Thursday, August 28, 2014

Dear Ms. Undine dispenses more wisdom

Dear Ms. Undine,

In between admin, prepping classes, meeting, and still trying to keep some time for writing, I take out a few minutes to read higher education sites for distraction, which are filled with stuff I already know--teaching tips, how to handle email, and the like as though it is a fresh, new thing. I could have written them myself. This annoys me, because it violates my prime directive of not wasting my time. What should I do? 

Signed, Been there, done that

Dear Been there,
You know the answer to this one: you are looking for distraction in all the wrong places, and you, not they, are wasting your time.  

Those sites are for people who are just starting out, and to them, those things are exciting and new.  You know how kittens and puppies get intrigued by things that your cat or dog now ignore, and how nice you think it is that they are excited by them?  This information is valuable, just not to you. Be happy that people find them valuable, and stop reading them, or you'll be saying, "hey, kids, get off my lawn" at the next faculty meeting.  Oh, and pick up a book instead.

Dear Ms. Undine,

I noticed that you wrote about your lengthy syllabus with lots of policies, and there is a recent Slate article about the same thing. I have two questions. First, how did two people decide to write about this at the same time?  Second, do you agree with the article about just writing tl;dr and protesting the syllabus?

Signed,  Mysteries of the universe

Dear Mysteries,

There are only two explanations  for your first question: either (1) I have massive powers of telepathy and the ability to make the universe bend to my will by echoing my thoughts or (2) it's the beginning of the semester and everyone is making up a syllabus. Obviously the first is the rational explanation. 

About your second question: No, I don't agree that the long syllabus is the decline of academia as we know it.  When you explain the syllabus, you can emphasize certain parts, but if it's all there, they can read (or, okay, ignore) it on their own. They are not going to follow a link, and everyone knows it, so that's a non-starter. My only regret is the absence of sealing wax

Dear Ms. Undine,

I had a conversation today in which someone observed that her male teachers were more apt to share information about themselves when introducing themselves to the class than her female teachers.  Do you think this is true?

Signed, Gender difference or coincidence?

Dear Gender,

I don't know, but I'm curious about this.  Readers, what do you do when you introduce yourselves, or what do you think? 


Flavia said...

I share some personal information, but it's of the "I grew up in Seattle, this is my ninth year here, and I'm still getting used to these winters" variety. Anything more personal is always very calculated: humanizing, but not something that allows them to visualize my homelife. (So, I often talk about my own experiences in college, esp. when it involves struggling with material, or I'll mention relatively generic experiences, like going to the DMV or seeing a recent movie, but I do not talk about my romantic life, even now that I'm married, and I'm unlikely even to say anything that suggests hobbies, pets, etc. I guess they can see the ring, but I feel really weird saying anything about "my husband.")

My ex did talk about "his girlfriend" to his students--mentioning when he was going out of town for the weekend to see me, for example--and I thought this was very strange, and definitely gendered. My spouse *occasionally* mentions me, but also in very calculated ways and more often to grad classes.

(Chatting one-on-one I'll reveal more info, esp. to students who are struggling--e.g., I might mention having family members who have suffered from serious depression--but I think that's different than how I present myself to a class.)

Z said...

At one place I taught we were instructed to tell students about our research, even or especially if it was not an advanced class. They did in fact want to know and often would have chosen classes after looking up the professors' publications, to see which ones seemed the most interesting to them.

I have found where I am now that students are not that interested in this and I have become shy about saying anything. But now that you mention it, I'll bet the men do.

Anonymous said...

My students get personal examples during class as the examples illustrate material. Probably something that I shouldn't do, but I do anyway, is use my husband's extended family as examples when we talk about government programs and other kinds of things that affect people on the margins of poverty. They just so perfectly illustrate what is being taught and they're real people and (for the most part) good people, not imaginary people that you can condemn in a CNN comment.

First day of class they get, "I've been teaching math since I was 16, and 16 was a long time ago." But that's really the only personal bit.

undine said...

Flavia, that sounds like the right balance. I don't tell them anything about my life, though they pick up on my passion for technology. I hadn't thought about whether they notice my wedding ring or not. I like the way you connect with them if you are talking with them one on one.

Z--when we do MLA searches for authors, they will sometimes come across my stuff. But I don't mention it because of feeling shy about coming across putting myself forward, which I don't think is a problem for male teachers.

nicoleandmaggie--I like that opening statement! Those examples must humanize the policies for your students.