Saturday, August 31, 2013

How to Get Them to Answer Your Texts

Sneak this little ringtone onto their phone and set your text notification message to this in their contacts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Just a Word to the Wise

Some friends and I were talking about dreams on Facebook this morning. It just so happened that last night I had one of those recurring anxiety dreams. Usually I have this one right before a semester begins, but we're only one and half weeks in, so I suppose it's roughly on time.

It's always some variation of the same basic dream: I'm in graduate school at Penn State; I'm about to graduate with my degree; and a week before commencement, I realize I have a math requirement I've totally forgotten about. I've been enrolled in the class and have simply forgotten it. The final exam is the next day or soon, so I have a very short period during which I have to learn the whole course and pass the exam if I want my degree. And math is not my subject.

It's your basic anxiety dream. We all have them at some time or another.

So what does this have to do with parents talking to their kids? Everything. See, I was actually strong in all my subjects until about 8th grade, when arithmetic started to turn into mathematics and simple algebra started being introduced. I had a little harder time with that; it didn't come easily. I made the mistake one term of getting a "B" in math instead of an "A," wrecking my usual all A's report card.

I was punished--beaten--for the "B." Called stupid, lazy, told "if you had a brain, you'd take it out and play with it!"

Ever since then, whenever someone is trying to explain math to me, I just freeze up. It's like my brain shuts down. My mind becomes a wall. I just don't get it. I just can't understand it.

Really it wasn't just math, ultimately. Later on, despite excellent grades, my stepmother wouldn't let me into the academic track in high school, even though the school wanted to place me there, because she told me I was too stupid to go to college. She wanted me to join the Army after high school. Fortunately, at 15, I wound up getting out of that house and into foster care, where I finally landed with a family in which my foster mom encouraged me to apply to college.

And now I have not only a bachelor's degree, but also two master's degrees, and I'm an English professor at a community college.

Yet to this day, I suffer from anxiety problems, the ever-present uneasy feeling that I'm a big fraud, that I'm not as bright as people say I am, that people won't like me, that students will see through me and think I'm the dumbest assed teacher they've ever had. Of course, rationally I know better, and I tell the critical committee in my head to shut the hell up.

I'm writing about this not because I want anybody to feel sorry for me. There are so, so many more people out there suffering much worse, from things more abusive parents than my stepmother ever said or did. Some of the stories I heard when I was in rehab would take your breath away. I just want to post this little reminder--kids remember what you say. You can be a parent, a teacher, a counselor, or anyone in a position of authority. Be gentle. Be tactful. Be supportive. There is never a need to rip someone apart. NEVER.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why Do I Teach? I'll Tell You Why

Well, it's Sunday and I can finally catch a breath after reading a bunch of diagnostic essays and homework assignments. The first week back to school turned out okay--at least I have only one prep since I'm teaching two sections of the same course. Each is a four-hour course, so I round out my schedule with 2.5 hours in the writing labs. 10.5 to 11 hours is all a part-timer can be given in the district because California law states that any adjunct faculty teaching more than that for (I think it's three semesters) in a row must be hired full-time. I believe the law was put into place to prevent the abuse of part-timers. Silly politicians. The solution has simply been for colleges to hire more part time faculty. We can be hired on the cheap.

This is because we aren't paid anything close to an equitable salary to full timers. We aren't paid for summers (unless we work, which I do); we aren't paid for holidays; we aren't paid even for Thanksgiving or Christmas Break. We are actually paid only for the actual hours we are in the classroom or labs. We don't get health insurance. And we certainly don't get a paid sabbatical every seven years.

Even worse is the situation for "freeway flyers," those adjunct faculty who cobble together a full-time job by teaching in two or more school districts.

It's higher education's nasty little secret. Part-timers (adjuncts or contingent faculty) and, at larger universities, teaching assistants, are the ones who teach a good many of the "grunt" courses (developmental courses, composition courses, basic skills courses), while the full-time faculty take the "yummy" courses (in English, many of the lit classes and all of the creative writing classes).

So why do I do it?

Because I can. For me, it is a choice. I had a full-time teaching position for five years, and that was about enough. Fifteen hours of class time per week perhaps doesn't sound like much, but when you teach a bunch of writing courses, that works out to NO LIFE. All I did was grade essays. At least, that's how it felt. And I found myself, after five years, doing things like rushing through papers, winging it sometimes in the classroom, getting lazy about updating material because there just wasn't time leftover to make the extra effort, unless I was willing to work an 80-hour week. I started to feel like I was a lousy teacher--burned out already, not the kind of teacher I wanted to be. Add committee work on top of that. I hated the departmental politics, the sniping, and the drama. I also found myself getting mad at those of my colleagues whose idea of "grading essays" meant reading the paper and sticking a grade on it with maybe a one word comment. I knew one professor who would actually boast that she spent no more than one hour on any single batch of papers. It was no wonder she could take on two extra courses as overload every semester, adding a few thousand to her annual salary. Yeah, I was starting to get bitter.

Ah, but peeps, I am a lucky duck. I have a wife who makes a decent salary, so we don't need me to work full-time. I get health insurance on her policy. I make enough to help pay part of the rent and pay some household expenses and even have some money leftover for fun. (Unlike many part timers, who have children, I really don't have a lot of expenses. My car is paid for.) Yup, I'm lucky. I get to spend more time being the kind of teacher I want to be. I always prep fully for classes. I take two weeks with essays at the minimum, splitting them into 2-3 per day from any single class so I don't get too braindead grading them (my only "rule" is to return one batch of papers before the next batch is due) When a paper is a mess, I've been known to spend an hour one a single one. (Thankfully that is rare! I give most papers about thirty minutes, depending on the length.) I change texts more often and change or tweak assignments frequently. I answer emails from students all day long, sometimes into the evening and even on weekends. I get to know my students. In any given semester, I will adapt teaching methods to better accommodate those who are sitting in the room--even if it is a course I've taught a hundred times. I'm content that I'm doing a good job and serving my students well.

Several full-time faculty have said to me over the years, when a full-time position has opened up, "I wish you'd apply!" And I have just thanked them, chuckled, and shaken my head "no thanks."

Fact is, I'm in the luxurious position of being able to work for shit pay for about (on average) what works out to be around thirty hours a week BUT be good at what I do. This, to me, is better than working for a decent salary with benefits while being overextended and continually stressed and to watch things I care about sometimes having to slip through the cracks.

It is my choice. I may bitch and moan about grading papers and all that when I'm knee-deep in them, but the truth is, I love what I do and I care about my students. The ones who don't care--well, meh, but for the ones that do care and are trying with their whole heart? I'll give them all the time in the world. And I like having the time to do that.

It is my choice. Unfortunately, for one of the most valuable service positions in the world, teachers are grossly undervalued. They are overworked, underpaid--considering their expertise--and unappreciated. What other profession is insulted by sayings like, "Those who can do, do; those who can't do, teach"? I'm a published writer and have also worked as an editor; thank you very much. I can do, and I have. Teachers are routinely insulted in the press or by educrats who have never even set foot in a classroom. Yet in many cases, we spend more time with some kids than their own parents do. We are helpers, coaches, cheerleaders, and counselors in addition to being that person who stands in front of a room lecturing about thesis statements or how to make a coherent argument--or how to correct a run-on sentence.  This is a job for a person with knowledge, empathy, and compassion, yet who is honest enough and has guts enough to be sure standards are met at the same time. This is a job for a person with a sharp mind and a huge heart.

I feel for both the full-timers, and I feel for the part-time "freeway flyers" trying to make a living. I wonder how excellent they'd actually be if they, too, like me, had more time. To me, it's a wonder any of them are good at all. Then again, those who stick with it, despite it all, teach because it's a calling, not just a job. We teach because we want to help other people succeed.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

H is for Hackjob: Them Sons-o-Beeyotches!

I owe the cyberworld an apology. Well, it's not really my fault--I'm not quite sure who or what is at fault, beyond the hacker himself--but apparently my Twitter account got hijacked and I've been tweeting people that they should try Dr. Oz's diet plan.

Now, here is the truth. I never actually (or rarely, anyway) actually tweet anything. I simply have this blog connected to both Facebook and Twitter through, so whenever I post something, the blog post automatically feeds to both Twitter and Facebook. And that about sums up the extent of my tweeting.

It's not clear where the hack actually occurred. At first I thought it might just be me, so I changed my Twitter password to something I hope I can remember (I think I wrote it down on a little piece of paper around here somewhere). But now Networkedblogs is down, so it's possible that it was actually their site that got hacked, and I was just an unwitting twit of a client. Twit. Get it?

Regardless, if you got a tweet from me telling you to go on a diet, I do apologize. I don't think you need to go on a diet. All of my friends and all of my readers are perfectly beautiful or handsome just the way they are.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Yadda Blah

Yeah, yeah, bad me. I've been hiding under a rock this week. See, school starts on Monday and so I'm trying to enjoy this last week however I can--unfortunately, it doesn't involve writing much, although I did tweak my syllabus.

So, I've started a new painting (just a landscape, a beach scene) and I've been playing guitar a little. Right now I'm working on learning the picking and bass runs to the Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road." It's good to stretch a bit: usually when I pick, it's just fingerpicking, and this calls for a pick and lots of hammer-ons and pull-offs, so it's fun to play. I've also purchased two courses from The Teaching Company (hey! They were on sale), one on the Dead Sea Scrolls and one on the early Jesus Movement, including the Gnostics, and how the final books of the Bible were settled upon. I know about the Council of Nicea, but this promises to delve a little more into the politics behind the choices.

And let's see--I saw The Conjuring with my friend Lisa and Despicable Me with Chelle. I think this weekend I may go see The Butler. That looks really good. And, everybody seems to be in it; the trailer screams "Oscar" at me.

Other than that, life chugs along as usual. Still sober--wow, it'll be four years September 4th. When I stop to think about it, it really does boggle my mind. There was once a time that I couldn't even imagine my life without drinking.

Just goes to show you that people can change. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Sunday Funday: Silly Impressions

For those who missed it on Facebook, here I am doing an impression of Janis Joplin. I can get away with this because I'm in recovery myself and have been every bit the same hot mess. We have to laugh at ourselves, or else we'd cry all day long. Janis up there in heaven, I know you're laughing, too.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hapless Tigger Covers the Indigo Girls

"Pushing the Needle Too Far" is one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar because it's so easy to play (basically three chords for most of the song, then just a Bminor, Aminor, and Dwithsus4). You'll just have to put up with my Alpo.