Tag Archives: Teaching

So you’re not a “C” student?



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So you want to be a professor?

This pretty much sums it up.

The video won’t properly embed in the blog, so here’s the link.


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Teaching assignment

And now for the icing on the cake. (Drum roll, please).

I am teaching Non-verbal Communication this semester! This is a new and infinitely exciting course for me.

Every graduate program and teaching assignment can be different, but this particular assignment allows me to select my own textbook and basically structure the course assignments and exams to my liking. You really can’t hope for anything better as a graduate student. I’m happy that this assignment allows me to retain some of the freedom I was accustomed to as a F/T instructor, but on the other hand, my mind is racing as I try to basically build a course in no time. I need to keep brainstorming YouTube clips, activities, discussion questions, etc but things have been so hectic that it’s hard to sit down and let the creative juices flow. Let alone tailor the publisher-supplied (thank you, Pearson) PowerPoints.

Oh, and did I mention that they’ll write a FULL research paper? Not just a literature review, but a full paper in which they gather and analyze data. Holey moley. That is more work than many undergraduate research methods courses require. How do you like them apples!? I’m apprehensive about budgeting my time, but I really dig the fact that Iowa isn’t messing around.

I created the syllabus this week and made sure to contrast the course schedule with the football schedule. It sounds silly, I know. But it was actually a topic that was brought up in our teaching orientation. That and the fact the college drinking here reaches such higher proportions (even compared to other large universities) that some of our students may actually have some very serious issues stemming from their alcohol use, whether it trouble balancing their classes or, worse yet, additions to alcohol. We were warned that while students (and often professors) have the tendency to normalize and joke about high alcohol consumption, it is a very real and serious problem for many students. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. These young people are someone’s kids. Morgan Spurlock did a 30 days episode about college binge drinking and interviewed the mother of a young woman who died of alcohol poisoning. She was at her sorority’s party doing lots of shots of vodka, like everyone else. When she became unconscious her friends thought she passed out and left her there to sleep, only to find that she had died in the middle of the night. I know this happens what seems like all the time across campuses nationwide and I know that, sadly, it will continue to happen. But all of this reminded us during our teaching orientation that as graduate student instructors (who actually teach the majority of classes on campus) we are role models and mentors for these students. This job is a great honor and a huge responsibility.

Well, the semester system is long and intimidating (I’ve been on the quarter system most recently). But I’m happy to share that there are NO classes during the week of Thanksgiving. This means that there will be a 9 day break in late November! Only 13 weeks to go.


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Be forewarned, this is a mushy blog. I’m normally the kind of person who swears that seeing her students each day is a gift in itself. Yeah, just like the 2-year old having a meltdown in the middle of the supermarket by lying on the floor and flopping around like a fish out of water is a blessing.

But in reality, that’s why I love teaching. Like any prof, I spend a shitload of time every week to prepare for class and grade assignments. And my reward? A few brief, yet cherished, hours spent with my students.

Only this quarter, no matter how much I tried to make it better and relish my last full-time quarter at WWU (which I should mention, is both my employer and my alma mater), I was feeling a little underappreciated.

Monday was my first gift: A holiday. I respectfully understand that it was Memorial Day. It was meant to observe, honor, and remember. But I slept. And I was much happier to see my students on Wednesday than I would have been on Monday. Distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Wednesday provided many gifts. I had an end of quarter party in my Small Group Communication class (yes, just like 5th graders do – don’t be critical), hosted Friendship Day in my Interpersonal Communication class (yes, just like 3rd graders do – again, don’t judge – they freaking love it). I listened to just 3 (rather than the usual 6) speeches in my Public Speaking class (thank you god): Speech #’s 63, 64 & 65.

And then I attended a BBQ for about 50 Public Speaking Instructor Assistants (IAs). Our IAs are a blessing. And not just because they do most of our grading. They are delightful people who help students grow as speakers and make the class markedly less daunting and more enjoyable. It was there that our Director presented my colleague (who is also leaving) and I with an unexpected gift: A memory book filled with a picture of us with our assistants and little signed cards from assistants who have worked with us throughout the year. It contains so many smiles and kind words that, I know, will cheer me up after any bad day.

The day then ended with the Teaching & Learning Academy Awards ceremony. Lots and lots of students, professors, staff members, departments, and organizations were recognized. It was noted that oftentimes awards of recognition are few and far between within academia, and the goal of this ceremony was to recognize all individuals/groups nominated by anyone. No letters of rec needed from the department Chair, colleagues, or students. No academic vitae, teaching evaluations, or research program to be evaluated. Just recognition for making a difference in someone’s life. Every award has the recipient’s name printed on the front and then contains their nominator’s comments/thanks on the back. Seriously, we should do this more often.

Friday was also ripe with gifts. Two students who I’ve worked closely with this year, and who also quickly become dear friends to each other, painted me a beautiful picture. It has bright colors and two quotes about teaching. They also wrote a special thank you letter and gave me a set of little margarita shaped candles that match the painting. And they also orchestrated a card for me, signed by all of the IAs on our section.

I know that instructors receive thank you cards and gifts periodically from students (and we must remember that we cannot accept gifts *before* grades have been finalized), but this quarter was especially touching. It helped me remember why I’m here, and I think Taylor Mali captures it best.


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Burnout: Attitudes are contagious. Mine might kill you.

This quarter marks two years of teaching full-time, and a total of 6 years intermittently teaching part-time. This translates to a total of 6 different courses taught to a total of nearly 40 sections of students.

I strive to be a fun, yet intelligent, instructor who relates well to Generation Y’ers (although I’m also happy to work with many non-traditional students). The kind of instructor that students are comfortable to approach, yet know better than to fuck with. Sorry, I’m fresh out of sugar coating today.

In fact, I’ve been short on sugar coating nearly all quarter. It started like all quarters. Fresh, new, exciting, and organized. And then it quickly turned into a patience, or perhaps a tolerance, contest. How much bullshit can Christina tolerate this week? The answer to that question decreased exponentially with each week.

As a young, female instructor who also has blonde hair and a generally cheerful disposition, I’m continually conscious of my professional demeanor. The last thing I want to be perceived as is (a) dumb, (b) under qualified, (c) the instructor who tries to be friends with her students rather than a teacher/leader, or (d) a bitch. This, coupled with the knowledge that a woman can in fact be credible yet personable, influences my professional conduct.

Along the way I’ve learned not to become too upset about some things. You want to make a scene about your exam score in front of the entire class to see what I do? Fine, see if I care. I dare you to make me sweat. Little do they know that, just yesterday, in fact, my husband commented on my “nerves of steal”. It’s not an indifference to students, because I really care. I’m a care bear. But it’s simply a mindset that enables me to get through extremely long days often comprised of one too many snide, rude, or completely unethical students. If I got upset every time a student, for example, text messaged and read a magazine throughout a trembling freshman’s final speech (as if the speaker *doesn’t* see an arrogant asshole in the audience who is communicating that their speech is boring), I would give myself a coronary. It’s much easier to remind that student of the attendance policy, reiterate that they are providing a disconfirming message to the speaker, and remove their name from that day’s attendance sheet. In reality, I would actually prefer to text message and read a magazine during *their* final speech. But someone has to grade it.

Because I look kind and nurturing before even opening my mouth, apparently students expect me to excuse all late work. And they would like me to pass out “A”s on a silver platter. Because I’m “just a dumb blonde” and can’t possibly help them improve as a writer. So when I firmly, yet gently, note the consequences for various decisions they’ve made, their jaws completely drop. “Oh my god. I can’t believe she said that. She must be PMSing. What a bitch. Who does she think she is?” Again, there’s no power trip. There is, however, an expectation of university professors. Murphy’s Law clearly explains that if you let a student earn an A on an assignment after turning it in, for no good reason, days late, they will conveniently report this wonderful news to their friend as they pass by the Chair’s office, or the office of a well respected senior colleague.

But back to the persona. I try very hard to show students how much I care about them. The burned out professor is a common image within academia. It’s quite obvious when someone is done. Out to lunch. Fed up. And their world quickly becomes very dark. Suddenly all students are adversaries. They can do NO right. Ever. This guise is not only heartbreaking, but it is frustrating. It starts to poison the classroom and changes students. Just as it’s hard to get over a romantic partner who has broken your heart or mistreated you, it is equally difficult to get over a bad professor.

In past quarters I’ve thought back to a “Teacher Burnout” scale (Richmond, Wrench & Gorham, 2001) that measures your level of exhaustion. But this quarter’s experiences, which quickly depleted my supply of sugarcoating, prompted me to actually complete the inventory.


After completing the measure I’m happy to report that (a) I was only mildly burned out, or (b) the scale does not adequately measure burnout.

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The catch

There’s always a catch to anything. The catch to our move: I have to teach at WWU (in Washington) this summer. This is not news to me. In fact, I’m thrilled for the opportunity, which I requested months ago. This not only helps me build my vitae, but it pays in 6 weeks of work what I’d normally earn in 12 weeks due to the compressed schedule. However, it does mean that I have to help Sim and the dogs move to Iowa between June 13 and June 21, and then fly back for a 6 week summer session commencing on June 22nd.

And, brace yourselves, I have to stay with my parents! My sister and her husband also live in the same town, thankfully, and have been kind enough to also offer me refuge and free rent. So I’ll likely rotate between houses every week to make sure I don’t wear out my welcome anywhere too quickly.

But the worst part will be being away from my family for that long. I know there are much worse things in life, but this will be really difficult. Their first 6 weeks in a new region, state, and city will be spent without me. I’ll be missing out on trips to the lake and dog park, playing outside in the water to cool off, and watching the fireflies at night. These dogs are going to go crazy over the fireflies. I just hope they don’t bark at them as incessantly as they do squirrels.

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