Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The First Day of Classes - and the Jokes That Fall Flat

I consider myself to be a pretty funny person.  But you just never know what will make students laugh and stop being so freaked out by the 6 page syllabus weighing down their desks.  They are sweating the attendance policy, mentally configuring what their schedules would look like if they dropped my class.  And all I want to do is break the tension.  

This is harder than it sounds.  They don't want to laugh at my jokes and admit that maybe, just maybe, it's okay to stay in a difficult class because the professor might be cool.  They are cold (hey, you try trekking across campus to my icebox of a basement classroom one day!) and they are tired (it is the first day, after all) and all they want is for me to stop talking, give them homework and send them on their way. 

So, I use a Homer Simpson reference to break the ice. Usually, Homer does it.  These students cannot remember a world without Homer Simpson so I figure I am in the clear (unlike when I mention ALF or Happy Days, both of which clearly show my age).  I give the reference...

...and this is how my students react:

I'm trying here; I really am!  Today was rough.  A few snickers at the Hunger Games reference (probably just because they can't believe I know what they read), and I'm done for the day.  Getting them to want to be here is usually a little easier than this.  

The point here is, I am trying to get them to engage and the usual tricks just didn't work today.  Ice-breakers galore and all of my previous training is still useless.

But I will get them to love books!  I will! (says every literature professor in America on the first day of classes...)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Drums for a Good Cause

As you may or may not know, I am from New Jersey.  I was born here, I grew up here, I live here and I work here.  So you can imagine that Hurricane Sandy hit close to home for me.  I saw the ugliness of homes ruined, livelihoods washed away, and I saw the beauty of communities that banded together to take care of each other, complete strangers breaking their backs for days.

A good friend of mine, a fellow New Jerseyan, drums for the ska-punk band Streetlight Manifesto and he is auctioning off his custom Dark Horse Percussion Drum Kit to raise funds for Hurricane Sandy Relief.  Please consider bidding and also sharing this auction with others.

Thank you!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Guest Editor

I have just learned that I will be a guest editor for the Summer 2013 issue of OVS Magazine.  Please feel free to check out their site and previous issues.  

I will have a poem published in their upcoming Winter issue and will then serve as guest editor in the Summer. I am thankful to OVS for including me in their process and I look forward to it! Here is the current issue.  Check it out!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Least Stressful Job in America?

Recently, I read an article on Forbes.com claiming that CareerCast has calculated that university professors have the least stressful jobs in America.  Allow me to address this now that I have calmed down and am no longer throwing darts at a picture of the writer as I cry tears of happiness all over my final grades for the Fall semester.  

The original Forbes article can be found here,  Before I get into my opinion, I would like to note that professors all over the country and possibly the world have complained about this gross understatement of our responsibilities.  Of course, I by no means have the most difficult or stressful job in America.  So I would, of course, like to start out by saying that I love my job and that I am not complaining about it; I am just addressing the horrid lack of research in this article and the misconception that we all took these jobs for summers off and lazy days on the couch.

In this article, the writers mentions, "At the end of the day, people in these professions can leave their work behind, and their hours tend to be the traditional nine to five."  Woah, slow down there, buddy.  I'm not sure I know even one professor who does not take his or her work home.  As a writing professor, I sometimes have to grade 50-70 essays per week, or even within a 3 day period.  I answer emails constantly and am actually thinking about just ignoring the email on my smartphone for a period each day to alleviate the stress of constant connection.  (But let's not kid ourselves; that will never happen and in fact, the connection will become even more apparent as more and more students get smartphones themselves.)  Among other misconceptions in this article are:

  1. University professors do not answer to anyone.
  2. We are off in the summer.
  3. Universities adding more adjunct positions over the next 7 years is a good thing.
Of course we answer to someone!  In some universities, professors do not even write their own syllabi.  (Check out the University of Phoenix online program; I can assure you that professors there have very little leeway.)  There is a Chair. There is a Dean.  There are colleagues who expect of you what they put in - the hardest work and most concise attention possible.  In addition, even if we do not teach in the summer (and let me tell you, many of us not only teach but get quite upset when there are no classes available to teach) we are doing research, writing articles, trying to publish (and much of the time, collecting rejection letters like pennies), preparing for classes and trying to improve our teaching.  Finally, why not add more full-time positions so that the roving adjunct is a thing of the past?

Real Grading

To the writer's credit, she did write an addendum to this article after MANY university professors spoke out.    But even in that addendum, she underhandedly insults the position when she says, "While I characterize their lives as full of unrestricted time, few deadlines and frequent, extended breaks, the commenters insist that most professors work upwards of 60 hours a week preparing lectures, correcting papers and doing research for required publications in journals and books." So, she still characterizes us as lazy, but hey, she's been confronted, so let's give them what they want.

I think that what most professors want, and most educators in general, is simply for the hard work they do to be appreciated.  Speaking for myself, I do not mind the hard work and I love watching my students learn and grow.  I enjoy presenting at conferences and being a part of the academic world.  And yes, I do get some time to vacation or to watch Downton Abbey during my breaks.  But after working 70 hours a week during the semester, can you blame me for wanting to escape into 1912 England for awhile?  But aside from all of this, it is the positive comments from students, the acknowledgement of hard work from superiors, acceptances to publications and conferences, that lift me up and make me realize the world of good that I do, or try to do, on a regular basis.  It would be great if the writer could answer this one question: 

Do you find it not stressful to make sure that young adults actually turn out to be successful in the global community?

The internet, understandably, has been buzzing with the fallout of this article for about a week now. As a result, new Twitter hashtags have been created and new articles to go against this silliness have been written. Forbes even published "Top 10 Reasons Being a University Professor is a Stressful Job."  So, after finally writing about this myself and admitting that yes, my job does rock but that does not mean I am without stress, (and please stop making my students think my job is so cushy, as you have no idea the repercussions of such ignorance), I am putting it aside.  But I would love to hear from my fellow educators.  Please feel free to comment when you are taking a break from syllabi preparation, as we all know that's what you're doing right now.