In my first couple of years spent at CSC, I remember that I had to meet with my dean concerning a “quality initiative” during my annual review. I have since learned that this was part of our Higher Learning Commission (HLC) accreditation program. This quality initiative was meant to create an attitude of reflection in the faculty. At the time, I contemptuously complied as the small report seemed to be a redundancy to the other faculty annual performance evaluation (PAR).
Honestly, in retrospect, I confess that there was a virtue to this exercise; I now use my own version of reflection after my courses run to completion as an embedded practice. Sticky notes adorn my texts and lecture notes. What went wrong? What went right? Did the law change? Are my links still active in the learning management system? Perhaps I would have adopted this practice on my own, but I can see the forced exercise offered results.
Reflection is hardly a new tool. Business uses many versions, the Lawrence Fine SWOT (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat) analysis is my personal favorite method; law uses the IRAC (issue and facts; black letter rule; legal analysis; holding and conclusion) method for summarizing cases; the military uses AARs (after action reviews) to examine combat; and the Jesuits are famous for their daily examen, which is part of the larger Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola. The objectivity of analysis helps one see their flaws, overlooked possibilities, and plan better for the future. It makes us better professionals, more humble practitioners, and open to feedback, which is something that I struggle with.
Thus, in this practice, I’d like to indulge on a meta-reflection analysis of the five previous blog posts of this year.
In September, I posted a blog on my first semester teaching and my first encounter with cheating. Looking back to the topic of cheating in general, I am saddened to see the ubiquity of it all in higher education. I see plagiarism quite regularly, and I am convinced that this is less of cheating than it is of ignorance of convention or just laziness. I feel that cheating is an affirmative action; it requires scienter, mens rea, and actus reus, which turns my stomach as one is doing it with eyes wide open. I like to think the best of my students and hope that college is seen as a way to grow not to devolve and slip into vice. My reflection going forward is to reiterate the purpose of their course work and infuse the needed ethics speech to assuage the anxiety to perform and chance cheating.
In October, I thought upon my own strengths that vouchsafed my own journey through higher education. The missing piece is that these “strengths” are also my weaknesses. I have dealt with pressure in my own head to do my best, reach my goals, not settle. This is a pernicious flaw to my own character that I labor to lessen. What benefits a man to gain the world and still lose himself? In reflection, I am trying to add in joyful goals to my ever present to-do-list (it’s folly to think I could eliminate the checklist) like travel and seeing family: balance.
In November, I wrote on the wired world we live in. I have sought to eliminate distractions in my own life, like TV and Netflix and sports, to concentrate on reading more and slowing down. However, I read the book iGen by Twenge (2017) and it scared me to learn about the distractions my students grow up with. The amount of information that flies at them daily is incredible. There is also disturbing evidence of the superficiality of their relationships and even the insincerity to their love. My reflection is, again, to be sure to make my courses substantive. I mean to build my courses on solid materials all for the goal of giving my students the skills to wrestle with difficult material and not cater to the multimedia circus that is their constant reality.
In February, I wrote on Open Education Resources (OER). I am now finishing my spring semester where I used OER materials heavily in my international business course. I must reiterate that I (re)learned the material a lot better than I would have using a canned publisher package. I feel virtuous that the students weren’t forced to bear the high prices (I’m waiting on that T-shirt). My largest takeaway is the reality of the time devoted. I will not use the OER method in my high-volume courses, but I am happy to declare that I have experience in this method and can add it to my toolbox.
In March, I wrote on where I feel that I fit on the teaching spectrum in higher education. There are generalists and specialists in the academy, and I personally wonder at the danger of specializing. For my part, I have found value in probing cross-disciplinary approaches and teaching courses beyond my field of business law. I enjoy economics, ethics, leadership, and literature just as much, and I love to flavor my own courses with the panoply of all else. I take pleasure in being a generalist. I know that I will eventually make the transition to administration, as this is an eventual goal, but I enjoy teaching and teaching with the broad brush.
Reflecting on the reflections of the 17-18 academic year, I am pleased to have found my rhythm in my 10 preps in business law and economics, I am blessed to have been promoted in rank to associate professor, and I can say with sincerity that I believe in the mission of Chadron State College. Sometimes all I can see is the arbitrary minutia, marathons of meetings, the grind of grading, the work, and without stepping back with reflection, I miss the gift. Marxist ideology offers warning of divorcing the laborer from the work. Mindset matters; am I laying bricks all day or am I building a cathedral? Spring graduation is quickly approaching and the ceremonies always offer the opportunity to view the final product. Indeed, we professors are truly fortunate to be able to build better people. It’s a virtuous cycle where our students succeed, our community succeeds, and our world is just a bit better than it would be otherwise.
 Fine, L. (2009) The SWOT Analysis:Using Your Strength to Overcome Weaknesses, Using Opportunities to Overcome Threats, North Charleston, SC: Createspace.
 Boss, J. (2018, December 1) Don’t Skimp On The After Action Review: 6 Ways An AAR Will Catapult Your Situational Awareness. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffboss/2016/12/01/dont-skimp-on-the-after-action-review-6-reasons-why/#23596338ba3d
 Daily examen, IgnatianSpirituality.com Retrieved April 28, 2018, from https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen
 Wolverton, B. (2016, August 28) The New Cheating Economy, The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved April 28, 2018, from https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-New-Cheating-Economy/237587
 Twenge, Jean. (2017). iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us. New York: Atria Books.
 Wade, L. (2017), American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus, New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.
 Marx, Karl, 1818-1883. (1974) Estranged Labor. In Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
 Sinek, S. (2009). Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York, N.Y.: Portfolio.
Breathing life into concepts is the hallmark of effective teaching. With nearly thirty years of direct practice in the field of social work, I work hard in the classroom to illustrate ideas with compelling stories and real-life examples. My job is to capture my students’ attention. If I don’t, concepts become unanswered essay questions or, worse, rote textbook definition recitals.
A few semesters ago, I was explaining the term, macro practice, in one of my classes. “When we change the environment so that it works for the individual,” I told the students, “we are using the macro approach.” The yawns and glazed-over eyes were signals for something more so I took them back to an old, dirt road in rural Oklahoma where I spent a week knocking on doors asking residents to sign a petition so that my client, a dying hospice patient, could get meals delivered from an agency that told him he was ineligible due to delivery geographics.
We talked about advocacy and tenacity and a few unfriendly dogs on porches. We talked about policy and stamina and standing up to just-the-way-it-is mentality. We talked about injustice and anger and action plans. We talked about focus and pluck and the power of a pair of dusty shoes. We talked about change and choice and what it really means to social work.
Breathing life into concepts goes a long way. Passion means engagement which often leads to effective teaching.
Early in this spring semester, I had an incident that prompted me to write this piece. I had started it, but got a bit distracted and put it away to come back to later. Not long after, another incident prompted me to reopen and continue working on this piece, only for it to again be shoved to the back burner as other aspects of the semester took precedent. Now, here I am, once again prompted to reopen and continue working on this piece that frustrates me because the students this semester simply won’t allow the topic to die in peace.
I could say a lot of really wonderful things about the majority of my students. They work hard. They seem to be engaged and often ask thoughtful questions. They make meaningful contributions when we have the time to get into class discussions. However, for every three or so fantastic students, you always get that one. You all know the one that I’m talking about. The check-boxer. The grade-grubber. The vortex of negativity. The buck-passer. And my all-time least-favorite, the cheater. Ahh, yes, the infamous cheat. The student who doesn’t have time to study, but puts in the time to devise ways to get around that pesky little obstacle of an exam intended to test their understanding. I’m always amazed at the lengths students will go to cheat rather than putting that energy into actually learning the material.
We’ve all had to deal with it at some point, so I wasn’t shocked when it became a thing under my watch…however, I was surprised to see it coming from my 300-level class, which is primarily populated by students looking to go into careers in healthcare. The thought of a future M.D., physical therapist, or dentist needing to cheat in an undergraduate level human physiology class is more than a little bit terrifying.
The first in a series of unfortunate events this semester came before the first exam. I was informed that students were not only planning to cheat on their first exam, but that they apparently thought it was cool to brag about how they would be “getting away with it”. Seriously? Are you really so incompetent that you need to cheat in a foundational course for something you plan to make a career out of? Worse yet, you want people to know how little you know about the subject? Why would you want to showcase your ignorance to your peers? What odd little creatures! In response, I changed the location of the exam without warning on the day of the exam and recruited a second person to help proctor. It made several of them nervous, though it remains a mystery as to which students were involved in the premature cheat-bragging.
Fast-forward a few months into the semester. I return to my office following my morning lab session to find a note attached to my door. “Dr. J,” the note began, “People are using the first quiz from 9 am in the 1 pm to cheat. They were bragging about it in the halls.” My heart sank. I thought we had moved past this. I became a bubbling pot of anger and disappointment. I really just can’t fathom how a person, particularly a person who wants to go into healthcare, would not only be devious enough to cheat, but also to have the gall to brag about planning to do so. As luck would have it, I had had a little extra time over spring break to make the quiz for that week much different between lab sections than I have normally been able to do, so the joke was on these cheaters even before their classmate let me know what was going on. I did let them sweat the 1 pm quiz and gave an admittedly rambling, likely somewhat incoherent speech on the audacity of highlighting one’s own ignorance and academic dishonesty. It scared a few of them, but I have no way of knowing whether or not it reached the ones that it actually needed to reach.
Another week or two goes by and a fun little rumor makes the rounds. Students are uploading materials from my class onto Course Hero. For those unfamiliar, basically Course Hero allows students to download materials from classes in exchange for them uploading materials from other classes. It’s a way of helping students to cheat or to help them facilitate the cheating of others…so they can then cheat themselves. Students earn credits for their uploads that allow them to download more content, but if there’s not enough credits earned for downloading, a student can always pay for the service.
The nature of content on Course Hero is really variable. Some of it is old exams, quizzes, etc., while some of it is essays or class resources. These later pieces of content walk the line of cheating or just getting help, but nevertheless the site is closely associated with academic dishonesty and not good for a budding professional reputation.
The fact that content from my course was posted was brought to our attention by a student who had Googled their own name to check their online reputation before submitting applications to professional programs. The student’s name popped up on a document that had been uploaded to Course Hero without their permission. You see, my students work on case studies in groups of 4-5 and one of the group members had uploaded the case study to earn themselves some of those Course Hero credits. The student was devastated that their name, through no fault of their own, was now associated with the site. Employers and admissions teams aren’t going to care about who posted these kinds of materials, but they are likely to raise quite the eyebrow if seeing an applicant’s name associated with Course Hero. This unfairly calls that student’s professional reputation into question. (Just another way of twisting the knife after the struggle that is a group project.)
It came to light which students had been actively posting and downloading from Course Hero. Some of the names were unsurprising, but a few left me in a state of deep disappointment. I played out various scenarios in my head. Confronting the students directly. Addressing the problem in lab sessions that included the students involved. Giving up precious lecture time to address the entire class. Each had their own sets of pros and cons. While trying to decide the best approach, my department chair came to tell me that another colleague had taken the time to address their class about the issue. Whatever that colleague had said effectively shamed one of the perpetrators into approaching our department chair to discuss the issue. The student deleted their account and contacted the company about removing the content from their site, which (somewhat surprisingly to me) the company agreed to do about a week later. This was the student who had posted materials from my class, so the student voluntarily coming forward effectively brought closure to the situation on my end.
While I was relieved that no further action was required on my part, the fact that academic dishonesty has been a reoccurring problem this semester has left me profoundly frustrated and disappointed. I’ve been trying to take a step back from my emotions to ask the more relevant question, why? Why do I have students who want to cheat…who wants other people to know that they don’t have what it takes to do well on their own…who thinks it’s cool to be the bad-ass who could get kicked out of school for academic dishonesty?
It is difficult for me to relate to this. I understand getting overwhelmed. I understand feeling backed into a corner. I don’t understand using those feelings to justify cheating in your class…particularly when such behaviors could have dire consequences and leave one wholly unprepared for one’s future career. While I certainly cannot claim to have never followed the easy path or done the bare minimum in a class, I can confidently say that I have never gone out of my way to intentionally cheat academically. And if I have cheated and my memory is just betraying me, you can be sure that I probably felt guilt and remorse and I can pretty much guarantee that I never would have bragged about it. I’ve never seen cheating in college or facilitating cheating in college as being an option for me…mostly because I actually wanted to learn in the vast majority of my classes. I wanted to gain the knowledge and skills that would propel me forward. Sure, I had days when things weren’t clicking. I had weeks of banging my head against a wall because I couldn’t grasp a concept. However, when all was said and done, I could say, “I hated that class, but I did learn something along the way”.
I don’t really have a moral to this story. I still have no idea how to explain to students that cheating is wrong. That it’s disrespectful. That it devalues their degrees and shortchanges the competencies that they are supposed to be developing as they make their ways through our programs. The one thing I can say is that students seem to cheat out of either ignorance or arrogance. There’s been recent institutional talk about plagiarism and how we stop students from doing it…either out of ignorance or arrogance. Ideas like registries to document events of academic dishonesty across the campus seem appropriate to me. It might even deter students from engaging in such behaviors if they knew that a record of wrongs was kept by the faculty and could impact things like recommendation letters or scholarship nominations.
It seems to me that repeat offenders tend to cheat out of the arrogance that we professors will not notice or care enough to bust them. I find that appealing to these students’ senses of morality or empathy is not effective for changing the behavior. In such cases, more drastic measures are required, such as giving zeros on quizzes, assignments, or exams. In extreme cases, administrative intervention and expulsion may be required, which I hope I never have to deal with as a faculty member.
On the other hand, when students cheat out of ignorance, we instructors can make this into a teachable moment. Incidences of ignorance allow us the opportunity to say, “this is why what you are doing is considered cheating” and those students often do not repeat the behaviors that got them into this situation in the first place.
In the Course Hero situation from this semester, I was happy to learn that this was more of an ignorance than an arrogance situation. The student followed up with a personal e-mail to me and a few days later came to talk to me in person so that I would know that things had been removed from the site and that she had not intended to cheat herself, her classmates, or future students who would be taking my course. The fact that she owned her mistake and made it a point to try to rectify the situation speaks volumes about the personal integrity of the student involved in the incident. That kind of student is the kind I can work with to divert them onto a better path rather than letting them jump off the rails.
I think that a lot of this comes back down to professionalism and students not always have a good grasp on what it means to build a professional reputation. Perhaps having the resources to better convey professionalism to students through workshops, seminars, or even courses could help prevent the rising problem of academic dishonesty. Such intervention strategies would certainly address the ignorance side of cheating, but maybe…just maybe…it might also help with the arrogance side as well.
I remember graduate school only too well. This was before computers, so it meant long nights in the library, and long nights sitting up writing papers, having teachers who would not accept a paper if you had used correction tape or Wite-Out anywhere on the page—the page had to be re-typed with no corrections visible anywhere. Everything had to be perfect. A mistake on the bibliography page meant re-typing the entire page. As I look back on it now as a teacher myself, I see that that behavior by so many of my professors, while it taught me to be very careful with what I wrote, was nothing short of mean.
But then one day I learned from a teacher in my graduate program what it meant to be respectful of students. I learned a lesson that he probably did not know that he had taught me, a lesson I remember to this day whenever I am with a student. It was something he did with one hand.
It was mid-morning, and he and I had to meet to discuss a proposal I was working on. He was the chair of the department and was known as a man who expected the best from all of us graduate students, but he was rumored to be a kind man, too. This was not said about many of our professors.
We sat there, he at his desk, and I in a wooden office chair on the other side of the desk. I was nervous. Graduate school was something at which I could not fail. He greeted me politely and then asked a question about the proposal. I was responding when his phone rang. I glanced at it sitting there on the desk and became immediately quiet. I wondered if I should leave his office so he could take the call. It rang again.
He reached over and lifted the receiver so it stopped ringing and then put the receiver back down. He smiled, looked at me, and said, “That call was not important right now. You are.”
Dear Faculty and Staff:
By mid-April students are restless and ready to be finished. For faculty and staff, what we do requires constant dedication and hard work. Such work is exhausting and the challenges seem never ending. Thank you for going the extra mile, for working in a collaborative manner, and for living who we are. The essence of Chadron State College is people, purpose and place.
- 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, English and Humanities, Education, CMAT, Science (2), and Business (2) faculty.
CSC New Website
The Chadron State College website will unveil its new look Monday, 16 April 2018. A 9 April 2018 memo to campus provided information on the website’s redesign. A team consisting of Andrew Schmid, Daniel Binkard and Alex Helmbrecht began working on a website redesign in the summer of 2017, the first comprehensive redesign since 2012. The website, csc.edu, is the front door to our institution and it is the most important marketing and communication asset the college possesses. The new website features a responsive design, meaning it adapts to the device it is viewed through. The website is also mobile friendly, ADA compliant, easier for Information Technology personnel to update, and has a modern aesthetic.
The existing content remains available on the website. The links may not be in the same place; to find the information utilize “resources” menu at the top right of the homepage. This menu provides quick access to many important items, such as online learning, MyCSC and email logins. If that doesn’t work, please utilize the search bar at the top of each web page.
The second phase of the website redesign will commence in the fall of 2018. Led by Joby Collins and Alex Helmbrecht, this phase will audit the current written material on the website. The goal is to determine if pages are more suitable to an internal audience located on an intranet as well as provide a more user-friendly tool for parents and students. If you would like to be involved with this task team, please contact Joby (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Alex (email@example.com).
Goucher College recently revised their general education program. It is an integrative interdisciplinary program that is “build around inquiry-based learning” (http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/03/28/report-shows-private-colleges-are-adaptingand-aims-encourage-more-change). CSC is once again a step ahead.
Twenty states allow Community Colleges to confer baccalaureate degrees (http://www.accbd.org/resources/baccalaureate-conferring-locations/). A conference presentation (Should Community Colleges Confer Baccalaureate Degrees: Overview of Arguments For and Against by Anahid Petrosian) outlines a succinct summary. As we continue our outreach to community colleges and develop MAP 2019-2023, understanding the larger context is prudent and useful (http://www.accbd.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Should-Community-CollegeConfer-Bachelor-Degrees.pdf).
Congress funded a $5 million open educational resources pilot program (28 March 2018, Inside Higher Ed, Fed Come Around to OER – Slowly, http://www.insidehighered.com/digitallearning/article/2018/03/28/oer-gains-momentum-federal-push-2018-budget.
People and Place: Chadron State College
- Rural America: Rural America includes 46 million individuals and consists of 72% of USA’s land area. The United States Department of Agriculture released the November 2017 edition of Rural America at a Glance (https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pubdetails/?pubid=85739)
- Great Plains: While 10 states within the USA are part of the Great Plains, the entirety of four states is encompassed within the Great Plains: ND, SD, NE, and KS (Center for Great Plains Studies, University of Nebraska Lincoln, https://www.unl.edu/plains/about/map.shtml
- Cultural and Historical: Nebraska is one of the top 10 states (NE; ND; SD; MT; OK; CO; WY; NM; KS; AR) in which a high percentage of land within the state was claimed by homesteaders (Richard Edwards & colleagues, 2017, Homesteading the Plains):
NE & ND = 45% of state SD = 41%
MT = 34% CO = 33%
WY = ~28% KS = ~25%
29 March 2018: All-Campus Workshop
An all-campus workshop focused on engagement, recruitment, and retention was conducted to provide an update on the efforts of the Strategic Enrollment Management team. In addition, actionable activities were furnished to illustrate various avenues for engaging students. Since 2014 the annual Gallup-Purdue Index Report has surveyed college graduates across the country. Some of the findings include: (1) it is not where students attend rather it is the high-impact activities that students experience; (2) mentors may be anyone from a professor, staff member, advisor, coach, family member, and/or friend (3) students that were engaged in college are more engaged in their work life after college. It is not merely recruitment and retention of students; it is engaging students so as to make a positive difference in the lives of students and nurture the betterment of communities in the future.
The Teaching & Learning Center staff is excited to introduce a new default template for CSC Online course sites scheduled to be included in all Fall 2018 Term courses. Using the features of the Lessons tool, the template is offered as an option to assist with efforts related to course design and may be particularly helpful for those inexperienced in online teaching or less familiar with ways to facilitate learning via design in online environments. We enthusiastically recommend it as a basic framework to guide in creating online courses that enhance the learning experience for CSC students.
Grounded in solid instructional design principles, the template provides clear and consistent structure and intuitive navigation. These elements work to create an intentionally inviting environment to improve the potential for student success. The tool aims to address, in whole or in part, several specific review standards of the Quality Matters rubric. Some features of the template include:
- a Guide to Online Learning at Chadron State College to provide students with consistent information and resources to reference for accessing technical support, academic success resources, student services, expectations associated with online learning, and more;
- an accessible CSC Syllabus template;
- a component to invite students into the course and help them to get started; and
- consistently formatted components, placeholders, and resources to aid instructors in structuring course units.
Getting Started with Using the Template
We invite you to become familiar with the first version of the template and experience the potential it offers to support course design in CSC Online. To take a test drive of the template:
- Join this demo of the template course site. Click “Yes” when prompted to join the site. Once you have joined the demo site, it will always be available in your Sites menu under Development.
- Navigate to the Welcome page of the course menu for specific instructions related to using the template.
- During your tour of the template, you will also find examples and instructions to assist in creating an accessible syllabus and in adding content to units organized in the Course Units page.
We welcome your constructive comments and suggestions regarding the instructions, examples, resources, and other aspects of the template. We appreciate your feedback focused on improving future iterations of the template.
If you are teaching Summer 2018 Term courses and are interested in using the template prior to the fall term rollout, send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org and identify the summer term courses for which you would like to use the template.
Register for the TLC Workshop Meet the New CSC Online Template to explore the features of the template and to take away some ideas to apply in structuring your courses. The workshop is scheduled for the following days and times:
Do you have conflicts with all of these session times? Contact email@example.com to
request a time and day that will work for you!
The place where one lives permanently especially as a member of a family or household is the definition of home according to uncle google. I think home has been found. My partner and I are pushing two decades together. We moved into and out of many apartments and houses across the years. We embraced this strangely peripatetic lifestyle, moving every year or two, for school then work then school again. Through the moves we found local watering holes and friendships and the quirky inner workings of a city that make so many places special, but we never really settled. From one state to another our moves pushed westward, like so many explorers and travelers before us.
This last August, after driving through the night and humidity of the central mid-west, day broke on a barren landscape. Hues and shades of gray and blue surrounded our U-Haul. The sun didn’t crack through the distant clouds, but the colors of a foreign land bloomed in the early light. The orange of the truck’s paint and the yellow stripes on the road complimented the blue-indigo of our first, western Nebraska sky.
The next few days, weeks, and months filled in quickly. Orientations and classes and students and grading and yet another round of friendship-making swirled into the shape of a fall semester. Winter break blinked away and now another semester is almost at its end. It is the way of things when you move to a new place. Time tends to accelerate. Every day has new experiences and sights and sounds and for some reason time speeds up as we catch up to speed in a new place.
Why does my experience of place matter? It matters because as teachers we are connected to our students and our colleagues for an intense stretch of months at a time. Then, after a break, we do it all over again. And again. And again. Place is more than the backdrop of a town or a region. Place includes the people, so the dictionary’s definition of home seems to balance all the things just right; home is a place where one lives permanently especially as a member of a family. There is no mention of a structure, per se. Home is a place for family.
Higher learning institutions are home to many young people for the first few years of their adult lives, and this home is vibrant and creative. It is combatant and restrictive. It is loving and difficult. It is all these things combined because we humans are emotional beings, and we seek out comfort and place and belonging.
Every time my partner and I move to a new town or state, a part of me misses my students the most. Although we are not quite one year here in Chadron, I feel something new teasing its way into my thoughts.
We’re home, I think.
How unpredictable. How improbable. This frontier and remote place may not be for everyone. The rugged pine ridge and the long flats of grassland reflect temperamental patterns, just like the many members of a family, in a beautiful display of solitude mixed with weather, but it is the people more than the landscape that have got me thinking about being settled, about being home, for the first time in my adult life.
What’s the deal with time? More specifically, even when I devote significant amounts of time to grading, commenting, conferencing, and prepping, I feel behind. It is important to remember that as humans (and not robots) we need time to let our thoughts wander. We need time to take a walk in the woods, to pet our pets, and to putter around the house. We need time for breaks because taking breaks is a form of self-care.
Last semester, I attended a writing workshop with the Teaching and Learning Center. My colleagues and I sat in a circle and did some freewriting on various prompts. The theme on everyone’s mind was TIME. In fact, the subject of time, specifically how much time it takes to grade, preoccupies so much of my brain space that I often spend an inordinate amount of time feeling guilty for going on an impromptu walk, watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, trying out a new recipe, or staring at the ceiling.
To justify my need for breaks and walks and to be sure I am not exaggerating how much time I spend grading, I did the math. This semester I have 63 students in four classes. Each class has approximately four writing projects through the semester. It takes me about 20 minutes to grade each major essay assignment. Each essay assignment, depending on the class and level, ranges from between 3-7 pages. 63 students multiplied by four projects equals 252 projects that I must read carefully and provide feedback. I will spend approximately 5,040 minutes or 84 hours reading and commenting on essay assignments, and this number is only accurate if I stick to a strict schedule of timing my reading and feedback to ONLY 20 minutes per paper. 84 hours is equal to 2.1 full-time work weeks, and these hours must be worked in on top of, around, through, across, in addition to face-to-face teaching, prep for those classes, conferences, emails, grading quizzes, in-class work, homework, committee work, and departmental task forces. These numbers illustrate why my own sense of time feels like an accordion compressed.
And yet, or perhaps especially, when we feel behind, teachers (and most humans generally) need a little time to meander, putter, and stare. We need down time because we are not robots. While this statement seems obvious on its surface, the practice of self-care is not always evident. Think of this blog post as a call to action. Do something to take care of yourself today, even if it’s to look up from your screen and stare at the wall for a few of those 84 hours.