This blog is to give the instructor's perspective on the college experience - so if you have questions or need advice - post a comment and I will try to get back with you within 48 hours.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Old Double Standard Two-Step - Shall We Dance?

The old double-standard is alive and well on college campuses. Only this time it’s the students that are bringing ‘it’ with them. As a former business professional now teaching business and computer classes it always comes as a shock to me that students mistake professionalism in a female instructor with being cold-hearted. On the one hand, as one of the activists in the women's rights movements (especially in the workplace) I have had to learn to control my emotions in order to be taken seriously by my male associates or boss. Heaven forbid that I should cry in front of anyone, this would be taken for weakness and any chance for promotion would have gone right out the window.

My male colleagues are rarely criticized for their 'heartlessness'. They are criticized for being 'unfair' but rarely for anything as touchy-feely as “he didn’t care about me.” Frankly, the students don’t expect to be loved by their male instructors, and often the students don’t even expect to be respected by him. Recently I sat in on a male colleague’s class in which he stopped to berate a student who was late for the second time. He would brook no explanations or excuses and even used a little unsavory language. I just knew that student would march straight to the office and complain about the harsh treatment; instead the student meekly apologized after class was over. There were no sulky looks from the other students as they sat and planned the mean remarks they would write in the instructor’s evaluations – life went on as if nothing had been said. I know that if I had done that same thing and used the same language, that my students’ would have universally resented the treatment; the late offender might have left and reported me immediately. From a woman, it would have been shocking - and words like “she provided a hostile environment” would be observed. From a man, well that’s just the way men are, right?

So what’s the difference? It’s expectations.

Just in case, this wasn’t really about men versus women instructors - I asked to see the comments from both males and female instructors and marveled at the differences in the language used in describing effective male instructors and effective female instructors.

Comments like “really knew his stuff” and “applied the rules equally to everyone” for men.
For women: “really went the extra mile to make me feel comfortable in spite of my personal difficulties” and “a caring instructor that I would recommend to anyone.” Are you seeing the pattern here?

Sure we all love to be loved or at least liked a little, which usually translates to having a lot more fun during a semester. The truth is, we often learn more from the teacher that pushed us, that did not let us get away with anything, that we may not have liked at the time. So whether you instructor is male or female, stop “looking for love in all the wrong places."  In the end, loved or not, respected or not – the words that matter most to me are “I learned a great deal of things that I know will be of real value to the rest of my life.” Those are the comments I live for, whether I had to push or you came along for the ride willingly.

P.S. I care, I always care, even when I have to push you to live up to your potential or push you out to try again another time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Perfect Instructor Needs a Perfect Student

I always start each semester with excitement, loaded with useful knowledge that I can't wait to share with my students! My expectations are that everyone sitting in those seats, looking up at me expectantly, is just as eager to learn what I am offering. It's easy for me to fantasize that no one will miss a single class, that everyone will have done all the reading that has been assigned...early even (hey, it's my fantasy). Homework is not a chore, but a delightful way to make sure that they learn it for life and to show me how much they know. Whether shy or not, everyone will make an effort to participate and ask questions which enhances the learning of everyone, including me. When life happens and an assignment is left undone, the student will never offer excuses, but accept the consequences with grace and style and continue right where they left off. My students never complain and are happily flexible in the face of schedule changes. Can't you just see the sunlight streaming in from the windows and the music playing softly in the background...

Ok, back to reality. There are no windows in my classroom and the walls are prison grey. The computer screens at every desk are bright and constitute a serious temptation to steal your attention away from the tasks at hand. You may have partied too hard last night, or the baby wouldn't let you sleep - so you’re fighting to stay awake. You may be in love and can only think about him/her – and no instructor can compete with that! There is a knot in the pit of your stomach because you know you didn't do the reading or the homework and you can only hope that won't tank your grade. Somewhere deep down inside of you, you are afraid that the instructor will embarrass you or you will embarrass yourself in front of everyone. Well, welcome to the club! Everyone is a member of the fallible human race, including yours truly.

I have to stand in front of you even if I’m having a bad hair day, my lipstick is smudged, or I spilled some tea on my blouse. I woke up with a headache that morning and I can’t remember what in the world I was just talking about. My head is jammed with so much more information than you need or stories than I have time to share. Oh, the whining and complaining to endure from my students when I have to change the schedule or announce anything new. And on top of all that, I live with the daily reality that my students are judging me every day in every way expecting me to be perfect.

What I have learned over my 10 years of teaching college students is that if you want a perfect instructor, you have to be a perfect student! It’s the same with regard to respect, - if you give respect, you get respect in return. In this small community, it’s possible that a former student of mine could have made a comment to me about you (good or bad) – but everyone starts in my class with a clean slate. Your reputations in high school or among the other students does not matter at all to me. You are all shiny, new adults to me with unlimited potential and if you let me, I will show you avenues of enrichment that will help you on your journey of life. All I ask in return is that you set aside the gossip about the instructors (good or bad) that students love to indulge in and allow yourself to be teachable. Since we both know that perfection is unobtainable, commit to being the best student you can be and I will be the best instructor I can be too!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The True Joy!

Who would have thought that watching things blow up into pretty colors and designs far above my head accompanied by staccato bangs and whumps that jar the body - would lead to a stillness in my soul that has been difficult to duplicate these last few weeks. Sitting in a lawn chair, I began mediate on all that I have to celebrate about, which led to thanking God for the safety of those active in the dangerous activities and then for everyone watching. I became so filled with gratitude and joy that these feelings almost overwhelmed me long before the event was over. The crazy grin on my face while at the same time tears were welling up, went unnoticed in the broken dark and I was free to fully experience this moment of grace without impediment. Peace - in the midst of chaos, peace - without coming to any decision or revelation, and joy that seemed to come from all around me and through me.

Gratitude, it’s like a drug that causes a state of joy that is deeper and richer than mere happiness. It kicks sorrow’s butt even in the face of great loss, and slays feelings of inadequacy and confusion. I feel sorry for everyone who does not have a personal relationship with God. Unbelievers thank their luck or “the universe” or themselves or some nebulous idea that they call god or whatever. When I was an unbeliever, I thought I was happy enough – or as much as anyone else was. I had moments of happiness, pride, the joy that comes with the miracle of a new baby and thought that was enough. There is no comparison to the gratitude for the knowledge of everlasting love that Jesus has brought to the world. That blessed assurance is something worth reveling in!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Reports of the Demise of the Union are Greatly Exaggerated

I have very little respect for people taking quotes out of context and mixing references – to suit an agenda. Thomas Jefferson warned us about the power of banks/financiers of that time (but the 'good old boy' system IS alive and well all over the world, unfortunately) –mixed with other more recent quotes about the Federal Reserve which was created about 100 years later to take power away from the individual banks – to a more standardized system (as if centralized anything is better – it’s just easier to police) do not combine to illuminate anything.  For more info about the Fed read - .   It isn't and was never meant to be unsupervised by Congress. In fact, it is when corrupt politicians interfere with 'equilibrium' by telling it to print more money (so they can get re-elected) and extend more credit (to those unable to repay in order to buy more votes) that the system collapses. This interference of loopholes laid the groundwork for the greedy to prey on the vulnerable with the government's tacit approval.

Both the politicians and the greedy must be exposed and punished which is only possible in a free nation of empowered people. Empowered people are educated, self-reliant, moral, and courageous. Government is not 'their daddy.' Some people look and see the capitalist system as the boogey-man which can only be stopped by more laws and regulation. I look and see the breakdown of morality as the culprit - it is part of the same thing that brought down the Roman Empire (the super power of its time). 'Truth' has become only a version of spin by politicians or media 'talking heads' or simply ignored if the truth is inconvenient. There is no right or wrong - it's all become relative. We cry because we want people to behave morally or ethically but by whose definition? We don't want to be hindered by Christian morality anymore (that was the foundation of our prosperity) - it may interfere with our selfish desires and laziness which is being masked by people crying about their right to “the pursuit of happiness.” But happiness for these people means someone else working and paying for them (welfare, food stamps, Social Security Disability, etc.) while they play all day. Do you remember Aesop’s Fable of the ant and the grasshopper? – These people (not the truly handicapped) have earned the right to starve – as businesses have the right to fail.

People are naturally selfish (anyone who says differently, has never raised children) – they must be trained to abide by a code of honor based on a clearly defined sense of right and wrong. However, even the most well trained sometimes succumb to corruption from the excess of money and power – which often leads to greed and debauchery – unless they are people of unshakable moral character which only comes from a belief in being accountable to God.

I also see our nation's deterioration resulting from an untrustworthy government which in turn breeds a nation that does not believe in itself anymore and national pride is scorned - where even our current President apologizes for our being a successful super power around the world (though the whole world cries when they need our help). Read The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire. We cannot go back and (as a nation) return to a simpler agrarian lifestyle, we are too many.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Behind schedule already...

Here we go and already we are behind on the apparently overly optimistic schedule for the summer session. Already had to postpone the first exam - that starts a chain reaction of schedule adjustments that teeters on the brink of pushing due dates after the course has ended :-).  There just isn't room in this shortened scenario to absorb much change.  I couldn't be more delighted with the enthusiasm of my current class of students.  They want to know "everything that there is to know about computers, but were afraid to ask" in one day! I want to share all the tips and tricks that I have learned from working with technology over my many years, but there simply isn't time for it all. 

Come to think of it, adjusting the schedule has become a regular occurrence no matter what semester or course that I am teaching.  There have been a couple of times that I actually had to 'speed up' the due dates to accommodate some students who had 'mad' skills. Mostly alterations to the schedule happen due to inclement weather or when there is more to cover than there is time to cover it.  I would like to put to rest the notion that instructor's love to disrupt our students' world by making 'arbitrary' changes - we would prefer not to create the extra work for ourselves!

How well the students handle 'change' has mostly to do with personality types.  The people most comfortable with 'going with the flow' are the least disturbed, however, the people who want everything to go exactly as planned - usually have difficulty with every announced modification.  My personality type enjoys change, cultivates it, in fact, so that nothing becomes stale and boring.  Other personality types resist change to the point of resentment toward the instructor over each change which is seen as a 'slight'.  It is best if both extremes meet in the middle - the 'change artist' in me has to work to limit the changes whenever possible and the 'brick wall' of resistance in others, needs to find a kinder, gentler material for the wall - say, plexiglass.  Life is change - but get out of my rut, I just had it recarpeted.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Where does the time go?

Although I have 21 days 'off' from the day that spring semester grades are due until the first day of summer classes - it takes several days a couple hours per day to get the semester set up. In fact, I have been keeping track of the number of hours it takes to set up just one class on Blackboard, MyITLab, and do the syllabus and scheduling. So far - 12.25 hours. I imagine that it will take at least 15 more hours over the next three days to be fully prepared for Monday's kick-off. Why, the class will practically teach itself when I get done! Now come on, if a car can park itself, why can't I teach on autopilot?

The best part is that I can work on this on my laptop wherever I go - even at the local pool (as long as there is a place to plug in). By the way, can you believe that there are many pools that don't have easy access to electricity close by? :-) I really need a better battery in my laptop - or a new laptop, but that's a subject for another day.

As for my students, they have some prep to do too, such as registering for the class, buying the textbook, arranging their schedules so that they don't have to miss my scintillating lectures and demonstrations, and the hours spent figuring out which excuses to try out on their new instructor.

Oh, by the way, I have taken myself out of the lie detector business - I offer some 'freebies' that the students can use when 'life happens' AND they don't even have to tell me the lies/reasons for using them, hence the name 'free'bies as in, free of BS. Everyone should be happy right? There are still some students that want even more 'special treatment.' I am sorry to say that I don't have time for them - if they need more considerations then they are not getting what they paid for - perhaps they should reconsider taking college classes at a more advantageous time in their lives.

Back to the grind - sipping a frozen drink by the pool and thinking up new ways to teach/torture my students!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


The College Summer Session. But don't be fooled by its benign name, its college at mach 2. Students often pick a subject that they are not familiar with or one that they struggle with to take during this time. BIG MISTAKE! They are fooled into thinking that they won't have other subjects to take their attention and time. So let me ask you, when, if you are struggling with any task or understanding, does having less time to learn it and less time to practice it make for a formula for success? For a very, very few, being able to focus/concentrate on one or two extremely difficult subjects in a concentrated setting will work. But ask yourself, realistically:
This is the formula it takes to be successful in difficult classes in the summer session!
  • Are you self-motivated every single day?
  • Will you go to class every single time without excuses?
  • Are you organized? Daily calendar and schedule?
    Are you pro-active! - doing your reading and assignments ahead of time?
  • Are you really interested enough in this subject to want to learn it?
  • Can you afford to work only a few part-time hours at your job during these 8 weeks in order to have adequate time for homework/practice and study?
  • Do you have a great attitude toward going to classes during the summer?
  • Are you willing to drop the class if it is not working out for you?

If, on the other hand, you can take classes that you feel you have historically done well in and that you are comfortable with - then I say "Go for it!" Keep in mind that this is still a condensed program and you cannot be nearly as laid back as you might have been during a full semester of 16 weeks.
This is the formula it takes to get an "A" in the less difficult classes during the summer!
  • Do your homework - every day - this still counts for alot of points and will kill your grade if you sluff off
  • Do your reading in advance - every day - this will serve as a review of this familiar topic and make you aware of the new material.
  • Practice any technical skills you are learning every day - plan to learn the new 'best practices' way of doing everything.
  • Review and study along the way - at least twice per week to solidify the new information in your mind.
  • Don't assume that you 'know it all' - this has doomed many a student when faced with college level exams - so study and get prepared for each test. (There are sometimes fewer tests in the summer, so their impact on your grade is significantly higher.)
  • Don't make excuses and don't miss a single class (that's like missing a whole week of instruction)!
  • Drop it! If it is not working out for you.

I know you already know all this - but it doesn't hurt to hear it one more time - from someone who sees people drowning every summer - and not in a pool or lake.