Posts tagged ‘getting settled in’

Class Personalities

Every teacher knows that different classes have different personalities.  When I was in school, I thought that the personality of the class was set by the teacher.  But now that I am teaching, I think that it is really the students who determine how the class runs.  This seems more pronounced the smaller the class is.  And it seems that a single person with a strong personality can really influence the tone.

Strategies is my smallest class — 4-6 students — and this is where I have seen the most variability in class personality.  My first Strategies class had 2 men and 2 women.  One of the guys was very open and willing to share his thoughts and feelings about coming back to school and the choices he had made in his life.  Because he was a very open, friendly guy, that class became good friends.  They teased each other a lot, and had a good time in class.  I had the timing of my lessons down perfectly, and I could count on a lot of conversation when I threw some discussion questions at them.

My second Strategies class had 2 men and 3 women.  One of the men was a jokester, and I thought he would set the tone for the class, but one of the women was very reserved.  She tended to stay disengaged from class, and would give short answers when asked to participate in a discussion.  She and the jokester would bicker good-naturedly in class, but she had the ability to shut him down.  With this class, getting a discussion going was like pulling teeth, I think because of her reserve.  I often found myself with extra time at the end of class, and had to have exercises on hand to fill in.

My third Strategies class has 4 women in it.  They are much more comfortable putting their thoughts onto paper than speaking out loud.  I have a hard time hearing many of them when I ask questions, because they are uncomfortable raising their voices.  Once again, I think I will need to have additional exercises on hand, because discussion will not fill up our time like it did with my first class.  I have been a little worried about how I will get this class to engage with me, since their class personality is so subdued.

But on Thursday, we had a student appreciation barbecue during class, complete with a DJ, out in the school parking lot.  Most of the students went through the food line, and then sat on the curb in the shade along the building.  Several staff members got up and started dancing to the music, in a little clump, but despite a lot of encouragement, most of the students wouldn’t get up to dance.  A line-dancing song I didn’t know came on, and the quietest of my students got up.  She got the group of staff members and a few more students to start doing this line dance.  During the remainder of the barbecue, she got all of my students to get up, dance, and have a great time.  I was so proud of her for inspiring her classmates, including one woman who said she hadn’t danced this much in her life, ever!  Other students were dragged onto the dance floor by staff, only to go sit back down as soon as they had a chance.  I’ll admit, I wasn’t brave enough to shake it in front of my students and coworkers.  But I hope she becomes the inspiration for the rest of the class to follow.  And that she learns to raise her voice.  *smile*


The Road Travelled

my new workplace: the herpetology society

It always surprises me, when I get a new job, to discover the ways in which my past jobs have directly provided the experience I need to do the new job.  Especially since it is never something that I have planned.

The first two weeks of the class I am teaching right now, Strategies for Success, deals with change and goal setting.  I spend a lot of time talking to my students about goals, planning, prioritizing, determination, and all the things that go into being Highly Motivated  and Successful People.  We go over the five steps of the Change Implementation Model — identify change, research options, identify obstacles, establish a plan, and implement it  — as well as the four steps to writing a goal — goal statement, action steps, timelines, and narrative statement.  I literally spend hours talking about the importance of setting goals, coming up with defined plans, and following through on them.  And yet I almost never do this myself.

I can’t make a weekly meal plan, because I always decide at the last minute that I’m in the mood for something else for dinner.  I can’t lay out my clothes the night before, because I’ll want to wear something different when morning rolls around.  I typically decide on the next step in my life, on what will make me happy, and do what I need to in order to get there.  Then I stay there until I am no longer happy, or until something forces me out.  And then I look around and decide on the next step.  I hate the question, “What do you see yourself doing in five/ten years?” in interviews, because the true answer is, “I have absolutely no idea.”

I do set and meet lots of short-term goals for myself, but I have never been the kind of person who decides, “I want to be X by age Y,” and then lays out a multi-year plan for achieving that goal.  I have wandered my way through life, one stepping-stone at a time.  After high school, college was a given.  After college, I didn’t want to go on to grad school right away.  An offhand comment from an advisor got me thinking about volunteering, and a few days of research landed me with the Peace Corps.  After the Peace Corps, I just wanted to be with the boyfriend I’d been on the opposite side of the planet from for the past 2 years, so I moved to the west coast.  When I became dissatisfied with retail positions, I applied for a job at a credit card company doing customer service.  When I became dissatisfied with that, a dream sent me back to grad school.  After grad school, I was tired of research and not interested in pursuing a PhD, so I wanted to teach at the community college level.  It occurred to me that I would be more well-rounded if I attended an archaeology field school, so I went on a whim.  When I couldn’t find a teaching job, I applied for an archaeology position.  When I got laid off from archaeology, I applied for more teaching positions, and actually got one.  When I didn’t get enough adjunct classes, I applied to a part-time job with a herpetology society because the hours were flexible.

And yet, each job seems to be a prerequisite for the last.  My degree in English, even though my major was creative writing, was a great stepping stone for Teaching English as a Forgeign Language in the Peace Corps.  My Peace Corps experience didn’t help much when I was working in retail, but once I got to the credit card company, the “special English” I had adopted in Kyrgyzstan was ideal for working over the phone with clients who spoke English as a second language.  I also used the grammar I learned while teaching it to my Kyrgyzstani students, and was often asked to assist the technical writer.  When I went back to grad school, the skills I had developed at the credit card company for tracking information and juggling priorities were essential for getting through my thesis.  Not to mention, the contacts I made in the Peace Corps made it possible for me to do my field research during a single 3-month summer visit.  Once I got into archaeology, the descriptive skills honed through writing poetry in my youth were essential in writing understandable reports and site records.  Even in the process of moving from CA to UT, I went from an archaeology job where I worked on an enormous Nevada pipeline project, to helping out with a large Utah pipeline project.  And all those years of writing reports in Word, keeping track of data and forms in Excel, and writing grad school presentations in PowerPoint, made it possible for me to teach a computer class.

my current work station

But this extra side job in herpetology?  It just takes the cake in terms of utilizing my past experience.  I am cataloguing and posting for online sale a number of books, prints, ceramic figurines, and other miscellaneous items that were willed to the society by two different herpetologists.  Well, I have experience with books: my very first job was in a library, I worked at the college bookstore during my undergrad years, and even got to assistant manager at an outlet bookstore after graduation.  My writing and descriptive abilities will no doubt come into play when I need to provide summarized reviews of the books, and descriptions of the objects.  But it is mostly my archaeological skills being utilized here — the ability to sort, organize, photograph, document, and track a huge assemblage of items, along with the ability to make sense of scientific and biological nomenclature.

Who would have thought that 5 years in archaeology would help me get a part-time job working for herpetologists?  Or teaching a computer class?  Or that 2 years in credit card processing would prep me for grad school?  I can’t tell if I am making the connections with hindsight, or if I have been, in my own strange way, following a path to get to where I want to go.

It almost seems as though the steps I have taken through the years have been aiming me at exactly where I want to be.  For example, if I hadn’t attended field school on a lark, I wouldn’t have gotten an job as an archaeology field tech.  And I wouldn’t have been applying to CRM firms the next spring when my landlord in Arcata decided to sell our house with 30 days notice.  And I wouldn’t have had any other reason to take a job offer and move to Redding, CA if I my housing hadn’t just disappeared.  And if I had known people in Redding before moving, I might not have decided to finally get a dog to keep me company, after halfheartedly thinking about adopting a dog for years with no action.  And if I hadn’t gotten Cara, I would never have gone to the dog park and met my husband, T.

Maybe there was a plan, and I just didn’t know about it yet.  Or maybe, if you’re lucky, following your heart will get you where you need to go, whether or not you know where that is.

My First Computer Class

So, my first term teaching a computer class is complete.  I think it is the most challenging class I have ever tackled, and I know that I made a lot of mistakes.  I feel bad that this group of students were my guinea pigs.  But in the end, I think that everyone got the grade they earned, and that makes me feel okay about the whole thing.

I have never taught a computer class before, so while I knew I would be able to handle the material (an introduction to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel), figuring out what my class could do and how much time everything would take was the biggest challenge as I was planning out my syllabus.  And it showed.

My biggest mistake was that my syllabus was out of sync with what we actually ended up doing in class, which made things much more difficult for my students who were trying to make up work.  There were several reasons for this.

  1. I didn’t realize how few students would turn in their homework.  So I built a PowerPoint exercise on homework that should have been completed a few weeks before; when it turned out half the class hadn’t done that assignment, I had to improvise.
  2. Sometimes I didn’t read through the labs in the book carefully enough, or I overestimated my students’ abilities whle planning, and I didn’t realize until we got to that chapter that a different assignment would be a better fit.  So we did something different than what was on the syllabus.
  3. I only put the Lab or Exercise number and page number in the syllabus, but that was extremely confusing as I was grading.  So I used the titles in my grading sheet.  But that meant that, when students asked which assignments they needed to make up, I would give them the title, not the Lab or Exercise number, and they often didn’t know what page to find the assignment on.
  4. They had a crossword puzzle from the book assigned for each week, but I discovered after the first week that these puzzles were extremely difficult to complete.  It took me a few weeks to start making my own and handing them out in class, so students were always confused about whether there was a puzzle to do for homework or not.

Another big mistake I made was not using the proper names for icons and menus as I walked students through assignments.  Instead of saying, “Click on the Sum Function button” in Excel, I’d say something like, “Ok, you’re going to click on the Sum button, which is this button up here that looks like a weird E.  Yes, the button that looks like a backwards E.  The one over here.  Got it?”  This meant that, when it came time for students to follow the directions in the book in order to do their assignments, they didn’t know the proper terms and often had a hard time figuring out the directions.

I’m also unsure about whether or not I gave them too much work to do.  In each class, I would first walk them through the assignment that was described in the book chapter.  Because we did this together, they didn’t turn this assignment in to me.  Next, there would be a lab that they needed to do in class, where they would follow the directions in the book step-by-step on their own, to reinforce the tasks we had just gone over.  This was followed by a homework assignment with less specific instructions, where they had the chance to be a little more creative in how they applied what they learned.  In theory, a great model for reinforcing tasks.

But I didn’t realize how many of my students were going to not only have no computer at home, but also no time during the week to come in and use the computers at school.  And even if they could make it to the library on the weekends to use a public computer, it might not have Microsoft Office 2007 on it, which would make it impossible to do the work.  I often felt like I was rushing through the example in class, so that they would have enough time to do both the lab and the homework in class as well.  Perhaps getting rid of one of these assignments and taking more time to explain new tasks, and having more time to complete a single assignment in class, would be the way to go next time around.

by art around

Another challenge was the fact that I have never taught this population of students before, and I wasn’t prepared for the kinds of obstacles they would be facing during the semester.  As a TA, I was usually responsible for 100 or more students, and there could be upwards of 300 students in a class.  Most of them got their work done, and while I might recognize their writing style, that was pretty much all I knew about them.  The occasional student who came to see me might have a question about something we covered in class, or might be struggling with a diagnosed learning disability.  But the students were predominantly white, middle class, had done reasonably well in high school, had decent reading and writing skills, knew how to write an essay, and the worst challenge they might have during a semester would be a death in the family, or a bout of illness.

With only 4 students in one class and 13 in the other, I know a lot more about my students’ lives than before.  At this college, I would say less than half the students are white.  Many speak English as a second language.  Most don’t know how to write a grammatically correct sentence, much less a 5-paragraph essay.  I had two students struggling with homelessness during the semester, one of whom was constantly sick and exhausted from living at a shelter for months; one student without medical insurance whose toddler was ill, but her boyfriend isn’t the child’s father so only she could take her child to the emergency room; a student who will be spending 4 days in jail in order to get back her license because she can’t afford to carry car insurance; students who want to start their own business because they can’t find jobs as ex-cons; a student with serious medical problems who was on oxygen; a student who is still recovering from being the first one on scene at a parent’s suicide; another student who had been her dying mother’s full-time caregiver for the past 5 years, to the detriment of the student’s schooling and career; another who was in an abusive relationship and came to school with bruises; students without cars who need to travel 60 miles or more by bus and train to make it to class; students with work schedules that conflict with class so they are consistently late or having to leave early.

These students often barely graduated from high school, or perhaps they got a GRE.  They are trying to make a better life for themselves while working full time and juggling families, poverty, poor schooling, and other problems I have never had to worry about.  I give them a lot of credit when they are willing to work hard and give up on sleep or time with their families to overcome all kinds of odds and make a better life for themselves and their families.  These are not the kids who miss class because they are hungover from last night’s frat party.  So I let them make up assignments at any time without any penalties,  offered to tutor students outside of class, and I did what I could to encourage those who were interested to do some extra credit work to bring up their grades.  And I let the student who was so frustrated with the final exam that she actually walked out and disappeared for an hour come back and finish it for full credit.  Maybe that makes me a pushover; or maybe it makes me willing to give my students a chance to learn from their mistakes.

When all was said and done, I had a rough bell curve of grades in my class, which reassures me that I did an ok job of teaching these kids.  Three As, four B, and two each Cs, Ds, and Fs.  The students who were failing a week ago but worked hard and got their assignments in to me at the last minute all passed.  The students that I offered help or tutoring to who didn’t take me up on the offer, or who half-assed their first few makeup assignments and then gave up, failed.  And I think that’s the way it should be.

But I have so many ideas for how to do it differently next time, now that I have learned from my mistakes.

Who am I now?

For the first six months that I was doing archaeology, I couldn’t say the words, “I’m an archaeologist” out loud.

When someone asked what I did, my answer was always, “I’m actually working in archaeology right now.”  Right now.  Not forever.  Because I had just spent 2 years of my life becoming a cultural anthropologist, studying, getting a master’s degree, constantly identifying myself as a member of the cultural anthro program and NOT the archaeology program.  Despite the fact that I mostly hung out with the archaeologists (they were more likely to go to the bar on Friday night *smile*).

But I eventually got used to saying, “I’m an archaeologist.”  And eventually the story I would tell would go something like, “I stumbled into archaeology, and I love it, it’s a perfect fit for me!”  And there were a lot of things about archaeology that I was good at.

(Did you catch that?  Were.  Was.)

I spent five years as an archaeologist, always insecure about my experience and my abilities.  I was great as a field tech — I can hike all day looking for sites, identify flakes and groundstone, tell you the age of a pile of rusty cans, dig square holes in 10-centimeter levels, pick every single artifact out of my screen, or clean and catalogue artifacts for weeks at a time.  I could write a damned good site record or final report, too — assuming you pointed me to the appropriate background research, and told me what conclusions should be written.  I could do what I was told to do, but for one reason or another — lack of academic background, lack of confidence, poor spatial skills, or an inability to grasp the larger archaeological picture — I was never any good at knowing what to do next, where to dig, how to approach a project, and certainly no good at telling anyone else what to do.  Any time I was put into a supervisory position, I was miserable.  Constantly anxious and worried that I was failing, constantly at a loss for what I should be doing.

I got a job here in Utah where I finally felt like my abilities and experience matched my job requirements.  Until this spring, where I could tell I was failing at taking on a leadership role on our historical excavation project.  But I have zero background in historical excavation, so how could I lead?  More anxiety, more worry.  And then I was laid off, and there was my answer about how well I was doing.

And now I have a new job teaching.  I’ve only been at it for 5 weeks.  It’s hard, and I don’t have enough hours because there aren’t enough classes I’m qualified to teach, and the students don’t listen, and sometimes classes run short, and sometimes they run long, and I make mistakes — but I’m not miserable.  I’m really enjoying myself.  And I just got a second job, with a local herpetology society, where I will be sorting through two collections of books, articles, art, knick-knacks, and odds and ends, to help get them organized and sold to profit the society.  They estimate it will take about 2 years to get through everything.  I’ll be doing all of the menial sorting and cataloguing and photographing that I was good at in archaeology, with none of the expectation that I should develop into a project manager someday.

Given my current committments and schedule, I don’t see a way back into archaeology.  And I don’t think I really want one.  But I have been scared to admit that to myself, or anyone else really.  My many archaeologist friends have sent me links to jobs and still refer to me as an archaeologist, and it makes me feel guilty to not be “out.”  Why is saying I’m not an archaeologist anymore so difficult to do?  When I first thought about taking my layoff this spring as a sign to look for another career, I found myself thinking that if I left archaeology, I would have wasted the last 5 years.  When I was so sure that archaeology was the perfect fit for me, despite my weaknesses.  When my identity revolved around my job.  I mean, I’m  Archiegrrl, right?

But then I realized that I “stumbled into” archaeology after grad school, when I couldn’t find another job.  And what job was I looking for?

A teaching job.

I don’t know how long it will take me to be able to say “I’m a teacher.”  I’m actually working as a teacher right now, though. *wink*

the first time I was a teacher -- in the Peace Corps

NOTE: The worst part of admitting that I may have left archaeology for good?  I am Archiegrrl, writing a blog titled Arch and Crafts.  What am I going to do about that?

Decorating the New House

I promised pictures of the house once I got it into order, and since I scrambled to get some decorating done before my family came, I should post some pictures of it now.  Some rooms are still unfinished, but this is what I was able to get done so far.

I started by going a little nuts with textiles and hanging pretty much every piece of my fairly extensive collection.  Most of my textiles are from Kyrgyzstan, but I have pieces from Peru, Panama, and Cameroon too.

Kyrgyz shyrdak upstairs

Kyrgyz souzani in the stairwell, Kyrgyz and Panamanian squares above

Kyrgyz shyrdak, knotted carpet and embroidery near front door

Cameroonian batik and elephant paintings in dining area

The first room we got set up was our bedroom, which is all in chocolate tones.  The walls are a kind of nasty, mustardy brown, but we needed to live in here, so we haven’t repainted it yet.  Note the curtain on the right hand side of the frame, which acts as a door to the master bath.  It’s actually a dark purple, but it blends pretty well with the browns in the room.  You can see I haven’t put anything on the walls or the shelves in there yet.

our bedroom

Then of course there is the guest room, that I repainted for my folks’ visit.  I’ve always wanted to do a room inspired by the colors of the winter sky, snow, and dry oak leaves, and I think I got something close, even though the blue walls are a lot more saturated than a winter sky.  I had some nice carved woodblock panels that I think go really well in this room.  I also had a couple of short shelving units that I think worked really well as bookshelves/bedside tables.

guest room

 We also set up the upstairs den as a kind of media center, since the projector, screen, and DVD player that came with the house are up there.  I moved in shelves of books, DVDs, and CDs to enjoy, with a few more tapestries and a painting I have.

media room

The futon usually goes in this room, and we have a recliner that we want to put up here too, so that folks have somewhere to sit if they want to watch a movie, or just read.  But my sister J needed someplace to sleep while she was visiting, so we moved the futon into the jungle room for her.  It’s a fairly small room, and the full-sized futon pretty much took up the whole space.  I wanted to get more up on the walls, but I don’t think J really minded. 

jungle room with futon

We want to keep the tree, even though it takes up a lot of space, because we plan on using this as a baby room in the future (knock on wood, tu-tu-tu).  But it will be our office/craft room in the meantime.  Once the futon gets moved back to the media room, I am planning on moving the card table and folding chair we bought for extra Thanksgiving seating up there to use.  It should help me get through all of the Christmas presents I need to make this year!

And speaking of Christmas presents, this weekend I was a knitting maniac.  Of the three knitted presents I am making, I finished one, got 90% of the way through a second, and halfway through a third.  But I have 10 more non-knitted presents to finish, and only about 15 crafting days before Christmas — yikes!


We have big dogs.  We need a yard.

At T’s old house, the first place we lived together, we built the dogs a large run attached to the garage where they could hang out during the day.  And they could run around the neighborhood a little if we were home.

In Paradise, they had the run of two decks and a small, fenced garden during the day, and we were far enough off the beaten path that they were allowed to roam in the woods next to the rental house when we were home.

In Eagle Mountain, we rented a house with a yard.  But it was smallish, and very difficult to get to.  There was a gate from the outside, that iced shut in the winter, and a small sliding glass door out from the basement.  Once the dog door panel went into the slider, only Cara could squeeze through the remaining gap.   So I almost never went into the back yard, unless it was to clean up dog poop, and T pretty much only went back there to mow.  And, to be honest, both those activities didn’t happen quite often enough.

We have always had to find other places — river trails, dog parks, athletic fields, back roads — where we could exercise the dogs.  Or we throw toys up and down hallways and stairs inside the house.

Yesterday I had a revelation.

the obnoxious squeak

I got home, and as usual the pups were bouncing off both me and the walls in their excitement to see someone after sleeping on the couch all day.  Diezel brought me his incredibly obnoxious squeak (we have several, and this one is the loudest and most annoying), and I thought about tossing it in the house a little, but there were simply too many boxes in the way.

And then I realized.  We have a yard.  A big one.  That isn’t completely covered in poop (yet).  And all we have to do is walk out the kitchen door.

I threw the obnoxious squeak once, and the dogs ran and ran and ran in circles, chasing each other at top speed, vying for control of the toy.  The dogs on either side of us got in on the excitement as best they could, barking from an upper deck on one side, and with his nose stuck through a hole under the fence on the other side.  I threw the squeak a dozen more times, with lots of running and bounding and chasing and rolling onto backs and pinning.  10 minutes later, both dogs were breathing hard, and Diezel laid in the grass for a rest before bringing the squeak back to me, his usual sign that he’s getting tired.  Happy and panting, we all went inside.

I think we’re really gonna like it here.  *smile*

So here I am…

I’ve started a new blog, under a new name.  Anthrogrrl is now archiegrrl, probably a more fitting moniker for me since I made the transition from cultural anthro to archaeology going on five years ago now.  And a new title seemed appropriate for a new space.  Hopefully I can find most or all of my old friends from Vox on here, and of course I will figure out how to share my blogs with my friends on Facebook, same as before.  And I am sure that I will continue to post a hodgepodge of topics, from photography to knitting to cooking to dog parenting to occasional politics to being a new wife and homeowner.