Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Take on the Common Core

One of my friends posted this video on Facebook, and I got to thinking.

Nye makes some good points. One of the reasons teachers tend to rail against the Common Core is because, depending on the specific school administration or school district, it can feel like we're pressured to teach to the test. (This is not something I've had to deal with myself, but I do know others who feel that way.) There can be little leeway in terms of assignment interpretation or the inclusion of activities or materials that could augment and strengthen instruction. Furthermore, teachers are often judged on how well their students perform on standardized tests, and are sometimes labelled as poor or weak if their students do badly; external and extraneous factors are not taken into consideration. The Common Core can be limiting and confusing, and doesn't always give teachers the ability to provide different or additional levels of explanation or instruction.

That said, I do think it's important that folks learn a broad curriculum that would include science, math, literature and writing, the arts, etc. I've seen homeschooling done well, and I've seen it done badly - folks who don't know their own limitations of what they're capable of teaching ("I'll teach physics AND chem AND advanced calculus AND graduate-level literature! Teaching writing isn't hard; I write all the time!"), or folks who don't think their kids should have to learn anything they don't want to (which can lead to multiple problems down the road, including a refusal to do something the individual doesn't want to do, poor basic writing skills, etc.). I can see why the Common Core is in place, but would like to see massive reforms take place.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Professional Choices (Or The Lack Thereof)

A colleague shared an article ("I Am Not Alone in Wanting the Respect I Deserve. That's Not Whining.") this evening; it was a response to another article ("Is That Whining Adjunct Someone We Want Teaching Our Young?"), written by someone who implied, or said outright, that adjuncts' complaints about the lack of full-time work, and/or their inability to get full-time work, is related to their (my) entitlement issues. It's unkind at best, as well as unkind and an oversimplification of the issues at hand.

People adjunct for a lot of reasons: Perhaps they had, or have, another carer and wish to augment their income, or they're interested in branching out, professionally speaking. Perhaps they're retired from teaching (or another career) and wish to continue working part-time because they enjoy teaching and/or working, and wish to maintain involvement and/or contribute and/or share their personal and professional experiences. And perhaps, like so many more of us, there simply isn't a full-time teaching job to be had.

Adjuncts are not paid well. I am absolutely not complaining about my job; I love teaching at a community college, and truth be told I hope to make a career out of teaching at this level. I am thrilled that I have any teaching job at all, although I find it ironic that I've found it easier to get jobs teaching at three different colleges (jobs for which I am theoretically unqualified or underqualified, given my lack of advanced degree) than teaching at the secondary level of education (something for which I have been trained and for which I maintain my teaching license).

I adjunct because I am paid better and work better hours than most retail or fast food or even in office jobs (there are always exceptions - something else that's a bit sad). I adjunct because I've had generally miserable experiences working in offices, and nearly any office job for which I would be qualified would be a job in which I am not interested, nor would it pay close to what teaching (or even subbing) pays. But mostly I adjunct because I'd rather be underpaid doing something I love than working in a job, however well paid, I hate. I refuse to believe that wanting to teach full time makes me whiny. I would like a full-time job teaching, at a single institution. A job with benefits, and one with regular hours.

I wish I could remember where I read this, but months back I read an article in which a history professor noted that he could not "in good conscience" advise his students to pursue graduate degrees (and the subject of a different rant is why "graduate degree" unilaterally means "Ph.D.").  History is, as I understand it, a very difficult field, and I could see that it might be difficult to apply a degree in history to other careers. However, the writer of this particular column ignored any teaching job that wasn't at a R1-level university. Nothing was said about smaller colleges; nothing was said about community colleges. I replied something to the effect that there are other options that history teachers might consider, such as community colleges, etc., and that perhaps not all history professors (or teachers of other subjects) were necessarily interested in R1 universities.

Another commenter replied that "though [Michelle] may not want to hear it..." before going on to agree with the writer. The other commenter noted that the thing to do was to just pick up and move to where the jobs are. My reply was that there are those who do not have that choice, something that was strenuously disagreed with, especially in the case of the other commenter, who noted that she lived thousands of miles away from her family. No mention of a spouse or school-aged children.

In both the case of the writer and the other commenter, though, this is willful ignorance. If one were interested in teaching at a large, research-centered university, I hope that if one has a spouse, that the spouse is willing and able to pick up and move - made difficult if the spouse is working and has his or her own career. I hope that if there are children involved, it's as easy as moving them. If there are elderly parents to consider, I hope that they do not need care. These extraneous issues were all entirely ignored by the other commenter. Situations must align very well in order for someone to be able to move stakes.

Perhaps the spouse is able to find employment elsewhere, and/or the new job would pay sufficiently to support the entire family. Perhaps there are no relatives that need care. And the children don't necessarily get a say in picking up and moving to another town, state, or country.  But to imply that if one wants a job then one simply moves is an oversimplification of matters at hand for many and shows an unkind disregard.

And to imply that people who adjunct should merely find other work (or stop "whining" and piece work together like so many others who don't work in academia) ignores factors that may keep adjuncts adjuncting. And, come to think of it, this mindset ignores issues those in other jobs face when it comes to low-paying jobs. "Just get another/third/fourth/fifth job" - how practical is that? How about one job that pays well enough to live on?

Friday, August 01, 2014

A Rumination on Rock Concerts

Ed and I went to a Mötley Crüe concert this evening; the band is retiring (after 33 years) and currently going on a final tour, appropriately titled "All Bad Things Must Come to an End." Alice Cooper was their opening act, which was highly appropriate - lots of costume changes and general loudness. We enjoyed ourselves tremendously; when we got home we contemplated various aspects of our only-somewhat-misspent youth, remembering the bad music we listened to, the weird friends we had during our junior high and high school years. It was a fun evening, but I had a few thoughts during tonight's concert.

("Poison" is one of the few Alice Cooper songs I know, and I rather like it, although we were remarking to each other that we both had a few moments of, "Oh, I know that song!" I had that reaction specifically during Cooper's "No More Mr. Nice Guy.")

For starters, as I was the only one actually sitting (because the cost of an actual seat was the same price as the cost of a non-seat on the lawn) while Mötley Crüe did their thing, I felt my chair vibrating because of all the bass. I realized I was rocking out wrong. Plus, I'm pretty sure that we shouldn't have been wearing ear plugs, even though they were really helpful.

("Dr. Feelgood" is the song I remember and know best.)

Second, at various points during the concert, I thought about an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer attends Rock-n-Roll Fantasy Camp; various rockers (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Tom Petty, and others) teach Homer how to rock out. At the end of camp, Homer gets invited to their concert as an honorary roadie, although of course he misinterprets their invitation, usurps their concert, and starts to rock out, thus eliciting their anger. The rockers hop aboard a devil-shaped car and chase Homer around the stage. As mayhem ensues, Moe remarks that it's good to see the spectacle back in rock.

There were a lot of fireworks during the show, and quite a bit of fire as well. There was also a lot of beer, a lot of tattoos, a lot of big hair, and a lot of cursing coming from Vince Neil.  I almost felt over dressed and too well-mannered (except that every other concert goer I talked to was really nice).

Sunday, June 29, 2014


We're slowly decluttering our home, focusing on a different part of the house (a closet, a bookshelf, etc.) every weekend. Yesterday we cleared out Ed's electronics closet, which was practically archaeological; nearly everything got thrown out, including a plethora of wires whose uses were unknown, or for electronics that Ed no longer had. And in some cases, the electronics themselves were horrendously out of date, like the old digital camera that has fewer megapixels than our cell phone cameras. Digital cameras are relatively inexpensive now that if we wanted one - I wouldn't be averse to buying a more up-to-date model at some point - it wouldn't break the bank, and the technology would be a lot better than any of the three or four digital cameras we've gotten rid of in the past year. We also got rid of a scanner, hard drives, floppies, CDs with games and other software (all of which can be downloaded), manuals for hardware that hasn't been owned in years, and other equipment that simply won't or can't be used.

There's a lot of space in that closet, now.

A few weeks ago we went through Ed's walk-in closet, and eliminated at least 2/3 of the clothing he hadn't worn since before we got together - sweatshirts from college, an almost 20-year-old leather jacket that hasn't been worn (and that hasn't fit) in more than 10 years, etc. It can be difficult to throw these things out or donate them, but if an item hasn't been worn or used in a certain amount of time, out it goes.

Ed has more elements of packrat-ism than I have and I think has more difficulty going through things and cleaning things out; it seems to take more out of him than my cleaning out my own belongings does for me (to be fair, I have trouble getting rid of books), so taking one part of the house at a time makes things manageable.

I don't like owning things for the sake of owning them; I prefer simplicity, experience over ownership of things. If something has actual value, has use, or is an heirloom, that's one thing, otherwise out it goes. Even then, there's a fine line.

Saturday, June 21, 2014


A friend posed an interesting (and I hope theoretical) question recently: "'Expectations ruin relationships,'" she said. "What do you think?" I replied that I think that's ridiculous. (Actually, I used the word "hooey.") I said that I think unrealistic expectations ruin relationships, but that how one defines "unrealistic" varies from relationship to relationship.

I expect my husband to be honest with me, to treat me kindly and with respect, to take an interest in and support me and what I do, both personally and professionally. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, I expect him to come home from work every night at around the same time. I expect him to share his day with me, share concerns with me, tell me what's on his mind, tell me before he makes a major purchase. I expect him to treat my family with the same level of love, kindness, and respect that he treats me, and to visit them with me when it's reasonable to do so - not to avoid or evade my family. I expect him to support me in raising a child, if we're ever so lucky to have one, to help me raise that child as a (good) Catholic, to educate that child. I do not expect my husband to work more than 40 hours a week, or search for a job that would pay him six figures.* I would not consider it reasonable to allow him to denigrate me, my family or friends, my beliefs, or my career, publicly or privately, regardless of the circumstance. Those would be unreasonable expectations. I expect him to be as a good a man as he is capable.

I suspect my husband has similar expectations of me.

For us, these are reasonable expectations; they may be unreasonable for other couples or people in different relationships or in other situations or at other times. (I have slightly different expectations of my friends, of my parents, of my brother, of my extended family, but my expectations are similar.) If my husband were still flying, or if he had a job or other obligations that kept him away from home, a sick parent he had to care for in another state, I might see him less. Those situations might also be reasonable; I would have to judge whether I was willing to marry someone who was away from home as often (or more often) than not.

I don't think having expectations ruins the relationship; I think they can strengthen the relationship - if the expectations are reasonable. The tricky part is defining "reasonable."

* I don't think my husband would expect this of me, either. I do not have a career that is likely to pay me that type of salary - no one goes into teaching for the money - nor do I have an aptitude for jobs that tend to pay that. We also live in a part of the country where salaries tend to be lower - not bad, just lower. There are tradeoffs, such as being able to afford a nice house with a yard in good neighborhoods. We can pay more money for less house, and afford to retire. That's worth more to us than earning two or three times as much.