David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Week Six

October 12, 2912:  Inside the HEAD--Week Six (day twenty-nine)

Two basic points for the day:  I'm not sure why I was worried about the luncheon.  Moreso, I can't believe ithe composition of a basic e-mail would be the sticking point of the day.

The plan for the luncheon seemed to work.  I don't have any real assessment measure, of course.  No second class meeting to have a quiz.  No take home exam to wait upon.  No survey (thank goodness, given October 10 blog) to review.  Still, conversations flowed easily, exchanges across high schools and between high school and college appeared to occur, and people left happy (great food, wonderful setting, and even, shock, a little wine must have helped).

Thus, it was surprising that when I went back to the office for the last couple of hours to write two important emails that I found myself stuck.  Despite everything I taught my students about writing, I am not, anymore, the writing processor I preached about.  As I am sure this blog shows frequently, I am an organic writer, grinding my sentences out while I am thinking about them, not drafting and editing and drafting and editing ad nauseam.    It's one of the reasons I was able to write the basic draft of It's All Academic in about 6 weeks.  And for the first email today, that trusty procedure--or frankly lack thereof--served me well.

Then I hit a particularly sensitive email, not in the sense that the contents had sensitive information, but in the sense that I wanted to make sure I clearly outlined an important decision.  That, in and of itself, shouldn't matter.  I believe one of my successes throughout my career has been the ability to convey succinctly any decision, without too much concern about saying something inflammatory.  I had no concern of that with this second email.

Puzzlingly, though, it became difficult for me to explain the whole decision holistically, as there were three separate pieces, in some ways linear, but in more ways interwoven and not easily explained in sequence.  I wrote and rewrote, sought advice, set it aside for awhile, went back, and finally decided to sit on it until Monday.  The decision isn't that time sensitive, thank goodness.  We'll see if come Monday, as I don't plan to even think about it over the weekend, this blog an obvious contradiction, if I can get a handle on it.


October 11, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Six (day twenty-eight)

Tomorrow I meet with 40+ high school counselors.  I have never met any of them (as far as I know).  It is at a restaurant I've never been to in a town I have never gone to. 

I feel like I did before ever teaching any first class at the beginning of a semester. I don't know what my audience will be like.  I have no idea how prepared they are for the "session."  While there is some anxiety, I calm myself by telling me that it's for only an hour and a half.  Unlike any class, I may never have to see these people again, although I know the odds are that I will.

The important thing is that my "lesson plan" is ready.  A key part of the time together will be to get them to work together in teams, to educate each other, the classic "SCALED UP" classroom if I ever saw one (SCALED Up means having a "Student Centered Active Learning Environment" that has student, in this case, counselor, teaching student/counselor).

I have my team members to spread out around the room, like shadow tutors or teaching assistants, ready to guide the conversations.  The probing questions to get the attendees to talk are open enough and applicable enough to their backgrounds to lead to good discussion.

Still, I just don't know how it will go.  This was always the adrenalin related to teaching.  What if the plan doesn't work?  What will I do next?  I could meet with this group of counselors tomorrow and have it go incredibly well.  The next day I could meet with a different set of counselors and it would bomb.  Thus, one never really knows how it will go.

Whenever anyone asks me if I yearn to go back to teaching, I usually cite the piles of papers that an English teacher has to grade as my reason to remain administrator.  Today I am reminded that I also don't necessarily want to have these recurring first day uncertainties looming over my head.

October 10, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Six (day twenty-seven)


Today's topic:  the survey.  I answered a couple of surveys today and I attempted to create on our Learning Management System a student survey--the always appreciated "student evaluation."  I know surveys are useful tools, but I can't help wonder if their value is diminished by their ubiquitous presence.


Perhaps you agree.  Feel free to take the following survey.  You can print it out, circle your answers, and mail it to "It's All Academic, PO BOX 7, Middle of Nowhere, Stateless."  One randomly selected completed survey taker will win a new car!! 


1)  No matter how you feel, your tendency to select the extreme values in a continuum (very likely to very unlikely, for instance) is what;


  • Very Likely
  • Not Likely
  • Neutral
  • Unlikely
  • Very Unlikely


2)  The option of "neutral" in a selection of responses makes  you feel what:


  • Like a dullard
  • Like you don't care
  • Neutral
  • Like you are cautious
  • Like you are a conscientious objector


3)  The number of questions you are willing to answer before you feel the survey is really interrupting your time is what:


  • 50
  • 25
  • 20
  • 10
  • 3


4)  A survey that says results are truly anonymous but encourages your absolute honestly is most likely to make you feel what:


  • Hopeful about your honest answers
  • A little hesitant to express everything you feel
  • Neutral
  • Afraid to answer anything but neutral the whole way through
  • Afraid to admit you even saw the survey


5)  A survey that uses emoticons instead of descriptors to rate your happiness make you feel what.


  • :-)
  • :-/
  • :-(
  • #*%^!


6)  Which potential "gift" is most likely to encourage you to complete a survey?


  • A $5 gift card
  • A $10 gift card
  • Two weeks' vacation in the Catskills
  • A new car
  • The promise to never receive another survey


7)  At what point do you stop reading the actual survey and start just circling answers like you did on the SAT?


  • The fifth question
  • The second page
  • The moment the commercial ends and the game begins again
  • What survey?


Thank you for your input.  We appreciate your business and your willingness to take a few minutes to share with us your thoughts.


October 9, 2012: Inside the HEAD--Week Six (day twenty-six)

Scheduling in so many arenas can be kind of fun. When I was a kid, I used to love trying to create the NFL football schedule, balancing the home and away games, making sure divisions played other divisions consistently, even determining what would be the Monday night game each week (back when the NFL only had 1 night game). 

It was really hard work and I would often get close to the end to find that I had created an impossible scenario.  The San Francisco 49ers and the Cleveland Browns had no open dates that matched, then I would have to go back and erase some previous scheduled games and keep working around and around to get to a perfect schedule.  I suppose I was only successful about out 1 out of 7 times I tried to create such a schedule.

But you get to course scheduling for college students and there is nothing fun.  I have seen this now at several institutions.  We all sit around and shake our head about the process, swear that there must be a better way, ask if anyone has ever seen a good tool to help, and take a stab in the dark with a proposed schedule. 

Sometimes, and this was our point of discussion at SMC today, you find yourself starting with the previous year schedule so that you have some kind of a skeleton to work with.  Problem is that the skeletal schedule frame may actually be a version of a schedule that is now 5 or 6 years old.  How many inherent errors have you kept carrying over and over?

However, faced with the thought of starting from scratch again, with hundreds of courses and thousands of sections, thousands of students, all in different places in their academic pursuits, and only a hundred, or even fewer rooms, you'd rather face a root canal. 

So, we had our annual "can we do this better before we start on next year's schedule" conversation today (there's part of the inherent joy:  it is October 9 and we have to start thinking about our Fall 2013 schedule).  I doubt anybody felt particularly good about it.  We proposed a scheduling retreat when we try to get all the key people in the room to discuss a better process or a potential tool.  All that means is that I have put off for about a month the same conversation that will still make me want to scream.

I guess you need to come back to this blog on November 9 to see if I channel my rage, my sarcasm, or simply my resignation, the pyschological state, not, hopefully, the unemployment state, as in tendering my resignation from Southwestern Michigan College.


October 8, 2012:  Inside the HEAD--Week Six (day twenty-five)


Over the past seven weekdays, I have been in the office for two of them.  Out of the office for a meeting this Thursday, I know I should probably attend the regional conference being held "around" my meeting (or, more accurately, that my meeting was scheduled at, to take advantage of people traveling for the conference).  However, I just couldn't see adding two more days of being away from the office for a total of five days in the office out of twelve.  How do other people do this, I ask?


My body is exhausted from the travel and the hotel beds (and granted, coming back from San Diego via red eye flight makes for an extraordinary effect on one's mind and body), the email is piling up, the follow-ups are outnumbering the things that beckoned to be followed-up.  Tolerance for minutae is minimal as one struggles to tackle the big things.


What a good conference should do for its attendees is provide momentum.  When I returned from the two-day regional one a week ago Friday, I felt that momentum.  Within a couple of days, I had turned around a summary of key things learned at the conference and shared it with all my faculty (and, cheaply, used it for blog material this last week when I was out of town again). 


Then, again, I felt energized by some of the stuff heard about this week in San Diego -- about science labs and facilities, no less.  (Lest you forget, that academic background for me is American literature, not scientific literature.)  However, I hit the airports, the rainy, drab Michigan weather that snuck in while I was away, the first day back of emails and needed tasks, and I have no energy to maintain that momentum. Even this blog, if you ask me, is a pretty lame effort.


So, I ask again, how do people do this? Whatever their secret, I wish they would bottle that!  Screw cialis and viagra (so to speak).  Give me Plenarius!*


*Discuss your general health status with your doctor to ensure that you are healthy enough to engage in conference activity.  If you experience drowsiness, chest pain, nausea, or arrogance while taking Plenarius, seek immediate help.  In the rare instance of your interest in a plenary session lasting more than four hours, seek immediate help to avoid long-term injury.


In rare instances, people taking Plenarius reported a sudden increase in feeling pompous and important.  It is not possible to determine if these effects are directly related to Plenarius or to pre-existing conditions.


Plenarius should not be used with other conference stimulants.  Caffeine and Plenarius should never be mixed.  Red Bull and Plenarius in combination have been known to lead to brain damage, homicidal aggression, and even death. 


Plenarius does not protect against conference communicable diseases.  The most common side effects of Plenarius are engorged egos, short tempers, and judgemental tsk-tsking.*


* The above should have been read in a fast cadence and covered in less than 6 seconds.