Even the Best Students Get Tired

Brian picIn an eight week course, even the best students may not play an ace every time. A jack might slip in there, hopefully not a ten—or lower. It can happen though. Instructors get their hopes up, and then comes the disconcerting performance. An eight week course is double-time pace, and life brings its inevitable drama, hopefully not overly chronicled on Facebook.

A student might normally be attentive to detail, only to have fatigue from outside the classroom lead to work reflecting carelessness. It is a normal temptation. The forethought to ask for an extension or for extra help is better than thinking, “My situation is so stressful that I do not have time to ask.” That is true with life flights and ambulances, but most of the time, life stresses make room for communication opportunities.tiredstudent

Most of us have experienced the person famous for letting others know about being busy. Busyness has become an identity, a badge like “Sherriff” or “VIP,” except that the busy-badge usually edifies only the wearer.

Even the best students get tired though, just plain worn down, and it can be embarrassing to say, “I’m tired. May I have an extension?” Perhaps images of a hard-nosed instructor come to mind—one who talks about the good old days, and sucking it up, and toiling all night. Instructors have likely had their times of needing an extension too. “We’re all in the same boat,” my mother-in-law often said.

sleepAs a grad student, I did bridge repaving work two summers in the 1970s. Before being repaved, a bridge had to have weak concrete jackhammered up before all was sandblasted to prep for the pour. The best hours were early in the morning before the heat set in. One night, after a late pour, we asked our ornery old foreman, “Can we come in tomorrow morning at 7:00 instead of 6:00?” He replied tartly, “Boy, I’ve worked many a night all night until 4:00 or 5:00 AM, slept an hour, and then been back to work by 6:00. You can’t make a living lying in bed.”

We looked at his hands once again. He was missing all or part of five of the ten digits on his hands. We could only wonder if a little more rest might have done him some good

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Amazing Holiday Deals

ReadingthuRsday-R2I recently had an email from Amazon that declared “Amazon Holiday Deals Start Now!” When I think of Amazon, I think about buying books either in a print or Kindle format. I was so surprised when I opened the email, not a book one was shown as a holiday deal. Of course, one could always search for the holiday book deal, but the deal is not immediately shown in the initial email, in the information about “12 Days of Deals”, in the Black Friday or in the Cyber Monday advertisement. amazon-deals

Please do not think I am picking on Amazon. I love their availability of titles, their competitive prices, and their dependability. I was viewing the email through my lens of understanding and through my perceptions. I was thinking books not vacuum cleaners.

gift-booksI like to give books for gifts, and I like to get books for gifts. I was in the mood for some book “gift ideas” So with no ready list, I now get to do one of my favorite things, browse for books in brick and virtual stores. I am sure to come up with a couple of gems I might have otherwise overlooked if I had just gone with a flashy advertisement. Of course, one of my virtual sources will be Amazon, so there we go…..I am right back where I started.

Skills for Telling Your Story

Building SkillsWe’ve been talking a lot about the importance and efficacy of storytelling as a teaching tool. Telling a story can also be a great way to sell yourself in an interview, to build support for a project you hope to accomplish, or to highlight and share the success of a project.  If you aren’t a natural storyteller or if you’d like to sharpen your natural skills, take a look at “Storytelling for Leaders: How to Craft Stories that Matter.”

I reached this free course and its downloadable worksheets through Unstuck.com, a favorite website.  Here’s a preview:
http://skl.sh/1RqewKp

Whether you're telling the story of the periodic table, the lifecycle of a plant, the discovery of penicillin, the invasion of Normandy, or the evolution of the novel, the worksheets are likely to spark some ideas for spicing up your classes. I especially enjoyed the worksheet on “Story Archetypes,” since several of these fit in nicely with the history of science.

Imparting Tedious Information

Brian picCertain chunks of information in a course could be posted in writing on Blackboard, but they would be drearisome—unlikely to produce good results from students. Such posting without class time spent introducing the material would bring to mind the words inflict and torment. Every discipline doubtless has tedious sections. In English class, these include works cited pages and citations.

So here we are. It’s time to get to material that nobody likes yet is necessary for truth in reporting or for job training. The instructor must grind through the information with the students. A room full of incredibly bored and distracted students is a tip-off that things are not going well. Fortunately, a few tips can lighten the task.bored-cat

First, body movement of any kind by the instructor helps. Even the least alert student, if awake, is bound to note a shift in posture, a few steps taken to one side, or the wave of an arm. Don’t get frozen in place at the teacher station using the projector. It is too mesmerizing. You, the instructor, might even get lulled. Every now and then, it helps to walk to the dry erase board and put a few details on it. Use as many colored markers as possible. Pace around a little.

Stu_Pose_ExcitementClothing to wear on such lesson days is debatable. Some argue for dull, bland clothing to keep the students’ eyes on you and the content, whereas others contend that wild colors and numerous accessories work better. The problem with the latter is that students might wander mentally into excessive picking apart the pros and cons of your zestful garb.

Story telling also helps. Tell stories of past students who bungled this type of assignment, names excluded, or add an autobiographical anecdote about something bungled. Don’t be insulting or demeaning of past students (or yourself), but use any allowable humor that casts past stress into present “lessons learned.” After all, people laugh at a lot of things that at the time were not funny, but later turned into humorous reflections.stroy

If this brings discomfort, tell any story. Allow some detail of the lesson to provoke an anecdote three meadows over from the point but which draws in all but determinedly disconnected. Talking about the weather might be fake. Most anything, however, can be compared to a sport of some kind, or to food.

Last, remember that when grinding through material, don’t worry about negative, nonverbal feedback. They dare not be overtly defiant (at least I hope not). Don’t be bluffed out of presenting the material. They need it, and in dry stretches where an ounce of pleasure just won’t eke out from listeners, remember that the measure of a teacher comes down to maintaining poise, remaining cheerful and convinced, and grinding on through. Students may not thank us later, but at least we will have done our jobs.

Ending on an Up Note: Warrior Rock

Working with veterans and active-duty military folks every day is such a privilege. None of us can ever find the words to thank these people for what they have done to keep us free and safe. While the web is full of touching videos honoring their sacrifices, this one embodies the can-do spirit that I see in the students at Fort Campbell.

So enjoy your weekend, and thank someone who made it possible for you to do just that.

Reading as Necessary for Life

ReadingthuRsday-R2“Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing.”

—(Scout speaking in To Kill a Mockingbird)

Along with the community of Hopkinsville, KY our community college (Hopkinsville Community College) has spent the last month with the “Mockingbird.” We have read, we have discussed, we have shared, and we have enjoyed various quotes from the book. As with all readers, we each have our own lens to interpret the text. The quote comparing reading and breathing is one of my favorite.

Scout has a hard time with Miss Caroline, the new school teacher. Miss Caroline, has been trained in the “Dewey Decimal” system of teaching. Jem tries to explain that Miss Caroline is a new teacher, and she learned the Dewey Decimal system of teaching. Jem confuses the ideas of John Dewey’s educational reform with the cataloging system of the library. scoutreadingMiss Caroline has very strict ideas about how one should learn to read, and poor Scout does not know she and her father are going about reading all wrong. Scout does not remember formally learning to read or when the black marks on the page began to make words, but somewhere along the way of sitting in Atticus’ lap when he was reading, she began to read. Miss Caroline tells Scout not to read with her father anymore because he is teaching her all wrong. A happy compromise allows Scout to continue to read at home in exchange that she will continue to go to school.

Gregory Peck in

Reading is a part of Scout’s, Jem’s, and Atticus’s life. Scout cannot envision a life without reading. Scout is lucky enough to come from a home filled with print. As part of our charge of our Common Read project and our Three Book Challenge, we hope to infuse our students’ homes with print. In other words, we want our students to view reading as just another necessary element in their life…..like breathing.