Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Teaching and Happiness: What I Learned this Term

Greetings and Salutations Dear Reader!  I am happy to say that I have once again found my way out of the "final grading" black-hole of education!  The end of term is always difficult for the students and the professor.  Every term I am asked by students:
Isn't there a better way to do this? I have three finals all due at the same time!
To deal with just this problem, I have tried something new with one of my courses. I created what I term a "master project" that spans approximately midterm to the end of the term - and this "master project" then replaces the traditional final.  So, I did this for my online communications course at SSCC.  Generally, my students had to maintain a blog for five weeks. They had to have at least one blog entry up a week, and that blog entry had to reflect the topic that they had chosen a head of time.  I made up a blogging rubric that graded each blog entry on the following: design, the use of good writing skills, a general word count (500 words per post), the relevance of the weekly topic and whether the student was writing for him or herself or an audience (audience was stressed over "diary" type entries), the students needed to reply to any and all comments left on the blog, they had to respond to two of their fellow student's blog posts, they had to cite all sources, present links and images corrected (no copyright images allowed), and so on and so forth.

So my thought was this, if the projects and the project's longevity spanned this amount of time (5 - 6 weeks), the pressure of having to have one huge project, or one huge test, or one huge paper, at the very end of the term would be reduced for the student, and for me the instructor. After all, I evaluated the project each week.

I like this idea and I had some students who also liked the idea. Of course, I also had some students who hated the idea and felt that it actually made more work.  For these students, generally they felt that the "master project" was more stressful than having a large final project due at the end of the term.

So . . You cannot win for innovation :)   Still, I think the idea is a good one and I'm going to try it again.  I like having a truly encompassing project, one that captures the essence and the core of the teaching material for the class. Also, I don't think it's healthy at all, nor does it add to anyone's happiness, to overload a student with work at the end of a term.  By the time week eight comes along, it is often just a struggle to keep my student's attention. The problem is simple: they are overloaded and tired, and so am I for that matter.

On a personal note, I do not like having to grade 120 papers within the span of five days, something I often need to do in order to get my work in to the universities I work for on time - we all have due dates!  It is too much and I end up having what I term "brain meltage" as well - it is a bloody mess when there is ear leakage!  Which brings me to my personal thought regarding happiness:

I hope never to teach four classes again at a time, at least not when four classes = 120 students.   I suppose if the type of courses I taught were the type where I only had to give tests in order to determine whether my students were learning, it might not be a difficult task.  But each class this term was a writing intensive course, which meant that almost every week I was grading 60 to 120 papers and more discussion posts. 

The other problem is this, you can not give as much personal attention to each student as you really need to, and as I personally want to, when you have that many students.  It is a logistic impossibility.  So you may be wondering:  Why on earth did you agree to teach four classes, four writing classes, giving you 120 students this term (with no grad student TA help - where is my grad student??? LOL)

Why, dear reader, that is an excellent question. The problem is this, enrollment in all the institutions I work for (and generally around this country) has gone down, and there is always a good chance that one of my classes will be canceled.  When I say a good chance, I mean better than average this last year.  Add this concern to the fact that I have to teach at least three classes in order to make almost the same amount as my full-time counterpart, that means I have to commit to four classes and hope that one becomes canceled.  If I commit to just three classes and if one of those classes do not run, then I find myself at the mercy of a bit of an economic strain for the term.  It is rather a no-win situation when you work as an adjunct professor.

Now both of the institutions I work for are great, and I admire them greatly- the faculty and the administration. Both institutions work to give you a heads-up regarding whether your contracted class will run not, but you never hear in enough time to allow you to run out and try to find an additional class to teach.  In this situation, you can apply for unemployment or find a part-time job doing something else. This makes me unhappy and a bit frustrated because I then overextend myself in order to make ends-meet (by the way, is it ends-meat or ends-meet?)*

So, I decided for my own happiness to teach no more than three classes at a time, and if one of those classes are canceled, to spend more time with my love of spaghetti and black beans.  Err - not mixed together!  LOL

Which brings me to the last subject of today's blog post:  Running.   I have discovered running can bring happiness, mostly because it brings me the opportunity to have timeout from work and I give myself the luxury to just be in the moment, listen to music or book on tape, and to enjoy the view around me. I'm working very hard to allow myself running time every day, or at least five days a week. Not only should this help my waistline, which will also make me happy, but I'm noticing it really helps me on the mental and emotional part of life as well. So yea me and running!

My next post is going to be about a study that was just completed regarding happiness, well-being, and individualism! The findings actually surprised me and so I will be excited to share this information with you. But before I write this post, I want to do some additional research myself regarding some of the study's parameters, and specifically what cultures (individualist vs collectivist) were examined when conducting the series of tests.


* So, after doing a brief Internet search, the term is "making ends-meet" -  I am adding the hyphen because it seems like this is a phrase that should have a hyphen.  "Making ends-meat" came about because of the idea that what you're talking about is making enough money to put meat on the table, hence end's meat, the cheapest piece of meat one would purchase and eat. But seeing how I'm a vegetarian, I shall offer up this phrase instead: "Making ends-radish."  I like radishes, their tasty.

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