Sunday, December 20, 2015

Notes from a Weekend

This weekend, a lot of running around happened.

(I was going to bullet point this list, by the way, but I'd have needed to indent things and I'm too lazy to look up the HTML code to indent.)

I had an early dismissal from school on Friday, which made me happy because I had a lot (two) errands to run after school.

Two is not a lot of errands, but it involved a trip to the UPS store, which meant three trips of transporting holiday gifts from the trunk of my car into the store, and then waiting as the lone UPS clerk assisted approximately 3,247 other people, only some of who came in after me but who didn't feel compelled to give up their space. Shipping was only somewhat expensive, but only because I wasn't organized enough to take everything to the UPS store earlier in the week. In any case, I spent close to 45 minutes waiting and/or prepping all the gifts at the UPS store.

I then had to drive across the valley to the mall to the local Apple store to get my MacBook Pro fixed. The o on my keyboard had stopped working, or was working extremely intermittently, for more than two weeks, but I didn't want to be without my laptop for any amount of time because all my passwords are stored on my laptop and they're all different and I can never remember them all which is why the computer remembers them for me, but which if I try to enter in the password myself means I'll eventually get locked out of [insert site here] which means I go through the process of resetting the password, which must be different than all the passwords I've used in the past year, which I can't remember because they're all different.

I have problems.

A few weeks ago, I went to the Apple Genius bar, and the nice lady said they could order a part and they could fix it in-store, but it would take probably 3-5 days, and I can't really not do the grading for that amount of time, so I said I would bring my laptop back this weekend.

After the UPS store, I drove the half hour across the valley to get to the mall, and then it took me another 15-20 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the Apple store, because I parked close to a mile away plus I was exhausted and I walk slowly anyway). (Of course. after the fact I remembered where to park so that it would be a lot closer and I wouldn't be accosted by everyone who works in those little kiosks who want to sell me perfume and makeup and hair stuff and electronics and things I don't care about.) I dropped off my MacBook, then followed the very slow drivers back across the valley, and got home approximately the time I normally would have had I left school two hours previously.

Yesterday was Ed's birthday, and somehow I managed to win tickets to the Christmas concert that featured the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, and the Bells on Temple Square, and featured performances by Broadway singer Laura Osnes and Metropolitan Opera soloists Erin Morley, Tamara Mumford, Ben Bliss, and Tyler Simpson. We had dinner at the New Yorker, after which it took us more than an hour to drive the 3/4 of a mile to the Conference Center where the concert was being held. We did miss the opening number (we missed the dancing girls!) but so did quite a few other people. The performances were spectacular, and it was a wonderful concert all around.

This morning I was able to retrieve my now-fixed laptop, and tomorrow I have a handful of magazine projects to correct for my college students, and some low-level preparation to do before we fly out to California on Wednesday.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Renewing A Teaching License

I am once again in the process of renewing my Level 1 Professional Educator License, which expires in June 2016. (One needs to teach full-time for three years at the K-12 level in order to upgrade one's license to a level 2. This will be my second time renewing my license. Such is life. I know of at least one other teacher who had to renew his Level 1 License, although I'm not sure how common it is to renew it twice. I prefer not to think about this too much.)

Aside from taking the online ethics test and getting fingerprinted, one needs 100 points in order to renew one's teaching license. I do not think this will be a problem: I'll have a minimum of 2,317 points. (This is not a typo.) The Utah State Office of Education (USOE) seems to sometimes give out points for breathing: I got six points for attending a required six-hour new teacher induction.

I have decided not to count my graduate degree mostly because I don't need the points, but partly because I could foresee the course number designations being a hassle.

Utah higher education course numbers start at 1000. For example, I teach English 1010 (Introduction to Writing) and English 2010 (Intermediate Writing) at Salt Lake Community College. (By the way, teaching these courses already put me above the minimum required number of relicensure points.)They are not graduate-level classes. Yet in every other non-Utah university at which I've taught or otherwise attended, courses start in the 100s for basic, first-year classes. (A remedial class might be 099.) Classes with designations of 500-600-level classes and above are graduate-level classes; generally speaking, 700-level classes and above are doctoral level classes, although there's a bit over overlap, and different universities might categorize their classes slightly differently. Five of the 12 classes I took as a Northern Arizona University grad student were 600-level classes, with 685 being my research class and the highest level class I took.

Clearly I am not teaching classes that are at a higher level than that I took as a grad student.

For a class to count for license renewal, though, the USOE has decided that "[o]nly non-remedial (course number > 1000) coursework at regionally-accredited universities may be counted for renewal points." By this definition, my entire graduate degree was remedial.

This is splitting hairs, of course; I know what the USOE means to imply, and it's often reasonable to assume that most people will attend graduate programs in their own state. However, with the advent and multiplication of online degrees, the course numbers needing to be above a certain number is not necessary; the USOE could omit the > 1000 altogether.

In any event, I suspect I'll have to be satisfied with the 535 or so points I'll wind up submitting.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Feeling Good

I'm feeling happy these days. I'm enjoying teaching at my new school, where I feel supported and liked, and I'm enjoying many of the classes I teach. (The 12th graders are still challenging, but we're slowly warming up to each other.) Because I'm getting a regular paycheck, because I have my own retirement fund (and, if I ever need it, a health plan), I'm starting to feel good about myself for the first time in a very long time. Because I'm feeling good about myself, I want to take care of myself, which led to my having rejoined a gym this morning.

I had been a member of the local Curves for years, but I eventually canceled my membership because my teaching schedule and the amount of time I spent commuting made it difficult to exercise during the hours they were open. I joined a Planet Fitness, which was open 24/7, but I missed socializing with the other women who regularly attended and whom I was getting to know, and I rarely saw anyone using the Planet Fitness circuit. There wasn't the same level of attention given to the members are there was at the local Curves, which was what I really missed. I used the treadmill, but treadmills are boring as hell; if I walk, I might as well walk for free outside, or use the treadmill at the clubhouse.

My teaching schedule is more regular now, and I'm doing a lot less driving. Not only that, but the gym is three miles away from school; home is two and a half miles. The school day ends early enough that I can get to the gym and still be home mid-afternoon. I dislike working out, but if I can talk to people who know or recognize me, I'll actually exercise, which is the important part.

I also know that I spend a lot of time indoors, but between given how fair I am (lots of freckles) and living at a high altitude (about 4,600 feet), I'm cautious when it comes to spending too much time in the sun. I'm going to try to balance a need for exercise and spending some time outside by going for a 30-40-minute walk a few times a week, at least while the weather is nice enough to do so. Today was a gorgeous day for a walk: cool but still warm in the sun, and some really cooling breezes. And some pretty fall flowers.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

(Re)Considering Poverty

In one of my Concurrent Enrollment classes late last week, I had two separate discussions on (what I hope were) good discussions on what defines poverty, and how the definition of poverty continues to change. One student is using "The New Face of Hunger" as the basis for her rhetorical analysis, and we talked about the stereotypical view versus the complexities of poverty. I was reminded of a woman who drove a Mercedes to pick up food stamps; due to a combination of her husband's job loss, the premature birth of twins, high hospital bills, and having bought a house shortly before the economy collapse - and these events happening during the economic collapse - things quickly escalated to her being on food stamps, while driving a luxury car. While the image of an unemployed, scruffy, starving person is the classic image of poverty, that image has changed.

Another student approached me a few minutes later; having overheard my talking with the other student, the discussion related to how people adapt to relative poverty, and how difficult it is to decide what constitutes affordability. The article she was reading mentioned an installment plan, and she wasn't sure what that was. I mentioned that it was often similar to layaway (something she had not heard of), so I explained that if someone needed a service or a product but couldn't afford the entire price right away, but they could afford a fraction of the cost, they might make regular payments until the item or service could be paid for in full. She wondered why someone might do that instead of going without, or looking into a cheaper possibility.

The student gave an example: Her family had a very old computer; they used dial-up, and that if they really needed to use the Internet for a longer period, she could take a 15-minute walk to the local library. I said that those were possibilities for her, but not necessarily for everyone, and that things were unfortunately much more frustrating for other folks.

What if there's no library in your town, or it's too far to walk to? What if you work hours that align with the library's hours? What if you live in a location with either no public transportation, or very limited public transportation, or the nearest stop is too far to walk, or the library - or another place you need to get to - isn't on the route?

(How one defines "too far to walk" is relative and includes a number of variables that might inhibit walking, such as weather, young children, or other obligations. Three miles in sunny, temperate weather is one thing; a mile in a blizzard is quite another. It's simply unrealistic to assume that one can find a job within walking distance.)

If you don't have regular Internet access and can't get to the library to use their computers, how do you look for a job? Perhaps you don't have a landline, and you use a prepaid cell phone as the primary means of communication; that can eliminate phone interviews, or make them difficult. One still needs a way of finding and applying to jobs, and having a computer to create a resume and cover letter, even without Internet access, is essential, but even applying for jobs without Internet access is at the very least difficult, especially because it's assumed that job applicants have an e-mail address they can regularly check.

Moving to a larger city or town isn't necessarily viable, either; that requires money, or a support system that has money, that many simply don't have. It assumes a certain level of credit, also, insofar that if one is moving from one apartment to another, a credit check might be run, and if one's employment is spotty or if one makes a low wage, the would-be employed might have a difficult time paying bills on time, thereby affecting one's credit score.

It's a horrendous cycle, and what it comes down to is that it's impossible to make a determination on the behalf of another as to what constitutes affordability. One winds up making seemingly ridiculous or impossible choices for which others will judge you.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Student Behavior

A few thoughts that have been rattling around in my mind since school started three weeks ago.

At the beginning of the year, I asked my students what would make the class less uninteresting, and what they expected from me. There were a range of answers, but by and large they wanted me to treat them with respect, to teach them what they needed to know, but not to teach reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary. Some noted that they didn't want a lot of "free" days - they wanted to be taught important things. I neglected to actually ask what things they think they need to know, so within the next week or two I'm going to have a few classes in which we figure that out, but clearly there's a slight disconnect between what students think they need to know and what teachers think they need to know. Obviously, I can't guarantee that what I teach them will be of use to them, except I'm pretty sure that writing, reading, and spelling will come in handy at some point.

Many of my students don't think I can see them using their phones when I've explicitly asked them not to. I've tried establishing a policy in which students may use their phones for the last 15 minutes of class but they keep forgetting that I can actually tell when they're texting.

The seniors especially so badly want to be treated like the adults they are, but they don't quite know what that means, nor do they quite know what it means to treat the adults in their life like adults. The students still have to follow what they believe to be ridiculous rules. For example, today a student asked if she could go to the restroom (or get a drink, I forget which), but both she and a friend disappeared for upwards of 10 minutes. When they came back with vending machine snacks, I told them that that they had been gone far too long ("We've only been gone for five minutes!"); that they would not be permitted to leave together; and that they would have to go one at a time. I got a slight eyeroll, which didn't bother me in the slightest.

Students think that adult behavior means that one can do whatever one wants, free of repercussions. Adult behavior is not, in fact, that, though.

On a sillier note, I've been hanging "tearable puns" both on my door and around the corner from my door; the puns on my door get pulled off less regularly than those in the hall, but earlier today I overheard one student point out my puns; they also stood in the door to try to figure out the brainteaser I have projected in the front of the classroom. (My desk is hidden from view.) Two other students whom I didn't know came in to try to figure out the answer to today's brainteaser. ("Question: If today is Tuesday, what is the day after the day before the day before tomorrow?" Answer: Tuesday.) Because we run on an A/B schedule, I change the brainteaser every other day.

Monday, August 24, 2015

First Day of School

Today was the first day of school; I had one class of seniors, and two Concurrent Enrollment classes. Tomorrow I'll have another two sections of seniors and one class with 10th graders. I found myself nervous, though, because I have little idea of how to actually interact personally with 12 graders. I know how to create lesson plans, and I know which novels and writing exercises I'll be using this year, but I've never taught seniors before and I wanted to make a good impression.

When my first period class came in, I said that there were the usual classroom expectations: Be kind, be respectful, raise your hand, etc. Then I asked the seniors two questions, which I had them answer anonymously on a sheet of paper that I had them turn in before they leave: What would make the class less terrible, and what do they expect from me as a teacher. Most said that they wanted to be respected, and treated like adults. They wanted the material to mean something, not be mindless; a few noted they wanted to be able to ask for help. Several said they wanted to be able to listen to music while they worked, or at the end of class when the work was done; others said they wanted me to realize that they have other classes and other responsibilities; that they don't want to be here. In other words, they want to be understood and be recognized as the adults. I'll have an easier time with the sophomores, whom I had met this past Friday during their Orientation. (I have a 10th grade homeroom as well as a 10th grade English class.) I can be silly with them and that seems to be the way to get and keep their attention.

Yesterday I discovered that I could set up a message and/or an e-mail to all my students and their parents and have the message be sent at a certain time, so I set up an announcement for all my classes, and included course syllabi. I think it was a good move; by 7:20 this morning I heard from one parent of a 10th grader who told me that my class was all her son could talk about when he came home from Friday's Orientation, and that my e-mail this morning impressed her even more; she said some very much appreciated things this morning.

Another parent told me that his son would pretend to be too cool to be in class, but that the son secretly loved science fiction and would probably die a bit inside while reading Pride and Prejudice, but he'll survive, "in spite of Austen's complete refusal to use dragons, knights, or wizards." (I responded that this gave me the idea that students could choose excerpts and rewrite them into their favorite genre - that maybe the novel would be improved with dragons. The parent unequivocally agreed.) And a third teacher thanked me for having the course website that I planned to use, noting that it's helpful to notifying parents of due dates and homework.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Adventures with Souvenirs

I'm not sure how many guarantees there are when it comes to marriage: Some people date for years before getting married, and have good luck, while others don't; others date for seemingly days and stay happily married for decades, while others don't. I'm not sure there's anything one thing one can do to guarantee a happy marriage.

Being Catholic, Ed and I attended a Pre-Cana Engaged Encounter retreat, a weekend meant to get us talking about what turned out to be pretty much all the things we had already discussed: finances, living arrangements, careers, parents, procreation, etc. Oddly, while birth control was discussed, it was only in the confines of the rhythm method. There was zero discussion about planning for children otherwise in terms of timing, the number of children, infertility, financial discussions relating to children, who would stay home - things that I think would be good for us and other couples to have talked about more - but there was  absolutely no discussion about these topics whatsoever. As such, we found the weekend not a good use of our time (as I wrote here and here). 

What turned out to be as helpful, perhaps even more so, in many cases, was that we traveled together before we got married. We had begun planning a trip to Stockholm, Tallinn, and Helsinki before we got engaged, but traveling after the fact put us into close quarters with each other, where things could ostensibly go wrong in three countries where neither of spoke the language. While I believed that I could marry Ed and be happy, it was this trip that confirmed this.

And not for nothing, a lot of it had to do with our having the same interests and wanting to check out the same things, while being open to seeing things that we might not want to see if the other person had an interest. Sine we both like eating, we were able to have some good meals without worrying that the other person was going to be a picky eater.  In other words, it came down to flexibility, shared interests, and an interest in the other person's interests as well. It's okay if I want to see one more church, and it's okay if Ed wants to see All the Things in a museum. 

We've been married for just over four years now - not an especially long time, but long enough to get into a groove when it comes to traveling. We do our research ahead of time; we tend to want to see the same things. If one of us needs to slow down or take a break, it's not an issue.

This also means that many of our souvenirs are things we share, mostly relating to books on places we've visited, or Christmas ornaments (because we like having ornaments of places we've visited), or posters for the wall. We used to only buy flat things (like books and small posters) or small things that were easily packed in our luggage. Then we realized that all the places we were visiting had these things called post offices - or, in at least two cases, Mailboxes, Etc. - and that we could mail things home. Since many tourist places offer international shipping, things often work out really well in those cases, too. 

Sometimes, though, interesting things happen. (I'm using "interesting" fast and loose here.)

Our most recent trip was to Ireland and Northern Ireland; we started in the west of Ireland, and drove north up through Northern Ireland, stopping at the Giant's Causeway and Belfast, before driving south to Dublin, where we spent the last week of our trip. We noticed that the Giant's Causeway ship offered international shipping, so we bought some things, filled out a form, and was told that we'd be called once they figured out international shipping costs in order to get our okay, and ship things. We gave them our address, phone number, and my e-mail address. Foreign addresses are always a bit wonky, so we made sure to confirm all information before we went on our merry way.

It took them more than a week to get to the post office; after several calls back and forth, we finally connected with the correct people, who were finally able to tell us the shipping charges. Then we got another call saying that they couldn't read our e-mail address in order to send us the tracking number. (We cared less about that and more that our package was actually shipped.)

Today our package arrived. Both my first name and last name were misspelled (which I care less about; outside of Poland, it's a weird name), as was the name of the town in which we live. And instead of writing out Utah, or abbreviating it correctly, VT (the abbreviation for Vermont) was used. So ultimately the package was sent to Micelle Szetella in West Jordon, VT.

Somehow the post office still got it to us. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

Avoiding Political Debates

Apparently there are several thousand would-be candidates seeking the Presidential candidacy these days. Last night was the first in what I can only assume will be dozens of televised political debates. I tend to avoid political debates for a number of reasons:
  • One of the simplest reasons is that I don't pay attention to airdates. Very rarely do I watch live TV; we have TiVo, so I fast forward through ads and usually miss announcements for these sorts of things.
  • I don't find them especially interesting. I have a limited (probably short) attention span, and can only listen to people talk for 45 minutes or so because I need to refocus my attention. 
  • On a related note, I need to stop and think a lot. I process things more slowly when a lot of talking is involved. If a debate involves the printed word, I can take my time and ruminate, perhaps do some research and educate myself, etc. I enjoy reading fact checking articles, regardless of political affiliation. (The first Republican debate was last night; once the Democrat debates are televised, I'll enjoy reading those fact checking articles as well.)
  • Because I'm a ignorant lout, I prefer to focus on specific parts of debates that relate to things that I do know and care about, mostly issues relating to social justice issues and educational reform. Foreign policy, the environment, and many other matters are as important, and I recognize their significance, but I do not have the mental capacity to do extensive research on every potential issue and become knowledgable about each matter. Therefore, I often tend to judge and vote for candidates on education reform and social justice issues, since those are the topics on which I place higher importance.
  • To paraphrase Grandpa Simpson, these sorts of debates just kinda angry up the blood. The moment I encounter a candidate personally insulting an individual or group, as far as I'm concerned, that candidate has lost my vote. There's a difference between criticizing an idea and criticizing a person; many people are not good at differentiating.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Promoting Foreign Language Education

As mentioned in a previous post, this week I took a weeklong workshop on multicultural education at the University of Utah, a workshop I'm taking this for teaching licensure points, although I'm not really interested in going back to teaching at the secondary level at the point. On our first day, we were given a questionnaire that would provide some background information for our workshop leaders to understand us more. I'm the only college-level teacher in the group.

One of the questions we were given was to discuss what "diversity" means to us, and what we hope to get out of the workshop. I tend to think that diversity is often narrowly defined as that relating to racial identities, and believe cultural identity is just as often linguistic, religious, or socioeconomic.

A few days ago someone from the University's Global U program gave a short presentation about the U's foreign language department, and told us about the federally-funded Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. This led to an interesting discussion about English Language Learners, teaching English to speakers of other languages, and foreign language education. Apparently there are no foreign language requirements for graduation from high schools in Utah, yet there are foreign language requirements at the college level. Getting students to want to take foreign languages in high school is difficult (often getting high school students to want to take any classes is difficult), and the foreign languages that are  seen as "worthwhile" are limited, for example, to Spanish and Chinese. (I also learned about heritage language programs in which students with some proficiency in the language of their parents or ancestors take courses in this language to maintain and improve fluency and literacy skills.)

It's therefore difficult to get district funding to find and pay teachers of foreign languages that aren't Spanish or Chinese, which means few students see the need for learning a foreign language that isn't Spanish or Chinese, which means that few students choose to learn any foreign language at high school or college, which leads to students not majoring in any foreign language, which leads to a shortage of teachers capable of teaching any foreign language. And the teachers who might be certified and otherwise capable of teaching any foreign language have trouble finding a teaching job because there are no openings for foreign language teachers, which leads to difficulty in getting district funding of creating more foreign language positions (because students and parents aren't interested in their students learning foreign languages), and on and on. It's a vicious cycle.

Pushing Students Through the K-16 Pipeline & College Readiness

Today is the last day of the weeklong teacher education workshop on multicultural education I've been taking at the University of Utah. I'm interested in multicultural education insofar as I realize there are student populations I could probably relate to better, although at the college level students do (need to) learn to be more proactive about their education and how to navigate post high school education, regardless of race. (That's something I can try to help them with.)

One of the guest speakers we had this morning talked about students going through the "K-16 Pipeline," meaning that students are now being highly encouraged to think of their lives after high school, that college is a possibility, but it is not the only possibility. While I strongly support students getting additional education after they graduate from high school - and I do think that post-secondary education is necessary - only talking to students about going to college can lead to students thinking that if they don't want to go to college (because they're not sure they want to; because they don't have the finances to do so; because they have no support in doing so), or don't go when they're 18 and finish within four years, or stop halfway through, other options should be discussed.

For example, it hasn't been true for decades - if it ever was - that if you don't go to college at 18 then there must be something wrong with you. If you need a break from school, if you don't have the maturity to attend college (I certainly didn't when I was 18), if don't know what you want to study, if you need to stop part of the way through for whatever reason, if family or other circumstances prevent you from attending, if you simply want to work first* - the student is not necessarily a failure. 

The student is not a failure for not completing a two-year degree in two years, or for not completing four-year degree in four years (immediately landing the job for which their degree has ostensibly prepared them, and/or immediately going to grad school), or for not going to college at 18, or for going to a vocational school, or a community college, or for completing a certificate program.

This is the message, though, that gets inadvertently stressed to students: It's either college or nothing. Complete it "right" the first time. The conversation is sadly lacking. A fuller range of options are simply not discussed, 

This led to a discussion on college readiness; we were asked, among other things:
What are some examples of college readiness skills taking place in your school and classroom? What kind of support do you need as teachers to prepare students with college readiness skills?
"College readiness" is a tricky concept to define. I'm not sure what that means (rather, I know what it's "supposed" to mean - a very narrow definition of academic skills that "everyone is supposed" to have), and I'm not sure that it's a distinct concept that's equally defined to everyone.  "College readiness skills" implies that everyone will have been recently taught a certain subject at a certain skill level and have used that skill recently. It implies that if individuals have never been taught those skills, or if they've been out of school for a number of years, then they're probably not what's thought to be academically ready to be at college. It's an extremely narrow individualistic view.

The more I think about it, the more I think what one needs to be "college ready" is a willingness to learn and the maturity to complete the work.

* Yes, college is work, but I'm talking about non-college work here.

Packing Strategies

This morning, before the start of the last day of this weeklong workshop I've been attending this week, the people at my table were talking about their luggage packing practices. One woman was planning to go on a cruise that apparently stopped on at least one island; she talked about bringing five swimsuits, extra shoes (and by that she meant heels), plus more formal wear for evening activities. She was really stressing out.

I was relieved that Ed and I have enough practice traveling that packing has become a non-issue. We don't bring formal clothing because we choose to forgo more formal activities (for my part, I simply don't like getting dressed up - not my thing); formal clothing takes up a lot of space for minimal use; t-shirts and jeans we would wear many times throughout a trip, while formal clothing we might wear for part of one day. Plus, you know, we haven't traveled anywhere yet that doesn't have laundromats somewhere.

In terms of shoes, whatever we have on our feet is what we bring, most often just sneakers or boots, which are good for walking over uneven terrains, through grass and fields, that won't lead to soggy feat if it rains a lot.  (On occasion I've been known to bring flat sandals - something akin to Tevas - that can be placed against the sides of luggage.)

Ed and I pack and bring carry-on luggage; if it doesn't fit, it doesn't come. We also tend to pack fairly quickly, and don't find packing especially stressful (probably the result of having done enough traveling to know what we need). How or why people feel the need to pack multiple bags with multiple pairs of shoes - unless you're moving or traveling for months at a time. Most of our packing mentality is the result of nearly always flying standby. If we check our luggage, there can be a good chance that our luggage will travel interesting places without us. (Plus we don't have to wait for our luggage at baggage claim.)

I think people make travel harder on themselves than it needs to be. There are certainly stressful aspects of travel, and one can't control everything, but packing does not need to be the difficult part.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Pioneer" ≠ Pioneer

In order to maintain my Professional Educator License, which needs to be renewed every three years (at least if one has a level one license, as I do), one needs to accrue 100 points' worth of activities which can include teaching at the college level, substitute teaching, teaching at K-12 school, taking classes towards an advanced degree, etc. One of these options includes participating in workshops which may range from a day or two, be weeklong, or meet once or twice a week - either in person or online - for several weeks. I'm taking a weeklong teacher workshop class sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program this week at the University of Utah's Tanner Humanities Center. The workshop, appropriately titled, "Multicultural Education," provides:
an introduction to the changing demographic population of K-12 students and provide participants with models and strategies for effectively teaching minority students that create classroom and school atmospheres that are accepting of diversity. Topics of investigation and discussion will include: the causes of migration and of settlement patterns in the United States; schools as key locations for integration and/or marginalization; challenges and opportunities diverse classrooms pose for students and teachers; culturally appropriate curriculum; deficit vs. asset perspectives on students and communities.
In preparation, I was reading through the two articles that will be central to tomorrow's discussion. The second article ("Closing Educational Achievement Gaps for Latina/o Students in Utah: Initiating a Policy Discourse and Framework") is a bit on the long side, but I came to a mental halt when I read this statement:
Recognizing that the recent and increasing trends toward diversity enrich the lives of every student, we nonetheless recognize and embrace that Utah’s history began with indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries, and that when the Mormon pioneers arrived in the land that would later become Utah, they were in fact entering Mexico. (Alemán and Rorrer 11)
What I thought was interesting was the use of the word "pioneer" in conjunction with Mormon settlers. I've heard the phrase "Mormon pioneers" previously and it always stuck in my throat, metaphorically speaking, and this evening I realized why: I would disagree that the Mormons were in fact pioneers if there were already "indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries." I remain unconvinced that they were even among the first to develop a new knowledge of the area; not by a long shot were they the only group: The Spanish explored southern Utah in 1540; European trappers and fur traders explored some areas of Utah in the early 19th century. And, as the authors note, "indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries." How does that make later populations pioneering?

The Mormons were certainly colonizers - a word with not altogether pleasant implications. Describing Mormon settlers as "pioneers" is at the very least reminiscent of an colonialist mindset, reminiscent that an area or people need to be contained and "civilized."

Friday, July 3, 2015

Never Attribute to Malice...

I've been on the receiving end of some downright hurtful comments lately, but I can't tell if these comments are being said by people who are being intentionally hurtful, passive aggressive, or simply the result of people being unaware of how they sound. Hanlon's razor comes to mind: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

For example, I was recently told, "Oh, I'm so sorry you don't have any children. My life didn't have any purpose or meaning until I had a child. I finally understood what love is. Jesus really does grant all desires!"

This, of course, is simply ridiculous on multiple levels. If one's life has no meaning before having children, then perhaps one needs to find a way to add meaning to one's life that isn't related to having a child. I understand that having a child can add a depth of meaning that wasn't there previously, but such comments negate any meaning that people gain by cultivating other relationships and experiences both personal and professional. Jesus does not always grant you every desire you want, otherwise we'd have a lot less poverty, a lot less war, and those of us who wanted children would have them easily.

And of course such statements negate my experiences of love. I can and do regularly experience love without having a child.

I'll admit it makes me sad to think that the only way one experience meaning is to have a child. I don't believe this to be true, and I wish those whose lives haven't any meaning in them otherwise would realize that there are so many other ways to have a meaningful life.

On an only slightly related note, a few weeks ago I went to a graduation party for an acquaintance who had finished her nursing degree. I introduced myself to another person there who happened to be an adjunct in the math department. I asked her if she was teaching this summer; her response was, "Of course I am. I don't have a husband to support me." I don't think I responded to her statement - to be honest, I was so surprised at her statement, I just blinked at her. My knee-jerk reaction was to say something like, "Me too!" or "My husband supports me, regardless of the semester," thereby intentionally misunderstanding her. This is unkind, and I'm glad I kept my mouth shut. I'm trying to be kinder in how I react to people. It's a process. (I'm a bit on the snarky side. I am not snarky to my students unless I'm teasing them, but I have a difficult time otherwise.)

There are many assumptions to be made here:
  • I assumed that this particular teacher was making a dig at me in terms of having a husband who financially supports me.
  • To me it sounded like she was assuming that no teachers anywhere make enough to take the summer off (although many teachers do work during the summer for that very reason).
  • There's the assumption that a teacher can't support her family on her salary, or contribute equally.
Of course, she didn't know that last year I was working two jobs while completing my Master's degree; that the sum total of these three jobs was more than 100% (60% time at one school; 60% at the second school; 33% at the third school); that Ed and I had talked about this, and he fully supported my taking the summer off from teaching because how hard I worked last year. This conversation also happened before I scheduled 14 interviews in the past six or so weeks. Looking for full-time work can itself be a full-time job. Goodness.

One can't control what other people say; I'm trying to control my own reactions, not to take everything personally, overlooking the (often temporary) stupid or careless things people say, and not taking everything as a personal affront or critique on what happens in my life.

I can't control not having children - some people can and do control their fertility, but others among us don't have that option, nor can I control a birth mother not having chosen me to be an adoptive mother. I can't control not having been offered a full-time job despite my best efforts; I can only keep looking and making myself available. That said, I wish I were less bothered by others' off-the-cuff remarks that I know aren't specifically a response to my life.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Granting Marital Rights Without Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Lots of interesting things are happening on FaceBook these days, at least within the realm of reactions and discussions vis-à-vis the United States Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage. A friend shared her friend's thinking on the subject, noting that these thoughts echoed her own sentiments:
I'm not against all people in this country having equal access to insurance, retirement, property rights, inheritance, and all that. In fact, I'm all for it. What I am NOT for is having all of those rights and privileges tied to the definition of marriage. A definition which no government has the authority to change, since no government was responsible for instituting it.
I thought this an interesting statement because it got me thinking about how spousal rights would be granted to non-spouses. There are civil partnerships or common law marriages, but I don't know if those grant the same level of rights that full-on legal marriage would provide; these rights might differ from state to state, and I'm not entirely sure whether each state even has the option of civil partnerships or endorses common law marriage. Marriage within the confines of a religious establishment is usually legal, although there are exceptions; polygamists, for example, tend to have multiple wives, although one is only legally married to one wife at a time.

My friend noted that she believed that marriage should never have become part of the legal system, but I wonder if that means that even heterosexual marriages should not have become part of the legal system. It has, however, become part of that legal system. I'm sure there are people out there who call themselves "married" without actually being legally married, but they're not granted the same rights as legally married couples.

For many, marriage is so intrinsically tied with religion that the religious definition of marriage is the important one. I can't argue that; I was married in a Catholic church, and I wouldn't have considered my own marriage valid unless I had done that, but I know others feel differently. (In a previous blog post, I worked my way through how we define the validity of marriage.)

So this comes back to how we might grant spousal rights to couples without their being married. I like this question; it gives me something to think about. I certainly have no background in law so I don't know if there's a way to grant those rights without having legalized same-sex marriage.

Friday, June 26, 2015

What Makes a Marriage Valid?

In many cases, I'm seeing people view the Supreme Court's legalization of Same-Sex Marriage (SSM) as either a civil rights issue, a religious issue, or both. (For the purposes of this blog post, I'm focusing on those two aspects.) This leads to the question of what actually makes a marriage valid.

Is it being married by anyone who is legally permitted to perform the ceremony? Is a marriage valid only if a couple is married in a house of worship? Is that marriage valid only if that marriage takes places in your house of worship? Ed and I were married in a Catholic church; would our marriage be considered invalid because we were married in a church of a different Christian denomination, or in a Jewish Synagogue, or a Mormon or Buddhist Temple, or a justice of the peace?

My brother and sister-in-law were married by a justice of the peace, as was my a cousin and three friends. Others I know were married by members of the clergy but not in places of worship. The last wedding that took place in a house of worship - a wedding to which I was invited - was more than 20 years ago. Are these marriages invalid because they weren't in places of worship, or married by someone of who is not a member of the clergy?

Legally, any recognized member of the clergy, a judge, a court clerk, and justices of the peace have authority to perform a marriage (one can become an ordained minister thanks to an online ordination process through the Universal Life Church), although in some states have laws that permit other persons to apply for authority to perform marriage ceremonies. In South Carolina, for example, notary publics may perform the ceremony.

In Pennsylvania, where Ed and I got married, persons may marry themselves if they obtain a certificate from the clerk of the orphans' court, although each marriage license bureau has different requirements. (We got married in a Catholic church, where the thinking is that we marry ourselves; the priest presides over the ceremony. Historically, a couple would promise verbally to each other that they would be married to each other; the presence of a priest or witnesses was not required. This promise was known as the "verbum" and was unquestionably binding.) Although we married in Pennsylvania, we live in Utah, where "[m]inisters of the gospel or priests of any denomination who are in regular communion with any religious society may perform marriages."

Cousin marriages (when both parties are above a certain age, and/or can prove sterility) are legal in Utah, since apparently "many cousins do get married in their senior years.") Arizona, Illinois, and Minnesota also allow first cousin marriages with certain conditions such as sterility and/or age, while Maine considers this a civil violation. In some states (California, Hawai'i, Alaska, New Hampshire, Florida, Massachusetts, and other states), marriages between first cousins are outright legal, while in other states (Pennsylvania, Delaware, Arkansas, Texas, Washington, and others) marriage between first cousins are not legal. Am I to consider cousin marriages invalid, then, because they're legal in some states but not in others, or because I wouldn't want to marry my cousins? (They're lovely people, by the way.)

So who does validate the marriage between two people? If the government legalizes a marriage, but it's not the way I "would have done it," that does not invalidate the marriage. The only two people who validate an otherwise legal marriage are the people who are in that particular marriage. Personal disagreement over whether those people should be legally permitted to be married is not your decision to make.

Traditional ≠ Right; Untraditional ≠ Wrong

Same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States today, and it got me thinking. My social media feeds are mostly filled with messages of support. There were very few religiously-minded friends (notably both practicing Mormons) who "liked" pages in which official message of disapproval were voiced by the LDS; my other religiously-minded friends tended to simply stay quiet.

I, however, am vey much in support of same-sex marriage.

"Traditional" anything is not necessarily always the best thing, just like "untraditional" is not necessarily always the worst. One could flip those, too, of course; "untraditional" is not always the best, just like "traditional" is not always the worst. I've noticed that we often use "traditional" or "untraditional" (or "nontraditional") to promote acceptance or disapproval, which presumes that either of these terms are wholly good or bad.

The problem is when one defines "traditional" marriage as the only way, simply because that's how one was raised, and uses those definitions of "traditional"/"nontraditional" to limit or deny others' rights. "Traditional" marriage is, I see, being used by more conservative, religious people who argue that marriage is Biblically-based, and is and should remain between one man and one woman for the purposes of the propagation of children.

There are problems with that, of course. Not everyone in a "traditional" marriage has children (for many reasons, some of which are of their own choosing, but many of which are not); some couples should not have children. "Traditional" marriage can be too narrowly defined, especially if gender roles and expectations are at the heart of the marriage. That can be just as damaging to everyone within a family, especially if one does not fit easily into those stereotypes, if one wants something different for oneself. There are women I know who delight at being stay-at-home mothers, whose husbands make the primary financial and family decisions, who are the head of the house. If that's the choice that's made within the family, there's nothing wrong with that. That is not the kind of marriage I want, though, and it would really chafe if those roles were expected of my husband and me.

I don't want a traditional marriage. I don't think I'm in a traditional marriage: I have more education than my husband; I work (and in a career that requires an advanced degree); I don't have children; I would not find satisfaction and fulfillment in being a housewife. It is not solely my husband's job to provide financially for our family. (And thank goodness I have the capacity to provide solely should something happen.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being as educated as one's husband, or one's husband being more educated; similarly, there's nothing wrong with choosing not to work, with raising children, with being a housewife; not every choice is the best one for each family or individual, and these choices are often made within the confines and in the best interest of individual families. However, to expect others to choose the same "traditions" that you do simply because of "tradition" is a very narrow view.

More damage is likely to occur if someone divorces multiple times, or practices polygamy. (That's another discussion right there, isn't it: Whether the Bible traditionally "allows" divorce or polygamy and whether those practices are still accepted.) It's ridiculous to limit the rights of two consenting adults who understand as well as anyone can before getting married what being married actually entails. Presuming that same-sex couples don't have the ability or maturity to enter into marriage because of their sexual orientation is fallacious and ignorant.

"Traditional" and "untraditional" are neither good nor bad; the harm comes when one tries to limit others' choices because of one's owns views. Not everyone should get married, regardless of sexual orientation. (In Catholicism, we consider marriage a calling, just like some are called to the single life, or to have children; they're not universal, unilateral callings.) "Traditional" or "untraditional" (or "nontraditional") should no longer be means to promote acceptance or disapproval.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Year Four

Four years ago, I promised Ed that to be true to him in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love and honor him all the days of my life.

We've had some good times this year, but it's also been busy.

Last September I started teaching part-time at Rockwell Charter High School, teaching 11th grade English and a junior-high-level film & lit class. There was a steep learning curve: Not only was it my first year teaching at the secondary level, but I was dropped into the academic year a month or so after it had already started. The new job effectively doubled my income, which eased things financially, and I had enough experience teaching at SLCC that it wasn't a strain there. Because of low enrollment, though, I won't be returning next year.

In December, Ed and I celebrated his 40th birthday and Christmas by traveling to Rome and Vatican City. We had a wonderful 2 1/2 weeks, even if I'm still bad at selfies. (I blogged about our trip and took a lot of photos.)

From Rome & Vatican City (December 2014)

At 7:02 p.m. on Friday, April 10th, Justin and Cheng had their first child, a very much wanted and welcomed baby boy: Niall Thomas, who weighed in at 7 pounds, 4.8 ounces.

The one graduate class I had during the spring semester - an Autobiographical Literacies seminar - was a relaxed seven-week class that started in late October. My last class for the graduate degree was a ten-week capstone research project, taken during the Fall 2015 semester. And last weekend, this happened:

I vaguely remember thinking that it was
cool that I'd get to shake the hand of
NAU President Dr. Cheng, but I have no
recollection of what her handshake was like.
Tonight I'll make us a nice dinner at home - steaks and shrimp; we have dinner reservations at Log Haven on Saturday. I sent Ed some white chocolate-covered strawberries at work vis-à-vis Edible Arrangements, and he was nice enough to even bring some home so I could have some.

I had also ordered us an anniversary cake from Salt Cake City, one that was reminiscent of our wedding cake (which we finally finished off last year).

We got an absolutely delicious strawberry cake,
with one layer of strawberry buttercream and
one layer of chocolate buttercream. The cake is
completely covered in fondant (actually edible
fondant); even that wave is fondant.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

A Difference of Opinion

I generally like being around people whose backgrounds and opinions (religious, political, or otherwise) are different than mine. I like hearing different viewpoints, perhaps clarifying misperceptions, and hearing information that might even change my own attitudes. At the very least, I'll have a better understanding of an alternate point of view. However, I'm growing increasingly wary of political attacks that lead to arguments in which it is asserted that all those who are (in my case) Democrat or liberal are unscrupulous or otherwise judgmental. This is not to say that there aren't Democrats and liberals who are like that, it's just that I try very hard not to be like that.  I realize that on any side of the fence, there are people who have made up their minds, and no amount of discussion or argument will ever change their minds: They've become close-minded and vitriolic. I absolutely know this is not limited to any one group of people.

Because I go out of my way to surround myself with people who are not as close-minded, I find such overt malice unsettling. I do not have a thick skin. Things stick with me for longer than they probably should. It's not helpful to be told to just forget about things; that doesn't quite work for me as well as I wish it would, yet I know that not everything can be resolved. To that end, I tend to be hurt when such assumptions are made without any kind of discussion or open-mindedness. It's unfortunate that I can't  just let these things roll of my back; they stay with me for a long time.

Several months ago, a friend of a friend posted what was, in my opinion, an extremely anti-Democrat argument. I've seen this friend-of-a-friend post such things previously; I know from experience to ignore such comments. In this case, though, and against my better judgement, I tried to engage with this person, to merely say that there are those of us who are not like that, and I hoped that if this friend-of-a-friend hadn't encountered such people before, that she would meet them at some point.

Clearly this was the wrong thing to say. I was taken to task. My rhetoric was completely twisted. (Note: I come from a background of being able to understand deeper meanings of rhetoric, and I understand quite well how everything and anything can be distorted to be taken any which way.) However, generally speaking, when I interact with others, I am very careful to present my opinion in such a way that I mean what I say; there is no deeper meaning or animus meant.

Of course, here, I quickly realized my mistake, simply tried to say that I hoped she realized that not all Democrats and liberals were like that, to which she replied that I was intentionally trying to invalidate her experience (merely by stating that not others might have different experiences does not, in my opinion, invalidate others' experiences; whether I was clear on that matter or not, I no longer remember). At that point I turned off any notifications and blocked the user, but not before she apologized to our mutual friend for my rudeness. I just left it at that and didn't say anything else.

More recently, another friend, one from high school, had been posting anti-Obama messages. Now, the occasional anti-anyone remark doesn't really bother me; I'd previously had several "friends" who did that, but I quietly removed them from my social network feeds. Continued personal attacks aren't something I care to read, though, so this high school friend was unfriended.

I've been on the receiving end, too, of course. A cousin posted a picture of an Obama/Biden sticker on a car with a comment about how stupid Obama supporters must feel ("lol"), to which I responded something along the line of, not as silly as the other people feel ("lol"). I then got accused of I-don't-even-remember-what ("lol"), but I do remember responding along the lines of, "Well, you're probably right, but FaceBook might not be the best means to discuss these things anyway, although I'd love to talk to you about this in person, if you were inclined." Very soon thereafter I was unfriended.

(Because, really, any political stickers are ridiculous, aren't they: Either your guy wins and you feel great for a term or two, during which time you get accused of destroying the country; or your guy loses and everyone knows where your support went. After several political terms they're all redundant.)

I don't know if these types of responses are made out of fear or insecurity, or ignorance, or a lack of intelligence. I hope not, in any of these cases, but such responses do demonstrate a remarkable lack of ability to think and respond critically, responding to the issue and not the person, not taking it personally, and responding in such a way that's not a personal condemnation.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Science vs. Religion: Evolution

This morning I read "Teaching Evolution to Students to Students Who Tell Me They'll Pray for My Soul," an article written by James Krupa, a biology professor at the University of Kentucky. Krupa describes many of his students' reactions to his teaching human evolution, and argues, among other things, that religion and science are not necessarily mutually exclusive, a position with which I agree.

I've had students in my English classes tell me that evolution was wrong because it's a "theory." However, what I can't quite seem to explain well is that, like with many words, multiple definitions exist, and in different contexts mean different things. (Evolution might be a theory, but so is germ theory, and we know germs exist.) As Krupa notes:
To truly understand evolution, you must first understand science. Unfortunately, one of the most misused words today is also one of the most important to science: theory. Many incorrectly see theory as the opposite of fact. The National Academy of Sciences provides concise definitions of these critical words: A fact is a scientific explanation that has been tested and confirmed so many times that there is no longer a compelling reason to keep testing it; a theory is a comprehensive explanation of some aspect of nature that is supported by a vast body of evidence generating testable and falsifiable predictions. (para. 9)*
Using the Bible as a means to scientifically explain the development of the world negates the complexities of scientific research, and ignores the scientific and cultural development having taken place since the time of Christ. The Bible was written in three languages over a period of roughly 2,000 years by 40 different authors from three continents. Not only was it written during times when there simply wasn't the same level of scientific understanding, it was written by and for people who tried to explain and grasp the origins of our world in ways that an uneducated and illiterate population would understand (not to mention that so many authors writing over that many millennia in multiple languages is bound to lead to mistranslation or other linguistic inconsistencies). We've moved past that, and to continue to argue, for example, that the world was created in six 24-hour days, or that the world is about 10,000 years old, is a discredit to actual scientific data and critical thinking, and projects modern notions of time and narration. The Bible was written and preached for a lay audience in a historical context; these people weren’t scientists or journalists, so it's illogical to treat the text as a tight chronology.

The purpose of science is different than that of the Bible's. The purpose of science is to explain how the world works. The purpose of the Bible, to my mind, is to teach people how the world should work:
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:37-40).
They're not mutually exclusive. Be kind to others. Help others in whatever capacity you can, when you can. A belief in evolution specifically or science generally doesn't detract from that.
Krupa, James A. "Teaching Evolution to Students to Students Who Tell Me They'll Pray for My Soul." Slate. Slate. 26 Mar.   
     2015. Web. 29 Mar. 2015.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Case of the Mondays

Even though today's Friday, I'm having a massive case of the Mondays, à la Office Space.

This morning I woke to discover that over the course of the past day or two, someone had charged several thousand dollars to one of my credit cards, include multiple large purchases from Amazon,, and a $985 donation to charity. At least they're using the stolen funds for good, I guess? (And of course, I still have the credit card, so it's not like it was lost.) This also explained the text I got regarding how close I was to reaching my credit limit, which I am simply nowhere close to. Fortunately, I got to school a bit early and could take care of this issue; I'm not responsible for these charges, and a new credit card is on its way. I have a new appreciation for the credit card fraud alert, despite my previous experiences in which one of our joint credit cards was frozen because of a routine grocery store trip and iPhoto purchases.

Then first period arrived, and I had me some feisty students. One student, whom I wouldn't allow to go to the library because someone else asked first told me she was going to make things difficult for me. (Good luck with that.) Another student who wasn't here all week, and therefore had a lot of work to make up, muttered a question about the point of all this work. No, my dear girl, there's no point to poetry as such, but there is a point to writing, being coherent, and understanding linguistic patterns. Any decent job that's worth having requires you to be able to communicate (and probably even write) well, so that's what I'm trying to teach you, even if you won't see that for a long time. (Of course,  I didn't see that in high school either, because I couldn't envision what type of career I'd have.)

I started to develop a cold a few days ago; it began with a slight earache on Wednesday, then progressed to a sore throat and usurping all the household tissues yesterday. I'm so glad today is Friday. Next week we finish our poetry unit, and the week after that is Spring Break.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Food in the Classroom

A few semesters ago, inspired by one of my colleagues, I began incorporating food into my classes. We read articles about different facets of food, including topics like poverty, agriculture, school meal programs, and culture (National Geographic has a very good series of food-related articles that I incorporate). Students create their own podcasts, a series that is then disseminated through the iTunes store - meaning anyone can subscribe and listen.

We also spend a class or two discussing food in the media. For example, an examination of food advertisements leads to a good introductory discussion of Aristotelian appeals and what constitutes good, persuasive arguments - and how these ideals change.

I also play some short videos; TED talks feature good speakers who integrate humor into their speeches. Jennifer Lee's talk is one I play near the beginning of the semester; it helps segue into a discussion of food, history, identity, and how we define culture.

Similarly, Ron Finley's talk get students thinking about food, poverty, and social justice. In many cases we'll spot check these videos for use of the aforementioned Aristotelian appeals.

One of the more popular assignments in my class, though, are the recipe memoirs. Students write about a family recipe and the memories associated with it, then bring in the food. It's a relatively relaxing class in that aside from the students who cook or bake (and they are highly encouraged to make something from scratch, but not something that is financially exorbitant), students only need to come to class and eat. It tends to be fairly popular; students are very encouraging and like being fed. 

And the food students bring is very good! Today was the second day in the semester in which students presented their food: One student brought in homemade pizza that he had made himself, down to the crust. Other students brought tuna salad, funeral potatoes, and stuffed grape leaves, while various desserts such as flan, zucchini bread, brownies, sugar cookies, and carmelitas were shared. It tends to be a popular class not only because of the free, homemade food, but eating alongside others leads to conversation and, hopefully, relaxed students. With the right group of students, too, it can lead to questions about the students themselves or the recipes (sometimes even a request for the recipe).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Making College Computer Classes a Requirement

The more I think about it, the more I wish all incoming students were required to take some manner of introductory computer class. I haven't come across any of these labels in awhile - possibly because they're finally out of fashion, or just not as widely publicized - but the cliché that all students under a certain age are computer literate (in and of itself a difficult term to define) or, even worse, digital natives is simply not true. (It's about as true that all students above a certain age are hopelessly and functionally computer illiterate because computers weren't present in our Kindergarten classes.)

These assumptions are frustrating for a number of reasons, not the least of which being related to ageism. There's also a mistaken presumption that simply having been exposed to computers means students know how to use them. One doesn't become literate just because there are books in the house; one needs to be taught how to read. Similarly, people need to be taught how to use computers and navigate the relevant programs.

I remain frustrated by one of my undergraduate professors who insisted that because of my age, I was a "digital immigrant," whereas my classmates, most of whom were five to ten years younger than I, were "digital natives," an assumption based solely on age. Because I had maintained my own website and multiple blogs for years, I was familiar with basic HTML and several blogging platforms. Most of my classmates, on the other hand, created website that looked terrible, the type I'd seen a lot of in mid-1990s. I still encounter students whose knowledge of what I'd consider basic computer skills is minimal; one student I had last summer didn't know how to attach files to e-mail.

This came back to me this past week when I was helping a student with her podcast, one of the assignments I require for my college students. Knowing that most of my students have never created their own podcasts - some students have never heard of the term, and the number who listen to them is similarly small - I use Audioboom. a fairly simple and intuitive podcasting platform that requires minimal software (one can upload one's podcast via a free smartphone app, or record and/or upload an audio file through a browser). It can take a little getting used to, but by no means is it designed to be prohibitively complicated.

The student just got temporarily tripped up and saw relatively quickly how to resolve her questions, but noted that she might consider taking a computer class. This led to a brief discussion of how helpful a first-semester computer class might not only help the students, but help the teachers, who are often required to provide tech support to students who don't know how to use Canvas, the learning management system (LMS) we use, and which I use extensively in all my classes. (I make announcements, post assignments, have pages for each assignment, and require students to upload all assignments on Canvas.)

Providing an introductory class could help students make sure they know how to navigate Canvas and upload files; perhaps teaching basic tenets of ePortfolio platforms and word processing, among other basics, could help reduce or eliminate many of the problems I have to resolve in my class. No matter how many times I encourage my students to seek help for their ePortfolios or get tech support from the appropriate departments, many wait until the very last moment to get help, at which point, more often than not, it's simply too late, because they need more time than they'd realized. Some students are simply frightened of the technology and put off familiarizing themselves with it, which exacerbates the problem.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Theories, Practices, and Changing Relationships

This was my last forum post for my research class. There were quite a few others I didn't include in this blog - among other reasons, it quickly became repetitive including those posts, and complicated to provide enough background information for those who would have been unfamiliar with the readings and topics - but I wanted to include the last post.

For this last post, we were tasked with considering what we had learned about how different theories and practices influence our understanding of how to engage in research, and what we learned about the changing relationships between writing, language, culture, discourse community, context of writing, etc. when doing our research projects.  We were to discuss, too, the readings that have influenced our thinking, and how the online conversations have changed or confirmed our perspectives on the topics discussed.

My knowledge has been stuck in the realm of undergraduate research, which is to say that since I teach first year comp classes, I’m familiar with teaching this level of student how to research – introducing them to online databases (a new concept for many of them), etc. (I haven’t taught my high school students how to research, something that would have provided a new level of challenges.) With my having limited myself to undergrad research practices, though, I realize that there are more formal research strategies, both in terms of research itself and presenting this research, that I haven’t paid attention to. Just today I was paging through the most recent Writing Center Journal, and I realized how familiar that presentation is: Many these things we’ve been doing in this class are largely reflected in those articles. I had no advanced knowledge about the theories and practices of research, how to engage in this level of research, etc., nor did I know much about practices affect research.

On a related note – and I see this even more clearly, since I’ve been teaching junior high and high school students this year, in addition to my college teaching – I have a deeper understanding of how difficult it can be for K-12 teachers to stay apprised when it comes to new teaching strategies. I’ve known this for some time – my parents were career high school teachers – but this is the first I’ve experienced it myself. I share the frustration there that there is not the time and certainly not the funding for teachers to interact with national colleagues, to update teaching strategies and content knowledge. I’m still frustrated by stories of K-12 teachers who teach the same content the same way for decades, but I can see how easy it is to slip into a rut. I can see how research strategies might also not be updated to reflect current methodologies.

When it comes to the changing relationships between writing, language, the context of writing, etc., what comes to mind is changing all this based on audience, and that is something of which I am well aware. (We discuss this at length in my classes.) The readings and class discussions have confirmed my thinking; how I write here, and interact with my classmates, is much more informal than how I wrote and spoke during my Skype presentation, and it’s much more informal than my project and write up. The learning communities are different, even if they overlap.

I can't say that there was a particular reading that influenced my thinking; rather, what influenced me more was the research process itself - the doing of the thing tends to stay with me much more than the reading of the thing. (Perhaps I simply do not respond to the theoretical as much; a priest at my former church once noted that I am quite task-oriented, which I hadn't realized until that moment is true.)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Teaching Middle School Is Not The Worst, Despite Reports To The Contrary

I'd say that I'm behind in my blogging, but things have been simultaneously busy and not interesting to share unless you're going through it yourself. I am a week away from finishing my Master's degree; this semester I have been enrolled in the last class needed, a 10-week research class. The past few weeks have been especially busy. I had a project that needed planning, completely revamping,  and revising, which Ed helped me with extensively; I revised said project for a presentation, for which I also wrote a script, practiced and revised that a lot, and gave a presentation over Skype; and am currently revising a more-than 22-page write up of said project.

I'm also still dividing my time between two schools - three days a week at the high school, and two days a week at the community college. Things are slowly coming to a close, though, especially with the imminent end of the research class.

In the meantime, today I read "Teaching Middle School is the Worst," and was once again frustrated by the stereotypes that go along with it. For starters, the first picture's caption ("Pity the teachers; clearly these kids are up to no good.") made me wonder how those kids are up to no good, exactly. Simply because they're talking? What are the surrounding circumstances? Is it the very beginning of the class, a time when students are just getting settled? Is this an extra curricular project? Are students working with a classmate or otherwise encouraged to move around? Are we to assume that the teacher had already spent months' worth of class time telling the students to hush? Why are we to pity the teacher? In other words, what evidence is being presented to confirm that these kids are "up to no good"? Two kids talking! The horror.

I will say that teaching middle is, in fact, not necessarily "the worst," a term that is extraordinarily relative. Any specific set of circumstances could be "the worst." Furthermore, such statements of there being a singular "worst" oversimplify the situation, and doesn't take into consideration the factors that go into happy teachers finding a fit:
  1. Individual teachers' personalities are extremely vast, as is the case with the overall human population. Individual school culture is also extremely varied, more so than perhaps non-teachers might realize. One of the reasons K-12 teachers tend to wash out (and there are many reasons that there aren't as many decades-long career teachers as there are those who last 5-7 years) is that an individual teacher's personality, teaching style, etc., is not a good match for a particular school's culture. This does not necessarily mean that a teacher is "bad" (although sometimes that's the case), nor does it mean that it's a crummy school (although sometimes this is the case, too).
  2. Experience and other life events affect the grades in which teachers may feel comfortable teaching; I remember hearing one now-retired teacher say that when her children were small, she enjoyed teaching middle school, but as her children grew, her preferences changed and she ultimately wound up preferring 11th graders. I have heard other experienced teachers say, too, that there was one particular grade, perhaps two, that they really connected with.
Any given school, or any given grade, could be "the worst" for a particular teacher. I wouldn't want to teach elementary school. Given my own temperament, that would be the worst, but I would argue that happy, successful elementary teachers would feel differently. As long as people argue that any aspect of actually teaching is the worst, we're not doing the profession any favors.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Defining & Avoiding Cultural Invisibility

In your initial entry, use Zeni to explore how you can avoid issues of "invisibility." Then, after explaining what Miller means by "ethnographies of institutional discourse," show how his concepts can profit from Zeni's ideas.

I'm trying to work this out for myself in terms of cultural visibility/invisibility, so I think I'm going to create two posts here, and relate them to each other. This is a response to Zeni's article. I'm struggling with cultural invisibility here mostly because the focus on Zeni's article - if I'm interpreting her work correctly - is racially related, whereas I see culture so much more broadly defined...especially since I came from teaching in a very diverse area (New York City) to one that's...not (Utah), at least comparatively speaking.

Nearly right away, Zeni et al. note that “cultural invisibility…is a key ethical problem in doing action research” (114). Yet one of the problems teachers may face is not one of physical culture, but rather culture that is not easy to define. A person of color or no color – and that, by the way, includes those of European extraction – is easy to categorize. (Whether that categorization is correct is another matter.) Yet limiting the profiling of students according to culture-as-it-pertains-to-skin-color is just as detrimental. Non-Hispanic White people have their own culture; due to geography and neighboring non-American cultures, Non-Hispanic White people in Maine and Non-Hispanic White people in Utah do in fact live in different cultures (Canada and Mexico respectively), even though the larger culture would be that of continental Americanism. Ignoring microculturalism that exist in larger countries – for example: the United States, China, Russia – is not something to overlook. To complicate matters, then, too, it is not politic to ignore countries that are empirically divided. (Here I’m thinking of the political disparity between self-governing Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. Defining the Irish is done in multiple cultural, religious, and historic terms, many or all of which can be problematic for a slew of political and empirical reasons.) Invisibility does not need to refer to culture as it pertains to race; it can also pertain to religious culture. This distinguishing categorization is foremost in my mind as I live in a state that is 80% non-Hispanic White.

The distinguishing factor here is that multiculturalism is not necessarily racially related, something that I believe is often overlooked. Racial culture can be a relatively easy marker (although this does not necessarily make it easy to differentiate a person of color who might be, for example, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, or a combination of two or more races). Zeni provided an example in which Cason described resolving several confrontations with an African-American student (114-5), yet the same type of confrontation is one I have with a Non-Hispanic White student – a polygamist Non-Hispanic White student. Here, the cultural difference is the widespread religious practices that a majority of Utah residents observe (with or without the polygamy, as part of the larger Latter-day saint/Mormon culture). Avoiding issues of invisibility is much more difficult when the culture is, in fact, racially invisible.

Avoiding racial invisibility is also troublesome if one assumes that the culture of an African-American student or a Hispanic student is automatically different than however mainstream culture is defined. (For that matter, this cultural invisibility is difficult if one has European exchange students, two of which I have this year, although perhaps their accents demarcate their invisibility.) Fundamentally, I believe that issues of any type of invisibility – cultural, racial, religious, sexual, whatever – can be avoided by stopping, by which I mean thinking of the perspective of he or she who has voiced an issue. Avoiding these issues requires viewing the students as individuals, understanding what one can about the culture, and not assuming that a reaction is necessarily culturally based. The invisibility of culture is that it is often actually invisible and unknown. As noted, there should be a determination to "look beyond...ingrained cultural reactions and assumptions to see what might be going on inside a 'difficult kid'" (117-8). Something I knew - or like to think I knew - but didn't acknowledge is that I absolutely need to be more aware of placing myself in the students' positions, to be more conscious of this.

Work Cited 
Zeni, Jane, and Myrtho Prothete, Nancy Cason, and Minnie Phillips. "The Ethics of Cultural Invisibility." Ethical Issues in Practitioner Research. New York: Teachers College, 2001. 113-22. Print.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Task 1: Ideas for Research Project - Establishing a High School Writing Center

This week, we're beginning to think about research topics. I've been fearing this class because I do not consider myself a natural researcher, but it's nice to have the opportunity to brainstorm a bit and get feedback from my classmates. The questions that were posed - meant to help us brainstorm - were quite extensive, but this was the start of it:

The object of this assignment is to write down your ideas for the research project that you want to work on. We often have many ideas, but we don't have much experience putting these ideas into writing and then actually completing an applications project. The readings that you are doing for Module 1 should prepare you to think critically about the research that you are interested in, and what methods you will use to approach your research project. Your project has to show that you understand specific theories within the general area of Rhetoric, Writing, and Digital Media Studies, and that you can apply these theories to your project.

When you post your ideas to the discussion forum, you need to consider the rhetorical situation explained by Bitzer (exigency, audience, constraints). You can use much of this information for the starting point of your proposal.

What would you like to work on (topic)? This is usually a broad idea that is of interest to you.

My having wandered into a writing center at a large state university in New York is what inadvertently led me to a career in teaching, and I still maintain an interest in writing centers. Yet because I also have a background in secondary education, with a focus on English/Language Arts, I would like to find a way of combining research on writing centers with secondary schools. As such, my research interests for this project are focused on establishing a writing center in a secondary school, especially in the area in which I live. I don’t know if there are many – or any – writing centers that have been established in Utah.

This past September, I started teaching English part time at a semi-local charter school. (The school is located in another county, about 20 miles south of where I live.) Having started a few weeks after the school year had begun, there was not much time to prepare or collaborate with my departmental colleagues. The student population is one that struggles; it’s an extremely conservative area, one in which traditional gender roles are promulgated, and one in which many parents don’t have advanced levels of education. (Many parents have graduated from high school; many have not. Some of attended college, and some have graduated, but many have not.) As such, the students aren’t taught to see the necessity of a post-secondary education. (Not necessarily college – any type of post-secondary education.)

Shortly after I started teaching, word came down from on high that we were to become a “writing school.” No one was quite sure what that meant, or how this was to be achieved, but it was desired that we would become known to be a “writing school.” There is no writing center; I do not believe there has ever been one. I am not sure that there would be funds for one.

Given that I do have a background in writing centers and rhetoric and that I teach first year composition at the local community college, I volunteered to run a writing lab two or three times a week for an hour after school, but nothing ever came of it, and the urgency in which we were to become a “writing school” has since been dropped. Yet I would like to know if there is a real need for a writing center at a school like the one in which I teach. I believe there is a connection between strong writing and post-academic success – not necessarily or specifically post-high school/college, but a connection between strong writing and clear thinking. I would like to establish a writing center at my high school because I think it could help the student population, and I would like to do some preliminary research to determine if this would be feasible financially.

There are many parts of this in which I would welcome feedback from as many people as who are willing to give it. I’m not sure how much more specific I should be or need to be when it comes to my research, or which specific aspects I should explore – if the research is too broad, or too narrow, or if there are points I’m missing (or some combination thereof, etc.). I believe that the audience that would benefit from my research are, of course, first and foremost the student population, because they would be the ones being helped. However, the administration of my school, as well as the school board, would also be a primary audience because they need to see the multiple ramifications of maintaining a writing center, the financial cost, and why a writing center would be extremely beneficial for the student community and the community at large.

I’m not sure which problems I might encounter, and I’m not sure which research methods I’m likely to use yet. I see the necessity for doing some database-driven research to determine how secondary writing centers are formed – I have a basic idea, but of course I am sure there are many issues I have not considered. I suspect I will need to create a survey to distribute, and if so, I would need to request assistance from my English department and Special Education department colleagues, as well as the school administrators. Focusing on these groups specifically could allow me to determine the problems my colleagues might see, and/or determine how a writing center would be helpful – or detrimental – to the student community.

I'm also not sure how of the medium or format of my research; this is something on which I would also welcome feedback. I’m not sure a website or blog would be helpful (unless the blog would allow me to document the research process). Prezi came to mind in terms of ways I could present my findings to the board, but that doesn’t strike me as the best, most professional way to do so – although perhaps it would be acceptable.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Principles of Intercultural Communication

In your initial post, discuss the principles of intercultural communication outlined by Lustig and Koester, the need for intercultural communication, and how intercultural communication can help you with your research agenda, and can help your audience to understand why you are interested in the specific research agenda.

Lusting and Koestig argue that intercultural communication is necessary to understanding the role of the developing multicultural, pluralistic society in which we live; they note that “[b]ecause of demographic, technological, economic, peace, and interpersonal concerns, intercultural competence is now more vital than ever” (3). This statement reflects the thinking that changing cultural demographics affect styles of communication, and the necessity to learn a wider range of skills when it comes to communicating effectively and clearly with a wider range of people, while acknowledging different cultural styles of communication. The mindset that culture affects communication styles reminded me of an Old English class I took as an undergrad. The professor had us translate old English texts, one of which was Beowulf. What I still remember as interesting was that the context of the word affected its translation. “Wif,” for example, didn’t necessarily mean “wife” – it could be translated as “woman.” Context matters. I understood the authors’ points that, among other things, we need to be able to translate, culturally speaking, when it comes to understanding communicative context.

Intercultural communication requires similar strategies of communication and understanding, yet there’s the need to appreciate that there are in fact cultural differences that affect communication; as Lusting and Koestig note, appreciating not only cultural differences but recognizing that there are cultural differences leads to understanding, which further leads to “competent interpersonal communication” (12). Their six characteristics of communication is an assertion that includes an examination in which effective communication relies on a shared understanding of meaning and an understanding of social contexts (12-18).

I can see how an awareness, if not an understanding, can lead to a stronger research model. For example, if I’m examining the challenges that might be faced in establishing writing centers at the secondary level, I might investigate the challenges that could be faced when establishing writing centers at the secondary level in other parts of the country, perhaps comparing seemingly disparate academic cultures. This might lead to a deeper understanding of some of the global and cultural issues facing secondary writing centers, especially when establishing secondary writing centers in schools that have a diverse student body population.

Work Cited 
Lustig, Myron W., and Jolene Koester. "Introduction to Intercultural Competence." Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication Across Cultures. 6th ed. Boston: Allyn & Beacon, 2010. Print.