Nobody Quits in April

The spring semester in academia is notoriously brutal: conferences, thesis and dissertation projects, graduations looming, and many classes to teach. Years ago, well into a PhD program, my friends and I started to notice a pattern. Around April, one of us would lose it. Our panic rotated through the group, but on any given day, someone would talk about quitting. Sometimes it just sounded so much easier to go back to our day jobs and give up this grad school dream. We kept close: calling each other in moments of weakness and talking each other off the ledge. We created a motto: nobody quits in April.

IMG_0097The rule was that you could quit in June if you still wanted to, after you had showered, slept, and had a glass of wine. If you still wanted to quit then, perhaps the feeling was real and right. But the middle of April, with ten deadlines looming, is a bad time to make a life changing decision. I now repeat this to my own students over and over again in the spring semester: nobody quits in April.

The advantage to this way of thinking was that it also bonded us together, sort of a “you go, we go” attitude toward college. We knew how hard everyone worked and we championed success and consoled each other through rejections. It makes me wonder how we do this in our short time together with students: how do we create empathy so that our interests and successes are tied to each other.

One way I hope we do this in our first-year writing course is to blog together. If we read about the struggles of the first-year, will we see each other reflected in the stories? Will this create empathy for each other? You can find the featured blogs for this week here. What you’ll notice is the universal buzz of the semester. We are all running from one task to the next, hoping to have a few moments of feeling good about the work we are doing.

Nobody quits in April.

 

 

Blogging with my peeps: first-year problems

EOP43Excited to be back in the full swing of the spring semester. I spent the first day of classes completely full of jitters the whole day; funny how that doesn’t go away after 15 years of teaching. I have an amazing group of students in my jumbo first-year writing course: 88 freshmen who are a sea of awesome. I have eight writing mentors who work with me in the space, but this semester I am also running one of our break-out workshops too. This means I have 12 students on Thursday afternoons and we work together on the writing for our course.

We’ll spend this semester thinking about the problems of the freshman year. With 97 of us in the room, we have an opportunity for a rich data set. We’ll blog about “the day in the life” of a freshman, create surveys, follow case studies, read current research, and ultimately create a series of white papers, working to solve the problems of the freshman year on our campus. Students will then be part of one of three teams who turn those white papers into 1) short documentary films, 2) an augmented reality game to be played by incoming freshman, or 3) a website resource for incoming freshmen on our campus.

Today we’re starting our WordPress sites, so soon we will introduce 88 new bloggers to the world. I hope you’ll read about their campus lives: they are all first generation students and they have amazing stories to tell. And if you are so inclined, introduce yourself and discuss ideas they are researching with them.

#suchexcite

Blogging with my peeps: first-year problems

EOP43Excited to be back in the full swing of the spring semester. I spent the first day of classes completely full of jitters the whole day; funny how that doesn’t go away after 15 years of teaching. I have an amazing group of students in my jumbo first-year writing course: 88 freshmen who are a sea of awesome. I have eight writing mentors who work with me in the space, but this semester I am also running one of our break-out workshops too. This means I have 12 students on Thursday afternoons and we work together on the writing for our course.

We’ll spend this semester thinking about the problems of the freshman year. With 97 of us in the room, we have an opportunity for a rich data set. We’ll blog about “the day in the life” of a freshman, create surveys, follow case studies, read current research, and ultimately create a series of white papers, working to solve the problems of the freshman year on our campus. Students will then be part of one of three teams who turn those white papers into 1) short documentary films, 2) an augmented reality game to be played by incoming freshman, or 3) a website resource for incoming freshmen on our campus.

Today we’re starting our WordPress sites, so soon we will introduce 88 new bloggers to the world. I hope you’ll read about their campus lives: they are all first generation students and they have amazing stories to tell. And if you are so inclined, introduce yourself and discuss ideas they are researching with them.

#suchexcite

Blogging with my peeps: first-year problems

EOP43Excited to be back in the full swing of the spring semester. I spent the first day of classes completely full of jitters the whole day; funny how that doesn’t go away after 15 years of teaching. I have an amazing group of students in my jumbo first-year writing course: 88 freshmen who are a sea of awesome. I have eight writing mentors who work with me in the space, but this semester I am also running one of our break-out workshops too. This means I have 12 students on Thursday afternoons and we work together on the writing for our course.

We’ll spend this semester thinking about the problems of the freshman year. With 97 of us in the room, we have an opportunity for a rich data set. We’ll blog about “the day in the life” of a freshman, create surveys, follow case studies, read current research, and ultimately create a series of white papers, working to solve the problems of the freshman year on our campus. Students will then be part of one of three teams who turn those white papers into 1) short documentary films, 2) an augmented reality game to be played by incoming freshman, or 3) a website resource for incoming freshmen on our campus.

Today we’re starting our WordPress sites, so soon we will introduce 88 new bloggers to the world. I hope you’ll read about their campus lives: they are all first generation students and they have amazing stories to tell. And if you are so inclined, introduce yourself and discuss ideas they are researching with them.

#suchexcite

Blogging with my peeps: first-year problems

EOP43Excited to be back in the full swing of the spring semester. I spent the first day of classes completely full of jitters the whole day; funny how that doesn’t go away after 15 years of teaching. I have an amazing group of students in my jumbo first-year writing course: 88 freshmen who are a sea of awesome. I have eight writing mentors who work with me in the space, but this semester I am also running one of our break-out workshops too. This means I have 12 students on Thursday afternoons and we work together on the writing for our course.

We’ll spend this semester thinking about the problems of the freshman year. With 97 of us in the room, we have an opportunity for a rich data set. We’ll blog about “the day in the life” of a freshman, create surveys, follow case studies, read current research, and ultimately create a series of white papers, working to solve the problems of the freshman year on our campus. Students will then be part of one of three teams who turn those white papers into 1) short documentary films, 2) an augmented reality game to be played by incoming freshman, or 3) a website resource for incoming freshmen on our campus.

Today we’re starting our WordPress sites, so soon we will introduce 88 new bloggers to the world. I hope you’ll read about their campus lives: they are all first generation students and they have amazing stories to tell. And if you are so inclined, introduce yourself and discuss ideas they are researching with them.

#suchexcite

Sabbatical Starts: For Once, the Journey May Actually Be the Reward

There is a tattoo on my left forearm, copied from borrowed letters in my grandmother’s handwriting, that reads “the journey is the reward.” The tattoo is both a talisman and a reminder: seeing my grandmother, Lois’, beautiful script is comforting and empowering, and the phrase–focused on the journey and not the destination–functions as a sort of flick on the ear when I get too far ahead of myself, a reminder to pay attention to the moment.

tattooHonestly, I’m terrible at remembering it’s supposed to be about the journey: I often joke that the tattoo I need next, perhaps set parenthetically underneath, is “are we there yet?” Ultimately, I enjoy making a plan and getting to the goal, often as quickly as possible. When I got the news about sabbatical, I wondered how my typical ways of working would need to shift from such a destination driven mindset to one open to meandering. I am perfectly capable of over planning the joy right out of this sabbatical journey (as the bulleted list below may reveal).

Since 1995, late August has marked the return to school for me either as a student or as faculty. In fact, with the exception of five years of my life, from 1990-1995 when I had Ashley and Nick and spent the toddler years at home with them, I’ve prepped for the return of school. Ashley started kindergarten in fall 1995 and I started back to work on my bachelor’s degree. In the year she finished her first year of college, I finished the PhD and started down the road as a tenured-track professor. Last fall, I blogged about how much I enjoy the school rituals and routines: the anticipation of meeting new students, designing courses, and planning for the year’s goals. And while I try to be present in my teaching, truly listening to students’ ideas, I’m also guilty of looking ahead to the next deadline, the next task. Many days and weeks simply feel like survival, hoping to “get through” the day or the semester. And I always have a five-year plan in mind.

So what fascinates me about starting sabbatical: the journey is implied. I don’t have to work at being present because I’m not in a hurry to “get through it.” To someone like me, a first-generation college student, sabbatical feels so decadent: time to read deeply, to write, to think. As I read another whole book this weekend, Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking  (wonderful btw), with no worries about course prep, the gift of sabbatical settled in fully. Typically, particularly this time of year, I read in the service of prepping for courses. As all of my colleagues who teach a 4/4 load understand, we steal moments to read outside of course prep or we work 15 hour days to fit teaching, service, and scholarship into our lives. The time to fall into rabbit holes of inquiry are challenging to carve out in days spent with meetings, prep, feedback for students. (Side note: I’ve been thinking a lot about my non-tenure track colleagues this week and feeling a sort of survivor’s guilt. Wondering how I can advocate for time for scholarship and reflection, even genius hour models, for adjunct faculty when I return in spring.)

However, even though I’m grateful for this gift, I’m not fully capable of only meandering. Perhaps my working class background, with a touch of OCD and a highly driven nature, makes a complete submission into the sabbatical “journey” impossible. I still, of course, made plans. Since this blog serves to mark the start of this journey, here are the paths I intend to follow for the next five months:

  • Blog weekly. Despite debates about whether blogging is dead (or if it was ever alive), I still like the form and often turn to colleagues’ blogs for insights, info, humor. (Some of my favorites: CogDogBlog, BavaTuesdays, and Nerdy Book Club.) The goal is to blog weekly, using the blogs to mark the sabbatical journey, share texts I’m reading, rant on some educational trends that bug me. For the latter, “flipping” the classroom will be top on the list of rants, not because of the idea per se, but because of my frustration with educational “lite” approaches to learning that too often side step the heavy lifting educational innovation demands. Some of the blogs may function as drafts, a way to try out ideas that I might want to revise and submit.
  • Read & Annotate. As I mentioned, one of the most amazing gifts of this sabbatical is time to read. My reading list is long, filled to the brim with books and articles about making, design, tinkering, and play. I’m currently working on an annotated bibliography that I will make public by mid-September, which will be an ongoing project. The reading is in the service of articles and presentations I am working on and a new NSF grant Leslie and I plan to submit in November.
  • Publish. The good news is that with my colleagues from science–Leslie and Irene–we’ve turned our NSF funded research into a book called Composing Science: A Facilitator’s Guide to Writing in the Science Classroom. ComposingScience_coverThe summer months were spent with developmental and copy edits, cover design, securing permissions (thanks Leslie!), and now the book is set to release October 23. This fall Leslie and I will spend time working with science faculty at Miami, Ohio (thanks to Liz Wardle) as they redesign science writing courses and we will share our research at a variety of conferences. Leslie and I are also working on the companion website for the book in September in Boise. Up next for publishing is a series of articles: one on making in science (with Leslie), one on epic learning, and one yet to be determined. Other writing includes two grants: the NSF grant with Leslie and one NEH grant.
  • Present. A series of conference presentations take up a chunk of time this fall. Very excited to talk about making with Peter Kittle and Laura Sparks at our panel at DML2016, and both scared and excited to be giving an Ignite Talk this year as part of the DML Ignite line-up. And, bonus, Gardner Campbell is hosting! Leslie and I will lead a workshop at the NWP Annual Meeting in November too. For fun, I hope to attend the Watson Conference since a lot of my favorite scholars are sharing work, including Tom Fox, Laura Sparks, Mark Hall, Liz Wardle, and Jody Shipka.

As an aside: When I initially found out about sabbatical, I was struck by the number of colleagues who told me “I must find time to travel.” These colleagues have fewer student loans than me. Any search you do about “using your sabbatical wisely,” will also lead to lots of advice about travel. All of this is a nice reminder of the privileged world of many academics, and for me, a reminder of my sometimes first-gen, outsider status (which I mostly love). My travel will involve finding inventive ways to pay to attend conferences and a lot of local hiking at Lassen National Park, which I plan to relish. IMG_3858_1My spousal unit and I bought a $40 annual pass to Lassen, and our goal is to take #walkingwednesday hikes until we need snowshoes. Someday, on a future sabbatical, traveling abroad will be an option. Writing from some castle in Ireland would not suck I’m certain.

The paths and plans in my tidy, bulleted list are not set; they’re more like temporary passages than concrete roads. I hope that a semester sabbatical will be enough to reset my pace, rethink what counts as a normal day. I may even have to face who I am when I can just be and not do. This is a good thing. I also know that the time is precious: I’m not sure my grandmothers, Lois and Evelyn, would know what to think about this “ceasing” of work. I wish I had the chance to explain to these two smart, amazing women, who talked of “getting back to chores” that because of them–how they modeled curiosity and a maker mindset–I may be able to carve out the best possible path for this sabbatical…full of hikes, books, blogs, and happy chores.

#2NextPrez: Film from Students at Chico State

I spent the past few weeks working with my colleague, Dr. Tracy Butts, 19 cool writing mentors from our English Department, and 191 incoming freshmen at Chico State. The students are part of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) on our campus. Students spend two weeks living in the dorms– and as first generation college students–they are introduced to staff and resources for support on campus.

Since 2006, we’ve included an “English component” to EOP’s Summer Bridge program, offering an introduction to the kinds of literacies students may experience in college. This summer, we connected with the Letters to the Next President, a national program supporting student voices. Our 191 students wrote letters to the next president, which can be found on the Youth Voices website. They wrote about immigration, access to education and health care, about support for the homeless, and their reactions to gun policies. The letters do a particularly beautiful job of humanizing the statistics and “facts” we hear in relation to these national issues.

The students nominated about 30 of their peers to represent the letters on film:

#2NextPrez: Letters to the Next President from Kim Jaxon on Vimeo.

Looking forward to continuing our work with students as they begin their college careers this fall…