October 2015 archive

Shared Inspiration

DSC_4103 copyAbout a year ago, by some stroke of luck, I hit it off with two new part-time college instructors who I met on campus during the Spring 2015 semester. One was an author and speaker, and the other had just chosen a new career path after a stint in the corporate world. The funny thing is that we had all crossed paths in jobs, college, and groups of friends at one point or another, but had somehow never met.

Now almost 12 months down the road, none of us working in the same field or on the same campus anymore (I guess that semester had been fate at work), we still meet at least once a month for Thai food at a friend’s restaurant.

It’s a rare thing in your late 20s, after the excitement of college and single life have become memories- now with husbands and career goals as the focus- to find friends like this that feel like sisters and also like home.

Having shared a week-long vacation in the mountains (that was more like a 5-day slumber party, complete with chick flicks and Jenga), favorite books, inspiration, uncertainty about our dreams, buying homes, and having babies, it feels like I’ve known these women my entire life.

After another lazy Tuesday sharing Thai food and life updates on a beautiful October day (and having shared our thoughts about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic– after declaring ourselves a ‘mini book club’ of sorts), I headed home filled with enough laughs, stories, and excitement to last until our next meeting.

Not to say that my other friends and family aren’t wonderful, but there’s something special about finding that rare camaraderie with strangers once you near 30 that somehow makes you feel like you’re 13 all over again.

Cherish all of it. The people in your life, the simple but unforgettable moments, the laughing fits, and the lazy Tuesday afternoons over Thai food.

Happy living.

Happy Professors Series: Crossing the Bridge from the Corporate Side

DSC_5911“There I was, coming off a challenging but thoroughly enjoyable corporate career. While the clock was telling me it was time to retire, I knew I was not ready to kick back each day with a cup of coffee and a newspaper.

Having served for 30 years in the fast-paced and stressful corporate environment, I had acquired a global perspective, thanks to assignments in Mexico, Brazil, England, Germany, and Singapore.

My corporate education taught me that little mistakes could cause large errors, and the importance of being attentive, detail-oriented, and a good communicator.

Could any of this information be useful to others?

As I started doing the research, I realized I was being driven by a desire to ‘give back.’ In my mind, I imagined just how compelling it would be to guide and encourage young people, and to help prepare them for real world careers.

But, could I cross that bridge from the corporate side to the classroom?

As I discussed this dilemma with a couple of professors, I began to see how teaching at the college level could provide a real sense of personal satisfaction. They explained how experience outside of academia had enabled them to become more insightful instructors. And, their students were benefiting from their knowledge.

While these conversations helped me to see one side of my decision, I knew I had to avoid the huge traffic signal looming overhead – avoid over-committing!

In the end, I made the decision to jump in, feet first. How has it worked out? I love the flexibility that part-time teaching allows. I am able to write, travel, and stay involved with children and grandchildren. I love the intellectual stimulation and interaction. I delight in hearing how students are applying their learning.

For me, the major advantage of teaching part-time is that I can be in the classroom while continuing to stay active in my other ‘part-time positions.’  I am fortunate to be able to pursue a life goal, get paid for it, and still have time for my other passions.”

~Steve, Online College Instructor

3 Time Management Tricks for Teachers

DSC_3977 copyRecently I was asked by a local college to teach a faculty development workshop for part-time instructors. I eagerly agreed, and the entire event was everything I’d hoped it would be. As a group, we all shared our best kept teaching secrets, and many of those ‘secrets’ had to do with time management, so I thought I’d share them with you:

  1. When grading assignments, put yourself on the clock.

I thought I was the only instructor who did this, but apparently it’s not that uncommon. To keep myself from wasting time or losing focus when grading a large number of papers, I give myself a time limit. I physically set my iPhone next to me at my kitchen table and turn on the ‘Stopwatch’ feature.

Typically, I try to grade the first 3 papers (in a set of sometimes 80 or more) as efficiently as I can while using the timer on my phone to see how long it takes. Once I see what my average time is for each paper, I try to stick to it. It helps me stay on task when I put this small amount of pressure on myself, and it prevents me from getting sidetracked with random thoughts or tempting YouTube videos. It may sound silly, but it’s empowering to be able to have some sort of control over what inevitably seems like an unending stack of work.

  1. Find shortcuts for writing the same comments on student papers.

When I started realizing I was typing the same feedback to multiple students on assignments for my online classes, I started keeping those comments in a Word document on my Mac. I do the same thing with important announcements and general class feedback that I send out to students semester after semester. It’s a huge time saver, and it also reminds me of the areas my students struggle with the most well in advance (this means I won’t have to copy and paste that same comment 100 times if I give my students a heads up about that particular trouble spot a week earlier).

Another colleague of mine sends out a list of common comments, numbered 1 through 20, to her students at the beginning of the semester. Then as she grades each paper, she simply writes numbers instead of comments, and the students can use the sheet to see what the number represents.

Lastly, I found out from another instructor at this event that a popular learning management system, Canvas, has an even more effective system for storing commonly used comments, so if you’re particularly tech savvy, that’s also a viable option.

  1. Give students verbal feedback instead of written feedback.

After my first year as an instructor, and after having graded hundreds of my students’ rough draft speech outlines outside the classroom, I knew there had to be a more efficient and effective system for both me and my students. I was tired of writing thorough feedback on each paper, only to have it ignored when the student submitted their formal version of the outline. I realized this task was taking up countless hours of my time, and it was not resulting in anything remotely valuable for the students. That’s when I decided that we would start discussing their rough drafts in class, instead. It saved me hours of previously wasted time, and I was able to hold the students accountable for making particular changes by the end of the class period with the help of their group members, if needed. My students and I both got great value from this change.

There are a number of other ways to save time and work more effectively, especially when some elements of teaching can feel a bit tedious. Experiment with what works best for you, and feel free to tell me about it!

Happy learning and happy teaching!

Adding Spice to the Classroom

IMG_0127Let’s talk about adding some spice to the college classroom.

No, I’m not talking about a tasty fall treat, although I’m sure I’ll hear plenty of holiday-themed speeches this semester (and I’d bet money someone might even give a speech about Pumpkin Spice Lattes).

I’m talking about making changes to my Public Speaking course to mix up the usual routine and ensure that classes don’t start to feel monotonous.

Every few years I’ll add a new and exciting activity that appeals to both me and my students. This semester, I finally decided it was time for them to plan and present their very own TED talks.

I’ve been expecting this overwhelming desire to hit me for some time now. I’ve been a huge fan of TED talks for years, watching them in my free time, showing them in the classroom, and even recommending them in my books.

The moment of inspiration finally arrived.

I printed off the TED Commandments (these are typically mailed to actual TED talk presenters), found some good guidelines for the classroom, and even stumbled upon a short 3-minute-long portion of a podcast interview between Tim Ferriss and Brene Brown discussing her experience as a TED speaker.

As I’m sure most teachers can understand, once the idea had struck me, I put all my other work aside for the day and spent the next 6 hours excitedly researching TED style talks for the classroom and planning out how we might go about this.

Unless you happen to be a speech teacher, this probably doesn’t speak to you directly.

But for all you ‘happy’ professors out there, regardless of the course you teach, I’m sure you’ve been in this situation at some point. When was the last time the inspiration struck you to try something new and add some spice to your course?

It’s the (almost) holiday season, Pumpkin Spice Lattes are among us, and some great ideas might just be in the air, too.

I encourage you to do something today that thrills you, and see what you can do to add some magic to your usual classroom routine.

Happy teaching, and happy (almost) holiday season!