Teaching as an adjunct can be a lot of fun. It is also challenging. As I have encountered a number of situations, I realize such a blog can be helpful, both to me and to others.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

A System Crash

Well, I picked up my copy of the Microsoft upgrade from campus today (discussed in yesterday’s post). I am really looking forward to checking it out only I am going to have to wait. I have the program, but I do not exactly have a computer to put it on. You see, my computer, a Compaq, running Windows Vista has not been feeling well. The computer was purchased 60 days ago, but for the past 30 or so, it has been crashing, doing a physical memory dump.

It did take me some time to finally get around to calling the company, as it did reboot after each crash and let me work on it. I was told that I needed to do a system restore and it would take care of all my problems (I still have my doubts about that). I tried making a set of recovery discs, but the computer kept having problems after I put the second of 11 CD’s in to make the recovery set. After about 10 minutes it told me the disc was no good and I should try another blank disc. After going through four different blank discs, technical support told me they would create a set and send them to me. Those came yesterday evening.

I called today to restore the computer. Well after running the CD’s and going through about an hours worth of work, it gave me a message that it was now rebuilding the information, which could take up to two hours and not to shut down or stop it in the middle.

After about another hour, the monitor went black and stayed that way for about ten minutes. The technician told me to pop out the CD and try again. I did, but apparently after you use a recovery disc once, you cannot use it again. So, they need to send me another set of recovery discs.

I now have a computer that I cannot boot up, it just continually runs boxes across a welcome screen, and one that I cannot reset until the new discs come, so by following the instructions given to me, I know have a computer that is unable to be used and I am not very happy.

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Fringe Benefit

It is nice when as a result of teaching classes you are able to take advantage of fringe benefits. This is even more true for the adjunct professor as often times these benefits are held for full-time employees of the college or university. I recently received a very nice e-mail from the college where I teach (me and the rest of those who teach classes for this institution).

The college recently switched to Vista and has updated to Microsoft office 2007 (It is my understanding that this is the only office package compatible with 2007). They sent out an e-mail basically stating that they know teachers do work from home and there is a need for documents to be compatible from one machine to the next. As a result, they are providing instructors with a free copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2007 upgrade. I should say free to the instructors, not free to the college.

I realize they do not need to do this and I, for one, am very glad and appreciative of their willingness to do so anyway. I frequently do work from my home computer and while I could survive without this upgrade, it will certainly make my life easier.

The college is requiring each instructor to sign for the copy, which makes a lot of sense and they are letting us know that it will only work on one machine, so you have to decide (if you do work from more than one computer) on which machine to install it. Still it is a very nice move on their part. It would not make any sense, or be fair to expect the college pay for each instructor to put it on more than one machine. In fact, honestly, I do not think it is fair to expect them to provide each instructor with a copy. Still, if they are willing, I am appreciative and I will take advantage of it.

Thank you to the college for considering the needs of the instructors, all of them.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

King And Cosby

Nick at Nite has been running a Cosby marathon this week. My wife is a big Cosby fan so she has been taping them and watching them at her convenience. I am not sure exactly when they ran this episode but one of the shows they aired, which my wife watched last night, was the one where Theo has to do a paper on the March on Washington. He writes a paper based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech. The paper is accurate but abridged and misses many of the main points of the rally.

Since I teach public speaking, I have actually shown King’s I have a Dream speech to just about all of my classes. It is amazing to see what little impact the speech has. I understand that most of the students I teach did not live through this. In fact, I was not born until after the speech was given. Still, I have an understanding of the historical context; I have an appreciation of what was happening in society at the time; I have knowledge about the impact of that speech, and King’s life, on American Society.

I wish I knew how to get the message across. I do set the stage and talk about the speech after I show it but most of the classes I have taught are unimpressed by the speech. I can think of only one class where the students truly seemed to appreciate the speech. In many of the other classes I have even had students tell me they found his speech boring.

I find that shocking. Say what you will about the man. Don’t have an appreciation of the times. But to find the speech boring is mind boggling. So much, in terms of what I teach when it comes to public speaking, is exemplified by King. His delivery, his word smithing ability, his technique are all amazing, yet a number of the students just don’t seem to get it.

I will continue to show the speech. I will continue to talk about it in class and hopefully more of my classes will show an appreciation of just how much that man was able to accomplish and of just what the historical context was of that speech.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Family Time

As the summer continues to roll along, I am glad I did not end up teaching a summer course. While the extra money would be nice, it would take away time I have to spend with my family. It is so easy for teaching to consume so much of your time. I realize that full-timers also put a lot of work in from home but somehow it just seems to me that adjuncts actually put in more time.

While Full-Time teachers, of course, are given more responsibilities than adjuncts, one of those is usually holding more office hours than adjuncts. Often times this is due to the fact that adjuncts are running from one job, the main job, to the teaching position. As a result, they have less time to spend in the office. In addition, when a professor has a block of time between classes, it can be used in the office.

Of course office hours are for the students, but based on my experience as a students as well as a teacher, a good portion of the time when a teacher holds office hours is actually spent with no one else in the office. This time then enables teachers to grade assignments, to prepare lesson plans and to do other functions. Most of the time when I prepare my lesson plans, when I critique speeches or grade assignments, I need to do so at home, after hours. This takes time away from my family.

I do realize that full time teachers also have to put time in beyond what is spent on campus. I understand that full time teachers are usually required to serve on committees and have to do things that consume a lot more of their time than what I need to do as an adjunct. I still think they get more time to complete some of that work while they are on campus, but it is not fair to suggest all of it can be done while in the office.

The fact is, in either event, this takes time away from our family. It is important that while we make sure that we complete the necessary work, we also make sure we have the necessary time to spend with our family because that is really, or should be, the top priority.

Friday, July 27, 2007

"Gifting" Grades

Earlier in the week, Dean Dad had an interesting post on his blog (suburbdad.blogspot.com ). The post was titled, Ask My Readers: First Time Teaching at a CC . One of the questions that came up on that post had to do with how a professor should handle a situation where a student is truly trying, but not getting the material.

The overwhelming viewpoint expressed was the professor should not give a gift of a grade and if the student should be failed, than fail him or her. I was one of those with a different point of view. I think effort is crucial. I believe in all walks of life, we are rewarded for trying.

Growing up, one of my peers disagreed. “If you are hired to build a house,” he asked me, “and the house falls apart, does it matter that you tried”?

I hear the point and yet, while there are some exceptions, we do reward those who try. If someone has tried really hard to make a delicious dinner and has prepared it for hours, should I say that I do not like it, if that is the case, or should I appreciate the effort. If I bring a car to a mechanic and the mechanic is having difficulty finding the problem, assuming it is a good mechanic, I should reward the effort and not just pull my car out of the shop and bring it elsewhere. I might get frustrated, but at least I know the person working on my car is trying.

Those are just two very different examples of how effort does make a difference. I am a firm believer that perception creates reality. We tend to have a better perception is someone is making a good faith effort.

Now, there are certainly some guidelines to follow. First, do not take a student who is borderline passing and give him or her an ‘A’. Second, do not let people take advantage of your good nature. The effort has to be there. Third, you may want to assign some extra credit work, or have the student do something to ‘earn’ the extra grade.

My grandfather’s second wife used to tell a story about how when she was in elementary school and a student was not passing, she would let that student ‘borrow’ some points from the next quarter. The student, however, had to pay those points back the next semester. Invariably, the student did.

It is amazing what can be achieved if we work with people, if we give them a chance and show them we believe in them. If that means letting someone pass a class when that student really should fail, as long as the effort has been made, then I think we should do it. Will there be some people who take advantage? Probably, but the number of students who will truly be helped will far outweigh those few who abused the privilege

Thursday, July 26, 2007

An Appreciated Phone Call

It is amazing how the school year works. I got a call from the dean of the campus center where I teach earlier today. He is busy getting things set for the spring semester. Here I am working on the fall semester, and he is already working on spring.

He called to ask me when I would like to teach. This may sound normal, but often times it is not the case. I teach at both a campus center and on the main campus. There are five campus centers affiliated with the main campus so students who live in surrounding areas do not have to travel all the way to the main campus. It is a very nice idea and I enjoy teaching at the campus center.

The problem is the deans of the campus center have to set the schedule for just their centers while the administration sets it for the main campus, and they are not always in touch with each other. This past spring, we moved my three hour class at the campus center from Friday afternoons to Friday morning. This was done with my knowledge and approval as the Friday afternoon classes have low enrollment and do not always go. We figured I would have more students taking a morning class, and that was the case.

Let us fast forward to the end of the spring semester, as things are getting set for this coming fall. The dean left me with my Friday morning class as it worked well, and that was fine with me. Then I checked on the computer and noticed, in addition to having a 9-12 class on Fridays, I was slated to teach a MWF class on the main campus from 10:10-11:05. That required me to be in two places at once, and while I am good, I am not that good.

No one at the main campus even checked with me, they just listed it and had my name on it. The only way I found out about this was by checking it myself. Fortunately I was able to find the problem (Thanks in part to my wife) and correct it (The dean of the campus center was nice enough to move me to a Tuesday/Thursday class). Now, the dean of the campus center is looking to get things set for the spring, but I have no idea when they will want me to teach on the main campus. I am guessing it will be a Tuesday/Thursday class (as it usually is in the spring) but I do not know.

It is often the small things, the calling and asking when I want to teach, or how things work into my schedule, that are so appreciated. It is just another reason why I like teaching at this campus center.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007


There are a number of things I love about teaching. One of these is the unexpected surprises that occur. That may sound a little strange, but it is true. Yes, of course there are the annoying surprises that occur, the ones you wish never happened, but the majority of them are ‘nice’ surprises.

Being recognized by the college, seeing things click with a student that is having trouble, watching the creativity of my students are all things that have, at times, happened unexpectedly, and have been very enjoyable. The other day, I had another ‘nice’ surprise, that in a way is related to teaching.

A friend of mine who has read some of my blog posts asked me if I was familiar with the blogvertise website (www.blogvertise.com ). I had not heard of the site and he told me I should check it out. I did so and was very impressed, it was an unexpected surprise.

The site, www.blogvertise.com, actually pays you to review website products and services. You do not need to say positive things (although it does have to be written in a professional manner). The assignments, as best I understand, are for products and services that are related to your blog topic. In effect, this means I can get paid to write a blog entry about a topic I might very well blog about anyway. Talk about an unexpected surprise.

The website itself is laid out well. I found it very helpful to click on the FAQ links to get a better idea of exactly how this works. That link is available on the home page. Also on the home page, you can register a blog with them, free of charge. When you log into their site, if you click on the help page link, there is other useful information.

They tell you that after you submit a website to them, they will decide if they should approve or deny your site within 24 hours. They did that with me. My blog has been around for about a month and they approved it. I encourage you, especially if you have a blog, to check out their website at www.blogvertise.com

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Summer's Flying By

Probably like most professors, even though it is summer, I still check my campus e-mail at least once a day. I am guessing this is true of most adjuncts, most full-timers and especially those professors teaching over the summer (I certainly hope it is true of the last group). Most of what comes in to my e-mail is stuff I can just delete but still, some of it is important. In addition, by checking the e-mail, I keep it from piling up in my inbox.

One thing which comes to me daily is the summer menu. For summer, the menu is scaled down but for those who are on campus, they still have food available. The director of food services usually puts a cute message in with the e-mail and it actually has me looking forward to check it and see what her ‘thought for the day’ is. Yesterday, she pointed out that this is the last full week of July.

Where has the time gone. July is the last full month of summer break. Gone are the days where school started in September, after Labor Day. For me, school starts on August 27th this year. Part of me is ready for the year to start but part of me would like there to be a little more time.

I wanted to use the summer to relax and recharge my batteries a little. To a degree I have done that. Still, it always seems like there is so much time when the spring semester ends and never enough time by the point the summer ends.

Truth be told, this is something I cannot control, so I might as well take it in stride and just look forward to the beginning of the next semester (and I still do have a month to procrastinate, I mean do the things I still want to get done before the school year starts again.)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Finding Opportunities

Last week, my wife, son and I went to the public library to hear entertainer Jay Stetzer perform. He is not so well known out of the local area but he has recorded music albums for children and does storytelling shows for them. My son absolutely loved the 45 minute show. The show, itself, was free and was a nice evening with the entire family.

These are the types of opportunities for which I want my students to look; for which I want them to keep their eyes. I am not referring to a child’s entertainer as it would not be the right genre for most of them. Still, there are opportunities out there, opportunities that do not cost money, that can provide them with enjoyable experiences.

The experiences serve a couple of purposes. First and foremost, it is an enjoyable experience. Students are under a lot of pressure (I have even been known to add to that pressure) and if they can do something to help alleviate that, it is helpful. Second, over the course of the semester, students will have to write many papers, and give many speeches, some of those even for my class. If they have the flexible to pick the subject matter, and they can find something recent and something they enjoyed, they will have an easier time completing the assignment. They will probably also have more fun and probably get a better grade as well.

It sounds to me like that is a win-win situation.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Holidays And The Syllabus

Well, I think I have my syllabi together for next semester. I will have to go through them closely but the nuts and bolts were taken care of this weekend. This semester is a little more challenging than previous semesters.

I will be teaching five days a week this semester. Also, while I have often lucked out in the past, this year the Jewish Holidays that I take off for fall during the week. There are three sessions I will be missing for my Monday, Wednesday, Friday class. For my Tuesday, Thursday class, there are also three sessions.

I actually thought the MWF class would be the tougher of the two, but things just seemed to work out well for that class. The few days I will be missing, I will be able to either give them a take home assignment, or an in-class assignment. Since the college is big on making sure that writing requirements are met, they should not have a problem with what I am doing.

For my TR class, I have also made arrangements. Again, the writing assignments they are encouraging us to give to the students will help. Still, with this class I had to switch things around. I did not want two days of informative speeches followed by a break followed by one more day of informative speeches followed by another break and then on last day of speeches. I was able to make some adjustments, it just was not so easy.

Certainly I appreciate the college’s flexibility in working with me and not giving me a hard time about taking these days off. I realize legally they can’t, but they certainly can make things difficult or uncomfortable. They have been great in making things go as smoothly as possible. Still, taking three classes off in a four week span can certainly make it difficult for me.

Still, I enjoy teaching and I enjoy celebrating the Holidays, so in the end, it is all worth it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Trusting Others

Earlier this week I was at a Toastmasters meeting. Being that I teach Public Speaking, it is not surprising I am involved with a public speaking organization. We rotate roles over the course of a year so each person gets to serve in each of the positions.

At this past meeting, I was Table Topics Master. Table Topics is designed to help people with their impromptu speaking as that individual randomly picks some people to respond to different questions. Since each meeting has a theme, we try to have the questions revolve around either the theme, current events, or both.

I was only able to get to four people but one individual who was not picked came up to me afterwards and told me he thought the reason I could only get to four was due to the length each person spoke. He told me that he felt this was a testament to my questions. They were questions people could digest, sink their teeth into, and give a strong, and semi-lengthy answer. (They only get up to two minutes for Table Topics).

I appreciated the comment and thought about the similarities between this and teaching. My goal when a semester starts is to have every individual leave the class as a better speaker than when it started. Students have other goals, usually getting a good grade is one of them. While I understand being grade conscious, as a teacher, that is not where I am coming from.

To achieve my goal of making them better speakers, I am often asking them to trust me enough to leave themselves in my hands. Sometimes I may ask them to do things they do not understand. Sometimes I may ask them to do things they do not want to do. Still, all these things are designed to help make them a better speaker.

Just like after the Toastmaster meeting when I got the compliment, the payoff with my students is when they tell me at the end of the semester they feel much more comfortable speaking. I have even had students agree to make presentations for organizations they are involved with after taking my class.

Sometimes it is important just to trust the methods of others.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Gas Prices

The start of my semester is still more than six weeks away yet I find myself watching prices at the pump. A local station, close to my house, just dropped their prices three cents. It is now the only one in the area, that I know of, which is a name brand gas, that is less than $3.00.

Of course gas prices will fluctuate and quite possibly go up before the start of the semester. Still, in order to teach five days a week a week, I will probably be filling up with gas twice a week. It is amazing how something like this occupies so much of my time during the summer.

Growing up, summertime was for family vacation, usually by car, as we would travel throughout the United States. In fact, by the time I was 18, I had been to 48 of the 50 states. At that time, despite how much gas we used, I never thought much about it. Of course I did not have to pay for it, but that is a different story.

I remember one summer when we left, the average price for gas was 55.9 and when we returned it was around 75.9 cents per gallon. That was quite a jump, but I will gladly take those days back. Of course, I understand that prices increase, that anything which was 55 cents when gas was that price now costs more. Still, gas prices have gone up significantly more than other things.

It is a good thing I teach for the love of it, as opposed to the money. Actually, the money is helpful and it would be even more helpful if someone could do something to lower gasoline prices. It would also be nice if I did not have to drive so far to teach. I might actually be able to find a local institution where I could teach, but I do tend to be very loyal. The college where I am at now has been very good to me and I appreciate it and am loyal to them.

So, I guess for now, I am stuck just watching the gas prices and moaning and complaining when I do not like how high they are.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

My Car Says 'Thanks'

The other day, my car looked at me and thanked me. Over the course of a semester, I put a lot of miles on the car. I usually am on the road either three days or five days and I put about 100 miles on the car, round trip, when I teach.

The car I am currently driving is a leases vehicle and we paid to put 15,000 miles annually on the car. Certainly putting 300 to 500 miles a week on the car adds up and makes it difficult to stay within the allotted mileage. Then I think that I am doing this for an adjunct position and that with gas and mileage, I am probably losing money, but that is a different story.

During the winter break, I try to reduce the amount I use the car and bring the mileage more in line with what it should be. Still, this is usually just about a month off, and while it helps, it does not get me to where I need to be. The summer, however, is three months off. That more than helps and I am hoping it will actually get me to where I need to be. Since this is the first summer I have experienced since leasing the car, I have nothing to base it on, but I am hoping it will get me on track.

In any event, while I am trying not to use that car much this summer, I still need to use it a little to keep it fresh. This morning when I got into the car, it popped the hood on its own and said “Thank You”. I was a little surprised, but appreciated its manners and appreciated the fact that it recognized what I was trying to do.

Now, if it can only teach those manners and courtesy to my students!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


As I am preparing for the upcoming semester, I am reviewing the textbook that I use. I do this before the start of every semester. I like the textbook I use. It is a good textbook, well laid out and covers the material appropriately and effectively.

The problem, if you can call it that, is as an adjunct, I am told what book to use. Yes, it makes sense that everyone who teaches this class use the same book. Yes, it is a textbook that I like. Still, it sends a message if adjuncts are asked for input, or perhaps more appropriately, it sends a message when their input is not sought.

I would like to think that I am a valuable member of the staff. I would like to think that I have done right by the college and they appreciate what I give them and my knowledge and ability. I think it would send a positive message if colleges looked to seek input from adjuncts. I think it might be a good idea to have them on committees. Of course the problem is adjuncts are there for just a limited time and often do not want to take on added responsibilities. Perhaps there might be a way to offer a small stipend.

No matter how they approach it, I think they should do what they can to solicit input and to tap into the resource known as adjunct teachers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


The saying goes, “If you have a job that needs to get done, give it to a busy person”. There is a lot of truth to that statement as people who are busy are good at delegating, prioritizing and organizing. I hope this is the case.

I am involved with an organization and I took on one of the vice presidential positions, the one that requires the most amount of work. Right now I am able to handle things and feel pretty comfortable. This actually has been a little concerned.

Once the school year starts, I will probably being teaching three classes, certainly two. I need to make sure I have time to do the things at that point. It is easy to get comfortable with doing things now and just leaving them. I need to make sure that I am getting my committees in order, NOW! I need to make sure I am delegating responsibilities, NOW! I need to make sure that things continue to run smoothly.

This is really true of everything. We need to learn to get things organized, to get things set up, not when we run into trouble, but before that happens, to make sure it does not.

There is, however, another important part to this. The person who is delegating needs to oversee things. I have often heard people claim that they just delegated a responsibility away. With no follow up, however, it is easy to envision that job not getting done. This is my challenge. I need to make sure that I have a good, strong team in place, but I also need to make sure that my team is doing what they are supposed to do. I urge everyone to do the same. Try and get things set up when you have the time, follow through, and you will notice whether it is in regard to adjunct teaching, or some other responsibility, you will get things done.

Good luck to you in your attempts and good luck to me in my attempts.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Providing Extra Help

Yesterday, I wrote about the difficulties of having exchange students in a public speaking class. Today, I want to present the other side of that.

I was not aware of this but my campus has a smile patrol. Students have the opportunity to nominate people they deal with in the college community for a “Smiley” award. If nominated, a group of individuals comes into your class and presents you with a basket of goodies and lets you know who submitted your name (it can be done anonymously) and what they said about you.

I found out about this last semester when the group came into my class to present the goodies. One of the exchange students from Japan submitted my name saying I was always willing to take time out to give students whatever extra help they wanted.

The truth is, I feel this is just what a teacher should do. If a student comes up to you seeking extra help, s/he has a right to get that help. Over the years I have mentored students with presentations they have been giving and I am always willing to help a student out with a project. Again, I state, is not what teaching is all about. I never did that to get any kind of recognition.

I do have to admit, however, it was a nice feeling to have people come into the class and acknowledge me. It was an even nicer feeling to know that my students, or at least specifically this one (Yes, I know there are others) recognized and appreciated the fact that I always want to help students out.

Sometimes, while it can be more challenging teaching exchange students, the rewards are greater. The often times seek the extra help and they appreciate getting it. It is a good life lesson to learn as well, to always try and give people extra help and consideration when needed. Not that you should do it for this reason but you never know when someone may acknowledge it. More importantly, you never know when you may really touch someone’s life for the good.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Exchange Students

Well, one of my classes next semester has 22 students registered (a full class) and the other one has eight. The truth is that classes are supposed to have at least ten students to go, but at a campus center they will often let a class go with just eight. A campus center is a location away from the main county, in one of the surrounding counties, usually about 30 to 45 miles away. The class that has eight students is at one of the campus centers, so it will probably go and it will probably get more students as well before the start of the semester.

When I check my roster, one thing I look at is the number of exchange students. Last semester, I had six exchange students. Exchange students bring an interesting perspective and I enjoy that but since this was a public speaking class, it also brought a challenge for me and for the exchange students. Last semester I had five students from Japan and one from The Congo, who was living in Canada (after spending part of his teen years in France).

The student from The Congo spoke very well but the English of my Japanese students often left a bit to be desired. Certainly their English was better than my Japanese, but still it was difficult at times for me to be able to understand them because of their accents. Sometimes they used the wrong word because their English needed some improvements.

Some of my Japanese students were good speakers and good students, but it still was a challenge. Needing to critique their speeches, I wanted to make sure I could understand their speeches and that they could understand my comments. As I said, it was a challenge.

The semester before this one, I only had two exchange students in my class. I do not know that a Public Speaking class is a good fit for students who do not speak English fluently, but it I am going to have some, I would like to keep it to a minimum. It looks like this semester, I will only have a couple of exchange students again. I think that will be much more manageable. As I said before, however, the exchange students often bring a new perspective, and that is certainly one aspect I enjoy. I will let you know how the semester progresses.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Question of the Day

I get in my daily e-mail a list of strange stories currently going on. I usually get this three time a week and I get it during the school year as well as during the summer. I actually use these for my class.

Teaching public speaking I have learned that students actually like the opportunity to speak in a non-graded environment. As a result, I try to give the students a chance to speak at every class session. When there is no test and no formal speeches going on, I give them a choice of two or three items and one by one have them come up to the front of the room and give their reaction. For this questions I usually use the e-mails that discuss strange happenings. Right now I am stocking up on these e-mails.

This whole approach came about as the result of student requests. When I was doing a teaching assistantship while obtaining my masters degree, I asked my students at the end of the semester for their thoughts and how they felt I could improve the class. A few of them said they would have liked a number of opportunities to speak in non-graded environments so when they were being graded, they would feel more comfortable. I thought this was a good idea and was and still am always willing to listen to my students. If they make a suggestion I agree with, or understand and think makes sense, I try to adopt it.

Over the years, when I tell my students that they will be answering my, "Question of the Day" during most classes, they groan, object and protest. Yet, at the end of the semester my students tell me how much of a help this was and indicate they regret I did not give them even more of an opportunity to do so.
So right now I am busy gathering this material, sorting and saving it so when the school

Friday, July 13, 2007

Teachers and Students

I was talking with my doctor yesterday and we were discussing adjunct teaching. The doctor also does some adjunct work. He expressed his views with me about students and teachers. It was interesting to hear someone else voice a perspective.

The doctor felt that while the quality of student may have deteriorated over the years, so has the quality of the teacher. When he talked about the quality of the student, he was not talking implying that students today are not as smart, he was suggesting they do not take as much pride in things as they once did. Students are often looking for shortcuts and there are students you try to work with who make it real difficult.

A few semesters ago a student of mine was unable to give 3 of the assigned speeches. Instead of telling me ahead of time about problems, the last day of the semester he told me about family problems. He then asked if I could extend the deadline for him to complete some of the projects. Usually I do not do this but he seemed genuinely interested. The problem was, there were no days left in the semester and I insist that my students give a speech to an audience. I told him he could give guest speeches in my class the following semester but the time apparently conflicted with other classes he was taking. I even gave him the option of delivering the speech in any other instructor’s class (with the instructor’s approval) and allowing that teacher to grade the speech. Guess what? He never did anything and still ended up failing the course.

As annoying as students can be, the doctor continued that teachers also do not put the necessary time in to their jobs. He was talking about how a syllabus has changed over the years and now they are done on computers and look nice and neat due to the word processing. The problem he pointed out was the content as they are not nearly as detailed as they once were.

I do not know if I agree with everything the doctor told me, but he definitely made some good points.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

My Sister's Keeper

One of the things I love about teaching is the ability to learn from my students. I listen to them give a number of speeches over the course of a semester; informative speeches, persuasive ones and demonstration speeches. With every speech, I have the opportunity to learn something, or have a new door opened.

Last semester, one of my student’s gave a speech urging people to read the book, My Sister’s Keeper. This is a book about parents who have a young child who has leukemia. She needs a donor so the parents have another child (genetically altered) to be able to donate. The book takes place when the younger sister is 13 and has decided she no longer wants to donate body parts to her sister, who is currently in need of a kidney. She is suing her parents for medical emancipation.

Based on the speech, I decided to read the book over the summer and I have. When I grade student speeches, I look for certain things and unfortunately the grade is not based on how much I enjoy the speech. The speech did not meet some of the criteria for which I was looking but it certainly was persuasive as I read the book entirely based on that one speech.

Now I am going to find a way to work some of the information and story into my lesson plan next semester. I’m not sure how, but I will find a way. In the meantime, for those of you who have not read the book, I urge you to do so.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


As we are about half way through the summer break, I know that soon I’ll have to attending a training session sponsored by my college. Every summer, it is required to attend a session that focuses on the technology available and how it can and should be used.

First, I need to say I am thrilled at what I have available to me. Being able to go on the internet and display the websites on the board, having a built in video tape player and CD player, being able to run a PowerPoint presentation on the board are all wonderful tool.

The problem is, I have been through these training sessions before. While there is always new information I can learn, since the ‘class’ will be a combination of first time adjuncts as well as older adjuncts, most of the focus is on the how to that I already know. This can get to be frustrating.

It would be nice if the broke this into an introductory session, intermediate session and advanced session, although that is not realistic. The individual who teaches these classes does hold sessions throughout the year but this is the one that is required.

I think it is time the exempt faculty who have been there for a certain amount of years. Still, the will allow for some socialization and they will serve us pizza for dinner, so it is not too bad. It should also serve as a reminder to me that as an instructor, I will probably be dealing with students who feel this way; that they already know the material I am covering and why aren’t they exempt from attending. Since I am big on attendance and have a policy, I guess I can understand and even agree with the policy of requiring all adjuncts to attend.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

All-Star Lessons

As I get set to watch today’s baseball All-Star game, it amazes me how I still look forward to this event. I have been watching it for over 30 years. You would think I would have gotten board by the game. You would think I would no longer find it the thrill it once was. True, the players change from year to year, or at least some of them do, but this game is much more for show then it is about anything that matters. You can argue that with the change a few years ago in terms of the game resulting in home field advantage for the World Series, it now means something. I guess that is true, but still, the players and fans, for the most part, see this as just an exhibition game.

It is the joy and anticipation of the game that actually teaches me a lesson when it comes to teaching. It is the challenge of taking the same material, year after year, and making sure that I am still excited about teaching it. It is taking the same material, year after year, and being concerned with how I need to present it so that my students will still find it interesting and even exciting.

It is the baseball All-Star game that helps teach that lesson. Just like a number of the players remain the same, so does a lot of the lesson plans and presentation. Still, just like the performance of certain players during the course of the current year leads to changes in those who start at each position from last year, so too does the performance of my class, with the different students, need to lead me to make some changes.

I look forward to this years game and eagerly await the outcome. I look forward to this upcoming semester’s class and eagerly await that outcome as well. Obviously, I will not wait nearly as long for the game as I will for my class. My challenge is to make sure the eagerness and excitement of teaching the class stays with me up until the beginning of the semester, and then all the way through the semester.

I am up for that challenge and look forward to it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Praising Full-Timers

Earlier today while driving I was listening to a CD of Alan Sherman. I enjoy his comedy and satire. As I was listening it occurred to me that so many of the comedians and satirists are standing on the shoulders of giants. These giants have paved the way for today’s people to do what they do. Alan Sherman and Tom Lehrer are two greats who lead the way for people like Weird Al Yankovic and others. Of course there were people before Sherman and Lehrer as well who paved the way for them.

This is true in just about all walks of life. Those of us who are working, who are involved with organizations or social movements, owe a debt of gratitude to those who came before us, those who enable us to do what we do. Often times we do not even know who these individuals are, or we have never met them. Still, so many did so much for us.

It is that thought which leads me to stop and appreciate what the full-time teaching staff have done, how they have helped me and opened doors for me. Yes, in many ways adjunct are still outsiders. Yes, it is true adjunct do not get the same benefits that full-timers do and we are not treated the same.

Still, we teach because we love it. The institutions thrive and succeed because there are full timers who care. Some of these full-time teachers are the ones we turn to when we have a problem or need to know something. Yes, I as an adjunct am standing on the shoulders of giants. There are certain things I do not like about the teaching profession and the attitude of some of these individuals. Still, they have enabled me to do what I want so I need to take a moment and thank them and wish them the best.

I suggest we all take a moment to appreciate what others have done for us.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Refusing to Brush Teeth

This morning my son decided he did not want to brush his teeth. He did not have a reason for not wanting to do it, he just did not. When my wife and I tried to find out why, we were just ignored. It is very frustrating being ignored. He then got quite rude. Ultimately, he never did brush his teeth, although he did not get to do some of the things he wanted to do.

I have had classes that have gone this way. No matter what I try, the students just do not seem to be interested in focusing. Fortunately this does not occur to frequently, but it is very frustrating when it occurs. Much like the case with my son, I can make certain threats, be prepared to carry them out and even carry them out, still the final decision rests with the students. Fortunately, most of the time, even before the threats, my son does what I need him to do. Fortunately, the same is true of my students. Still, there are those times I just want to scream.

I do not get frustrated if and when students are having trouble grasping the concepts I am trying to explain. I do get frustrated if they just give me the impression they do not care. I am always looking for new secrets and tips as to how to keep students interested and involved. I am successful in coming up with methods but one of the reasons I enjoy blogging is to find out the secrets others use and see if I can incorporate them into my style.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Using Our Daily Lives

When my students need to work on projects, I suggest to them that they work on something which interests them. If they are interested in the assignment, chances are they will do a better job. I also suggest, if they can, the combine it with other things they are working on for other classes.

The truth is, we as teachers, should do the same things. As adjuncts, we have a number of things that take place in our ‘regular’ job that can, and should work its way into our lessons. Working in the field of market research and having a background in surveys, helps me with my lessons. Sometimes a particular survey we are working on can inspire me, sometimes just surveys in general.

Of course, it is a good idea to take things from other aspects of our lives as well. When my son was first born and I was reading books to him, I used one of the stories to illustrate how important it is to have things discussed in a proper sequence. I mixed up the pages of a baby book and showed how even so simple a book as that is hard to understand when the pages are not read in order.

At other points I have used his stuffed animals or other things happening in his life, as he has gotten older, to illustrate various points. There are a wealth of opportunities that can be used. Right now, during the summer, I am cataloging the events taking place. I’m not sure how I will work them into my lectures, but I am pretty sure I will work things in like purchasing a new car, my son watching 12 hours of a Fairly Odd Parents marathon, my wife’s surgery (discussed in yesterday’s post) and my creating a blog during the summer. These are just some of the items that will work their way into my lesson plan. I encourage everyone to look for these types of daily occurrences in your life and work them into certain projects or assignments you need to do.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Appreciating Ourselves

My wife went in for surgery on her foot earlier in the week. It was out-patient surgery but they still remove a nerve from her foot and there is some recuperation time involved (as there obviously should be). Watching her try and get things done, it is amazing to realize how much we do that we just take for granted.

As I watched her and had these thoughts, it occurred to me that there are a couple of very important lessons we can and should learn. First is the determination to do something. Gritting our teeth and grinning and bearing so we can accomplish the goal. There have been many times when I have finished the day job and felt exhausted. I just did not want to put a lesson plan together, or grade that assignment. So what if the student gets the assignment back at the following class. So what if I just recycle a lesson plan from last year instead of reviewing the material. The fact is I know and I care. Determination is key. Hopefully seeing someone like my wife show such determination will help me resolve to increase my determination this year.

The other important lesson to learn is how we should not take things for granted. After all, when something is taken away from us we realize just how much we took that particular item for granted. I tell my students when they finish their first class assignment, they should do something nice to reward themselves. One student told me it is even nicer if someone else does something nice for them. As a result, I have been known to bring in donuts, or some other kind of treat after the first assignment is done.

I do not, however, do anything to treat myself when I finish an assignment for the class. I think it is time as an adjunct to stop taking things for granted. I am not suggesting I slow down or stop doing the things I do, rather I am saying I should pause, take a moment and actually appreciate what I accomplished.

It is nice when others show appreciation for what you have done but it is also very important to show appreciation for yourself.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Staying Fresh

Years ago, my father commented about how one of his friends who taught school said years “Students no longer have a sense of humor. Years ago they used to laugh at my jokes, now they no longer laugh”. The instructor was obviously poking fun at himself for telling the same jokes year after year.

The truth is, it is easy to fall into this trap and it is important to keep material fresh. When I first started teaching, I used to use videotape from old Odd Couple television shows and clips from various movies to make certain points. Years later, when I tried showing the same clips to students, I did not get the same reaction. I realized that times change, that what was funny at one time may no longer be funny today and that people may not be familiar with shows from the past.

What I do now is give the students a survey at the beginning of the semester. The survey, in parts asks which shows (TV, movie, plays, etc) they are familiar with (I put a list of them together) and for the ones they are familiar with, how much they like or dislike them. I fine this to be extremely helpful.

There are certain things I showed in the past, such as a clip from the movie Network (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore) that I have dropped altogether. Other clips, I now know I have to set up so students understand what they are seeing and the point I am making. Usually with the proper setup, students enjoy the clip. I also learn which clips stand the test of time and do not need any kind of setup. For instance, The Lion King is one that every semester, despite having been out for over ten years, the overwhelming majority know.

I have found that the survey is a wonderful tool. Some of the questions are open ended while others are closed. Still, it gives me a snapshot of who is in the class and each individual’s likes and dislikes. My survey does change slightly from semester to semester, but for the most part it has stayed the same. I encourage others who are not doing this to try it and see if it helps. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Time Away

I have always enjoyed teaching as an adjunct. I always put a lot of time and thought into my lessons and working with my students. I have never lost site that it is all about the students and having them learn something. When I give them assignments, I try (and usually succeed) in getting things back to them the next class session. If things are not handed back the very next class session, almost always they are at the one after that.

Still, while I pride myself on this, I also feeling being an adjunct allows me certain liberties that I might not take, or get, if I were a full time employee. For instance, while I do need to list office hours, I have been told I actually do not need to actually be there. My students have my e-mail address and phone numbers, including a cell phone, so I really do not worry that I am making myself to inaccessible to them.

The very first semester I started teaching, my son had a terrible ear infection. While I basically will spare you the gory details, blood was coming out of his ear. My wife did not have to be to work until that evening so I did not need to take the day off. Still, while I realize that in an emergency situation, you should always take time off, I do feel better knowing that I am not a full-timer.

As an adjunct, I really do not get any personal time. Still, when I need some days off, I do not hesitate to make the necessary changes so I can have the time off. I usually am aware of these days before the semester starts. As a result, I can tell my students upfront which days I will not be there (much like I prefer them to do for me, if they know). If I need to take an unscheduled day, it helps the students understand that I, as an instructor, understand there are certain things that happen which require students to miss a class. Still, just like I understand what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, I want them to know as well. As a result, when I miss a class, I even work that in to teaching a brief lesson. Almost anything can be worked into the class.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Seeking Help!

I confess, I am addicted to checking course enrollment for my classes. I should not be. I know that. Still, I enjoy teaching and of, course, the money is always appreciated. A full time professor does not need to watch as his or her classes will go, or if they do not, that individual will be given other classes.

I like to get things set ahead of time. Of course, it can be frustrating getting stuff set for a class only to have that course cancelled due to low enrollment. That has happened to me in the past. On the other hand, I do not want to wait until a week before the semester starts (sometimes they wait that long before making a decision) before getting things set.

As a result, I found myself logging into the college’s website numerous times over the course of a day to check and see if the enrollment numbers have changed. Realistically, I know checking once a week makes sense. I do not need to be so up to date, yet this just points out the society in which we live. We can have information up to the second, and we want it because we can.

I have tried to cut down. I will try again. Still, every time I resolve to do this, within a day or so, I found myself back at the website seeing what my enrollment numbers are. If anyone has any suggestions for me, I certainly could use them. I hope I am not alone in being addicted to the website, to checking for updated information, and I hope your thoughts and suggestions will help not only me, but others in a similar situation.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Keep Your Eyes Open

I have learned that it is important to always keep my eyes and ears open when it comes to teaching as an adjunct. There have been countless times where I have been able to use some material I found, maybe an e-mail joke, for my class. There have always been times I have been able to find a way to tie-in what is happening in my day job to be teaching. This is always the best.

This past weekend we moved our office (for the main job). While packing things up, during the moving process and while getting things set up in the new office (still far from done), I think about how this can relate to my teaching. For example, one thing I like to do with my students, it actually works in fairly well with a lecture, is have them come up and play Whose Line Is It Anyway. One game I have them play is Props. This is the one where the characters (or in my case students) are given an object, usually one that no one has any idea for what it is supposed to used. They have to come up with usages for the item. Well, in the cleaning process, I found a few objects that I could not identify. Rather than throw them out, I stored them to use for the next time we play this game.

In getting the new office set up, switching the phones over gave us a little bit of a problem. Sometimes what should be an easy fix just never seems to go smoothly. That was the case with the phones, although the individual who was doing the work was very nice and very helpful. I can almost guarantee you that I will work this into a lecture. I will talk about needing to roll with the punches and even if things do not go smoothly, you have to find a way to get around the obstacles (as I did with the phones).

This is an important lesson to learn and I am sure that for the adjunct professor, there are numerous things that happen in day to day life, with the main job, that can work there way into a lecture. Do not try to avoid it. Rather, always look for a way to teach a lesson from it.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Too Eager to Please

Yesterday, I wrote about embracing adjuncthood. I certainly feel that this is important and we should teach because we love doing it and it allows us to do this and other things. There is, however, another side to this issue. Sometimes we can be too eager to please.

After teaching a class as an adjunct at one of the college's campus centers, I was asked if I could teach at a different campus center, a class to high school seniors who were taking my class for college credit and would be coming to the campus center. I readily agreed.

After I started doing this, I was asked if I could teach a three hour class, one day a week. Next I was asked if I could teach a class on the main campus. Whatever they asked me to do, I said yes. I taught two courses in a semester that required me to teach every day of the week (one on Monday, Wednesday and Friday; the other on Tuesday and Thursday). It takes me between 45 minutes and an hour to commute each way. Still, whatever they asked, I did.

I also adhered to the philosophy that I should dress for the position above what I wanted. None of the other professors (adjunct or Full-time) came in with jackets and many didn't even wear ties. I always wore a jacket and tie.

It occurred to me that I might be trying to hard. It occurred to me I might be too flexible. It occurred to me I might be making it too hard for them to hire me as a full-timer because I was become to valuable and flexible as an adjunct.

While I do, and will always, put a strong effort into teaching, I realize it is time for me to be aware that I am too eager to please and it is time to focus on what I enjoy but remember not to go overboard either.