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.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

McCain, Gustav And Class

It is amazing how Gustav can affect so many things in so many different ways. First of all, the people of Louisiana, some still feeling the effects of Katrina, are bracing for another, potentially devastating, storm. As someone who teaches public speaking, I think how this can be used in a demonstration speech, explaining how hurricanes are formed, I think about how this can be used in an informative speech, telling us about either one of those storms and I think about how it can be used as a persuasive speech, talking about the way we should protect ourselves from a hurricane or what government should be willing to do before, during and after such storms.

I think how Gustav is changing the way John McCain and the Republicans will hold their convention and I wonder if it may actually help John McCain. Much to McCain’s credit, he has said that they need to act first as Americans and then as Republicans. With such a potentially devastating storm coming in, it could be necessary to take emergency measures and McCain stands ready. His willingness may actually cast him in a better light (much like 911 cast Guilliani in a good light). I am not suggesting that McCain is happy about the hurricane, only that if he handles things correctly, it could actually get him more votes than a “normal” convention would.

Regardless of how it plays out, I will be using it in some way during class this semester. In some way that means I am benefiting from others misfortunes, and I truly do not like to do that. Still, it is important to use events that are current when trying to come up with examples for a class. I would rather that Gustav was not occurring and not threatening to do damage to anyone. I have no control over that, however, so I will use the cards I am dealt (much like McCain).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Obama's Speech

As a piece of rhetoric, and I do not mean that in a negative sense but rather the classical definition as put forth by Plato, Aristotle and others, I thought Barak Obama’s speech last night was very good. Actually, I thought the speaker before him, Senator Dick Durbin, was also very good. Durbin was able to get the crowd involved. I believe this is something that you want to do at a convention and the speakers I had heard up until then did not do that. Durbin got the crowd shouting “No,” after a number of questions. This was a successful introduction then to Barak Obama.

In terms of Obama’s speech, I thought he was charming, charismatic, interesting, and for a convention speech, fairly effective in laying out his plans. Obviously I would not expect any speaker at a convention to be able to talk on all the issues, or give you a lot of specifics. Certainly at a convention you claim to be able to do more than you can. The reason for that is, without the help of others, specifically those in the legislative branch, you can’t do everything. Still, at times Obama told you how he was going to get things down.

Obama used repetition effectively. I am actually surprised that thus far I have not heard anyone mention how he borrow from Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. Obama, like King, kept coming back to the line, “Now is the time”. Still, Barak did this effectively.

I thought Obama’s speech had a clear introduction, body and conclusion and if I were grading him in a class, he would do well on that particular assignment.

Off of the topic of public speaking for a moment, I thought John McCain was very effective waiting until the day after the convention to announce his choice for Vice President. The fact that he waited and the novelty of Sarah Palin, a little known politician, a politician from Alaska and a female, certainly have taken some of the attention off of Barak Obama’s speech. Now I am interested to see how McCain and his fellow Republicans do at their convention. Once again, I’ll be grading.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Convention Speeches

I watched some of the convention last night and while I did not hear any speeches from start to finish, I did hear large pieces of certain speeches. Teaching public speaking, I think the speeches demonstrated certain things that I can use for class.

Last night featured many women speaking. Barbara Mikulski. I actually was fascinated by her introduction. I thought you avoided using any attention getting devices and simply came across as angry. I would have rather heard her start off on a different note and then build to a climax. I did not feel that she did that.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, I thought was very effective. I liked her introduction and the symmetry she used, talking about happy to stand before the convention as a Senator, Happy to stand before the convention as a woman, happy to stand before the convention as a number of other nouns she used and finishing off with being happy to stand before the convention as a supporter of Barak Obama.

The introduction I thought got the audience’s attention, set up her speech nicely and clearly said she was behind Obama. She then discussed the issues that were important to her and made her run and said these were also important to Obama. The speech was well written and well delivered.

What I thought Hillary did not do, and none of the speakers did, despite having the opportunity to do it, was play off the audience. When they started using catch phrases, as I’ve seen done in conventions past, either you get the audience to say the phrase with you or you get them to respond by saying, “No,” or “Yes,” depending on what the phrase is. I think that would have helped.

Still, I certainly felt, from the point of view of teaching public speaking, the convention speeches delivered yesterday were worth watching.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Barak Obama's Mistake

The Democratic Convention is underway. It appears as though it is all systems go and, while it certainly does not get the attention it once did, most likely the Dems will get a boost out of the convention (as will the Republicans after their convention in September).

Barak Obama and The Democrats also tried to get a bump heading into the convention by using a novel idea to announce his Vice Presidential choice. I think the idea was good but it backfired, in large part (in my estimation) due to the way it played out. Obama wanted to announce his choice by text message. Those reporters, and others, who gave Obama their cell phone would be the first to know.

Obama then blew it. He told the world on Thursday that he had made his decision but he was not going to announce it. It was as though he was sticking out his tongue and saying “Neh, Neh” or “Ha Ha”. By some reports he was supposed to announce on Friday, others said Saturday and, for his purposes, Obama seemed content to sit on the information.

It is not surprising then that someone started to leak the information. As a result, the Obama campaign sent out a Text message at 3AM on Saturday, announcing the choice of Joe Biden as the VP candidate. They had to scramble to save face. Unfortunately, some damage was done.

First off, initially I was interested in who he was going to pick. When he said Thursday night that it was a done deal, I may not have liked it but I could give him a little time to make the announcement when he wanted. By the time Friday afternoon rolled around, I lost interest (I think others did too). I thought he handled things poorly and as a result, I have had little interest in watching this convention. I also think he did not get the anticipated bump.

The lesson here is, you can come up with a great idea for teaching, for getting messages across in the classroom but the idea is only part of the battle. You need to have the idea and it needs to be implemented carefully and correctly. Hopefully, I will be able to learn from Barak’s mistakes.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Working For The Weekend

The old song, okay I guess not that old, says, "Everybody's working for the weekend". Well, as the new semester gets set to start (for me it is this coming week), I know that feeling, or perhaps, more appropriately it is, "Everybody's working for the Holidays".

I can almost guarantee that when I walk into the building on my first day, someone, maybe a student, maybe a secretary, maybe even the dean, is going to tell me how many more days to go before Christmas vacation. This seems to be par for the course teaching where I do and, it is even part of the camaraderie and fun and games. Everyone takes this kind of thing in good spirits. Still, it does point out that we focus on the Holidays. With that in mind, I wonder how many people can tell me how many more days until Black Friday?

Still, Black Friday is not what it once was. With websites like iblackfriday.com, one can now go shopping without leaving the comfort of home. It used to be that you had to fight the crowd, get out at 4 AM (or earlier). In fact, once a friend who had children dragged me out to go shopping with him (it was before the days that I had children). I decided right then and there, it was not worth it. Now, computers and the internet make it much easier. Perhaps it is worth it today.

Whether it is a department store, an office supply company or a Disney Store, today you can look for the items you want on line. Avoiding the crowds and not having to use the gasoline could definitely make the experience worthwhile. Now, I just have to remember to put a little of the money aside so I will have it when I want it and then I too can be working for the Holidays.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Different Perspective

As I have mentioned in some previous posts, I am involved with a Toastmaster organization. Recently, we had a joint meeting with one of the other Toastmaster clubs that meets in the area. It can get frustrating, confusing and exhausting, it is a lot of hard work to pull it off, but they are always enjoyable and they teach us a lot. We each have an opportunity to learn a slightly different way of doing things.

It is that approach that has helped me during my time as an adjunct instructor. First off, I talk with other adjuncts and hear the issues with which they have to deal and how they handle these matters. I hear the frustration and enjoyment and have "Borrowed” some ideas from them.

I have also talked with other instructors who teach Public Speaking. It is always interesting to get a different perspective. I take what I hear and balance it with my own feelings and perspectives and perhaps make some changes. Certainly it is a lot of work but it can be rewarding.

One thing which, as of yet, I have never done, is sit in on a class of another Public Speaking’s instructor. I think that would be fun and helpful. If I could sit in when speeches are given and talk with the teacher afterwards to find out what grade was given and why and see how, or if, we differ, I think it would be helpful. Perhaps this is the year to talk with others and see if that can be arranged.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The New Semester

It is amazing how fast things change. As I was packing my son up for summer camp one day last week, I put a pair of swimming trunks in his backpack and went to get a towel. As I cam across a TeleTubby towel I started teasing him and then I said, “I assume you don’t want me to give you this towel,” holding up the TeleTubby towel.

Being a show for two-year-olds and having not watched it in years, I was not surprised to learn I was correct. I then said, “I assume that you don’t want a Barney towel either,” as I held up a towel with a purple dinosaur on it. Again I was correct. I was surprised to hear him say after this, however, “And not the Winnie the Pooh towel either”.

I thought Pooh was okay. I know a number of adults who like Winnie the Pooh and thought this was something you never outgrow. My wife asked me where I had been as she said. “He hasn’t liked Pooh for years.”

This just showed me how important it is to keep up with changes and how fast things change. This is a good reminder as I get set to start the new school year. I have to find out what the personality of this class is, what they like and what no longer has any value to them despite it possibly working for previous classes.

Certainly I will try to start off with things that are current and they may relate to; things such as the perserverance, grace and graciousness of Shawn Johnson in finally winning a Gold Medal in the Olympics or the upcoming Presidential election, perhaps the process of picking a Vice President, as Obama and McCain are both getting ready to do that, or seeing what kind of reaction they have to John Edwards. On the other hand, if this is not the way to gett hrough to them, I have to be ready to abandon this approach quickly and try something else. Either way, I expect the semester to be fun!

Get Ready, Get Set, Go

The summer has been enjoyable but it has also been slow. The truth is, I would have liked to have had a summer class or two for a couple of reasons. It would have helped provide a little more structure and that would have been helpful. Also, honestly, it would have been nice to take in a few extra dollars over the course of the summer. Still, there are ways that one can survive, even if you are hoping to get some extra income. For instance, I recently learned about business cash advance .

A business cash advance is basically a way to receive cash in exchange for the purchase of a small portion of future Visa and Mastercard receipts. So, if you are counting on a class and it does not come through or you just aren’t offered certain classes, perhaps this can help you.

I remember listening to my Father talk every summer, concerned to see if his summer classes would go. In the winter, he would wonder if the mini-courses would go. As computer stopped being the wave of the future and became the method of the present, I used to help my father. He never quite mastered the college websites.

I used to get a call from my father, almost on a daily basis and he would ask me to check his classes, the registration numbers, where the students lived (in case in wanted to try and get a ride in from one of his students) and all sorts of other information. It was always fun watching him in the “Ready, Set, Go” mode of checking classes and getting set for the upcoming semester. (As a side note, now I find myself doing the same things he did—only I can navigate the college websites).

Perhaps Dad would not have worried so much if he knew what programs were available. Even if he never used them, just knowing they were there might have given him piece of mind. Although, truth is, he probably still would not have changed his approach.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Olympics

It is amazing the way people mark time. It seems like it was only a year or two ago when I had a student who was a swimmer and the Olympics and Michael Phelps were key topics for his speeches. He did a nice job with those speeches.

Obviously, those speeches were given in a class I taught four years ago, the last time we had Olympic games. I wonder, as I get set to start the new semester, am I going to have anyone who is going to want to use the Olympics as a topic. Will I hear speeches about Michael Phelps again, or maybe about another athlete. I heard that as of a recent check, while Michael Phelps was the number one search on Google for Olympic names, the name that has the second most hits out of all of those competing in the Olympics is gymnast Alicia Sacramone. Perhaps Sacramone will be the topic of some upcoming speeches.

The one thing I will stress to my students is, and I do this every year, it is important they use a topic in which they are interested for their speeches. This makes all the difference in the world when delivering speeches.

Friday, August 15, 2008


Yesterday my son had gum surgery. They needed to snip off part of the lower gums and graft it with some skin they took from the upper gums. He was a real trooper and did remarkambly well while the surgery was taking place.

After the surgery was often and we got home, he was uncomfortable. At night time it took him a long time to get to sleep but finally he did. Unfortunately, about an hour later, he woke up crying and screaming in pain and nothing seemed to comfort him. Eventually he cried himself back to sleep. When he woke up this morning, he was in much better spirits. He still had some discomfort but nothing like the pain he experienced last night. In the end, we fully believe the surgery will be successful and keep him from having severe gum and teeth problems as he gets older.

In a sense, I was thinking how students can go through a similar experience. When they first get up to speak, it can be scary but in the end most do better than they thought they would. Then they get my evaluation. While I try to take the students feelings into account, sometimes when you let students know where they can improve, when they get a lower grade than they expected or hoped for, it can be a “painful” experience. Hopefully, when it is all said and done, however, the student has become a better speaker and feels the experience was worthwhile.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Graduation Ceremony

About three weeks ago, I included an entry about a Toastmasters program I am putting on for 16 year old girls. The program has been a lot of fun and there has been a lot of visible growth among the participants. Still, I can help but feel something is not right.

The students are participating in this as just one part of a school program that is being offered to them. As a result, not each of the students is at the program every session. It seems to me that these individuals, as a result, are not getting everything out of the program that they could be, or should be.

Now I have found out about another change. In a couple of weeks, we will be holding our last session. What is usually done is to invite parents and other dignitaries, provide each participant with an opportunity to speak, and other roles and then have a “graduation” type ceremony. The person in the school system I am working with is focused on the reception. As a result, instead of each person having an opportunity to perform multiple roles, we will only have about half an hour for the actual meeting portion. Normally, based on the number of participants, we should be given about three hours.

The last session will be condensed into one-sixth of what we should be given. As a result, not only will each participant not be able to perform multiple roles, some will not be able to perform any roles. I think this is unfortunate.

To me, this just points out some of the frustrations I tolerate when it comes to teaching. There is the issue of students not showing up, some people not taking things to seriously and some teachers not willing to put in the necessary time to do the job effectively. I had hoped I would be getting away from this over the summer but it has now come back to me, albeit in a slightly different setting.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Energy Level

I am fortunate enough to be president of my Toastmasters organization this year. This is an organization that is designed to make people better speakers, better communicators and better leaders. Like many such organizations, there are a number of different clubs all under the parent organization—Toastmaster International.

The club I am president of has a rich history. We have distinguished members and we are truly the envy of a number of other Toastmaster clubs in the area. Every year, we earn all the possible points that a club can earn, which gives the club status and recognition. Most clubs do not earn all such points.

Still, like all organizations, there have been some problems we have encountered over the past few years, problems with members not taking things as seriously as they should and while we are still a great organization, we have faltered. It is a huge undertaking but I am trying to change this.

One thing which I have done is looked to increase the energy level in the room during our meetings. It obviously takes more than one person but each person has to feel as though he or she can make a difference. If there is one person who comes in with high energy, hopefully it is contagious. While it has only been a couple of meeting I have presided over so far, I have felt the energy level increase.

It is this same approach that I want to take into the classroom. If I can bring a certain level of energy and excitement into the classroom, hopefully it will be contagious and other members of the class will feel this energy and excitement. If they do, then the class will hopefully be that much more enjoyable to the students.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tuesday/Thursday or Monday/Wednesday or MWF?

I love the way things happen at a community college, perhaps at any institution. The semester is set to begin in two weeks. As many of you may know, I have two classes I am slated to teach this coming semester, both Tuesday/Thursday class, which cuts down on my travel time and gas expenses. I recently completed my course syllabus and am gearing up for the beginning of the semester.

Yesterday, I got a call from the department secretary, who was calling me at the direction of the dean. They wanted to know if I would switch my T/R classes for two Monday, Wednesday, Friday classes. Clearly I prefer TR to MWF. There are a few reasons. First off, it is easier for me to cover what I need to in a lesson plan if I have the extra 20 minutes per session. I know I still have to cover the same “stuff” in the same amount of time, but it is easier for me working with a class that meets two days a week. A second reason is the gas. It is traveling once less day a week and that certainly makes a difference. A last reason I try to avoid MWF classes is, for some reason, these classes (at least for Public Speaking) get a large number of fashion majors, and dealing with fashion majors (especially when you have a number of them in one class) is a challenge.

I guess I still am frustrated as well that when I applied for a fulltime position, I was never even brought in for an interview. It is frustrating that when they need me for something, they are quick to ask, in part, because they know I will say “Yes” if I can do it. In this case, it felt good to politely decline saying it just would not fit into my schedule this year. So, my schedule has not changed, at least not yet, or not that I know about.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Schools, Then And Now

This morning I caught a brief moment of the Oprah Winfrey show. At this point, I am inserting a qualifier. I am not a fan of television talk shows but my wife had turned on the show. Apparently there was a poll she was taking as to whether or not schools are better now than they were 30 years ago. 52% of those who responded said schools were better 30 years ago.

I saw this and immediately said, “This depends on what you are examining”. My wife commented on how schools are not as safe now as they were in the past. Certainly, I would agree that if this is the measuring stick, schools were better 30 years ago. I do think that based on media hype and access to information, we sometimes get a distorted few. I believe schools are still a very safe place, but there is more violence taking place now than in the past.

I told my wife that I was not even considering safety as a measuring stick. I explained that the fact is our son is now learning computer skills and keyboarding skills (he is not yet out of elementary school) and that certainly schools were teaching items now that they had not done in the past. On the other hand, if you look at the statistics in terms of illiteracy rate of high school graduates, that too has increased.

I think this type of poll, posed by Winfrey, is very subjective and, as I stated earlier, depends on what we are discussing. In fact, I think that such polls often times do more harm then good because they can leave people with a false impression. Clearly, I have wondered how some of the students I have taught ever got into college. Other times, however, I have been extremely impressed with the caliber of student in my class. Hopefully this year I will be impressed with the caliber of student I have.

Learn English

I recently looked over the roster of the classes I am teaching this semester. It appears as thought I will not have any exchange students this year. As I have indicated in the past, this is sort of a good new, bad news situation.

I always enjoy hearing speeches about other cultures. I always enjoy classes where the students have differing perspectives on the world. Certainly in that sense, having some exchange students makes the class more interesting and even more lively.

The other side of this is there have been times where a student has finished a speech and I have honestly not known what topic the student was discussing. Some of the students would do better if they took an English Lesson or two.

I understand the need for people to learn public speaking skills and it is unfortunate that sometimes language barriers get in the way. It would be beneficial, I think, if the college offered Public Speaking in languages other than English. This way, the students could learn the skills needed for Public Speaking, even if they did not know English well enough to take this class.

Perhaps the college could offer specific classes for exchange students To Learn English. In fact, there are even web programs available that offer English School training. Maybe the college should look at offering this type of training for their exchange students.

There are, of course, some exchange students who speak English very well. Still, depending on the number of exchange students in any given class, it does pose certain challenges but also offers certain rewards.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

By The Books

When I was out of town this past weekend for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah, I stayed with a family that had four children (they were nice enough to put us up). When the high school kids found out that I taught some college courses, they asked me if I had any tips when it came to taking classes.

While I certainly have my thoughts, I used the opportunity to talk about what I felt was the teacher’s obligation to make class interesting. I talked about the techniques that I used and they all seemed fascinated. I got the impression they longed for a teacher who would try some of the creative ideas I use in my class. It left me feeling a little sad that, at least with these students, they do not have teachers willing to try “new” things.

It sounded to me like these teachers all decided that if the student did not enjoy the class, there was something wrong with the student, not the teacher. I think looking to place blame entirely on one side is dangerous, however. I did say that I regret the straight laced student who takes a class with me. Naturally, I was asked, “Why”.

I explained that everyone has a different way of learning. Some students do better when everything is by the books and a standard method but that is not me. These high schoolers seemed to prefer a more non-traditional method. They would probably all enjoy my class.

Hopefully, those who take it this semester will enjoy it as well.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Guess Work

The fall semester is closing in. Less than one full month before teaching resumes. I am looking forward to the start of the new semester. I recently checked on line and noticed that there are 16 people registered for my class. This actually has me pleasantly surprised.

It is not uncommon for me to have a full class as Public Speaking is either required or recommended for just about every discipline offered. This, however, is only true of classes I teach at the main campus. The ones I teach at a campus center tend to get fewer students. This coming semester, I am only teaching classes at the campus center so I would anticipate fewer students. I have newer had 16 students take a class with me at the campus center. Right now, there is only room for six more students.

While it is always exciting to see that students are registering for your class (at least I feel that way), because it means that the class will go as well as the fact that based on conversations among students, you are developing a positive reputation, it does also present a challenge. My syllabus has to be submitted in advance and I block out a certain number of days for speeches. This involves guess work as there is uncertainty as to how many students will need to deliver a speech. Somehow I have always found a way to make this work but there have been times I have had to do some fancy footwork since I have either allowed too many days for speeches, or not enough. I think I may have to deal with that challenge this semester. Still, it is a challenge I welcome.