17 ways to be a kick-ass professor

There’s this great moment at the end of each semester for course evaluations. Students get to freely voice their opinions of each class, and each professor (it’s anonymous). I’m uncertain as to the actual impact these answers create, but it’s nice to applaud a great professor (or in some cases, not).

After taking 40 courses in the last 6 years, I’ve made some keen observations regarding professors and their MO’s. With graduation behind me, I feel like it’s safe to make some non-anonymous comments (although I haven’t technically received the diploma yet!?)

For any would-be professors (or current ones brave enough to read), here are the points that stand out.

SO RUDE. See #4.
See #16.
See #1.
So true. See #9.

A Kick-Ass Professor Must:

  1. Possess a passion for teaching. Leave your ego at home, and remember you’re in the classroom to teach (if that is not your reason, please do something else). Being a genius in your field may be impressive, but not always helpful.
  2. Check your own work first. Review your material each semester, don’t just copy it and change the due dates. Keep it fresh and relevant. Are you clinging to an outdated text book? Are you using long-gone technology? The syllabus you wrote 12 years ago could use a refresh. Students need to be on their game, and the same goes for you.
  3. Post the syllabus on time. It’s important to start off on the right foot, and respect is a two-way street. Students appreciate knowing what is expected. We’ve got one very short week before we commit our time, energy and money to your course.
  4. Communicate! Answer emails in a timely fashion. Give solid instructions and a clear rubric for big projects. No need to leave us guessing. Not even your best student can hit an undefined target.
  5. Let go of the busy work. Students are often juggling work and family responsibilities. Having a ton of small assignments is just plain unnecessary and even more, it’s annoying. College students are not third graders. Why create more work? Just don’t.
  6. Give reasonable due dates. Post assignments well ahead of time, especially when it’s an online class. It’s unreasonable to put tight schedule demands on adults. Posting an assignment on Monday with a due date of Wednesday sets students up for frustration, and maybe even failure. Jobs will likely provide this insanity soon enough, if they don’t already. We don’t need to practice dealing with stress.
  7. Make it fun! On the first day (or night) of class, plan an activity that allows everyone to connect with each other. One of the best things about college is meeting others. You can help this process and make your classroom way less awkward.
  8. Be happy to be there. Obviously we all have days where we’d rather be lounging on the beach (no? just me?). The energy you bring to the class makes all the difference. No one really wants to be anywhere for three hours in the evening, I promise. If you’re only there for the paycheck, please teach online classes only.
  9. Pass on the Group Projects. These should be assigned only under the following circumstances: a) you allow time in class for the group to work together, b) there is a reason for the project to be done in a group (teaching us how to work together is not reason enough), and c) you allow the group to grade their fellow members as a portion of the grade. The only students who like group projects are the slackers and the control freaks, so skip it if you can.
  10. Award cash and prizes. I’m not kidding. Some of my favorite professors were known to throw out a $20 or a bag of candy for some friendly competition. Yes, we’re adults, but a little incentive goes a long way. *Disclaimer: we only swore not to tell the professor’s wife about the $20. I never promised not to blog about it.
  11. Use the text book – if you require the textbook. Enough spent and said.
  12. Give me a break. Allow a short break at least every hour. I will get up and walk out if I have to use the bathroom or get a drink. We all should not be sitting for hours on end (remember, you are probably standing, it’s much more tiring to sit).
  13. Bring in experts. One of the best experiences you can provide is the connection to the “real world”. If you’ve got a dynamic connection in your field, bring them in as a guest lecturer. They may not have “professor credentials”, but can provide valuable insight to students.
  14. Let us out early. If class is scheduled until 8:45pm, the latest you should EVER go is 8:30pm. Start on time, but finish early for the win.
  15. Don’t be a jerk about grades. Drop the lowest quiz score. Offer extra credit bonuses. Grade on a curve. Round up! That score of 89.5 is its own kind of awful. We all have rough seasons, and life doesn’t care about the rubric. Students are people trying to improve themselves. Don’t make it harder than it needs to be.
  16. Grade homework, papers, posts and quizzes as soon as possible. Better yet, make it multiple choice and it will grade itself. We work hard and like to know how we’re doing. Keeping it all a mystery doesn’t help anyone.
  17. Show genuine interest in your students. Be accessible if we need you. Give out your cell. Have coffee together. If you want to make a positive impact (along with your decent wage), then open up. Sharing your time and energy only enhances the wisdom you share. And keeps your ratings high, your feedback positive, and your job secure (hopefully!).

So there’s my list. Fortunately, I enjoyed several such professors who possessed many of these very traits. When you boil it down, it’s simply being passionate about the work. Students may be younger and less educated, but we know it when someone cares.

Maybe I’ll offer a practical “how-to” course in the Doctoral program for those wanting to become professors. I can get paid for that, right?

Thanks for reading, until next time,
Sherri

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Commencement!!

This could very well be my new favorite word. It really means “beginning”, and that is exactly how I am choosing to view this momentous time.

The dorkiest hat – but oh so happy to be wearing it

Buh-bye school. Hello LIFE!

Of course, there has been plenty of life during my season of attending school. And I know the sacrifice of time, and the discipline of learning and studying has been worth it. But now it is time for other things.

What am I going to do with all of the time and energy that has been sucked up by school? That’s easy. Whatever I want.

Actually I have some catching up to do. With myself. With friends. With this very blog. And my studio. But it can all be done at a normal person’s pace, instead of the insanity that I have been practicing these many months.

Rabbit trail: One day last summer my friend Nadia said she was “pulling a Sherri”. She had booked like 6 major things into 2 days and had zero time to eat or change or rest in between. It was not a compliment.

Sure, I like efficiency. I like to cross items off my to-do list (and yes, I will write down things AFTER I do them just so I can cross them off). I like the feeling I get when I’ve accomplished things. But I also like to lay in my hammock, and stroll on the beach, and doodle. I like to read for the sheer pleasure of it. I like to take my time, and not rush so much.

I like taking care of myself, and this could mean cooking more than twice a month. It could mean taking yoga classes more often. And running again. It may mean sleeping better because my brain won’t have so much to process.

Hey there Life-After-School! You’re looking might fine. You’re right here, waiting for me. Thanks for showing me how to live well. I’m grateful for so much, and the degree is just a small part of that.

The most important thing is the people in my life, especially the ones who cheered me on, understood when I was studying, and listened to me whine when it was hard. There will be much less whining (and more wine-ing) I promise!

My beautiful daughters (and a baby bump!)
Prince Charming, one of my biggest supporters.
I’m not sure who is happier!

We’re headed out to a beach house for the next few days. This girl knows how to take a well deserved break and just where to park her beloved beach chair!

Thanks for reading, until next time,
Sherri


How to become a Gigi

Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by people of all ages. I’m comfortable with this whether at work or school or wherever.

While some in my age bracket are grandparents, I never consider myself eligible for this category. The term grandparents has this “age-stigma” attached, doesn’t it? I tend to think of grandparents as, well, old.

Gotta love the all the facial hair

Perhaps it is time to redefine this term. Actually now is the ideal time to come up with something more hip and modern. Why, you ask?

Because it’s a club of which I will soon become a member.

Their response!
My response!

Yep, despite my youthful looks, energy and attitude, my eldest daughter is gonna have a BABY. It’s not like it’s completely bizarre, she’s in a committed, loving relationship. She’s a responsible adult who has been on her own for several years. And she is the exact same age that I was, when she came into the world.

*Note: I’m not sure this fact is at all reassuring. I’ll bet the other actual adults around me then, felt a bit like I do right now.

It seems like so long ago, and yesterday all at the same time. What in the actual world has happened? How is it that time deceives me like this?

No matter, if all goes well, and everyone stays healthy, this fall there will be a little one. Another generation coming along, and the warnings are hereby issued.

Warning #1: Grandma will NOT be my name. I’ll try for Gigi, but I am told the kid determines my actual grandma name. If you haven’t seen this before, it’s worth the watch.

Warning #2: I will be involved. Not like, move in with me and I’ll pay all of your bills, but definitely involved. Even though it looks like that wee one will be 1000 miles away for starters, that isn’t going to stop me.

Warning #3: The 1000 miles is in the direction of North. The self-imposed travel ban previously established from November 1 through May 1 is now lifted. Please send any winter clothing donations my way.

Warning #4: My daughter is now sharing her spotlight with whatever progeny she produces. This means there are still several more months for her to be front and center, and after that, it’s over. Her identity will be forever changed to ________’s mommy.

Warning #5: The focus of this blog will naturally shift with my imminent graduation in about 30 days (!!!), and now we have ideas for a new focus. I’ll bet you can guess. How many people transition from recent college graduate to grandparent in a span of a few months? I’ll have to look it up when finals are over.

Betty Reilly, who graduated with a Bachelor’s at age 89. Click here to be inspired!

So that’s a wrap for this bleary-eyed senior. It happens to be from all the studying, thank you very much.

Thanks for reading, until next time,
Sherri

Senioritis is a real thing

As defined at Urban Dictionary:

“Senioritis – noun. A crippling disease that strikes high school seniors. Symptoms include: laziness, an over-excessive wearing of track pants, old athletic shirts, sweatpants, athletic shorts, and sweatshirts. Also features a lack of studying, repeated absences, and a generally dismissive attitude. The only known cure is a phenomenon known as Graduation.”

Let’s personalize this a bit, shall we?

Senioritis – noun. A crippling disease that strikes college seniors in their final semester, even the ones who are 50 and hold a very high GPA. Symptoms include: an over-excessive wearing of yoga pants and t-shirts. Also features a lack of preparation, deadline knowledge and assignment lists. Can include a severe absence of previous over-achievement. The only known cure is a phenomenon known as Graduation.

Potential remedies may include studying anywhere but home where deep cleaning and organizing hold strong appeal. Also, securing a study buddy, such as a sophomore, will aid towards accountability. One proven technique to improve motivation is planning a Graduation trip to Europe as a reward for not dropping out. Making reservations with non refundable deposits further enhance the effectiveness of this powerful motivator.

Severe cases may also require a small Spring Break adventure, which is highly recommended. Again, early planning with stiff financial penalties is effective to ensure actually taking the essential break. Employing these strategies will help, but not necessarily guarantee a smooth final semester.

Maintaining perspective is essential during this season. My tendency is of course, to be melodramatic about it all, but it’s just another few weeks which will be over before I know it.

How does one self diagnose this? Here is a prime example. I have a class taught by the Dean of the college. It’s a topic that I love, and I’m thrilled to have the exposure to this knowledge and application. We formed a team last week and we have a 20 minute presentation due next week. When he reminded us yesterday, it was as though I had heard it for the very first time. We are meeting today after work to hammer it out, and I am not even stressed about it. Why?

I have never not cared about an assignment. Even the classes I didn’t love, I still cared. But, this too shall pass. Hats off to anyone who is in their Senior year, or living with someone in their Senior year. Or worse, parenting someone in their Senior year. It’s real. It’s rough. But perhaps some of these strategies will help you or a loved one manage for the next 13 weeks (or whatever their number is, just ask them because they KNOW)!

Thanks for reading, until next time,
Sherri

15 down, 1 to go

It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. There is just ONE little semester standing between me and graduation.

Screen Shot 2018-12-09 at 8.26.52 PM

Earning my Bachelor’s degree is a personal goal that I have been pursuing for six years. The good news is that it’s almost complete. Sure, I’ve taken on some important classes, but much of what I have learned had little to do with the actual curriculum. Here are the top six (I could have done just five, but you know I’m an overachiever).

1. It’s one semester at a time. I can tolerate terrible professors (can you speak English please?), difficult courses (my buddies Al and Cal), and a rough schedule (commuting 45 min each way, 4 nights a week). And I can do it because it’s only for 16 weeks. (Or fewer when it’s a summer class.) Breaking big goals into smaller pieces really works.

2. There’s a lot to learn if -and when – I’m ready to listen. Not every subject is interesting, but there is always a hidden nugget when I look for one. When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. This frequently happens outside the classroom, btw.

3. No one cares about my grades. After this long, I can include myself in this category. My job is to do my best. Sometimes this means my name is on the Dean’s list, and sometimes I am satisfied with a C.

Confession: it feels pretty damn good to make the Dean’s list. It feels equally good to not repeat a miserable class. In case you hadn’t heard, C’s get degrees.

hey-girl-dont-cry-cs-get-degrees

4. It’s not a race or a competition. Some 30 year olds are getting their PhD’s. That’s amazing, and also, it has nothing to do with me. It doesn’t matter that I’m 50 and still working toward my undergrad. I am improving each day and that is a reward in itself. It’s never too late to pursue a goal.

5. Failure is actually valuable. When I flunked online Algebra one summer, I learned an expensive lesson. Ever since, I am more realistic about how and what I can master.

6. Remember the big picture. There are people in my life who are important – even when I have homework. I need to make time for those I love. Achieving goals is great, but not at any cost.

As I look at the next four glorious weeks of zero assignments, I am breathing a sigh of relief. I will not overpack my calendar. I will take naps and socialize and read for fun and get back into my studio to paint. All at my own pace. It feels good to take a break.

paintings57f3e7c1dad26

Seasons. Times of working hard and times of rest. The book of Ecclesiastes has a whole chapter about this and it’s as true today as it was thousands of years ago. Honor the season in which you find yourself.

You just may find yourself.

Thanks for reading, until next time,
Sherri