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Thoughts on Life – Work-Life Balance – 6/14/2016

So, hello again.  Yes.  I know.  I have not been on here in a while.  In fact, if you look back at the posting history on this blog, I have not been posting regularly since the fall of 2014.  Here it is, the summer of 2016.  So, what happened?


We had our fourth kid in the fall of 2012, and by the time I stopped posting regularly, she was up and running around the house.  In fact, if I look back at my extracurricular work (blogging, Coursera courses, and the like), a lot of it stopped around that time.  I was able to keep going through the first couple of years until she was very mobile and demanding on time.  I can’t say it was a conscious decision, but it was something that my wife and I had conversations about.  We discussed the constant pressure that I felt to be on all the time in my job.  With a teaching load that is at least half online, there is pressure to be doing work 24/7, and, to a certain extent, I was.  However, since that point, I have tried to incorporate more family time and more free time into what I do, so that I am not constantly expected to be working.  I am not saying I was constantly working, but I was always work-aware, checking email, looking at my courses, and trying to fill my free time with relevant activities.  That all changed around the spring of 2015, when I changed how I balance my work and my life to be biased more toward life.  And, this blogging has been one of the things that has dropped off.

Another decision that affected the blogging came straight from this decision.  I had always had Sunday evening online office hours, even though few students ever attended them.  I took two hours out of every Sunday and sat in front of the computer in my office on a video-conferencing program to be available to my students.  That was an ideal time to also sit down and write a blog entry, as I had to be in front of the computer doing work for that time.  Of course, since almost no students ever came on, I had the time for blogging as well.  After the fall of 2014, I dropped these hours because they were so poorly attended and because they were more of an inconvenience that a help to my own work-life balance.  While occasionally productive, it brought work home even more directly than I do now, and it was something that became harder and harder as the toddler got more mobile.  Dropping those hours is not something I regret, and it has again moved me more toward the life side of the work-life balance, but it has had an impact as well.

In looking back on it, I have mixed feelings about the change.  I miss blogging regularly, and I feel more disconnected from my work at times.  It also has made my actual work time more stressful, as there is more pressure to get things done in the time I am working.  As well, when work does poke into life, as it did in the last semester because of a committee I was chairing, it is that much more stressful as well.  However, the overall effect has been good.  I do spend more time with my family than before, I think, and I am not as tied into work as I used to be while at home.  As well, I have been reading more than I used to, especially of fiction, which I love.  I have been using Goodreads to keep track of the books that I read, and during the last school year (September-May), I read 39 books.  I consider that a success as well.

Lately, however, I have been feeling the need to get back into pushing myself more academically.  I need to find a balance, and I have not yet figured out how to hit that balance.  I do not necessarily think that I have leaned too far toward life at this point, but I do think that I have not committed myself to as much of the extracurricular work activity that I should be doing, such as keeping up this blog.  I would like to take more continuing education-type courses.  I would like to read more in my field (yes, of those 39 books, not a single one was a history book).  I would like to work on course redesign, lecture rewriting, and new teaching methods.  And, I want to do all of this without disrupting the balance too much.  So, we shall see how it goes.

I guess you will see this result directly.  If I am regularly posting on here, then you can see that I am working more outside of just teaching.  So, keep me honest and let me know when I fall behind.  Also, do you have any thoughts on this?

Thoughts on Life – 4/22/2012 – A quiet weekend

It has been a quiet weekend, the last quiet one until the semester is over.  I will have grading to do by this time next weekend, and that push won’t end until I have graded all of it.  My dad came up to visit, arriving on Friday and leaving early this morning.  We did not do a lot, as we had been so busy all the way up to that point that we could not really plan much of anything.  Things have been so busy down there that we hope the quiet weekend was not a disappointment to him.  We did get a hold of our realtor and got to go see the house with him.  My parents have been a lot of help to us in the whole house hunting process, that it was nice to get him in there.  Otherwise, we did a bit of shopping, went out to eat a couple of times, and cooked a couple of meals here.

I just finished up another set of online office hours tonight where no students showed up.  Luckily, as we are now in full moving mode, I worked on clearing out some papers and other things that I would not need to move.  As well, I did some organizing around my desk to have everything nicely filed and ready to go.  We have not done a lot of actual packing yet, but we have been doing some clearing out of things, going through clothes, books, and other things to try and start culling material that is just not worth moving.

My wife is also in full design mode, working through ideas of how we are going to decorate and paint the various rooms.  I’m trying to keep up with the practical side of things, getting insurance, utilities, and other necessities together.  We are also in full baby preparation mode.  We went shopping today and started pricing out the things we were going to need to have for the baby.  We also looked at appliances and got a better idea of what we are going to be looking for in that range.  So, it was a nice scouting trip all the way around.

Anyway, just wanted to post a short one today, so there you go.

Thoughts on Education – 3/18/2012 – Comparing 5th graders to college students

My fifth grade boys brought home an interesting assignment on Monday.  They had to write an outline for a “research” paper that they are working on.  They had to pick a topic and then write a thesis statement.  They had to put it all into the standard 5-paragraph essay format, putting in topic sentences for each paragraph and then listing 3 details they were going to put in each paragraph.  What was interesting about that is that they really did not have a strong grasp on what a thesis statement was or how to put together the paragraphs.  I saw the instructions that the teacher gave them, and it’s not like they hadn’t been taught this to a certain extent, but the boys obviously had not fully grasped it.

So, we had to have some work time on Monday on what a thesis statement is.  Since these are fairly simple research papers (topics = muscle cars for one and puffins for the other), we had to start pretty basic.  I had them think about why they wanted to write on those topics and then come up with three reasons for each one.  So, the why they wanted to talk about the topic became their thesis, and the three reasons formed the body paragraphs.  While that sounds pretty simple, it was actually a pretty long and agonizing discussion, as they had not really thought about why they had picked their topic, outside of the fact that it seemed cool.  So, we had to work on some reasoning skills and delve down below the level of cool and into the reasons behind cool.  It took quite a while, and one of the boys did have a short crying fit over frustration at not being able to articulate his reasons.  However, we ultimately prevailed, and they were able to put together their ideas into the format that was desired.

What was interesting about that, is that we put more thought into how they were going to go about thinking and writing this paper than I think a lot of my own students do.  They have just as much trouble with the idea of a thesis statement and presenting evidence, which makes me think that my 5th graders are not alone in not fully understanding this concept at this level.  In fact, it seems to me that this is a concept that gets lost all the way through, as there really is no excuse for my college freshmen and sophomores to be having trouble writing a coherent thesis statement and using evidence if they are supposed to start learning about this all the way back to elementary school.

As I said, though, it was very obvious that even though my 5th graders had been taught generally how to do it, it took us a long time to translate that into a practical and working thesis and essay outline.  So, maybe it is just assumed along the way that they have learned this before, when maybe they really have not.

The whole process has made me think about assumptions.  I assume a lot about what the students I teach have had as a background before entering my class.  As this example shows, however, just because someone is taught something, that does not mean they actually understand it.  I think this is certainly a lesson that all of us in education need to consider on a regular basis.

Thoughts on Life – 4/16/2012 – End of another busy section of life

Well, I know it has been a while, but life just intervenes sometimes.  I just finished another 2-week grading session, as the two-thirds-of-the-way-through assignments came in.  The second set of assignments always goes faster than the first, simply because fewer students are left in class by that point.  It was a moderately successful section of the class overall.  I’m down about a 1/3 to a 1/2 in most of my classes, which is unfortunately normal.  I lost a lot fewer than that over the drop deadline, which was last week.  The reality is that a lot of the F’s that I give out are to students who simply do not do any work and yet do not drop.  I can’t say these exams and projects were any better or worse than usual, but it was a lot of essay grading, as I essentially had four 500+-word essays from each of my students.  It’s times like this that I truly know how much of a grading masochist I am.

Our house buying is proceeding along well.  We are looking to close in early May.  We are at the stage of working with a lender and getting the appraisal done.  It has been a lot of paperwork and a lot of decisions along the way, but we are happy with the way everything has turned out.  We have started planning what we are going to do and when as we move into the house.  We will paint, get new carpets, and put in the major appliances that are missing.  We also are going to do some tree trimming, have insulation blown into the attic, and install solar screens.  With our tax money next year, we are planning to replace all of the wooden siding on the house, as it is the original 1960s siding that was poorly taken care of in general.  We have also started thinking about packing and getting rid of stuff around here.  So, that moves along well.

And, the final piece has fallen into place.  We are having another kid.  My wife is 12 weeks pregnant at this point.  We had our second doctor visit and sonogram today.  It’s too early for the gender yet, but we have begun planning for some of the things we need (which includes the new house, of course).  We are currently working on some gender-neutral plans, but we’ll be able to finalize more once we know if it will be a boy or a girl.

So, that’s been my life over the last month or so.  I hope to get back into regular blogging again, at least until finals get here.

Thoughts on Life – 3/19/2012 – Wrapping up Spring Break

Spring Break is nice.  We took some serious time off and tried to rest up.  I did a fairly minimal amount of work, but after about 2 1/2 weeks of grading, I was happy to have a break.

We did some house searching and found one that we really like.  We are going to see it again soon so that we can fully evaluate it.  We have also been pre-approved for a loan, so we are right on target.  We don’t have to move out here until the end of July, but we are trying to be active here in looking for a house and coming up with the best opportunity for us.  We found a 2700 sq. ft. house in our price range that seems quite perfect for what we are looking at.  Plus, the kids would get to stay in their current charter school, which is perfect as well.  We are continuing to look, but that house that we’ve found so far is really going to have to have something else perfect to beat it.  It is exciting to look for a house, but it is also stressful.  I have not slept well for days as I keep running ideas through my head rather than sleeping.

We also had one of my friends visit for a couple of days.  The kids went off to stay with their grandparents for a good portion of the week, and we spent some time just hanging out as adults, something that is hard to do with three elementary-aged kids in the house.  We also did, as my friend called it, a culinary tour of the city.  We ate all over the place, avoiding chain restaurants and hitting various types of cuisine over the several days he was here.

Beyond that, I can’t say I got ahead on any work that I needed to do, but then, do any of us ever get as much done over Spring Break as possible?


Thoughts on Teaching – 2/20/2012 – A slow day

Today was an uninspiring teaching day.  I have reworked lectures at various times over the years, and much of that has been to shorten earlier in the semester lectures so that I can make it further into the time period that I’m covering.  Today was one of those lectures where I made cuts that disconnected the material from its real point.  So, I struggled through the first delivery to connect everything together and show the students why this was not just a collection of random material but instead was connected and relevant.  It worked better by the second class, but both classes were also depressing for another reason.  The big problem is that I felt the students were more disconnected than usual today.  The drops are starting, so some students are getting out of the class now, but I really have a large number of people simply not showing up.  And, of those who do show up, it’s hard to peg very many of them as actually paying all that much attention.  Again, it certainly wasn’t my best material at all, but it just reinforces for me the problem with a lecture.  When my lecture is going really well, I might have 50-60% student engagement.  Today, it felt like 20-30%, which is just depressing overall.  In my second class, which is a two-way video class, the high school I was connecting to was not in session, and a lot of people were missing in front of me, so I ended up lecturing to nine people.  Twenty-six out of forty in the first class was already low for this time of year, but nine is really depressing.  And then to see them mostly disconnected is even worse, as there’s no hiding the fact that you’re not connecting on the material with that few students in the room.

I have been saying for a while that my lectures need to be revised soon, and this lecture was one that needs to be worked with desperately.  It might work better as one that is not delivered but that is, instead, seen by the students not as an individual lecture but as a narrative supplement that I have available to enhance the hybrid class going on in the classroom.  I guess that’s going to be the question when I do redo the class, whether it’s a full flip or not, which is do I present the lectures at that point in episodic form, like they are now, where there are distinct lectures, or do I format my own material like a book, putting it together in a narrative that the students can engage with like they would the textbook.  They can read it in pieces or all at once.  I’m thinking of an integrated lecture, with my PowerPoint images combined with the text from the lectures that can be read more like a book.  I don’t know, just brainstorming here.  I started that a while ago and made it through the first two lectures, coding them in Dreamweaver to bring together a web lecture.  Nothing fancy except for integration of the images with text.  Still, it would give the students something to read more interesting than just a Word document with an accompanying Power Point.  And, this would give a good opportunity to rework the lectures, especially if I am to move beyond the delivery of the lectures and think about them more as a way to deliver my ideas to the student.  I can imagine that the lectures would be different if they were aimed at being read rather than delivered.  I don’t know.  This will be something to think about as I move forward.

I guess all of us who teach have these days, but it was definitely less than inspiring.  Beyond that, it was mostly small stuff at work, writing a recommendation letter and weighing in on the choosing of a new textbook for the class.  I wish I could say there was more, but that’s about it.  I have grading to do, but I did not get any done today, because that filled up my day, and by the time I got home, it was time to pick up the kids.  Then, it was chores, homework time with the kids, and dinner.  Now, all of the sudden, it’s 10pm.  So, I shall sign off for the evening and hope for a more inspiring day tomorrow.

Miscellaneous Thoughts – 2/16/2012

Not a long post today.  That tetanus shot on Tuesday is really getting me down.  I’m surviving on Tylenol/Advil to keep going, but I just don’t have any real energy or drive at the moment.  So, just a few thoughts here:

  1. Frankie really loves music, especially when I’m whistling along too it.  We’re listening to Tool right now, and she is really responding.
  2. My wife reminded me last night that I had told her that it couldn’t be that bad when she got a tetanus shot a year ago.  I admitted I was wrong.
  3. We had homemade spaghetti for the third time tonight.  I’m going to freeze the rest of it, as three times in a row is enough of any meal.
  4. My wife is gone to class tonight and won’t be back until very late.  She does that on Wednesday’s as well, so I am fully responsible for feeding the kids and getting them ready for bed on those nights.  The other nights, we share the responsibility.
  5. I am very proud of my wife for finishing up her BA this spring.
  6. The kids had chore night tonight – vacuuming, emptying the garbage cans, emptying the dishwasher, and general cleaning.  I did the dishes and am doing laundry.
  7. It just occurred to me that I should also go check my blood sugar soon, as feeling off and out of it is never a good sign for a diabetic.  I’ve got about another hour until it’s been 2 hours since food, so I’ll check it then to see where I am.  Then, I’ll have dessert.  My dessert is something I made for myself, a low-sugar graham cracker crust, no sugar strawberry mousse (from a package), strawberry slices, and no sugar whipped topping.
  8. I have nothing else to say at the moment and will sign off for the day.