“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)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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