Let Summer Read 2016 Begin!

copyright 2016, U of Toronto Press

Happy July, true believers! As promised nine days ago, the shiny new Teaching Prof in Progress Book Club is launching an inaugural Summer Read virtual book discussion. And everyone who teaches (or cares about teaching and teachers) in higher education is invited… So let’s get this party started!

4thofjulyspeedodude

promise that guy will not be there.

Our first Summer Read will be a discussion of Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016, University of Toronto Press) on the Goodreads social media site. And getting involved is super easy:

Participation will also be easy.  I will post discussion questions on the Book Club’s page, and we’re off! You can respond, post your own discussion questions, and engage one another throughout the month of July until August 8 as your summer schedule allows — flexibly, on your own time.

To give you a teaser of what we’ll discuss, here are the questions for the Introduction to the book — a tad provocative, if I do say so myself? [And sorry, but no page numbers for the quotations… I’m reading the Kindle edition.]

(1) The Introduction points out the familiar 1-2 punch that motivated the authors to write the book:

  • “Flexibility of hours can translate into working all the time, particularly because academic work by its very nature is never done.”
  • “When we look at studies of academic stress, we are struck by how many situations identified as sources of work stress are about lack of time.”

Let’s start the conversation by addressing the elephant in the room: is this problem, ultimately, unfixable? What have been your experiences with this dilemma? Thoughts?

(2) At one point the authors observe, regarding policy change at our institutions,

  • “A surprising common thread in studies of the corporate university is an emphasis on change being in the hands of individual professors.”

Potentially empowering, sure, but adding to our stress? What kinds of related observations and/or experiences have you had? Thoughts?

(3) What else struck you as important in the Introduction? Observations? Questions for the group?

Intrigued???? Hope so!  Come join the club, tell your friends, colleagues and grad students about it (and the TPP blog, and the Facebook and Twitter platforms), and let’s meet in the salon!

Slowing down… feelin’ groovy? or delusional?

Sometimes tourist traps really get the job done.

So, how has your summer been so far? I have been pretty good about taking it easy and refreshing myself. While I have only very recently started back on working out and getting back in shape (only a month behind my resolved schedule), I just wrapped up a fun family vacation to Branson, Missouri — a few days of amusement park-ing, tacky-tastic touristing, and time in the pool with my kids and on the town with my best girl.

I haven’t been all lay-about idle (as my summer school prep and recent relaunching of this blog attest)… but I have been slowing down, and feelin’ groovy.

Alas, the incursions of the real world inevitably intrude as they will — time-sensitive e-mails about administrative matters from colleagues and students, and the realization that summer school will start all to soon, meaning summer school prep Must. Be. Finished. Soon.  I want to feel groovier more consistently, but sometimes going slower makes me feel anxious and guilty — not very groovy at all. Sound familiar?

[A potentially useful response for all of us after the jump!]

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Giving a Damn When it Counts

Two weeks from now I will once again don my academic regalia (which, for some reason, is almost always donned in the humid heat of late August and late May) and prepare to celebrate my students who will graduate from college. Some will actively avoid me. Some will have forgotten about me. Some will embrace and thank me. Some will keep in touch, while others I will bid farewell for the last time.

Of course, some of them I will be glad to see go. Some (sadly, more than I would prefer) I will have forgotten. And some I will remember fondly and miss genuinely. Inevitably there will be some with whom I will miss an opportunity to congratulate and say goodbye… which bothers me for a bit. But I remember that the day is not about me — it is about them, and what they have accomplished (or will, after those elusive few make-up credits). My experiences with them are certainly varied. Some were an intellectual and emotional joy to work with over the months and years. Others I recall for that one ten-week term they tried my patience and raised my ire. Still, what they have accomplished is worthy of celebration, and at these times I mourn as well the kids who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to successfully get this far.

One of the valuable things about being in this job for a while is the unique opportunity to observe something of the lives of our students over time. Rationally, we realize that our students are complex human beings with often unpredictable, messy lives. Still, there is much about their lives we are not privy to observing, and these sometimes crucial moments of anxiety or struggle can be easy to forget. Such a moment finds me today, as I prepare to grade a stack of students work, some of which will make me smile, and some of which will make me grimace and swear.

Sam Bell of Johnson County Community College wrote a piece for a recent Chronicle of Higher Education blog that provides a helpful reality check as some of us push through the final days and weeks of grading student work from our limited frame of reference as our students’ classroom teacher. It is important for us to be mindful of the human lives that define them apart from our role in it, and to be capable of the compassion and concern for their learning that brought us to this profession in the first place.

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Why Professors Should Give a Damn

The spring semester is coming to a close. That means students are trying to pull up their grades, professors are finishing projects and committee work, and almost everyone is running low on patience. On social media, I’ve seen an uptick in professors’ complaints about their students. Recently, I read a thread on a social-media site that minimized a student’s struggles because she had asked for an extension on a deadline. Faculty members castigated her and welcomed her to “the real world.” One suggested how to avoid dealing with her. Are we serious? If we don’t understand students’ real-world dilemmas, what are we doing teaching?

[more reality check after the break!]

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