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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


In an earlier post, I discussed how refreshing it is to hear new topics discussed by students when giving speeches, and it is. This does not mean, however, that some of the ‘old topics’, to my mind, have gotten stale or are unimportant.

For instance, when a student gives a demonstration speech showing a life saving technique, such as how to deliver CPR, and I have had a number of students give such speeches, it does not get ‘old’. When a student gives a speech on medication, either the importance of it or how it is overused in society, it does not get old.

I have had students talk about various diseases, illnesses and sicknesses. Usually those too do not get old. I have heard speeches about Spina Bifida, Autism and Bipolar disorder, just to name a few. I have also heard people give speeches about Suicide. I know sometimes Manic depression can result in people committing suicide. So, to some extent, speeches can certainly be related.

I tell my students, when they speak, I want them to give me a list of references that they have used for the speech. I do this for a few reasons. One is, honestly, I want to make sure they have done the research and have correct information. This forces them to do a better job of putting together a speech. I also do it because I want to be able to learn more about the topics, at least sometimes. This provides me with more information the information.

For instance, knowing there are websites like bipolarcentral.com that provides information for people can be helpful to me. I like to check out the internet sites and learn more. I am certain that people who have family members, friends, or may themselves be Bipolar, like to know where they can go to get more information.

The topic picked can say a lot about the person and can teach a lot. It is important, especially since some students, no matter how many times you tell them not to, insist on discussing how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

No Pants Day

I have not been teaching for as long as a number of my colleagues. I do not teach, nor have I ever taught, full time. As a result, my course load is lighter than full-timers and many professors have taught many more classes than I. Still, I have taught a number of speech classes at this point in my life, and I have heard a number of speeches.

Not surprisingly, certain topics seem to be recurring themes among students. Some of them maybe the same theme but have a twist, but the idea remains the same. For instance, for persuasive speeches, sometimes I have students give speeches on behalf of candidates. Over the past couple of years, I have had students speak out in favor of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John McCain. In the past the speeches have been in support of Bill Clinton, Bob Dole and other politicians. Once, I had a student speak in support of himself for a student government position. Still, all these speeches have been in support of political candidates.

This semester has been interesting in that I have heard a number of topics used that students have never discussed before. For instance, I had a student urge us to take part in No Pants Day. No Pants Day includes students not wearing pants, kilts, shorts, skirts or the like. This apparently is a ‘holiday’ that college students have “invented” as a way to show that they do not take themselves too seriously. It is designed to take place during finals week as a sign of relaxing and showing that the students are not going to get too stressed.

I found it intriguing and actually thought back to my own routine when I had to take tests. It was very different but, in a sense, designed to do the same thing. I used to come to class with a cup of coffee and when the test was handed out, I would leave it (or put it) face down and take five minutes to enjoy my cup of coffee. It was my way of telling myself that I was in control of the test and the test was not in control of me. So, perhaps no pants day, if it actually helps students, is not a bad idea.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Speeches About Culture

I made a minor change this semester to the way I handle multiple classes and I really like the outcome. It does not effect the students at all, just the teacher. Rather than having all classes deliver demonstration speeches around the same time and then move into persuasive speeches, I have two classes do that and one do persuasive speeches first. This way, I am getting a variety of speech types. As a result, right now, in one of my classes, we aer in the middle of demonstation speeches.

Over the years, one of the most popular topics for demonstration speeches has to do with hair care. I have had some students deliver speeches about straightening hair. Others have delivered speeches having to do with braiding hair. Those from different cultures talk about the approaches used in their society. This semester, for the first time, I had a student demonstrate how to make Human Hair Wigs.

It is amazing how the internet has changed speeches. Information about hair care and Wigs is more readily available. Finding demonstrations about such things can often be found on YouTube. I tell my students that they can use such sites to show us the demonstration as long as they turn down the volume and they are the ones doing the talking.

I have learned a lot about Human Hair Extensions, Real Hair Wigs and other similar products. Like just about any type of speech, a lot depends on the presenter. Some of the speeches have been stronger than others. What I like is when students are able to work their culture, or their heritage into the speech. Usually that is important to them and as a result, they enjoy delivering such speeches. Enjoying delivering the speech usually leads to a better speech and a better grade.

Student Writing

Every so often students do things that pleasantly surprise me. For the first time in a number of years, I am requiring students to write a paper. Rather than give a test, I want them to take a speech they have heard this semester and analyze it. Tell me everything they can, well maybe not everything, but based on information in the textbook and class discussions, I want a three to five page, type written paper.

I actually do not think this is a difficult assignment. They have been doing mini-critiques of student speeches all semester. I told them about the paper the first class session and I have specifically pointed out certain lectures where the information could be used in the paper.

Although the paper is not due until the penultimate class session, I actually have two students who have already handed in the paper. I was pleased to see the students take the assignment so seriously and get it to me in advance. That, honestly, was a pleasant surprise.

There was something else, however, that was not a pleasant surprise. As I stated, it has been a number of years since I have assigned a paper. Student writing is atrocious. Grammar is poor, incorrect words are used and the ideas are hard to understand.

What scares me is, these papers were written by two of my better students, two go-getters and, honestly two students that I like. I am afraid to see what other students will give me. So, I told my students, if they submit the paper before the due date, I will review it and put comments on it, but no grade. I will then hand it back to them. They have the option of resubmitting the paper with no changes and taking the grade the paper originally earned (which as I said, they won’t know in advance) or they can revise it and resubmit it. I am curious to see who, if anyone, takes advantage of this.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Online Gradebooks

One of the things I enjoy about teaching at the facility where I work is the online resources available to me. One such resource is an on-line gradebook. Every year I resolve to learn how to use it but when I talk with the specialist who trains us in all of the on-line equipment, he usually tells me it is so involved I am better off not using it. As a result, I create an excel spreadsheet.

I have now learned of another Online Gradebook. It can be tested out with fictional data and you can get a free 30 day trial. It is on a secure site and can be accessed from almost anywhere. One of my concerns about using an excel spreadsheet is; what happens if my thumb drive gets fried or my computer crashes. It is nice to know there are alternatives.

Do You Understand Me?

Once again I had an experience that left me wondering about exchange students taking a public speaking class. Although my Japanese students seem to be okay when it comes to delivering speeches (far from good), they do not seem to be able to get involved with other aspects of the class.

One thing I do in my class is, every time a student gives a speech, another student has to get up and deliver a critique of the speech. This seems to work well for a number of reasons. First the speaker is getting some immediate feedback and gets to hear an opinion other than mine. In addition, the student who delivers the evaluation is learning an important skill as well; how to praise a speaker and deliver suggestions in a positive manner. This is something that has worked well. Unfortunately, when I have an exchange student evaluate, frequently the student admits, in the evaluation, to not understanding what the speaker is saying.

I find this frustrating. Part of taking a public speaking class is being a member of the listening audience. Part of being a member of the listening audience is to pay attention to what is being said. I know that my exchange students do listen to the speeches; they do try. Still, it is frustrating because they are not getting the full benefit of the class.

Another problem I run into is, they do not fully understand my directions when it comes to assignments. They will ask me to explain it again which I gladly do. Usually I am explaining it after class to just a group of exchange students (again, no complaints). As I explain it, I will ask if they understand. They nod in agreement and smile at me and say ‘Yes,’ but I doubt that they understand what I am saying.

I give the exchange students a lot of credit. I could not take a class in another language nor could I teach in another language. Still, it is difficult to evaluate them fairly and it does pose additional challenges. I hope that they do get something out of my class.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Students And Credit

It is amazing to me the way college student view money, credit cards and the like. My father, for years talked about how credit card companies would prey off of college students. Armed with the knowledge of the short term benefits, many of them do not think at all about the long term consequences and the fact that they have to pay the money back. Many of them are doomed to poor credit and poor credit reports before they even get a start.

Often times when college students truly need the benefits, their credit is so poor, few people want to take a chance on them. This problem certainly can just get worse for the individual who may not have the opportunity to obtain things that they truly need later in life.

While students need to be cautious about adding more debt onto existing debt, for those who are truly in need of additional loans, there are companies that will lend people money, even if they have poor credit; bad credit loans do exist.

These loans also give individuals the opportunity to rebuild their credit, to get a good credit report. Bad credit credit cards do exists and can be helpful. Again, the burden is on the individual to make sure this is not just a way of getting further in-debt and getting an worse credit.

I truly hope that students can manage to avoid the trap.

Impromptu Speeches

I love listening to students comment about impromptu speeches and hearing their concerns. I do a little exercise in class where I give each student a topic and the student has to speak about it for one to three minutes. For the first time in their lives, they feel one minute is a long time.

This is simply a Pass-Fail assignment. Basically if a student gives the speech and lasts at least a minute, they pass. I even accept it if the student stands in silence for a few seconds, repeats him/herself, or fellow students try to help out by asking questions about the topic. I mainly want them to have experience with this type of exercise.

The students always ask if I can tell them in advance what topic they will talk about. Folks, that is no longer an impromptu speech. My topics are general. Shoes, food, fast food and children are among those on my list. The rest of them stay within that range. Most students can respond to the other topics but when it comes to their own, that is difficult.

I did have one student ask if she could do an impromptu speech for her final speech (they get the choice of informative, persuasive or demonstration). I actually agreed as long as she can meet the minimum timing requirement of four minutes. If she repeats herself or just ends up babbling, it will count against her. I am guessing she is not going to use this as her topic.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Better Attendance

The college where I teach is actually considering getting air purifiers for the rooms. They are currently in the process of getting student feedback, as well as feedback from the staff and instructors. It is an interesting approach, considering high efficiency air purifier.

The feeling is that with some many different students in the class, some are pretty full, some people have allergies, it would be a small cost to benefit the entire population. I am not sure how it will work but if it will keep fewer germs from getting in the air and will keep the students healthier, hopefully resulting in better attendance, it would seem to be a smart move.

Feedback From All

Of the three classes I am teaching, I recently had one of them complete the course evaluations. I actually think I may have experienced a first this year. All my students were there. I truly like it if I can get feedback from all my students, as I do believe each as a valued member of the entire group. Still, it seems as we get to this point in the semester, it is difficult having all students there, so it was rewarding.

The truth is, that I actually did not have ALL my students there but as far as I am concerned, I did. There are 15 students in this class. One of the students added the class after the first two sessions. The class only meets once a week and I was not thrilled that this occurred but I actually had no say in the matter.

She was at the third session and needed to leave early. She showed up for the forth session as well and delivered her icebreaker, the first speech all the students deliver (and one of the few that is non-graded). After she gave the speech, again she told me she needed to leave early. That was the last time I saw her.

The student has been to two classes, and neither one of those did she stay for the full session. I am guessing she has written off this class (I hope she has) and is anticipating an ‘F’ (which is what she will be getting). Even if she had been to the class, she is in no position to evaluate me. I like student input, I make changes based on their feedback but, if you are not there, how can you provide me with accurate feedback?

As a result, I consider it to be a full class that evaluated me since she has stopped coming and, in addition, I really do not want, or value, the one missing member’s input.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Praying I'll Get There

One of the scariest situations I had while teaching as an adjunct occurred about a year ago when I had to drive to campus. I actually needed to go out of town for the weekend to help settle my father’s estate and I left my car at the airport. I was planning on flying back to the airport and driving from that location to teach and then back home after class. Based on where I teach and the locations of the airports, I actually drove further away from my home and flew out of a different airport. In other words, my home is 40 miles from campus. The airport was about 20 miles further away, so only 20 miles from campus, but 60 miles from my home.

When I got back to the airport and was ready to drive back to campus, I did not like the way the car sounded, I did not like the way it felt, I did not like the whole situation. I wanted to leave the car at the airport but I needed to get to campus. I drove the car. I held my breath while driving and prayed every step of the way, but I drove my car.

I recently learned of a service where if you have an accident, rather than having to bring the car in to repair the scratches and dents, people come out to where the car is and look it over. So for instance, if you need a town car window repair, they come to you; you do not need to bring the car in.

This is the type of service, in terms of mechanics I would have liked this day. I could have gotten the mechanics to come to the airport and rented a car to get to campus while my vehicle was being fixed. Ultimately, once I got it to campus, I had the junkyard come and tow it away because I was done driving it. I was too afraid to even bring it to a shop. So, when I hear about car services where people are willing to come to you, I certainly take notice and have interest.

Can I Have My Grade?

I love the way a student thinks and his or her mind works. This past Tuesday I had six students deliver speeches in one of my classes. Due to work I had from a couple of my other classes, I knew I was not going to have the speeches from this class graded and I honestly meant to make an announcement. I simply forget.

Fast forward to Thursday. The students were asking me as soon as I walked in if I had the speeches graded. I told them quite honestly that I did not and I WOULD have them back on Tuesday. To my mind, this is not unreasonable. I am taking a week to grade and critique the speeches, to type up my comments.

The students told me I should have come to class with the speeches graded.

“I hope,” I countered, “That you would put more than two days into preparing a speech. As a result, I certainly think it is understandable that I want more than two days to grade the speech”.

A number of the students responded by telling me they did not put more than two days into the speech. They claimed they wanted the material to be fresh in their minds (I think laziness is more like it).

While I was teasing a little, I really feel that most of the students do not get it. I also tell them at the beginning of the semester that I try to get things back to them the next class session, but I reserve the right to talk up to a week (some classes I even tell a week and a half). I know this can be frustrating but it is not due to laziness, it is due to the fact that I want to give the student a helpful critique and when I have a number of classes working on speeches at the same time, I know I need a little extra time to grade.

Some of the students appreciate this. Some of the students were just having some fun teasing me and some of the students honestly just do not get it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Calling From The Office

As the semester winds down, I am still debating whether or not it was smart to take a Thursday evening class. Due to my schedule and the distance I travel, I end up staying on campus all day on Thursdays. I leave home around 9:30AM and stay on campus from about 10:30AM to 9:00PM.

I do have some time in between classes to do “office work” for my day job and that is good. Still a laptop computer would help and so would voip architecture. Sometimes for my day job I need to conduct telephone interviews with customers who use certain products and services and find out what they like about these products and what they do not like. This often means that I need to use my cell phone to make the calls. I could use the campus phone but I honestly do not feel comfortable making long distance calls for personal benefit, or for work related benefit if it has nothing to do with my teaching job. Of course, using the cell phone is not much of an advantage either as I am using up my minutes, or if they have all been used up, paying for the calls. If I owned the business, maybe I could justify it but this is my personal cell phone for company benefit.

My understanding of voiceover technology is it allows people to make calls through the internet and as long as you have an internet account, you do not have to pay for the phone call. I think my boss should pick up the expense but I can definitely see how this would be beneficial. I do know some people who use this and they say it truly makes things easier. I have heard that the quality of the call is not as good as a regular phone and that is a concern but from those I have talked with, while occasionally you may get a scratchy call, it is seldom and you can get poor quality calls from a standard phone as well. It truly is amazing what technology has done and how it can help you work from home when you are not at home.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Hillary, Yuck!"

One of my students recently commented on how I do not teach a public speaking class, I teach an English class with the added twist (dilemma) of having to deliver it orally in front of an audience. There is certainly some truth to this.

The fact is there are two areas in which a speech must be critiqued—Content AND Delivery. No one seems to object or disagree that delivery needs to be addressed in a Public Speaking class. Content is another story.

I recently had a student who delivered a speech on the importance of voting, or supposedly that was the message. The student also urged us not to vote for Hillary Clinton. I am okay, for a persuasive speech, to have a student to urge us to vote for or against a candidate. It does, however, need to be backed up with some supporting material.

In the speech, the student said, “Hillary, yuck!,” every time her name was mentioned. The student showed pictures of Hillary disfigured and pictures which made her look like the devil. The student did not mention anything about her platform, what she wants to do or has done or why people should not like her or trust her, just, “Hillary, Yuck!”

Sorry but this needs to be addressed in a critique. You cannot just make a claim like that without backing it up. The pictures, as far as I am concerned, go beyond what is considered ethical in a speech, at least in my book. Call that grading the speech as though this was an English class if you want, but the bottom line is, speeches need to be well developed and argued. They need to be based in logic, with emotion certainly playing a part. Yes, writing for the ear is different than writing for the eye but a lot of the same rules do apply.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Advances In Technology

Sometimes things do not work out exactly as you had planned. This semester, I am teaching a Thursday class during the day that ends a little after 12 noon and another one during the evening that runs from 6-9. Since I travel over 40 miles each way, I decided I would stay on campus on Thursdays. My plan was to do work for my ‘Day job’ and to be able to tap into the office computer from school.

I ran into a problem. The school computers have filters placed on them so I could not add software to do this. It pointed out the need to have a laptop even if I have a campus computer available to me. What amazes me is how small the computers have become and how well developed they are. For instance, the motorola mc70 handheld computer is about the size of a cell phone. Certainly I have watched technology in all different areas improve but it still baffles me.

I think if I end up doing a schedule like this again, I will examine these types of computers closely and get myself some kind of machine that I can carry around with me.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Tough But Fair

It is always rewarding to me when a student, who indicates that s/he thinks you are a tough graders, tells you s/he enjoys your class. Recently, before a particular class session started, and I really do not remember how it came up, one of my students told me she thought I was tough when I grade. It was not said in protest or complaint, just an honest statement.

“I’m always willing to listen to students. I have made many changes over the years based on student input,” I said. “Tell me how you feel my grading is unfair. Perhaps you have picked up on something of which I am not aware”.

“I did not say your grading was unfair,” responded the student, “I just said you were tough. You are probably more attuned to the things you should be, the things other teachers may not be. You probably grade it more accurately than I would grade myself”. The student then went on to add that she enjoyed the class and was glad she took it with me. A few of the other students who were there agreed.

Was this trying to butter me up for a good grade? Perhaps, although I really don’t think so. The student was able to tell me exactly what I said in my critique of her speech and why I said it got the grade it did. Still, I guess it is good for the ego to hear such comments and perhaps, subconsciously that plays into the way you grade.

I know it was not that long ago when I was a student (my student may disagree saying it has been ages but it really was not that long ago). There were times I took a professor because I enjoyed his/her style even though I know the individual was a tough grader. Honestly, there were other times I took a particular teacher because I knew I could get an ‘A’.

If I am building up a reputation as a tough grader who is worth taking for Public Speaking, not only can I live with that but I embrace that moniker.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Read The Comments

A student approached me after class today to complain about a grade he got on his last speech. The grade was a ‘B+’ and he told me he was disappointed because he thought he did very well on the speech. Silly me, I thought a ‘B+’ was a good grade but I now know better.

The student told me he thought his demonstration speech dealt with a topic that was more serious than the topics picked by most of the other students and he felt his grade should have reflected that.

“Okay,” I said, “Certainly the topic should play a part in what grade you get.” Then I asked, “What did I say in my critique? What comments did I make about how the speech could have been improved?”

“I don’t know,” was the response. “I only looked at the grade and got frustrated”.

Folks, if you are going to argue a grade with a teacher, at least read the comments s/he puts on your assignment. I realize some teachers just slap a grade on an assignment and do not write any comments. This would be much easier for me to do and would take a lot less time. I feel, however, that students are entitled to my thoughts and opinions, this is what I am getting paid to do. If you are going to challenge a grade, know why the instructor claims you got that grade so you know what you are challenging.

I have long felt what I would like to do when I critique a speech is to write my comments, without putting a grade on it. Upon handing it back to the students, tell them they have to comment on my comments, what they agree with and what they disagree with and hand it back to me. Only when I get it back will I put a grade on the assignment and let them know what they got. Unfortunately, that would truly require the students and the instructor (me) to put in more time than I feel should be used. Still, it is nice to think about doing.

I guess for now, I just have to tolerate those students complaining about grades even if they don’t read all my comments.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Speeches, Speeches, Speeches

I enjoy teaching but there are days when it is exhausting. In my morning class today, I sat through eight speeches and then there were another nine given in my evening class. Just sitting through that many can be exhausting. There were three other student who were supposed to speak last week but were not there at that time, who were in class today. I decided not to let them make up the speeches today. 12 speeches in one class, and 20 speeches over the course of a day is too many. In addition, there are another seven people who are supposed to speak in my morning class tomorrow.

Not only is it exhausting sitting through that many speeches in a short period of time, it is exhausting when I have to grade them as well. Certainly it will keep me busy and it is another reason I do not like when student miss speaking dates. When they make them up it takes its toll on me in terms of critiquing and grading them.

Still, while it may sound like I am complaining, I do enjoy listening to student speeches, it just can get to be tiring. I guess one of the key differences between me and the students (on the whole) is, I know I will meet my deadline and have things back to them when I told them. I wish they met my deadlines as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Over the years I have made some changes in the way I teach my public speaking class. Certainly this should come as no surprise and I would be concerned about a teacher who indicates s/he has not made any changes. Some changes work well and others, after trying for a short period of time, end up being discarded.

One change that I have made that I really like is having every student comment on a speech. As each speaker concludes his or her presentation, I pause for a moment and ask each student in class to take out a 3x5 index card and write a comment on it to the speaker about his or her speech. We then move on to the next speaker and when that individual has concluded, again I pause so everyone can write the speaker a message.

The only person who does not need to write the speaker an index card is the actual speaker him or herself and the person assigned to deliver a full critique of the speech (which happens after all speeches for the day are completed), both in writing and verbally. In fact, for the first and last speech each student delivers over the course of the semester, they individual must write a comment on an index card to him or herself.

When all speakers are finished, I collect all the index cards and the written evaluations. I then type up my own comments and give the student a package containing his or her outline, my comments with the grade on it, the evaluation from the other student and all index cards. I try to sort through the cards ahead of time and arrange them in such a way that the first few and last few cards only have positive comments written about the speech. Some of the ones in the middle may also have a suggestion or two (although all should contain some positive comments about the speech). If this is a speech where the speaker needed to include a comment to him or herself, I put that last so the individual can see that we have a tendency to judge ourselves more harshly than others.

I have found this works well. The speaker gets feedback from everyone in the class and it shows how different people view things. Some of the students are very perceptive and write interesting things. I believe, on the whole, it truly has helped and continues to help students become better speakers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Getting A Choice

Students in my classes are currently in the process of giving their second graded speech of the semester. In past years I have followed the informative speech with the demonstration speech. My thinking has been that a demonstration speech really is a type of informative speech, so it should be the easiest one to do next.

I have had some students tell me they would rather do the persuasive one next, so this semester I decided to switch it up. My plan was to have the Persuasive speech go next in all of my classes, however I did not make this change on the syllabi for the classes that meet once a week, only on my Tuesday-Thursday class.

I was just going to leave it this way and see how it went but coming back from break a couple of students told me they had gotten confused and thought the demonstration speech was next. At the time I simply told them this was incorrect, it was the persuasive one. Then I got to thinking and the following class session I announced that they could pick which speech was next, so some of them could do a persuasive speech this round while others did a demonstration speech. I did specify that whichever one was not given this time around needed to be given for the third speech.

I am not sure if this was a good move or if it will make things to confusing on me and the class. Still, at this point, I have covered the information they need to know for both persuasive and demonstration speeches, so I am open for the experiment. If it works out then I may give students the choice in future classes. If it doesn’t then the experiment will start and end with the one class this semester.