Among the challenges of teaching applied music lessons to students over the course of their undergraduate studies is dealing with monotony, or at least the appearance of monotony. Musicians have a difficult task of practicing their instruments for hours a day, every day of the week, often doing the same types of exercises over and over. So, it is inevitable that this routine occasionally becomes tedious. The same is true of the actual lesson with the student. There is a danger of falling into patterns that lose their effectiveness, efficiency, and impact over time.
How to combat the tedium? Well, to a certain extent the answer to this question is personal, unique to each individual. Each musician has his or her motivations for making music, and this is often enough to stay on the path of progress. Sometimes, however, this is not enough. I have developed a strategy which I believe works for me and my students.
The first step is to build as much variety as is reasonable into the lesson and change the structure of the lesson itself once in a while. This prevents predictability and can keep both the student and the instructor engaged. The second step is to identify the elements that appear to motivate the individual student and incorporate them into the lesson. In the third step, I introduce students to music and performers that they have not heard of in an effort to keep music and music-making novel and inspiring. Sometimes I introduce a student to an unusual type of music or polarizing performer simply as a way to elicit a strong reaction, as that can help them feel more confident in their own musical preferences and choices. The challenge of dealing with monotony is a daily one, but dealing with it is key to staying oriented on the long journey.
It wasn’t always like this, I tell my students. They know nothing else. Born after 9/11 and during a stretch of unbroken war, my students are inured to school shootings. Like any teacher, I feel a deep connection to my classes. Each student has bright potential and I am privileged to be in the classroom with them. When we talk about gun violence, my voice cracks. It’s hard seeing these sweet faces looking up at me, these young people who impress me every day with their ability and their resilience. We bond in a classroom. We lean on shared experience. Here we are learning from each other, and I am heartbroken.
I have a heartbreak I can’t shake that has been with me since Valentine’s. I can’t shake anymore how normalized these so very not normal events are. I lay awake at night, planning. I plan all sorts of things. I plan what to do with the desks and chairs. I plan which wall I should herd the class onto. I even plan listening for a break in the terror. I plan considering waiting for a reload as a chance to stop bullets from shattering more walls and dreams. Early on as a teacher, I experienced sleepless nights while I planned. I planned free writes. I planned connections to readings, with the hope that even the one student in the far corner would perk up and pay attention. I planned alternative plans for the classroom, just in case I wasn’t speaking the right language at the right time. Now I plan for things I can’t imagine. I plan for events for which I have zero training, for which I want zero training. I would be naïve to ignore these thoughts, but I also don’t want them.
In higher education faculty are, to an extent, replaceable. There are always qualified teachers coming down the pike. As higher education shoulders increasing costs, tough decisions have to be made, and I fear for the future of it all. I fear for our students, for our teachers, and for our institutions. If we live in a time where money can be found to train and arm teachers instead of recruiting and keeping teachers, then we will lose something dear that we may never get back. When I look around my classroom after these events, I know why my voice cracks and why my tears refuse to be suppressed. It’s not the trauma I fear as much as a changing system that continues to miss the point.
Who knows how any of this nonsense ends. I will be two things at once though. I will stay heartbroken for a while, but I will also be resilient because I am surrounded by some of the best examples of toughness. I am speaking about my students, of course. Maybe I am reminding myself that things can be different when I say to them, it wasn’t always like this.
Two or three weeks ago I couldn’t sleep because of one bad student evaluation. (I know, I know! Why do I fixate on the one negative comment out of 75 positive ones?) I kept turning it over in my mind wondering who it was and why they had it out for me. It was just SO specific: a litany of things they “didn’t care for” in my teaching. I would get in bed and wait for sleep only to replay every teensy detail of every class I taught that day, worrying and wondering if anything I said warranted another laundry list of grievances.
Then, on Valentine’s Day, 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were murdered with an AR-15. Since that day, I’ve had nightmares about piling desks up across a line of sight from my classroom door window to create a barricade against an active shooter. I spend my nights memorizing the schematics of each classroom and my office suit, imagining how I might attempt to protect my students and myself from mass murder. In all my dreams, far off echoes of gun shots ring through halls and windows. Engaging class discussions about the lasting significance of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein are disrupted with rounds of AR-15 bullets. Will I have to shield my students with my own body one day? Will graduate programs include active shooter drills and training alongside their “how to write a cover letter” when preparing newly minted PhD’s for the job market? Will the PRAXIS and the GRE now include a portion about conceal and carry permits? Will testing centers and gun ranges merge into strange conglomerate education professionalization convention centers? In mentioning the shooting to my Rhetoric and Composition class last week, I struggled to hold back tears. In the harsh light of day, this nightmare does not shake off.
Normally, the things that keep me up at night can be laughed away in the light of day. I might normally shrug and say, white people problems or first world problems. However, this is the conundrum of our 21st century American reality. We live in a first world nation, and yet I must still devote a significant amount of psychic energy worrying about when my students and my classroom will be next. The NRA and the president tell me I should arm myself, as if the intellectual armament of getting a PhD and 14 years of teaching experience isn’t enough anymore. We must ask ourselves what the long term consequences of arming students and teachers will be. If we arm teachers and if schools drop their gun free zone status, it will change the very fabric and foundation of education as we know it. A gun is a symbol of violent power. A gun is an instrument of death. If I carry a gun to school or if my students have guns with them in the classroom, it will forever alter our relationships, our conversations, my ability to challenge them to be better thinkers. In essence, it will put an end to the reasons why I love my job. It will ultimately prevent me from being an effective teacher.
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas have the answer. Their grass roots, non-violent-direct-action-inspired activism gives me hope that MORE EDUCATION is the answer, NOT MORE VIOLENCE. Mark Newt claims, “After seeing these Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students demonstrate the benefits and foresight and resilience of a quality education by exemplary teachers, every school board should require and fund speech & debate, journalism, and theater programs in their schools,”and I agree. Watching these students exercise their first amendment rights to raise awareness about the pitfalls in some interpretations of second amendment rights gives me courage and inspires me to keep teaching critical reading, thinking, and writing.
A few months ago, I had a conversation with a former student who had taken my FYI course, Matters of Opinion. She said,
“I finally learned those terms you taught us in class. You know– the ones like breadth, depth, and fairness. I think I knew them fairly well in school because I had memorized them and I aced all my quizzes and exams. Not until I began using them as a paralegal did they finally kick in.”
The terms she was referring to are a few of the Universal Intellectual Standards from Linda Elder and Richard Paul’s book, “Critical Thinking – Concepts and Tools” (Elder and Paul, 2009). Her encouraging words are ones all teachers like to hear. I have to admit, though, that I sometimes wonder if what I’m teaching is getting through and, if so, at what point does it “finally kick in”?
I’m thinking one of these days I will develop a bumper sticker:
How Do You Know When?
Until I do, here’s a revision of a poem, originally entitled “Learnspotting” (Kenney, 2016), that offers a possible explanation to the question:
Learning: Near Sightings and Speakings
It’s an adjustment
That cannot be hurried
Or double-blinked into view.
It’s the blurred lens
In need of fine-tune focus,
Perhaps the deft turn
Of safecracking fingertips.
You can eavesdrop on learning…
It’s the muffled call,
The half-heard cry across the field
That whisks your ear
And tilts your head
You can pinpoint learning…
It takes touch, attention,
And unflinching poise
But mostly insight
You may never see
Or hear it.
Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2009). Critical Thinking – Concepts & Tools. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking Press.
Kenney, R. (2016). Learnspotting. In J. Ferrari (Ed.), Third Wednesday (p. 78). Ann Arbor, MI: Gravity Presses.
I started at CSC in 2013 and was immediately hit with an administrative push for OER. To a then 32-year old, academy neophyte, I thought OER this was a great band I heard at ACL a few years ago. Way off!
Open Educational Resources (OER) is basically a movement across education to provide open source materials for courses. Much of the U.S. copyrighted educational material must be licensed for a fee. OER are free and openly licensed educational materials that reside in the public domain, such as exempt materials like government documents and lapsed copyright works, or resources that have been released under dedicated Creative Commons licenses. Certain countries have special perpetual copyrights, but thankfully, America has constitutional limits on intellectual property protection duration. So, OER has the potential to keep instructional materials inexpensive; however, the highway to hell is paved with good intentions.
OER in practice is incredibly labor intensive on the faculty end. One must proof the materials as they can be abstract, broad, weak, simple, complex, incomplete, or out in the weeds. The power of major publisher materials is that they’re well-researched, grounded in contemporary subject matter, and accompanied by incredible support materials such as test banks, PowerPoints, lecture notes, and remedial videos. The open model can’t compete. Further, there is a certain catechism to certain subjects (like business or general studies) for which accrediting bodies delineate major pieces of the curriculum. Publishers know their market.
Personally, I confess, I hate OER. But(!) there has since been some defining mitigation from my earlier modus operandi of pure OER abstinence. Publisher materials are extremely helpful to myself in efficiency and beneficial to students for subject matter for core classes, e.g., business law, business communications, economics. There are two exceptions: 1) flat out subject obscurity; and 2) unconscionable cost.
Second, I ran into a real philosophical/teaching methodology/economic classism crisis in December 2017 when confronted with textbook costs while building my current International Business Study Abroad course. The international business texts were close to $500 for students! I remember my own heavy bookstore bills from focusing on the expensive experimental stats and econometrics texts during my bachelor’s and master’s programs, not to forget the cold sweats from the book costs of law school. Thus, I chose to cook up my own course from scratch, and I used OER materials as ingredients.
Finally, if you want to capitalize on some good stoic virtue, consider going OER. Full saint status may elude you with collating and authoring your own materials; as asah differs from bara; but it’s still pretty hard core….T-shirt worthy maybe. Plus, there are dividends in subject mastery and course familiarization that your students may venerate all the same. Carve out the time though.
Empathy is a major part of my personality. I often find myself trying to put myself in another’s shoes, and I work hard to try to understand why people do and say the things that they do and say. Admittedly, I’m not always good at it, but I do, in all sincerity, try. Yesterday, I read my teaching evaluations from my first semester as an assistant professor. I had anticipated that with teaching a new subject for the first time, I would likely get some negative feedback, and having taught for many years, I expected that most of the really negative stuff would come from students who, big surprise, did not do well in the course. I was pleasantly surprised to get generally positive and even some constructive feedback with the expected turds sprinkled among the comments.
When I go through the inevitably soul-sucking task of reading evaluations, I find myself channeling my inner Ze Frank and thinking of some of his words of wisdom from his video An Invocation for Beginnings.
“Let me remember that the impact of criticism is often not the intent of the critic, but when the intent is evil, that’s what the block button’s for. And when I eat my critique, let me be able to separate out the good advice from the bitter herbs.”
Bitter herbs, indeed. While I, unfortunately, do not have a block button for students, I, fortunately, do not have students with evil intents. Just bitterness, anger, and maybe even depression; all projections of their own perceptions regarding their performance in my class. Some recognize that they should have done things differently, but all too often they blame me for their inadequacy in the classroom. Their failure shifts to my failure, which is somehow easier for them to swallow than is self-reflection and ownership over one’s own learning. Nonetheless, I am left to do my own self-reflecting on my work last semester and the impacts that it had on my students.
So, there I was…sitting in my pajamas staring at this judgmental laptop screen telling me that I didn’t do enough. Malicious words attacking my ability to teach without actually providing feedback on ways to improve or even specific areas to work on refining. Beyond the sparingly dispersed useful critiques were the expected contradicting statements and whiny diatribes about how hard it was to be my student. Oh, never was there a story of more woe…
“The lab quizzes are really hard it is almost impossible to pass with a B.”
–Student who apparently did not get the “B” that they wanted
“There is no material to help us prepare for tests other than just studying.”
–Student who missed all supplemental resources posted in CSC Online
“Dr. Morrow posted lots of resources for us to use.”
–Student who saw and used supplemental resources posted in CSC Online
“We should be learning about major arteries and vessels but not the entire structure.”
–Student who knows how to be underprepared for a professional program, redundant with their language (arteries are vessels…), and unclear in their meaning all at the same time
Sort through the bitter herbs, I told myself as I became increasingly defensive and shot poignant counterpoints into the ether. Once the dust had settled, I was able to find a few things to do differently. To my surprise, the students’ suggestions were mostly things that I had already considered during my own reflections on what to do in 2018. I was a little taken aback by recurring “don’t read off of the PowerPoint” comments. I knew that I did this a little bit…after all, I was new to teaching the material and would refer to my slides to keep pace and make sure that all of the content was covered. However, I felt like I had spent enough time explaining things that were bulleted on the slides to be considered as having not simply read straight from them. I’ll try to be more aware of this in the future.
I have always thought it interesting that we ask the least qualified among those in academia to evaluate our effectiveness as educators. Sure, there is some value in deciphering student raging and rambling to dig out any constructive criticism there is to be had, but I put much more stock in the evaluations of my peers and empirical assessments of student learning rather than in student perceptions of learning. For me, and probably many other professors, the impacts of our courses will likely not be felt by students until many years from now, if they are ever truly recognized by our pupils.
Bearing all of these things in mind, I sought to get a better reflection of my first semester with a series of data collection techniques. First, I had my students all take a pre-test and an identical post-test to empirically show improvements. The results were exceptional. One of my classes improved by an average of two letter grades, while the other by an impressive three letter grades. Secondly, I asked my dean to observe one of my classes and offer feedback, which I put to good use during the semester. Finally, I had my student reflect on their learning throughout the course using little CATs (Classroom Assessment Techniques) that I picked up from NFO (New Faculty Orientation) meetings and conversations with my dean. Additionally, my final assignment in my courses was for students to write a 1-2 page reflection on their learning with specific points to address. Honestly, I learned more about how I was doing reading those essays than I did in going over my evaluations OR reading through the supplemental SurveyMonkey data that I collected in addition to the standard CSC evaluations.
I found myself going back in time to put myself in the shoes of an upperclassman during my undergraduate experience. What did I know? I remember always trying to be honest and helpful on my evaluation forms, which lacked some anonymity given that the professors spent a semester growing accustomed to our handwriting only to receive hand-written evaluations in the end. In classes that I loathed, I recall trying to point out to my professors what made it difficult for me. Still, the question remains: What did I know? I had never taken the course before, nor was I an expert in the subject matter, so who was I to say that it could or should be taught differently? How did I know that while some things didn’t work for me that it didn’t work for others in the class? What if I just didn’t spend enough time studying? It would have been entirely possible given that I did not become diligent at studying early and often until later in my college career. I rarely visited with my professors, so was I sure that I hadn’t missed something that they had said, perhaps even repeatedly? What did I know about pedagogy, a word I didn’t hear until I was working on my Ph.D.? What did I know about content retention, learning outcomes, or backwards design? Nothing. I knew nothing. And yet, there I was, surrounded by peers in the same position as we gave our novice assessments on instructor effectiveness. Maybe our feedback was positive, maybe it was negative, maybe it was thoughtful and constructive…or maybe we were just putting words onto paper that were utterly meaningless even if it made us feel like we were in some way authorities on the subject of teaching college-level courses.
This air of authority pervades student evaluations and is, quite frankly, a bit insulting to those of us who have spent years developing our abilities to be effective instructors. One of my students commented that I should not have been hired. Another was upset that I couldn’t answer all of their questions all of the time, which made me unqualified to teach my courses last semester. Others made it seem that they would have done a better job if only they had had a different instructor. Though I may have wanted to, I never, ever, ever would have told my professor that I thought they were incompetent or that they were the reason for my inability to earn the grade that I wanted. I get the temptation. I really do. It’s much easier to blame others for your mistakes than it is to own your mistakes, but smooth seas never made for much of a sailor. We can’t get better without constructive feedback, and I have some for my students: You decide your own level of involvement. (Okay, so I stole that line from Tyler Durden, but it applies in this case.) If you aren’t reading before coming to class…if you aren’t coming to class and paying attention….if you aren’t studying outside of class…then you are not involved, and I cannot help you to achieve your full potential.
As I sat there on my bed, emotionally exasperated, I decided to do a little counting, and you know what? The positive comments outnumbered the negative ones. I’ve heard it said that it takes nine positive comments to outweigh just a single, tiny negative comment. I tried to keep that in mind so that I could consciously devalue those negative comments and give myself some credit for the things that I did do well last semester.
The comments were clear. I was kind, fair, and approachable (according to the vast majority of students anyway). I was knowledgeable, but recognized my limited understanding of the content and would not pretend to know the answer to a question that I didn’t know. I was genuinely concerned about my students’ success and I set the standards high. Some students appreciated these things. Others didn’t, but the point here is that some of them did…they actually did appreciate the course and my role in it. Nothing exemplifies this more than the following comment, which, yes, gave me all the warm and fuzzy feelings after reading through the others.
“Dr. Morrow is learning with us. This is her first time teaching anatomy and I think she’s doing fantastic. A lot of people are complaining, but I think she’s holding us to a really high standard. I’ve talked to others in professional school and I think she is taking a lot from what she learned during this summer and putting it to good use. Honestly, she’s probably going to get a lot of bad reviews, but they’re from people who want an easy A. I don’t think I’ll get an A in this course, but I’m going to work towards one. I really appreciate Dr. Morrow.”
–Hardworking student who, I’m hoping, got that A
As I sit in my office now, writing this, reflecting on my performance, my students, and where to go from here, I can’t help but think about the professors that got me to where I am today. Did I ever tell them how important they were in shaping me? In preparing me for my next, big adventure? Do they know that I still remember nomenclature and understand major concepts because of things that I learned from their classes? Did I give them enough good feedback to help them get through the swamp of student evaluations and find something meaningful and useful to their own personal growth and development? Did I actually impact my professors in small ways? Was I giving anything back for all that I was getting from them? I don’t know, but I sure do hope so….and I also hope that I am giving my students what they need for their next, big adventures as well.
The other day I gave a SAKAI assignment to my students that seemed simple enough: “Create a questionnaire that you could administer to a group of your choosing and bring it to class next week.” This was in a beginning social work research class. It sounded simple to me anyway. What else did I need to say? Well, you would have thought I had asked the students to fly to the moon and bring back moon dust. My e-mail was burning up:
“How many should be in the group?”
“Is it a group on campus?”
“Do I hand it out or what?”
“How will I know if I am doing it right?”
“How will I know if it is what you want?”
“Will this be graded?”
“Calmness, calmness,” I replied back to them in a group mail. “You can do this. What do I want? Well, I want whatever it is you give me. Give it your best shot.”
“You mean it doesn’t matter if we do it wrong?” was the overall group response.
“There is no wrong,” was my response. “And, no, it doesn’t matter.”
The next week we went over the questionnaires they brought to class, and we came to a consensus on what makes a good questionnaire. “If you had told us how to do it, we wouldn’t have made so many mistakes,” one student commented at the end of class with an amused expression.
“That’s right,” I nodded, smiling back at her. “You are absolutely right.”
Dear Faculty and Staff:
I hope you found the 8 February All-Campus meeting. The attached documents to the VPAA Update are handouts provided during the meeting. The campus-wide committee link provides information of the committees mentioned.
- Chadron State 2020 — http://www.csc.edu/president/2020/index.csc
- MAP Purpose & Priorities — http://www.csc.edu/library/mapsupport/#tab2
- MAP Priorities & Sub-Priorities – click on “Priorities”
- Visit the VPAA Update archive versions on the VPAA website: http://csc.edu/vpaa/snaresreleases/index.csc
- Presidential Committees — http://www.csc.edu/president/index.csc
- Campus-Wide Committees — http://www.csc.edu/president/index.csc
Searches in Academic Affairs
Academic Affairs searches in progress for 2018-19: Music (2), Science, Education (2), English & Humanities; Social and Communication Arts; and Business (2) faculty; Director of Assessment.
16 January 2018 NSCS Board of Trustee Meeting
After each Board meeting a summary is provided to the campus. Alex Helmbrecht published the Board meeting highlights 21 January 2018 — http://www.csc.edu/modules/news/public_news/view/11736.
2015-16 CSC Fact Book
The CSC 2015-16 Fact Book is completed and published — http://csc.edu/ir/factbook.csc. If you have questions or suggestions for improvements in the upcoming 2016-17 or 2017-18 Fact Books that are currently in progress, please contact Malinda Linegar, Director of Institutional Research (firstname.lastname@example.org).
8 February 2018 All-Campus Meeting
At the All-Campus Meeting the following documents were provided: Academic Affairs Events Prior to First Day of Fall 2018 Classes; Student Services/Affairs Events Prior to the First Day of Fall 2018 Classes; MHEC four Key Themes – CSC response; New Eagle Registration & 2018 Orientation Events; Strategic Enrollment Management Committee.
These are attached with the VPAA Update email. It would be appreciated if faculty would complete the co-curricular outcomes survey provided by Dr. Nesheim at the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/9CHXX32. The survey consists of twenty-five outcomes (five for each “facet” of co-curricular activities as listed in the definition below). The survey asks how well each outcome represents what you think CSC should value in co-curricular activities. The survey also asks your status (undergraduate student, graduate student, faculty, staff, or administrator), and has an open text box for your comments.
With respect to MAP #3, the blog sites of the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC) and Library Learning Commons (LLC) provide examples of accomplishments: TLC blog site — https://academic.csc.edu/tlc/blog/; LLC blog site — https://academic.csc.edu/llc/blog/.
Regarding MAP #6,
The interactive campus map can be found at:
http://www.myatlascms.com/map/index.php?id=798#!ct/11732 And the resource guide can be found at: http://www.csc.edu/hr/resources/index.csc
Graduate Studies Update
Prior to the budget freeze, Dr. Margaret Course was hired on a temporary, part-time basis to assist with the Graduate Studies Programs. At this point, it is intended that she will work with Admissions to convert graduate applications to enrollment. It is also anticipated that she will be involved in various retention efforts within the Graduate Studies Programs.
Tk20 is now WatermarkTM
During 2017 Tk20, Taskstream, and LiveText merged, and as of now are united under a new company name: WatermarkTM. This new branding is displayed upon logging into Tk20. The companies have been and continue to integrate their operations, resources, and personnel. At this time, their products are not integrated, and CSC continues to use the existing Tk20 assessment product. At the end of the 2018 Spring term, WatermarkTM will begin appearing in the header area of all their applications. We will be coordinating efforts to transition to the new name in a way as to diminish confusion as much as possible.