The Irreverent Professor

Unvarnished realities about life, teaching, learning, and change in this wild, wild world

Archive for the category “Teaching”

Finding Meaningful Work…or Finding Meaning in Your Work?

I had an “aha” moment recently.  I was pondering why I get “itchy” every three years or so and change jobs (and usually, cities).  (To see some of the jobs I’ve held, see the post “A Bibliography for Job Hoppers Like Me.”)  It could certainly be that I am a Scanner, as Barbara Sher describes.  I have a lot of interests and the thoughts that constantly run through my head go something like this:

Oh! I want to be a caterer!

Now I want to be a lawyer!

Ooooh, let’s move to Las Vegas!

Let’s live at the beach!

Etc. Etc.

But my “aha” moment was this: I tend to lose interest in a job when it no longer feels meaningful.  I don’t mean (necessarily) like a ministry or saving the planet (I guess I don’t aspire that high).  Just feeling like my day is spent on worthwhile things.  Not TPS reports. (Office Space?  If you haven’t seen the movie, do.  Then you’ll get this reference.  More importantly, you’ll laugh.  A lot.  Hopefully.)

By Hugh MacLeod www.gapingvoid.com (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

By Hugh MacLeod http://www.gapingvoid.com (genius, artist, and King of Irreverence)

One of the things I love about being a college professor is the opportunity to help young adults (or not-so-young-adults) figure out professional and personal things that will help them live a meaningful and fulfilling lives.  I’ve taught at several different universities in my life.  The experience has been pretty much the same – I start off excited about the students, the opportunities to help them learn about what I think is a fun and exciting career area, and teach them information and skills they need to know to succeed.  The first year is fabulous.  I’m in hog heaven.  The second year is good, but I feel a little frustrated that I’m not “getting through to them.”

By the end of third year, I am downright depressed and worn down because SO many students don’t seem to be interested in learning.  Some don’t bother to show up in class at all.  Some show up, but sneer at me all through class [I’ve actually kept two students after class to ask them if they know what their facial expressions look like (both said they didn’t)…and explain that this may be a detriment in an interview or work environment.  Then again, they may just really not like me.]

In other words, I can’t find the meaning in the work any more.  I’m not blaming the students.  They are who they are and they do what they do.  And it could certainly be that I’m a lousy professor, although I have some kind former students who are nice enough to say otherwise (thanks, y’all!).  Plenty of professors stay in the job for years and years.  Clearly, they find something I can’t.  Maybe they find meaning in research (I don’t – not the academic kind, anyway) or administration (I’m a worse bureaucrat than sales person…and I’m a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sales person).  I don’t know.

The first time in my working life that I realized the importance of having meaning in my work was when I worked as a front desk clerk at a hotel during college.  It was a revelation to realize the effect I could have on someone else’s mood, just by being friendly.  After a long day of work, a flight, and a life-threatening taxi ride from one of the D.C. area airports, they would arrive at the hotel, bedraggled and tired.  And find me, a 20 year old college student, at the front desk.  If I gave them the key to their room, fine.  They went up and their day was no different.  But if I smiled and joked with them or found something in their profile to start a conversation with (e.g., “You’re from Dallas? My brother lives in Dallas!”), it sometimes seemed to make their mood better.  And I helped!

That’s how public speaking is for me.  When I do a good job boiling what I think is important information into understandable chunks and use those to ignite a conversation with and between the participants, it feels meaningful.  It’s information that will help them in some way.  And I was able to help give it to them.  Meaning.

Still I wonder sometimes…is there really no meaning?  Or can I just not find it?  Or do I stop looking for it?

How about you?

Carpe meaning!

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Fear of Change–College to the Real World

It’s that time of year here at the university when students are (a) excited about getting close to graduating, (b) dreading/fearing graduation or (c) both.  What I can’t quite figure out is why anyone would dread or fear graduation.  Maybe it was because I didn’t enjoy college.  That is, I didn’t enjoy the institution.  I enjoyed the learning, but that certainly didn’t stop when I left.

I’m hypothesizing that students who fear/dread graduating fall into one of several categories:

1) They are party animals and don’t want the party to stop.

Life is one big party...for some in colelge

Life is one big party…for some in college

2) They are comforted by the cocoon of their group of friends, sorority/fraternity, sheltered microcosm of college in general.  The idea of going out in the big, bad world all alone is terrifying.

3) They have no idea what the real world is about and they don’t want to think about it.

The folks in Category #3 are the ones rushing to my office to talk about “graduate school” – a way to extend the college experience so they don’t have to go out into the real world.  And here’s what I tell them…

If you want to go to graduate school, don’t go now and don’t go here.  Go get some work experience before you go further in debt (or better yet, wait until you can afford to pay for grad school) so you can be sure you are getting your graduate degree in the right field.  And don’t go here especially if you want to get your master’s degree in the same field as your undergrad (or think you do).  Go somewhere else where you can learn from different people who have different experiences or perspectives.

The Category #2 folks are the ones that just need to be pushed out of the nest and learn to fly the hard way.  Sink or swim, baby!  Oh, mixing animal metaphors there.  Oh, well.  Swimming birds, flying fish, whatever.

And for Category #1 folks, all I can say is “Grow up, dude.”  (Or dudette).  It’s time.

The Real World is awesome.  Really.  Sure, there’s an adjustment period, but it is awesome.  Trust me.

Carpe the Real World.

A Little Gratitude Goes a Long Way

I just got back from (brrrr…) Minneapolis where I facilitated three educational programs at the Religious Conference Managers Association (RCMA) Annual Conference, Emerge 2013.  I wasn’t sure what to expect because I’d never spoken for this particular group before.   It was a fantastic experience!  top_banner2

They (the planners of religious conferences and the supplier-partners who provide the facilities and services they need) were so engaged and participatory in the sessions (well, 2 out of 3, anyway…the session that lasted until 5:30 had a quiet audience.  I’m still not sure whether it was the topic:  “Understanding Difficult Contract Clauses” or the time or some other factor.  It happens.).  Two of the topics were legal and one was crisis management.  I know, some of you out there are going “Zzzzzzz….” but this is important stuff in the hospitality and meetings industry. (So important that I’m thinking of resurrecting my Dr. Tyra’s R.I.S.K. Review blog – what do you think?)

Anyway, I’ve been struggling a bit with my real job lately – teaching at a university – and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  I’ve always loved the challenge of “nuggetizing” information about this industry that I love (the meetings industry) and providing it to college students to give them a leg up on their competition when they get out there looking for a job.  Yet lately it has felt a bit like just going through the motions.  And I haven’t been able to figure out why.

Now, I think I know!  Gratitude is the key.  It’s energizing to work with a grateful group.  On the flip side, it’s de-motivating to work with an ungrateful (or perhaps more aptly, an apathetic) group. As we all remember from college, not every class is scintillating.  Not every class makes you want to run up to the professor and say “Wow, that was so helpful.  Thank you for taking the time to provide this information to us!”  In fact, few do.  But when I speak to industry groups, I often (but not always) have a few people who come up and say just that.  What I often get in class are bored looks (if not outright napping), “is this going to be on the test?” and some bold folks who confess they are neither interested nor plan to use any of this when they grow up.  It’s deflating.

I’ve taught at three universities.  I still hear and keep in touch with graduate from University 1.  They still rock my world regularly.  

Meeting up with one of my graduates in Singapore!
Meeting up with one of my graduates in Singapore!

I never hear from graduates of University 2.  And I’m just beginning (after 3 years) to hear (though very rarely) from students and graduates of my current university, University 3.  But usually just to provide them “professional contacts”…which I’m happy to do, but it’s not quite the same as hearing “Thanks.”

Maybe I just haven’t been here long enough for the students to realize and share with me and others the value in what they’ve learned in our classes.

I don’t want to be one of those “needy” people who needs ego stroking to feel good about what I do.  But, hey, a little positive feedback goes a long way in maintaining motivation in any job.  So say Kouzes & Posner, godfathers of leadership, anyway.

So show your gratitude today – to a teacher, a spouse, a neighbor, anyone.  A little gratitude truly goes a long way.

Carpe gratitude.

I’d Like to Thank the Academy…

When I do something stupid in my personal or professional life, I usually joke about it by saying, “Well, I guess I’m not going to be Mother/Wife/Professor/Employee of the Year this year.”  Only this year – I am!

I just got back from Orlando, where the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) was kind and generous enough to name me “2013 Educator of the Year.”  Complete with recognition at a big luncheon and a lovely award that I will proudly display in my office at the university (and reference on my faculty annual report, of course).

Difficult to see, but I am holding my lovely glass trophy-like award

Difficult to see, but I am holding my lovely glass trophy-like award

There’s something both humbling and gratifying about being recognized by my peers for something I love to do.  PCMA’s definition of “Educator” extends beyond those who “formally” teach in a university setting and includes those who provide education to industry professionals.  As time permits, I do both (I am considering cloning myself so I can do all the things I want to do all the time).  So I am doubly-grateful for this award for the recognition of the work I do with the next generation of meeting professionals and with novice to seasoned meeting professionals.

What is even more gratifying is that this is the second award that PCMA has given me.  In 2009, the PCMA Education Foundation named me the Educator Honoree at the Dinner for Professional Achievement, a big, swanky black-tie affair (intended to raise money for the Foundation but otherwise much like the Academy Awards for meeting professionals).

A "red carpet" shot of my husband and I at the PCMA Education Foundation Dinner in 2009

A “red carpet” shot of my husband and I at the PCMA Education Foundation Dinner in 2009

I didn’t get to give a speech at the award ceremony this week, but if I had, I’d say something like this…

I’d like to thank the Academy (PCMA committee), my sweet husband for putting up with my special brand of crazy, my 3 year old son for accepting Mommy’s “trips” out of town as commonplace, my students for letting me share in the classroom what I think is important for them to know, and the meetings industry as a whole for letting me be a part of it.

Carpe education!

Students Make Me Sick!

I managed to avoid the worst of flu season in December, despite having a small child in daycare where “personal space” has no meaning.  While those around me were falling, I was pleased to have no sniffles, no sore throat, no earache – nothing.  All through the holiday season, when I was off and had nothing but time (granted, it was time I used to chase a 3 year old around for 12 hours a day – G*d bless naps and early bedtimes).

College has been back in session for a whopping 3 days.  And not fully in session at that.  I’d estimate that about 80% of the students actually showed up in class this week at all.  (Apparently, there’s a misconception that “syllabus week” is optional.)   And sure enough…by Friday I was getting sick.

Pack 30+ students in a classroom and at least 20% of them are coughing and using tissues on their noses and touching everything!  I’m not a germophobe by any stretch (refer back to 3 year old boy who has his mouth and hands on and in everything and thinks hand washing is a punishment), but ewwwwwww.

Put this many people this close together and they are going to spread cooties.  No way around it.

Put this many people this close together and they are going to spread cooties. No way around it.

I blame faculty for this (including former me).  We require attendance, we grade on attendance, we admonish when they don’t show up for class.  And so they come, wagging their germs behind them.  To excuse their absence, they must have a doctor’s note.  Seriously?  Do you go to the doctor every time you get a cold?  I don’t.  I avoid the doctor’s office like it’s ground zero for bubonic plague, going only when I am absolutely sure that death has knocked on my door.  (No offense to my awesome nurse practitioner, Angela, who is a delight).

So why do we require this of students?  By bringing their germs to class, they make other students (and professors) suffer.  Why not treat them like the adults they are (supposed to be) becoming?

Well, I blame students too.  Students are creative creatures.  The excuses I’ve gotten for absences!  Wow, some doozies.  I once had a student give me a very elaborate and tear-filled excuse for having to miss an exam because her father died.  It was a heart-wrenching, tear-jerking story.  Of course, I excused her.  So imagine my surprise when I met (you guessed it) her father at graduation.  What a miraculous resurrection.  Not.

So I tell my students: “Come, don’t come.  It’s up to you.”  There are consequences for not showing up (missing my scintillating commentary on the material is one, of course), but there are also consequences for stressing your body and mind when you’re sick.  You be the judge of how sick is too sick to come to class.  If you are throwing up, please don’t come.  If you have a headache, maybe you need to suck it up.

I tell them they don’t need to tell me why they are out.  I don’t need to hear that they are hungover or sleep through my class.  Of course I care if they are sick, in the hospital, or have a death in the family.  But unless I can help or they need a shoulder to cry on, they don’t need to tell me.  They need to take care of themselves.  I would rather foster the traits of honesty and critical self-management in them than…whatever giving strict rules on attendance garners.

Perhaps we (faculty) are also contributing to the work environment that gives workers the idea that they can’t take a sick day from work, either.  Many people believe the company will surely fall apart without them (it won’t).  But that’s a rant for another day.

Instead of going to bed, I’m off to catch a plane to attend a conference, cold germs and all.  Well, I can’t miss it!  They need me.

Uh-oh.

Carpe germ avoidance therapy.

The Least Stressful Job of 2013…University Professor. What?!

Forbes magazine has released its annual ranking of most and least stressful jobs of 2013.  And the #1 least stressful job is…(drum roll, please)…being a university professor.

Which leaves me wondering…am I doing this wrong????!!!!

The “tsk, tsk” disappointed face of my doctor every time I go in to get my blood pressure taken would suggest so.

Professors “don’t spend too many hours in the classroom.”  True.  But guess what – those classroom hours are the least stressful hours in my whole work week!  If I could spend more time in the classroom, I’m sure my doctor would make his “tsk, tsk” face less often. It’s the hours preparing for class, grading papers and exams, doing research, advising students, and attending meetings that is stressful.  And I won’t even get into some of the other stressful things I’ve endured in various faculty positions at universities I’ve worked at–unionization, being called on the carpet in front of someone with a (comparatively) big corner office, having to fire people.

Me wearing my teacher face even at our department holiday party.

Me wearing my teacher face even at our department holiday party.

And bless the hearts of the tenure-seeking faculty.  I’ve never seen a group of more stressed-out people.  Counting every word in every article, checking every journal’s ranking, praying for minor revisions, all while juggling a course load and treating every administrator like they are made of glass…just in case they have a say in the tenure decision.  One of my former colleagues was even told she shouldn’t get a tattoo while seeking tenure because “it just wouldn’t be appropriate.”  But, hey, no pressure.

I will grant you that the winter holidays and summers off are great.  But I don’t know many faculty who actually get to take them “off.”  Researchers do a lot of their research over these “breaks.”  And non-researchers teach to make extra money to bolster that whopping average salary of $62,000.

Me?  I do neither.  I travel – for business, for pleasure.  I spend time with my husband and son.  I catch up on my stories.  I get back into the exercise program that eludes me nine months out of the year.

Sure, there’s often no 9-5 expectation (which is nice for those of us who are not morning people).  And there’s very little direct supervision (which soothes my entrepreneurial soul).  And some campuses (like mine) make the walk to class a lovely and uplifting experience.

I’m not sure I’d go along with it being the “least stressful” job of 2013.  But I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.  I hope everyone out there can say the same.  If not, keep looking until you can.

Carpe career choices.

New Years Resolutions of a Teacher…and More

It’s almost New Year’s Eve here and so of course I’m thinking about my new year’s resolutions.  And all the resolutions that came before and were not achieved (or were – but mostly not).  Which makes me realize that I need to frame my New Year’s Resolutions a bit better.

So this year, I am not going to make my new year’s resolutions…

  • To lose weight (although I need to)

    G and TW

    My cousin G was kind enough to say that I was “the thinnest she’d ever seen me” on this visit. I’ve gained it back. Viva la chocolat!

  • To exercise regularly (although I need to do this too)
  • To be less stressed (although I desperately need to be)
  • To travel more (although sometimes I want to)

And so on…

Instead this year, my New Year’s Resolution will simply be this: to be a better me.

  • To be a better professor to my students. For any students reading this: that doesn’t necessarily mean easier or higher grader.  But it does mean trying really hard to come up with new and improved ways of conveying information with the end goal of helping you gain knowledge and experience that will help you in the “real world.”
  • To be a better wife. My husband is a saint and does far more than his share of everything…well, everything except shopping for our son’s clothes.  He hates that.
  • To be a better mother.  Everyone has gifts.  Patience is not one of mine.  Having a child has not improved that.  Fortunately, one of my gifts seems to be acting completely silly, so that helps.

    The greatest motivator of all for improvement.

    The greatest motivator of all for improvement.

  • To be a better friend.  I am not a great friend.  I prioritize a number of things (including all of the above, as you see) above being a friend.  I want to be a better friend, whatever that means.  I hope it means happy hour once a week with my friends, but we’ll see.

    Friends at PCMA Dinner

    Dear friends at a fancy pants dinner in 2012

  • To be a better professional.  I love the field that I’m in and I enjoying speaking, presenting, and training.  But after a while, it becomes easy to “phone it in.”  And that happens when I start getting bored.  So this year I’m going to figure out how I can provide something the industry needs and be true to my own interests, too.  No compromises.

Stay tuned for improvements to be made.

Carpe the new year.

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