Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Thursday, February 25, 2016

I Have a Job

So I've blogged my job market process since August as an ABD student.

The final tally was 84 jobs applied for. That's just the higher ed jobs, not including the Hasting applications, the NPS jobs, the federal jobs.
That's 36 definite higher ed "Nos" and 48 limbo jobs with no answer yet. Despite this, my thought is not that I'm still in the running for those 48 jobs, but that HR just hasn't gotten around to sending out the rejection letters.

And I've made my peace with the fact that I am not a unicorn, and there will be no higher ed job this year. For me this was maybe easier than others because I DID teach high school for 12 years and loved it. There's a lot I miss about it- the community, knowing your students over four years, all the support your provide them.
I'm trying NOT to listen to the mean voice in my head that tells me this is a failure on my part. I know that the job market is more about luck and chance than anything else.
I still spent some time last week talking both on the phone and on Twitter with colleagues about making my peace with what NOT getting a higher ed job really meant. And what it didn't mean.

I've written too about my back up plans which included applying for National Park jobs, Bureau of Indian Education jobs, applying to jobs at UNM in the dean's office, applying to TFA, and transferring my high school teaching certificate to New Mexico and applying for high school teaching jobs.

Last week I was starting to freak out a bit.
While I have lots still to do this semester I know that I will blink and it will be over. My TAship runs out in May and I've been facing the very scary reality of how I pay bills after 1 June. IF I get summer teaching that pushes back these fears to August, but that's still terrifying.

Most of the advice I've gotten has been supportive.
But a lot of what I've gotten are platitudes- you'll be fine. It'll work out. Just get an alt-ac job.
While I appreciate the sentiment behind these, they have not helped.

But I have tried not to freak out. I have tried to focus on the fact that I did everything I could to get a job and at this point I needed to not stress over things I had no control over. I knew that high school jobs generally didn't post job openings for the next school year until April-May when they knew who was retiring or not coming back, so since I've missed out (mostly) on the higher ed hiring cycle, that was what I was hanging my hat on.

Because as of last week, I had not made the cut. I had not heard from a single job.

I have an MS Ed, an MA, an (almost) PhD, and I'm a Nationally certified teacher, so I'll go to the top of most high school hirings, although I've written before that my concern was that also puts me at the top of the salary scale which could be a budget buster for some schools.
Most of the private schools weren't hiring, but I sent letters and CVs in anyway. One was, and I sent in my stuff, but never heard back.
I've put in for three separate public school jobs, heard a definite "No" from one nothing from another and then the following from the third.

Last Friday I received a phone call late in the day to schedule an interview at a high school on Monday.
I interviewed Monday afternoon. I think it went well.
I sent a thank you email to the principal Tuesday and he responded that they recommended that HR hire me, but the offer had to come from HR, not them.

Yesterday (Wednesday) was the first day of final edits on #DevilDiss2, and I had a hard time. One, because I started with the intro and since I did this and the conclusion last, this was really the first time my director  had seen them, and so they were ROUGH. The intro had all the pieces but needed serious revision. And I struggled with it all yesterday. Of course running in the background all day, checking my email and phone (I was convinced they were both broken) was waiting to hear about whether or not HR would take the recommendation. So there was that.

By 4p I had finished the introduction revisions, and since it was a hard day wrestling with the revisions, I took Nehi for our evening walk. I figured if I hadn't heard anything by then I probably wouldn't. As usual, I didn't take my phone. I like that our walks end my work day because it's a great way to let go of the day and clear my head.
I returned home to five missed calls and a voicemail that HR was hoping to get in touch with me, and to call them back. I did, but it was after 5p at that point. I admit to worrying- was this good news or bad news? Would they move onto the next person on the list since they didn't get me? It's all so stressful.
I woke up this morning to an email from the principal telling me that HR called and left me a voicemail.
I was finally able to catch up with HR this morning and was offered, and accepted the job.
This is a mid-semester replacement, and I start sometime in the next week. I'll complete hiring paperwork today. The school has work days tomorrow and Monday, so I'd love to get in there and start to get acclimated some but the actual start date depends on how quickly the background stuff goes through. Best estimate is about a week.

The position is for teaching English 9 and 10, which is what a lot of my experience is, so I'm excited about that. The two English teachers I met during my interview were very nice, so that bodes well.
I am very excited, for a lot of reasons. A teaching job means that I can pay rent and groceries and Nehi chewies. Even if this is just this semester, the money I can put aside will cover bills through February, which means I've gone from no safety net to a lot. If it's possibly renewed for next year that's even better. It buys me breathing room, it lowers my stress level. It means that a second round on the job market is possible. While the school is about a 40-45 minute commute, I don't have to move, so I save that expense.

It will also be an adjustment, not anything bad, just different.

Because I've been revising #DevilDiss and teaching online this semester I've enjoyed the ultimate privilege of higher ed- working from home, in sweatpants, working on my own schedule, taking breaks to play with Nehi. There's a lot about higher ed that's privileged, and gets attention, but the flexibility of HOW we're able to work is often not mentioned.

I already get up at 530a, but now I'll need to immediately walk Nehi, then get ready for work in order to leave by 630a to get to school, which starts at 735a. High school teaching is also different because it's teaching straight through all day, for eight hours with only a small break for lunch, maybe one period of prep. So that's also very different from teach 50 or 75 minutes once, maybe twice, a day.

The schedule also means that I need to find someone to come let Nehi out around lunchtime. She's crate trained, so she'll easily go back to that, but 9+ hours is too long for her, so she needs a break. I've emailed the dog walker/pet sitter my vet recommended. They're a little pricey, but there's nothing I can do about that she can't go that long (and that's not including if I have meetings or anything after school).

So far there is only one negative. I've had to write and cancel for a conference. It's simply too many days to take off just a few weeks into a new job. I feel AWFUL about this because it's a conference I look forward to, and people who have supported me, but it's three days in a row. I thought long and hard about this, trying to figure out a way around, and I just can't do it. I've only ever cancelled from a conference once before- AFS over the union issues, and I did it months in advance. Because of how quickly this all happened, it's less than a month notice, and I feel awful about it. But I just can't turn down or jeopardize this job. I need it.

Our daily schedule will change:

  • Getting up will be fine
  • Nehi might not like taking her morning walk in the dark, but she'll get over it. The walk will have to be shorter because of time limits, but there's nothing I can do about that
  • I KNOW the first week I'll collapse at 3p on Friday because it's exhausting to teach straight through all day (even if you love it) and it'll take me a bit to get back in the groove
  • I'll just switch grading my online class from mornings to evenings
  • Saturday mornings I'll still work on my online class, with afternoons set aside for dissertation revisions.
  • I've been taking Sundays off-off. At least the next month this probably won't happen as I finish dissertation revisions.

I'm not worried about juggling the work. When I last taught high school I taught my classes, acted as department chair, served on multiple school committees, ran extracurricular clubs, taught two online AP classes (with 50+ students), adjuncted at the local community college and still managed to publish.

But I admit, that I had a small freak out when I laid out the revisions schedule for the home stretch of the dissertation. I have until the end of March to complete a detailed, concise line edit of the entire dissertation. My director will then aim to have final notes to me by 1 May, so I can work on last looks in order to send the final draft to my committee by 15 May for my 17 June defense.
It works out to roughly two chapters a week. But while the intro needed a major overhaul the actual chapters need cutting, trimming, style work not complete reorganizations, so not awful.
And that last week is actual spring break for the high school, so I'd have off the whole week to finish.
That's a lot.
But because I'm a planner and a realist I asked myself- what's the worst case scenario?
I won't finish the edits in time. We reschedule my defense for August. That gives me all summer, when I won't be working full time, to finish. An early August defense still enables my committee to write job letters that I'm a Doctor, so it makes no difference to Job Market Round 2. It does mean paying an extra semester of dissertation tuition at $594 but if this teaching job extends to next year, that's less of an issue.

Don't get me wrong, that's not what I want. I WANT to be done in June. But if that's the worst case scenario? That's totally manageable.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 6 Grading

The last couple of weeks have seen a number of articles about spec grading, and how people are implementing it in their classrooms.
I'm already working on the next syllabus, things I want to improve or revise for the next class. So I thought I would write this week's post on how I grade and why.

In my classes, regardless of what the course is, I tend to follow a couple of key ideas:
  • Percentage weights of grades go up as we move through the semester. So the first assignment is maybe 15% of the final grade, but final assignments are 20% or 30% because I hope they've mastered more skills by the end, and I want that to be reflected in their grade. They're rewarded for this progress. 
    • I also design assignments so that they scaffold- the weekly assignments/discussion boards serve as practice for the major writing assignments
  • Participation and weekly assignments are graded on a simple 77, 85, 100. 
    • For discussion boards, just posting your stuff earns a 77. Commenting on one classmate an 85, two a 100. Many students choose to just take the 77.
    • While I don't accept revisions of these assignments I do provide a lot of opportunities to grade replace these items.
  • Because I want students to master concepts and skills they can revise any major writing assignment. My only requirements are that they submit it within a week and that it has to be accompanied by a cover letter that explains the changes they made and why. 
    • The only exception to this is the final paper/project as grading turn around and final grade university deadlines make this impossible.
  • I encourage students to send me drafts, and in submission comments to tell me if there's anything they'd like me to focus on when grading.
    • I never mind the drafts because it makes the final grading easier.
    • This also helps me see core/foundational issues with writing and critical thinking and possible misunderstandings in a way just seeing final drafts doesn't. I can often "see" what the disconnect was, and therefore can help.
  • My major writing assignments and projects are graded according to a A-F rubric scale. I choose this years ago and have stuck with it because I think it's easier for a student to understand what makes an "A" versus what 342 points means (but maybe that's just me)
Now here's HOW I grade:
  • I log into my course and grade every day, first thing. Since many of my weekly assignments require not just a post but comments and the deadline for this is midnight Friday, those don't get graded until Saturday morning. The other assignments I grade every day. 
    • I do this for a couple of reasons. The first is that I believe in timely feedback so I like to get assignments back to students as soon as possible. The other reason is practical because this class has 60 students and doing this enables grading to be manageable. 
    • It never takes long, and is worth getting the work back quickly (students comment on it as a positive).
  • Most assignments have a midnight Friday deadline. Many students submit earlier, and those are the ones I daily grade (above) but Saturday morning is when the rest gets done. 
    • This also works because discussion boards require comments and postings, so I need to wait until after deadline to grade.
    • Everything gets graded Saturday. Everything.
    • I make notes on cool examples to mention in the ShoutOuts section of announcements.
    • I also make notes on misunderstandings or things I need to clarify that also go in the weekly announcement (which I post after grading is finished).
  • When I grade I use assignment comment starters that restate what the assignment requirements were, the checklist so to speak. After this I write the personalized feedback based on their assignments. This feedback tends to just be in the comment box.
  • Larger assignments get graded according to the rubric plus personal feedback. For these the feedback is more and comes in the form of the insert comment feature. I try to ask questions to guide the students rather than make comments because I want them to think about why they made the choices they did and what the effect is.
  • Also in my class this semester we're in week 6 and for the first seven weeks the only assignments the students have are practice/participation/discussion board assignments. My logic with this is that these assignments are 15% of the final grade but there are roughly two per week so over thirty, so one or two missed or low assignments doesn't end up hurting them. They can also grade replace these. 
    • This is important to me because in the first weeks of class students are juggling a lot- how to take an online class, work in other classes, work schedules, a lot. I like starting class with low stakes assignments because it acknowledges these challenges. 
    • It is only in week 8 that students have their first major writing assignment that we've then spent seven weeks practicing for. The next major writing assignment builds on the first, and the final on both of these.
In part I've adapted and revised these approaches to counter student beliefs about grading:

I don't want students to feel like this. I know many do. And I know many do because of actual past experiences. I don't believe grades should be punitive. I have discussions about grades and how I view them both on my syllabus and in class. When I have conversations about specific grades I try to get students to see what earned the grade and focus on how to move forward. I try to be encouraging.

Now, here are the things I want my students to get from my grading:
  • Understand what I'm saying with feedback and grades
  • Focus on the feedback, not the grade because one helps them improve and the other doesn't
  • Be more interested in what is LEARNED than the grade earned (although this may be naive)
  • Improve throughout the semester
  • Not see writing as a one and done activity
 Here's what I've taken away from what I've read about the spec grading approach:
  • That assignments should be directly tied to student learning outcomes/course goals
  • Individual assignments are on a pass/fail
  • If students can show mastery of certain skills/objectives they can opt out/skip certain assignments
  • Final grades are determined by "bundles" of assignments. Complete a certain amount of bundles = C, that plus more = B, etc. 
 So I was thinking of what I can take away from this spec grading approach.
  • I like the idea of designing assignments so that they're more closely tied to objectives and that this connection is transparent to the students.
    • This helps me have a focus both in designing the course objectives and the assignments
      • When I taught high school I did this they were called Prove to Me projects and they had to create projects that proved to me they understood the state objective- what it said, what counted as proof, etc.
    • On a tangential note this parallels a thought I've been having about how detailed my assignment guidelines are. They've been designed in the past to be super detailed, to answer every possible student question. But what they don't do that I wish they did was ask students to think about the audience, purpose, and how to get there on their own and I think that's the more valuable lesson. 
      • I have NEVER gotten a paper prompt that was more than a couple of sentences- Write a thematic paper that explores a theme seen in multiple texts. I'm not saying this is GOOD but I always had to do a certain amount of work with these, work that I think is valuable. 
      • I may experiment with giving shorter prompts, and then spending time on asking the students what is expected (format, length, citations, etc.) and get them thinking about WHY. To me this is the more valuable lesson.
  • I like the idea of grading some assignments as pass/fail since this would put the focus on the feedback for improvement although I worry students will just say "hey, I passed, done" and not use the comments like I want them to or even read them.
    • But I think I'll start this because I think it would help more than it hurts, and I'm all for siding with what helps students. If students then choose not to take advantage of this or use it for their best interest then that's not on me.
      • On a side note, I really need to work on not taking these things personally and internalizing them
  • I don't know about the opting out of assignments, as I genuinely can't think of how that would work. I don't give busy work, and I consider each assignment important, so I don't know. But I can think about it.
    • One way maybe it would work is that in the three weeks leading up to our first major writing assignment the close reading paper the students had a lot of close reading practice assignments. 
      • I COULD base these on the grade of the first. So if a student passed the first assignment they could opt out of the rest of the practice assignments.
    • But I don't have lots of these so I don't know if this would work. 
  • I'm also not sure about the bundling of assignments, but do think I could explain what the minimum of a C, B, A are in my course, the contract grading approach. I'm still a little unsure on this as so much depends on grades earned later on papers/projects so just submitting things doesn't work you need to submit a certain TYPE of work- just turning in the assignment doesn't work you have to have a certain quality of work.
So that's the how and why of my grading.
How do you grade and why do you do it this way?  

Friday, February 19, 2016

Reflecting on Job Prospects in February (there are none btw)

Wednesday I received an end of day email from a local public high school asking for a phone number where they could reach me.
Wednesday night  I sat down with my writer's notebook and like I always do, planned out every possible contingency. There were some issues, the main one being that this job has a posted start date of Monday 22 February.
Funny enough, the biggest concern I had was not prepping a classroom, prepping lessons, or acclimating to a new school, it was who was going to let Nehi out at lunch time?
I woke up yesterday morning thinking I was a little mad for taking on a full time job while also completing line edits and prepping for a 15 June defense. So as I so often do, I took to Twitter and reached out for help and a sounding board.
First, I was again bowled over by the generosity of Twitter. Several people DMed me to talk when I asked. And one generously, so generously, offered to call and talk. Someone I know only through Twitter. It was this generosity as much as the listening that was so helpful.
A couple of things came out of this phone conversation, and the DM conversations:
  • I completed my MS Ed while not just working full time, but commuting three hours round trip several times a week to Staten Island for school from Brooklyn. I completed my MA while teaching full time during the year, and adjuncting, and teaching two classes for an online high school. I've finished my PhD in a shortened time period, so I have the organizational skills and dedication to get this done.
  • I love teaching. I know there are lots of posts about using this word, how it's gendered, how it so often is used as an excuse to take advantage of free labor. I am a teacher. So the idea that I would be a high school teacher again makes me happy.
  • A full time job, with a full time salary (and with fifteen years of teaching experience, National Board certification, two Masters and an almost PhD, I'm at the top of the salary scale) would take SO much stress off. Whether this job was just extra money this semester to set aside, whether it was a full time gig into the next year, or became my life, this would remove a lot of day to day stress.
  • Other than finding a lunchtime dog sitter for Nehi, I would probably have to cancel on at least one of the three conferences I'm supposed to attend. I can't very well take a job this semester and then take 9 days off. So the one conference where I'm gone 4 days I'd have to cancel on, hope they'd understand, and make due.
  • These conversations also made me realize that I've made my peace with this if this is how my life goes.
Also, now that February is winding down, it's time to check in on this year's job market. And do some reassessing.
So here are the stats:
  • Since August I have applied to 85 jobs. 
    • Most were medieval or early modern or pre-1800 literature jobs. 
    • Some were English Education jobs, as my high school teaching experience I think makes me a good fit for these types of jobs.
    • The last month or so popular culture, film, media studies jobs have posted and if they were in my wheelhouse and NOT film production or screenwriting, I've applied for them as well, as my publication record supports that.
    • Most were at four year colleges, some big unis, some SLACs, lately, many of them are community colleges. 
  • Almost all of these have been tenure track jobs. The last month or so, some have been full time lecturer positions. A handful are Visiting Assistant Professor jobs. 
  • Out of all of these jobs there are 47 that I have not heard back anything from.
  • Out of the remaining 36 jobs the academic jobs wiki says that 19 have moved onto MLA, Skype, phone, or campus interviews. 17 jobs have emailed me rejections.
  • I still set Fridays aside for job applications, but like today, there were two apps and that was it. I've added checking Albuquerque Public School listings to my Friday routine. 
    • Most  of those jobs though won't post until later in the semester, May or June even when retirements or firings are in.
    • I've also applied to one private school opening for the next school year.
    • For the other private schools not hiring, I made contact anyway, sending in cover letters and resumes.
So, where does this leave me?

From what I can gather, this is where the academic job market is:

  • Media studies and community college jobs are still posting
    • But a lot of these community college jobs also have in the ad that IF you make it to an interview I would have to pay my own way (for a 90 minute interview, as these are not the 2 day affairs others do).
  • SLACs and universities have moved onto the campus visit stage, so I'm out of these
  • VAP are trickling in, as sabbaticals and fellowships get approved and places realize they need subs for the upcoming year
Ideally I could find a job for the next year so I'm not stressed about paying bills past August.
I could prep for my second year on the job market, doctor in front of my name, graduated. If I had this, I could not stress about the market. But this would be it. I am unwilling to spend years and years on the market, scraping together pay.
Ideally this job would be here in Albuquerque to save me the cost of moving, which I don't know how I would pay. It cost me around $5000 to move out here from NC and I just don't have that. A job here let's me stay where I am, where I've been living off a budget of $14,400 a year so there's lots of room to save.

My university has a good track record of hiring graduated students as lecturers to help them fill time between graduation and getting jobs. And I know they'd TRY to help me. But UNM just announced a $6 million dollar shortfall for our campus. And it would depend on a lot of things- if professors are gone on fellowship or sabbatical, course enrollments, need, seniority. Because of all of these moving pieces, it could be a late decision, July, or August.
My lease is up in July.
If I get a summer class I have enough money to pay bills through August.

But after that, I don't know what I'm going to do.
I do not have a husband or partner who can cover bills until I figure things out.
I do not have a family that can cover me until it all works out.
I have put in applications at Hastings, but haven't heard anything, so guess that's a bust.
I have a back up plan that I'm hoping I won't have to use. I'm starting to have serious doubts about it, and really don't want to have to make a choice between eating or my morals. Plus this would require me to move, and teach, in a place where I have no say.
If by this summer I still don't have anything, my next step is temp jobs. I'm organized, I can follow directions, I work hard, so I'd be a good secretary. But with no safety net, I need to start working in May to save enough money up to cover the spread depending on whatever I get paid.
A lot of people, particularly people NOT in higher ed or academia, are telling me "it'll work out," "you'll be fine."
And my question to them is, okay, how?
How is it going to work out? How will I be fine? How will I pay bills? How will I pay rent? How will I pay for food? Or Nehi's stuff?

The other tirade is, just go alt-ac.

Like people are just handing out jobs. Like New Mexico was not just announced to have the highest unemployment in the nation. Like there weren't 19 year olds with more practical job experience than me at this point.
It's just not that easy.

I have been poor. I have wondered how I'm going to eat. I have counted pennies to buy food. I once only ate in college because the theatre department did a production of Suburbia which had a 7-11 as a set piece, and once the play closed the prop department let me take as many ramen noodles and Nutri-Grain bars as I could. To this day I can't eat either. I know what it's like to not know where I'm going to live.
So I'm afraid. I'm trying not to be. I'm trying to focus on the fact that I'm doing everything I can. That stressing about things I can't control won't help anything. But I am really scared.

So "it'll work out," and "you'll be fine" is not cutting it.
I still think getting a high school teaching job is my best bet. While my PhD might blow the budget line for a public school, this isn't necessarily true of the private school. And for a private school I'm a good catch. Given the teaching shortage in the public schools, the budget line might not end up being a big deal.
So I'm not giving up.
But I'm not dancing around either.

It's Friday morning, and I haven't heard from that school from Wednesday. With a Monday start date, I'm thinking they've decided to pass. But at least it solidified for me my thinking, so that's good.

So that's what my job prospects in February look like.
How's everyone else doing?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

#DevilDiss has a Defense Date

Yesterday I had a check in meeting with my dissertation director.
We talked about round 3 revision notes on the introduction, CH 1-3, and the conclusion. We talked generalities, and all in all they were positive (at one point "stellar" was used :-). I should have the annotated files this week. We also talked about next steps, but most importantly, we set my defense date.
This is totally how that felt too (on the inside).

I treated myself to Subway for lunch to celebrate.

Then once I got home it was work time. I revised my #DevilDiss timeline. My director said that the next step should be me going through the entire dissertation and line editing, making notes, cutting, making the prose more concise. They said that with the state of CH 4-6 the last time they looked, I could just move onto this next step, working with the dissertation as a whole.

In some ways this is an extension of the shift in how I approached the round three revisions, that I was finally thinking of the dissertation as a whole project rather than just a series of chapters.  I started some of this work in the last round of revision (introduction, CH 1-3, conclusion) making sure I was pulling the threads together. For me too, part of this process was compiling the dissertation One Doc. I attended a UNM dissertation workshop last year, which was really helpful because it told me how to format the doc, talked about the front matter, all that good stuff. This was helpful to have BEFORE writing the dissertation for little things like knowing they require 1.5 inch margins (which is silly because we don't bind them anymore, but whatever) to more complicated stuff like the weird numbering of front matter.  All that prep work means that I don't have to worry about that stuff. At this point I've copied and pasted CH 4-6 onto the doc, as well as the master bibliography. Once I get the intro, CH 1-3, and conclusion this week with notes I'll copy and paste those into the One Doc and then print it all out and start going through it line by line.

So this is all the good.

Now, the work.
My director did say that the draft as it is now had a lot of errors. They said they hadn't minded up to now because they were more concerned about me getting the big ideas addressed. But now was the time when I needed to go through the entire draft and fix  the errors.
  • Start weeding out, cutting, making the prose more concise. 
  • Cut the repetitions, make decisions about which chapter made the argument best, that kind of thing. Looking at the whole document at once should make this easier to identify. 
  • I also have issues with commas.
My director also said that this would make it easier for the rest of committee members to "see" my argument.

I will also readily admit that this stage terrifies me.
Part of it is because with all the moving around in middle and high school I always missed direct grammar instruction, so I have a thing about this. Despite the fact that I obviously CAN do this, have published articles and book chapters, I still feel inferior about this. And frankly, academia doesn't help this. As we've all experienced, that single editor who tells us that our writing is awful, that we have no right writing about X sticks with us much more than the colleagues that support us, or the publications we get.

So I am super nervous about this.
In particular I am terrified this will be the answer:
 Or worse, this.

I know that this is something I just need to face, and get over.
I KNOW I can write, I have the publications to prove it. 
I also know that as soon as I sit down and start working I will feel better, or at least, will be able to ignore the little voice that says this:
But I admit to being nervous about this next step. And I recognize in part that I'm nervous because this is one of the final steps, so a lot is riding on this. Now that being said, while my director said there were errors to be fixed they didn't frame any of this like they didn't have faith I would get it done. So this is just my own stuff.

To focus on the positive, this morning I sent the email to my entire committee about confirming the defense date, asking about nailing down a time, and told them there will be a preliminary final in April, with them having final drafts by 15 May for a 15 June defense. I also asked what, if anything, they'd want to read of the preliminary final in April. The dissertation is long, currently 450+ pages. So some may not want to read the whole thing twice. Or maybe they'll just want to read some targeted chapters of the preliminary.
I've already heard from two out of the three other committee members, and it looks like the defense date is confirmed, so I won't feel like this, so yeah!
I've gone through my planner and laid out when I need to have certain chapters done. This Friday I'll print out the whole weighty tome, take it to the copy center so they can bind it so it's easier to manage, and then next week I will start the line editing, revising.
Yesterday seemed to be a fated day as it was also the day that my tam came. My sister has taken it upon herself to get me my doctoral regalia in pieces, so its arrival was fortuitous. And it made me giggle.
Until I get to wear it BOB here will keep it safe.
And it will be my reminder the next couple of months (which I know will fly by) that I can do this. That I need to remember while the next couple of months are work, serious work, compared to what I've accomplished the last three years, it's manageable work.
I can do this.
Any advice about how you got through the final push of the dissertation?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 5 Sample Assignments and Web 2.0 Tools

I was first introduced to using Web 2.0 tools when I taught for an online, for profit high school. They had very strict rules about how they were to be used- in announcements, to spark interest, introduce mini-lessons, or make connections. It was part of the checklist of things we had to do.While I disliked the prescription, I do like the tools.
I have favorites that I tend to use over and over.

I think having something eye-catching and fun helps the tone of a course and especially in an online only course, it helps with class culture.
I use a lot of gifs and memes in weekly announcements as well. Because they ARE fun. And I like finding course related things.

Another hold over from teaching for that high school, I do keep a running Google Doc of announcements, so if I found something really cool I can reuse it.

But for this post, I wanted to talk about and share the Web 2.0 tools I use, and what formative assessments I use in class. I've posted about the big assignments in class, but I want to share the building blocks that get us there.
Some of these are programs where you can provide/screenshot an image, some you can embed right into your course. The embedding of the html code is super easy, just copy and paste.

Web 2.0 Tools
Bit Strips: I love this program. It's easy to use, free, and fun. You choose your panel size, then fill in the background, your avatar, and type in your dialogue. I made this one to post in announcements a change to how I'm doing movie nights.
Voki: The kids don't always like these, they've told me that the fact that the eyes follow your cursor freaks them out. I love it. This one is more dramatic, but you can also have "normal" ones. I usually choose an avatar that resembles me. I like to use these for introductions to modules. I type in the text, which I then also copy and paste into the module text for accessibility.

Fotobabble: This is a cool tool for art responses, which I like to do a lot with. Students can choose a photo and then record their analysis. This would also work really well for movie or tv classes where students could screenshot a scene and analyze it. I made this one for announcements for Twelfth Night, as we focused on the cross dressing aspects of the play. It's a fun tweak on just copying and pasting the art in a discussion board.

Flipsnack: This is a fun one because you just upload images, then can type in text to make the book. I made this one as a fun introduction to Twelfth Night. It works great for intros. I also made one that walked students through how to analyze a line from Midsummer. 
Other programs I like:
  • Animoto is great for intro videos although the free version time limits you.
  • SlideShare, Google Presentation, Haiku, Brainshark, Prezi all provide fun ways to embed presentations.
  • I also really like Blendspace for mini-lessons.
  • Dipity makes great online timelines
  • Glogster makes great online posters
These are not only great for generating interest, but also for modeling. These are all great tools for students to complete formative assessments. They can help students focus on ideas rather than format. The instructional design also means that they're impossible to cheat on. If you allow students the option of projects as well as papers, these are all great options.

These programs are fun for announcements but I wouldn't classify them as instructional:
  • Countdown clocks
  • Flaming Text 
  • Gifs
  • Memes

Formative Assignments: I assign usually two assignments a week that are prep, or practice for larger assignments. A lot of times I split the difference between a discussion board plus a submitted assignment.
All of these assignments are participation grades, low stakes worth 15% of the final grade (and we end up with something like 35, 40, so a few missed ones also don't hurt). They are usually graded on completion, following directions, with emphasis more on the feedback I give and applying the lessons moving forward.
  • One of my all time favorites is the Dialectical Journal. This version is a variation of Jim Burke's. This is a great way to introduce students to how to analyze pieces. I introduce it early in the course (with our first play) and then build on this. It also emphasizes revisiting lines to unpack them which I like. It also walks students through HOW to analyze, which is good for students who are unsure.
  • The Dialectical Journal also preps students for our first big paper, a close reading. After they submitted the journal, they also analyzed Puck's last speech. In Twelfth Night, they chose quotes that referred to cross-dressing, then had more close reading practice. I provided this image/example for them before they were given this assignment, to practice close reading. The instructions for this were to write two paragraphs, one that analyzed the lines, and then the second one needed to talk about how that line represented the play as a whole.
  • I also like the Character Wheel, which also has an emphasis on the textual evidence.  There were some issues with this so far as formatting with the text in the circles but the instructions did say students could type on it or print out, write the answers, and then take a picture of the work to upload. There didn't seem to be any issues, the students adapted. In the future, I might make it squares so it's easier to type in. Also, while there was no filled in example in the course, I did end up scanning the example from Jim Burke's English Teacher's Companion and emailing it to students who asked.
  • For some assignments, since these are formative, in their feedback I provide examples and say something like, "now check your timeline against the one provided, did you get them all? Were there any differences?" This encourages students to check their work in addition to using the feedback to improve.
  • I tried to bridge the close reading with the thematic paper. This assignment starts with the close reading, but then builds on the work we've done of "talk about how it represents the play as a whole." So this practice builds on what we've done, and then leads to the next step, the organizer.

  • Since the next big assignment after the close reading is a thematic paper, so I've provided some organizers for them to use. Since this is later in the course, these aren't required, but suggested. It helps them see what the assignment requires, and how to get there.
  • So our play order is A Midsummer Night's Dream, Twelfth Night, Hamlet, The Merchant of Venice, Titus Andronicus.
    • We practiced close readings during Midsummer, Twelfth Night and Hamlet. The close reading paper was due after Hamlet.
    • The thematic paper was due after The Merchant of Venice.
    • The final paper, project is due after Titus Andronicus.
    • Each assignment, and the formative assessments in each play module builds on the previous. I encourage students to build on their close reading for their thematic, and  
      even for their final. They don't have to revisit the same ideas, but I tell them they can if they like the ideas.
  • Since this is a new course, and this is the first semester, some formative assessments are added after the fact, for the next time I teach it, and since I built this shell for the department. One of the comments on the beginning survey was that students wished for a FAQ or something for the beginning of class. So I added this, with the most common questions asked as the game. 
    • I tend to make notes about changes (like to movie nights, rethinking Twitter) on my notes, but add formative assessments as I go. This is a work load thing- it's easy to change language on the syllabus, building extra assignments are a little more work, and I want the course "complete" by the end of the semester when I archive it.

So what formative assessments do you use in your course as a way to get them to where they need to be?
How do you build up to the big assignments?
How do you create assignments to teach students the skills they need to succeed?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Teaching Early Shakespeare Step by Step: Week 4 Email

I admit to having issues with the expectations of email.
First, it's not eMAIL, it's really eMemo:
  • To
  • From
  • Re/Subject
So I've never understood the expectation of a salutation. Memos don't, you just write what you're going to write.

Now, that being said, if I was cold-writing a professional, I always include a salutation, but with colleagues or people I'm familiar with? I don't get it.
But I've been told (by stuck up people I don't really like anyway) that I'm flat out wrong. So, whatever on that...

To give some background, I use work email for two main things, communicating with my students and with professors, colleagues in the field. When I talk to professors I don't know I address them as Dr. ---:

For close professors, I often put Professor: due mainly to studying under a Judaic studies professor at one point who explained Rebbe's definition as teacher which to me has the connotation of a special teacher-student relationship, so it's a specific title-term I use for mostly committee members.

For people I am familiar with it's Name:
Once we've traded two or three emails in a single conversation, I do not include the salutation, I just answer the question/continue the conversation. It's a flow thing for me.

For students, since I want to be approachable I start with Good Morning (or afternoon, or evening) (name):
With students I also use phrases like "I see what the misunderstanding was..." "No worries" and especially in online only courses, even :-) I tend to write how I speak, so it's relatively informal, mainly because it's not about a power play for me.
This was a conversation on Twitter this morning- dealing with how grad students are told to address faculty, which in turn got me thinking about how we ask our students to address us.
I tell students that Professor Shimabukuro is fine (not a doctor yet, but when I am, I'll add that), so is Ms. Shimabukuro, or Karra. I always tell them that HOW they say it is more important to me than WHAT they say. Funny enough, most of them end up using Professor Karra but a lot start with "Hi" or go straight into the message. Because of how I use email, I don't read this as rude or disrespectful unless there's something about the rest of the message that leans that way.

With my students, I do have the above image as an example, and this is the language in my syllabus:
Students often have varying expectations with regard to email. Much like office hours, email standards are designed to clarify expectations on both our ends. Please note the following:
  • I return all email contact within twenty-four hours Monday through Friday 9a-5p, often much faster. Be aware of this, and plan accordingly. If you wait until weekends, or the last minute to ask a question or to get help, you may not get an answer in the time you need.
  • Email is an effective way to schedule a meeting or to ask me to read a draft. It is not an effective way to have an in-depth discussion. For those types of issues it is best to use office hours so that all of your questions can be addressed in a complete and timely manner.
  • Email correspondence should be viewed as professional writing. This means no shorthand texting.
    • Some things to include in your email:
      • What the email is about in the subject line such as: Close Reading Paper Question
      • Begin with an address (so Professor: or Karra:) for the first email. If we’re then talking back and forth about the same subject it’s okay to drop it after the first time.
      • Please use complete sentences. The more detailed you can be, the more likely I can correctly and accurately address your question.
      • Please make sure that the tone of your email contact is respectful.
      • Here are some tips for how to email your professor. Likewise, here are things not to do.
    • For example: this email has a clear subject line that tells me what the email is about. It begins with Professor. It asks a clear question, and says thank you.

But I'm rethinking a few things.
  • First, just like the misleading/unclear comparison of presenting your syllabus as a contract, I'm starting to see the same problem with email as professional writing. I'm not saying that students shouldn't learn how to write in a professional or formal manner, but rather that to assume they know what this is from the get go, and framing in this language seems like not the right way to get them to see it.
    • I'm trying to think about how my students USE email. I think most of them only use it for class, I do not think it's how they communicate with peer groups, family, etc. I also don't think they use it for work (although this varies, if they're older students, working or military students). So it seems safe to assume I need to teach them how to use it, provide a general model, and then be specific about what I prefer (my syllabus video stresses pet peeves).
      • I'm actually thinking of adding an activity where they write two emails the first week of class, one the WORST example of what NOT to do, and then the 'right' way. Often it's easier to see the correct format when they have to create the opposite.
    • So if they only use it for classes, and communicating with their professor, the expectations, class culture, all contribute to this and I imagine is very different from course to course (because of discipline, but also generational, how comfortable professors are with this as default communication)
      • I've heard HORROR stories on Twitter and read in articles about how professors deal with email. It's a hot button issue that again makes me think why are you a teacher? But I digress...
  • The other is, while I have a how to/how not to examples, I don't stress it, as I don't like to emphasize the negative because I think it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For me, I try to model what I expect in my communication with them, and correct when I need to. But it seems like maybe there's a better way to frame this (although I like my image example, it's a fun tone, and the thing to include list) and set up my guidelines.
  • In my face to face and online classes, email is how my students communicate the most with me.
    • I give them my phone number, allow texting, as well as use Skype for office hours, and for f2f classes hold regular office hours.
    • But I've had students tell me that because of how available/helpful I am on email they don't feel the need to use these other forms. 
However, this past week what prompted all this was I was thinking about how to react/answer negative emails from students or issues with email.
I always assume someone else has figured it out, and I'm a big fan of not reinventing the wheel, so I took to the Interwebs.
I didn't find any of these helpful (although the Psychology one had some interesting viewpoints about interactions). But for the most part the tone and approach of all of these was not even close to what I was looking for.
These pages/articles ran the gamut from condescending to students- how dare they not write to me in a form they've never been taught, to flat out ugly- I don't answer emails, if they want to talk to me come see me (really? In this day and age how can you possibly make this argument?)

Now I admit, my high school teaching training peeks through here.
I was trained that you answered all contact within 24 hours. So I do. I can't imagine not answering emails, or worse, purposely not answering as a reaction to something, that's just wrong. That's petty and mean spirited and doesn't address the issue.
I am on my computer all day, so I answer emails lightning quick. I believe in being available to my students. How accessible I am, and how fast I respond is a positive that gets mentioned a lot on end of course evaluations. I have set some limits- I try not to check work email on weekends, if I get a bad email I do obsess and it will ruin my weekend. And the same for at night. I turned off notifications on my phone, so that helps. But I also lesson plan and grade on Saturday mornings, so if something comes up I will email them and if they email back, if I'm still at my desk I will answer. But as the syllabus says, don't expect it. To me that seems a fair compromise.

I also think how we use email with our students matters. In many cases I think it's a one sided relationship- students email you for stuff, you respond. This is fine, but I also think this can affect our responses. It can affect how our students perceive of us, and our availability and reliability.
I answer lots of student questions through email, as I said above, it's their preferred method. But I also initiate a lot of emails. If students miss deadlines, or aren't working in the class, I email them.

Good Morning,

I am checking in because when I went to grade this morning I noticed that you had not turned in several assignments, earning zeroes.

Now, first, I want to say that this early in the course, a few low or missing participation grades will not ultimately affect your final grade as long as you start working. Not only do we have more assignments, but there are also opportunities to replace these low grades.

If you need help with time management, or with the material, please let me know so we can work together to help you succeed in the course.

Please check in with me and let me know what’s going on.

I have a strict late work policy (let me know in advance and we can work it out, otherwise, focus forward) so this is not letting them off the hook. But what it does do is let them know I'm paying attention, I'm concerned, and I'm there to help. I tend to send these out more at the beginning of the course, when they're still juggling things. Later in the course, I tend to only send them out if I noticed a good student has suddenly dropped off. It takes no time at all on my end and has huge benefits. A lot of times it opens a dialogue with the student- they were sick, moving, having a hard time with time management. The personal stuff I don't respond to, but I appreciate the ownership and them letting me in. It doesn't change the grade, but gives me more information to help. The course related, time management stuff I always offer to help with. At the beginning of a course, if you mess up and see zeroes for grades, it can be disheartening, and a lot of times students don't realize those zeroes are participation, which is only 15% of the final grade, and there's literally 85% worth of grades left to do. The correction, the reminder, helps them see that.
Not all students respond. Not all students take the correction. But just like allowing revising low grades, it's an opportunity. They choose whether or not they take it.

Now, when I talk about problem emails from students I'm not talking about threatening emails, or inappropriate or sexual themed emails. As far as I'm concerned those are all refer to Dean of Students or Department Chair, and are above my pay grade stuff. I admit too that I'm also not talking about emails like the drunk student one that made the rounds recently. I've never received these informal, wacky emails. In part it may be my personality, in part my class culture (and please don't let Murphy's law kick in and I start getting these) but I don't get them.

No, what I'm talking about are what I'm sure generate the majority of email complaints- ones that don't conform to perceived norms.
So, what are some of the common email problems? I think they really just come under two main groups:
  • Tone or wording comes off as rude or disrespectful
  • Writing style is not college level writing
Those are really the only ones that I get, and even then, infrequently, but since I didn't find posts that ACTUALLY helped or addressed this, I thought I'd write one.

First, I think it's important to identify why these occur. They fall into two main categories:
  • Student who is willfully being disrespectful
  • Student who does not realize they are coming off this way
    • This happens for lots of reasons- maybe they're not used to "hearing" how written word can come off.
    • Maybe they fire something off when frustrated, or upset, and it bleeds through
I tend to respond to both the same way (the first time). I focus first on the content of the email, because these are rarely just meanness, they're about something (class grade, instructions, material, etc.). So I answer the course content question first. Then I end the email with this: "Finally, I'm sure you didn't mean it, but this email came off as abrupt, rude even. In written communication, it's important to make sure that how we write comes off in the tone we meant."
I have found that I get a couple of responses. Students who honestly didn't realize how they came off take the note, many often respond and apologize. Students who meant to do it but recognize it was a bad idea take the note, don't repeat it, but often don't respond. I think this is the majority of the students, so easily, respectfully dealt with.
I also think that this politic, polite phrasing also makes sure you don't lose the student. A more direct email, one that assumed they MEANT to be rude, and then responds with rudeness I think results in a student seeing you as someone who doesn't care, and this in turn results in them tuning out of the course.

The willful student is a different beast altogether.
Now, I've taught for fifteen years, and while I think a lot of times the problem is something else, I ALSO think that there are some students who choose not to learn and who will not respect you no matter what. Thankfully, this is the minority. Any given semester maybe, MAYBE you get one. But you still have to figure out how you're going to deal with these situations as they arise.
In some cases these interactions are due to big, above your pay grade reasons. Sometimes they're just a jerk. Sometimes you're just oil and water. It happens. Not every interaction is rainbows and sunshine.
I do think women get these responses more than men (and from male students who just have an issue with female instructors). I've been challenged on what assignments I designed and assigned ("you didn't really mean for us to give a presentation did you?") and had my feedback and grades challenged. This is part of the larger gender issues we deal with.
But, regardless, we still have to deal with it. And we can't get angry, or upset by it (or rather we can, but God forbid we SHOW that). So we each need to figure out how we're going to respond.

I tend to respond by being overly formal, and specific. Over the years I've developed certain Mad Lib type responses (fill in pertinent details as necessary).

  • I modify the same strategy I used above with the inadvertent, unintentional rudeness. 
  • I answer, usually overly formal to emphasize the tone was a misstep, I only address the content, acknowledging their viewpoint ("I can tell that you're frustrated..." "It seems as though the disconnect was..."). 
  • I have also found it helpful in email responses and assignment feedback to first state what the assignment called for, so that there's no doubt/debate and keeps the conversation on the content ("This assignment had two parts, the first was to X, the second was to Y. While you did X you neglected Y").
I believe that most students will take the hint, and that will be that.
But some won't. Some will continue to challenge. In those cases, I respond with something along the lines of, "I am happy to offer more feedback, give suggestions for how to improve future assignments, or explain my comments in more detail. However, I will not engage in a conversation that is not grounded in these topics or directly tied to the course. As stated in the syllabus, grades are not negotiable."
I think this covers most issues- it corrects, but does so in a way that's not mean and won't negatively affect future interactions because quite frankly if you're trying to correct/model behavior and you do it nastily, the student is not going to listen to you, learn, and improve. So you've just shot yourself in the foot. Plus, you've set the tone for all future interactions, and not in a good way (I think this is particularly key at the beginning of a course). Fair or not, students make a lot of decisions about whether or not they like you. Or like the way you deal with them.

I feel the need to write a caveat here- my favorite, best teachers were hard asses. One made students cry and run out of the room. He was a god. I adored him. I learned best from them not because they were mean but because they were honest and direct. They were no BS people. The teachers, the professors, I learned the most from were not warm and fuzzy people but I didn't expect them to be, twenty years ago I think there were different expectations on both sides (and I'm not saying "kids these days" so hush). But I did know that I was there to be taught, and whether or not I liked them was irrelevant. I was taught to respect teachers, regardless of how I felt personally. Mom would have smacked the crap out of me if I was rude to a teacher (and often did). In life you're going to have lots of people you don't like, but can get things from. It's good prep for the workplace.
However, the flip side is that these people didn't "act" mean. They were not putting on an act. They didn't think less of their students. They didn't refuse to help them. They were simply of a different generation of teaching, and expected a lot. 
I go back and forth- yes I want my students to like me and my class because it makes everything better. But on the other side, them not liking me personally (when I am available, do offer extra help, do give so much feedback, and work to help them succeed) is not reason enough for a complaint. 
But again, this becomes a gender issue. I am often judged not on how good a teacher I am but how well I conform to students' ideas of what a female teacher SHOULD be. Being direct, and not Ms. Honey, this often doesn't work out.
But also, as I've written about before, I think too that taking policing out of the classroom, and instead focusing on the content allows us to be US. Most of us adopt a teaching persona, a way of being, as another way of policing, heading off trouble. IF we don't have to do this, then we can just be us. And most of us who are teachers want our students to succeed, want to be a resource, and are willing to do whatever we can to make this all work.

Now for emails that don't conform to the expected writing style. This can be trickier, and is why I have some guidelines in my syllabus (again, not assuming they already know, I provide help and clear expectations). Some issues, an occasional misspelled word or capitalization issue I assume is a mistake, not willful. From the signature I can tell that a lot of my students are emailing from phones, and typos and grammar mistakes happen. I take them as just that, mistakes. My signature on my phone says "Typos or brevity no matter how amusing are not intentional" for exactly this reason, sometimes if I'm out and running errands I want to get a student an answer as soon as possible. BUT, phone replies do to tend to be short and to the point, so the signature helps mitigate that. A lot of times if it's a more involved email I will wait until I'm home to make sure i get it right.

Now, if I'm getting actual emails that don't follow standard English conventions, this is a different issue, probably also occurring in their assignments, and for me, that's the better place to address this. If I correct a students spelling, grammar, mechanics in an email it can come across as mean, and nit-picky, no matter how justified you may think it is, it can often come off as a personal attack. They've asked a question, or for help, and instead get attacked (perception counts for a lot). However, in an assignment, this is a reasonable expectation. In addition, I do a lot of formative, smaller assignments, which make it easy to correct through feedback before it's an issue on larger assignments. So I tend to leave the emails alone and instead give this instruction on assignments. I also do a lot of discussion boards, which is also a great place to give this feedback and model the "correct" way.
If the problem continues, with no correction based on my feedback, I tend to write a personal email to the student, tell them that I've noticed there hasn't been an improvement, and offer suggestions to help.

I like to think about emails as another piece of my class culture puzzle. I like to present me, and my class a certain way. I use gifs in announcements. I use videos and funny Web 2.0 tools in my course content. I want students to see connections between our content and the world. I want them to see me as accessible, as a resource, and a help. For me these are all part of the same thing.
In my online training, communication in announcements and email emphasized connections, teaching, modeling as parts that worked together. So text to self, text to text, real world connections. Mini lessons that taught or introduced material, and the modeling of Web 2.0 and other tools. So all these things are in my head when building announcements, but also too trying to apply them to all communication.