Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year's Resolutions

So I shared this great video produced by Dr. Mike Evans on the effectiveness of New Year's resolutions exactly a couple of years ago, but it deserves to be seen again: "You are 10 times more likely to stick with a change made at the New Year." There may be a couple of reasons for this. The video is quick and informative, so give it a (re-)watch.

It seems that every time I make New Year's resolutions (serious ones that I write down rather than just tell people about offhandedly), I actually do stick to them for at least 6 months. And yes, changing habits a little at a time makes a difference.

This coming year, my resolutions focus on practicing and improving my writing. I've spent the past year helping students work on their writing skills. It's my turn to level up.
  1. I'm planning to start this Jane-a-Day 5-year daily journal that uses Jane Austen's writings as prompts for very brief daily musings. I received it as a present a couple of years ago, but I could never get my act together. I start it in 2016. It requires just a quick sentence per day, so it shouldn't be too difficult to keep up (and yet I'm still probably going to miss days here and there).
  2. I've also decided that November is a bad time to write a novel when you're teaching three classes, hence NaNoWriMo is not going to happen for me during their official month. But I'm happy to start a daily 30-minute writing habit, whether it's writing something new or revising/editing. But the writing habit has to be focused on a creative work rather than my journal, blog, or academic work.
  3. However, it wouldn't be good to ignore my academic work. I have an essay that was accepted for publication (!!) so I'll be working on revising that once I get the readers' notes from the editors. I also want to write at least one essay on my new long-term project that I can submit for publication somewhere.
  4. I've asked my significant other to get the writer's app Scrivener for me as a present so that I can revise my writing in a more orderly manner.
Looking at this list, I'm excited. For #2, I don't expect to write anything publishable. I just need the practice so that I can improve. (I tell my students this all the time -- writing is recursive. So you need to write, revise, revise again, get feedback, write some more, revise again, get more feedback, revise again, get even more feedback, and, if you're lucky, finally edit.) I'll need to ask someone to read a draft, which will be scary, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there.

I also have to add a #5: the usual resolution to improve my health. In my case, I've gained quite a bit of uncomfortable weight, which I'll blame on teaching. I'm not a freak about becoming skinny, but teaching really screws up my daily life. For one thing, it's crazy how sedentary it all is. I stand for hours at a time when I'm teaching. However, my campus is not only super small but it's completely flat. There are no acres of hills for me to run across just to make it to my next class or appointment. Also, I can't tell you how much time I spend sitting so that I can grade all the writing I have to assign. Whew.

For another thing, I'm always up super late working on my class prep. I've mentioned before that I need to work on not changing up so much of my syllabi. In any case, when I don't get enough sleep, it causes a cascade of problems: I get hungry when I should be sleeping, I'm more likely to choose poorly (sugary and/or carb-y things), and my body doesn't have enough time to repair itself which leads to bloating and inflammation. Long story short, I'm not healthy at the end of a semester. It's definitely time to harness the power of a New Year's resolution to change things!

Anyway, good luck on crafting your own resolutions! Here's to an amazing new year. May it be peaceful, kind, and righteous.

xo, Gladys

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Another Semester Done

I just finished another semester of teaching three courses. I have to say, practice does lead to improvement, if not perfection. While I once again hit some snags and irritations that I will have to figure out how to get around (a significant one being the students' inability to afford their books), I felt much more confident this semester. I definitely made things harder for myself by switching up the books and other content (thus necessitating new prep and some sleepless nights), but I can't help it; I strive to improve my craft as much as I can because I am responsible for the well-being, at least to an extent, of my students. That trust is sacred to me, cheesy as that sounds.

I will be changing things up again next semester, although hopefully not as drastically as before -- we will see. Classes don't start for at least a month so I have some time to decide how to retool my syllabi.

One thing I learned is that I shouldn't be afraid to rant when it's warranted (in this case, I was really angry about the Islamophobia that is happening everywhere). I actually had to stop myself because I realized I was yelling in the classroom. But it was the ranting that made a real difference for some of the students, and I know this because they said/wrote so. They felt that I really cared about the world, about them, and about our shared future. They called it being "passionate." Like last semester, I received some kind thank-yous from students, but this time around a few students gave me gifts and others wrote really thoughtful reflection papers on their progress as writers and thinkers.

Another thing I learned is that, along the same vein as the ranting, students really like to see my personality and glimpses of the real me. I have this problem with self-presentation, where I have two main professional personas that I default to. One is the more fun one that likes to talk "real" and sometimes gossip, and the other is my formal lecturer/interview persona. I need to fix the second version to make her more like the first, which is more the real me, anyway. But obviously I'd prefer a middle ground between the two when I relate to my students. Oversharing and being buddy-buddy could lead to misunderstandings and hurt feelings when grading time comes around. At the end of the day, the power differential between me and my students is much too great for true friendship to develop during a class. It's sad but that's how academia is structured here.

Finally, I also learned that young students really love their music. On the last day of one of my classes, we had a potluck and it turned into an impromptu dance and lip-sync party! I didn't perform (um, no way), but I enjoyed how comfortable they were with each other. Students in that particular class have made friends with each other, to the point where they hang out and study with each other for other classes, too, and I actually think that's one good way to gauge the success of a semester of teaching.

Next time, I'll talk a bit about my upcoming New Year resolutions. If you celebrate a holiday this time of year, I hope your holiday celebrations and preparations are going well!

xo, Gladys
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