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.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Different Rules

In response to yesterday’s post, Virtual Professor (Check out her blog) raised an interesting point. She argues, since we as teachers have paid our dues, shouldn’t we be playing by a different set of rules. To help illustrate her point, she explains that parents and children do not, nor should they, play by the same rules.

She has a valid point. She may very well agree with what I am about to say, but then again she may not. My thoughts on the topic:

Yes, we are entitled to play by a different set of rules. What, however, qualifies as a legitimate different set of rules? Parking spaces that are closer to buildings and not having to pay for parking stickers (or paying less) is fair. Paying less for meals on campus or having nicer dining facilities on campus for instructors is fair. I got my textbook for free and students have to pay for theirs. I have no problem with that (although I do have an issue with the ridiculous amount charged for textbooks). There are other areas where a different set of rules is fine, other perks as well.

What I try to avoid are doing the things I would not want other people doing to me in other industries. For example, if I am traveling and need to go through the security check point at an airport, I have to wait inline. I get frustrated with airline personnel who feel they can just cut to the head of the line and go through. As a result, if I am getting something from the cafeteria, I never cut in front of students who were there before me. If there are long lines and I can’t get the item and get to class on time, I wait until after class to purchase the food or beverage.

If I list office hours, I am going to be there during the specified time. If I tell students they will have a paper back by a certain date, they will have it back by the date. If equipment is set aside just for students (I may not think that is fair, but if it is done), I am not going to use it.

I am not sure how many of these things qualify as ‘Basic courtesy’ to Virtual Professor. I have a feeling a lot of them may fall into that classification and that we are mostly in agreement, but I do not want to put words in someone else’s mouth.

My main point is, we need to hold ourselves accountable to the same standards we use for our students. We should play be a set of fair rules, but there are times where we are entitled to some ‘Different rules’ as well.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Living By The Same Set Of Rules

I was talking with a fellow adjunct professor today and I noticed how many of us have two sets of rules, one for students and one for ourselves. I hope I do not fall into that category.

I remember how as a graduate student I showed up half an hour late to class. My watch had stopped and restarted without my knowledge, so when I walked into class thinking I was on time, I was actually 30 minutes late. This was a class made up of graduate and undergraduate students. The instructor stopped mid-sentence to lecture me about the importance of showing up on time.

While I was frustrated and annoyed by the professor’s reaction, he certainly had a right to do so and this was an important issue to him. For the rest of the semester I tried to redeem myself and actually was successful in doing so. I had this professor for two classes and I showed up an hour early to each session of both classes, about 15 minutes before he got there, so he would see me ready and eager to learn.

What annoyed me was when I needed to see him about an issue and showed up at his office, during his posted office hours, he was not there. I waited for thirty minutes and he did not show. I got up to leave and as I was walking out, he was first walking in. He looked at me and begrudgingly said, “I suppose you want to see me too”.

“Yes,” I replied.

“Well, you’ll have to come back in about 20 minutes because I have things I need to take care of first,” he said. When I returned 20 minutes later, he looked at me and said, “You need to learn the first rule of being a graduate student; Early to class, late to office hours.”

What the instructor was telling me was, “My life and my schedule are important, yours are not”. I made up my mind right then and there to live by the same set of rules I give my students.

Getting back to the adjunct professor I was talking with earlier, he was complaining that he was booted off a library computer because they are for students. He said that as he left he looked and saw most of the students were simply checking their personal e-mail accounts, not even their campus e-mail.

I understand the frustration but these computers are set aside for students. As adjuncts, we have offices. Yes, we share them with many other adjuncts so a computer is not always available, but you can wait and use it and we are given access.

I am guessing this instructor would have been the first to voice displeasure if students were using equipment set aside for professors. We may not like it, we may not approve of what students are using equipment for, but it is set aside for them. We should live by the same set of rules!

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Irresponsible Adults

I recently returned from a meeting earlier tonight and I come home disgusted. This was a contest meeting and as of three days ago I had five people scheduled to compete. On Sunday one of the five pulled out (although I did not get word until Tuesday) and today another person pulled out. The day of the contest, one of the participants is pulling out.

Add to this that two weeks ago there were an additional three names on the list. Some of these people pulled out before others entered but what should have been a contest featuring eight members ended up with only three participants. Why? Because people do not feel it is important to honor their commitments.

Since it is a dinner meeting, we need to have a head count to the restaurant ahead of time. There were thirty people who committed to being there yet we only had 21 people show up. Two of the people who were there were individuals who did not make reservations. That means 11 people who committed to being there did not show up. Why? Because people do not feel it is important to honor their commitments.

Three of the people who cancelled out of the meeting over the past three days, one as early as this afternoon, had ‘smaller’ parts that they were supposed to form at the meeting. Some worked at finding a replacement, others just sent out a blanket e-mail to all members asking for a replacement and then did nothing more. Still, there were people who had roles to fill who backed out at the last minute. Why? Everyone say it with me now, “Because people do not feel it is important to honor their commitments.”

In a number of recent posts you have read my complaints about the lack of commitment from students, about how whenever they do not show up to class or are not there when they are supposed to give a speech, it sends a message. It lets the teacher know that the student felt something else was more important.

It is the same with adults, with working professionals, with members of an organization. The people who did not honor their commitment are business professionals. Many of them have jobs high on the organizational ladder, some of them own their own business; all of them know better.

When we do not say anything to students who skip out on class, when we do not penalize them for not being there, we are sending them a message. Unfortunately that message carries over to other parts of their life. It carries over to when they are older. They are just not accountable.

Perhaps I would not be having such trouble in the organization if some of these people had teachers, professors, or other individuals, who held their feet to the fire and penalized them every time they pulled this nonsense.

To my students I say, “Show up, it’s important”. To the members of my organization who are not keeping commitments I say, “Grow up, it’s important”!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Saying No

We have been getting socked with snow today and the forecast calls for more tomorrow. Evening classes where I teach were cancelled today and while I don’t teach on Tuesday evenings, it does show what the weather is like in this neck of the woods.

Being an adjunct professor, I am very glad I have the schedule I do for the Spring Semester instead of what I have been doing in the Fall Semesters. Understand that once I agree to teach a class, no one ever checks with me about my schedule. I find out what classes I am teaching by logging on to the campus website and going to the registration area. This is frustrating, but I enjoy teaching and have always rolled with the punches.

Rolling with the punches isn’t always easy. During the Fall Semester my schedule usually works out to having to be on campus five days a week. As an adjunct with a full time job (and another part time job), having to drive 45 miles each way (an hour each way) gets to be difficult. Having to do it in snowy, icy weather is even more annoying. That is why I am glad it is the Spring Semester; I only have to be on campus three days a week, so it is less frustrating.

I have learned some things over the years as an adjunct and have even gotten them to give me a few things (not many but a few). When I was asked about teaching a Thursday evening class this semester I agreed, as long as they were able to get me my own office on Thursdays, so I could get work done. It won’t last beyond the semester but they did agree.

I recently impressed myself when I sent an e-mail to the dean. I teach because I love to teach and I think I have been too quick to agree to do things for them, even if it means making my life more difficult. The e-mail told the dean I was unable to teach a Monday, Wednesday, Friday class in the fall. I did mention other times I could teach as I would like to continue teaching three courses. That is a rarity for an adjunct professor but not unheard of.

I hope to get three classes. I hope that when it comes time to making up the schedule the powers that be will actually read the e-mail and take it to heart. Still, I have done all I can do at this point and it does feel good not just to give them an automatic ‘Yes’.

I am willing to help out and do what I can, but it has to fit my schedule too.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

How Long Is Class?

It is interesting how students do not understand, or choose not to understand, when a teacher says attendance is mandatory, it means for the entire class. Now, as far as I am concerned, I am teaching adults and it a student needs to use the bathroom, get a drink of water, or even just step outside for a moment to stretch his or her legs, that is fine, but it should just e for a moment and then you come back to class.

Students, however, seem to come later and later to class, which can be distracting, and leave earlier and earlier. I do not believe in letting classes out early. I have two three hour classes this semester and that means the students can expect to be there for three hours, although I do give them a 15 minute break in the middle.

I had one student who left class an hour early because she had to be at work on time that day and work was 15 miles away. The student claimed the roads were in poor shape so extra time was needed. I travel 45 miles to get to class and traveled through the area where this student needed to go. The roads were fine.

Students are often asking if I will let them out early and I tell them “No!” If class is meeting for three hours, it is only meeting once a week and it means I need to cover in that one class what I cover in two or three days a week in my other classes. The amount of material I cover each week hasn’t change, nor has the amount of time I have to teach it in; all that has changed is how those three hours are broken down.

Don’t register for a three hour class if you can sit through it, at least that is the case if you are taking the class with me.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


I am always amazed at how difficult it is for students to come up with a topic for a speech. For two speeches I assign the topic (The icebreaker which is a speech of self introduction and the impromptu speech students will have to deliver) for the remaining 5 speeches, the students pick the topic. My one requirement is; it must be something that interests the student, because if a topic is picked that the student finds boring, s/he will not be able to hold the interest of the class (if you can’t hold your interest, how can you hold ours).

A number of students ask me for help coming up with a topic. Despite the fact that we spend time on how to pick a topic during a lecture, I still hear, “I can’t think of anything.”

“What interests you,” I ask.

The response, invariably, is , “Nothing”.

I suggest checking Yahoo or other search engines and seeing what is there. Right now on Yahoo Jennifer Lopez, Tyra Banks and Oscar Predictions are just a few of the top searches. All of those would work as topics for a speech.

When I log on to the internet and look at my home page, one of the top stories includes Heidi Klum looking to help Brittany Spears. A top video is about the Elmo doll that was threatening a child.

Stories about Barak Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain are on Google.

It always seems to me like there is never a shortage of topics, yet to students they seem like they would prefer it if I assign them a topic. I will work with them, discuss things with them but I will not pick a topic for them.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Who's On First

The more I teach, the younger my students get, and I guess the older I get as well.

When we talk about vocal variety in speeches, I like to show students movies clips and various bits that show how effective vocal variety, gestures and facial expressions are. Obvious I do not expect them to be a professional actor, and it would not be appropriate to deliver a speech in the same manner a comedian delivers a routine, still it shows the importance of delivery.

I recently took to showing the students Abbot and Costello’s Who’s on First routine. It is available on Youtube. After I show them that clip I ask them how they think it would come across with no vocal variety or expressions. They usually say it would not be very effective. I then show them a clip from the movie Rainman where Dustin Hoffman is reciting this routine on his own and Tom Cruise keeps telling him he is not funny.

The clips seems to work but what amazes me is the conversation that takes place befor I show the clip. I like to know what my students are familiar with. So I ask how many of them know the Who’s on First routine and out of 40 students, only four knew the routine. Only five students had heard of Abbot and Costello.

It is that type of experience that can truly lead a person to feeling old. (At least they enjoy the routine and the bit transcends time).

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Vocal Pauses... In Writing

As a public speaking instructor, one thing I try to drill into the heads of my students is the importance of avoiding vocal pauses. There have been numerous times when I have heard people speak (not just students) and they use some many word fillers, I just start counting how many are used. I find the vocal pauses are so distracting, I have trouble concentrating on the message; sometimes I even tune it out completely.

I always feel a sense of accomplishment whenever one of my students gives a speech with no vocal pauses. Obviously, the individual who delivered the speech deserves the credit. Still, I feel they have heard some of my message.

Then, of course, there is the other extreme. The student who uses a word filler almost every other word. I try to bring it to the individual’s attention and work with the student to stop doing it, but sometimes it just doesn’t mater.

Yesterday was a first for me. I received an e-mail from a student and the e-mail began, “Hey, Umm”. I can handle the “Hey”. In informal conversations conducted via e-mail (and in person as well) this is acceptable. The “Umm,” on the other hand bothered me. Here I talk about the importance of avoiding vocal pauses in speeches and a student uses one in an e-mail?

I have never seen correspondence where a person uses a word filler in written form, unless quoting what someone else said. It was an interesting experience and one that did not earn the student and ‘Brownie Points’ with the teacher.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Doctors Appointments?

For the past few days I have mainly been ranting about attendance and what is an excused absence. This can be a thin line but often times students just look to take advantage. I am curious to get some feedback on one particular situation in terms of whether or not readers of this blog think this is legitimate and should be an excused absence.

I have had some students tell me that they have missed class because they had a doctor’s appointment. To complicate matters more, often times I am told they are not the individual who set the appointment; either spouse or a parent did it and they may not have known in advance that the appointment was made (that is what some say).

I have mixed reactions. If it is an appointment then it can be made for another time. If the appointment is made during my class then the student is saying that doing something else during my class time is more important than showing up to my class.

On the other hand, I do not want my students getting sick because they forced themselves to attend my class when they should have been getting check out. I also don’t want students who are truly ill feeling like they have to push themselves to show up to my class. Still, this can be made fairly obvious. Last semester I had a student who had attended every class, always volunteered to speak on the first day and often times skipped other family or social events (it would sometimes make it into the speech delivered by this student) to be in class. One day when this student was scheduled to speak, I got an e-mail saying the individual had strep throat and was extremely apologetic about missing class. Based on an entire history, it never even entered my mind that this was anything but legitimate (and it was, and was the only class this student missed).

Still, I prefer not asking or prying for information about a doctor’s appointment. Not all students are comfortable talking about why they are seeing the doctor. I do recognize that sometimes if you are in pain, you want to see a doctor as soon as possible. I know what it is like to have a toothache and agree to take the first available appointment regardless of when it is, so when I student had to cut out early on a three hour class to see the dentist because of a toothache, I understood.

Like anything else, I think there are times when it is legitimate to skip class to see a doctor and times when it is not. Still, if you prefer not to ask why the student is seeing the doctor, how do you know where to draw the line? And, if you do ask, it still can lead to questions about where you draw the line.

So, I ask you, what would you do?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Know Your Resources

It is amazing how much easier teaching is when you know what resources you have available and you are familiar with them.

Over the years I have learned to appreciate the resources. First, I learned which chapters had an appendix after them. There is one about visual aids and an early one about delivering the icebreaker (the first speech). Looking over these appendices, I learned that it quite effectively covered information that I wanted to disseminate to the students. The appendix not only gives the information to the students, it helped me develop my lesson plan.

I also learned to appreciate the videotape the author of the textbook included. The tape has samples of each type of speech. It helps most students to see some of these speeches. We discuss and critique them together in class. The students are much more critical of these speeches than they are of each other, but that is fine.

The book also included video excerpts from student speeches to help illustrate points made in the textbook. Not every point needs an illustration and, honestly, not every illustration is great or effectively makes the point (at least in my opinion), but a number of them are good and I do use some of them.

The department also has a videotape of some of the greatest political speeches ever given. This too is available to the faculty and can help to illustrate various points.

All of these materials are items I have used. They have helped me be more effective. It is amazing how much more you can get done in class when you know what is available to you and you go ahead and use it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Non-Graded Assignments

I am learning that it does not matter what additional comments you make to students, if you tell them an assignment is not graded, many of them do not take it seriously. The first public speaking assignment I give my students is to deliver an icebreaker. This is a speech of self introduction. I tell them I do not want it to be an autobiographical outline of their life, I want it to let us know something about their personality.

This is a non-graded assignment. It is non-graded for a number of reasons. First off, I do not think it is fair to give students a graded assignment during the first week and a half of classes. I also tell them I want to let them read my critique of a non-graded speech so they know the things I look for and what I consider important.

I explain that they can use the same topic for more than one speech, so they needn’t worry about using a topic, something related to their personality, and not being able to use it on a graded speech. The speech is supposed to be one-and-a-half minutes to three-and-a-half minutes. I also tell them, and it states in my syllabus, while it is not graded per se, it does count towards the class participation grade.

I had one student deliver the speech and during his speech say, “I really did not put anytime into preparing this speech. I figured since it is not graded, I did not need to waste my time”.

I wanted to write in his critique, “I really did not put anytime into this critique. Since you felt the assignment did not warrant any thought on your part, I decided the critique did not warrant time on my part.

At least this student, and some of the others who only spoke for thirty seconds or so, completed the assignment. There are some other students that still have yet to deliver the icebreaker; three in fact, two in one class and one in another.

In my class that meets twice a week, the person who volunteered to speak first was not in attendance when the speeches were given, and also missed the next two sessions. Upon returning I was told that she was not feeling well for one of those sessions and then her daughter was not feeling well (but I did not get any call before she returned to class as my syllabus states should be done).

The second student in that class did e-mail me and call to tell me she was undergo some test at the hospital and she would be missing a few classes. Both of them returned to class on the same session and both asked to hold off one more class session before delivering the speech. Guess what? At the following session, neither student was in class.

As for my student in the class that meets once a week, she was not registered for the class until after the first two weeks went by. My guess is she probably registered for another class that was cancelled due to low enrollment and she needed to find something else to take its place. The third session she was in class and I explained the assignment, letting her know she would be speaking the following class. Again, guess what? She was not in class the following session.

Folks, just because I am not putting a grade on it, it does not mean the assignment is unimportant. Moreover, as I told them and as is stated in the syllabus, this is part of the class participation grade. 5% of class participation is based on whether or not they successfully complete the four non-graded S/U assignment. Another 5% is based on actual participation in class, during class discussions. Some students may be in for a surprise.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

You Missed Class, Why?

The other day I wrote about students missing classes for Valentine’s Day. I find it intriguing the days for which students will miss class and quite honestly, it is amazing what students consider valid reasons for missing classes.

I had a student who came into my office to tell me he was going to miss my class (which started in 30 minutes) because he had to bring his car in for service since it was not handling well. I know, first hand, how frustrating that can be. Still, the student was already on campus. Could he really not wait until after my class to bring his car in for service? (There are no classes in session on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12:30-2:00).

Even if he had something else to do, he still is telling me the other things on his plate are more important than my class as the only time he can get his car to the shop is during my class. He, of course, has every right to make that decision, but I have every right not to consider this an excused absence. We often have to make choices and those choices have both rewards and benefits.

Another student came up to me and told me she was missing a class of mine because she was attending another public speaking class, taught by a different teacher, at a different community college. Why was this student missing my class? Her friend, who attended the different college was delivering a speech and she wanted to hear her friend speak. So, this other teacher’s class, apparently, was more important than mine.

There are, of course, time when students legitimately miss class. One student wrote to tell me her fiancée’s mother suffered a heart attack the previous evening and had passed away. The family wanted to all be together the next day. I realize that she is not yet married and I understand that this is an in-law, not a parent, still I am okay with this. I know what it is like and the importance of being there for a spouse, or a soon-to-be spouse when someone passes away. As long as I am not being played and her fiancée’s mother truly did pass away, this is legitimate.

It is unfortunate I even have to put that last sentence there but I have had too many students try and play games. Still, I will give her the benefit of the doubt and accept this as legitimate. If there become additional absences where I am constantly hearing stories as to why they should be excused, then I will check into all of them but at this point, I have no reason to think the student was lying.

Students’, all I can say is, when you miss class, you are sending a message to the instructor. Stop and think what that message is and if you really want to send it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day Classes

I know that there are certain times of the year, points in the semester, when attendance will be low. For instance, where I teach, there are classes the day before Thanksgiving. I know that if I am teaching a class that meets on Wednesdays, a certain portion of the students will not be there as they are travelling home. Similarly, I know that the last class session, if all work has been completed, a number of students will not be there. This is especially true if the last day of class is on a Monday and I am teaching a MWF class. Students show up on Friday, the last class session of a full week but then they take off.

I did not realize that Valentine’s Day also qualified as a Holiday when students miss class. I had six out of 16 students missing from class Thursday evening. Now, this is not an excused absence but being that class goes from 6-9pm, I guess, when I think about it, I am not truly surprised that a number of students missed class. If they wanted to go out to dinner with their significant other than it would be difficult to make it to class. Mind you, this is not a legitimate excuse, just the way some students think.

It is my earlier class that surprised me. That class meets from 11-12:20, it is right in the middle of the day. You could make it to class and still go out for a nice dinner, or do something nice or romantic with your significant other. In my morning class, six of 23 students were not there. Proportionally that is better than the evening class but it still seemed like a high number.

I am not sure if students just look for any excuse to skip out on class or if they did miss class because they truly wanted to do something nice for someone else. Either way, those students that missed class now have a lot of work to make up!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I Know You All

I think at this point, I now know all my students and am pretty sure I know who is in and who is out. It is interesting to think that here we are, three weeks into the semester are over, and I am just now finding out who is in class and who is not.

The Friday class started with 11 students but over the next couple of weeks, three more added the class. The last person to add showed up to class last Friday for the first time (It was really the first time she could have done so because of when she added the class).

My Tuesday-Thursday class has 23 students. One student missed the first two classes but e-mailed me before the semester even started to tell me about her upcoming surgery and how that meant she would miss the first two classes. One student was there for the first two classes but missed the next four. I would have thought she dropped the class but she also got in touch with me to tell me about some medical issues going on. The third student showed up for the first three classes, volunteered to be the first one to deliver her icebreaker and then on the fourth session, the day the icebreakers were to be given, did not show up. She did not show up for the next four sessions nor did she respond to an e-mail I sent. I figured she had dropped the class or planned on doing such, only to see her in class today. Apparently first she got sick and then her child. Legitimate, but she really should have been in touch with me and she was not.

Then there is the Thursday class which has 17 students. This is the one I am still a little unsure of. One of the students showed up to the first class but has not been there since. I am assuming he had dropped or will do so (or maybe withdraw), but I am not sure. He has not sent me any notification but he still appears on my electronic roster, which should be updated as soon as something changes. I am guessing he is just lazy in dropping the class, but I am not 100% sure.

Still, I now have a good feel as to who is in my class as well as who they are.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Make My Day!

Go Ahead, Make My Day!

One of my student’s actually made my day during yesterday’s class. I like to start off my first (Public Speaking) class session with a quote from the Greek orator and leader Pericles who said, “One who forms a judgment on a topic on any point but cannot explain it, might as well never have thought at all on the subject”.

I ask my students what they think about this quote. Often times many agree and then I started asking questions. Have you ever been discussing a topic with someone and said, “I know what I mean, I just can’t explain it”? Just about everyone in the class nods in agreement, or gives a knowing nod. I continue, “According to Pericles, you should not waste our time or your time by even thinking about it, if that is the case. Now, how do you feel about the comment?”

Usually at this point the debate gets going. Some students, not surprisingly, are timid and I tell them there is no wrong or right answer, this is just how they feel about the quote. I get some interesting feedback from the class and one thing which is said just about every time I use this quote is, by discussing it, it can help you redefine and/or clarify your own thoughts.”

Yesterday one of my students’ entered class and said to me, “I hope your happy,” with a mock edge to her voice.

“Why,” I asked?

She explained that she had been debating this comment with her family all week long. Apparently, when she returned how after class, “What did you do in school today,” came up in conversation. She told her family about the quote and the subsequent discussion.

Following that, her family picked up the debate and kept it going for the week. I was thrilled. It is a great feeling when you can get through to someone and they want to continue talking about the class discussion with other people after that session has come to an end.

Let’s see if I can continue to have such luck. Certainly this one class is made up of opinionated, well thought, respectful individuals, who are willing to talk. At least, that is the early returns on the class. Hopefully I am correct and the discussions will continue to be effective and maybe some other discussions will make it outside the walls of my classroom.