“America is another name for opportunity” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Me and my sonshine…the Statue of Liberty is in the background!

So, I’m going to preface this post with a HUGE disclaimer: I LOVE THE USA! I grew up in a time when patriotism was important and everyone recited the pledge of allegiance and sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” daily. I believe we have amazing people…a beautiful country with everything from mountains to oceans to deserts…and opportunities/freedoms that simply don’t exist in scores of other nations in the world. Grampa served 3 years in the Navy during WWII and my Great Uncle was one of the men who stormed the beach at Normandy and lived. Needless to say, my family takes a lot of pride in this. 🙂

I also used to believe that criticizing any aspect of this country is wrong…we need to just believe we are the greatest country on earth, bar none. In fact, criticism of any aspects is still seen as unpatriotic by many even today…as if seeing the problems/issues we face cuts down the country as a whole. That if we just close our eyes and repeat the mantra of ‘we are the best and that’s all there is to it’ takes away from the greatness we do have in so many ways.

However, I watched a video on YouTube by David Cross where he addresses social issues that plague us and then did my own research to make sure. Honestly, the first time this video popped up in my feed which is entitled “Why America Sucks at Everything” I was quite taken aback and thought “Here’s another jerk that is un-American”. Actually, my language was a bit more colorful to say the least and the title still riles me…we don’t ‘suck’ at everything…not at all! But, I watched it over breakfast and began objectively paying attention to these issues, looked into them myself, and realized that seeing these problems is not wrong at all…it’s right!

Why is it people are so hesitant to do this in other capacities as well? “Hey hon, what you did was hurtful and I need you to understand that.” Answer: “Fuck off.” Or, “Hey, I’m so sorry I don’t feel the way you do about whatever…” Answer: “Fuck off.” Or, “Hey, I think we need to talk about what happened and clear things up.” Answer: “Fuck off.” Charming…and so so useful as well. 🙄

So, let’s take a look at some of these problems that plague the US and what really opened my eyes.

YES! We are the richest country in the world…and ever in the history of the world. We have 18 million millionaires (no, I’m not one on my community college salary but I’m hoping for a raise 🙄) and $100 trillion dollars in wealth. But, according to statista, we have the 3rd highest childhood poverty rate among developed nations, just under Israel and Chile with only a 1% separating us from the top. Hmmmm…the most money in the world and 21.2% of kids living in poverty. How can that be? We are also 3rd in poverty and .1% lower than the 2nd ranked country of Hungary. Costa Rica is the highest OECD country in poverty and only 2.1% higher. I’m sorry, but this just isn’t right to me.

A lot of it has to do with medical costs: According to David, the US has the highest medical costs, the lowest effectiveness and the lowest efficiency of any other developed country and 66% of bankruptcies in the US are due to medical costs. Because of our exorbitant medical costs, people often put off care until forced to get it, often through an urgent care or ER which are very expensive. If you take a look-see at money ‘out’ in terms of taxes and health premiums, this is interesting: Canadian workers pay 11% of their incomes to taxes, the UK spends 26% and Americans spend 43% of our income to taxes and health premiums, yet these other 2 countries have paid healthcare. It’s crazy to think we spend almost half our paychecks to taxes and healthcare, yet even working people can’t afford the services. Prices are so overinflated, especially by pharmaceutical companies: insulin in Canada = $20. In the US: $300. Wow. And, 33% of GoFundMe asks are for medical bills. That’s so sad to me.

And it’s not that Americans are lazy…not at all! We have the longest work hours but less job support, worse unemployment benefits, the fewest of family benefits, and the highest rate of underpaid workers. We also have less unionization which could be a correlating factor. In other words, we work the hardest but give the most to the government. Blech.

As you know by now, education is a hot button issue with me and the metrics for this aren’t great either. According to oecd.org:

  • The US ranks 14th in the world in terms of higher ed: 42% of 25-34 year olds have achieved this.
  • The odds that a young person in the U.S. will be in higher education if his or her parents do not have an upper secondary education is 29% which is one of the lowest levels among OECD countries.
  • The U.S ranks 28th in the percentage of 4-year-olds in early childhood education, with a 69% enrolment rate.
  • Teachers in the U.S. spend between 1 050 and 1 100 hours a year teaching – much more than in almost every country (even though Americans often think teachers have so much free time).

However, our testing score in reading and math are pretty much in line with other countries and are above OECD averages in reading and science! That’s music to this teacher’s ears. 😃

In terms of Americans health, the stats are pretty grim. According to commonwealthfund.org:

  • The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy and highest suicide rates among the 11 richest nations in the world.
  • The U.S. has the highest chronic disease burden and an obesity rate – 2x higher than the OECD average.
  • Compared to peer nations, the U.S. has among the highest number of hospitalizations from preventable causes and the highest rate of avoidable deaths.
  • BUT, we also have the best preventative measures (breast cancer screenings, etc.) than any of the 11 countries.

The CDC states the obesity rate in the US is 42.4% (adults) and 19.3% among kids. Causes: poor nutrition (hello fast food 🤢, oversized portions, lack of access to stores with fresh veggies/fruit, and advertising), lack of physical activity because of unsafe neighborhoods, etc. (and another reason to turn off those blasted screens), genetics, health conditions and meds (did you know many antidepressants and other psychotropic meds cause weight gain and people often choose not to take them because of this?), and stress/emotional factors/poor sleep.

Finally, mhanational.org says this about mental health in America (pre-pandemic 2019):

  • 19.86% of adults experience a mental illness which equals nearly 50 million Americans.  
  • 15.08% of youth experienced a major depressive episode and 10.6% of youth in the U.S. have severe major depression.
  • Over half of adults with a mental illness do not receive treatment, totaling over 27 million adults in the U.S. who are going untreated. 
  •  7.74% of U.S. adults and 4.08% of youth had a substance use disorder 

Also, the NIMH found this regarding suicide (2019):

  • Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States – over 47,500 people a year.
  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people between 10 – 34 years old, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 – 44.
  • There were nearly two and a half times as many suicides (47,511) in the United States as there were homicides (19,141).

So the point of this? As I was grading the finals from my Social Problems class (where we talk about issues such as racism, sexism, poverty, health, education, crime, drugs, etc.), here’s what one student had to say: “Social problems range from something so small to something that can affect a nation. How do you end the vicious cycle of the problems? I believe they will never be able to get to the root. However, believing that because most of the problems only matter to a few people.” Another student added this: “I’ve spent the semester taking in new knowledge and integrating it into my understanding of Sociology and the world. I think I’ve gained even more compassion for my fellow humans, and I understand their struggles a little bit better. I’ve learned some different ways to help, to get involved. Our country, and all countries, have social issues, and it’s up to us to start solving them.”

It made me realize that many people don’t know the struggles Americans face or the issues that affect each of us so much. Looking at these issues of health, money, education, etc. aren’t dissing America…it’s looking at what needs to be fixed…helped…worked on. NO country is perfect and yes, I truly believe America is the greatest nation on earth; of course I do because we have so much going for us all including opportunities, personal freedoms, being a world leader in tech and scientific advances, having proud citizens who love this country, using a business model other countries try to emulate, being a leader in popular culture, and the list goes on! Plus, very important to me: I do have freedom to talk about these things without fear of reprisal from the government.

When people criticize America my dander goes up and I become extremely defensive. But it’s like a family or any relationship: if you don’t address the ‘bad’ that’s inherent in all of them since we are imperfect human beings, nothing will change. Nothing will be resolved. Nothing will move forward. And it takes all of the people in the relationship/family to make this happen. Isn’t that true with these issues as well? Our country has some problems that we need to admit, address, and work together to resolve. Will this ever fully happen? No. Of course not. But, can we all try to make things a bit better? Yep…I think so.

Kristi xoxo

Lord, I love Lady Gaga…my biggest celeb crush!

“Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.” ~ Oscar Wilde

So, I’m a big believer in experiential learning and incorporate it as much as I can in my classes, except for my Human Sexuality class! 😏 Anyhoot, I was watching a video on YouTube where college students in California ‘lived’ in a cardboard box for 1 night in order to experience homelessness. Then the next day they had just a couple of dollars and had to eat their meals on the streets. Now, this sounds like a great idea…or it must to some since other colleges have done the same exercise…but honestly, I was disgusted by some of the students reactions in this particular case.

LOS ANGELES, CA – Entire blocks are packed with homeless encampments on skid row in downtown Los Angeles. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

First off, part of the group of students complained throughout the night. They were hot. They were cold. They were hungry. They didn’t like using a Porta Potty. They wished they wouldn’t have signed up…you get the picture. During the next day, some of the students were followed by cameras and made remarks along these lines: “The bugs are horrible…I just want to go home.” “The heat is too hot (ya think 🙄) and I’m sweaty.” “I’m so hungry that I’m getting weak.” This last comment was made in the early morning (after having food just hours before) by a young woman who didn’t want to go to a Good Samaritan or the like since she wasn’t sure the food they would be serving would be fit to eat. To be frank, I wanted to reach through the screen and shake this girl because what she had as a ‘homeless’ person for a day was far more than the homeless do for weeks, months, and often years.

So why did this piss me off? Because this is NOT experiential learning…it’s making a mockery of those people that are truly homeless and have to…gasp…deal with hot, cold, rain, snow, bugs, animals, cruel people, lack of food, lack of electricity, lack of heat and air conditioning, lack of water, lack of roofs, lack of Porta Potties…you get the point.

The feet of Mr. Murphy, who had been on Skid Row for a year in 2018. He is one of thousands who are part of California’s homelessness crisis. Photo by Dan Morain for CALmatters

I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to have to pee in the street. To have to sleep under tattered blankets on sidewalks. To have people jeer at you and condemn you for your situation. To not know if you are even going to eat one day. To be able to shower or clean up only sporadically. To live on streets that I wouldn’t want to walk down any time of the day. To not have a warm coat…shoes…socks…underwear.

I’m sorry, but staying in a cardboard box for 8 hours in a safe area on campus where there is security along with the knowledge you can simply walk away and go to your cozy dorm room anytime is not experiencing homelessness. Maybe some of you remember me writing about my nephew who was homeless for a period of time. He’s a paranoid schizophrenic who refused to take meds and was simply in another world. I watched him climb out of dumpsters, sit on corners and eat hamburgers others bought him (bless their hearts…truly ❤), get berated by people who called him scum along with other words I’d prefer not to remember. When he was missing for a period of time, people said how the community shouldn’t use resources to track down trash like him. A couple of times a week, he’d come over for showers, food, clean underwear, burner phones, etc. and talked to me about the cruelty he and his ‘people’ (his words…there’s a bit of a brotherhood in the homeless community where he felt he fit in better than anywhere else) suffered daily. So, to think that this student exercise encapsulates what it feels like to be homeless is an insult to those who are.

Yes, people need to be empathic and try to understand what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Of course they do because that’s what makes people more aware of the issues others face. However, how can any simulation be called ‘living’ the issue when it’s so contrived? So…well…fake?

When I was in undergraduate school studying Psychology and Education, I was taking a class on special needs children and we had to walk around campus with a blindfold on and a partner guiding us in order to experience blindness, and then traipse around campus with ear plugs in to simulate deafness. This entire exercise took the entirety of 50 minutes and afterwards, when the professor asked us what we had learned by experiencing this loss of sight and hearing, other students said how beneficial it was and could really understand now what such individuals go through.

Heh? I didn’t get that at all. I had a guide throughout the ‘experience’ and could rip off my eye cover or pop out my earplugs whenever I wanted with only a C grade as a consequence. Truthfully, it made me feel guilty strutting around the campus while pretending to have these impairments. This really came back to me years later when I had a totally blind student in my first few community college classes I taught in Kansas. I was told I’d have Suze in class so I prepared my info to have visual materials accessible but that’s all I prepared for. For some reason, it didn’t dawn on me to prepare for Suze herself. When I first saw her outside my door, I touched her arm to say hello. She swung on me and shouted: “Don’t ever touch me without asking!” I was truly taken aback and felt she had been rude. But as the semester progressed, we started chatting more and more and as she told me about her life living alone with only her guide dog as a companion and I started to understand how scary the world is for her. How every touch can mean something sinister. How someone can hurt her without fear of retribution because of her inability to identify them. How not being able to scan your surroundings made you wary. She told me that everyday things caused stress…just being in a new room with furniture could be a hazard. I realized why she snapped at me the first day we met and I also understood how I fucked up (sorry, ma…but I really did 😔). I was encroaching in her dark bubble where she needed verbal warnings for touch and the like. We ended up being really good friends and I learned more from her than she ever learned from me. Hands down.

But don’t you often hear people claim that they really do understand the plight of others? “Oh, I know what it must be like to be black because I was discriminated against once and it hurt.” Or, “I know what it would be like to have a physical disability since I broke my leg a few years back.” Or, one of my favorites, “I know what depression is like. When I flunked my first test, I was down for a week.” OOOOOKKKKKAAAAAYYYYY! For fuck sakes, I’m sure these incidents are truly reminiscent of what people experience as a part of their lives. Grrrr.

Thank you, Allie.

My advice is this: If you want to experience what it’s like to be schizophrenic or bipolar or depressed or have panic attacks, have doctors give you electrical shocks in your brains so you’ll actually have these mental illnesses. And if these California students really want to experience homelessness, have the professor take them down to Skid Row in L.A. and sleep there. Eat there. Watch people prostitute themselves to get money for drugs…a habit that started in childhood to escape abuse they were experiencing.

Yes, I know this is harsh but my point is this: Go to your local homeless shelter and talk to some of the people…hear their stories and then with what you might spend on Starbucks every week, get them clean socks and underwear and a coat. Or, go to the organization in your area that works with the blind and read to them. Seek permission to visit a residential unit that houses the mentally ill and play a game of checkers or just watch TV with the people. In other words, help. And yes, we all need to do this, don’t we? Me very much included. Further, making this one of the resolutions we all promise to fulfill would be a great first step this coming year. I am promising myself…and my community, that I’m going to do it.

Kristi xoxo

Here are 7 charities we can all give what we can too that fight homelessness in the United States. 🙂

“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” ~ Stephen King

So, the Grand Poobah and I were yacking in our office today and started discussing our own personal goals of being a professor. This came about as we were comparing notes on how many students have seriously struggled this semester due to the continuing issues with the pandemic, stress, job loss, loneliness, anxiety, depression and the list goes on. When he asked me: “Why do you teach? What are your goals for what you do?” I really started thinking about this and within a couple of minutes, I had the answer. Not because I was being flip, but because these ‘unwritten’ goals have guided me throughout my 27 year career as a college instructor.

If you look up the word ‘goal’ in a dictionary (remember when these weren’t online but tomes that weighed more than a medium sized dog? 😳) here’s what you get: ‘The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.’ (Oxford Languages) What do I want to accomplish with my students? What is my desire for them? Why do I put in the effort I do for them?

First, as simple as it sounds, I want my students to learn. You would think this is a no-brainer but not necessarily. Learning isn’t memorization or meeting stringent deadlines or making sure a text is highlighted or being able to bullshit your way through an essay for a passing grade. Unfortunately, not every professor agrees with this. Throughout the years, I’ve heard things like “We need to teach these kids what it’s like to punch a time clock.” Or, “We need to force these kids to take responsibility…there are no handouts in life” (hmmmm). Or “These kids just need to listen to me for what they need to know.” Or my favorite “You don’t get second chances in life!” OK. And you are on your 8th spouse. Got it. And this list can go on ad nauseum.

Here’s the thing though: I don’t care if it takes a student 1 try or 4 tries to get an essay up to par; it’s that they learned from writing it. What good does it do to put an F on their paper, give it back to them, and then want them to move on in the class? What did they learn? Look, when I learned to crochet (which was a hellish month for both me and sissy to say the least 😐), it took me a thousand tries to know how to work the hook and create the chain and complete stitches. And even then, my projects sucked balls. If I would have stopped after the first try, what would that have gotten me? Nothing.

So why don’t we allow students to absorb the material, have multiple chances on their assignments if they aren’t getting it, and work with them until they do? My job is not to teach a student to ‘punch a time-clock’ in order for them to understand that deadlines are set in stone (many are working jobs or have families…they know deadlines). In fact, in this day and age, many jobs are more flexible than that anyway. My job is to make sure they leave my class with info that will help them in any path they choose.

This ties in to my 2nd goal – to do all I can to help a student be successful in my classes. I have a student who is around my age (shutty 🙄) and she came to me around 4 weeks into the semester and said she was going to drop and that she couldn’t ‘do’ the class. I started talking to her every morning before class and one day, this woman started crying. She’s had a very hard life in terms of all she’s experienced, but this is what she said to me that completely broke my heart: “All my life, since I can remember, my mom said I was a piece of shit and would never do good at anything.”

When she disclosed this to me, her eyes were full of tears and it made me sick to think of a mother being so wickedly cruel to their child. This student hadn’t turned in our first essay of the semester and I told her to write it. She said she couldn’t. I said: “Write it. I don’t care how long it is…how many errors might be in it…how you approach the topic. Just write.” She turned it in a couple of days later and I was gobsmacked! It was freaking excellent…and I don’t use that word lightly. Her ideas and understanding of the material was deeper than most students and her writing was impeccable. I posted her A and she came to me the next day and said this: “You didn’t have to give me an A.” And I replied: “Look, I don’t give anything and I certainly have never given a pity or mercy grade in my life. In my classes, you earn your grades and you earned this A.”

Then I did this: “I looked in her eyes and said: you are a smart, kind, outgoing woman who has the tools to be successful in anything you choose to pursue. You are not a piece of shit. Your mom was a sick woman who used her innocent daughter as an outlet for her own issues. That is not who you are. Now say it to me.” She cried and said she couldn’t. I said: “Look, Professor K is telling you to do this and you know how tough I am!” She smiled, looked down and said…in a soft voice: “I’m not a piece of shit. I am capable.” I told her to say it again while looking in my eyes and she did. In the last 11 weeks, her confidence, participation, and eagerness has done a 180° turn and she went from an F in my class to an A.

When she told me she was going to drop, I could have had that done in seconds. For piss sakes, if she wants to drop…drop her. No. Because that’s not my goal. My goal is for every student to feel like they accomplished something in my class…had a success they can build on…had a worthwhile experience. By the way, she calls me ‘Mama K’ in my office (even though she’s just a tad older!) and hugs me every. single. day. She, my sweetie peeps, is a success.

Another goal I have is to be relatable. I’ve been in higher education longer than some of you have been alive and I’m here to tell you this: some professors get off on this power trip of having students’ grades in their sweaty palms. They get off on ‘taking control’ and being the ‘only one right’ and ordering ‘quit talking…you need to listen to me.’ They get off on the power. So ooooooooo…you have power over 20 year olds. Big accomplishment.

If I had wanted power, I sure as hell wouldn’t have gone into teaching and if the only thing that validates my profession is the control I have over my students, I have deeper issues that need to be addressed.

I don’t necessarily expect my students to love me…or to even like me. But I do want to set up an atmosphere where they know they can talk to me, share their opinions, question what I’m saying, all while knowing I won’t judge them no matter what. Have you ever had someone ask for your opinion and then chastise you for it by saying ‘that’s wrong.’ What? How can MY opinion be wrong? It can’t. And neither can yours.

This is also why I share my experiences (obviously when appropriate) about having bipolar, having been sexually abused, having been divorced 3 times (cough cough), having a ma who experienced domestic violence, etc. I want students to know I’m real. I understand. I’ll accept whatever they want to tell me. I want them to see me as an ‘ally’ in their college experience…someone working alongside of them…not against them.

This also brings me to compassion. I want my students to see I’ll cry with them…open up to them so they know they aren’t alone in their own struggles…empathize with issues they are dealing with…understand when they say “I just couldn’t do my assignment this week”, etc. I had a student come to me once regarding their late work and I told them they could make up what they had missed. Why? He had talked about a death in his family all while he was dealing with the loss of a job and family issues surrounding the funeral. He thanked me profusely for this opportunity and said he felt guilty for turning in late assignments. I said there should be no guilt whatsoever! That’s a lot on his plate and I wouldn’t have been able to focus on the topic of social structure either. C’mon. Why is it weak for professors to have compassion for what our students are going through?

Some professors have this policy: “NO LATE WORK NO MATTER WHAT.” Really? I kid you not but I knew a professor years ago that wouldn’t let a student make up an exam they missed because they had suffered a miscarriage that week. The prof said: “A deadline is a deadline. I break it for you, I break it for everyone.”

Are you fucking (sorry, ma 😲) kidding me? A fucking (ditto, ma 🤨) exam is more important than this woman losing her baby? I was gobsmacked and so disgusted by this (and yes, told the student to talk to our dean) I wanted to say this: “Look, Prof. You know what you just taught this student? That their pain doesn’t matter. Their loss doesn’t matter. Their life doesn’t matter. All that matters is a fucking (last one, ma 😬) date you arbitrarily put on a syllabus.” Yep. That taught them a lot.

Why can’t we all have compassion for our students? Understand that life gets in the way of due dates…assignments…studying. I remember O being sick and his school calling me at school to come pick him up. I shot off a quick e-mail to my students saying classes were cancelled and when I was running out the door, one of my colleagues said this: “Must be nice to just up and leave work because you have a kid.” And I responded with: “Look. My kid is forever and this is a job. My family will always come first.” If I had been a student, not much would have been turned in that week…O ended up getting pneumonia. So, if I would have missed a quiz, I would have been told ‘too bad’? Yes…by some profs.

Look, compassion is one of these things that you give back what you get. If I show compassion and empathy and true care for my students, I’m teaching them a lesson more important than understanding the 3 theoretical perspectives of sociology: that we have to take care of one another.

Other goals I have? I want to show my students how applicable the material is…how they can actually use it in their everyday lives. I want to be adaptable in terms of what students and classes need in any given semester. I want them to know it’s not my classroom…it’s theirs. It’s a student centered environment where they are the ones in the spotlight. It’s not the Professor K show.

It sounds like a cliche but actually, cliches are often based in truth: one bad professor can ruin a student’s college life. You think that woman who miscarried wanted to walk into another classroom after that? You think if I would have dropped that student she would have continued her studies still believing the words her mom heaped on her? You think if I played the power card and said “No…you cannot re-do that paper to pass” that student is going to be motivated? I love what I do. I take it seriously. And, I do it the way I do it because I care. Because I want students to walk out of my classes with not only the academics, but lessons in life, compassion, open mindedness, respect and a love for learning that can take them as far as they want to go.

Kristi xoxo

“So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me” ~ Ben E. King

So, one of my students and I always walk out to our cars together after my last class and today she said something no one has asked me before: “How do you take everything people put on you?” I looked at her quizzically and she went on to say this: “We are always sharing things with you and burdening you with our problems…doesn’t that get hard to deal with?” I told her that it didn’t and I was just the kind of person people open up too. But, as usual, I started thinking about this more and realized that it probably does affect me more than I let on…or that I even admit to myself.

As the Grand Poobah would attest too, teaching Psychology (and Sociology) puts you in a position of teaching topics/issues/concepts that are so personal. For example, in my Marriage and Family class (my area of expertise…I have enough experience 🙄) we talk about issues including domestic violence, child abuse with special emphasis on sexual abuse, rape, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, mental disorders and their affect on relationships and the list goes on. Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

In my Theories of Personality class that my student is in we talk about attachment, parenting, various conceptions of personality development that can go awry, personality disorders, theories that explore our neurosis, Horney’s Tyrrany of the Shoulds, the Inferiority Complex (Adler), our Shadow archetype (Jung), anxiety and defense mechanisms (S. and A. Freud), identity formation (Erikson), issues relating to freedom (Fromm), love (Fromm), conformity, social belonging, narcissism, psychopathy, real self vs. ideal self (Horney and Rogers), self-esteem, self-worth, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-image and you get the point. ALL of these topics can bring things up in students and even though it sounds absolutely horrible to admit, tears are sometimes shed.

Today we talked about Humanistic theories and discussed Roger’s belief in phenomenology and how it’s OUR perceptions, based on OUR experiences, that need to be the focus of attention. We live in our own bubbles based on things we have gone though which skews perceptions…but those perceptions, though maybe not rational, are real and need to be validated. After all, they’re ours.

So one of my students is a recovering heroin addict who spent 6 years in prison and has been clean since. She lost custody and contact with her first 2 children because of this but has another little girl she’s raising with her partner. The little girl has special needs and acts out uncontrollably at times. She’s in the process of being evaluated, etc. but it’s really hard for my student to handle. When we started talking about how our experiences shape our perceptions, she started crying and said this: “I’m a horrible mom. I get so impatient and so frustrated and I’m giving her these experiences that are going to screw her up. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom.”

This broke my heart. This woman is one of the kindest, smartest, and most motivated person I know and she works and tries with her daughter so hard. But, she makes mistakes. She yells and gets upset and cries and is now beating herself up over these times her daughter is taking in. After she calmed down I asked her this: “Name a perfect parent.” She couldn’t. I said: “Name a parent who is 9.9/10.” and she said YOU and I started laughing. WHAT? I told her that you could write every single mistake I made with O on the huge walls of our lecture hall and would still need room for more. I even called O on speaker and asked him to rate my parenting…he said he would probably give me around a 7.5-8. So, in other words, I have degrees in Psych and Family Studies, have worked with ages from 2- 70, have certifications out the wazoo…and I’m a C parent 😳.

She started laughing and we talked about how we are all going to ‘give’ our kids negative experiences because we’re human…they’re human…and when you have 2 imperfect humans interacting, there’s gonna be issues. But that’s OK. It’s normal!

Throughout the same class, students have also talked about lack of self-worth stemming from an assault, growing up in an abusive home where there was never any acceptance or positive interaction, feeling inferior to everyone else, confronting their ‘shadows’ and things they have done that they regret, etc. And I listen, validate, comfort, and sometimes advise if I think it’s appropriate.

And you know, in all of my 28 years of teaching at the college level, I have NEVER once talked about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism in families, or anything else without a handful of students in each class talking about their own experiences or coming to my office to share with me. It breaks my heart. So much. And it’s hard to not bring that home and have it haunt me. I just want to take these young people and wrap them all up in a blanket and schlep them off to a bubbled island where they won’t ever hurt again.

But I have my own issues too. Ever heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’? This is when you feel like a fraud in what you do…that you really aren’t good enough for the position. I feel like this a lot! Here I am…someone who did shitty in high school…standing in front of future lawyers and counselors and executives and teaching them for a grade that will be on their transcript forever. Sometimes I think I should be in one of the seats…not out in front.

And today? We’re talking about DV in class and I always get choked up. How can I not when ma suffered 28 years at the hands of a batterer? And then we listen to a 911 call placed by a little girl, 7, who’s reaching out for help while her step-father beats her mom in the background. This resounds with me. I used to hear R beat mom when I was in bed. The fear and paralysis and sounds and powerlessness are still there in my head. The first time I heard it I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the most awful night in my life and growing up in a home with that throughout my teen years has affected me. So when I hear the call, I can understand the girl’s anguish. (And yes, I called 911, my grandparents, my sissy, etc. and we all tried to help ma as much as we possibly could but ultimately, it’s the victim that has to take the help 😔).

When I lecture about sexual abuse, how can I not think of the 2 years I was abused by my psychologist? How can that wound not be re-opened every single semester in multiple classes? Then, when my sweetie students start to share their stories with me, it crushes me.

I never get through my lecture on divorce without choking up to where I sometimes need to take a breather. I hated my parents divorce…it was so hard on sissy and I, and I swore my kid would NEVER ever experience the break-up of their family. Yet he did and I remember his pain. His tears. His shouts. His haunted eyes. And I beat myself up again and again for that.

When we talk about mental illness and it’s stigmatization and how hard it is to live with, I get angry. Why is there still so much shame associated with illnesses no one wants or deserves or asks for? And then when my students message me and tell me they experience depression or anxiety but can’t ask for help because they’re scared people will look at them differently, I cry…because they’re right. You are looked at differently.

So I guess I take on other’s burdens because they need me too. They need someone to share with and talk too and learn from…something I didn’t have in school. They come to me because I’m open about things I’ve gone through…they know about ma (she has actually spoken to some of my classes), me having bipolar, me having been abused, etc. I share with them because they need to know there are people behind these statistics…text chapters…articles. When I say to them: “I understand” they know it’s true. Look, they’re there for me everyday…the huge family I never had and they let me live out my passion to teach and make me feel like I might be making a bit of a difference in their lives. I get back so much more than I give to them so if another student ever asks me why I take so much on, here’s what I’m going to say: “Because I love you all.” It’s as easy as that.

Kristi xoxo

“Ignorance is the enemy and it fills your head with lies.” ~ Rodney Crowell

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So, the Grand Poobah (my office buddy 😃) and I were yacking yesterday while he was working on an assignment that he didn’t know was appropriate or not. In the chapter he teaches on depression, he wanted to focus attention on suicide with the students reading various articles and watching a documentary about it before writing a paper. He wondered if this would be too triggering for some and we had a discussion about this.

Here’s the thing about triggers: we all have them. After my nephew died in the Navy, every time I heard anything about the military, my heart would pound and my stomach would get a hollow feeling. Before I was open about being bipolar, I’d get nervous talking about mental illness and the importance of awareness, yet I was living a lie which made me so anxious. After I engaged in self-harm, I would get horribly defensive if anyone mentioned cutting or accused me of doing it until I was able to share what I had done. And yes, after I attempted suicide myself, I was extremely sensitive to the topic.

But being a prof of Psychology and Sociology, I can’t back away from these issues because I talk about them in most of my classes. I’ll admit that the first time I taught about suicide after my attempt, I started crying…right in front of my class. I was so embarrassed because that has only happened a couple of times in my entire 3 decades of teaching, but the incident was still fresh in my mind. When I started crying, I quickly thought of lying to my students and telling them I wasn’t feeling well, etc. but then went back to how hypocritical I had been covering up being bipolar for most of my life. I lecture to my students how you have to live authentically and how there is no shame in having a mental illness or having attempted suicide. With that in mind and after a deep breath, I shared that I had attempted suicide myself and explained where I had been in my life at that time.

As I was talking, I couldn’t believe the reactions of the class…some shed tears and some nodded so genuinely that I knew they had had suicidal ideation themselves. After the lecture was over and resources perused, papers were turned in and this is some of what was written to me (with any identifying info taken out but all words of the students as they were written):

“I think the reason it was so hard for me to watch this film is because I have a history with depression. I will not lie and say I have never had a suicidal thought because I have. I used to be in a dark place with my mind and I am not ashamed of that because of how much I have grown. My chest started to get tight while watching the film because it took me back to that time in my life when I was really unhappy. I paused the film and took a break and it helped me. I thought this documentary was very sad and it shows a part of human life that is not shown that much. Suicide is not talked about as much as it should be. There should be more awareness and conversation.”

“This week was a very hard week for me when going over the material. I personally have battled with thoughts of suicide but never had the courage try anything. I grew up with a bipolar mother and struggled with my own anxiety and depression.”

“This topic is tough for me to discuss. I have lost multiple friends due to suicide. I was also almost a suicide victim myself. I struggled my entire life with depression and anxiety. To fully understand the impact of mental health and suicide, I will lay out my story. This is hard for me to do, but I feel it is essential to speak about it.”

“Lastly , I am a survivor of depression and attempting suicide as well. I chose article one because it really touches my life in the last year. My son was self harming by cutting himself on the legs and arms. The day I was told I stopped at nothing trying to find my son’s help. It went from that to last month I found out my son tried x-pills, 2 years of alcohol misuse, becoming withdrawn, rebellious, and just 2 months ago he attempted fighting my daughter and I , he would go from saying he wanted to kill himself, to nobody loving him, to breaking down crying. Glass shattered everywhere, holes in my wall that I’m still trying to get fixed, me trying to console him and my daughter, finally having to call for assistance and watching my son leave by the ambulance screaming he loves me.”

“I can relate to those who express suicidal thoughts, as its something I myself have struggled with. The best way to describe it, is a voice inside your head telling you that no one cares, and your life doesn’t really matter.”

The saddest thing about these comments is that I only picked out these 5 out of the 20 students I had; however, EVERY one of them wrote about their own personal struggles with suicide (the majority) or having a friend or sibling that has attempted or completed. That boggles my mind.

There is so much pain out there. So much loneliness. So much neediness in terms of connection. How horrible that for my students that this has already touched their lives. And from comments in other classes, I also know this class wasn’t an anomaly at all.

Now we talk about triggers which is something I hadn’t heard of or been cautioned about until a few years ago. Us professors are told to tell students when we’ll be studying a subject matter that could be triggering to them and to offer them alternatives. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. However, the research begs to differ.

Take a look at findings published in Clinical Psychology Article:

“The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma.”

Also, Forbes magazine reported this:

“Across all the variations in the studies, trigger warnings had trivial effects. In the words of Mevagh Sanson, senior author of the study, “The results suggest a trigger warning is neither meaningfully helpful nor harmful.” “The format of the presumably upsetting content, whether in text or on video, did not matter. Neither did a personal history of trauma; participants who reported they had experienced actual trauma in their lives responded to the distressing material similarly, regardless of whether it was preceded by a trigger warning or not.”

Finally, the Chronicle of Higher Education says this:

“We are not aware of a single experimental study that has found significant benefits of using trigger warnings. Looking specifically at trauma survivors, including those with a diagnosis of PTSD, the Jones et al. study found that trigger warnings “were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.””

What do psychologists think? Let’s take a look-see at an article in Psychological Science:

“Specifically, we found that trigger warnings did not help trauma survivors brace themselves to face potentially upsetting content,” said Payton Jones, a researcher at Harvard University and lead author on the study. “In some cases, they made things worse.” Worryingly, the researchers discovered that trigger warnings seem to increase the extent to which people see trauma as central to their identity, which can worsen the impact of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the long run.”

So, this sheds all new light in terms of triggers. Not only do they don’t seem to work, but they can also increase the distress of a student.

Now, what are usually seen as triggers? Suicide, eating disorders, sexual assault, domestic violence, mental illness, sex, murder, death and anything else the professor deems might be triggering to a student.

There’s absolutely no doubt these are very difficult subjects to learn about, but they are very important to understand. Every 11 seconds, another American takes their own life while there’s also 14 people being hurt by their intimate partner. One in 5 Americans live with a mental illness (51+ million people) and someone is raped every 68 seconds.

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Look, these are serious numbers and obviously going to touch all of our lives in one way or another. I once had someone tell me, after a difficult lecture, that ignorance is bliss. Heh? IGNORANCE is bliss? NOT understanding and being oblivious and uninformed is better? For who exactly? You? Us? Me?

If we don’t address these issues…talk about these issues…and learn all we can about them, how in the hell are we going to work at turning these numbers around?

You know, I was really distressed over the sexual abuse I experienced from my psychologist and I’ll be honest: anytime I heard about sexual abuse or rape, I would break out in a sweat and feel like my stomach dropped 10 floors down an elevator. Worse, I started working on a psychology degree and guess what I had to learn all about? I was really nervous when the topic was being presented but the way the professor taught it, I was able to look at it academically and there was truly a comfort in knowing I wasn’t alone. That what I was going through was normal. I learned about sexual abuse and realized that if I always turned my head away from it, I would never be able to use what I’d been through to help others. And that’s what I try to do now.

So here’s the answer to the Grand Poobah who is going to be reading this: keep your assignment on suicide. Students can take breaks when reading articles or watching videos but the information is vital. Suicide (as well as so many other topics I mentioned) is an epidemic and NOT talking about it and teaching about it only keeps it hidden away. I want my students to understand why people want to kill themselves…what signs they can look for…how to talk to someone who is suicidal. I want them to know what early signs of domestic violence are and to understand the pathology of mental illnesses. I want them to be educated in the issues that Americans face every day of their lives.

Unfortunately, I’ve had students come to me days after being raped and I would never ever expect them to complete a unit on sexual assault so soon after the traumatic experience…so there’s obvious exceptions to this. But, ignorance is not bliss and the info we teach isn’t always easy, but it is necessary. Until we face things and help students to understand that their own experiences can be talked about and explored and validated, we are doing them an injustice. We’re simply keeping everyone in the dark.

Kristi xoxo

“They’ll split your pretty cranium and fill it full of air…” ~ David Bowie – 1984

So, I saw a display in our college library that made me so so so so so so so upset, angry, frustrated, and gobsmacked that I had to get up an hour early today to blawg about it.

Now excuse me for asking, but is this 2021? Seriously. Are we living in 2021 or 1921? 1821? Are we living in the United States (or other wonderful countries…I have my peeps from around the globe!! 😍) or a communist state with total control over the media we consume? Does the American constitution not have a little something in it called ‘freedom of press’ which guarantees the right to report news or circulate opinion without censorship from the government? Hmmmm.

Anyhoot, I’m talking about banned books.

Let me say that again in case you thought you were having some episode while reading it and didn’t get it: I’m talking about banned books as well as ‘challenged’ or ‘restricted’ books. The difference? A ‘challenge’ is an attempt to remove or restrict books based on the objections of a person/group while ‘banning’ is actually removing the books. But no matter what nomenclature you use, the result is the same: people NOT being able to have access to books of their choice in the schools and libraries in the areas in which they live.

I was going to give you a list of all the banned books (that’s the term I’m going to stick with) but honestly, if I typed them all out, I would be getting carpal tunnel surgery within weeks and I’d prefer not to do that. So, here’s the link to the 156 books on the 2020 list. Grab yourself a cup of tea (or in my case, and nice wine cooler so I can remain as calm as possible 😳 ) and start perusing.

One reason given for banning Anne Frank was because it’s a ‘downer and depressing’. I kid you not. Also because of sexual scenes which is Anne experiencing puberty: making jokes about it and talking about her development.

Anyhoot, on this gem of a list, we have titles such as ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ (God forbid we learn about the holocaust from a teenage girl living in captivity), ‘I Know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (quite the rabble rouser whose autobiography talks about racism and her own experience being sexually assaulted as a child…2 things we should never talk or learn more about). ‘The Kite Runner’ by Khaled Hosseini since it contains ‘offensive’ language, religious viewpoints, and…gasp…sexual situations. ‘The Glass Castle’ by Jeannette Walls because her autobiography has abuse and ‘sexual scenes’ in which an older man tries to undress Jeannette and a woman shows her freaking bra. And finally, ‘The Holy Bible’ for religious viewpoints. Well hells bells…who would read the bible (or for that matter, any religious tome like the Quran which is also banned) for a ‘religious’ viewpoint? I just like learning about all the begatting that went on.

Mind you, these books aren’t banned everywhere…but are banned in areas just the same: public libraries, schools and their libraries, and even in ACADEMIA. You know, the place where we are supposed to open our minds to everything. Right.

So…parents are the first to initiate the process of banning books. Nice. Why in the world would they want their little darlings exposed to things such as racism, diversity, disabilities, drug addiction, mental illness,and LGBTQ issues (all of which represent the vast majority of books banned)? Much better to keep them ignorant. OH WAIT! They are exposed to it…all over freaking social media which parents let their kids absorb like sponges. The ALA’s found this: “Books that talked about racism and racial justice — or told the stories of people of color or the LGBTQ community — were among the most challenged as inappropriate for students in 2020.” Charmed, I’m sure.

Now let me get this straight…parents initiate the process of banning books that are classics in terms of their writing, themes, etc. but allow their girls to twerk on Tik-Tok for views, dress in clothes I’ve seen as being too skimpy for call girls to wear, watch Kendall Jenner make an ass out of herself by solving racism with a fucking Pepsi, being introduced to porn at the average age of 11 because of all the unsupervised time kids have online, and seeing people have sex and get murdered in movie after movie. OK…that’s all well and good. But for the love of all that’s holy, ban the books. I understand now. 🙄

And schools? Look…as an educator for 30 years I’m here to tell you this: it’s NOT my job to tell my students WHAT they should believe. It’s my job to give my students the ability to DISCOVER what’s out there that will give them a view of the world much much bigger than what is said in a classroom. There’s a difference there…huh?

Another frightening thought? According to the ALA, surveys indicate that 82-97% of book challenges – documented requests to remove materials from schools or libraries – remain unreported and receive no media. So…more can be added to this extensive list anytime.

But at least children’s books are safe. What could be wrong with ‘Hop on Pop’ by Dr. Seuss or ‘A Light in the Attic’ by Shel Silverstein? Apparently, ‘Hop in Pop’ has been challenged because it could encourage kids to be violent against their dads and a poem in the Silverstein collection called “How Not To Have To Dry The Dishes” obviously encourages messiness and disobedience. Then, there’s ‘My Mom is Having a Baby’ which shows where babies come from. The horror of that is more than I can stand. That’s why O still thinks it’s the stork that brought him to me. Peeps, you can’t make this shit up.

Why am I crying over this? Why did seeing the display of the banned books bring tears to my eyes? Because of this: we need other opinions. We need to hear voices that our different from ours. We need to walk in someone elses shoes. We need to understand that our perceptions aren’t the only perceptions out there. We need to live in a society where we can write and publish what we want to say. We need to be able to talk about race…mental illness…disabilities…LGBTQ issues…without barriers. We need all viewpoints. What we need is books.

And that’s really it, isn’t it? We need books. No one should be able to tell anyone what they can and can’t read. What they should or shouldn’t read. What is available or not available to them at public libraries. Even kids and young adults. Look, I know there are books out there that younger kids simply should not read and of course there needs to be guidance for what a child is ready or not ready for. But isn’t that a parents decision to make for their own child? If O wanted to read something above his understanding, we talked about it…had a conversation, and I made the judgment call myself. I do trust that most books written at certain levels are OK, but I don’t trust the same with what kids consume on social media and believe me, they consume a lot more on that platform than in the pages of a book. I truly don’t believe ‘Hop on Pop’ is going to scar kids forever and reading ‘Anne Frank’ is going to cause young girls to become depressed and sexually active. Look, books open doors for all of us…young and old. And, we can choose to walk through that door or not. But that choice should be ours…and ours alone.

Kristi xoxo

“You take a deep breath and you walk through the doors…” ~ Taylor Swift (Fifteen)

So, OH MY GOSH…it feels so so so so so so so good to be back in my classroom! Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh! 🥰

We’re in the 4th week of the semester now and I have 6 online and 3 on-campus classes. For the first couple of weeks in the classroom, the mood was a bit subdued. Not a lot of excitement about being back since it had been so long and a lot of students got used to the convenience and routine of online learning. But this week? It’s a 180! We have the spark back…the mojo…the groove (I’m a 70’s girl…what can I say 🙄)!

I don’t know how many times I’ve said that teaching is my passion (probably more than a million) but these past 18 months really made me see it anew. I like teaching online and have been doing it since 1999. I took a series of online classes myself in the early 2000’s and earned my Master Online Teaching Certificate from the U of I. Impressive…right (that should get me a date 😐)? So, not only am I educated in the pedagogy of this type of teaching, I’ve experienced it as a student too. This makes me look at my classes and ask myself: would I like this? If the answer is a NO (!), I re-vamp until I would.

Hubby 3 liked being my Guinea Pig; after I would get my classes created, I get him in a student view and tell him to click all around and tell me what he didn’t understand. Invariably he’d find something that wasn’t clear and I’d change it. It really helped me out and I think I have it down pat now.

I feel like I can still build relationships with students online…that’s part of what you need to learn to teach this way effectively. It’s little things like always using their name in every comment, etc. you make…offering a couple extra credit points where they have to e-mail you an answer to a question like “Where would you live if you could live anywhere and why?” They have to expand on their answer and then I always respond. It gives us a chance to talk more one on one about things we’re interested in. I make videos every week so they know a ‘real’ person is out there and I try to create discussions/activities that are meaningful.

BUT in my opinion, no matter how well online classes are structured to be interactive and worthwhile, they are just not the same as my face to face. Period. To me, nothing can take place of seeing faces…expressions…calling on students who I can tell are getting it…asking students what they don’t understand…and having students walk me to my office everyday after class. I love this ‘real’ interaction and it’s happening this semester in all 3 of my campus courses. It makes me feel like I am making connections and without those, you don’t give the student much motivation to listen and learn from you.

I also think the academics are different for both types of classes, and online learning can either be an easy way to ‘slide’ through a class, or a challenging way to get as much as you can out of the class; the amount of individual effort is crucial in terms of what students actually get out of the class. In fact, I truly believe that many of my online students learn more than the ones I have on-campus because they are so driven to get all they can from them.

Dedicated and eager students absorb everything and learn how to actively work with the material given and learn more than just the topics: they learn independent research, time management, computer literacy, how to express themselves only in writing (which I think is a GREAT skill to master), etc.

On the other hand, I’ve had students who simply slide by in them…that’s always going to happen for whatever reason (but to be fair, that happens on campus too). Not reading the info I provide…not watching the videos I make or upload…looking up answers for quizzes instead of studying all of the material first…putting the bare minimum into discussions where it’s obvious that a couple of things from the topic were googled and stitched together. I hate this! I don’t want students to walk out of (or in this case, log off of 💻) my classes without them knowing everything they possibly can about the material. And with psychology and sociology, it’s not just info to learn…it’s info to use! That’s important to me and why I teach what I teach.

Lord knows I am a pro at psychology even without a textbook. For fuck sakes (sorry, ma 🤨) I’ve had a fucking (I couldn’t resist) mental illness for as long as I can remember…literally. I’ve experienced a whole plethora of things that have gone into my psyche and I don’t think even Freud would want to dig around in there…it’s probably a gooey mess.

But learning all about psychology means learning all about why our minds work the way they work. Why we think like we do…dream like we do…remember like we do…perceive like we do. EVERYTHING we’ve ever experienced is stuck in that glob of cells somewhere and it affects us in one way or another.

And then sociology means learning about how our society affects us and what issues are important for all of us to understand. Hopefully, my students come out being much more aware and educated about racism, gender issues, ageism, the structure of society and how we all fit into it, class issues, cultural differences, etc. Right now we’re studying socialization in my Intro classes and my students are learning how their environment has affected them since the day they were born. We talk about how we develop our self image…our sense of self as it pertains to others…how our personalities were developed in the context of our environments…how the media affects us…the power our family had on our development, etc. This is stuff that’s important to know!

(By the way, just in case you can’t tell, I love to teach what I teach!)

Anyhoot, after being away from actual student ‘bodies’ for so long, just being back and being able to talk to them in person is awesome. The last few months of school being closed was really tough for me and the other teachers and profs I know. It was a long time to have to work from home, and a very long time not being in the actual environment that you were meant to be in. Like a fish out of water, so to speak! 🐟🐠🐡🦈🐬

So, my sweetie pie students…I’m so happy to be back to see half of your beautiful, and I assume smiling, faces again. I’ve missed you all so much and truly got lonely for you. If you’ve had me before, welcome back! Seeing you again was wonderful! If you’re new…YEA! I can’t wait to know you better and see you grow!

Have a great school year everyone!

Kristi xoxo

“But I do know one and one is two…” ~ Sam Cooke (Wonderful World)

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So, a couple of things made me happy yesterday and I couldn’t wait to talk about them with you. Here goes.

First, I attended a virtual workshop on how to ‘Humanize the Online Experience’ in your college classes. The speaker was wonderful and talked about how students need connection, rapport, feelings that the instructor is genuine and real, etc. I totally agreed with this but after a while, I realized that the necessity for this workshop made me sad. You see, this to me is a no-brainer. Really.

I guess I was a ‘humanized’ professor before the ‘humanization of professors’ was ‘cool’…suddenly, what set me apart is now ‘vogue’ in academia. I have always believed that unless you see your prof as someone you can connect with, you won’t learn a freaking thing from them. I’ve had bosses who I had no connection for…no respect for…no investment in because they stifled any hope of that happening. “We must remain objective and somewhat cold in order to maintain order” seems to be a common mantra amongst some college personnel. But why?

I’ve been hugging students longer than most of you have been alive (shutty the mouthy, please 🙄) and I’ve gotten looks from it over the years. I also share with my students. I share my experience of being sexually abused. My experiences regarding my divorces (another shutty, peeps🤨 ). What it’s like to have a mental illness. What it’s like to self-harm and attempt suicide. What it was like having a batterer married to ma for so many years. And what it’s like to get yourself out of a very very dark place in order to see the light again. I answer any questions honestly, and there are times when I cry with my students. When we’re tackling the hard stuff in my psychology and sociology classes, I might stop the lecture, walk over to someone who is tearing up, hug them around the shoulders (I ask…I don’t want to invade space), and tell them we are all supporting them. I had a dean once tell me I was ‘being too nice’ to my students and my job wasn’t ‘comforting them or being their friend.’ Well, my retired dean, it was. And still is.

When you take a gander at the definition of ‘teacher’ you get this (courtesy of Merriam-Webster): ‘to impart knowledge’ and ‘to instruct by precept, example, or experience.’ How in the world are you going to be an effective professor if you show nothing of yourself? Don’t help students learn from your own experiences? Don’t show students how their own bad experiences don’t have to shape them forever? How do you expect students to learn when they are needing ‘more’ from you? A smile. A hug. An empathic ear that listens and validates and doesn’t just spout platitudes. Why in the hell would a student want to open themselves up in anything less than this type of environment?

You see, something I was reminded of yesterday was how thinking and emotion go hand in hand. They both originate from the mind and both need each other to survive. If a students feels lonely or like an outcast…has depression or is anxious…is fighting a battle that’s not readily apparent, how can they learn? Seriously. How effective are YOU when you are emotional? How well do you do your job? Remember what you read? Retain what you heard? I don’t know about you, but when I’m in an ’emotional state’ it pretty much supersedes anything else. Period. And, if you don’t address these issues by not inquiring how students are doing or noticing a student who is suddenly quiet and down without asking if they’d like to talk…they aren’t going to learn from you. And, if they see that you can’t be real in the class…how the hell do you expect them too?

I think teaching is more than imparting knowledge. I think it’s building connections with people where they learn the academics but also more about themselves. Where they come out of a class feelings stronger. Better. More supported and supporting. More understood and understanding. And this is a NEW concept? Well spank me hard. I was ahead of my freaking time.

Then yesterday, a student shared a video with me of a woman doing a talk about how a professor helped her deal with her rape by speaking up about her own sexual assault. My student wrote “You are this professor to me”.

I’ve had students say a lot of things to me over the years (some not so hot 😐) but these words hit me the hardest. It showed me that opening myself up…providing students with the atmosphere to do the same…means something. Can do something. Something more than memorizing who the Father of Sociology is (Auguste Comte…my sweetie students better have known this 😉).

Look, I’m going to let you in on a secret. Teaching isn’t fucking Rocket Science (sorry, ma 🙄) . And for those who think it is, you’re doing it wrong. Just like when Michael Keaton is “Mr. Mom” and he’s dropping off his kid incorrectly at their school and a room mom tells him: “You’re doing it wrong.” It should never be ‘hard’ for a prof to connect. Build. Encourage. Motivate. Validate. And if it is…you just might want to go into something else.

Professoring is a people ‘job’. It’s bringing a room full of strangers together for 16 weeks and creating a bit of a family out of them. A family where they feel comfortable sharing and voicing opinions and asking questions and opening themselves up to what you say. It’s creating a place where students can be expressive…vulnerable…willing to learn from everyone around them. It’s not the brain that’s hard to use when professoring…it’s the heart.

But, I’m here to tell you this: when you can use the heart as much as the head in a classroom then you have come to the point when real learning takes place.

Kristi xoxo

There’s none so blind as he who can’t see.

So, an article came up in a newsfeed the other day and I can honestly say I was more gobsmacked than I’ve ever been in my entire life on this earth (around 40 years or so… 🙄).

First of all, I want to assure you I have not, and will not, ever ever ever be a part of TikTok. I don’t really get the premise outside of people dancing and singing and making videos to share, and the only person I know who actually uses it watches young girls shake their boobs and behiners (he’s my age). I’m sorry…call me crazy (many have 🙄), but I think this is a bit creepy…to say the least.

Anyhoot, there’s something called ‘trauma porn’ and it’s where people either ‘pretend’ to be victims of something or they use their own story in a sensationalized way for attention.

I knew this existed (because I’m just so gosh darn smart) but when I saw this picture, I was speechless.

So in this case, we have these young women pretending to be holocaust victims.  Peeps…please read that sentence again.  These women are pretending to be concentration camp victims and my question is who, in the name of all that is holy, would ever…in a million years…think it’s OK to appropriate this tragedy and use it as a way to get viewers on fucking TikTok? Seriously? I’m speechless (which is quite unnatural for me to be 😳.

As I often do, I’m typing this outside on my laptop (while Eddie and Dottie frolic around…eating poop…and yapping at absolutely nothing) and my beautiful neighbor came out with her dog.  She asked what I was doing and when I told her about this trend and that I was trying to write about it, here’s what she said: “You know, people my generation have never really faced trauma or tragedy anywhere close to the holocaust and how can they even imagine what it would have been like?  How could they ever presume to know that pain?  They’ve been shielded from so much anyway.”

Continue reading “There’s none so blind as he who can’t see.”

“No student is bad. They only need a good teacher.” ~ Rahul Nair

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So, I was chatting with someone the other day and they said this:  “Those who can’t do, teach.”  OK.  I’m going to wait until you educators pull your jaws up off the floor and are able to blink again.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Waiting.  Ready?  I’m going to sum up what my first reaction was to this:  What the fuck (sorry, ma…but you helped put me through college…aren’t you a bit pissed too?)?!  Are you kidding me?  Really?

First of all, how totally ridiculous is that phrase?  I can’t even.  I’m mean seriously…I refuse to type it again since it pisses me off so much.  Let me get this straight:  if I CAN’T do something, I CAN teach it.  Hmmmmm…so…if I CAN’T speak German (which I’d like to be able to since it was the native language of my great-grandparents 😳), I CAN still jolly well teach it?  Okey dokey!  Well…let’s see…I can’t look at the periodic table and not think it should be re-arranged differently because it’s just not aesthetically pleasing, understand an electrical circuit (just ask my brother in law 😵), comprehend anything at all about astronomy, see algebraic equations and not want to poke myself in the eye with a hot stick since they simply look like gobbedly-gook to me and it stresses me out even more than I ususally am just peering at them, peruse biological concepts and wonder how I have kept myself alive this long since I understand nothing about bodily functions, read about a physics law and marvel at the fact I can ride a freaking bike when I have absolutely no clue in God’s world how I’m doing it, and the list goes on.  BUT, I can certainly TEACH about biology and electricity and algebra.  Right?  Good to know.  Blech.

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OK.  Maybe you’re rolling your eyes (don’t do that, grasshoppers…according to ma they’ll stick that way and you’ll be looking at ceilings for the rest of your lives 🙄) and saying to yourself:  “The quote doesn’t mean that!  It means that if you CAN’T be successful in the field, THEN you teach.”

OH!  Much better!  🙄  Heh??  Why can’t people understand that the great majority of educators WANTED to teach?  That it was our primary objective?  That teaching is a discipline?  That we studied the particular field we teach AND learned how to teach it?

Actually, this begs even more questions:  When did people lose so much respect for educators (I mean, hello?!!  Who the hell taught them how to read?)?  When did we start to demand so much more from teachers while losing appreciation for them at the same time?  When did teachers become the scapegoats for so many of society’s ills?  And, when we talk about educational issues in general, why is it that faculty are judged first, when in fact they are following the dictates of an administration who may never have taught themselves?  Does that really make sense, peeps?  Me don’t think so.  🤨

Anyhoot, besides providing fodder for a rambling intro, when that quote was said to me, it started me thinking of other ‘myths’ regarding teachers.  And believe you me, there’s a lot of ’em.  (Side note:  I’ve never really gotten the phrase ‘believe you me’.  It doesn’t make sense but I like using it anyway…it just sounds catchy to me).

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Photo Credit

So y’all know that us educators have it made; I mean look…we get our summers off!  Right?  If you believe that, I have some great ocean side property in Iowa to sell you for a buck an acre (put your checkbook away ma…I was just making a point 🙄).  Unlike for all the other people in the world that actually ‘work’ and not teach, this has been a very relaxing summer for me.  I taught 3 summer classes because I need the income and because I want students to have every opportunity possible to get their needed credit hours.  I shoved 16 weeks of work into 8 for each class and that made for hours and hours of grading every week; and since I taught them online (which is not my first choice but necessary this summer and also because summer students traditionally like online 😎), I was making tons of videos and helping students with not only their academic work but with some technology issues as well.

Then, I always use the summer to get ready for fall (us educators never live in the ‘semester’ we’re teaching…instead, we are always teaching one semester while preparing for the next).  That means I’m prepping 8 classes (so many because we have an open faculty position we can’t fill because of Covid and interviewing issues, etc.) to be online and for every single one of these develop 16 weeks of fresh, engaging, interactive material.  That’s 128 weeks of work to get ready with me researching every topic/issue/concept I teach in 2 different disciplines and then going through loads and loads of info so my students learn as much as they possibly can.  Being in front of the computer with scads of books, articles, sites, videos, etc. to wade through for 6-7 hours a day made for a relaxing summer ‘off’.  Huh?

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“But Kristi, you get paid the big bucks as a professor!”  No, my sweetie peeps, I don’t.  Yes, I make good money and am truly blessed by what I do.  And I mean that…I get paid for doing what I love and for being with my sweetie students who I absolutely adore.  But, I’m not going to get ‘rich’ (which doesn’t matter to me one iota since so many wealthy men are lining up to marry me anyway 🤓 ) and struggle with money at times.  I know so so so many people live paycheck to paycheck and that I’m very lucky I always have enough to pay what I need too with some left over.  However, I think people hear the word professor (or even teacher) and think RICH.  Nuh uh.  (So, if you’re a nice rich, single guy and you like teachers…just sayin’).  🤨  In fact, according to Visual Capitalist, out of 50 college degrees, education is ranked #49 in terms of salary.  49!

Another gem?  A good teacher can teach anyone.  Bullshit.  Any questions?

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C’mon now.  Students have to want to learn…be motivated to learn…put their own work into the process…and the list goes on.  Teachers aren’t the only part of the equation in the educational process.  Trust me.  And it’s getting harder.  Students have a repository of knowledge in the palm of their hand.  They don’t need to know how to look through indexes, read dozens of articles and books, take notes, type out papers multiple times on a typewriter until it’s just right, etc.  Now, they can just say:  “Hey Google…what are the 3 theoretical perspectives of Sociology?”  (VERY important to know, peeps…you might be on Jeopardy someday 🙄).  So, we are now trying to teach students how to learn…how to think for themselves outside of what ‘wikipedia’ says…how to analyze information…how to be media literate…how to show that the info we present is applicable in real life…and how to find a love of reading and learning simply for the sake of it.  That’s tough to do.  Trust me.

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Glasbergen Cartoon Service

“Well, you might say…at least teaching is ‘easy’.  I mean, you’re pretty much just talking to students and all.”  Hubby 3 (sigh…shutty the mouthy…), a maintenance technician, thought this for a time…bless his motorcycle lovin’ heart.  But then he was asked to teach a 6 hour class about crane inspection (I can’t think of anything I’d least like to sit through…except maybe ma telling one more story about a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend who might have something but doesn’t know for sure 🙄).  I tried to give him some teaching tips (of course, what did I know…I’d only been doing it for a couple of decades 😳), but he said it would be a cinch…he knew his stuff.  Oooookkkkkaaaaayyyyy!

After his class, he plodded up the driveway and looked exhausted.  The first thing he did upon walking in the door was to grab me, hug me, and say “How the hell do you do this everyday?  It was a nightmare!”  (Actually his language was much more graphic then this…but it might shock the knickers off of ma).  I asked what happened and he said:  “People weren’t listening and were talking and were asking stupid questions I had already answered and whining for a break and mumbling about why was I the one teaching this crap and I’d say something 3 times and they still wouldn’t get it and my PowerPoints were illegible because I made them too wordy and then they’d want a bathroom break and then their phone would go off and I’d have to start my sentence over and then one fell asleep and started snoring and then a couple of the guys started laughing while a couple others were arguing about unions and I just wanted to get in a factory and be out of that God forsaken room.”  I didn’t use punctuation in that sentence because Hubby didn’t when he said it.  It was just one long complaint.  And after this little adventure in academia?  He never ever ever said I didn’t work hard.  Ever.

Out of all of these gems, this is my favorite quote about teachers:  “Most damaging to student achievement: teachers are interchangeable widgets.” ~ Joni Johnson

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My Lord…it’s like looking into a mirror.

OK.  I don’t know who the hell this person is, and to be honest, I don’t want to know.  But to make a blanket statement about a group of people that you apply to every individual means you weren’t listening in sociology class when stereotyping and prejudice were being discussed.  Just sayin’.

Yes.  There are good professors and bad professors.  Good teachers and bad teachers.  But by the same token, there are good chefs and bad chefs…good docs and bad docs…good accountants and bad accountants…and the list goes on.  Why is it that educators are singled out as a group and if one is bad, the whole lot of them are?  I don’t get that at all.

Finally, us educators are told that we need to be flexible, accommodating, understanding, work to develop a one on one relationship with each student, not provide so much homework, lessen demands and expectations, challenge our students, apply every concept to real life, know everything there is to know about our subject matter, allow for more individuation in learning, have passion, be inspirational, keep things lighthearted so learning is fun, bring our own personal stories into the class, etc.  Whew.

Now, take a look-see at those expectations again.  And then tell me…honestly…how many people in ANY profession can do any of those things every single day?  Not only is it impossible, but so many are counter to one another!  It’s sorta tricky to challenge our students while lessening our demands on them.  In other words, profs…all educators…are held to a higher standard in terms of their ‘job’ and everything is supposed to be ‘wonderful’ in the classroom regardless of day, topic, etc.  I’m here to tell you, peeps…lecturing about domestic violence does not make for a lighthearted class.  Trust me.

When O was a medium sized guy, I was asked to be a guest speaker at the schools career day, and the PTA President (cough cough…shrew…cough cough) said I would only get a few minutes since kids know what teachers do anyway.  So…I made the following list to talk about that I called:  “What Does Professor K do all Day?” (I love rhymes…):

  • Prepare lectures, PowerPoints/videos/handouts
  • Prepare both master and working syllabi each semester
  • Prepare records/data for program reviews and course reviews
  • Develop online classes
  • Grade Grade Grade
  • Prepare exams ensuring they are reliable and valid
  • Calculate midterm and final semester grades
  • Meet with students often for extra help and guidance
  • Grade Grade Grade
  • Integrate new learning and technology into classes every semester
  • Be evaluated by dean and then prepare a self-evaluation every year
  • Advise students on majors and courses
  • Counsel students on careers and job opportunities in the field
  • Grade Grade Grade
  • Write letters of recommendation for students seeking jobs
  • Write letters of recommendation for students seeking scholarships
  • Write letters of recommendation for students seeking entrance into a university
  • Present community workshops as part of the colleges Speaker’s Bureau
  • Participate in college and departmental meetings
  • Grade Grade Grade
  • Serve on college committees
  • Serve on search committees for new faculty members
  • Serve on tenure committees
  • Earn continuing education hours to maintain my professional designation
  • Grade Grade Grade

I think that pretty much covers it.  And, since my time on campus is spent being with my sweetiepie students, I spend hours and hours working at home as well.

Look, I’m not saying that teaching is the hardest job in the world.  It’s not.  Really.  However, teaching is a field that is losing respect and teachers are being scrutinized more and more as students’ work and test scores decline.  Educators have ‘bosses’ too and there is only so much ‘freedom’ we have to do what we think is right.  Professors have to do what our admin tells us to do.  Elementary – High School teachers have to follow the dictates of the district…teach so kids can pass the standardized tests…operate under whatever funding is available.  And we all have to keep our mouths shutty when we, as EDUCATORS, realize that what NON-EDUCATORS (who are often on school boards, etc.) direct is often wrong.  How frustrating that is.

Anyhoot, I love what I do.  And I’m good at what I do.  As are millions of educators out there.  Give us a break, guys.  Cut us some slack.  We are not at fault for the world’s ills and the ‘buck’ does not stop at the teacher in terms of education.  Parents, communities, and the students themselves have to be added to the equation (which is hard for me to do…remember, I suck balls at math 😳) for what makes successful education in any society.  And, if you see one of your old teachers out and about, say ‘howdy’ and give them a little hug (masked, of course 😷) and tell them how much you learned from them.  It will make their day.  Truly.

Kristi xoxo

 

 

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