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.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Big Brother

It is fascinating how a service that many people deem as good, important, or even a luxury, can actually give the government more information about you then you may want them to know. A student of mine recently gave a speech arguing that, in a very real sense, 1984 is here.

She explained that a GPS device enables the government to track you and it may become a standard device in most new cars, without the buyer even knowing it is there, as a way for the government to find out about you. Automatic toll pay cards let the government know how fast you are travelling as it can track when you first started on a toll road and when you got off of it. On-star devices also mean people can find out a lot about the individual driving a car.

That is not to say these devices are bad. Many of them can make life easier and may even save lives. It is just that new technology can be viewed in terms of a Satan-Savior dichotomy. For instance, there is now something called air ambulance international. This is more than just a lift flight by helicopter to another location.

This is a service that allows patients to charter a flight to get to another hospital. Whether it is transporting a patient’s room to a new facility or transporting a person overseas back to the United States, Air Ambulance can get you there.

Is this simply something designed to make it easier on patients needing to get from one location to another? Perhaps it is another way of the government obtaining additional information on people? How much paper work gets filled out? Is this a good thing? I would guess, like anything else, it depends on who is using it at any given time.

Seven out of Thirteen

Not surprisingly, the past few days have left my classes well behind in delivering their demonstration speeches. In one class I was in touch, via e-mail, with all the students who were not in class right before the break and told them they were speaking the first class session back from break.

The two people who had signed up for that day were there and they delivered the speech. Of the remaining students who were supposed to speak that day (by my declaration), only one of them was ready. She responded to my e-mail after break was over, but still a couple of days before she was supposed to speak and she came in well prepared and did a nice job.

Only one other student responded to my e-mail. She indicated that she would be set to talk, however, she was not in class. That means she has missed two classes in a row (a three hour class that meets once a week), in back to back sessions, once before break and once after. I’ll bet that the week in between, when we were on break, she was fine to do whatever she wanted.

In my other class where we started speeches, there were two students absent the week we assigned dates but I e-mailed both of them. Again, it took about a week to hear from either one of them. I indicated that I could get one of the two of them on the first day and the other on the second day and it would be on a first come, first serve basis. The first student who got back to me indicated he wanted the second week and the second student said he was fine speaking the first week. That student was there and ready to go. So were some of the others but two people who were supposed to speak that first session back from break (both of whom had signed up for it before break) were not in class and have not been in touch with me yet.

So, overall, of 13 speeches that were supposed to be given over the two days (for two different classes), only 7 of them went. I just do not understand why students do not take things so seriously.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Peanut Butter And Jelly

Those of us who teach know that students can be confusing and perplexing. I encountered such a situation earlier today.

We have started demonstration speeches in my classes. I have told them numerous times that the topic being discussed has an impact on their grade. I am not looking for anyone to deliver a speech about brain surgery but it should be a topic that is important (A life saving technique, something that will save us money and something that is just fun like performing a magic trick are a few examples I use of topics that are acceptable). I also tell the students they should look to demonstrate something that most people cannot do.

In countless lectures I have stressed that a demonstration speech about how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich does not warrant an ‘A’. In fact, under the section “An A Speech,” I include the following: “The topic of the speech must be a "meaty" or important topic. (A demonstration speech on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, for example, is not worthy of an ‘A’)”.

I do tell them that if they can convince me in the speech the average person does not know the proper way to make a PB&J sandwich and convince me that it is important they learn the correct way (It will prevent divorce, it will enable them to win the lottery, etc.) then the topic becomes permissible. I do tell them, however, when it comes to making a sandwich I doubt this can be accomplished.

Guess what happened in today’s class? A student (one who has previously complained about grades so I am bracing for another battle) gave a demonstration speech about how to Make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It makes me wonder what language I am speaking?

Saving Money

When you go shopping, what ends up in your shopping cart? What products do you want? Do you end up buying just what you need?

Teaching Public Speaking at a university, I see more and more of a need for people to buy products beyond the traditional methods. For instance, seeing the price of textbooks is amazing. More and more people consider going to E-bay or other on-line sites. This allows the individual to save a lot of money.

There is a whole world beyond E-bay however. For instance, there is ecommerce softwarethat allows people to sell various products on-line (and as I indicated before, you can buy almost anything on-line). It is a way that allows some people to save money as you can often get these products at a cheaper price than you would if you bought them at a store. It also allows other individuals, using shopping cart software, the opportunity to set up a business and make money by selling products. It truly could be a win-win situation.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I learned today that many students do not know what an editorial is. I gave them an assignment to come into class today with an editorial (An editorial written in a newspaper or on line, an Op-ed piece, a letter to the editor or a columnist who is taking a position) and be ready to discuss it. Specifically what I wanted them to do was talk about ethos (the credibility factor and ethical appeal), pathos (the emotional appeal) and logos (the logical appeal).

Almost all students came in with something from the newspaper, and I was pleased about that. All of them also seemed to take the assignment seriously. We sat around in a circle and started discussing the article and how the appeals worked. Unfortunately, a number of my students came in with an actual article and talked about how it was factual.

I was able to go with this as I had them discuss how credible the source was and what the reporter did to establish, or try to establish, his/her credibility. I also had them discuss how they felt about the issue that was being discussed and used that to talk about the logical and emotional appeal. Hopefully they were able to see how this works and it will help them when they have to deliver their persuasive speeches.

I did not want to embarrass anyone so I did not tell anyone that s/he failed to bring in an editorial. Ultimately, as I stated, I think I was able to make the points I wanted. Still, being that this is the first time I tried this exercise (I stole the idea from a full-timer here), it was a learning experience for me and I know some things I will try to change in the future to hopefully give the students and better understanding of what I want.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Thoughts On Disclosure

In a recent response to one of my posts, an individual wrote in responding to my “Disclosure Policy” on this blog. I actually found her thoughts to be fascinating. She talks about “Word of Mouth” (WOM) blog advertising.

There are a number of sites which provide bloggers the opportunity to write a review about a product, service or site and get paid for doing it. One such site is Smorty.com. This site lets individuals look at available opportunities. You claim your opportunity and get paid for blogging.

Is it ethical to endorse a product that you have never used? Is it ethical to claim to be someone you are not? Certainly there are ethics that are involved. Fortunately, most of the sites that provide opportunities where you can blog for money have certain requirements. Still, having some governmental regulations on this is not a bad idea, as long as they do it the right way.

At the current time, there are problems with which the government is dealing. We are in a recession, people are having trouble making ends meet and gas prices are ever increasing. The government seems to be doing little to address those concerns. By blogging for money, one can supplement ones income and not need to spend any money on gas. As a result, I think such opportunities should be endorsed.

Still, is it right to claim you have used a product if you never have? I say no. One thing which I try to do is blog about the types of things I normally would and provide the necessary links to the website. For instance, I might talk about the problems of traveling 100 miles round trip to teach a class as an adjunct and how I need to save money on gas. Next, without endorsing a product, I might indicate that there are alternative methods to saving on gas expenses and suggest they are worth checking out (Which I believe). I would include a link to the sponsoring site and people could check it out and make their own decisions.

So, if the government wants to set up certain requirements, I am all for it, as long as they do it the right way. I fear, however, that government will not get it right, at least not at the start.

A Good Evaluation

I previously wrote about the student evaluations I got from one of my classes last semester and how it was my worst evaluation ever. Now, I have received the student evaluations from a second class I taught last semester (Same school, different location, and obviously different students) and it is actually the best evaluation I have received to date.

I take evaluations seriously. I look them over and see what changes, if any, I should be making to the class and to my teaching style. Certainly it was rewarding to see this evaluation, especially after the last one. Still, one thing which I think these sets of evaluations point out is, a lot of how the class goes depends on students.

I like to have a lot of class discussion. I like to give students freedom to speak their minds and I try to create a loose and relaxing class atmosphere. After all, delivering speeches is tough enough, if it s a laid back class, it helps to make it easier for students to standup and give speeches.

That being said, when you have a student who disrupts class, when you have students who do not want to speak in class (via a structured conversation), when you have students who have just decided that lectures are boring and they are not willing to give you a chance, it is hard to make the class interesting.

As mentioned in a previous post, I talked about how some students don’t understand the movie clips I show or why I show them. I set them up but some students just want to be spoon fed everything and do not want any type of creativity.

Yes, I as the teacher am ultimately responsible for how the class goes. Not only is it a ‘Buck stops here’ mentality, certainly when things do not go well, I have not handled things as effectively as I could have or should have. So yes, I deserve a large part of the credit or blame when it comes to evaluations. Still, the students also help to create the atmosphere and attitude.

Posting Information On-Line

When I first started teaching as an adjunct I had asked if there was a way I could post my syllabus on-line. It may not help but at least, should students use the fact that they lost the syllabus as an excuse for not completing assignments, I can remind them that on the first day of class I told them there was a copy of the syllabus on the website.

While I do not have access, per se, to create my own home page, I do have access to a part of the college’s site, to post information about the class. It actually is not a homepage for teachers, but it is a way of posting. I take advantage of this and it seems to have helped.

I know some institutions actually set you up with a home page. It would be nice to do some checking with web hosting and set myself up with my own page. While it can be done relatively inexpensively, my personal feeling is, based on the limited money that an adjunct is paid and based on how much money colleges and universities save by hiring us, I am not looking at spending my own money to set this up. Still, it is tempting and there are advantages to hosting your own site.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Goes Around, Comes Around

My parents used to say, “If you live long enough, you’ll see everything”. Those words came back to me as I was helping my son student for a test about colonial times. One thing which he has to be able to do is identify the original 13 colonies on the map. I was helping he do this.

I am pleased to say I was able to help him. When I was in Junior High School, I hated map skills. My father spent hours with me going over the map and telling me it was pure memorization, it was simply a matter of how strong the muscles were in my backside. That was what was going to get me to pass the test.

I did pass the test although it wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I could look at a map and determine that in order to get from New York to Florida, one had to go south. Nowadays I can look at an unlabeled map of the United States and identify at least 45 states and probably all 50. Don’t give me a world map or a map of another country, please!

It honestly was quite a thrill to be able to help my son with map skills and unfortunately I was not able to pick up the phone, call my dad and say, “Guess what”. He would have gotten a laugh and a thrill over it.

I do think there is an important lesson here. Dad was right. Sometimes doing well in school, on a test, in a class, is directly proportionate to your ability to sit still and stay focused. I realize that is often times easier said than done. Still, students who actually take notes, read the textbook and have the discipline to review the information on a regular basis, not just before a test, tend to do better in classes. That is true, I think, on any level.

Absent Students

It was back to the classroom today, following a week off for Spring Break. Some students were not there, and some of these individuals have not been showing up for quite some time now. It frustrates me that for some of the students missing class, they only registered so they could carry a certain amount of credits to receive financial aid.

It is unfortunate to think that these students do not understand what they are in for when the loans come due. In addition, this mentality helps to create an attitude that carries over into the work place as well as remains part of the student’s personal finance archives . That could make it difficult getting other loans or even credit cards in the future.

I realize that this does not apply to everyone. There are a number of students who are serious and want financial aid to get a good education. Unfortunately, there are others who look to take advantage of the system and they end up giving everyone a bad name.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Use Of Spring Break

Spring break is coming to an end and that means I enter the busy season of my classes. By busy I mean that from here to the end, almost every session students will be completing an assignment that needs to be graded. While that will certainly make it easier in terms of preparing lesson, I will have to critique all the work and that takes time.

I used to say to my dad, when he would complain about having so much work to grade, “If you don’t want to grade it, don’t assign the work”. Of course, that honestly is not an option based on requirement of the college. Put another way, things sure are different when the shoe is on the other foot.

So while my busy time is about to start, the question is, how do I assess myself in terms of the way I used Spring Break. Like many students, I sometimes procrastinate (or perhaps it is just prioritizing). This time around, however, I got everything accomplished that needed to be done, well almost everything.

As you may well know from previous posts, on Thursday, we will begin speeches in my evening class. Two students who were there before break started signed up for that day. I have assigned a number of students who were not there to speak on this day. Still, I have not heard back from any of the students.

I know what will happen (or at least I have strong speculation). The bottom line is, for one reason or another, giving me one excuse or another, there will probably be no more than four speeches given, and my guess is only two (the two students who signed up for this date early before break). That means I need to come up with something, related to the course, not already on the syllabus, to keep them busy if I need to fill time.

Perhaps I will bring in a video of famous speeches in U.S. history. I need to stop and actually put something together. I should not have to. It really is not fair since there should be a number of speeches being given, but life isn’t always fair and this is the reality. Unlike a number of my students, I will come to class prepared!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Couples In My Class

This semester, between my three classes, I have three sets of boyfriends/girlfriends taking the class together. I actually had guessed after the first class session that two of the three couples were in fact couples. The third set I did not know until one of the students wrote something as a journal entry (one of the things the students are required to do).

I have nothing against couples taking my classes together. That may sound a little strange but I do know professors who do not like that. As far as I am concerned, as long as they are able to concentrate and do the work, I am fine with it.

Concentrating may, however, be easier said then done. For example, my wife, who hates public speaking, will not practice a speech in front of me. It does not matter that I teach this and have a background in it. It does not matter that when I provide feedback I always try to take the speaker’s feelings into consideration. If she knows I am in the audience, it makes her nervous.

There are, not surprisingly, speakers who prefer having friends and a significant other in the audience. The thinking is the speaker has some friendly faces to look at and that helps. The truth is when we look at potential significant others, we are looking for people who have the same interests and fears we have.

So the next time you are in a college class, the next time you are regretting having to give a public presentation, stop and think of all the potential mates that could be there for you. If you have a hectic schedule , there are still many ways you could end up meeting the person who is right for you.

And, for those of you who want to avoid finding Mr. Or Miss right in a public speaking class, you can look to make a romantic connection with the leading internet matchmaking service

Getting Ready For The Song And Dance Routine

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I sent an e-mail to the students who missed class right before the break to remind them about the upcoming speeches. In total, I e-mailed nine students. Four of those students were told they had to speak the first class session we got back. Those four students are all from my Thursday evening class. The fifth student in that class (the one who let me know ahead of time due to doctor’s instructions that she would not be in class) was given a choice as to which of the two Thursdays she wanted.

As for my Friday class, two students were absent. Based on the number of people in that class and the number who signed up for each of the two days set aside for speeches, they can speak on either of the two Fridays set aside for speeches.

Then there is my Tuesday/Thursday class. Although that class will not be starting speeches the very session we get back, they will begin shortly thereafter. I have one opening for the first day and one for the last day of speeches. I sent the two individuals and e-mail letting them know this and indicating it was on a first come-first serve basis.

It has been five days now since I’ve sent out the e-mail. I have been checking the e-mail account everyday. I am getting a lot of spam about penis enlargement and breast enhancements (it is amazing how much spam gets through all the filters—as many as 30 e-mails in one day, but that’s a post for another time). Would you care to guess how many of the nine students have responded to my e-mail?

I am sure you guessed correctly. None, zero, not one has responded. Now if the students e-mailed me five days ago and I did not respond, I assure you I would be hearing it from the students. I understand this is vacation. Still, especially if they missed the last class session you would think they would be checking e-mail or, dare I say, actually talking the initiative to get in touch with me to find out what they missed.

Oh well, I know I am in for sob stories and the song and dance routine starting Monday when regular classes resume and maybe, just maybe, students will start checking their college e-mail accounts once again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Weight Loss

My college, like many others from what I understand, is having a weight loss competition. Groups of four people get together and form a team. Each week they have weigh-ins and e-mail the results of how each team is doing.

While I could use to lose some weight, I really do not want to go about it in this type of forum. In addition, while I do have some school spirit, as an adjunct, I really do not feel the urge to support this type of event. I will look to lose weight on my own, through an established eating program. If that does not work than I can consult the lapband doctor and see about surgery if it becomes a necessity.

For now, I wish the competitors well and I am glad I’m not one of them.

A Poor Evaluation

I recently got my evaluations back for one class. This set was my worst evaluations yet. By worst, it means that out of five points (Five being excellent) most ratings finished with an average around 3.5 (just slightly over good). Still, the evaluations were not as good as in the past and compared to many other teachers, I received a lower evaluation score than they did.

Now I actually expected to receive a low rating. I know there were a few people in the class that did not like my style, or me. Still, I always look at the scores and the comments and see what I can learn from them and what I can change. Evaluations are important to me.

There was one student in particular who did not like me. The thing about this particular student was, he missed a number of classes and when he was there he was talking with other students and not paying any attention. How he could decide I was ineffective is really quite interesting considering he probably heard very little of what I said that semester.

I strongly toyed with the idea of throwing him out of class, at least for one or two session. While I probably should have done that, I could not bring myself to do it. These are college students and deserve to be treated like adults. I don’t believe a college student should be thrown out.

Still, I did no one any favors. The evaluation that this student filled out indicated he felt he learned nothing in the class. A few of the other students commented that if I throw this guy out of class, it would have helped their learning environment. That certainly is a valid point. By having him there, he distracted others and everybody suffered. If I threw him out, he would not have rated me any lower (there was not much room for him to do that) and others would have rated me higher.

It is hindsight, but I have learned and learning and seeing what changes can and should be made to the course, as far as I am concerned, is what evaluations should be about.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Rude Awakening

I think some of my students are in for a rude awakening. In my Thursday evening class, five of my 15 students did not show. This was the last class session for that class before Spring Break and only one of the people contacted me. She actually was in touch with me before class to tell me she was very sick and had a doctor’s note telling her to stay home for the week to get better.

When the students come back from break, we will begin our next round of speeches. Half the class should speak the first week (the first session upon returning from break) and half should speak the following week. I gave my students who were in class a choice, asking them when they wanted to speak. Three of them wanted the first date and the remaining seven opted for the later date.

Having done this before, I know there is no way I want to sit through ten or more speeches in a given day. It is too exhausting on the students and it is too exhausting on the professor. In addition, the amount of time needed to type up a full detailed critique is great and I want to evenly distribute how many critiques I need to prepare each week.

I sent the four students who missed class and had not touched base with me an e-mail. The e-mail told them that I needed them to speak the first session we got back. In addition, I even included a note in the e-mail saying, “I hope you are checking this account during break, otherwise you are in for a rude awakening”. According to College policy, instructors must use the college e-mail address for students. Hopefully the students are checking the e-mail. Hopefully they actually have the syllabus and look at it (an electronic copy is also posted for their usage). I say hopefully but, honestly, I doubt that they are doing it.

Since 15 does not divide by two evenly, obviously one of the two days needs to have eight speakers and the other will have seven, (that statement is quite optimistic and indicates I actually expect everyone to be there and ready to speak on the day they picked or were assigned). As a result, the student who sent me an e-mail and appeared to have a valid reason for missing class, was given a choice. She can speak either day.

I truly wish students understood their responsibilities. I know I am going to get the sob stories and song and dance routines. It would be a lot easier to cut them some slack if they were in class, or touched base with me when they were not there, as the syllabus states and as I explained the first day of classes.

Same Topic, Different Speech

My students have to give a number of speeches over the course of the semester. I always tell them they can use the same general topic for more than one speech, but each speech has to be different. Some catch on, others never fully understand the process.

If I give an example, some end up with a better understanding. One student gave a speech about one of the artist he considered to be the best rapper. Certainly this is a legitimate informative speech. Now for his demonstration speech, he can demonstrate how to write rap music or perform the art. For his persuasive speech, he can argue that everyone, even those who do not care for that style of music, should listen to it for thirty minutes, give it a try.

Students actually have all sorts of ways they can make things easier on them, but often times they just do not do it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Successful Protest

I recently received an e-mail from a student requesting a higher grade on a speech. I actually thought that he went about this the right way.

First of all, he did not turn this into an all-on-one attack. It was not done with any of his peers or classmates around and, in fact, it was not even done in the classroom, it was done via e-mail. The e-mail actually made reference to some comments I made on his critique and his responses to those comments.

I was already impressed. Even though he was arguing for a higher grade, he did not just come at me and tell me he thought he deserved a better grade. He actually read my comments and then gave me his, well thought out, responses.

While I understood his comments, I still felt that my comments on his critique were accurate and that the grade was fair. Still, since he was willing to take the time to talk with me, to actually think about what he did well and what could have been improved, and put his thoughts together, coherently, in writing, I raised his grade. It was not as high as he was requesting but it was raised.

He appreciated it and now has a better understanding of what I will be looking for in the future.

Monday, March 17, 2008

An 'A' Speech

I always tell my students that when it comes to finding a topic for a speech, anytime they are giving us free advice or helping us same money, they should know they have an acceptable topic. By acceptable, I mean that the topic itself can get a student an ‘A’ on the speech if the speech is well put together and well delivered.

Recently, I thought one of my students did an excellent job coming up with a topic. She works for a collection agency which deals with people who have defaulted on their student loans. Her point was, you need to make sure you know the terms of the agreement. So, for instance, if you are looking for New York student loans, compare the deals and read the small print.

She had good information and delivered it well and she had an important topic with useful information to college students. She got an ‘A’.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Students-- Can't Live With Them ...

Teaching is a lot of fun but it might be more enjoyable if you did not have to deal with students!

In one of my classes which meets weekly, I have a student who has missed five of the eight sessions and a sixth session, she came about thirty minutes late for a three hour class. It so happens after my last class session, the student (who has not been there in weekly) came to see me after class to discuss something with me about a friend of hers.

I told this student I was made at her and she asked me why. “You seemed to like the discussion we got into when class started,” I said. “You seemed to have a lot to contribute and yet you have just stopped showing up and you have yet to complete any of the graded assignments”.

The student told me that she had lost her focus and interest in classes and that it was not me or my teaching style. Still she was not coming to class. “Can I still pass the class if I start showing up,” she asked.

I paused for a moment and did some calculations. “Yes,” I said. “If you show up to all the rest of the classes, put in the effort and give it your best shot, you can pass”. I figured that if she made it to all the rest of the classes, that means she will miss five out of 15 sessions, which is still a lot, but I will pass her. “Well,” I asked, “What do you think?”

“I’m not sure,” came the reply. “And, how many teachers would really give you a second chance,” she asked, praising me for giving her the opportunity.

I think the student may start showing up to classes, but I am not sure. I did thank her for her honesty that she was not sure if she would show up, and I asked that if she did not, she let me know, so at least I would know enough not to set aside time for her oral presentations.

Honestly, I am confused. Why spend money on a class and not drop it or withdraw from it? Why spend money on a class and even consider turning a teacher down when s/he offers you a second chance? Why stop showing up to a class you enjoy in the first place?

Students can be quite perplexing and my job would be a lot easier if I did not have to deal with them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Eliot And Ashley Show

Sometimes things just happen to occur at the exact moment where it can be beneficial to you as a teacher. Don’t get me wrong. I do not wish any ill will on anyone, have no hard feelings for anyone and do not want to capitalize off of the misfortunes of others. Still, when things happen in society that leads to everyone talking, if I can work it into my lecture, I will do just that.

Enter New York’s soon to be Ex-Governor Eliot Spitzer, and the woman who is quickly becoming one of the best known names in New York, Ashley Alexandra Dupre. It so happened that as things were unfolding, I was working on putting my lecture about persuasive speaking together.

The event worked perfectly in terms of a number of things. First up is what types of topics can be used for a persuasive speech. Just a few of the possibilities based on Spitzer and Dupre include if the governor should have resigned, how serious of a problem is infidelity, should Ashley Dupre come forward with more information, can Dupre and should she look to use her new found fame to help further her career. Other possible topics include if Spitzer’s wife, Silda, should leave him and if prostitution should be legalized.

I tell my students they need to be aware of the ethics involved in public speaking. The Roman orator Quintilian defined rhetoric (persuasion) as “The good man speaking well”. That means, as far as he was concerned, if you are not arguing for just, moral and right causes, you are not engaged in true rhetoric (persuasion). What ethics have to be considered in this case?

How about the emotional appeal. This is certainly an emotional issue to most people and, as a result, many of us will be moved to act or feel a certain way on this topic based on emotion alone.

I am sorry the Eliot Spitzer is going through this right now. I am sorry that Ashley Alexandra Dupre is going through this right now. I am sorry that everything has to play out in the public eye. Still, if it was going to happen, I appreciate all parties involved being considerate enough to make the timing work for my lecturers.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Here Come The Grades

I think for the most part my students have been enjoying my class. I even think that I have them feeling more comfortable speaking in front of the class, which is one of my objectives for a public speaking course. Now, enter the grades. Things appeared to have changed.

The students just completed their first graded speech. They enjoyed giving them but as I handed them back, I noticed some faces that fell and they appeared to be disappointed with their grades.

There are a few things, I think, that are important to keep in mind. First off, one student got a ‘C’ and other than that, everyone got a ‘B-‘ or better. That means when it comes time to calculate the final average, everyone will have at least an 80 for the speech. The second thing is, not one student came up to me to discuss the grade. This may change but probably won’t. The only time the students seem to discuss grades is when, as a class, they all ‘take me on’. I don’t play that game anymore. If they want to discuss grades, let them talk to me one on one. The last thing to keep in mind is, I hate grading. I love evaluating but hate grading. As an evaluator, my goal is to give them feedback to make them better speakers. As a grader, my goal is to put a numerical equivalent on the critique.

When I first started teaching public speaking, my charge was to help the students learn, make them feel more comfortable speaking in public, give them the needed confidence and grade them objectively. That is quite a challenge. I think, for the most part, I have lived up to it. Some students come in and want a gift of a grade and I won’t do that. I am far from the easiest grader in the department. On the other hand, I am far from the hardest as well.

The truth is that about 90% of my students who are in class on a regular basis and make an honest attempt at the assignments will end up with a ‘B’ or an ‘A’. Those students who end up with a ‘D’ or fail my class have missed a number of them.

What is most interesting is how many students look at the grade and ignore the critique. A student last semester criticized me to my face for being such a tough grader. I asked her to tell me where she felt I was being unfair. She told me that she would write her feelings in a journal that she would hand me at the end of the semester and not to “worry about the issue,” at the current time.

I did not let her off the hook. I made her pull out the critique form then and there and went over each comment. Once we discussed it, she had a better idea of what she should be doing, of what I was looking for, and her grades dramatically improved.

I like serious students and I am willing to spend time with them. I even don’t mind people challenging my grades, if done correctly (Don’t attack me or make me feel like I am being attacked). Unfortunately, many students just want me to throw an ‘A’ on top of a critique and leave it at that.

I’m tempted one day to give them the critique forms back with no grades on them and force the students to read my comments without having their judgment of my comments tainted by the grade. That might be an interesting exercise.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

When Harry Met Sally

I realize, as an adjunct professor, some of my students just “don’t get me”. I would assume that this is true of most teachers. I try to teach the way I liked to learn. Again, I would assume this is true of most educators.

I learned best from nonconventional means. So, I try to use such methods. Video clips from movies that may seemingly have nothing to do with public speaking classes is one of my techniques. For instance, I just started moving into demonstration speeches. To start this lecture, I show a clip from the movie, When Harry Met Sally.

In case you haven’t guessed, or don’t know the movie, the scene is when Sally, trying to prove a point, fakes an orgasm while in a crowded restaurant. I usually follow this up with two questions. The first question is, “Was this a demonstration”? Just about everyone agrees and says “Yes”. My next question is, “Did Sally use a visual aid”? This one usually is split. I explain that she does use a visual aid, that you can use your body as a visual aid during a speech and that was exactly what Sally did.

Most of my students enjoy the clip. Most of my students understand the point I am trying to make. Each semester, however, there are a couple of students who always ask me why I am showing this clip (even after I have explained it) and just don’t understand it.

As I said before, I know there are some students who would like me to simply recite what is in the textbook and do nothing else. I feel they have the textbook to explain demonstration speeches in conventional means. I would rather do something a little different and hopefully enjoyable. In addition, because most of the students have not seen this movie in the past, the shock value also is effective in holding the attention of the students.

Friday, March 7, 2008


Trying to get class discussions going can prove interesting. Every semester I seem to have one class that is better at this than the other. Yesterday evening, I had a very frustrating time getting a discussion off the ground.

The class is made up of 16 students. One did not show, so I had 15 students there. The three hour class started with nine students delivering speeches and each speaker having an oral evaluation from another student in the class. We then took a break. Three of the students cut out at this point (two of them told me). I hate when this happens and they will not get full credit for being in class but I do treat them like adults and they have the right to leave or not show up (they just need to understand there are consequences with such decisions.). With the three students leaving I had 12 students there.

Even 12 students should be enough to get a good discussion off the ground. Four of the students, however, are exchange students from Japan. They are nice students and try. They speak English a lot better than I speak Japanese (I don’t speak the language). The problem is, unfortunately they do not belong in a public speaking class where the speeches are delivered in English and the instruction and lecturers are all in English. I know they don't grasp a lot of what I say and they stumble through the speeches.

As a result, 12 students now dwindles down to eight students who are truly able to participate in the discussion. With eight students, you really don’t know what you are going to get. After sitting through nine speeches and having that take up over an hour and a half of time, the students were worn down (as was the instructor, quite honestly) and the discussion just never really got off the ground.

It is frustrating.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

What Was Said, And What Was Not

I received an e-mail from a student telling me that he will not be able to make it to my class for quite some time. His car was totaled in an accident. He commutes a bit of a distance to campus. There is no public transportation from where he lives to class and his mother is holding him responsible for the car accident, even though it was not his fault, so says the student. He did offer to show me pictures of the car to prove it was totaled.

A little later in the day I received an e-mail from the Dean of student affairs. It was sent to me and his other teachers. The e-mail from the dean indicated that this student was having trouble getting to campus due to car issues and he would be in touch with us to find out how he should proceed and how he could make up the work.

I am willing to bet the student thinks that is exactly what he did; that he is in the clear now and does not have to worry about missing classes.

I feel bad for this student, I really do. But note what he did, and did not do, in the e-mail. He indicates that he can’t make it to class. Nowhere does he ask about how he can make up the work, what we, the instructors, want and need him to do, and how he can keep up with the material covered in class.

He thinks by sending out an e-mail saying he has no car, that everything is fine. If this were a job and he had no car, would the place of employment say, as long as you told me about it, do not worry how long it takes? Most likely he would need to make arrangements.

I used to send this type of response out to students but it did not make a difference and they never understood anyway. Besides, it is there responsibility to make the offer.

Hopefully everything will turn out well for the student but in the meantime, he is missing classes and he is missing speeches that need to be given.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Successful Round One

Round one of informative speeches is done and for the most part I am impressed. Forget for a moment the topics used for the speeches or how well the students did, what I am most impressed about (and perhaps this is a sad statement about the times in which we live) is the fact that most students delivered the speech.

I had seven students set to speak in my Thursday morning class. All seven were there and all seven spoke. There was one student who had signed up for Thursday but than a week before the speeches were to be given, he asked if he could switch. I agreed. I agreed because he was not there the day when I asked students when they wanted to speak and when he returned he said I could put him in on any of the days so I put him in for the first day. I agreed because, with 23 students in class and three days for speeches I need eight people speaking on two of the days and seven on one of the days, so I could move him and still keep that breakdown. Still, everything Thursday morning went well.

My Thursday evening class was a little different, but still not bad. I had eight student scheduled to speak that evening. One person called me before class that he had a flat tire, it had occurred earlier in the day and he was sure it would have been fixed in time to get him to class on time, but it wasn’t. All the other students were there and spoke.

I am not sure that the student was being honest with me but he did call me before class to alert me, which does help make the situation better. He also was the only one who was not there, so most of the speeches were given.

My Friday morning class was a lot like my Thursday morning class. One student had asked to switch from one day to another day about a week earlier and I agreed. Still, everyone who was supposed to speak on Friday was in class and gave a speech.

The speeches were pretty good but the fact that out of 23 speeches that were supposed to be given during that 24 hour span, 23 actually were, was most impressive. It will actually help me get my critiques done as I won’t be bogged down by students who have to make up speeches.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Vocal Pauses... In Writing... Again

About a week and a half ago, I wrote an entry about a student who used a vocal pause in an e-mail. It was the first time I had ever had such an experience. Unfortunately, it was not the last time.

A few days ago a student was trying to set up a meeting with me. We corresponded back and forth via e-mail. I suggested we talk after class. She had a meeting and sent me an e-mail alerting me to the fact. The e-mail started out, “ummm tomorrow I have a meeting…”.

So in less than two weeks, I have two different students using vocal pauses in e-mails. In addition, this most recent e-mail follows the rule of e-mails that capitalization and punctuation is not important. I was so tempted to send an e-mail back correcting her text and saying, “It should look like this: ‘Ummm, tomorrow I have a meeting’.” Then adding, “Please not this does nothing to address the vocal pause you included that should be eliminated altogether, nor does it correct the spelling of the word ‘Um’.”

I realize that the way we speak effects the way we write, unfortunately. For instance, one of the most common mistakes I get on written work students hand in is the use of the word ‘Of’ instead of ‘Have’. In spoken, casual, conversational English, one might say, “I shoulda argued,” which of course should be, “I should have argued”. Many students think they are fixing this by writing, “I should of argued”.

I find the mistake of using “Of,” instead of “Have,” to be particularly annoying. I find typing e-mails all in lower case letters to be particularly annoying. Now, you can add to that list, I find students including vocal pauses in written text to be particularly annoying.

Maybe I am just getting cantankerous in my old age.