Monday, May 17, 2021

Reclaiming the Schedule

HaticeEROL via Pixabay

Today is the first day of my fully online summer class! I've been driving toward this, doing the online set-up alongside my spring semester classes for a couple of months now. I hit pause last week so I could finish end-of-spring-semester tasks in time to enjoy my daughter's graduation celebration last weekend. 

Still, in the recesses of my brain, a little engine was chugging along, whispering an urgent reminder: summer class starts Monday...summer class starts Monday...summer class starts Monday...until yesterday, when I woke up in a hotel room in Connecticut with an updated version. 

Summer class starts tomorrow! 

This was followed immediately by another thought: what does that even mean?

For a typical, in-person summer class, it would mean an earlier start to the day, as my summer classes start earlier and run longer than my regular semester classes. It would mean choosing an outfit and making sure all of my materials were ready -- that I was ready -- to start at a specific time in a specific room with a specific group of students in front of me.

None of these holds true for a fully online class. Yes, I have a specific group of students but, no, they won't be in front of me. At least not all at the same time. 

My first feeling was a sense of relief. Not having to be somewhere specific at a specific time felt freeing! And, having already made the first module of our class visible to my students on our course platform took care of getting my materials ready. 

Now all I need is a schedule, and it's all mine to make. 

Wow. What a concept.

By the end of this week, I hope to have done just that. Meanwhile, here I sit, writing a blog post in the middle of the day.

Loving it.

I don't know yet what my days will look like, or whether they'll all be the same. I might take a day off midweek -- or just work Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with enough e-mail checks on the off-days to keep my students on track.

Initially, I was nervous about starting this class so soon after spring semester. Would I be ready? Would I be too exhausted to give my online students the same care and concern I afford my classes during the regular semester?

As it turns out, the timing's a good thing. I haven't yet abandoned my work mindset for the freedoms of summer, which means that getting up and getting started feels natural. And, I'm close enough to the grind that is the end of the semester to know exactly which boundaries I want to set early on.

One thing I definitely plan to do is close up shop before dinner. Emails that come in later than late afternoon will have to wait until the next day. And I will definitely be reclaiming my long-lost Sundays, as well as the writing time that got flattened by the freight train that was hybrid teaching.

I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to pause and take stock of my time and my schedule. To eat when I'm hungry, go to the bathroom when I need to and maybe even squeeze in a nap if I'm so inclined. For so much of my career, all of these things were defined by an external schedule -- something that's true for most people who work outside of their homes. And, even though my retirement from public education wasn't a traditional retirement, it allowed me to press pause, as one of my principals used to say. To see what my body clock had to say about schedules and to work with it, instead of against it. 

I've been in my second career long enough that I've established a routine. My classes start at the same time every day. The semester follows a predictable trajectory -- although powering through breaks in the last year and a half without passing go, collecting $200 or even pausing to take a breath has twisted that trajectory -- and so each new semester (usually) requires only tweaks in timing.

But this summer online schedule? A whole new ballgame. 

One I think I might enjoy playing. 

Friday, May 14, 2021

Friday Feature: Pandemic Graduation, Part 2

Around this time last year, the time that was supposed to be my daughter's college graduation, we were watching a televised graduation celebration featuring President Obama and a cast of famous people from various arenas as they sent messages of hope and wisdom to a disappointed class of 2020. Later, we celebrated a virtual graduation through her college with her classmates. She wore her cap and gown for this one and we made it as much fun as a virtual graduation can be.

Tomorrow, she gets to do it for real. 

It's been a long day of driving capping off a long week of grading and I still have a zipper to re-attach to that graduation gown, so instead of my words of wisdom, I'll leave you with a list of graduation quotes from Parade magazine. Though they're for the class of 2021 (according to the title), graduation quotes are pretty much evergreen. Besides, it is 2021, even if we happen to be celebrating the class of 2020, so I'm pretty sure those quotes still apply. 

Happy graduation to the class of 2021, and to those in the class of 2020 whose colleges kept their promises for an in-person ceremony, against all odds.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Presentations, Positivity and a Pedicure

manfredsteger via Pixabay

Today was my final final for spring semester. My development classes did their presentations yesterday and the day before and I ended the semester today with presentations from my positive psychology class. Their task was to create a project wherein they paid their positive psych knowledge forward, sharing an activity, idea or some other takeaway with friends, family or some other audience. (There were many good-natured roommates involved).

It's one of those ideas that sounds a little hokey at the outset but when you hear 20+ presentations about gratitudes, savoring, kindness, personal strengths and a wide variety of both outreach and self-care, it's a pretty powerful two hours. Couple that with visuals illustrating everything from how to create a vision board to the creation of a new psychology superhero, and it's an excellent way to end the semester.

Semester ends have their ups and downs. Some bring projects like this one, others bring plagiarized papers (yes, it happens). I've always been an advocate of assessing understanding in a variety of ways but, with the advent of hybrid instruction, I've steered away from exams entirely in favor of projects like this one. I've been exploring online posting tools, infographics, presentations -- and, yes, the old reliable paper -- and it's been quite an adventure. This summer, I'll be teaching fully online for the first time, and continuing to add to my arsenal of alternative assignments.

Though they're much easier to grade, I don't know if I'll ever go back to exams. There's something about visuals and discussion boards and even the tried-and-true paper that allows students to let their personality shine through along with their knowledge, giving me a peek into who they really are as well as what they really understand and what they only kinda sorta know.

It's been a long day, making this post late again, but I can't complain. I'm down to the last few papers, which I might have completed if I hadn't taken advantage of one of my Mother's Day gifts -- a mother/daughter pedicure -- but that would have been very silly.

Tomorrow is another day. I wonder what I'll discover in those last few papers.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Spring Plans

tookapic via Pixabay

Today was National Clean Up Your Room Day and, I've gotta tell you, that's at the top of my list.

As soon as I get all of the end-of-semester loose ends tied up. Sigh.

As the world begins to open up again, so, too, does my enthusiasm for house projects, both routine and long-neglected. We've been making lists and appointments, setting plans ranging from new lighting to new rooms. I'm excited and I'm determined to break our usual pattern, which is to seek information, discuss it endlessly and then never act on it. 

In our defense, we sometimes don't act on things for good reasons. We've changed our minds. It costs much more than we expected. Other things take priority.

But sometimes, we just don't follow through. This time will be different -- well, as long as we don't change our minds (already did that on one project), discover it's too expensive (fingers crossed) or have something else jump ahead on the list (only in case of an emergency). 

How do I know it will be different? Well, I don't really, but there are two factors in my favor: the aforementioned determination and a year-and-a-half at home, which has given me plenty of time to make lists of things I want to change. 

So, you see, cleaning up my room is only the first step. As for the rest of the steps, we'll see how far the budget takes us but I've made my list, set priorities and set appointments.

It's go time.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Friday Feature: Zoom Dysmorphia

First Snapchat surgeries and now Zoom Botox? 

If the time you've spent staring into your device's camera has left you scrutinizing your features for imperfections, you're not alone. Personally, I just like to make sure my hair's not sticking up, my makeup is blended and I'm not so close to the screen that I look otherworldly.

But, according to this article from MedPage Today, plenty of people are leaving Zoom meetings feeling badly about themselves due to things beyond the meeting content. Zoom dysmorphia not only leaves online meeting attendees hyperfocusing on perceived flaws, but also flocking to dermatologists to do something about them.

I shook my head when it was teens who wanted to get surgery so they'd permanently look like they looked courtesy of Snapchat filters, but Zoom dysmorphia seems to be affecting people old enough to know better. I thought I was as vain as the next person, but maybe I'm not. Or maybe I'm just not very observant, or old enough that my eyesight really is going. I suppose if a procedure helps someone feel better about himself or herself, it's not a bad thing but this article left me with one thought.

We really need to get out more.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Ready or not?

I miss Starbucks.

True, I still get my drink nearly every day. And my banter with the baristas who recognize my voice or my order through the drive-through speaker still makes me smile. 

But I miss sitting inside.

I didn't at first. And, for the short time during the pandemic when indoor seating was available, I was too wary and uncomfortable to take advantage of it. I would dash in (masked) to pick up my order and dash back out again as quickly as possible.

But now, as the (virtual) piles of papers to grade loom and the requisite silence in which to grade them is in short supply some days, I miss having a place where I can go. A place where the daily noises of dishes rattling in the kitchen, a basketball bouncing outside my office window and shouted conversations from one room to the next don't interfere with the words on the screen I'm trying to make sense of and evaluate.

Sure, there are plenty of noises at Starbucks. But none of them are my responsibility. Neither are the dishes to be washed or the tables to be wiped or the napkin dispensers that need refilling. I can put in my earbuds and zoom in on my screen, secure that none of the ambient noise that surrounds me needs my attention. I can get lost in the task at hand without being distracted. Without my shoulders touching my ears as tension rises courtesy of noises I can't shut out.

I also miss the atmosphere. At least I think I do. After more than a year of being in my house for the greater part of every day, I'm a little afraid that I don't remember how to play well with others. Or that I've forgotten how to shut out the once ambient noise, making it as distracting as the everyday noises filtering into my office from inside my house and outside my window.

Until recently, I was content to stay home to work. Now, the urge for a new change of scenery beckons. 

At the end of this month, my state joins the growing list of those who've lifted pandemic restrictions. Capacity restrictions will be relaxed and my favorite Starbucks will remove the signs from their tables -- the ones that politely inform customers that those spots are, for all intents and purposes, out of order.

I'll be able to drink my iced chai in-store. To grade papers, work on writing projects and maybe even socialize, albeit still from behind a mask. To leave behind the everyday noises that have become an unwelcome part of my auditory landscape.

Ready or not, here I come?