If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On the Fragility of Students

I took my practicum class to a talk on feminist pedagogy yesterday. One of the students had coordinated the talk and we all went to support her and because it seemed very relevant to the work we were doing in the class.

At one point a teacher sitting next to me started talking about how she loved her students. She loved each and everyone of them and was always sad to see the semester end and her students leave. While she was talking I was thinking--No. I don't LOVE my students. I can develop great fondness for some of them, over time love one or two, and quite frankly there are some I don't like. Love, for me, is a strong word and I don't usually attribute it to anything but the deepest of relationships. However I do RESPECT my students (even the ones I don't like) and that seems more important to feminist pedagogy (or any type of successful pedagogy) than love. I see my students as I see my colleagues--as people and people can be fragile.

Even the toughest of us can break.

Sometimes we don't see the fragility of our students (I'm not talking about neuroses here but rather about the ability to place trust in both the system of academia and the environment of the classroom) but when it shows it can explain volumes. Recognizing fragility and supporting the risk it takes to show it is what establishes that trust.

So as I'm sitting there thinking I'm a big blue meanie who doesn't love her students, one of my students raises her hand in response to this woman's comment. She said that she has been in public school for her entire life and is now in her last semester of college. She said she really wasn't used to teachers caring for or about her. She wasn't feeling the love. She then described how I had sent her an email early in the semester after she missed a class. She was surprised to get the email and said she had not experienced having a professor show concern about her as a person.

Later on in the discussion the student who had coordinated the talk mentioned that three of her professors were present. She got a little teary as she described how much that support meant to her.

They are fragile and strong, my students, and I'm proud of them for standing up and taking the risk of higher education.

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Perfect Weekend

I'm back from our anniversary weekend. It's been 5 blissful years of marriage and 9 amazing years of friendship (we got married on the anniversary of our first date). To celebrate we checked into the newest and swankiest hotel in town.

As the title of this post suggests, the entire experience was all that we hoped it would be. I'll give you the highlights: corner room with funky decor; dining at two of the best restaurants in town; a couple's massage; lying on a king-sized bed in big white robes, sipping champagne and nibbling on chocolates while watching the Oscars.

It was back to work for both of us today but I believe that it was the best 36-hr date I've ever had.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Have You Ever....

been analyzing data
really rich and robust data
and you get an idea
"maybe I'll try
this...."

and this....
crystallizes
into something
beautiful?

Yessss.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Not Really A Walk In the Park



Pupzilla and I were psyched for our Saturday afternoon walk, especially since we missed it last week (due to me being ill). It was a warm but overcast day and Pupzilla was jumping at her leash as we readied to leave the house. Stepping outside I noticed the daffodils were now in bloom and it looked like it would be a lovely afternoon excursion.

However, not more than 20 yards from our home, I noticed two dogs bounding across an empty field with no owners in sight. My heart sank. Now my Pupzilla is a marvelous dog in every sense of the word but she is not dog friendly. She rarely as much as snarls unprovoked but she doesn't take any guff and often normal doggie overtures (you know the butt sniffing kind) are interpreted as guffy provocation. She has been in a number of dog fights (some she starts, some she doesn't--all she finishes) and we now do our best to keep her away from other dogs. The worst is on hikes in the wood. We keep her on leash but not everyone does. I'm always amazed when people let their dogs run up to us and then say "Don't worry s/he's friendly." I have to answer back that Pupzilla isn't and then we get the hard stares.

Today I stopped her, made her sit and told the dogs to get back. I do need to clarify here that these were not bad or scary dogs. Quite the contrary they were young, energetic, friendly and out for a good time. They would be the type of dog I'd gush all over if Pupzilla wasn't there. But she was and she was leashed and they were not. They did not heed my words and came running up, sniffing, inviting play and looking for affection. As soon as the butt sniffing started, Pupzilla growled. As you can imagine things escalated quickly and I was trying to keep her down and them away from her but all to no avail.

My neighbor heard the commotion and came across the street to help. She could only keep one dog off at a time. They seemed to think this was some kind of game. Sure enough the game got ugly and one of them latched onto Pupzilla's ear. I slapped at them with her leash (I do know better than to put my hand anyway near dogs in a fight) and commanded them back. Between the two of use we got them off of Pupzilla and I tried to drag her away. She was flat on the ground at this point and refusing to budge. (Keep in mind she's no lightweight at 60+lbs and both these dogs were bigger than her)

The dogs had collars and my neighbor was trying to see a phone number so she could call the owner. I tried to walk down the street with Pupzilla but the other dog kept coming back to "play" some more. Another neighbor came out and between the two of them they managed to contain the dogs and call the owner. I felt it best to remove Pupzilla from the premises while they waited and we went off on our walk.

Dog fights are ugly. I hate them. I can't imagine why anyone would ever want to see one happen. This one wasn't so bad but there was blood on my shoe and Pupzilla has a gashes on her forehead and next to her ear. Once we were safely away I checked her out to make sure there was no real damage. As much as they upset me, she's always her happy self after a fight. I don't think she knows what the fuss is all about. We took our walk but for most of it I was reliving the fight and feeling bad that (a) I had to contain her so she ended up getting the worst of it and (b) had to smack at two very sweet dogs (I know I didn't hurt them - I was just trying to scare them back).

For the rest of the walk we kept running into other dogs (most on leashes) and I felt like I was on red alert.

Blog Ratings


I was thrilled to be given this rating by the lovely Amanda at A Lady Scientist.

The recipient of an "E" is to bestow the said award to five excellent bloggers that s/he enjoys. While choosing only 5 is difficult I am happy to announce the award winners to be:

On Being A Scientist and A Woman: Always a wonderful blog but now with twice the punch. This blog has recently become a two-woman phenomenon and Alice is a welcome addition. Watch for an upcoming name change and book club (everyone will be reading this)

K8: Going through dissertation woes and the never-ending job search with amazing honesty and good humor.

jo(e): A wonderful new find for me and I may now be her biggest fan. Lovely writing, lovely photos and oh-so-human(e).

The Curranicles: Always upbeat, always ready to try new adventures and is in such a sweet relationship, what's not to love?

And finally a big shout-out to phd me: keeping it real for all us academic types in her own humble way.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

In Honor of the Day

As seen on life of a fool:

Your Candy Heart Says "First Kiss"

You're a true romantic who brings an innocent hope to each new relationship.
You see the good in every person you date, and you relish each step of falling in love.

Your ideal Valentine's Day date: a romantic dinner your sweetie cooks for you

Your flirting style: friendly and sweet

What turns you off: cynics who don't believe in romance

Why you're hot: you always keep the romance alive

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rut...

...as in "I'm in a."

Last week I was laid low by the flu (or the crud as my colleagues like to call it) and I spent several days in or near bed doing idleness. Now I know this is a good thing because (a) I'm better and (b) taking off from work-related activities is refreshing (I even got to read a little fiction) but now I can't get my game back on.

I'm not behind in anything important and while I have a few deadlines looming at the end of the month there is nothing that can't be cranked out in a day or two if necessary. So really it's not a bad time to be off my game but still it bothers me. Tomorrow is one of the days I spend the morning at home and glued to my research. I'm hoping it restarts my engines.

Tonight I went to the dojo expecting an intense and focused workout. Alas the majority of the class was spent working a very interesting self-defense technique, which although fun, did nothing to help my current state of being.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Teaching Conference

So this weekend I'm supposed to be at a local conference on the practice of teaching. I went for a bit this afternoon but didn't feel well enough to stay and my friend made it clear that I was not helping matters by spreading my germs (this particular bug has been going around the entire department). So I'm home. Tomorrow three of us are supposed to present a case study on peer learning from our efforts last semester when we linked an intro graduate course with three sections of an intro undergraduate course. Linking the courses was my idea and presenting it at this conference was my idea but it looks like they'll be presenting it without me. They're great colleagues and friends and I know they'll do a kickass job. I also know they want me to get well and I appreciate them sending me home.

Still it is a little sad to miss this conference. I went for the first time last year and it was a lot of fun. I not only left packed with great ideas that helped my teaching but with a full belly from all the yummy food and treats. Prior to this I had only been to research conferences and the tone here is quite different.
Presentations are about sharing and collaboration and not about proving or critiquing.

It is amazing what you can learn just from hearing how someone else has approached a problem. The seminars are all interactive so in addition to being exposed to the presenters' approach you are also exposed to a room full of teachers swapping techniques and brainstorming options. [Side Note: In workshops and seminars on teaching that I've attended at my current university and others I've always been struck by the format being mostly or all lecture when the content is about teaching interactively - this conference gets it right.]

Not all the seminars are stellar but most are at least good and I think I only went to one last year that was not at all helpful. Today all I managed to sit through was a plenary session. Unfortunately it was one that I did not find particularly helpful. The presenter was an English teacher and a dog trainer and she brought her dog along to help. So imagine a large ballroom filled with round tables and a woman walking between the tables using a clicker to make her dog perform tricks. Unfortunately the dog is too small to see through all of the tables.

Granted I walked in a little late but the only point I really took from the whole show was that we should train our students as we train dogs. Now I have read several books on dog training, one good book on dolphin training, and I've studied behavioral psychology--so I get it. There are proven techniques that can be used with humans, dogs and dolphins to shape behavior. However I'm not convinced I should be slapping quarters down on the desks of my students every time they participate. Nor do I feel that 50% of a presentation grade should be given for "entertainment" value (I'm not really sure what that tip had to do with dog training but whatever).

Probably the worst part of the presentation was that she used volunteers from the audience to act as either dogs or trainers (each with their own special hat) and perform tricks for our amusement. One poor soul had to compete against the presenter's dog. Maybe it was the flu, but I was not amused.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Why I Teach...Tai Chi

So there have been a number of posts in the academic blogging world on why people teach what it is they do teach. Reading these posts and their resulting comments, I can't help but spend some time thinking about why I teach at all and why I teach what it is I do teach. Profgrrrrl has a particularly interesting one up today that covers a lot of my feelings on why I teach (or rather why I enjoy teaching) my academic classes. I don't feel the need to add much more to that subject here but would rather discuss why I teach tai chi, which provides nothing for my career and brings me no money whatsoever.

I have been studying martial arts (Japanese karate, weapons, and tai chi) since I was 16 and belonged to a dojo where teaching was part of the learning process. So I spent many years teaching individuals, small groups, and full classes. After my relocation to Big Town/Small City, I found a new dojo and have been taking classes in a different but similar style of karate as a student. My status as a Black Belt provides me with opportunities to teach in the dojo but I am not committed to teaching. This commitment, or rather lack of it, is a big issue with me.

This dojo does not teach the "gentler" arts, such as tai chi (most don't and wouldn't). However as my time here in BT/SC grows people have begun requesting that I teach a class in tai chi and chi gung exercises. I have started a Sunday morning class but at this point it consists of only people who I feel I can cancel on in a moment's notice (my own b, and good friends of ours). You see as much as I love teaching, I love it while I am teaching (and many times prepping). Knowing that certain hours of my week are committed to being in the classroom (or dojo) and that others are counting on me being there often seems burdensome. Pretty much everything else in my life can be rearranged or done at a different time and although I'm actually quite good at following a schedule, it is other people's expectations that I'll be there and "up" to teaching that can get to me by the end of a semester. So creating another situation where this happens for no other reason than the love of teaching has made me hesitant. However it has become clear that I'm not about to drop the class now that I've started it and I am excited at the thought of adding more students. All of this has been a lot of background to get to why teaching tai chi is important to me.


I teach tai chi because it is a very simple set of movements that are extremely difficult to master. It requires a great deal of concentration and effort to learn the form and people often get tense as they struggle with the movements. The form should be done relaxed and as a moving meditation. This means learning tai chi is a contradiction and I enjoy helping students try to achieve a balance between their efforts and the reality of the form.

I teach tai chi because it is done slowly. People in our society are used to speed. Teaching and learning karate can often be fun because there is a lot of high energy output and movements done incorrectly but quickly don't look or feel as wrong as movements done slowly. Teaching people to move slow and to learn slow is, I think, extremely beneficial to all aspects of their lives. It accounts for a large part of the frustration in learning the form but provides greater rewards when achieved.

I teach tai chi because doing tai chi helps people become aware of their bodies in a way most of us are not. Most people, I believe, live dichotomously--their minds separated from their bodies--and they do not fully understand the actions of their bodies. Tai chi brings unity and it is amazing to watch a student discover what it is like to fully live in his/her body. Tai chi does not bring weight loss or "tone" or any other beautification outcome, so this awareness and appreciation is for one's body as it is, not as one wishes it to be. I think this is very important.

I teach tai chi because every student is a puzzle that must be figured out. I have to use my knowledge, imagination, empathy and ingenuity to discover how a student needs to be approached while recognizing the approach may have to changed as the student advances and new issues arise. I have to do this for each individual while still creating a sense of the class as a whole. I do not find any difference between doing this in tai chi and doing this as a teacher in the classroom. However tai chi brings the point home more visually.

I teach tai chi because it feels good to do tai chi. Many "exercise programs" can cause pain and/or fatigue. Initially you may feel good from the endorphin release and you may also enjoy the following muscle ache that proves you've worked hard, but tai chi leaves you feeling alert, comfortable, relaxed, and good about yourself. Tai chi is not the only activity to do this but it does always do it. Many students I've taught are people who do not regularly exercise and tai chi is very doable for them and gives them a sense of wellbeing after a class that makes them want to come back for more. As a teacher you always feel good when students are eager for the next class.

Most interesting to me is that as I teach a class my students can often look unhappy or uncomfortable throughout the class. This, I've learned to realize, is the look of deep concentration. Yet as soon as the class is over they appear happy yet calm, they float but don't buzz, and they are always thankful for the lesson.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Collecting Sniffs

Pupzilla and I just got back from a 2-hr walk through our little city. It must have been a very fruitful walk for the Pupster as she was VERY busy with her sniffing work. I can only imagine that the spring-like weather produced all kinds of fresh samples for her to gather. I think she must have a sophisticated cataloging system to track all the new smells. I wonder about these things as I watch her head turn--"no, no, old, smelled that before, nothing new....wait a minute, let's see what we have here"--and then disregard whatever caught her attention until a really juicy smell comes along.

What she plans to do with all this information, I have no idea. I wonder if she has some overarching research question that drives her or if it is all exploratory work? She occasionally disseminates her own bits of knowledge for other inquiring noses but mostly she seems concerned with data collection.

My day has been less fruitful. Most of it has been spent food shopping, caring for a sick Boy, and walking. I'm nursing a cup of decaf in hopes that some motivation will come along.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Happy Imbolc

Today is Imbolc. Actually it is a little unclear which day Imbolc falls upon. For some the evening of January 31st is the holiday (Imbolc Eve), for others it is today-- with the biggest celebration being the evening feast-- and still others celebrate tomorrow as Candlemas Day.

Imbolc is an pagan holiday that celebrates the midwinter and coming of Spring. Spring is my favorite season so I'm all about celebrating it's pending arrival. Imbolc is also know as Brighid's Day* (or Saint Brigit's day depending upon whether you are Pagan or Christian). It is a day to " illuminate, reflect and purify."

For myself, I've decided to spend part of the day cleaning and organizing (we have a BIG house reorganization/fix-up scheduled for Spring Break) and then make myself a nice Imbolc feast for dinner. I'm not sure yet exactly what goes into an Imbolc feast but I understand dairy (to signify that lactation of the lambs) is important. Candles will be lit and although I can find no specific mention of alcohol, it seems to me some Guiness is in order (ok so Guiness almost always seems like a good idea to me).

b is leaving today to fly to his hometown for a few days and Boy will be out working most of the evening. It is also a chilly, rainy day here. Perfect conditions for private reflection and purification.

*Brighid, who goes by many names, is a Celtic goddess. She is the keeper of the sacred flame (her name means either "fiery arrow" or "exalted one") and the guardian of home and hearth. She is the patron saint of poetry, childbirth, and smithcraft.