Late edition Playlists

 

I’ve been out of touch for a while.   Quite a while… so here are some of the catch up videos I’ve been grading to for the past few quarters.

My winter quarter playlist was a little… angrier than some of my previous ones.   I blame the election.   Nothing like a Russian elected president to get my blood up.    This stuff is soothing to me.   Trust me.

 

Fall quarter was a little easier.   I was able to take some time to make a nice and easy playlist, with some old favorites along with some new ones.   I was much more optimistic.

 

 

More later…

Confrontations in the Classroom

Nobody likes confrontation, but confrontations happen.

Anytime that someone feels like they aren’t being heard, are being misunderstood or mistreated, or are feeling anger (righteous or otherwise) they may end up having words.   Students get stressed out from time to time, and will act out.   It doesn’t make it right, but it can be expected from time to time.

That much is understandable.

And…  confrontations can suck beyond the telling of it.  I’m a fairly together guy.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have triggers, and last quarter a student pulled one of mine.  The sad thing is he wasn’t even my student, he just kept barging into my class while we were still in session.   Trying to verbally denigrate me in front of my class doesn’t sit well.   I have had students escalate violently before.  Yes, I have been assaulted in my classroom (during a final exam, no less).

My adrenaline gland is a big jerk.   It reacts much faster than my conscious mind can act.

Which means that (in this instance) I got to teach my next class while trying to manage an anxiety attack.   Not my best teaching experience ever.

Intellectually, it is easy to remember how to deal with confrontations:   stay calm,  listen,  and try appealing to reason (or even emotion) before resorting to authority.   That being said, when your brain starts reacting, you need to give yourself a moment to assess the situation and recognize your own state before proceeding.   Don’t ignore your instincts, because they have kept the species alive!   But those instincts don’t care about false positives (most classroom arguments are not, thankfully, life threatening).

There are also people like to work in the world confrontationally.   They come off as aggressive, but they don’t mean to be assholes.  Believe it or not, these people can be some of your best students – if you can handle them right.   Here is what can work:   (1) Do NOT meet them head on, this will only make them blow up and it gets uncomfortable in a hurry.   If you move closer and turn down your personal volume, they are forced to lower their own in response, and spend a bit more effort in listening.  (2)  Once they are done with a diatribe, use Socratic questions.   They are unlikely to respond to information or reason from outside themselves.  So ask them questions that will lead their thinking into challenging themselves.  And finally (3) these folks are rarely “all attack, all the time” so you may want to have a chat with them about how to behave in a classroom,  or how to choose their language more carefully.

These students will often come back and apologize when they realize they have been disrespectful or disruptive.    Some things are harder to teach than others, as much as I hope that people will learn to be thoughtful and reasonable.

I just can’t fix stupid.

(But I will make fun of it)

Making a Difference

I recently posted about my disappointment in our recent election.   Chagrin may be a more apt term… inside a week, I went from supremely confident that we were going to elect the first female president in American history, and instead we received Donald Trump.

On one hand, I want to wash my hands of responsibility and say that America is getting what it deserves.

Except…

Except that we deserve better, and it is partially our fault.   Complacency and indifference helped lose this election.   Not listening has disenfranchised a huge portion of the country.    The underlying problems belong to all of us.

The difficulty at this point is in determining why and how to make a difference.

“Why” is an important question to ask.  Are you deciding to act out of a feeling of guilt?   Like I said, a great deal of responsibility rests on all of us.   I know that I feel guilty about not having done more sooner, but that shouldn’t be why I want to act now.   Our motivations should stem not from fear or guilt, but from responsibility and love.   And protect the people we love and the planet we share.

The next question is “how.”   I advocate three things:  protect yourself and your loved ones welfare, empower the press, and take your actions beyond your circle.   First, there is a heightened sense of threat everywhere.   Some of that are bigots and bullies who feel like they have been vindicated.   Be safe, steer clear, and report whatever you can.   I hate to bring it up, but saving money will also be key because the establishment has promised to dismantle our safety nets.

Next, we need to have an active and empowered press.   Journalism is supposed to shine a spotlight on the ugly parts of the world so we can make it better.   Unfortunately, we have switched to many unofficial news sources.   If you can afford it, buy some news subscriptions or donate to NPR.   Rather than repost “Cracked” and “Huffington Post” articles (where articles are not necessarily fact checked, and editorial standards are lax) try “The Atlantic”, “New York Times” and “Washington Post”.

Lastly, give to people and places that will need it and can make a difference.   The issues that I can see forthcoming are women’s reproductive rights,  church/state separation issues (especially in schools), and protecting minorities.

Here are the charities that I recommend:

Don’t act because you feel guilty.   But don’t be silent, and don’t be complacent.   Comforting yourself by saying “we survived W, we can survive this” isn’t much comfort for the millions that face violence, deportation, conversion therapy, or whatever else is coming.

Raise your voice, be heard, and keep making the changes we need.

Extraordinary People

Like a lot of realists, I get called a cynic a lot.  I see the darker side of human nature, and while I have a good sense of humor, many folks think my sense of humor can be pretty grim.

So I decided to post today about my extraordinary people.   Students, teachers, mentors, and friends.    I have too many to list comfortably in a single post, so I’ll need to come back to this topic.   Today, I would like to focus on extraordinary students.

  • J___ was a single father who I taught several years back.   He had previously had some run-ins with the law but was trying to put his life together again.   During the time I taught him,  he worked hard and kept up with his school work.   There were times he had to leave class early to care for his young son, and he was incredibly apologetic for this.   He also lost his home midway through the term.   He arranged for more time on the shelter computer to finish his schoolwork, and completed the course.    He was very dedicated to completing his schooling so he could be a better person and father.
  • S___ was a woman who was brilliant and bullied because she was pretty.   Easily one of the most intelligent students I’ve had the pleasure of helping, many of her classmates mistreated her.   To my knowledge, she never said an unkind word about anyone.
  • Another student, J___ was a single mom and was fairly math-phobic.   She worked over 100 extra credit hours in a single quarter, aced every single exam and homework assignment, and continued to do this for the rest of her college career.  As I understand it, she is currently pursuing a degree in math.

In addition to which, there are the hundreds of students who were working for degrees after hours, making better lives for themselves and their families.   Some only needed my class to finish their degree, many moved on to bigger and brighter things.

To all of my amazing and wonderful students:   I am proud of you.   You make my job worthwhile.

 

I am Human

I’m taking the high road, but it isn’t easy.

To start with, I’m frightened, I’m angry, and I’m unhappy.   The United States just elected Donald Trump as president.  More than ever, I feel that America is on the wrong side of history.   We elected a fear-mongering demagogue who has promised to take away the right to marry for gays, has promised to block entrance for all Muslims, and had said that he will build a wall.  He even promised to take away our health care.  He is trying to take away all the hard-won progress that we have made over my lifetime.

No.

I fear that we are taking the next steps to an authoritarian state.  And if/when this new state asks me, I will call myself Muslim, or atheist, or Latino, or gay… If you come after any of us, you will find me standing with you.   My hands may shake, but I’m with you.

I will admit, I’m scared as hell.   “American” is not a label I wear with pride today, but I am HUMAN.   I will stand with reason, decency, and human rights.

I will fight for LGBTQ rights.

I will fight for religious freedom.

I will fight for women.

I will fight for humans to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of national origin.

I will tear down your wall as fast as you can build it. 

I will build up the minds and hearts of students so they can fight this fight themselves.

Donald Trump does not stand for me.   I STAND FOR ME.  I will continue trying to be a voice for dignity when the rest of the country seems to have lost its mind.  Not for me, America the ugly/racist/misogynistic.   I will stand with blacks, Latinos, women, gays, Muslims, atheists, and all those people that Americans have voted against tonight.

Just because America has lost it’s mind, doesn’t mean that I have lost my heart.

Election Fatigue

I have been absent from my blog for a while.   There are a few reasons:   first, my scheduled writing time went away.   Also, every time I sit down to read and write I find myself assaulted with such awful discourse that it becomes too difficult to write.   I was tired of this election over a year ago… I even wrote an open letter to Donald Trump.

Part of being a teacher is trying to think and talk logically, offer other points of view, and teach others to think critically.   I have had no end of opportunities to do that over the past year.    But I am so tired… separating my personal feelings from my professional life.

My predictions:   if Hillary Clinton wins, there won’t be big changes.   Her main crime in most people’s minds is that she is a centrist.   If Trump wins, I think that good people will try to keep him from starting world war 3, and that his name will be attached to the “Trump Depression.”    But I won’t have to worry for my safety… mostly because I am a white man.   People of different color, faith, and women all would have to deal with a culture that will shift (quickly or slowly) to someplace hostile towards them.   I will keep fighting for critical thinking and reason regardless.

Whatever the outcome, the election will be done soon.   There will be fallout, but hopefully there will be room for more civil discussion.    Yes, that seems like a lot to ask.  I know that “civil” is not something that I can expect after the trajectory of this election, but I can hopefully stop the monitoring of this awful election.

In the meantime, I hope to be back to more regular postings soon.

Old Hat Tricks

I like to say that I have a Velcro brain, in that stuff tends to stick to it.  Being an experienced teacher, I find that I haven’t lost my enthusiasm for teaching, but I can focus more on it now that I have a complete-ish library of teaching materials.   I also have a regular venue for airing some of the stranger or frustrating pieces of teaching so it doesn’t stick around to haunt me…

There is a familiarity that comes with teaching when you have been doing it for a while.   It is simultaneously very comfortable, and a great deal of fun.   I have been teaching for about 6 years now, and I it is still the best and most rewarding work I have found.

Fall quarter brings this out of me especially.   It is the start of a new academic year and students are filled with hope and optimism, so I get to encourage their passion for learning.    More and more, I find that I have my tools for helping people learn.   Keeping my class entertained and engaged keeps them asking questions.  I can keep them coming back, and knowing that they have a safe community where they can get support.

I will admit that I watched other teachers struggle with burnout, and I wondered if that was where I was headed.   At least for this term, the answer is no… I love teaching too much, and I’m too damn good at it.

 

Also:  even though “Summer break” is fun to have (my classes unexpectedly canceled… welcome to the life of an adjunct!) I have missed teaching, blogging, and Zeus help me, I’ve even missed grading.

It’s good to be back to school.    Does anybody know of any Back-To-School tattoo deals?

Midterm Misanthropy, Spring Edition!

Spring term is wearing on, in more ways than one.

At the beginning of the school year in Fall, both students and teachers have a lot of ideas and a lot of energy.   A little bit of time takes the shine off of those lofty ideas, and after months and months of schoolwork (of varying quality) and low sleep a summer vacation seems like a wonderful plan.

Summer break is still weeks away for us though.   Students are getting tired, and so am I.  There are some issues that come up in every class.  For example, no matter how well thought out my lessons or exercises, some students seem to want to learn by osmosis rather than practice.  It is also an ongoing frustration when I have to remind some of my students that they are in college, and I expect adult levels of work (and communication).

Change isn’t easy so I have some helpful, if non-conventional ways of helping my students to learn.

  • I would like to have obituary announcements for my recently deceased red pens.    “Sadly, it was killed mid-test by a gang of rogue students bent on free expression in mathematics.”
  • Some students have trouble doing the reading.   I think having a set of stocks with a reading shelf could be a nice addition to the classroom.
  • Many students will turn in their homework on pages torn from spiral notebooks, with ragged messy edges.   I think lighting the edges on fire to remove the mess would be appropriate.   Although this brings up an etiquette question:   do scorch marks on homework send the right message to the student?
  • I think a small black hole would be nice for class, especially for students who don’t show their work.   Spaghettification is educational, isn’t it?

 

spagettification

I will not kill my students and wear their skin.   I will not kill my students and wear their skin.   I will not kill my students and wear their skin…

Procrastination Station

I suppose I could apologize for being out of commission for the past month… but I don’t feel particularly guilty about letting this slide for a while.   Life has been busy, and I’m finally starting to see my way through to easier and better times.

I’ve missed my blog though.   This has been a weekly outlet for years.   Sooo…. what has been on my mind this week?

Procrastination.

Not original, I grant you.   So much has been said about procrastination, what is destructive about it and how to quit doing it.   I want to pause and consider procrastination though in a more positive light.

Most people could use a bit more time to relax in their life, and putting things off (however important) can give your brain a break.   Much of our life (especially in American culture) is built around some intense or non-realistic work-ethics:   work/study long and hard so you can achieve… whatever.    The downside of this is immediate.   Somehow, self-care turns into a selfish act.

Lazarus-long-Quote-2

Leisure and downtime are necessary,  in moderation.

When the pressure to return to work does take over, it also forces people to prioritize what is important.   “Don’t sweat the small stuff” may sound trite, but it is useful to trim the excess details.   Pressure can lead to some breakthroughs, although not always obviously.   What did you consider important in those last minutes?   What could you have done better?  Smoother?  How could you streamline your work for next time?

The problem that many people have isn’t in the act of taking some time away, but in our emotional reaction to our work.   Not every project is do-or-die, and feeling guilty about not working every free moment isn’t something that leads to making more progress on personal/professional goals.  There are minimum standards that you have to meet, but those are going to depend on your own life and needs.

So why do I bring this up on my teaching blog?

I bring it up because all students procrastinate to some degree or another.   I don’t believe a perfect student exists, nor a perfect teacher.   It is okay if a student can only squeak by on a topic or two because they needed to have more fun playing hooky for a while.   It is also okay if teachers don’t hand back student work immediately or reuse some old lesson plans because they needed to catch up on sleep (or playing hooky  for a while).

Just remember that when the dust settles, you have some things that you should learn from your procrastination.   Was it worth it?   What should your priorities be?   Did you enjoy getting back into the swing of things, or did you fantasize about never needing to do that again?   What are your real responsibilities?

My answer:  yes it is worth it.  My priorities:  family, career, and the pursuit of evil.

Now go forth and kick some ass.  In your own time, naturally.

 

P.S.   My priorities are rarely about editing and polishing this blog.   :p

Mid-Term “adventures”

This post today has very little to do with teaching.  Just some reflections…

You know how things rarely happen one at a time in your life?   One problem? Okay, that is easy enough.  But let’s see how much you can take …   Life happens.   And sometimes life happens really, really hard.

Let me back up a bit.

A few things are happening.  Like moving, doing taxes, and getting sick.

Moving is a painful chore.   First there is the joy of sorting through all of your belongings, packing them up, and staging them for hauling.   Add to that scheduling moving vehicles and storage, overbearing landlords, friends who can’t help (legitimately), and the continuous processes of not having the right size boxes and losing your strapping tape.

Stressed yet?   Oh hey, have you done your taxes?   Show up to the tax prep place, take all of your documents… and wait for two hours.   You decide to run some errands while you wait, and end up getting locked out of your car.   Fun times.

Then there is illness…  Getting sick as a teacher is different than in other types of jobs.   In other jobs, you can call in sick, go to the doctor and get useful drugs, sit at home drink tea and binge-watch old TV shows.  Maybe you need to answer a call from work.

As a teacher, you call in sick, write lesson plans for a sub, check your emails to monitor whether your students have gone crazy or if you need a new sub.  Then you write more lesson plans, and answer emails.  Maybe that evening you can watch some TV, but only after you have written the rubrics for your assignments, because you will have an avalanche of grading waiting for you when you get back.

Getting really sick… is scary, regardless of your profession.   Your body doesn’t feel right.  No matter how excellent and professional the doctors are, it is still frightening.   I’m a mathematician by trade, so I understand statistics and appreciate a good explanation about relative versus absolute risk.  There is no such thing as risk free.  And I also know that in an individual case (like… mine), there it isn’t a 90% success chance… it will be either 0 or 100%. That is all.  And still most of my brain wants to take care of my students, as well as wants to reassure my friends and loved ones that I’m fine.

Not freaking outSo… I’m working on crisis lesson plans, as well as other contingency plans.   There are parts of me that want to be reassured by my loved ones that everything will be alright, because… fuuuuu….

I want to play hooky and binge watch scary movies.

I may do that while I pack.