When Funny Turns to Disruptive

The Case of the Cantankerous Canary

Even the most benign student behaviors may need to be addressed.  Here is an example.

An experienced Earth Science adjunct came to my office to ask me for advice.  She was teaching in a tiered classroom which was filled to its capacity with 48 students.  It seemed that one young man was far more interested in getting laughs from his classmates than learning about plate tectonics.  The instructor told me that when she turned to write something on the white board he made bird calls.  This quickly went from funny to disrespectful and disruptive.  “What should I do?” my instructor asked.

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Difficult Students, We Don’t Need Them

… but we have them and they must be dealt with in a proactive manner.

I have already shared one anecdote entitled the “Case of the Cantankerous Canary,” which gives an example of how to deal with an annoying behavior.  In subsequent postings about difficult students I will cover the gamut of issues including some serious ones such as violent or potentially violent behavior.  In my mind, the best defense against these behaviors is a good offense.  I’ll share what I mean by that, but in big part it is setting clear behavioral expectations right from the beginning.  I will also talk about the way to go about this so as not to alienate your students and create an adversarial relationship.  And, when a good offense doesn’t do the job, be prepared to react.  I’ll talk about that too.  I hope you find what I have to say helpful.

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What Your Students Don’t Know …

… won’t hurt them.  That is correct, isn’t it?

Wrong!  There is so much students need to know and often don’t.  Think of it this way, what do you need to know to pilot a space shuttle?  Write everything down.  Think you got it all?  It’s doubtful, just like it’s doubtful your students know everything they should.  How can they?  Often times they don’t even know what they don’t know.  The result?  It may be problems in your class.  It may be problems in other class or even the problems registering for other classes.  It may be when they complete their coursework and apply graduate.  Ouch!  Those are the ones that the dean often hears about.

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Who Are These People?

… and do I really want to get to know them?

The answers are that they are your students, and if you don’t get to know them you’re in for hard times.  You may think you know your students.  You may think your students know you.  You may think they understand everything you tell them and they, in turn, tell you everything you need to know.  If you are right, God bless you!  However, if you are like most of us, you probably fall short.  Maybe not with all your students, but I bet there are one or two who, if you were honest, you just can’t figure out.  What’s more, these are often the ones that run to the dean with complaints.

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Educational Psychology, a Teacher’s Best Friend

Do I Need to Know This Stuff?  🙁

No, you don’t need to be expert in the field of educational psychology to be a good instructor, not that it wouldn’t help mind you.  As I stated on my “About” page, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, of books out there that provide helpful insight into good pedagogy.   Therein lays the problem.  What the heck does pedagogy mean?  Even if an adjunct had time to identify and read the helpful literature, he/she might get bored to death with the onslaught of “academese.”  My goal is to provide practical, down-to-earth, user-friendly advice to instructors.  In the words of Joe Friday, I will provide the facts, just the facts.  Why?  Because it is really important to know something about how your students learn and how to design your lesson plan.  That’s right, lesson plan.  You know the saying, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”

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The Community College Challenge

Just a “Junior” College?

While Joliet Junior College retains its original moniker, most two-year colleges in my home state of Illinois bill themselves as “community” colleges.  A few, like Harper College, have dropped the word community from their name.  In other states like Wisconsin (Love this state!  We have a second home in Wisconsin and spend nearly every weekend hear.  Oops.  Sorry.  You readers will soon discover that I sometimes get a bit sidetracked.  Back to the matter at hand.) they have “technical” colleges.  In reality, if I say “community college” assume that I am talking about all two-year public colleges.  Community college adjuncts confront some very unique challenges which I will discuss in upcoming postings.  I am not going to steal my own thunder, but I will say one thing for now.  This is something I told my doctoral dissertation committee, but only after I defended my dissertation.  🙂 Anyone can teach at a research university; you have to be good to teach at a community college.

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Are You Making the Grade With Your Grading?

Just Give Them What They Deserve.  Right?

Few things seem to trouble new adjuncts more than developing their grading policy.  As dean I am sometimes asked things like how many tests to give and whether extra credit is appropriate.  If your college is like mine, you have a lot of latitude.  However, this can turn into a lot of rope for you to put around your own neck.  Grades, you see, are the number one thing students complain about.  (No, I don’t have data to support that claim, but it certainly seems that way to me.)  In future postings I will provide some guidelines that I think work well.  I may lead off with a horror story about the former adjunct who awarded 15 percent of the students grade based and class participation and …  Wait, can’t ruin that story.  🙂

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So Much to Learn and So Little Time

How to Stay Out of Trouble and Do the Right Thing

Metaphorically speaking, the new adjunct is often thrown into the classroom.  Many times you have little time to prepare for your first class, sometimes only a day or two.  How then can you be expected to immediately know and follow the many policies and procedures that your college has in place?  The “how’ is difficult; but, never-the-less, this is expected.  In future posts I will highlight the types of procedures you need to focus on and share my advice for staying out of trouble.

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The Challenge of Teaching Career & Technical Education Courses

They Never Said It Would Be Easy

There are so many challenges associated with teaching Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses.  In case you are not familiar with term, these include coursework in disciplines like computer technology, electronics technology, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and automotive maintenance just to name of few.  More often than not, these courses include both lecture and lab work.  The lab component is one area where new adjuncts may struggle, and that is one of the issues I will address in the future.  Another challenge for those of you teaching CTE courses is that you were hired because of your knowledge and experience in the discipline, not because you have considerable teaching experience.  The challenges confronted by a first-time CTE instructor will also be addressed, as will advice to keep you from, to use the vernacular, not crashing and burning.  CTE students themselves may present a challenge for some instructors.  Many CTE students are gifted when it comes to working with their hands, but the “book learning” doesn’t come easily.  Strategies for dealing with and helping these students will be included in future posts.

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