Saturday, April 18, 2015

Satterdae kwik linques

We NEVER stop
working toward
the worst
graphic ever.
I don't see anything in the blogger dashboard scheduled to post later today, so I thought I'd conserve the momentum with some stuff I happened upon recently, which I'm pretty sure was not posted here before (I even searched to be sure).

Title and link: The Professors Aren’t Retiring

Flava: If they love their jobs and they want to keep drawing those relatively generous salaries, good for them. But the situation isn’t so great for newly minted PhDs, who will now toil even longer as adjuncts.

Commentary: This ties in with discussions we've had recently about supply and demand, the sizes of grad programs and toxic elder colleagues who won't get out of the way.

Title and link: Sad Professor vs. Frustrated Professor: Battle of the Memes

Flava: People have rushed to embrace the Frustrated College Professor. This poor guy with head to chalkboard has plenty of things to complain about. For example, he teaches in one of the few remaining college classes with a chalkboard.

Commentary: I thought these were kind of funny. Click the link and maybe you'll think so, too.

Title and link: Study Concludes Many Teachers Would Improve With Less Control Of Content

Flava: ...the real problem in public education today is that many teachers have too much control over what they teach each day in their classroom -- and it prevents them from perfecting how they teach.

Commentary: As goes K-12, so to will go grade 13 and beyond?

While you're at the HuffPo, be sure to catch up on what those zany American celebrities are doing. Or not.

And now, to finish it off, check out the yard at my Oilmont
, MT property, where CM is currently based. I started collecting cars and trucks as a defense against weekend and post-retirement boredom. I always wanted a vintage car when I was younger, and the idea was, I would fix these up and drive them in my spare time. How naive I was to think that as I climbed the ladder my leisure time would increase!  My weekends are no less busy than the working week, and who knows if I'll make it to retirement? Before they rot altogether, I should probably give them away to aficionados who could make use of them now. What do you think?


  1. Looks like we were working at the same time. Since the first post I queued up has a Saturday theme, I went ahead and scheduled it for a few hours hence. Hey, better to have too much content than too little.

    Some great links there. As a longtime contingent, I'm especially struck by the first one. I always find "professors need to retire earlier!" discussions more than a bit alarming, since most of them tend to express great sympathy for recent Ph.D.s (not all of whom, incidentally, are 20/30-somethings), but show little awareness that much of the actual teaching work is being done by an army of often-aging full- and part-time contingents who can't afford to retire "on time" even if we'd like to, and who very much fear finding ourselves looking for work at what most people consider "normal retirement" age, or nearing it. Some of us still even hold out (very faint) hope that we might still land on the tenure track, either through conversion of contingent lines to teaching-intensive tenure-track ones (in which case our experience should serve us well, but who knows?) or by somehow scraping together enough publications to qualify for mid-career entry on the existing tenure track (but that's a very competitive field, with few opportunities, and many strong candidates). At the very least we (at least I) hope we/I can keep teaching long enough to be able to afford a relatively secure retirement. But of course our colleagues (both institutional and discipline-wide) who produce Ph.D.s (and wish to keep doing so) are more likely to be aware of, and sympathetic to, the plight of recent Ph.Ds. This is one of those moments where I definitely feel caught between entitled Millenials and their equally-entitle Baby Boomer parents (not that both groups don't have plenty of less-entitled members, but the stereo whining from the entitled ones can get pretty annoying at times, and their power at the ballot box and elsewhere is a bit scary for those of us in the middle).

    Of course, another very important point for this author, and other recent/aspiring Ph.D.s, to keep in mind is that, in many if not most places, a retirement doesn't necessarily produce an advertisement for a TT assistant professorship. More often, the retiring professor's upper-level classes simply go "poof," and adjunct gets hired to teach any lower-level/gen-ed ones. Recent Ph.D.s need to be pursuing their Plan Bs (which I assume they all have, having been thoroughly forewarned of the terrible job market), instead of or in addition to doing the traditional job search. And they definitely shouldn't be expecting "relatively generous salaries"; though some of my most senior colleagues are doing reasonably well (at least if one doesn't look at the local cost of living), that's mostly because they were strategic about taking on work that would bring them nice raises back when raises were available, and the salaries at which they've been stuck for the last decade or so aren't too bad. The rising crop of associate and full professors is not making nearly such steady progress upward (and are teaching a lot of summer school to try to fill in the gap). As in the stock market, past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

    1. Oh, and the situation in the last link -- less control over what I teach -- is one of the few things that might send me looking for a non-academic Plan B at this point in my career (or should that be "career"?).

  2. Cassandra, you make me feel very lucky. All I have to worry about is everything in those memes.

  3. Thanks, Fab (I assume), for the graphic. If "worst" was your target, then this is so bad that it's good, which means reaching the asymptote can remain a goal for the future.

    Cassandra, indeed we were working at the same time. The situation at the dashboard before I began assembling my post and after I posted it were significantly different. Thanks for resolving the scheduling. Having so many posts that they must be spread out as you've done is a good problem to have.

  4. The third linked article links to this article, which contains these nuggets:

    "...the profession needs to come together and define what students should know—and what teachers should know. Because without a robust and widely agreed-upon teaching base, it’s hard to develop robust instructional practices."

    "...many observers have realized that a highly decentralized approach to academic standards makes teaching and learning more difficult. In such highly decentralized learning systems, a teacher typically has to develop much of his or her own curriculum, which takes significant time and dedication."

    The unsupported presumption is that the acts of developing curriculum and of developing instructional practices somehow compete for the same, limited, available time. To me, the acts overlap enough that delegating the curriculum to an outside authority does not necessarily result in better teaching methods being formed in the "reassigned time".

    Here are some cherry-picked ideas I can get behind:

    "Educators often know best about what their students should know and be able to do, and the process of developing educational goals needs to be a bottom-up one, not a top-down one."

    "As a nation, we also need to make sure that teachers are always at the policy table, that they have a strong voice in how schools are run. At the same time, we also need to do more to support to teachers and allow them to focus on determining what instructional approaches work best for their students."

    1. I agree. There are a couple of things that seem to get left out of conversations about increasing efficiency by centralizing curriculum:

      --Teaching, creating assignments/curriculum, grading, etc., should ideally be part of an ongoing recursive process. While it doesn't hurt to start with some standardized curricular material (and it's a very good idea to start with common learning/skill goals), I'm convinced that the best teaching takes place when a teacher continually tweaks, and often more fully revises, hir materials and approaches to fit the ever-changing needs of her students (needs which are driven by learning goals and, especially in college, the strengths and weaknesses of earlier education, but also by changing demographics, popular culture, economic situations, etc., etc.). Such revision can also be done at a higher administrative level, of course, but it's a slow and cumbersome, and therefore ineffective, process.

      --There's a good deal of research out there (which I'm too lazy to look up right now, but I'm quite sure it exists) that suggests that a sense of control (or, better yet, real control) over the conditions of one's work decreases stress, and a sense of being helpless before larger forces increases it. Since teaching requires not only inordinate amounts of time (inside and outside the classroom), but also (perhaps even more important) energy, and stress and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness sap energy (and cause burnout, and resignations), there's a real reason to make choices that reduce teacher stress, and increase teacher energy (staying up half the night grading responses to an assignment one created oneself, even if it didn't do everything one hoped it would do, is simply a different experience than staying up half the night trying to grade responses to an assignment, created by someone else, that one knew from the beginning wouldn't work well for one's students. And staying up half the night filling out paperwork one is sure is useless is even worse).

      Good teachers at all levels are smart, creative, caring, observant people. If the job doesn't give them the room to exercise those qualities, they'll either go elsewhere, or stay but become less effective. Either is a waste (one we can't afford).

  5. Good points. Here's another nugget from the Center for American Progress report (PDF version here):

    "...teachers are eager for more direction around what they should teach, and according a recent Scholastic/Gates Foundation poll, most teachers are supportive of the need for the new Common Core standards."

    Reading this makes me instantly think that the real ones most "eager for more direction" are students and golden retrievers.

    I think that the authors of the report somewhat misinterpreted the source data in arriving at the above statement. From what I can tell, teachers were not directly asked whether they were eager for more direction, nor whether they support the need for new standards. (There is some irony that the report cites a source titled "Primary Sources" but links to a dumbed-down, slide show synopsis of the source. Here is the full source.) Here are the actual questions:

    Q10. Do you think the CCSS will be positive for most students...?
    Q17. [I am] enthusiastic about implementation of CCSS in my classroom.

    Agreeing that the standards will have some positive impact is not the same as supporting the need for new standards. (Affirming the consequent [predict positive impact] does not prove the antecedent [support need for new standards]; respondents could just as likely predict good outcomes from things other than new standards, and support them more.)

    I assert (without proof) that an individual will more readily agree to ideas that involve the general good, if any perceived negative impact is borne by people other than themselves, and, it is not the same as agreeing to a permutation of the idea as it applies to themselves specifically. Therefore, saying "I support the adoption of general standards" is not the same as saying "I want more direction."

    It is remarkable that the data clearly show enthusiasm for implementing Common Core dropping as the respondents' grade taught increases. It would be interesting to have also asked the question, "at what grade level(s) is it most important to have common core standards?" and break out the responses by what grade the respondents teach. I wouldn't be surprised if high school teachers see the standards as quite good for K-8 but less so for 9-12.

    My takeaway is that while educators in higher education would generally support standards at the K-12 levels, they would not go for the same intervention at their own level.


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