Monthly Archives: October 2012

Why Are We “Should-ing” All Over Ourselves

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“Should-ing” is a term that was coined in my reality by Carrie Bradshaw in the days of SATC. While a play on words, I find as a female that this keeps plaguing me day and night. I should publish more, I should do more, I should keep working even though my attention span ended at least 36 minutes ago because I’m hungry, I should be more aggressive, I should, I should, I should…..

When did women stop being content and start ‘should-ing’ all over themselves?  In the course of trying to have it all, do it all, and be it all to everyone, we started to burden ourselves with heavy lifting.  Is it to prove ourselves as equally valuable as men?  Certainly, we are. We bear the children that are these men. In my book, that’s like an automatic home run.  In modern society, males are still prized and while I get this, why haven’t we gone back to a matriarchial society yet?  It seems in countries where leadership is carried out by women, things are actually better.  After watching Half the Sky on PBS a few weeks ago, it couldn’t be more obvious.  Men buy booze, hookers, and soda with money. Women spend it on clothing for the children, to send them to school, and provide food that will feed everyone equally, no matter the age or gender of the hungry person.

In our culture, women continue to be an undervalued resource.  Never has this been more obvious to me than in the past five years. Growing up, my mom was the boss of the farm. You wanted to sell seed corn, you talked to my mom.  You wanted to sell semen to breed the cows, you talked to my mom.  You wanted to hunt on the land, you talked to my mom. You tried to ask where the boss was when you drove up in your truck, you had to talk to my mom.  Yes, I have a dad, but my mom is the baller of the business.  When my mom first began running the dairy, a man stopped by asking for the boss and she told him that he was talking to the boss.  He thought she was joking.  She bid him a quick farewell and his business was lost to our farm.  Sucker. Today, she and my dad split things more evenly, but this was before she married him and she farmed it alone for eight years.  She’s the boss. You want to get within a 1/2 mile radius of anything on the farm, you go through her. Got it?

She also raised us this way.  Nobody is the boss of you (hypothetically).  Autonomy was important and having that sense of identity was a key in our development.  She may not have liked every thing we did and every choice we made, but she raised us that way so it was only her to blame when we did grow up to be independent, strong, and opinionated   We had learned from the best. The past five years have made my lack of value to some parts of the world painfully obvious.  If it’s not my skin color, it’s my education. Not everyone agrees that social science is a science and I chalk that up to their own insecurities.  If it’s not my education, it’s my ovaries.  I have turned against my own fellow females and have convinced myself that if I decide that having a kid is ever a good idea, my career will suffer as a result.  This comes from knowing how this society treats women.  This comes from knowing that if I have these imaginary kids with another academic, one of us will have to have a lesser career. Research backs that up and common sense says that no child ever did well in a house with two TT parents trying to publish or perish under the same roof. That would just be unfair to the child, plain and simple.

So why do we keep ‘should-ing’ all over ourselves?  As a new faculty it can be really hard to just know when to stop. I had lunch with another first year faculty and she is drowning in all of her ‘should’s’  right now.While feeling overwhelmed is natural, continually beating yourself up is not. It has taken me almost a full year of being on faculty to come to the realization I’m about to share. Watch out folks, this is NOT rocket science. After listening to my colleague, I finally said, “just stop.” She looked at me like I was nuts, and I went to say, “at some point, you will have to just stop with how much you should be doing and start doing what you want to be doing, even if it’s nothing, hanging out with your husband, or watching bad tv.”

So, today as you wrap up skimming or reading this post, do one thing for me (and for you). Pick a time today and ‘just stop.’ Go do something you want to do and stop “shoulding” all over yourself. A mental holiday is just what this doctor ordered!

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Is Time On My Side?

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There are only 24 hours in a day and apparently, no one is going to be adding anymore.  I sleep for around 7-8 hours each day, leaving me with just enough time to run around like a maniac, do some work, think I make a difference, work out for an hour, and spend a few hours in the evening rotting like a good vegetable.  On weekends, I’ve disciplined myself to NOT work (yes, NOT work) and do other things like blog, bake, sew, hike, work out, socialize, and sleep an extra hour without feeling guilty.  For these things I will not apologize.  My circadian clock is forever set on ‘teacher time’ meaning I do my best work in the morning and by around 3 p.m. I’m about as useless as a screen door on a submarine mentally.  My brain says, “peace out sucka” and heads for the hills. I have tried numerous strategies to get more from my brain but this fall I threw in the mental towel and am learning to embrace the fact that that’s the time my body and my brain are telling me it’s time to move on.

Of course I feel a little guilt. I know I should be working still but I just can’t. The Wall Street Journal got me thinking and helped rationalize my former thoughts about my own circadian clock and how my brain and body function.  I felt guilty about shutting down mentally when I would see my colleagues plugging away, I felt guilt that I didn’t work that much at night unless there was a looming deadline, I felt guilt when I would have to take a full day off during the weekend in order to maintain normal life with tasks like laundry, groceries, paying bills, etc…Only in the last few months have I realized and learned to accept the way my brain and body work. I still work hard but I’m no longer killing myself and beating myself up over a few lost hours of productivity. My boss actually helped me out quite a bit without even knowing it. He revealed to me that he often goes home around 4 p.m. to put on his parenting hat and takes a 20 minute nap.  What a revelation!  He said the 20 min. resets his brain and helps him get through the rest of the day as a parent.  He said he was a better parent because of the 20 min., a better husband, and a nicer human to be around.  I grew up with parents who napped. A few minutes after breakfast, a long nap on a rainy day when there was no fieldwork at the farm, and other stolen moments with eyes closed. Why was I having such a hard time coming to terms with the fact that I felt guilt about shutting down the engines?

It’s comforting to know I’m not alone.  Get a Life, PhD shared her strategies for learning how to work with her circadian clock and fit in family time while looking for balance. I think as human beings we struggle with technology because it’s always there and in turn, we feel like we always have to be ‘there’ too, where ever that is. I’m also learning to accept the fact that there will be days that I don’t feel like I get much done on paper.  I may have taken care of 100 other things such as numerous student meetings, article reviews, conference submissions, and other house keeping details, but hard reading/writing/research will not happen every day.  It’s taken me four years to come to that realization so I hope if you’re reading this as a grad student or new faculty, step back and accept yourself for your brain right now.

I take the afternoons to take care of tasks or check list items, go on site and school visits, work out, make a real meal, converse with the people in my life, and not reply to emails.  I don’t have a hard set rule, but I certainly don’t answer them because I’m not as clear and quite frankly, I need the boundary. When I’m in schools every afternoon, I take the mornings to get work done, work out, and mostly stay home without interruptions. The joy of technology and telecommuting means I can work almost anywhere at anytime, which is a blessing and a curse.

I do keep a running to do list in Evernote. This way when I have a thought, remember something, or forget it, I can type it out and it syncs with my phone, laptop(s), and desktop machines and it’s waiting for me the next day when I begin my day, not the other way around. I’ve taken to exercising almost every day even if it’s just free weights or a leisurely walk.  The hour helps me clear my head and I usually do some of my best thinking during these times.  I do work out for the ‘burn’ as well for the same benefits but also for health reasons as well.

Knowing when to stop might be more important than knowing where to start each morning.  As a new faculty, it can be tough to prioritize your busy life, make time for things that are actually more important than work, and work with the internal schedule that dictates your every move moreso than your calendar and your students. Learning to embrace it early will set you up for later success. I no longer feel guilty about working out before going into work if I know I’ll be at school sites until the evening news. I no longer feel guilty if at 3:30 my brain has melted and I’m online shoe shopping. It’s only a problem when it happens every day for weeks, then I know it’s time to refocus again and remove distractions.

How does your circadian clock make you tick? What tips and tricks do you rely on (besides looming deadlines) to help get you through times when you have to produce?

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Teaching vs. Research Universities

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The shiny names, the big teams, the fancy diploma.  Oh wait, you went where?  Measuring learning is something our society and higher education continue to struggle with.  We want our kids to go to ‘big name university’ so it looks good and some where along the way, we began to equate the ‘big name’ with a ‘big education’ only to sadly find out it merely included a ‘big price tag.’ I don’t have two legs to stand on in this case since my degrees are from those perceived ‘big names.’ I will tell you this: I spent two years at a state school or community college and I have to say, I received the best teaching and more education in those two years than I did during the rest of my BS educational experience.

Why are we scoffing, turning up our noses, and pitying those who want to earn their education, get specialized attention, and pay a reduced tuition?  I saved a TON of money going to state school for two years.  I was in classes with only about 30 students.  I got a lot of one-on-one attention from all of my teachers.  I didn’t  know what a TA was until I transferred to big box U and my GPA plummeted like dropped pie my first semester.

A teaching university or college is just that.  They specialize in teaching.  A research university says they combine both, but can they do it consistently and do it consistently well?  Me thinks not all of the time. Sure, you can hire a laundry load of TA’s, GRA’s, and GTA’s, but those folks are there to mostly do research, complete their advanced degree, and segue way into a post doc, or another advanced degree program.

To meet the rising numbers, decreased funding, and lack of space, we’ve gone virtual.  We’ve gone part time. We’ve hired over 100% more adjuncts and instructors here at my university in the last year.  I love a good teacher and I tip my hat to these folks because these are the people WHO LOVE TEACHING. There are those faculty on faculty lines who love teaching too, but the national trend is shifting and TT positions are disappearing like pizza in a dorm. Instructors and adjuncts do the heavy lifting of teaching much of the time with marginal salaries, no benefits, and little thanks.  Their jobs are always ‘up in the air’ depending on funding and that’s no way to live.  While I watched NBC’s education nation this fall, I became more inflamed while parents would bitch about their kids lunches, their kids gym, their kids everything, but never assume any kind of responsibility for their child but instead, leave it up to the school to raise their kids.  Compounded with the facebook posts I saw about parents complaining that they had to watch their children grow for 8 weeks of summer vacation **gasp** what a travesty to have to spend time with the child you had!

It does take a community to raise a child.  It takes great teachers, cooperative parents who do challenge but don’t undermine, and it takes a solid place for that to take place.  Parents send their kids off to college and hope they get a great education at these ‘big box’ universities, but what happens when they get spit out after four years with no other skills other than computer tests and office hours?  I have done a lot of mentoring with students on job skills, job searching, research interests, and even life things like comfortable and affordable heat/AC temps, where to go when you need a check up, and how do students handle work vs. roommates when they need to study.  I am happy to help any student, but I can’t help but wonder, where are the parents?  Do they think that big box U will do it all for their kids since they have relinquished their responsibilities the day they dropped them off?

I am a faculty at a big box U and I know plenty of other faculty who LOVE teaching like I do but once you look at a tenure packet and realize that teaching is NOT the priority, it really begins to shape your future and very quickly.  I would be so far fetched to say that students and faculty may be better off at a smaller institution where they can get the attention from great teachers and these teachers will be there because they love teaching, it’s their passion, their muse, and their craft.  Parker Palmer says, “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” We should all strive for that as faculty and begin to rethink the proporitions of teaching vs. research. Let faculty hired as researchers conduct their research, and those faculty hired as teachers should teach predominately.

Where’s the balance?  How can we restore it?  How can we give students knowledge and job skills that will last a lifetime?  As a new faculty, I ponder this one quite a bit.  I meet with students each week with big ideas, but no skill set on how to carry them out. I try my best to help them, but then I stand there and wonder, how come at age 18-21, this is the first time they’ve heard this stuff?  Who is or isn’t doing their job along the way?  What will it take?

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RUDE! How the Presidential Debate Affects Everyone

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Have you seen Mad TV?  Remember Bon Qui Qui?  She’s a bit rough around the edges, but she does make a good point.  When she screams “RUDE” and puts her hand up, the person who is acting at the burger joint if caught off guard for many reasons. As I watched those damn debates, all I wanted to do was jump into the stage where Obama and Romney were and slap their hands every time they were rude and scream in my best Bon Qui Qui voice, “RUDE.” Forget the comments about Big Bird, just the rudeness of both men. Perhaps a slap on the wrist wouldn’t have been effective, I would have paid a 3 year old with a gong to just continually bang on it when the men were being rude. That might be loud enough to shut them up. I actually quit listening to the content (it started to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher “wwaaahhhh, wahh, wah, wah, wah”) but instead starting focusing on how many times they insisted on being rude.

Why is it bothering me?  Because people watch this and then think, “this is how I should be behaving.”  It’s no secret that education as a whole gets less and less respect. Teachers are exhausted because of increasing standardized demands, having to basically raise their students in many cases, and continued battles with things that shouldn’t even be on the table like etiquette.  Higher education is no different anymore.  I overheard a grad student say he was becoming a college professor so no parents would bother him and I did LOL at him (oops) and then share with him the semesters that I had parents emailing me and calling my office phone because their son/daughter had not received an A in my class. What the what??? What happened to manners in general? Where did they go? Classroom civility has become an issue at the undergraduate level as students see others model bad behavior, they come to class with their ‘guns blazin’ and have no problems being disruptive, rude, and extremely confrontational on purpose.  While debate is healthy, getting in a peers or a professors face for a 9 a.m. class is not.

I had a conversation with PIC about the debates a few nights later and he commented that of all the news outlets he looked at (he’s a bit of a news junkie), not a single one mentioned the fact that both candidates were extremely rude to each other and to the moderator.  They were not respectful of one another or anyone they might be speaking too. Don’t get me started on content, I’ll get on a far-away tangent. People were critical of Jim Leherer as the moderator and while he might have done a better job commanding the two men, the bottom line was that neither of the candidates gave a s*^t about respecting Leherer. No one cared about the respect or lack thereof that the two candidates exhibited.  In the world we live in today, it seems the loudest mouth gets the crumbs and the squeaky wheel gets the grease, so when will being a polite or introverted person come back in style?  I, for one, can’t wait and it can’t come soon enough.

Education continues to face major put downs-not from lobbying groups, decreases in funding, or by bad press, but from PARENTS–perhaps the group that should be the biggest advocate for education of all kinds.  Instead of crapping all over your kids teacher or professor, sometimes it’s best to say nothing until you get the facts.  I don’t think parents do it on purpose all of the time, but I do recall that some of my hardest working students were the ones whose parents took two minutes to invest in their kids education. These were the parents who sent emails to check in, not attack. These were the parents who came to parent night just to be informed. These were the parents who volunteered to help, not scorn. Their only agenda was for their child and creating a positive educational environment, not sneaking around to dig up dirty dirt and then freak out every faculty in the building.

This trickle down even exists in higher ed.  Outside my office window I heard students discussing a professor they didn’t like and one said to the other, “if I don’t get the grade I want, I’ll just keep emailing and arguing with him (the professor) in class until he just changes it.” Hey you little brat, why don’t you try EARNING the grade you want first, then the argument will be null and void?  But that’s not how these young people think.  True learning and grades are often not directly correlated and today’s generation is having a tough time with that. They only see winning as the outcome. They LEARNED this behavior from somewhere though and odds are, it was their parents or from parents in their former peer group. This saddens and frustrates me to no end.

As a former public school teacher, I burned myself out and the rudeness of my students and parents was one of the contributing factors.  I had a student who announced to me on the first day of school that on December 13th he would no longer be in school.  He was dropping out.  Every person in his family dropped out of high school and he would be doing the same.  He was so PROUD to be quitting school and quite frankly, he made my life a daily hell when he did come to school until December because of his rudeness, lack of any kind of human respect, and because he knew his days were numbered and neither parent gave a shit, so why should he? A few years later, his younger brother graduated against amazing odds and not one of his parents attended his graduation. Out of four siblings in that family, he was the only one to earn his high school diploma and his parents couldn’t be bothered to attend.  Even if education wasn’t their priority in life, shouldn’t they support their son (first and foremost) and then support the institution that was working with him to get him to graduation day?  No, instead they emotionally beat their kids into thinking that education was worthless and the child that wanted to succeed, they shunned from their family. I’m sure they have good reasons but there is no excuse for allowing anyone to be as rude and disrespectful as that young man in my class was.  That goes into human decency and it is unacceptable.

I would insist that the two candidates clean up their acts for the next debate. If nothing else, stop being so damn rude. To each other, to the moderator, and to our country. Basic principles are still important and it’s important that as a first world country, as role models, and as decent human beings, they go back to the basic rules their moms and dads taught them. You don’t have to be a privileged child or a poor child to know that common etiquette is important and this ‘show’ we’ve been giving all of the other countries of the world is making us look like jerks.

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Creating Hype in Higher Ed

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The Apple announcement made me do some thinking. We wait, we buy tickets, we speculate about the newest iPhone, iPod, iPod Touch, new iOS, and pine away as each detail is announced via live blog, feed, or better yet: we get one of those coveted tickets to the events that only happen twice a year.  How come higher education can’t be more like an Apple event?

You may be thinking that it sort of is and you’re right.  But let me go on this tyrade for a few minutes while I scarf my lunch before my next set of mtgs/student things….

College and a higher education used to be this sacred, amazing thing.  Now we’ve gone online, offline, asynchronous, synchronous, MOOC, Kahn Academy, rolling admissions, summer sessions, part time, full time, no time for any of it in the whole grand scheme of things.  The prestige of education has been sucked out due to a lot of factors, politics included.  If we want an educated workforce, that’s great, but what about the trades that don’t necessarily require an M.D. in order to fix my toilet but trade training in plumbing instead? Why aren’t apprenticeships and admissions to trades and other occupations kept under lock and key like the newest iPhone?  Why are these jobs looked down upon in many circles? I know I certainly can appreciate and will compensate whoever can cut my hair because I know I’d look like a fool if I tried to do it myself. That person did get special training and had to pay for it, so why do we marginalize their worth because they didn’t get their phd?

In order to create hype in higher education, it’s time to take a good and hard look at what we value.  Yes, we value an educated workforce, but no one is saying what kind of education.  I know that I value my ‘arsenal’ of people who I depend on to keep my life moving: the mechanic who works on my car, the stylist who keeps my ever curling/waving hair in check, the teachers who I work with, the students whose parents all did NOT go to college but wanted the best for their children, the dentist who keeps my pearly whites just that, and the folks who offer me service at my favorite grocery stores, restaurants, who brew my beer, make my wine, cut my cheese (hahahah-sorry), and all the folks who get my goods and service to me and ship them to others from me.  A whole plethora of people with different educations ranging from drop outs to advanced degrees keep each of us moving at the speed of business.  I value them equally so why can’t the rest of society?  Some of the smartest dumb people I know have advanced degrees and some of the dumbest smart people I know deliver my pizza.  I put equal value on them because I want my chiropractor to re-align my vertebrae and I like my pizza hot and fresh with the cheese evenly distributed.

Our education system needs to be like the newest Apple event: hyped up!  Instead of assuming everyone is going to college, it’s time to take a good, hard look at why we go to college.  Is it to ‘find ourselves’ by learning how to do a keg stand or is it to identify with our own identity in order to find something we are truly passionate about?  More and more, I hear students outside my window, on the bus, in line at the eateries, and everywhere bitching about their professor, their lack of funds from mom and dad, or the car that someone else bought them and I can’t help but think that this sense of entitlement that our society has come to know is becoming engrained in our children and will sadly trickle down.

Education is not a right past the 12th grade. The strike in Chicago is a whole other ball of wax, but it’s time we value those who educate us and the education system.  Creating hype might be the answer. It should be a big deal to get into college, much like the Target ad that ran during the Olympics and while we can joke about #ivykidproblems or #firstworldproblems, the bottom line is that education is a great gateway and instead of keg standing our way through four years, we should be taking it more seriously. Instead of opening access to everyone, making higher education more private (not privatized) might bring back some of that prestige to an education.  It breaks my heart to hear these entitled kids piss and moan about how mom/dad won’t drop another $200 into their bank account so they can buy liquor for the home game weekend while I know other students who are scraping every nickel they have to pay their own way. Trades could do the same thing.  I want my electrician to be certified, I want them to earn a fair wage, and I’m happy to pay it.  Something like my home should not be a highly negotiated thing if I’m getting electrocuted when I plug in my coffee maker.

If we continue to marginalize our education by dumping all over it, our future students will do the same.  Instead of this fantastic experience, it’s become this thing that ‘we HAVE to do’ instead of a privilege that we WANT to do. It’s no longer an honor to go to college, it’s turned into this spoiled child syndrome thing. Some may say I can stand on my little soapbox and say these things because I do have my college degrees, but hear me out. I was raised (very well I might add) by parents who did not both contain college degrees, so when did a degree become a measure of any kind of intelligence of gauge of future success?  Standardized testing has done much the same thing in our country and quite frankly, I hate standardized tests.

As a new faculty, it’s sometimes really tough to get my students excited about the fact that they are and will earn their degree because they see the world as a place where you have to have it, not as a privilege to earn it. It’s difficult to communicate the ideals that education is something special because society, employers, media, and everything else has watered it down.  I wouldn’t mind bringing some of the hype and prestige back into higher education so when I have kids in a billion years, a university education can be something so coveted and special that they think twice before ripping off their clothes, taking a bunch of photos, and posting them to whatever Facebook is in 2035.

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