Thursday, November 14, 2013

Simple Observations on Chair-i-ness

  • Dealing with problems that arise in courses in my own department is far easier than dealing with problems that arise in courses that are needed for our students, but taught in other departments. 
  • Creating a course requires the completion of forms. Forms that ask for all the same information that you have to provide to get the form sent to you in the first place.
  • Email is a bottomless pit of time-suckage. But, it is also something to which you have to attend. No easy answers.
  • Just when you are getting used to the semester, some new things will hit you from the side and leave you with no sense of what to do.
  • Colleagues like to ignore emails. Even the ones that you know they have opinions on. Most recent example - email asking what courses they propose to teach. You know that if I assign them without input, there will be anger and angst to go around. Yet, the request has led to mostly crickets. Go figure.
  • I am so ready for the end of the semester!

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Tensions of Teacher Prep - the money version

One of the things I have become very aware of over the past month is the incredible cost of preparing teachers. Our institution only prepares them at the master level, thus we get to work with our candidates for the equivalent of only 2 years. During that time, our current program has them out in the field for student teaching for a single semester of this time, though there are a few opportunities for them to be in the field earlier.

The new CAEP standards, as well as a lot of research on teacher preparation, support having the students in the field a lot more than this. Based on my own experience and observations, I agree with these recommendations. Among other things, prospective teachers need to be in the schools from the first day of their program so that they can see what they are learning in action and so that they can understand what the life of a teacher is really like. Hollywood and memories from one's own schooling are not a sufficient basis on which to make a decision about entering the teaching career. This is because a lot of what a teacher does is invisible to students and not sexy enough for Hollywood (these things include meeting with parents, filling out progress reports, working with students at 7a.m. before school starts because it's the only time you can get them, only having 20 minutes for lunch AND having to watch your students while you eat, etc.)

The reality of universities at this point, though, is that money is super tight. So, the resources needed to support high-quality field experiences are simply not there. Consider student teaching. Just one semester of this requires a university-based supervisor for about every 5 students, a mentor teacher for every student, mileage for university supervisors to observe students, training staff to support the technology needs around the electronic portfolio that is necessary for program accreditation and for the student's job hunt, and someone to teach the seminar that typically accompanies student teaching. To recruit mentor teachers, we have to provide some kind of incentive. Some universities provide course waivers, some provide stipends. Either way, there is a real price tag attached. Plus, the university-based supervisors who are assigned in a 5:1 ratio which is about 3-5 times the number of faculty to students we have in the classroom. In short, it's a very expensive proposition. This leaves me, as a new chair, wondering how we possibly make up for this expense. We do charge a special fee of our student teachers, but it doesn't even cover the mentor teacher's incentive much less mileage and the university supervisor.

As a nation, we are fixated on making sure teachers are good by testing them and testing our students. Yet, we seem unwilling to put the supports in place that are likely to lead to good teaching. Field experience is a proven pathway for high-quality results. Yet, the persistent budget cuts to universities leave us having to make decisions about what can be done that are based on fulfilling the minimum expectations of the accrediting agencies rather than on doing what we know will work. And, we have to fight to even hit these minimum expectations. If we want high quality teachers, we need to find ways to make high quality programs. And, high quality programs have very real expenses attached to them. There has to be some way to make that clear to the people who hold the purse strings.

Friday, August 2, 2013

One month

So, I have now been department chair for a full month. I haven't bankrupted the department and I haven't killed anyone! We have renamed the department and I have been officially appointed as chair (last week). I also got a letter of understanding in place to allow us to stay within the union contract. We have worked out a plan to relocate my old department nearer the other department. We have figured out where to put the academic portion of our departmental library (still need a home for the curriculum library). We've had one plagiarism case. And,  I have spent countless hours in meetings trying to understand the complexity of the other department we merged with. And, I have learned that just when you think you know what all the problems are, another REALLY BIG PROBLEM will come at you. About the time you calm down from that, another REALLY BIG PROBLEM will come at you.

I have learned that in dissolving our former school, the central admin decided a good idea would be to take our $$ pool that is meant to support student teaching (e.g., paying for mentors, paying for mileage, paying for university supervision) and repurpose it for other things. You can probably guess how exciting I find this great idea of theirs!

I have learned that the university rules or state rules or someone's rules, if adhered to, make it so that we can run one of our programs only using adjuncts. I'm really excited about this item, too (man, I need a sarcasm font)

I have learned that the state mandates a particular course we need to teach as part of the student teaching experience but we have no mechanisms in place to teach it. (Meaning, there isn't a course number, there isn't someone to assign it to, etc.) This problem, actually, is just baffling to me. It is one part of the weirdness of this program that I am actually looking forward to trying to work out

So, I have to pick which of these really big problems to tackle and how to tackle it, but all I really want to do is sit in my office and work on my research!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Chair - week 3

What have I learned about being chair?
I'm glad you asked.
  • I've learned that you can make people really angry by doing nothing at all if they think you've doing something. Depending on their personalities, they may blow up at others to talk through the issue and you may not even know they're mad at you for days. And, when you find out, you really won't know why because you haven't done anything. At all.
  • I've learned that I need to learn to accept the above bullet and learn to roll with it. I think I will get there. It's just a shift from trying to stay out of the way and not get people annoyed with me.
  • I've learned that you can be sitting at your computer minding your own business and some reporter's request will suddenly turn your whole day upside down.
  • I've learned that regardless of how long you've been in the department you are chairing (in my case, 2 weeks), you are expected to know the programs of that department in enough depth that you can talk to people about them. Those people who want to hear you talk about said programs will likely either be reporters or administrators. Either way, you better figure something out!
  • I've learned that it feels really good to feel like you're helping a colleague find a way to not only succeed but also be happy. The road may be long, but we are taking baby steps on it together.
  • I've learned that I need to find a way to care (or act as if I care) about issues that I don't actually care about if the other faculty in my department care about them. It is my job to advocate for the will of the many and not just what I think. 
  • I've learned that when people feel that they have been jerked around a lot, they tend to care about things that don't seem all that important, but clearly are to them.
  • I've learned that even if an external advisor is warranted in being blunt and dismissive, the will lose the person respect among the faculty. The external advisor has to take the high ground and stay politically neutral to maintain credibility.
  • I've been reminded that I love meeting people from area schools and engaging in partner-building activities. I think that will be one of the highlights of this crazy job.
Overall, it's not been too bad. Of course, as pointed out in bullet 1, I haven't really done anything yet.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

How to learn about programs?

I've changed the context for all the obvious reasons, but this is an email exchange worth sharing. In this case each dessert represents a completely different set of courses (one is PhD, the other is Masters -- there is no overlap in these particular programs in terms of coursework)...

Date: Yesterday
To: Prof Musey
From: WannaBe PhD
Re: Your Dessert Menu

Dr. Prof Musey:

I learned that you have new chocolate ice cream. I'd like to know more about it. Really, I like peanut butter cookies much more than chocolate ice cream. Do you have peanut butter cookies in your chocolate ice cream?

WannaBe PhD


Date: Earlier Today
To: WannaBe PhD
From: Prof Musey
Re: Re: Your Dessert Menu


We do in fact have chocolate ice cream. We do not have it with peanut butter cookies, though. You could get it with peanuts as a topping.

However, we also have peanut butter cookies. We are offering some with peanut butter chips, some plain, some with chocolate chips, and some with peanuts in them.  We would be more than happy to have you get some peanut butter cookies from us.



Date: Almost right away later
To: Prof Musey
From: WannaBe PhD
Re: Re: Re: Your Dessert Menu

Those peanut butter cookies sound really good. Can I get them in the chocolate ice cream? I like having peanut butter cookies and chocolate ice cream together. I find chocolate ice cream to be boring.

WannaBe PhD


Date: Wow that was fast
To: WannaBe PhD
From: Prof Musey
Re: Re: Your Dessert Menu


I'm sorry, I must have confused you! The peanut butter cookies are not part of the chocolate ice cream. With the chocolate ice cream, you could get peanuts, but not the peanut butter cookies.

To get the peanut butter cookies all you have to do is ask.



Date: Immediate response
To: Prof Musey
From: WannaBe PhD
Re: Re: Re: Your Dessert Menu

You didn't confuse me. I just wanted to be sure I understood what you were saying. I really like the way the peanut butter cookies sound much more than the chocolate ice cream. How do I get a sample of the chocolate ice cream?

WannaBe PhD

Thursday, June 13, 2013


Number of hours until our first CSA delivery for summer comes home: 7
Number of hours until I leave for my next trip: 19
Number of days until I am definitely tenured or not: 6
Number of days until I become department chair: 24

Lots of exciting things to wait for....

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Because this is how the last week has gone

I think I should get an entire wardrobe as well as posters and stickers I can hand out that all have this on them: