“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

Will the real me please stand up?

So it’s been a while, peeps and I’ve missed y’all! It’s been a crummy couple of weeks…not only did my Little Dot pass and I miss her every hour of every day, but I also found out I need a full hysterectomy and will be having the surgery on May 17th. The timing is blech. You see, I LOVE my break between spring and summer classes…and now I’ll be spending it on the couch with Bill and Ma taking care of me. Hmmmmm…them waiting on me hand and foot…getting me whatever I’m peckish for…doing all the housework. Actually, this may not be so bad after all! I’m just glad I’m finally going to feel better after feeling lousy since September. Whew! 😳

Anyhoot, my Intro to Sociology class had a discussion last week about statuses and roles: we occupy various statuses and play roles tailored for them. As Erving Goffman said, we’re on a stage when we’re with others and ‘dramaturgy’ is the word he used.

People don’t like this idea. “I don’t ACT…I’m always me!” BUT…then you ask them: “So, who are you?” And usually the answer comes in a ‘what’ form: I’m a professor. I’m a mama. I’m a daughter. I’m a sister. You get the point. But that’s not really YOU…that’s just your statuses. Right? And yes, I play roles with my statuses; believe you me, I would never talk to ma the way I talk to my sissy. She’s probably plop over from horror. 🤨

So, let me ask you again: “Who are YOU?”

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot after grading the discussion and most of my students kept answering in terms of what they do. However, when I asked if we can ever REALLY (I’m into capital letters today…notice? 🙄) know our ‘true’ selves, most everyone said yes. Hmmm. That’s sort of a dichotomy though, isn’t it?

For me, I believe that we never get to know the ‘true’ soul inside of us and here’s why: from the second we are born, we are given statuses such as boy, girl, daughter, son, sister, brother, grandbaby, etc. Immediately we are a ‘what’ and we have absolutely no conscious awareness of a ‘who’ inside of us. We don’t know anything about anything at this point in our development! Now, when we do start being cognizant of ourselves, we’ve been so completely socialized into the above that these statuses have become a part of us. “I am a sister and daughter and friend and grand-daughter, etc.” THAT’s who I am.

Remember John Locke? He was the philosopher who used the term ‘tabula rasa’ for the first time in the 17th century (he and ma were great friends in high school…I think they still keep in touch 😐) and this basically means that we are born without any mental content at all. We are a blank slate or, as Locke put it, “white paper, void of all characters”. We are empty vessels needing experience and perception to start building up our awareness of the world…and of ourselves. Now, we have our own ways of interpreting these experiences and perceptions…that makes us unique individuals…but it’s a process. A learning curve.

I think about how many ‘people’ I’ve been. Not just in terms of statuses, but in terms of periods in my life where I’ve felt changes within me that have become a part of me. My parents divorce was probably the first time I could understand that life would never be the same from what I had known for 12 years and it made me look at the world a bit differently. A bit more guarded. A bit more understanding that things don’t necessarily last forever.

When I was bullied in high school, I learned that people can hurt you for no other reason than wanting too. That being good to others doesn’t mean they will be good to you.

I learned as a new mama to look at the world through someone else’s eyes while at the same time seeing dangers every where I went. “What could hurt my boy?” “Is this person safe for him to be with?” “Should I let him ride his bike alone to the park?” It’s like I became more open and more closed at the same time.

All of my relationships have shaped me in various ways…some good and some bad. I’ve certainly learned that I have a huge capacity for love…that I have a need for security…that I like being a part of a couple. But, I’ve also learned that people will lie to you…cheat on you…promise to keep a secret and then tell it anyway just to hurt you…leave you…use you…abuse you…etc.

Has this all shaped the ‘me’ inside? You betcha. I’m not the same today as I was 3 years ago or 10 years ago or 20 years ago (that’s going back far enough…don’t want to give my age away 🙄).

Now, with this pandemic having been around for a year now, I’ve basically been at home by myself for a great majority of the time. My students and colleagues, who are my main source of social activity, are suddenly gone and I spend my time working on a screen and then around the house. Days will go by where the only person I talk to is Bill or ma. I thought this forced alone time would finally let me find the real me that’s supposedly deep inside. But it hasn’t. It has shown me a lot about myself and what I’m capable of, etc. but it’s not letting a ‘me’ come out.

And here’s what I’m thinking: that maybe my ‘me’ is already here. A conglomeration of all my experiences and perceptions and knowledge and trials since the beginning of my time. Maybe Kristi IS a professor and mama and daughter, etc. Maybe the me inside is the me I’ve created throughout the years. So…maybe the question we should ask ourselves isn’t ‘WHO are you?’ but ‘HOW are you?’ Hmmmmm…

Kristi xoxo