the fuck up about what you think you know.

Grumble grumble entitled ignorant grumble  grumble…  ***

 

* The people I love get the majority of my free time.   I don’t mind this, but it does mean that I rarely get time alone.

** You may also despair for humanity.  The thing that gets me is that people don’t WANT to hear the other side.   If more folks worked on having a dialogue instead of creating a chasm between the two points of view I think we would have a much nicer world.   Not a perfect world, but certainly a nicer one.

*** By the time I have posted this, Spring Break will be here, and I will be much more relaxed.

Life Lessons

There is something sad about finals.   I’m proud of my students, they have worked hard, and (mostly) pulled through.   It hurts when I see a student struggle or fail… but I know that I can’t learn for them.   At best I can put the tools in their hands, and hope.

Always respect a woman with a knife

Some lessons hurt more than others, but, hey… it beats the alternative.   I think I’m going to share some of the life lessons that I have learned over the years.   Soooo, in no particular order:

  • Don’t die.   Every other “rule” is just a suggestion.
  • Failure will teach you more than success will.
  • Being intelligent, smart, and wise are different things.
  • Always respect a woman with a knife.   (Corollary:  assume all women are armed)
  • Pay rent first.
  • Never ask a question if you can’t take no for an answer.
  • Do you feel like the universe owes you something?  Congratulations, you exist.  The rest is up to you.
  • Avoiding all risks isn’t wisdom,  it rather connotes cowardice.  (Corollary:  takings risks isn’t bravery, it is better to learn WHEN to take risks.)
  • Information will fix ignorance.   Only death cures stupidity.
  • Being smart is not enough.   You need to work too.   Understanding people is also helpful.
  • Isn’t it funny how “God’s Will” or “God’s Judgement” coincides with that of the speaker?
  • Listen to your partner.   They are probably looking out for either your interest, or theirs (and both should be important to you).
  • There is no such thing as a right without a corresponding responsibility.
  • “No” is a good answer.   If a person is capable of telling you “no”, it validates their ability to say “yes”.
  • Ignorance is uncomfortable.
  • Two things that everyone thinks they are good at, and everyone needs to practice:  communication and sex.
  • Being nice is not the same as being good.  (Corollary:  it’s important to know when being good means not being nice).
  • Laugh at yourself.
  • Survive long enough to live again.

 

Some lessons are still in progress… but these are generally what I try to live by.

I’ve had some fantastic teachers in my life, I also need to thank them:  Sharon (my Mom, my best teacher, and my hero) , Maurice and Helen (my grandfolks), Sarah (best described as “partner in crime”),  Tim (one of the funniest Vulcans you could ever meet),  Kirsten (who is still actual size, but seems much bigger),  Heather (I’m sorry, still),  Selina (who keeps me around for some reason),   also Hillary,  Bonnie, Dr. Mary Ellen Ryder, Dr. Andrea Dobson, Bob Firmann,  Evan Ewalt, and more amazing people than I can possibly name.

I would be a poor student if I didn’t try to pass it on.

So tag.  You’re it.

Finals Week Playlist 11

Winter quarter is almost done, bringing with it a nice big pile of … grading … to deal with.

After some years of grading you might think that it would be easier.   While the methods I choose to grade by have improved, there remains an emotional toll.  It is hard to see people make mistakes, especially after having instructed, showed example after example,  showed the internal logic, and finally demonstrated tricks to make the work easier.

Rather that unleashing a tidal wave of red ink,  I find that grading to horror or disaster movies seems to put context to the disasters I regularly see on paper.    Or, there is always some lovely music to relieve the aggressions.

So here is my finals week playlist for Winter 2015!   A mix of some classics of aggressive industrial music, nerdy music, and some just plain fun music.   For some reason that Kooks song always makes me think of a teacher testing a student… and I do hate true or false questions.

  • Combichrist – What the fuck is wrong with you
  • The Kooks – Naive
  • Hard n Phirm – Trace Elements
  • Saliva – Ladies and Gentlemen
  • Dr Horrible on the Rise
  • Sia – Acedemia
  • Apocolyptica – Fade to Black
  • Imagine Dragons – Radioactive (for one of the best videos ever!)
  • Melissa Ferrick – Drive  (because Spring break isn’t all about class prep)
  • Dan le sac vs Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill

 

Finals, here we come.