And you thought being a student was hard...

Before my time as a Communication professor at Ivy Tech, I spent many years doing corporate and organizational training. When I decided to become an instructor, I thought it couldn't be much different from what I did for companies. Boy, I couldn't be more wrong! Although I'd never tell my students, I learn more from them than they will ever learn from me!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Why Isn't Napping 101 Offered?

I can't believe the Fall semester is here. I just got done complaining about Summer session, which was the semester from hell, I must say. I haven't had time to recover! I'm not ready! We have new textbooks, so I need new lecture notes! I want to teach Napping 101!

Okay, the beginning of semester whine is out of my system. Seriously, though, summer semester did me in, and with such a short break (10 days!) between semesters, I just don't feel ready. It didn't help that my plague rat, I mean, oldest son, brought home a stomach bug the day before classes started. I at least made it until Monday night, and as I have Tuesdays off, was able to moan in my bed without guilt, but I would have had to cancel classes on Tuesday if I had them. I was that sick.

So, the semester is off to a shaky start, but I like my classes so far, and I love the new text book. I'll be spending all of Labor Day weekend getting caught up on everything for the semester, but then I think it will be smooth sailing.

Okay, don't laugh so hard.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Difference in Students

Someone asked me about a previous post where I said that I love teaching summer session, as the students are so much better, if there really, truly was a difference in students based on the semester. Ask anyone who has taught for a couple of years (or longer) and I think they will agree. Here is the general break-down:

Fall Semester Students: A little bipolar. There's a newness, a freshness to Fall that can't be replicated any other time of the year. Most (although obviously not all) had the summer off. They have fresh new notebooks, pencils, backpacks, and attitudes. Nothing but positive feelings and optimism for a successful semester. After about a month, reality has set in and here is where we see a student's "true" student personality. This point in time is a big drop out point for new freshmen. College is a lot harder than they had realized. The students who are left divide into two categories: first are your hard-core students. These are your suck ups, your perfectionists, you high work ethics, and those who have been monetarily threatened by the school, government or parents. They follow the rules, get things done on time, if not ahead of time, ask lots of questions for clarification, and are mostly A and B students. Second are your "other" students. They are still in your class for other reasons than getting something out of it - like they need to pass to stay on their parents' insurance, they have to be enrolled full-time to get student loan money, it's a required course and it's their last semester, or for other reasons even I can't fathom. These students are all over the board grade-wise, but most if not all of your Ds and Fs will be from this group.

Spring Semester Students: There are far fewer new students, so you pretty much know from the get-go which category everyone falls in: hard-core or other. The one catch: no one is feeling particularly new and shiny and optimistic. Even your most dedicated students are feeling cranky, uninspired and burned out before we even get to Spring Break. In general, I do notice that the end of semester is a bit easier in the spring than the fall - warmer weather, longer days, and the promise of summer break seems to help. Overall, though, this is probably the most level semester of the three.

Summer Semester Students: Although some take summer courses because they think it will be easier (only half the amount of time must mean half the amount of work!), but most students have been advised that summer sessions are more intense. Those who were ill-informed drop within the first week, two at the most. The rest of the students fall into that hardcore category. They are working on getting ahead in their education and are willing to do the extra work the summer session requires. This is the easiest group to teach. Most of my summer classes consist of A and B students. Because I know, for the majority, I'm going to get a good crop of students, they also have a tendency to be my guinea pigs for new assignments, papers, and projects. We have such a good rapport that they aren't afraid to tell me if something doesn't work.

Obviously this formula doesn't apply to every class every semester. Some classes are better, some classes are worse, regardless of the semester. This is a just a generalized pattern. It happens often enough, however, that I plan my schedules accordingly. I always wait a little longer to put semester-long groups together in the fall than I do spring or summer, as it takes a little while to weed out those who aren't going to make it. In spring, I schedule extra "break" time with assignments that revolve around movies or TV shows we watch in class. It helps to break up the monotony of my voice lecturing, especially when they're too burned out for much discussion. And, as mentioned, I use summer to try out new things.

It may be more correlation than causation, but I'm willing to work with it either way!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My Poor Nerves!

Okay, I admit it. I'm a worrier. My mom is the queen of all worriers, and I think I've picked up a few of her worrying traits. Case in point: this summer session.

We're three weeks into the semester. I'm prepping my f2f IC students for their group projects due at the end of the semester. I have been filming little snippets of info and posting it on youtube for my online Public Speaking students (which, by the way, has had a tremendous impact on the quality of the speeches) and I'm completely caught up on grading, sometimes even a little ahead by grading students' work as it comes in before it is due.

In other words, this semester is running smoothly, and it's driving me crazy!

I have a lot on my plate this summer, and so I spent an enormous amount of time ensuring I was prepared for it, purposefully scheduling a little time every day to work instead of large blocks of time several times a week. Besides the normal beginning of semester issues (late registration, no shows who aren't no shows, technical issues in the classroom, etc.), these first three weeks have been Zen-like and peaceful.

I can't take it any more.

I feel like I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. I'm waiting for Blackboard to crash and delete everything. I'm waiting for a student to get uppidty and cause problems in a class. I'm waiting to fall so far behind in grading that I'm paying crazy money to baby-sitters for a week to get caught up. By this point every semester (whether an 8-week or 16-week course), things have begun to unravel. All of my careful planning has been shot all to hell. Real life would be getting in the way. Those experiences, however, have taught me to have back-up plans, hard copies of everything, and a good coffee maker for late-night grading jail sentences.

All of this hard work, and I think I've spooked myself.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

It's Been Too Long

You know that it's been a rough semester when you go this long between blogs. I think I'm just now ready to sit down and blog about teaching again. When you work that hard and every day seems to be consumed with papers and tests and grading and whiny students, blogging about it all just seems to be like too much like work!

I'm currently in the second week of the summer session. I had to really organize this summer, as I got screwed into an overload (don't even get me started) and have to plan and run the theatre summer camp. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise to be this busy - I've never been better at my job. I've streamlined everything, I've enforced grading time, even when I have nothing to grade, and I am more proactive at reaching out to my students.

There are some changes happening at school. Lots of initiatives that are making waves in all decisions. For the most part, I think they are all good, but like any change, there will be some growing pains. I have some decisions I need to make myself. Not too much on it for now, but in a later post, I will pro/con the issues. The longer I'm with my school, the more I love it and the more I hate it. I guess whenever your career involves something of passion, and teaching truly is a passion, then a love/hate relationship is to be expected.

I've been lucky this summer in that my classes really seem to be enjoying the classes. I know a lot of instructors who hate to teach summers, but I love it. These are (usually) the students who are trying to get ahead, not wanting to wait that extra semester to graduate. They are motivated. Plus, they are usually only taking 2 classes, so their attention isn't as divided. Already this semester, my students have made me laugh out loud on a regular basis. You know, despite everything that has happened, I really think it's going to be a great summer!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Where is my syllabus for my life?

Whew! Things have gotten crazy this semester! After I got back from a fabulous girls only Spring Break, everyone and everything needed my undivided attention.

So you can see why it took a little while to get back to my blogs!

Besides catching up on grading (which, I swear, next semester there will be one test with one multiple choice answer that will determine their whole grade!), I started two 8-week courses, have had meetings galore in Indy, loads of family things, and now I'm at the CSCA (Central States Communication Association) conference in Cincinnati. It's sad that it took a conference for me to be able to take a moment to myself and blog!

I've been making a lot of noises at my school about changes that need to be made. However, I'm one of those people that not only makes noises, but offers solutions and is willing to do the work it takes to get it done. That's starting to bite me on the ass big time now. I'm over-committed and over-whelmed. In less than four week, though, it will all be over and I can relax - until June!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dear God, I Need Spring Break!

It has been a rough couple of weeks. After the blitz of trying to get everything together for applying to the ISU PhD program, I had hoped to be able to relax a little.


I had a conference presentation proposal to type up and submit (which meant doing some research first!), get everything together for a passport, do some committee work, plan my vacation (Fort Lauderdale, baby!), catch up on grading, oh, and see my family.

I just need to get through today and tomorrow, then I am Spring Break bound. I'm not actually leaving for Florida until Wednesday, but that's okay. Until then, not only can I pack, but I can get all grading caught up and sent off, prep the two 8-week courses I will be picking up the week after Spring Break, and get my house and family ready for me to be gone for a week. That's right, they are not coming with me to Florida. My girlfriend and I are going, sans husbands and children, to lay in the sun and have NO responsibilities of any kind.

As I have warned all of my students that I will be MIA until the Thursday after Spring Break (I only have class and office hours on Thursday and Friday this semester, and I'm taking advantage of it!), I am getting bombarded with last minute questions. I do online tests, even for my f2f classes, and they are due before class the week after we get back, and there's always someone who is panicked. I did tell them that if something with BB happened, I would be checking in at least once a day to reset tests or fix any major problems, but I would not respond to emails or questions that could wait until we got back. Doesn't seem to be lessening the questions or panic, though.

Do they not understand that Spring Break is just as much for Faculty (if not more so!) as it is for students?!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Need to Study - Would Rather Blog!

And this is why I decided to take the GRE sooner rather than later. I always work myself up into a frenzy, stressing about how I'm going to do. I've taken a couple of practice tests, and I always test in the mid- to upper- 600s in verbal and 700s in math. I know a score in the 1300s should get me into ISU's PhD programs, especially as I already have an MA and got a 4.0, and Ivy Tech has a deal with ISU.

But. Still.

I guess I'm a worrier at heart. I know I'm a perfectionist. This time tomorrow, I'll be testing away, glad it's finally over. Glad to have this part over and done with.

So I can stress about the next part - getting admitted! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I can't believe I'm going to do this

After my insiteful conversation with my husband on Tuesday, I've spent the past two days re-mapping my five year plan. (You have a five-year plan, don't you? Hmmm, I see a new blog topic...) I have decided to take advantage of Ivy Tech's "deal" with Indiana State University and get a PhD in Education Administration.

I know it might seem obvious to most people that someone who works at a college would automatically want to go and get a PhD. But they would be wrong. There are many colleages where I work very content with their job and their Master's degree with no desire to continue their education. We live, breathe, and eat education every day, and it's exhausting. Trying to get a degree while doing that is very difficult, and often takes a very long time. One or two people have gone on sabbatical to get it done, but I'm not high enough up on the food chain to even broach that topic.

My mom was a bit surprised that I wasn't getting a PhD in communication. It's true, I had been holding out on making the big decision until I knew exactly which PhD I wanted, and for a while, there, communication was in the lead. However, there are two big factors that stand in the way. One, I would have to commute to a university in Chicago that offers it (and pay out-of-state tutition, shudder) or travel down to West Lafayette on class days. It's doable, but the commuting time would be hard on my family. Two, if I got a PhD in communication, I would be setting myself on the road to teach (and/or research) communication until I retired. I love the idea of doing nothing but research, but I know I don't want to teach until I'm in my 60s or 70s. I really do want to get into administration.

Some of my biggest complaints with how our school is run stem from the fact that many of our decision-making members were never instructors. How can they possibly know what we really need if they've never been in a classroom on the other side of the desk? As I move up into administration, I will be the advocate that faculty members so badly need. We don't have a voice in a lot of decisions that affect our day-to-day job. It will make a difference to have a Provost, Vice Chancellor, Chancellor, or even Preseident who once taught. I'm not sure I would ever make it up that high the chain (or if I would even want to), but how ever high up I go, I would have the ear of those above me in hopes of influencing.

So, based on research of current job openings and the types of PhDs these types of jobs prefer, Education Administration it is. So, I'm off to study for the GRE. :\

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

So Many Conferences, So Little Time

Since I feel as if I have my feet under me this semester, I have begun looking into associations and conferences within my field, communications. I joined the National Communication Association, and the local chapter, the Central States Communication Association.

Now, I'm going to admit to something that will probably make me seem like a big dork, but I love conventions. I have presented at quite a few, I've relaxed and just attended some, and every time, I've met fun people and learned something. I know a lot of my colleagues go to these because of the unwritten rule to be a part of these types of things in order to be promoted or achieve tenure. I've seen more people asleep at these things then in my most boring of classes. For me, though, it's an opportunity to meet people who know who Kenneth Burke is, or what the Social Exchange Theory means. I love my family and friends, and I wouldn't trade them in for anything, but this is a part of my life that they don't know much about - it's not their passion. I have some friends in the Comm department, sure, but we often teach classes at the same time, so we don't often get to see each other.

One things no one ever discusses is how lonely being a college instructor can be. Professors are very contradictory. We enjoy getting up in front of a group and lecturing, talking to dozens of people a day, constantly interacting. However, we also enjoy solitude. Closing that office door, bolting from the building as quickly as possible to avoid talking to another person. Maybe it's because we have to be "on" all the time, which takes a lot of energy, that we need that quiet, alone time just to recharge. Maybe I just work with a bunch of moody, antisocial people. ;)

Seriously, though, when you work in an office, you see people come and go all the time. You can stop and chat, catch up on the watercooler gossip, discuss last night's American Idol results, listen to an officemate's latest dating disaster, or anything else that reminds you that you are more than just an employee - you're a person, too. As a professor, you are a teacher, first and always, to your students. Even if you offered, most wouldn't want to know you on a personal level. It blurs the lines.

To get back to the point of my post, it is for all of these reasons that I really like and really look forward to conferences. This year, I will be attending the regional conference in Cincinnatti in April and the national convention in San Fransisco in November. I did not submit any papers or proposals for presentations, as this is my first time attending both of these conventions. Once I know what they expect, I will put something in for next year.

This year, though, I'm looking forward to racking up the airline miles and just enjoying my time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Great Debate

My lovely husband took me out for a belated lunch today up in Chicago, giving us a good hour drive time each way to chat. I brought up the topic of moving into a full-time online, work-at-home career, just to test the waters with him. I've tossed it around before, but never seriously.

He didn't even flinch. "Okay, why would you want to leave Ivy Tech, a place you obviously love to work at, for something else, be it another job else where or working from home?"

All of my reasons came flying out. "I'd be more available to the boys for things, like when they're sick or they have a field trip. I'd be around more to keep the house clean and keep you motivated in your weight loss efforts. I would be able to dedicate time to research and possibly even pursuing that PhD I want so much, and I might even be able to do more writing, which makes me happy."

His calm reply, "So, what your saying is working from home allows you more flexibility and time?"


"And how many classes, at an adjunct pay scale, would you have to work to make up what you are making full-time at Ivy Tech?"

What a good question. I hadn't really crunched the numbers, I'd just been dreaming. While I was doing the math in my head (I swear, you could smell the smoke), he piped in, "And don't forget to add an increase to our insurance premium. We'll be getting our own coverage, and I doubt it's as good as what we've got with your school." Hmm, okay, might need to add another class for that. "And," he added, "don't forget to add in extra to go into a retirement fund, as you won't be receiving a pension any more." Wow, I really hadn't thought this through.

Finally, into the silence, I said, "Well, maybe ten or so."

"And how many do you teach now?"

"My required five plus one overload, so six." He didn't say another word. The math alone showed me how difficult it would be to cover costs, and then all that "precious time" I wanted would be used up in extra classes.

I hate it when he's right.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Meanest Professor EVER

I work very hard to be considered a mean professor. Why, do you ask? Wouldn't I want my students to like me? During my first post, I mentioned not liking many of my students. Needless to say, if I don't like them, I'm not all that keen on them liking me. Looking back at that blog, I think I was being too vague. Again, it's not the students themselves that I don't like, but their bad student behaviors and attitudes I don't like. What bad behaviors and attitudes, do you ask? hehe. Let me give you a short list.

Attendance problems
Sleeping in class
Not doing work
On cell phone (calling, texting, playing games) during class
On computer (for anything not involved with note-taking) during class
Not following directions correctly
Not reading all of the directions
Blaming the instructor for bad grades
Blaming problems at home, work, school, insert other person here, for bad grades
Asking stupid questions (and in college, there are stupid questions)
Talking to other students during lectures
Asking for a copy of the instructor's notes so they don't have to take notes
Begging for extra credit

And this is the short list! Add in the specialized complaints for public speaking or online courses, and there's not enough room on the internet to list them all.

I realized last year that, if I was tough up front in my syllabus and have no give during the first few weeks, many of the worst of the offenders weeded themselves out of the class. Then I could concentrate on the students who wanted to be there and learn.

My classes are fun. I use a lot of funny stories, most at my husband's expense, and refer to a lot of pop culture references to help make the dry theory more interesting. I am a work horse. Although there are lots of assignments, all of my tests are online (i.e. open book), and the small weekly assignments shouldn't take more than 30 minutes each. They are just meant to get you thinking about communication on a regular basis. On paper, though, it can look quite over-whleming.

Now, all of my expectations are clearly posted up front. I NEVER accept late work for any reason, I don't have excused or unexcused absences, after four absences, it's an automatic F (although I let the student who went into labor a few hours before class started have a freebie!), and if you engage in an disrespectful behavior, many of which are listed above, you will be asked to leave and will receive an absence for the day. A few small verbal corrections when the class starts to get disruptive, and it seems to be enough.

I've heard, form the students who do like me, that they had heard from students who failed or dropped my class that I was a bitch and should be avoided. These students who liked me, though, said that they saw, so long as they followed basic, and what should be obvious, class rules, I'm actually, dare I say it, easy! Four weeks into the semester, and my full to capicity classes are down 25% each, but those who have stayed are almost all getting As and Bs. It pays to be a bitch, even if it doesn't always feel natural.

Or, to paraphrase a famous frog, it's not easy being mean.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Meetings, meetings and more meetings

I have to say, I feel a little off this semester. Things have been running smoothly. My two f2f classes are fantastic, very responsive, having a lot of fun with the discussions. I'm also quickly weeding out those who don't want to work, but more on that in another blog! My online courses have also been moving quite swimmingly, although my online speech students can be frustrating. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. How is it my heart isn't racing in anxiety to get things done? Because everything is already done? How is that possible? Oh, yeah, only have to come in to work two days a week!

With the crazy snow hitting all of Indiana, we have had several meetings postponed, so now they are piling up! I have at least one meeting a week between committee meetings, spring in-services, and regional meetings. Whew! I know most people aren't big fans of meetings, but remember, I come from an organizational communication background. Even when bored, I have a tendency to internally break them down from a theory point of view. Keeps me on my communicative toes! Off to another meeting.

Friday, January 15, 2010

SPRING semester? Liars, all of you!

We had snow days last week during registration. It's cold outside, there's too much snow, and I'm here at home instead of in my office. Ah, work from home bliss.

The usual first week emails and paniced messages have already crossed my computer, but with so many less students, it doesn't feel so crazy. This is the first semester since I started that I was completely prepared by the first day. Once again, 2 of my 6 classes don't start until the second 8 weeks, but I'm okay with that. I feel like, since I know how crazy that will be, I will be much more prepared for the chaos.

I have a lot of committee meetings this semester, so I need to get working on getting subs for the classes I will miss while I'm down in Indy. Maybe it will be warmer 200 miles south of me? I swear, I'm going to start teaching full-time online and move to the Caymen Islands to work.

Friday, January 8, 2010

I'm soooooo happy to be back!

Although it was a shorter break between final grades last semester and late registration this semester (which we full-timers are required to work), I have got to say, I am so glad to be back. We had nonstop illness at our house. First the hubby was in the hospital to have two stents put into his heart (he's doing much better, thank you), then the four-year-old got pneumonia, requiring two trips to the ER, then the two-year-old became sick Christmas Eve with a cold and a wicked ear infection, and just as soon as he was on the mend, I came down with a crippling case of bronchitus, which, currently, I'm still suffering from. Ugh.

After a short break with only a few days of productive work, mostly on housecleaning and thinning out the sinful amount of toys my two boys own before refilling their playroom with all their new Christmas toys, coming to the office means having the peace and quiet of getting some work done. Whew.

Due to some administrative decisions, the powers that be have decided that they are capping online courses at 30 students (which they won't do for f2f classes for some money-grubbing, I mean, fiscally responsible reason), so less money in the paychecks, but less stress for the mind. I also scored a sweet schedule this semester - only teaching and having office hours on Thursday and Friday. Hot damn!

I'm really looking forward to the spring semester starting up next week. But, for this week, I'll clean up my office, get Blackboard up and ready for the new classes, and help some students register for classes.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Those Who Can't, Teach

Once the in-your-face pressures of teaching is done, I take the time to contemplate what it is I do, and what I'd like to do from here. Have you ever thought about teaching college? Do you wonder what it takes? Do you wonder if you have what it takes? Here's what this job really looks like, and what you need to do it.

First of all, to teach at a college level, you have to an advanced degree. Although, in very rare cases, you may be able to teach basic level courses, such as Intro to Writing, Intro to Reading, Basic Math, etc., with a Bachelor's degree, it is almost impossible to find even an adjunct position, and completely impossible for full-time positions. A Master's degree, at the minimum, is required with at least 18 credit hours of graduate work in the field you want to teach. Most community colleges are fine with just a Master's degree. Some 4-year colleges and universities will allow an instructor with a Master's degree and some teaching experience to teach 100- or 200-level courses, but unless you are in a PhD program, they often will not let you teach upper level undergraduate to graduate courses.

Once you have the education level down, some teaching, or in my case, training, experience is an additional requirement. Computer skills are a must, especially if you want to teach online.

So, you've accepted the challenge, you want to teach. In reality, here's what it will look like. First, after applying an interviewing, you'll probably have to give a presentation or teach a topic, usually chosen by the employer. Once you pass that, you will become an adjunct instructor.

What's an adjunct instructor (also called visiting instructor at some universities)? An adjunct is a part-time, offerred employment on a semester-by-semester basis. On the plus side, you get to decide which classes you'll teach and which ones you don't, you'll rack up lots of teaching experience, and you can work at multiple colleges. On the negative side, you're last to choose classes (full-timers first), no benefits, the pay sucks, hard to find work in the summer, and you often HAVE to work at multiple colleges to make enough to live on.

How long do you have to work as an adjunct in order to get promoted to full-time? That's a much harder question to answer. Are you willing to move, and to where? Is your school experiencing an enrollment increase, and do they have the money to open more full-time positions? What do you teach? I've heard of people who wanted full-time positions but couldn't move, so they ended up waiting years, 10 or more in some cases, before getting a full-time position.

How long was I an adjunct before I got a full-time position? I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but only one semester. I had the luck of starting as an adjunct at a new campus of Ivy Tech, worked 6 days a week (if you can call that luck) to show my dedication and willingness to do whatever it takes to get things done, and teach a subject (communication) that is a requirement and had no full-time instructor at that campus.

Because it is so odd to get a full-time position so quickly, I have worked really hard to make them grateful for choosing me over my more experienced colleagues. I took positions on two statewide committees, numerous region committees, became involved with on-campus activities, and brought new communication courses to our region.

In future posts, I'll talk more about the actual experience of teaching college. Everyone's experiences are different, so if you interview for a school, you'll want to talk to an instructor from that school, but some things, like whiny students and administrative decisions that make your life harder, seem to be pretty universal.

This job is not for someone with thin skin. It takes an ability to let things slide off your back, patience (as any change, good or bad, takes forever to happen), and a good sense of humor. Still interested?