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Thoughts from Teaching

Thursday: October 12, 2017

(Results for selected topic.)

This post is about what I learned through my short 5-year career teaching anthropology at the university level. Take it or leave it. I regret none of the hard work and built relationships, though for now, in no way am I upset to be out of it, either! These are in no particular order:

Distraction

Students have such a disadvantage today than they did even when I was a non-traditional student only about a decade ago. The Chronicle of Higher Education wrote this nice summary about it, and if you don’t have access, you can google the title and find it published elsewhere. Essentially, not only does one bad apple ruin the bunch (a student using an electronic device distracts those around him/her), but students today are so enveloped in a digital world that their brain is chemically addicted to the pleasure responses it gives when a new message pops up. That excitement, which becomes literally addictive, becomes intrusive thoughts. Remember when people laughed at the idea one could be addicted to video games like World of Warcraft (W.o.W.aholics)? Fast forward to today, and it’s not so funny. Even when students are “good” and keep their phones out of sight, the brain will sometimes spontaneously wonder if anything new is happening in the world outside the classroom. This is true for many people, of course, not just students. I know sometimes the news gets me. Woe the day news broadcasts became 24/7 with minute by minute updates. Research shows people can’t help it. In fact, I had a girl during an exam decide to text someone mid-test. Who does that?! I gave her a zero. She was sincerely flabbergasted – “it was just a text! it had nothing to do with the test!” I think she may have even gotten sick about it all. I felt evil, but explained that I had no idea if she asked for help on the exam or not and she understood. My rules were very clear!

So what to do? Until I had found that article, I alternated between being apathetic (it’s their loss, not mine!) and being a technology police officer (if they are caught, they are considered absent for that day – and attendance was weighted enough to where that mattered). I couldn’t decide which was best – I know it pissed me off to see students messing around on phones or laptops, but at the same time, this is our society and I wanted to find a way to make it all groove together.

But then I read the article, and it was able to put into words what was niggling at my brain. Henceforth, I maintained the Absolutely No Technology rule. I was happier. Students were less likely to embarrass themselves by having a video play sound loudly from one of those surprise obnoxious commercials, or giggle out loud at something their friend said. I do feel that all students benefitted from it – “good” students were not distracted, and those who would have been playing around on the internet were actually forced to focus more often in class. Yet, I hated calling people out, and felt really persnickety about using the attendance rule. That said, if I kept teaching, I would definitely maintain it. Shrug.

Entitlement

At first, I did not want to weigh in on the “millennial” discussions because every new generation looks poor in the eyes of the previous ones, is it not true? But there is a stark reality between me and my kindred and those I was teaching. In some circles, I am considered by birth year to be a millennial, and I don’t doubt that I do share some traits with them, but what I’ve decided is that sorry, but no. I align with the concept of a between generation – I am also like Gen Xers in important ways. Thus, a goofy term Xennial probably fits me personally best – and I believe “generations” in a meaningful sense will become shorter and shorter because of how quickly our culture is changing with globalization and technology. But that’s not what this is about – this is about the annoying side of my students which I blame largely on their generational culture. Could it be parenting? Could it be changes in the larger society? Could it be different kinds of war? Could it be 24/7 access to information and entertainment in your pocket? The everyone-gets-a-blue-ribbon mentality? Sure, yes, all combined, and more.

I don’t know the why, I just know the reality: too many of my students were entitled. They would sit through class sleeping or texting (if they came at all), participate none, do subpar work on assignments, barely pass tests, and then have the nerve to make an office appointment and not even ask for but to demand an A. I even had a mother write a note about it! How I never looked them squarely in the eyes and simply said WTF, I don’t know. I asked my older colleagues (who had me as a student!) if I am only now seeing the dark side of teaching or if they feel like things have changed. Resoundingly, student attitudes have changed. I saw very little respect for professors coming from these students. Professors were treated as discourteously as I’ve seen some gas station attendants.

Disconnect

Sort of tied to that last thought, how are students suppose to respect professors when the academic system does not? I adjuncted for 3 years, getting paid less than minimum wage when all things were calculated, and making well below the poverty line year after year for my efforts. One semester, my entire course load was cancelled the day before classes started. This is not a sustainable living. As a visiting lecturer for two years, I felt compensated. I felt finally welcomed into the academic setting, welcomed to meetings and committees, a part of the whole rather than the used and abused echelon. I felt like my ideas for the program in general would be heard and that I was being paid to implement them finally instead of just dream about them. And then quick as a whistle, the institute dropped a tenure-track anthropologist, and then dropped the visiting line, leaving only one stable adjunct (with a PhD!) and another adjunct that many took issue with. They replaced the tenure line and the visiting line with two contingent fellowship lines. My predecessor, who retired just before I was hired, built a “four field” program that was really mostly physical, with almost equal cultural, and a tiny bit archaeological, with a single linguistic course tossed in. When I came into the mix, we had several students interested in archaeology so I planned to bump that up a bit once I got the basic courses under way. Today, the institution offers a four year bachelor degree in anthropology with zero full-time faculty strictly devoted to the students’ wellfare, with zero archaeological instructors and zero physical instructors. But you’ve heard this before in a previous post.

So additionally, now that I had access to faculty meetings, I can say the institution of academia perplexes me. They often sounded self-congratulatory about how amazing the teachers are with their unique students (the students, like me when I was one, often have major real-life requirements that I don’t think many professors who went from highschool to bachelor to master to PhD without needing a real job or having real family issues to deal with could ever possibly hope to understand; Ivory Tower, indeed!). It would be like a doctor taking all the credit for delivering a baby when the mother is the one who did all the work! The zenith of my disappointment with a large majority of the faculty was at a meeting when they discovered, lo, that graduates six years later were still making less than 40k a year. The majority in the room sounded dumbstruck! And here I was, in a contingent position after just adjuncting for them for two years barely making a dime, with more than a bachelor’s degree. What did they expect? How clueless and far removed are they from the real world? Plus, 35k a year (I think that was the number given) is not a death sentence. That’s a pretty good gig for most people in my part of the world who don’t have major problems medically or likewise.

There was also big noise about convincing (coercing, I call it) students to graduate in four years (they made 4 classes cost the same as 5, a flat rate). The school gets money from the larger institution based on this four-year rate. Nevermind that being a non-traditional student (like many there were), and/or having real life responsibilities (like paying medical bills for themselves or their close loved ones, yes even at the ripe old age of 17) makes it near impossible to take 5 classes a semester. I mean, heck, a lot of these students could never do five classes simply because they can’t afford a car so they are stuck on someone else’s time and their homelife is not conducive to studying. If the university actually cared about the students instead of pretending they did at every meeting, then I think there would be a better discussion to the bigger budget system than trying to spin it like it is in the students’ best interest to develop panic disorders or drop out if they can’t handle the school load.

Input = Output

Most of my teachers in college and in my master’s program complimented me about how “good” of a student I was. Surely, I was no better than the majority. I barely studied, though I did do my homework (usually). I wrote all papers the night before (or morning of, as the case may be). I did pay attention, and attend, class. Took notes, even – but never looked at them again. I’d call this all midlevel participation, wouldn’t you?

But then I became a teacher and that very first semester, when I was a fish out of water at all the wild things I was experiencing, I knew I really was a “good” student. And it wasn’t my actions that made me one, it was my values. A) I wanted to do well and B) I did not want to disappoint my teacher, even if I disliked them. But this, too, was not enough to be a “good” student.

After reading Teaching Unprepared Students, I realized the other key factor: learning styles. My learning style was being freely given to me in the class format itself. According to VARK, I am multi-modal, which means I learn from all kinds of styles, but my best chance is with auditory and reading. Well, hello! Attend a lecture and read the homework! But for some students, these methods are almost meaningless. In all my classes, I made them take the VARK questionnaire on day one, and then reminded them of their responses and suggestions if they were struggling later in class. They began to see they aren’t objectively “bad” students – they just learn differently than “naturally good” ones. Their self-esteemed improved, and they were able to be successful in classes beyond our anthropology ones. Bingo!

Mentoring

Boy calls me an “empath” because I feel deeply the emotions of others (even if it is a bug, and I am making it up in my head). This was harmful in the beginning of my career because it overwhelmed me. No one told me students would cry in my office – and not about bad grades but about dying family members, utter depression, facing homelessness, or the like. I was a teacher, not a psychiatrist! As empathic as I am, all their issues weighed heavily on me. I doubt students realized it, and for many I was one of the few who “got” it. These were real people, regardless of our teacher-student relationship. I couldn’t be cold and cut them off. I couldn’t push them out of my office because I was too busy. I couldn’t end office hours because I had “more important” things to do. That’s what some faculty did, but I did the opposite. I encouraged students to meet with me – one semester I had over 50 meetings! (That was when I was an adjunct not even being paid for my time!!)

It did get in the way a lot, but I know for certain, some students were better off by having my ear. Or, by the “wisdom” I could impart about how to do school or whatever. I don’t think a teacher is suppose to be so single-minded to only deliver information. I think a teacher is meant to mentor a person into a better person; the education part is the given, while the other values and skills are part and parcel. You cannot teach someone the specifics of a field without their first having a foundation to stand on. And if their parents or highschool or other college professors have let them down, then, yes, I think teachers should pick up the slack. Remember those faculty meetings that rubbed me the wrong way? There is a big divide with that thought. Most professors appeared to feel that if a student couldn’t cut it because they had a poor educational background, then the student should drop out. I’m sorry, but where will that student get the foundation then to get educated? You want them to stay ignorant, with low self-esteem, making bad decisions their whole life because they weren’t born with privilege? Uhm, no. What’s that phrase? It’s misquoted terribly these days, but “be the change you want to see in the world.” Teachers, in my humble opinion, are mentors first. Get rid of the ego.

I think that is why, semester after semester, I would have more than one praise for being the “favorite” or “best” or “most compassionate” teacher on campus. And I never made my classes easy. Some parts were easy, some classes were by default easier than others, but I always attempted to challenge even the brightest in the class. So when I read “best” next to “hardest” from the same anonymous individuals, year after year, I knew I succeeded.

And that mentoring part of teaching is what I miss most. The students lost a great teacher when my contract was not extended, and universities are losing great teachers left and right as they choose to hire contingent faculty rather than open lines with benefits. Contingent faculty cannot sustainably remain awesome. They do not get paid or respected enough to warrant their hard work year after year. Contingency in academia is a big mistake. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing the other way soon and students will actually get what they pay for: an education that makes them better people in society guided by their mentors. This is not all on the universities; this is a societal problem. We need to value education so much more than as “a piece of paper”. Good luck to you all.

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Spring 2017 & then…

Wednesday: May 10, 2017

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This semester just ended! I had two intro to physical anthropology classes that ran nary a hitch. I also had an upper level bioanthropology course with an accompanying bioanthropology and forensics lab. It was another new course for me, and the book I had to blindly select once again ran a little too close to the information in the intro book I use, though it did go more in depth.

For my intro book, I use Kilgore et al.’s Essentials of Physical Anthropology. For my upper level, I chose Larsen’s Our Origins. What I was able to do, though, is run through all the stuff I cover in intro quickly as a refresher (and included all the new more in-depth stuff) and then slow down with the brand new material. I did add material here and there as well. For the lab, I used Walker-Pacheco’s Exploring Physical Anthropology lab manual, though at times I made my own labs. And for the forensics component, I added Nafte’s Flesh and Bone. It made for a great little reader; since the focus of the course isn’t on forensic anthropology, it was just enough.

Other than a few hang-ups with how long each lab took (I never quite got them to fit within the preferred time frame), the class went well.

So overall, the semester was nice. In fact, one Friday afternoon I was in our lab organizing things and I decided to go all in for teaching. Why not? I am the only full-time anthropologist on campus, and the only physical anthropologist. We have one cultural adjunct who has been steady for years, and another that is hit and miss. Though my Visiting position was limited to a two-year term, my department expected me to be extended to three years, and they were pushing to have the Visiting part of my title dropped so that I would be sticking around much longer. I had been contemplating turning it all down, but with the realization that teaching doesn’t have to suck the life out of you if you are actually given time to prep and classes you are experienced in to teach, and the fact that I would be getting a new Chair who was able to stay on top of things, I decided I should in fact just suck it up and act like a more permanent feature of the department. I did in my actions, but it was time to do so in my head.

So off to the faculty organization meeting I went, thinking about the perspective shift I would need to do in my mind. Afterward I checked my email and lo, my Dean had sent me a note earlier that morning reminding me that my contract was ending. He asked if I would like to stay on as an adjunct in the fall.

I confirmed this news with my colleague (who would be Chair). A huge disappointment all around. I notified our students because quite frankly, I was personally pissed. Not that I was losing my job – in fact, it was amazing I even got the opportunity with only a Master’s (though this is part and parcel to some of the issues I discovered there: the path of least resistance and how I just happened to be there at the right time) and I was aware that it had a 2 year limit when I signed on. Instead, I was angry because as a former student, as a mentor to these students, and as a sane professional, how could the University offer a bachelor’s program without any full time staff? This is the type of stuff I found in the news on and off during my searches about how crappy adjuncting is. Here is an article at the AAA’s Ethics Blog that pretty much summarizes the issue: Fighting Academia’s Contingency Crisis Together. Of course I was professional when I discussed it with them – I asked them not to panic and simply explained how it may affect them (lack of mentorship, lack of letters of recommendation, lack of consistency in courses offered, possible lack of quality of courses because of the trials adjuncts experience to survive in our economy, etc). The students opted to write letters, as did my department. None of it was about me keeping my job – I made it very clear that my contract was over and it was completely fair on the University’s part (even if it didn’t make sense under the circumstances).

I have yet to hear what the University’s plans are (and may never), but it is difficult to remain positive for the program. I declined adjuncting – I would still be expected to carry the load of the physical courses (some outside of my area, and developing new courses) and I would not feel right asking our sociologists whom we share the department with to take over as advisor to the anthropology club or lab and whatnot, so I knew that if I stayed on, I would just enable the current situation further and be paid even less than pennies for a job well done. No thanks.

They notified me mid-semester and it did indeed take the wind out of my sails. Why was I making a brand new class? It was hard to convince myself to stay a good educator, but I think I succeeded overall. It wasn’t the fault of my students and they did not deserve what the University was doing (basically not supporting their major, yet taking their money).

I shifted my perspective – it was nice they told me so early so that I could begin a job search. What happened at the University was no longer my problem.

At the end of the semester, though, they asked if I wanted my contract extended throughout the summer. Curious they didn’t realize they needed me until the last moment, but I was not surprised if I am being honest. If it wasn’t for the fact that it was a science class online (I totally oppose that), and that I would have to develop it since I had never taught it online (besides I hate online classes – as a former student of them and as a teacher of them), and that it started in just a few weeks, I may have considered it more seriously. Instead I politely turned down the offer. I mean, I have been looking for opportunities since they notified me, and it is more important I pursue what I like than throw the towel in for another few months with a company that can’t get it together in my opinion.

It is a bittersweet ending because although teaching is a humongous cosmic joke for me, I excelled at it – I am not ashamed to say that (real funny, Fate!). It is disappointing that I finally came around to the idea to then have the rug pulled from under my feet. It is sad that I can no longer help our region’s students learn how to learn and build the confidence in themselves that they apparently weren’t given within their own support networks. It’s terrible I can’t share my love of anthropology daily with people who have no choice but to listen (ha!). It’s frustrating that the University doesn’t support a major that is more vital today than possibly ever under our new administration and the increasing globalization of our world.

But… though I am nervous about the unknown future, a smile keeps appearing on my face. I am free of the mess of academia (I am not searching for another teaching position). Since the very beginning, I have been confused by how it operates. “Ivory Tower”, indeed – the whole system doesn’t make sense to me, a person who has been “in the real world” as I like to say, at a corporation that mostly made sense in their doings. I am free of the particulars I discovered with this specific University (some which had not been changed since I was a student). I find it humorous that I have been assigned an office in the new building for the fall, by the way. I wonder if I have a name plaque?

So my future plans are this: I have not been job searching. Boy and I had some serious discussions about it and he needs help at his office more regularly than I was giving him while teaching. But it is only part time. My mother-in-law runs a candy store, so I can once again help her out here and there when needed. Again, part-time. The plan for now is to see how bored I get. There is a ton of things to do around the house that was post-poned when I began teaching and me doing it will be cheaper than hiring people. I joined an embroidery guild and will possibly delve deeper with the EGA, learning about the history of stitches and what-not through their education programs. I will focus on my arts & crafts side.

And then I will get bored. So in the back of my mind I have another list: I am free now to actually be a legit volunteer at the Field Museum; I found a community development center that focuses on adult education and English as a second language so I might work there; I can seriously look into archaeological CRM work, or perhaps join DNR at the Dunes (once the current administration realizes the importance of DNR anyway); I can get a second Master’s degree or jump in to a PhD (Boy’s least favorite, of course). Essentially, I’ll be looking casually for experiences until I become bored or money becomes an issue.

What I won’t be doing is looking back at my teaching experience and regretting anything (even the Year From Hell last year). In fact, I can now claim that I made the University pay me back all the money I spent on it and then some, ha!

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Fall 2016

Monday: April 24, 2017

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Phew! I had only intro courses (cultural and physical), and I rocked it. There were ups and downs as always, but I was able to finally get a sense of what teaching looks like down the road: when you aren’t swamped by preparing for new classes at every turn but instead free to hone the courses you’ve already taught.

I updated all my lectures, but also modified them a little to include some teaching philosophy changes. For instance, at the end of every lecture I had a slide with “Before moving forward, be able to:” and a list of items like “compare and contrast gracile vs. robust australopiths” or “summarize the development of anthropological thought” – basically, the main theme for that day’s work.

I incorporated two-minute quizzes for pretty much each class day. This was a single question drawn from the previous day’s reading that was not covered in lecture (and they knew that). It forced them to read, and overall the student evaluations (and scores!) suggested it was a good idea. Students always appreciate “easy points” and some admitted they needed that incentive to do the homework.

In my cultural course, I included discussions regularly. I was a wee bit nervous at first, but I intentionally paired them together with someone different from themselves. I started it with the discussion on race, so before we went into that whole bit, I had everyone self-identify. While they watched a short video, I made a list to pair different races and did my best to also pair opposite sexes (though that is difficult at my university since almost all my students are female) as well as separate people who clearly knew each other. They kept this pairing for the rest of the semester, and if time allowed, I had them group up into larger groups after a short time in just pairs. The student evals spoke volumes on this: it was by far their favorite activity because they learned so much, and it became a reason many listed my course as their favorite. I know from walking around and checking in with each pair that their eyes were definitely getting opened to other people’s experiences and perspectives. To think I was nervous about that, ha!

In my human origins course, I went back to teaching like I did when I was a supplemental instruction leader as an undergrad: I focused on helping them learn how to learn rather than what to learn (that was given in lecture and reading materials, so my performance is what got shifted). I told them personal stories about how I learned (or failed to learn) as an undergrad in the same course, and hounded them about confirmation bias. In almost every lecture, I was able to tie in how confirmation bias is a nasty and devious little thing, and how it is constantly working against them. I pointed out the mishaps students have made in my experience over the last few years. I gave them rhyming and acronym tips, I gave them drawings of charts, I gave them silly jokes – all the things that I had used when I was taking the class, or that other students have shared with me. Again, my evals rolled in and students loved it – in just doing that, I really feel that I was able to add aid to the growing issues of critical thinking and media literacy (as in #fake_news and #alternative_facts).

Overall, I was no longer overwhelmed, and I decided that I could probably pursue the teaching thing. Remember, I never wanted to be a teacher, and I do still find it to be a cosmic joke – especially since I appear to be quite good at it. I was not sold on the idea (administrative issues, as well as super lame things like people who clearly plagiarize and then are quite upset that I fail them, et cetera), but I was no longer fighting against it. [That said, there will be more about my future in teaching coming up.]

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Spring 2016

Sunday: August 21, 2016

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This last semester, several changes were in place to help protect me from the trials of the previous semester “from hell”.

One, the university I taught online for accidentally didn’t list my class in the appropriate section so it was cancelled. While my chair was very apologetic, I practically threw a party over the good news. One less thing to worry about. I’ve since spoken with him about not teaching again any time soon (I hate online classes, both as a former student of them, and now as a teacher). No problemo.

Second, since I was excited for my line-up (two intro physical courses again, archaeology, and ancient burials), I actually got quite a lot completed over winter break. Everything was pretty much set up until spring break. The plan was to work diligently throughout those first few weeks, then really work hard during the break to make it last until the end of the semester.

Unfortunately, the plan was not followed through. The first excuse is that I was still coping with being overly burnt out. During those first few weeks, I just vegged out, but at least it included having fun again and actually spending time with my husband and cats. The second excuse is that I left for spring break for an archaeological project. I know, right? Stupid. Boy said as much, but I needed to get away somehow. And idiotically, I convinced myself that since I was reading and making lectures on the fly all last semester with classes I didn’t care about, so that doing so after spring break with classes that I did enjoy wouldn’t be that troublesome. “You’ll see!” I said.

Of course, the problem of being burnt out was never gone. It only got worse. I had to make decisions. I decided that on Thursdays, after class, there would be zero work. These would be days that Boy would come home early and we would go out to eat. That was very helpful. Another decision, one that I was forced to make, was to let one of my classes take a back seat. Since I had already taught archaeology before, it won that place.

This was very unfortunate, as the first time I taught the class, I was new and not very confident in archaeology (this was before I had had much field experience and earned my qualified professional status). The lectures were super-dull and sometimes did not match the new (and amazingly better) textbook I selected. Oh well. Students didn’t need to know that I could have been awesome; that was a goal I strived for but if they didn’t know I wasn’t giving my all, what was the trouble? (But, did they know? Surely!)

See, I had begun losing my worth ethic. Little did I know how far gone it could go.

But we still did fun things: a lab or two was worth it, we met outside of class for a pedestrian survey, and my colleague came up to add a change of pace with digging STPs on campus. And at the end, we had an ethics discussion that I think all those who attended (only half of the ten enrolled) really enjoyed. I had the club invite a native speaker to talk about NAGPRA and I invited someone from DNR to talk about the legal side of archaeology.

My other class, ancient burials, included half anthro majors and half other kids. It was tough, because I had high expectations. It was evident almost no one was doing the readings (which is funny because my lectures were not from the readings, but the readings were required for their final papers; fools?). I feel like that class went way better than I expected, even if the students were disappointing me left and right. From missing assignments, to failed quizzes, to fully and completely plagiarized papers, I was upset. But, their grades not mine, right?

I had a guest speaker talk about her work in Sicily, and the students had a cemetery project to complete where we all met at a local one, they collected gravestone data, and compared it to a cemetery of their choice. I was impressed with that aspect of their work. One, they all actually came to the cemetery, and two, most of them did a pretty thorough job when they went to go collect their own data. Although it did not play out like I had hoped, overall, I think that class was a success and I would teach it again after some heavy tweaking.

My evaluations rolled in and my into classes remained high. My other classes were mediocre. One student comment made me pretty irate and scoff at how “they don’t deserve me as a teacher”. I’m sorry, but my expectations for the length and quality of a paper is not too high for a 300 level course. I made that class practically impossible to do poorly in to save my own sanity. How dare they:P

On a side note, one of my students was struggling and missing class a lot and finally admitted he got into some legal trouble by hanging around the wrong group of new friends. A real shame that I saw his face plastered across news sites over the summer once some serious charges were pressed. No one explained to me that teaching would be bad for my empathy. That seems to be a lesson I learn over and over again.

All summer I debated on whether or not I would renew my contract, given the chance. I oscillated back and forth so many times I got dizzy. I always knew I would say yes, of course, but there was some deep inner searching happening, for sure. When my boss approved my easier schedule for this coming year, I accepted the position when offered. Fall 2016 should be much easier on me personally. We’ll see – it begins Monday.

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Chert connections

Thursday: July 14, 2016

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I read an article recently about my generation, and how we don’t necessarily match up with Generation X, and I’ll burn anyone who claims we are Millennial (no offense – it’s not your all’s fault). Rather, I am a Generation Y-er and one of our defining characteristics is that we grew up with the internet. Not that we grew up with the internet the way that Americans now grow up with TV, but rather, we were growing during the internet’s own growth. We were just shy of being adults when it went mainstream, and we took to it like ducks to water. It was new, and therefore shrouded in magical mystery. Yet, at the same time, a lot of mistrust was cast over it and everyone you met online was automatically a creep (even though you yourself were online, ha!). I am eternally grateful to have been born in this era because it allows for awesome things like connecting to people far across the globe.

On that, I was contacted today by Dr. Crandell about an old post I had written in which I mentioned an article of his. I’ve since updated it, so if you are interested in geoarchaeology and chert identification, please check it out! I’ve linked to his more thorough paper on the topic, all in English. (The form I originally linked to had been translated into Romanian for that article.) Thank you, Dr. Crandell!

Now this reminds me that I’ve got a student wishing to do an independent study with me from a site where we found a lot of chert flakes (did I mention here that I took my archaeology class to do a pedestrian survey at a farm and definitely found a prehistoric site? More on that, some day). If the landowner does not get back to me before the semester begins to let us continue our investigation, this article would be a good substitute should I need to shift the study into a lab methods course rather than field methods. [And lastly, today I renewed my contract for another year as visiting lecturer, for better or for worse… More on that later, also.]

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Fall 2015

Saturday: April 30, 2016

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It was a mistake.

I taught two intro physical courses which were fine. I shine best there – I am excited about sharing the class that converted me with others, and I’ve taught it several times to have worked out a lot of the kinks. The students were overall a good group and participated; really, it was a dream. My reviews, as always for that class, were very high.

I taught an intro cultural course online; that just bogged me down too much and I experienced many technical errors that drove my students and I crazy. I even got low reviews from that course, though I am not sure why as the evaluations have not been sent to me. I imagine it is my stance on technical issues – they are the responsibility of the student (I was, of course, directly working with the IT department to try to sort them out, but it was on the student to prove they weren’t just lying; I made it very clear to take screen shots as evidence and I can’t help it if students do not pay attention).

But then I also taught two other courses, neither of which I probably had any business doing, but that is just a symptom of how dysfunctional my department is at the moment. I looked at it like a challenge – I love learning, and this would teach me something I didn’t already know. But it was an overall awful experience because coming off of my 8-week fieldwork and jumping into 5 classes did not allow me to prep in advance. And day after day, I was barely reading ahead, and pulling together lectures. Talk about missing sleep, which really doesn’t help a person cope. But, on its own, that might have been manageable. Might.

But I quickly found out that I did not have the foundation necessary to even teach one of the classes: human biological variation. I knew so little that I spent most of my hours teaching myself. Further, the book I selected was almost only about blood groups. How do you make 7 weeks work of lecture about blood groups? They are different; you find them in different geographical regions; they might protect against different things; I get all that – so? I was so bored, and so lost, that it was a bad combination on top of being so overwhelmed. And the class had all of 5 students, none of them anthropology students, and sometimes up to three wouldn’t show. I couldn’t get them to talk or even be excited on lab days (once we even extracted our own DNA and no one cared at all). It was terrible. Hate is actually the appropriate word I could use. That was my 200 level course. The reviews were meh.

My 400 level course was better – I was in familiar territory with human evolution, but it isn’t my focus. I had I think 7 students, all anthropology majors, and it was better. I struggled with it often, but I liked the material, and the students were much more engaged. I am not sure why, truly, but my reviews were high, with comments such as “the department needs to stop messing around and hire her permanently”, or that “she should get a raise”. Literally, I have no idea where that stuff came from, but it at least helped balance out how I felt with the other class.

I did not have time for anything outside of work. I watched maybe an hour of TV a week to unwind. My brother stayed with us for a month and witnessed my slow demise. I at least used him as an excuse to escape work for a few minutes at a time, but generally my husband and he kept each other company. Boy was not happy about my job, but at least working in an industry often requiring long hours (and being the business owner and sole employee currently), he gets it.

I knew I would never do that again. Yet, I had another semester to get through with my contract, didn’t I? I contemplated quitting so many times – so what if I broke my contract? Academia was not for me. A lot of gloomy google searches took place, and I feel for all the people out there who did have to quit mid-semester.

I spent winter break trying to prep ahead for this semester’s courses – I was excited about them all, but being burnt out is a real mental wall. I did what I could, and knew that right around spring break, I would be right back to where I was in the fall of 2015. More on that later.

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Visiting Lectureship

Saturday: October 10, 2015

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Oi. Yep, that pretty much sums it up. I thought grad school was tough. I thought co-directing field school this summer was hard. Little did I know what awaited me…

I have 4 classes in person, and then I am also teaching an online class at another university since I had already committed before I knew I was hired for this full-time position. Two of the classes are outside of my expertise, which sounded like a great challenge when I agreed to teach them, but this might be me “shooting the goose”. In addition, I have departmental concerns to think of (namely, what is going on with the anthropology program?), the anthropology club (which is being ran by a wonderful group of students who are self-starters and don’t require my approval at every turn, but I must admit my guilt for not being more available), and the resource lab to deal with. Additionally, though it hasn’t begun yet, I am on a committee for the university as well as part of the requirements being full-time.

Is it a mistake that I said yes? I’ll find out once the student evaluations roll in.

One of the things I’ve learned is that I don’t always get to eat. And when I miss a meal, my mind is foggy. It leads to mistakes in lectures and the inability to think on the fly when questions are asked or when I need to randomly find an example. I feel it makes me look ill-prepared or like I have no idea what I am doing, but this is not the case, though they don’t know it. It is only a matter of low blood sugar and way too much on my mind. I’v never been so scatter-brained in my life, and I am not handling that aspect well either.

I can say I don’t hate it, and the benefits are good, and my future self will certainly look back and approve of the challenge I am enduring, and the learning (slash personal growth) that is taking place. But I will have to think very critically if I want to pursue teaching full-time in the future (if the option is opened up to me ever again, considering I do not have those three magic letters at the end of my name). I do like the teaching part, mostly, but the academia side…. Well, I am still having a hard time feeling like I fit in. It is tragically different than the corporate world.

This semester is tough for me because I had no time to prepare for all the classes, of course. Nor did I get to select the classes and make them things I am interested in. Next semester will be different. I’ll have the same two introductory physical anthropology classes, but also archaeology (which I will revamp from last time) and one I made up about ancient burials. When I will have time to prepare for either of those, I have no idea. But, if I do find myself in the same situation that I am in now, where I am literally just a few hours ahead of the students week after stressful week, at least the material will be mostly pleasant (a big portion of the semester thus far was about blood, and I’m sorry, but it just doesn’t get my goat if you know what I mean).

My Chair has heard good things about me, and I know at least some of my department has my back (even if I also heard the opposite), and a student has nominated me as part of a teacher appreciation event, so the good vibes are there, at least for now. But I haven’t had a day off since before field school, so I am overly burnt out, and only half-way through the semester. Which I will correct, to stay optimistic: I am half-way there. Yay!

 

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Growth

Wednesday: July 29, 2015

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Now I owe posts on Peru and on my HPF grant project! But let me tell you why I am too busy to post now. When my classes got cancelled at my local university this spring, I decided that I cannot do adjuncting anymore. I gave it about a year, which some of you may scoff at, but I’ve been in the real world (no offense meant, but academia is not a normal workplace), and I can get a real job elsewhere that has stability and benefits and a liveable wage. I got my education for myself; it does not define me and I am fully comfortable not working in anthropology as long as whatever work I find feels satisfying. And it feels really good to finally realize that.

Because, if adjuncting is it for me, no thanks. The reality of adjuncting? About 2500$ per class in my area for having an M.S. degree, capped at no more than two or three classes a semester, depending on the university. No benefits, even though you work full-time hours if you have the opportunity to teach 3+ classes (stretched out between multiple universities – which for some people means a lot of commuting). And, depending on the university, you could lose your job the weekend before the semester starts, which is what happened to me this spring. [The other university I teach at does things a little differently – rather than handing over an adjunct’s course load to a full-time professor whose classes got cancelled for low enrollment, they make up the differences in the following semester so you know a few months in advance. That gives you more time to prepare and look for another job to get you through the year.]

So this spring, I wrote a letter to my boss that I wanted to be considered for a full-time position, or I would have to start looking elsewhere. But I did not send it, because, well, I thought it might be a bit naive or something, and I had just found out that a friend didn’t make tenure and was being let go and I didn’t like the timing of it all. Instead, I went on an 8-week archaeological project.

During this time, I got my QP status, huzzah! I submitted my application and CV to the state’s DNR about a week or two into the project. A week later, I became an official Qualified Professional archaeologist for the United States and the state of Indiana (which has separate, higher standards), and I became a Principal Investigator as far as the federal government is concerned (but 21.6 months shy for Indiana). I decided instead, then, to contact the other local universities I had applied to when I first graduated with an updated CV laying out my grant award and new status.

Choices appeared! One school had an adjunct position open to teach a single class, online, in exactly the way they structured it. I decided not to apply – I already don’t prefer online teaching, and to basically be the voice of someone else’s work seemed even more disconnected to me. Another school told me the application steps, which I didn’t have time for. A week or two later, they contacted me back to let me know they had a lecture position upcoming if I was still interested. I was about ready to look into that when I received another email.

My retired advisor informed me that my university had a full-time position now available and I should apply. At this point, I just kind of said to myself, “what the hell!” and sent my letter and CV off to my boss. A couple of phone conversations later (some literally while I was hanging precariously to a cliffside), I got a visiting lecture position.

And so that is why I am busy now. I let the other university know I was taking this job instead and completed my archaeological field work. I could not focus on my teaching grant during that time, so I have to address that first now that I am home. Then, I have to prep for my upcoming courses, two of which are a bit daunting but I’ve come a long way and will trudge ahead at a sustainable speed (a year ago I would have said high speed, but things change). The classes are not my own choosing, but the previous lecturer’s, and they lie a little beyond my speciality but not entirely outside it, so I will manage. I also have to do some research writing for the field work. Ergo, between all that and my lovely ability to procrastinate in times of stress, my schedule is packed.

TL;DR? I have a full-time job beginning in the fall.

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World Map World Map
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