Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On Days When I am Overworked

There are days in which I am so overworked, I wonder if this job -- a college professor -- is truly worth it. Feeling over committed and little appreciated. Too much time spent on committee work that is taken for granted. Being a parent of young children makes keeping up my pre-kid work style (e.g., workaholic) impossible. It does not help that, because of dynamics in my hiring cohort, I am one the lowest paid tenured faculty at my campus.

The "math" of how much we spend on our job does not quite calculate, as reported in a wonderful but depressing essay by Nate Kreuter. This is in contrast to a popular idea that college professors have the least stressful jobs in the United States. #Firstworldproblems is a popular hashtag to indicate we - as privileged faculty in the US - have really nothing to complain about; a great example is the essay by Gene Fant, Jr. that describes the international comparison of faculty.

The bright light that draws me closer to my job and swings me into "appreciation mode" is remembering what my students go through and their journey to get to college.

It may seem cliche to say my students are what motivate me to be the best professor possible. I learn about their stories on a weekly basis, mostly in office hours and after class. I have decided to keep track of them; they are the fuel when my tank is empty.

I share here, in just two days of each other, what I learned about my students.

> After squeaking by graduating from high school, F worked as a janitor in a mall. He was taking out the trash and noticed a catalog for MiraCosta College. He paused to look through it and could not believe all the classes that a person could take. He put the catalog in his back pocket and began mopping the floors. Around midnight, he realized that if wanted to do more than be a janitor, he needed to go to school. Something in him told him he could do more. He had thought being undocumented prevented him, but decided - that week - to fill out the application. In two weeks, he was accepted. He eventually transferred to my university, graduated, and then was accepted to our MA program. Even though he was apprehended and deported just as he finished his thesis, he is currently applying to doctoral programs from abroad.

> G's family told her that she learned to read at the age of 4 years old. She would go with her father to the agricultural fields of San Clemente, CA to sell food to the workers. Some of the elderly women (on their breaks) would sit in the dirt with her to teach her letters in Spanish. Her parents tell her that is why she ended up going to college and why she is so smart. In our meeting, G reflected to me that her dad was not just selling food, but giving advice, clothing, resources, and even created an informal lending system. G took two classes from me - an intro level and a senior level - and earned strong grades. Consistent, intelligent and ambitious, G had come to talk with me today about going to graduate school. As we talked about what she might include in a personal statement for MSW programs, she realized that her dad was her first role model for the profession. Loved seeing her experience that "aha" moment!

How lucky am I? How lucky are we to be a small part of these students' journeys.

Being there. Being open. Listening. Being curious about their lives. Taking the time to pause and not worry for 20 minutes about the next appointment, the massive pile of grading, and the shopping that must be done before picking up the kids from daycare.

This is the reason it all ends up working. Students' lives and dreams. When I remember this, 10 years into the profession, I can drive to campus and look forward to the day.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sociology of Halloween

As many Sociology and Feminist blogs are writing, it's that time of year. The racist, classist, homophobic, sexist tendencies and expressions make me cringe.

This morning, for my Soc 101 class -- a large lecture setting of over 150 students -- I decided to offer an extra credit project. As discussed previously, students struggle with this large GE style class. I like to offer meaningful, analytical extra credit projects through out the semester.

I use Allen Johnson's text called, Forest & the Trees, Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise and we are about to begin the inequality chapter. So, perfect timing. Feel free to use the assignment (below) and revise it as you wish.

I want to give a shout out to the scholars, blogs and websites that had all the material available. :-) I would love to keep adding to this assignment and publish a bit earlier in the fall for next year. So, I welcome you to post additional links. For example, I don't have a "working class" resource but we certainly have seen offensive "white trash" parties, costumes, etc.

PS -- My own kids are going trick-or-treating as twin witches. I have a 4 year old Pablo and a 3 year old Cecilia. Pablito chose their costumes. We usually do about four houses, and then head back to our own house to hand out candy. Our block is pretty scary for Halloween!

The Sociology of Halloween


1) Watch the video and read the overviews...

2) Learn about what is wrong with "black face" costumes here:

3) Use this website as a way to analyze others' costumes. (In encourage you to make adjustments to your own costume if needed!)

4) Couples costumes?

5) Sexist costumes - double standard (bacon, yes bacon)

6) How things have changed? Are girls dressed up "sexier"?

7) American Indian costumes - why they are offensive

8) Dog costumes

9) How do you politely explain to a friend that their chosen Halloween costume could be racist?

Whether you dress up or not, on Thursday check out the costumes people are wearing. Become an embedded Sociologist as you attend parties, while you are at work, go trick-or-treating with your kids, or just walk around outside.

Note what people are wearing, note the racial undertones (or racist costumes), the gender performances of men and women in their costumes, etc. Note how people dress their dogs, kids, etc., on these issues as well.

Write up what you see / hear in detail. Insert photos in your word document if you wish. Do this Friday, so your memory is fresh!! (You can send me your notes if you want to show me your progress.)

Then, reflect explicitly on what you have learned from the above websites and resources. Include the course material from Unit 4 / Forest&Trees Chapter 3. Be sure you are clear about what sources you are using and drawing upon in your discussion. Tie all this together -- what you see, what you learned, and your reflections.

No need to do "official" citations but do mention the website, video, or author as you reflect on them.

Aim for 2-3 pages of text. Turn in a paper copy to me in class AND post on "Caring is Sharing Forum" at the top of our course website.

DUE DATE --- Wednesday, November 6 in class / uploaded that night.
Earn up to five points!!!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Response to studying for Soc 101 exam - a gentle but firm approach

We have had two exams so far in my introduction to Soc 101 course. It's a "mass class" with 160 students, mostly non-Sociology majors. They take my course as a GE or as pre-requisite for business, nursing, and other majors. I actually welcome these non-majors because I see Soc 101 as a way to "evangelize" and recruit students to the major.

As it so happens, many of these non-majors are not passing the course! However, I stage my grading so that the weight of the first exams accounts for the "shock" of critical thinking and analysis (as opposed to memorizing formulas and anatomy). Also, most students think Sociology is "easy" and also experience the "shock" of not passing their first exam (or second). However, even though half the class may not be passing NOW, many still have a chance. It's structured this way.  Eventually, the majority do pass. Again, the class is structure to reward progress and process.

One of the main issues in the first part of the semester is how students study for the exams. The most frequent response about studying approaches is that they attend class and review lecture notes. Obviously, that is not enough and so I see the opportunity to socialize them not just for my class but also for their general college-level studying skills.

So, below, I share the exchange that I had with a student, which is fairly representative of a few other emails I have received this week as we approach our third exam in the class. (I have preserved the student's privacy by not using her name.) I feel that my approach focuses on the strategies needed for studying and places the responsibility on the student. At the same time, I offer the possibility that it might be an issue beyond just studying. I think this approach allows for mutual respect and a "can do" attitude for trying harder. MCI

 ~~~~ Wednesday 10pm

Hi Professor, 
I am in your soc 101 class on Mondays at 1:00pm. Will you be in your office hours tomorrow, Thursday or Friday? I need to pick up my tests and chat about them! Have a good night.
Thank you, Your Student

 ~~~~ Thursday 8am

Hi Student, 

I won't be on campus but I am happy to chat with you on the phone or we can "chat" via email dialogue. (I don't have office hours today or Friday.) My first question is how have you been studying?? mci

 ~~~~ Thursday 8:20am

Hi Professor,
I have just been reviewing the notes that you post and my notes that I take in class. I am just frustrated because for both tests, I have gotten D's, but I thought that I have gotten B's after I take them. I just don't know what to do because I feel like I am doing everything right. Thank you for all your help.
Your Student 

~~~~ Thursday 8:30am

 Hi Student,

I am glad that you are taking the first steps for studying: reviewing the notes. But, it's not enough and it seems that your grades are showing it. Thankfully, you have four days (including weekend) to study with a different approach.

I suggest rather than reviewing the lecture notes that you take it one step more -- make flash cards for example.

Are you taking reading notes on the chapters from the book? Do that as well.

Are you using the study guide questions for each book chapter? Literally answer each one.

Do you read over the supplemental material -- like the blogs, new articles, and short video clips? All of those are meant to deepen your understanding of the concepts that are presented each class session.

Have you use the film guides and actually written them out as you watch the films? This will help you actually apply your knowledge and invites you find connections between "real life" and the Sociological content.

I am assuming that you are attending class AND picking up on what I have emphasized as important (aka what I will ask you about on the exam).

Let me know what you think of these suggestions. Perhaps there are steps you have actually done but have not realized? Importantly, I want to know what is your plan to study differently / better for the upcoming exam.

Finally, if you are do all of this and still earn a low grade, let's talk FOR SURE about this. At that point, I will ask you to bring ALL of your studying material so we can analyze the gaps of understanding, etc.

I look forward to hearing from you!! :-) I hope this is helpful to you and your future success!  MCI

~~~~ still awaiting response from student!