no. 6 – the reasons why i have to be so hard on students

I’m hard on my students. Very hard.

I don’t work on a traditional college campus. This campus, which shall remain nameless (for my sake), is a technical one that trains its students to work in their prospective fields. This means students must do more than practice rote memorization and vomit answers in multiple choice. It means students must attend class, and it means that students must participate in hands-on learning 50% of the time.

It also means that instructors must innovate and find ways to train our students in engaging ways that apply to their fields. We are responsible for creating a product, and that product is a productive employee!

I teach Technical Writing and Workplace Communications. These courses are requirements that fit into their general education. I can assure you if they had a choice in the matter, most wouldn’t elect to take either of these courses.

Many of them do not at first see the value of soft skills, and they have no interest in writing in the workplace. I never stop finding ways to reiterate that these are the variables that could potentially set them apart from other job seekers.

Yet, I can provide these students with feedback from top companies (to which they plan to apply), reporting that 50% of hires are let go within the first 6 months of being hired, the reasons why and what they can do better themselves; and a lot of them will still refuse to alter their thinking.

But why?

They all want jobs, and they all want the paycheck, but when asked if they are interested in the prospect of being promoted, they say things like:

  • “I just want enough to be comfortable.” Most students on campus are being trained to work in process technology. They expect to work, and they expect to work hard. They have grown up in families of hard working people, many of whom have struggled to make ends meet. And fewer have obtained comfort. In their eyes, wanting anything beyond that is a pipe dream and recipe for disappointment.
  • “I just want to get in.” I fear for these students. They typically produce shoddy work, grade lower across the board and have poor attendance in classes (and not just mine). They believe that if they can merely get in the door, show up every day and keep their head down, they can ride it out until retirement. What many of them don’t account for are changing industry trends which may necessitate them learning new skills and working in ways which make them uncomfortable.
  • “Not if it means writing.” And just as I noted in the previous bullet point, they do not wish to do anything that might in some way infringe upon their level of comfort. These students have not received the education I’ve been privileged to receive. I wrote my first academic research paper in fifth grade. It included a cover page, a table of contents, an abstract, a body, a bibliography AND an appendix! I can’t remember when I had to do my first book report, but I know it was before that. Many of these students have NEVER written a research paper at any point in their education…let alone diagrammed a sentence. These students are so intimidated by writing, they need constant reassurance in order to stay on track.

The most effective strategy I have realized in dealing with these students is not accommodation. Rather, the best thing is to set expectations higher than they think they can reach. This has worked in 3 out of the 4 classes I teach this term (hey, it’s a practice). Class participation is at an all time high, and grades seem to reflect their involvement.

I have great concern for these students, and I hope that in a few years when they are working in industry they look back and say “Ms. Hill wasn’t actually  trying to ruin my life.”

I hope.

And you?

  1. Do you remember a teacher that you once believed was unnecessarily difficult during college?
  2. Has your perspective changed? If so, how or why?
  3. What unsuspecting teachers might you have had that you feel the same way about (for example, a boss or a parent)?
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no. 5 – the messes I’ve learned to accept

So, here I am again in the bath pondering the messes I have learned to accept despite being a self-proclaimed clean freak. Growing up, I had this fixation on exerting control over my environment which usually manifested in cleaning everything in sight. I learned from my mother that being too sentimental could crowd one’s environment with clutter and that it was easier to release things because it meant maintaining less.

I watched her willingness to part with items each spring when we collected donations for goodwill, and I sat in awe after watching her leave behind the house and furniture she had bought after she and my father divorced. Wedding china, photo albums, the home she had devoted her time to caring for… was all transferred to my father’s care (and unfortunately, he has not been so attentive to it, but cest la vie).

Today, I look up at the three polished brass vanity light strips crowning the bathroom mirrors  in my townhouse and wonder why anyone ever decided they needed 24 light bulbs in a bathroom. Yes, 24. And no, there is currently no ceiling alternative either. It’s either the hard and hot heat of the bulbs or nothing.

After I bought the place, I adorned a corner of the wrap-around counter with a small desk lamp because its glow was preferable to what looks like dressing room lights, but over time I couldn’t bare to look at the long black cord that kept falling into the trash can. I replaced it with my magnifying lighted mirror for some time because it was a bit smaller and could put out not just one but three comparably softer lighting options. How fancy is that?

But in the end, I had the same problem with the length of the cord, and now it is hiding under the counter in the cabinet so that I don’t have to look at it either. I’d prefer not to see most of what’s in the bathroom, but life happens and life necessitates having utilitarian items at its disposal.

By Sunday, there are usually a few items that have formed in clusters on the counters and floors. And as part of my custom, I go about tidying the bathroom so that I can enter a new week of “decompression” baths with fewer interruptions to my visual palette.

Messes that are always making themselves “at home” in the bathroom

  1. Wash rags and hand towels – My partner and I use these daily and have taken to throwing them on the floor next to the tub when we are done because we haven’t troubled ourselves with buying a bin specifically for towels. Once they hit the pile, I use them to wipe out the tub each time I draw a bath. We at least have the decency to hang bath towels…
  2. Night clothes – My partner started this trend. She and I alternate getting up early in the morning and dressing in the bathroom so that we don’t disturb one another. She typically leaves an outfit folded on the counter and returns to it at the end of the day.
  3. Shoes – Guilty. More than anything else, I am likely to leave at least one pair of shoes in the corner. I almost always bring my clothing to the hamper just outside the door, but a rotating pair of shoes has almost become part of the bathroom decor. I’ve got to curate somehow.
  4. Hair – And lots of it. I have always been a shedder, and it is possibly more pronounced because I’ve had alopecia areata for a little over a decade now. I currently have a sizable patch missing above my left ear and a much smaller patch behind it. I don’t really ever think about it since I have always been able to hide it by either parting my hair a certain way or wearing it down. After seeing Alina (my partner) clean the floor though, it’s hard to overlook.
  5. Soaps, shampoos, etc. – I hate to admit this one. I don’t see a need to incorporate new items into the bath until the old ones are sufficiently used, yet it keeps happening. Part of me wants to just throw away some of them and hope that Alina won’t notice, but I haven’t been able to convince myself that thats the right thing to do…not to mention, I’m actually guilty of introducing new items.
  6. Drinking glasses – One thing I’ve learned is that when you live on the top of a three story townhouse, the last thing you want to do in the middle of the night is walk down three flights of stairs in the dark to get a drink of water. Most nights, we try to remember to bring a glass upstairs when we know we are ready to turn in. And if we forget, I have no problem refilling a glass from the bathroom tap. Alina is too good for the bathroom water, but since it’s my bathroom and I know who goes in and out of it, I am perfectly fine.

What about you?

  1. What types of messes do you keep coming back to?
  2. What have you learned to live with?
  3. Have you ever let a mess get between you and someone else?

 

 

no. 4 – the odd way the bathroom became my favorite room of the house

The bathroom has always been somewhat of a calming place to me; and for obvious reasons, it’s also been sort of an isolatory place. Hey, the bathroom isn’t exactly the venue you’d book for a party.

As a child, I experienced some pretty intense digestive issues, which stemmed from a combination of anxiety and poor eating habits. I spent a lot of nights running back and forth from my bedroom to the bathroom crying and throwing up.

I remember calling for my parents whose room was also connected to the bathroom. They individually came to comfort me until they realized that it had become a nightly endeavor, at which point they resolved to ferberize me…except I wasn’t actually an infant, and there was no let’s-wait-thirty-minutes-or-an-hour-before-we-comfort-her. There was nothing.

Instead, they began telling me it was all in my head and that I needed to calm myself down. My mother advised me to sleep with my knees pulled into my chest. “Imagine you’re on the beach,” she’d say.

Meanwhile, I was progressively developing a case of gastro-esophogeal reflux disease and bulimia nervosa, both of which my 8 year old self had no vocabulary to explain. To be fair, my mother was understanding of headaches. No one ever told me the migraines I experienced as a kid were just in my head. Though, come to think of it…that’s exactly where migraines were.

When bedtime hit, I’d crawl into bed and within minutes the upset would occur. I’d walk into the bathroom and purge hoping to find relief. And at first, that was all it took. I would feel better afterwards, head back to bed and sleep until it was time to wake for school.

As time progressed, I found that purging offered relief for smaller and smaller increments of time until it stopped working all-together. In the course of a year, I went on to induce multiple times an evening despite it being entirely ineffective, slept fewer and fewer hours, and started skipping breakfast because I didn’t feel well enough to eat. I did this off and on until I was a sophomore in college.

I spent many nights sleeping on the bathroom floor, with my face on a toilet seat, or in an empty tub. Something about being in the bathroom had become calming…perhaps because throwing up in my bedroom had become one less thing to worry about. But also because I learned I could count for everything in the bathroom to just be… there.

Also, I realized that aside from simply feeling sick, the idea of throwing up terrified me. It’s like having to go to the bathroom; only, throwing up isn’t normally the type of thing you can control. By a certain age, you know when you have to pee. You learn the signs, make your way to a bathroom and go.

Now that I think about it, that’s probably why I was so aware of the fact that I needed to  throw up in the first place. To forego the shame of essentially “going where I shouldn’t”, I monitored my body for any sign of imminent sickness with hyper vigilance. I simply couldn’t accept the idea that this was an “uncontrollable”circumstance. I figured that if I at least induced vomiting when I didn’t feel well, I could control when it did or didn’t happen. And that brought me peace, minuscule as it was.

I don’t know how you describe no longer being bulimic. Do you use words like remission or recovered? Do you say that you have achieved wholeness or health? I have…and have considered myself healthy for a decade now. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but given my neurosis, I am not surprised!

As dark and tragic as I have made this all sound, after a decade of using my bedroom as a bedroom (aka ‘not sleeping on the bathroom floor’), I’ve come to see the bathroom is still one of my favorite rooms in the house.

The bathroom has somehow become the one room I can go in and feel whatever feelings I feel without being judged. I can count on being able to walk in looking one way and come out looking another. I can go in dirty and come out clean. And I can go in after a long, mind-numbing day and come out feeling warm and revitalized.

Where do you find peace?

  1. What’s your go to place?
  2. Is it a room in the house?
  3. Or do you have to leave entirely?

 

 

 

no. 3 – why i don’t friend my students on Facebook

As an instructor, I have the distinct pleasure of having Fridays off, which means that even though it’s 38 degrees and raining outside, I am typing in a warm bath upstairs and working on my first large cup of water for the day. I have very few wants, but I would consider these things essential to my well-being. Is that high maintenance?

Anyway, I work at a college where the students are majority male and studying technical fields. The average student ranges from age 18 – 30 with only a few outliers. I teach four classes a term and generally have anywhere between 50 – 100 students.

What I find is there are always a handful of students who pay attention a little bit more than the others… and I don’t mean to the subject matter.

These students typically send more emails, ask more questions and wait around after class for parting words. They are the types of students who are generally kind and insist on chatting about more personal matters, giving gifts, and finding ways to connect outside of class.

Sometimes these connections are purely innocent. A lot of the time, I suspect the student feels we could legitimately be friends, and I have to admit that sometimes I feel that way too. There are a couple of students I would actually consider hanging out with in my spare time, but I find myself telling students term after term that I will not connect with them on Facebook, and I will not give them my phone number regardless of how persistent and humorous they may be (well some of them are really funny!).

Let me clarify, I am not a magnet for student Facebook adds by any means. After my first term teaching, I did my best to make myself unsearchable on social media (with the exception of LinkedIn). And despite the work I did there, somehow a student will still manage to find me every so often…I suspect because of connections I have with other instructors who do not abide by this same practice.

In fact, last night a student in class was not feeling well. First off, this student is a very nice student, and I have not heard anything but good things about him from other instructors. He has brought french fries to class (yes, I allow food in a 4-hr lecture class) after hearing they are in my top junk food favorites, and he always emails me to let me know when he will be late for class.

Anyway, he gave a presentation last night which showed he didn’t really comprehend the material, and after watching him squirm for a while, I tried to redirect the students’ attention to the correct information because they would be quizzed on it next class.

The student sat down and visibly appeared a few shades lighter, said he didn’t feel well, and laid his head down on his desk. Since I noticed he hadn’t eaten (he usually does), I assumed he might have been experiencing some combination of low blood sugar and sheer terror after having presented so horribly.

I gave him peppermints and an orange from my bag. I placed a trashcan near him for the peels, and apparently all of this was too nice. He stayed after class and asked if it would be weird if he friended me on Facebook. I let him know that I don’t connect with students on Facebook, and he said no teacher had ever told him “no” before.

I assured him that I would be happy to connect on LinkedIn if he wanted the connection, but I make it a practice of not friending students on Facebook, especially when they were in my class and I expect to have them for another class.

Reasons Why I Don’t Friend Students

  1. Boundaries are important. I am already nice enough, and I think a student seeking professional training needs to know there are lines and where they are.
  2. Work is work. I do enjoy sharing things that I feel are relevant to the class and can establish a base connection, but that is also part of my job and I am in control of identifying what is beneficial and what may not be beneficial (i.e., the picture of me standing on a beach in a bikini top). Students simply don’t need access to these pictures.
  3. I can’t afford to do favors for anyone. I might actually enjoy a student, and this might be the exact reason I shouldn’t friend them on Facebook. I don’t have time to get caught up in a friendship  with someone that I also have to grade. As a human being, I can try to compartmentalize, but let’s face it! I am emotional and can’t risk getting close enough to someone whom I’d be tempted to make exceptions for when they underperform.
  4. I am a young, attractive woman. After signing my paperwork to start teaching, I received a phone call from the dean who warned me that I would have to be careful because I was “so young and pretty.” I feel pressure to be sterner and establish firmer boundaries than my colleagues because of it.
  5. I’m not trying to hook up. This one I actually have to make clear to classes as a whole. Sometimes it seems like the questions students enjoy asking most are the personal questions…and if they see that you aren’t wearing a wedding band (I live with my partner, whom I do not discuss with my young male students), they think that means you are fair game.
  6. Because. What better reason is there than simply not wanting to?

Calling all instructors!

  1. What do you think?
  2. Do you friend your students?
  3. Do you feel like it’s best to keep things separate?

no. 2 – drain the water, but don’t throw out the baby

I can’t say how happy I am to see 2016 come to an end. I’ve never said that before…that I was happy to see a year end, and I don’t think that’s because nothing bad happened before either.

2016 may have been the year I started paying attention.

  • The news.
  • My students’ feelings.
  • My co-workers’ strange interactions.
  • My strange interactions with my coworkers.
  • My strained relationship.
  • My paralyzing obsession with religion.

And all of this was different than the year before. Because before, I had only noticed these moments.

  • I had heard the news.
  • Saw the frustration on my students’ faces.
  • Experienced and observed socially awkward moments with co-workers.
  • I had recognized my own tendencies to push away my partner and to be critical at times.
  • And I was certainly aware that my obsession with religion could be unhealthy.

By 2016, I was more than noticing these things though. I began to realize the cost, and it wasn’t cheap!

People that pay attention know two things:

  1. Paying attention is an investment of time which has the potential to prepare you for opportunities.
  2. Paying attention may be at the expense of your health, relationships, career, and the time you once spent enjoying other things.

In 2016, I began to actually feel the weight of being tuned in, and it was debilitating. I got in the habit of performing this daily, moral inventory and somehow kept coming back to the idea that I was this waste of a person. Not to mention, I was in this weird obsessive, compulsive place of wanting to find the meaning to everything, and I needed to know if it was possible to find it in holy books and to have it all make sense.

Every evening, I came home and said no more than a few words to my family. I walked upstairs and closed the bedroom door behind me. I essentially treated my bedroom as if it were a private apartment for the last year. The only thing missing was a makeshift kitchenette. Had I added a few amenities, I would have never needed to leave. 

I’d run a bath and sink into it with every question I’d dreamt up that day.  Then I would search. I’d watch video lectures, read articles and immerse myself  in theology…all from the bathtub. Now, I can’t tell you how long I stayed in the bath, but I can tell you it was usually long enough to warrant warming the water 2-3 times…

So, how will 2017 be different? Well, I’m not going to stop bathing! But I will write notes from the bathwater. I am going to have to make a clear effort to replace some activities, but that’s not one of them. I will still take my long baths, and my computer will still be present. The only difference now is that I will be blogging instead of teetering on the edge of a religion induced nervous breakdown.

no. 1 – simple enough

I recognize the necessity to create engaging content when the world is filled with the inane. However, I might just let that be someone else’s burden for now. Because, now? I want to come home after my day, soak in a tub and then empty my thoughts on a page.

I like things to be simple, despite how complex I can allow things to be; and I like to own what is essential, despite the number of things hiding in my closets.

For a long time I’ve wanted to write a blog, but I didn’t want it to feel like work. I’m a writer by trade, and I teach others how to do it. So it has always felt kind of labor intensive to me.

But then I wondered, perhaps a blog doesn’t have to be what I have assumed it should be…

Why should a blog be so many words or filled with so many pictures?

I recognize the necessity to create engaging content when the world is filled with the inane. However, I might just let that be someone else’s burden for now. Because, now? I want to come home after my day, soak in a tub and then empty my thoughts on a page.