The Truth About the Most Inspired Happy Professor Posts

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After looking through some of my blog posts recently, I thought I’d clarify a few things.

I’ll admit, teaching college students is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are plenty of frustrating moments and students that know how to push your buttons.

However, the students I meet with weekly in the classroom do inspire me 99% of the time.

These days I teach evening classes exclusively (which I prefer, since you tend to have older students who come straight from work and are there to better their lives- from what I’ve gathered over the last 8 years), and I only teach once or twice a week so that I give it my all, and can’t wait to come back for more. I’ve learned that ‘the classroom in moderation’ makes it incredibly fun and fulfilling, and works wonders for this happy professor.

Here’s where the blunt truth comes in: teaching online is not quite as inspiring.

There are plenty of days where online students send nasty emails, ask you why the copy and paste function isn’t working on their computer, email you 3-4 times if you don’t respond within 5 minutes, and generally treat you like a customer service rep who has wronged them.

These experiences make it hard to feel inspired, and this is why I stay in close contact with other teacher friends who work online- it can be hard, and you need the emotional support.

That’s not to say that online students or teaching online is generally ‘bad.’ I love it for the freedom it gives me, the fact that it helps me contribute in a financially significant way to my household, and that when I have children I’ll be able to do a job I’m good at and enjoy from my own home.

There are also plenty of incredible online students who I’ve established a connection with, are hard workers, respectful, professional, and those are the students I look forward to ‘seeing’ when they need me. These are the students who tell me they stumbled upon my blog and it made their day, or that they appreciate how organized and responsive I am as an instructor, and I even had one student the other day tell me I was ‘thebomb.com’ for helping her out with a difficult situation. These moments make me smile and brighten my day.

Even the students who send frustrating or inappropriate emails to the instructor don’t necessarily mean anything by it, sometimes they’ve had bad experiences with inattentive online instructors in the past and don’t know how to have their voices heard (I can’t imagine feeling helpless as an ignored students when your teacher won’t respond and your grade or upcoming graduation is at stake), and many students simply aren’t given the tools they need to take an online class or even understand how to write a professional and respectful email to instructors (we’re still in the Wild West of online teaching here- hopefully we’ll see some changes and better online student training in the next decade, but we’re all learning).

All this to say that, honestly, my face-to-face students just inspire me more (apologies to some of you wonderful online students I’ve had over the years!), and that’s generally what I’m drawing from when I reflect on the wonderful things in life here on happyprofessor.com. Online teaching is the future, and the pay, flexibility, and ability to work wherever you want can’t be beat- and you’ll also see those posts on this site, because that situation in itself can be freeing and inspiring in a whole different way.

However, there’s magic that happens in the physical classroom, the goosebumps when a student gives a speech unlike any they’ve given before, a student comes to your desk to ask if you’d coach them for a speaking event, or you see the mass of students in front of you turning into a family to help each other grow, learn, and become more confident learners.

That’s the stuff that makes me the happy professor.

Happy teaching, living, and learning :).

Happy Professors Series: How to Find Teachable Moments in Everyday Life

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“Have you ever stopped yourself in the middle of the day to question what you are doing? I often think about how invigorating it is to really think about why we, as social creatures, choose to live our lives the way we do. Why have you chosen to take the actions or engaged in the behaviors that you did so far today? Or, why you are doing it all in the specific way that you’ve chosen?

Stopping ourselves and asking why we move through life the way we do is exciting to me; not only because it allows for increased mindfulness, but also because it helps us hone the skills of deeper critical analysis.

I question my own choices every day. For example, when I present an opinion about our socio-political environment, I might ask myself why I feel the way I do. Easy enough. But there is more. I then question what role the media has played, or what deeper issues I am interested in, and what relation my upbringing or socialization has with my own outlook on life. I’ll ask why I hold certain value systems or norms and social expectations. I use this type of questioning with my students all the time.

I have bright students, but I still constantly ask them why it is that they arrived at a certain conclusion or analytical framework. Not because they weren’t clear enough in their presentation of their argument, but because questioning gives way to learning. So many times, instructors (and human beings in general) take “good” answers for granted. We applaud them, agree or disagree, and move on. Perhaps even regurgitating what we have heard at another point in time. But stopping there makes us miss out on a critical opportunity.

A much deeper level of learning emerges when you stop and pry a bit more.  Do not take your sense of reality or your opinions for granted. Ask questions, like what schema or social lens are you using to view “reality” the way you do? Why is it that you chose to focus on certain aspects of the situation, rather than others? What does this say about your relationship with your larger social group, as well as your inner cognitive functions?

Perhaps more importantly, what assumptions are you making, even at an unconscious level, to move through the issue the way you do? You see, we often operate by a mindset that is on autopilot. What do I mean by this? We quickly put bits of pieces about our world or environment together so that we effectively and efficiently get about our day. This is usually done by our minds, without our realization.

Let’s take gender roles as an example. I teach sociology and social psychology, so I often deal with teaching and learning about gender and gender roles. Very often we hear words –aggressive, dainty, mechanic or nurse—and form a gendered opinion. What this tells me is that we take femininity and masculinity for granted. However, these are social constructions that we impose on people, based on their sex—their physiology. From the moment a baby is born, we constantly reinforce the duality of gender through blue or pink. Colors, whose symbolism we have come to attach to gender.

Similarly, I teach courses on the social construction of place. This might make my point a bit clearer—we often take the labels of places or boundaries for granted and simply feel that we are somewhere very real, but what is place, but the social construction of space? What makes this city different than the next?

These moments of reflection can sometimes feel like we are spiraling down a rabbit hole, and becoming more confused, but it also allows us to step outside of our implicit biases and assumptions and critically look at why we come to view the world the way we do. Bringing this out in others has led to deeper conversations and deeper connections. Additionally, it has led to clearer understanding of our social constructions and our social expectations. By deconstructing our world, our reality and our assumptions, we are left with bits and pieces that we can put together in new, innovative ways.

If we look to all our daily actions this way, we will soon realize that all of life is a teachable moment—not just those confined within classroom boundaries.”

~Dani, Sociology Instructor, Ph.D.

Finding Quiet

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I’m generally pretty good about keeping distractions to a minimum, but sometimes pesky things like fun articles online, pretty Instagram posts/pictures, and music as background noise while taking care of odds and ends, in addition to real life noise/work/’to do’ lists add up and take their toll.

Recently, I felt like my head was swimming with useless information, and instead of feeling like I’d taken a break from grading papers by reading those articles on TheEveryGirl.com, I felt more overwhelmed.

I started noticing that although the online articles and Netflix episodes seem short, soothing, and easy to digest at first glance, I was watching New Girl (a show I enjoy) and thinking: “I never want to watch another episode of anything ever again” (while I continued to watch the next episode).

As I read The Every Girl articles about careers, travel, and the best books to read, I kept clicking on the next article and thinking: “I never want to read another online article or blog post ever again” (as I kept clicking and reading).

It was much the same for Instagram, and even listening to music while I graded papers or cooked dinner.

I was tired of noise, literal and figurative noise, and I felt scattered and unable to focus (so much for using these modern inventions to relax). I felt like I was eating gummy bear after gummy bear in a never ending bag, well past the point that I felt sick- but for some reason I was still putting them in my mouth one by one.

So I finally stopped.

For the last two weeks I returned to reading actual books and focusing on this one thing at a time (instead of jumping from short article to shorter article, and post to Instagram post- just thinking about it is making my head throb).

And yes, reading one solid book is a little more time consuming; it doesn’t always provide the ‘short’ break we’re looking for, and for those of us who have become fans of audio books, sometimes it can feel like the slowest way to accomplish something.

But it turned out to be exactly what I needed.

I still needed breaks from the day, and nothing else seemed to be working; I was relieved that I found a way to rest that actually seemed like I resting. In fact, it felt a lot like spending a few days at our isolated mountain home in North Carolina (which is where everyone in my family slows down and recharges during the holidays). I was still working during the last two weeks, but somehow it felt like a vacation.

Now don’t get me wrong, first of all, listening to jazz music while you work or cook isn’t bad for you (and I’ll probably listen to it in the very near future), and neither is reading articles on Success.com or TheEveryGirl.com. But ometimes it all becomes too much, and you realize that instead of a small sweet treat, you’ve just eaten way too much candy.

The bottom line is, I had no reason to feel this unfocused and overwhelmed by ‘stuff’- I work from home at my leisure and I don’t have kids. All I needed to do was flip a fairly easy switch to make a major change (that I was fortunate enough to be able to make in my situation).

So lately when I need a short break, I’ll read on my Kindle app for a minute (Present Over Perfect is what I’ve been reading at the moment). When I want to take my time and really indulge, I sit back on the couch and enjoy the feel of a book in my hands (which is Julie & Julia right now).

Slowing down like this has cleared my head and gotten rid of the nonsense. I’ve grown to love the sound of relative quiet. The sound of turning the page in a paperback, hearing cars passing by on the street, birds chirping, and kids playing in the neighborhood feels like the perfect type of quiet for right now.

Happy Professors Series: Helping Students Gain Courage

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“I started my career in education as an English teacher in Japan. The experience was life changing for me. I previously had little desire to pursue a career in education, however my experience teaching – and learning from – my elementary and junior high school students has steered me toward my current profession. The thing which I most enjoy about teaching is seeing how a classroom setting gives students the courage to come out of their shells and express their opinions and feelings. I believe my most positive experience thus far has been seeing my students move from having a paralyzing fear of the English language to courageously tackling speech competitions.”

~ Allan, College Instructor and Instructional Designer

How to Effectively Flip Your Classroom

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I’ve been using the ‘flipped classroom’ approach to teaching since before I knew what the term meant.

I’m sure I’m not the only instructor who intuitively felt that talking at students for a few hours each week, and then sending them home to do outside work wouldn’t be the best learning strategy. Instead, I had students tackle the material at home (with assigned reading and YouTube lectures I’d created), and then I tested that learning with activities and in-class work afterward to see where students needed extra help to fill the gaps in knowledge.

Most of us are used to the former approach since flipped learning is still relatively new, but the latter is becoming more accepted and increasingly effective as instructors are becoming more comfortable and creative with the flipped classroom approach, and we’re seeing more articles like the one below.

Some tips for effective assessment mentioned in the article are:

  • Start with good learning objectives.
  • Employ a “frequent and small” approach.
  • Use “preformative assessment.”
  • Act on, and share, the data you collect.

For those of you who have learned to navigate the flipped learning environment, hopefully you recognize the lingo above and were able to use the 4 strategies as a quick checklist to be sure you’re on the right with your teaching methods (I love a good checklist to remind me that I’m actually following the correct protocol!). If you’re not familiar with these strategies, or with flipped learning, I encourage you to read the article below and see if it’s an approach you might be interested in- it might be just the perfect fit for you!

Four Strategies for Effective Assessment in the Flipped Learning Environment

http://www.facultyfocus.com/resources/blended-and-flipped/grading-feedback/four-strategies-effective-assessment-flipped-learning-environment/

Happy learning and happy teaching!

Teacher Quotes for Valentine’s Day

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Because it’s Valentine’s Day, and we should all have a little more compassion and love for each other on this (slightly too commercialized) holiday, here are some moving teacher/professor quotes to make your day a little sweeter:

“My teacher thought I was smarter than I was- so I was.”

“Every kid is one caring teacher away from being a success story.”

“I call my students ‘my kids’ because in our time together they aren’t just kids on my class list, they become a part of my heart.”

Happy learning, living, and happy Valentine’s Day.

Taking a Pause

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Sometimes you just need to take a pause.

I’m not talking about putting the brakes on a romantic relationship, but I am talking about giving your creative side some time to breath.

So many of us these days are adamant about chasing our passions. We’re afraid that if we’re not careful and disciplined enough about nurturing our creative projects that they’ll just simply slip away.

We pour our love, energy, and time into them hoping that with maybe less sleep and more focus we can finish our passion project quickly and with a touch of genius before we lose any bit of inspiration.

Sometimes it happens that way, and when it does it’s amazing. But then sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s when the worry sets in.

In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert sends a powerful message to artists: It’s okay to take a break from your passion project for a day, a week, or even years (as scary as that might sound); it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. True, that particular project might not hold as much interest for you down the road, but it doesn’t mean your ability to create and find that unstoppable drive is gone for good. And it also doesn’t mean that that project is over, it might just need time to evolve into something better.

You just need to wait.

Take time for new hobbies, simple projects, and time with friends. Take time to remember what the day-to-day can feel like without that wild drive to build something (I’m not saying it’s easy, but the contrast can be restful, helpful, and eye-opening).

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been in limbo between projects for over a year now- deliberately, as an attempt to slow down. However, like all type A’s with an artistic streak, I do worry that my imaginative muscle isn’t getting the exercise it needs.

Then I remember that there have been times like this before, and I know better. The artist inside isn’t gone, she’s just resting up for the next big, all-consuming and absolutely incredible project.

Happy learning, living, and creating.

Happy Professors Series: 35 Years of Teaching, Traveling, and Pursuing Passions

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“I never planned to be a teacher. In fact, my mother (a teacher) steered me away from the profession. In college, my interest survey said I should be a catholic nun/teacher. I thought the survey was screwy – I wasn’t catholic and had no plans to be a teacher. After I finished my masters program I was asked to teach an accounting class at the local community college.  I knew almost immediately that I found my calling and never looked back.

Teaching is rewarding and SO MUCH FUN!  I’ve been teaching for 35 years – 34 years in the classroom and now all online. I love my time with the students and I love the flexibility teaching has given me to pursue my other passions – traveling and grandchildren.”

~ Connie
Department Chair and Accounting Instructor

How to Get Into ‘Coffee Shop’ Work Flow (When You Just Feel Like Spending the Day at Home)

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Mondays are the days that I pack up everything in my life around 9 am to head to a local coffee shop (usually Panera). As many people know, there tends to be a bit of Sunday night anxiousness that’ll remind you about everything you need to take care of on Monday, and that feeling each week is what gives me the motivation to get out the door when I wake up.

I pack up my laptop, headphones, folders, snacks, waters, and gym clothes (for an evening kickboxing class nearby), and get out the door before the usual crowd of busy college students, families, and location independent workers typically show up.

It’s a solid routine, but that doesn’t always mean I make it out the door.

Today I lingered, got some household things taken care of, and ultimately decided that I would work from my kitchen table (which is easier said than done).

I procrastinated, checked my emails again for no reason after I’d already done my morning email check, did some laundry, started writing this blog post (everything that was in no way urgent or related to the papers that needed grading).

Eventually I got into some semblance of ‘work mode.’ I pulled up a comfy chair, poured a cup of tea, put on my usual jazz music, pulled out my planner, and faked the ‘coffee shop’ feel enough that I just simply got started (a few hours later, of course).

It may not have turned out to be the perfect work day, and I didn’t feel like the unstoppable force that I normally do when seated by my usual coffee shop window from 9 to 6, but I did get done what I needed to, and for today that’s okay.  

Happy living :).

College Classroom Technologies: A Look at Their Use in the Future

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In the article, Top 10 Education Technologies that Will Be Dead and Gone in the Next Decade, faculty members voiced their opinions about what classroom technology they believe will be gone within the next 10 years, which ones they hope might become obsolete, and what they believe their role as instructors will be versus the role that technology will play as the classroom continues to evolve.

Personally, I disagree with some aspects of the article, but it did make me think, so I appreciated many of the insights.

The way I see it, the use of technology will continue to grow, and the systems we all ‘hope’ will go away will just change to become more conducive to the classroom (any instructor knows that what we currently have is a far cry from perfect). 

I think technology is here to stay, will continue to play a bigger role, and will change the way instructors are used (I’m already well aware that my job in the classroom and my job as an online instructor are remarkably different from each other).

I do agree with the chart in the article, showing that our role as instructors will be minimal. Even now, online students can learn material, take quizzes, and see what grade they received in an online grade book, all without us lifting a finger.

I love the face-to-face college classroom. It’s where you feel the impact you’re making much more strongly, and teachers are a much bigger part of the inspiration and learning that happens. 

But technology is helping students learn more efficiently, on their own time, and without distractions, and as someone who appreciates progress, I kind of love that, too. 

Happy teaching, learning, and changing.

~

To read more about technology in the classroom, read the article Top 10 Education Technologies that Will Be Dead and Gone in the Next Decade.

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