Archive for category personal

Why I still blog

This is my ninth year of blogging and I have just reached my 200th subscriber.

When I began blogging in June 2008 I managed to post nine posts in the first month. That’s heaps! I went back to browse them and was surprised – that I had written so much, but also that they were so short. These days I feel like everything I have to say needs so much explaining, so much backstory. It’s an occupational hazard. Writing lectures and research papers is wordy work, and that has truly seeped into all the other genres in my life.

Last weekend I was in Melbourne for VidCon, the first ever in Australia. It was amazing! More on that another time. And I met an excellent crowd of YouTube creators who are into education, and we had long and interesting talks. Getting to know each other, it was only when someone mentioned they have been blogging for a long time that I caught myself having not mentioned my blog. And I paused for thought. Then realised I hadn’t really, truly grasped the similarities between blogging (in which I am an old hand) and vlogging (in which I am a noob), until that moment.

(You mean I can transfer all this knowledge there? That is so darn handy right now.)

So, to articulate it for myself and others, here are the three big reasons why I still blog:

  1. I use the blog as a professional journal to reflect on my practice.
  2. I like to make a lot of my ideas and resources visible to others, because I trust the network and believe we are better when we share.
  3. The blog is like a pensieve. Or a portable hard drive for my mind.

ICYMI – in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore describes the penseive like this:

“I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”

digital collage made by me using polyvore.com

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Teaching and work-life balance

This week I’ve given my pre-service teachers this ‘wicked problem’ to start a conversation about work-life balance:

Imagine it is dinner time on Tuesday and you have three things to do before school tomorrow:

  1. Grade papers
  2. Meet a family/friend obligation
  3. Sleep

You only have time to accomplish 2/3 of these things.

Which thing do you drop?

The decisions and justifications that ensued were sufficiently terrifying. Don’t worry – I also had an excellent follow up discussion about all the joy and fulfillment that teaching brings to your life…

Overwhelmingly, students chose to drop sleep (if they were the kind of person who could handle that kind of thing), or family/friend obligations. Many justified their choice by explaining that family and friends would be understanding, and they’d ‘make it up to them’ later.

Some home truths I needed to explain after we had our discussion included:

  • This is a wicked problem that most teachers (and ALL beginning teachers) face down pretty much every single night. And every weekend. Basically, in every moment of spare time.
  • You can only run on a few hours sleep a night for so long. Driving while overtired can be as bad as driving drunk. Your body will kick your butt come holiday time and you WILL crash. You will also cope less well with this as you age.
  • Your friends and family will only put up with being neglected for so long. They will get tired of coming second best. Many will move on as a result. Where will that leave you?
  • The assertion that “I will not get myself into this situation” is naive. A beautiful and important goal, but naive.
  • The claim that you will get those papers knocked over in a couple of hours ignores the reality of many teachers’ work. English teachers especially mark long pieces of writing – like essays and short stories. You’re looking at around 30 mins per paper, so if you have even half a class to do, you’re looking at 7.5 hours marking work.
  • When you’re not marking, you’re planning. There’s. Always. Something.

The follow up sharing has come thick and fast.

Here is an explanation of the Four Burners Theory that one student shared. She wondered if maybe women generally feel more pressure than men to keep all four burners running, and burn out as a result.

One student shared information about music that is purposefully constructed to reduce stress.

This article bemoaning ‘mindset’ culture and the way ‘good teaching’ is conflated with ‘tired teachers’ serendipitously came across my feed that same week.

And, just to prove that when a message is needed, it comes from all angles…Steven Suptic even made a video that same week about being BURNED OUT from making videos.

I’d love to hear from teaching colleagues about their strategies for solving the wicked problem above. Or their struggles in attempting the same.

Postscript, 12th May: And wow, this post from Tomaz Lasic this week with advice for new teachers is solid gold.

 

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Assignment marking: Do the math

Something I’ve been meaning to blog about for a while is the unseen labour that goes into marking student work.

It’s semester 2 marking time in Australian universities, and I’ve just finished a stack of mine. ‘Stack’ in the figurative sense, because these were a combination of learning logs and and video blogging, all submitted and marked digitally, so there were no actual stacks of anything.

Being the audience and assessor for these students’ work was a privilege, and I don’t think any teacher should forget that having the authority to do this work is always a privilege. Sometimes it is also a joy. And it is always something that we do, knowing the important positive impact that quality feedback has on student learning.

It is a labour of love, but it is a labour to be sure.

Generally a student assignment takes 30 minutes to mark. So they say. Once I get my hand in, I can usually get through an exam response in 20 minutes (they don’t tend to require any feedback), and an essay in 30 minutes, but a set of professional plans (e.g. annotated lesson plans, units of work) takes about 45 minutes and you just can’t rush it.

A typical formula for university marking in my field is that formal assessment feedback and grading for each student should get an hour of your time each semester. That’s 30 minutes for each assignment if you only set two assignments. If you want to set more assignments, it’s on you to mark them quicker. If you’re in the edu-biz, you’ll know that this is where group presentations and short response exam papers start looking attractive.

In a typical semester I have 120 students. That’s maybe 90 students in one big unit, and 30 students in a smaller unit. As a high school teacher this was also roughly the number of students I had – roughly five classes of 25 (some with 30 students, some with closer to 20, e.g. senior classes).

Using me as an example: I set two assignments each semester. And we know that on average I plan to spend 30 minutes on each.

My semester runs for 9 weeks (because it’s followed by prac.), but they can also run for 13 weeks. You can’t really set an assignment in weeks 1 or 2. If the assignment is big, worth 40% or more, you can’t really set it in weeks 3 or 4 either.

Let’s say assignment 1 is submitted in week 5. We’re expected to get work back to students in 2-3 weeks. So they say. Which puts me giving their results back to them in week 8 (a very important deadline if the next assignment is due in week 9).

120 students

x

30 mins each

=

60 hours extra work

/over 3 weeks

=

20 hours of extra work each week.

Add about 3 hours for each of the following:

  • getting your head around the task and long times spent on first few tasks marked
  • moderation with a colleague
  • administration of grades, uploading feedback to LMS etc.

Rinse and repeat just one week later if you have set assignment 2 to be due in week 9.

So if you’ve got about 120 students on average, and managed to keep yourself limited to your 30 minutes per assignment in all units in both semesters, then you will have worked about 23 hours of overtime for 12 weeks out of the year.

I say overtime, because the whole time you’ve been doing this, life, and other work, goes on…

Classes still need teaching. Emails still need answering. You still have to front up to important meetings. Research papers still need writing, grant proposals still need submitting, you may be collecting research data and attending conferences too. If you’re a school teacher, it’s classes, emails, meetings, lesson prep, school dance supervision, year 8 camp, sport coaching, bus duty…the list goes on.

As depressing as this exercise is, I think we should all do the math on this for our own teaching context.

People need to know the reality of what teachers mean when someone asks them how they’re going and the only response they can muster is a stoney-eyed “I’ve been marking”.

Spouses and family members need to be acknowledged for how they support the teachers in their lives during marking seasons.

Teachers need to grasp the reality of their workloads so they aren’t taken by surprise each time the overtime cycle hits, and help each other learn how to manage the physical, mental and emotional toll it takes (or collectively rise up and change this system maybe, hey?).

And beginning teachers need to be aware of what they’re in for.

I am so grateful to my boss for giving me lighter teaching load this semester (just 35 students!) so I can focus on my research publications, but next semester I’ll have 120 students again. I can’t wait to meet them, but I sure do wish their assignments would mark themselves!

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It took nine weeks

How long did it take for you to settle back into work?

This is what people will ask me, down the track. What people have already been asking for a few weeks now.

I started work just after bub turned 11 months, and now she’s 13 months. It’s my ninth week back.

It took nine weeks to get ‘with it’.

I think I have successfully: decided where to get coffee and lunch; remembered most of my passwords; stayed back at work a couple of times; stayed up late working after bed time; said hello and had a chat to most people at least once; started teaching, with three lectures under the belt; presented a conference workshop; established a new dinner time routine.

Working. Enjoy responsibly.

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 11.22.53 PM

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Eye of the Tiger

I want to make a play list of songs that would be good for getting ‘psyched up’ for work.

There’s currently one song on my list – used as a theme song for the TV show Suits, ‘Greenback Boogie’ reminds me of the thrill you get when hard work pays off. Though there are certainly no suits being worn in my office, and I’m well aware that working 20 hour days is not actually that glamorous…

I used to play ‘Get in the Ring’ a lot on the way in to work, but although it was good for preparing to deal with some tense issues at the time, I don’t think I benefited from the antagonistic feels in the long run…

So hit me with it – what tunes are best for getting excited to go to work?

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Returning to work

So, in January 2016 I’ll be returning to work.

This fact has been a source of mixed emotions for a few months now. Once I hit the halfway mark of my parental leave, the reality started to sink in that my time at home looking after bub would come to an end.

The first time I had back on campus this semester filled me with anxiety. ‘I’m not ready!’ I thought. ‘I’m not going to be able to do this work anymore!’ – my sleep addled brain couldn’t grasp how I would remember my log in password, let alone check my emails. Let alone read and write scholarly work.

But visiting campus again this week filled me with joy and excitement.

Am I tired? Yes. Woefully so. I haven’t had more than 4 hours sleep in a row for six months, more than 5 hours sleep for eight months. Mostly I sleep in 2-3 hour cycles between feeds (feeding the baby that is).

Do I feel out of the loop? Yes. There have been massive staff changes in my Faculty while I’ve been on leave, and an entirely new degree has started. I’ll be teaching units from the new curriculum when I return, and commencing a new research project to boot.

But as the start date draws nearer, I think I can do it.

One of the reasons I’m excited about returning to work is that I feel like, despite the sleepless haze, I’m coming back with a healthy dose of clarity. People talk about this happening after you have kids – you can no longer afford to waste time at work, to waste your hours away from your family. But they’re often talking more about efficiency than anything else.

For me, I think clarity has come simply from having time away from the job. It’s been a chance to get some perspective, to realise how much I was comparing myself to others, worrying about ‘output’, fretting about research funding, lamenting student feedback, feeling the weight of all those metrics…so many metrics.

But now I feel refreshed. I feel ready to come back and set personal goals, to work hard on the things that matter to me.

I’ll let you know how it goes 😉

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Where’s Kelli?

I’ve been on a blogging hiatus for awhile now. For anyone asking ‘Where’s Kelli?’, I’m still here! I was just a bit busy being pregnant, and now a bit busy with the baby that resulted.

She’s amazing by the way!

Me and my bub!

Me and my bub!

I’m resisting starting a ‘new mum’ blog…I don’t think I’d keep it up well. Parental leave keeps you well busy.

I’ll be back at work in January 2016. Might post a little before then. Might not! In the meantime, I’m tweeting away in between naps, feeds, and loads of washing. See you over there 🙂

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