On Life

8 Things Teachers Enjoy During Summer Break

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Yesterday, students at Stevenson University celebrated their graduation at our ceremonies in Maryland. As a professor in the department of Business Communication, I was thrilled to see our graduates walk across the stage and receive their diplomas. They worked hard the last four years, and it paid off.

As for my colleagues and me, that means we are done teaching until August (unless some are teaching a summer course). While we certainly have preparations to make for the Fall 2017 semester (and I will be teaching a newly created course as well that requires a lot of work), we are free to do some things we want to do during our time off. I’ve compiled a list of the 8 Things Teachers Enjoy During Summer Break having spoken to countless teachers who enjoy the down time between the school year. Here are 8 things teachers may do during their summer break:

  1. Clean: The summer months provide ample time to get to those projects that have been sorely neglected. For example, next week I will be tackling the dissection of my garage. We’ve lived in our home for 4 years, and it’s time to do some major cleaning—the kids have grown, and we no longer have a need for toys, old sports equipment, and certain memorabilia. Cleaning out offices and closets are also high on the list of summer projects.Screen Shot 2017-05-19 at 10.56.33 AM
  2. Read: During the semesters or school year, we grade a lot of written work, and we bring a lot of that home with us, which leaves little time to read for fun…just ask my book club; I barely have time to finish some of the books we choose throughout the year. Summer reading means we can immerse ourselves into our own pleasures, which includes books we want to read and books we need to read. There is nothing better than catching up on a few good books.
  3. Travel: My colleague, Heather, is off to Italy; others are heading to the Outer Banks; our family is gearing up for another trip to Hilton Head with a stop in Charleston. My husband and I are planning our 20th anniversary trip. Summer is the best time for teachers with children to travel—no one misses school days as everyone is off. Traveling allows us to decompress, de-stress, and relax in a location we have selected. Whether it’s a long vacation or short day trips, travel allows us to become connected to people and places in the most fascinating ways.
  4. Write: Summer allows us time to write, especially for those of us who have to present at conferences, research our discipline, and publish works as part of our academic careers. It also allows us time to write creatively—especially for those of us who have a creative spirit and write on the side.
  5. Exercise: It’s true. I find I have much more limited time to work out during the school year as I have that responsibility along with the responsibility of taking care of my family. In the summer, there is no excuse for not squeezing in a workout, a long walk, a bike ride, or a swim at the pool. Making time to spend on our health and well-being is important, and summer is great time to start making strides towards better health.DSC_0139
  6. Garden: I was talking to my colleague Roger yesterday before graduation ceremonies, and he was telling me about how he couldn’t wait to begin tackling his garden. He, like many others, enjoy the serenity gardening brings us. It’s also a great way to get a little exercise and tend to nature and see the beautiful results of your labor as flowers bloom and veggie and fruit plants provide you with fresh offerings right from your yard.
  7. Reconnect: Being a teacher doesn’t leave a lot of time for social interactions simply because our work and family life commitments can be time consuming, both inside and outside of the classroom. Summer offers teachers time to reconnect with neighbors and friends at neighborhood functions, barbecues, pools, clubs, or at adult socials.
  8. Indulge: Summer provides teachers the time to indulge in our favorite hobbies—and that can involve anything! It could mean attending baseball games, making pottery, taking photographs, running, or painting. It’s important to have hobbies, and the summer months offer teachers time to reconnect with some of their interests and talents.

I know I haven’t hit them all, but I think I’ve covered some of the main things teachers get excited to do during the summer months. If I’ve missed something, please let me know, and truly, HAVE A GREAT SUMMER, FELLOW TEACHERS!

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

 

On Life

Holding On and Letting Go of Your Children

HPWorldThe second a child comes into your life, you know at some point, you will have to let go. They are babies, and they need you as infants, but not too long after, they find their own two feet can take them places, and they start walking, exploring and discovering. Even as toddlers, they are beginning their journey away from you. As much as you want to hold on, the truth is, you are already beginning to let go.

Think about it. Your toddler turns three or four, and he is ready for pre-school. You let him go. He has to find his way, make friends, create things on his own, and learn to listen and respect others, not just his parents. He is growing up before your eyes, and you watch in wonderment.

As he continues to grow and begins to become interested in activities, you guide him, but ultimately, he finds what suits him, and he chooses his own path. While some may find sports as a passion, others may dance, act, play instruments, paint, draw, or become a magician. The possibilities are endless, and you support your child’s choices.

You are proud of all of his hard work and accomplishments. Nothing can compare to the pride you feel regarding your children, each child.

Before you know it, he is turning into a little person, a small adult, and your conversations change from talking about Disney cartoons to talking about Harry Potter or Jack Bauer on “24.” You instill lessons of hard work and reward. You take family vacations together because you know time is fleeting and you have to grab hold of any moments you can that are magical and leave you with fond memories of how important this young person is to you. He grew out of a love you share with your husband, and yet, he continues to grow away from you.

This is not a bad thing. You are doing something right.

But now it’s 3:45 a.m. in the morning. Your alarm is set to go off, but you are already wide awake, and you gently tap your son so he can prepare to catch his plane to California. He’s a junior in high school, and his DECA group is heading to International competition. You spent the last evening helping him pack, and your heart sank, because you realized that in a little over a year, you will be sending him off to college.

Image may contain: one or more people, people standing, suit and outdoorTo college.

How did you get here?

You want to hold on, but you can’t.

He’s growing up. He’s becoming a man.

You hug him and tell him how much you love him, and he walks out the door into the dark of what is still night with his suitcase.

You tell him to have fun, have a good trip, be safe, and eat something healthy.

You’re still holding on, but you have to let go.

15781589_865992106837911_1585157622209528074_nStephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of Inn Significant, Baseball Girl, and Beneath the Mimosa Tree. Along with her colleagues Leeanne Bell McManus and Chip Rouse, she is a co-author of Event Planning: Communicating Theory and Practice, published by Kendall-Hunt.

On Life

Procrastination Doesn’t Pay

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As a college educator, I can certainly tell you with certainty that procrastination doesn’t pay. I see it every day—sometimes getting started on the task is actually more difficult for some than executing the task itself.

The truth is, people think procrastination is about managing time. However, it’s much more complex than that. People underestimate how much time a certain task will take.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-8-26-08-amAnother fallacy is that people think procrastination is just about putting off a task. It’s not. It’s also about being late to meetings, events, interviews, or parties; not paying your bills on time; or even something that can be good for you, like taking your paycheck to the bank. These are all forms of procrastination.

The very real truth is that procrastination is a lifestyle choice.

I’ve had students tell me that they wrote a paper the night before it’s due, and they are proud of its outcome. While the paper may be okay (or not), the reality is this: think how much better it could have been if more time had been spent on it. The same is true for tasks we must do at work—sometimes we need to plan for more time to attack that particular project or report. One such tip might be to use a planner and work backwards to account for the time needed to do something well. Seeing the plan on paper may help jump start what needs to get done and keep the project on track.

In the end, preparation and not being afraid to get started on something count a lot. Deciding NOT to procrastinate has the potential to propel you toward success, and it has a greater chance of making you feel wonderful about what you’ve done or produced.

 

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On Life

What Failure Taught Me, With a Nod To Author Markus Zusak

As part of the final in Magazine Writing, I asked my students to reflect on certain aspects of the course, including the readings, their writing, and the lessons learned, as well as their ability to construct a well-written response to a writing prompt. This year’s students were asked to reflect on writer Markus Zusak’s wonderful Ted Talk for Question #1 (Zusak is the author of the acclaimed novel, The Book Thief). I asked them to consider their own failure(s) or something that they are afraid to do that could possibly lead to failure. I got a lot of interesting answers, but most of them discussed how failure has led to other things—better things and personal growth. As Zusak notes in his talk, it was writer Samuel Beckett who said, “Fail again. Fail better.”

When looking back on my life, I have failed at things a multitude of times. I’ve failed at communicating properly, at telling people how I really feel, at being kind all the time, at motherhood, wifehood, daughterhood, sisterhood, and the list goes on and on. But there’s one particular failure that stands out to me and changed me, and it ironically happened in a classroom in college.

I was taking a course called Communication Process, and my topic, one that was given to me (as I would never have chosen it myself), was communication apprehension. Its proper definition is as follows: “Communication apprehension is an individual level of fear or anxiety associated with either real or anticipated communication with another person or persons.” Yup. Lucky me. I got that topic.

The irony of being charged with researching that particular topic was two fold: (1) that I had to present my findings in a 12-minute speech to the class, and (2) that I actually suffered from communication apprehension.

I was never comfortable being in front of a crowd as just me, standing and speaking in front of people. It was the reason I ticked off my 8th grade chorus teacher when she asked me why I didn’t audition for the play. “Because I don’t want to be on stage,” I said. “It’s too much stress.” Looking back, what a chicken I was.

Nevertheless, the more I researched communication apprehension, the more I began to suffer from it. I could feel my elevated heart rate every time I had to go to the library and find another source to suit the needs of the rubric. (And that was in the days when there was a card catalogue and no Internet).

microphoneWhen it came time for the presentations, the teacher also chose the order. I was second from last. In a class of 35, that was an eternity to wait, and a long time for communication apprehension to build. When I finally got my chance to get up and speak, I froze. Completely. I made my way along, until I could no longer take it. My hands were buzzing, my knees were knocking, my heart was causing all kinds of trouble in my chest, and I felt as if I could pass out. I asked to get a drink, and she allowed me to go in the hallway and calm down. When I came back into the room with questionable stares and few smiles, I became even more uneasy. The bottom line is this: I couldn’t finish my speech. I failed, and then felt humiliated by my failure.

I got away from the course by the skin of my teeth with a “C” because my other grades had been so good, but I’d never felt failure like that before. As a cheerleader in high school, I should have been used to being in front of crowds, but public speaking was a whole different game altogether.

When I came home after that spring semester and sat with my mother on the back porch, I told her that I might have to change my major—again. I had already switched from business to communication, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do. With solid coaching from my mother, I dared to try it again. Her advice: “Just be sure if you have to present again, you pick something you really know…something you are passionate about.” It was great advice, as long as the professor didn’t pick the topic for you.

I conquered that fear of public speaking by talking about the new part-time job I had just secured at the Baltimore Orioles in the new course I was taking, Business and Professional Communication. Standing at the podium in front of a large lecture hall in front of 100 of my fellow classmates, I went second and delivered a good speech, much to my own pleasant surprise.

That time, I didn’t fail. That prior failure made me never want to fail like that again.

I won’t lie—getting up and speaking in front of a large crowd still makes my heart go pitter-patter, but my years of teaching and standing before a group of students has made the process that much easier.

Three years ago when I was asked to represent our faculty and to speak at our Baccalaureate celebration for graduation, I accepted because I didn’t want to let the students down. I wanted to give them a good speech. Despite that there were 500+ people in the room, I used that energy to have some fun while I spoke from the podium. Plus, our university president was there, and when he saw me shaking it out before we processed into the gym and onto the stage, he told me his own best advice about public speaking. He said, and I will always use this tip for as long as I have to speak in public: “You never want to sit down when you’re done talking and say to yourself, ‘I could have done better.’ That’s what motivates me to give a good speech.”

I really loved this advice.

BaccalaureateSpeechVerni Looking back on that college classroom at the age of 19, I can say it was that failure that made me become a more serious student. With the acquisition of my job at the Orioles, I learned how to budget my time, get my studies done, and work a job that had incredibly demanding hours. My grades got better, my work ethic became stronger, and I developed a drive I didn’t know quite existed in me.

Whereas Zusak ended his talk with a quote NOT from a writer, I’ll take the other course and close with one from J.M. Barrie that is, surprisingly, not a depressing one. Barrie says, “We are all failures – at least the best of us are.”

On Life

Why We Should Stop Using the Phrase “In the Real World”

John LennonWhile there are many trite (and incorrectly structured) phrases that people use constantly, i.e. phrases like “It is what it is” and “I could care less,” whereby the first just sounds silly and the latter actually means you care, there is another phrase that I’d like to see stripped from our sentence constructs.

The phrase is this: In the real world…

In the real world, your resume should be polished.

In the real world, you should secure a job you enjoy getting up for in the morning.

In the real world, you’ll be paying more taxes.

I hear people say this constantly. It is most commonly said to those in college or participating in some kind of schooling when pointing to what life will be like after school is over.

My quick quarrel asks you to consider whether or not school is part of the real world. I believe it is. It is quite real, and I can account for it being real because I participate in it every day as a teacher; it is my job in the real world (as opposed to the immitation world I’ve been living in lately). My children and my students would probably agree—they have to get up every morning and attend classes that so far, seem to be incredibly real.

What we should be saying instead is this: In the working world…

In the working world, your resume should be polished.

In the working world, you should secure a job you enjoy getting up for in the morning.

In the working world, you’ll be paying more taxes.

When you break it down, I’m not even sure what the real world is these days.

But I do have a pretty good handle on the working world, and I’m certain you do as well.

On Teaching

The Biggest Mistake Some College Students Make

As a professor, I have to constantly juggle my time, including work, writing, and family responsibilities. This was what I did yesterday: spent a few hours at the library.
As a professor, I have to constantly juggle my time, including work, writing, and family responsibilities. This was what I did yesterday: spent a few hours at the library.

One the eve of the beginning of the spring semester, I thought I’d share something that I’ve seen as the downfall of a lot of college students with regard to their academics. It’s not something earth-shattering, but it is something that is real. The good news is it’s something that can be rectified if taken seriously, and it can make their lives infinitely more manageable.

The biggest mistake some college students make is that they do not budget their time properly.

There are various reasons for the lack of time management.

  • They are living on their own for the first time and are tasting a sense of freedom they’ve never had before.
  • They are having too much fun socializing.
  • They are playing sports.
  • They are active in clubs.
  • They sleep a lot.
  • They don’t go to class, and then miss assignments.
  • They’ve never had to manage a schedule on their own.
  • They get lazy.

When it’s time for the big leagues—college or university life—students have got to learn to budget their time wisely. As someone who didn’t do too well her freshman year of college because, as my dad likes to say, “She was too busy majoring in partying,” I didn’t budget my time, but was instead, spending far too many hours…doing…other…things.

When I woke up and smelled the coffee, I had garnered a job working for the Orioles at 19. I quickly had to learn how to work and succeed at a job requiring a lot of Major League hours, as well as make it to class and find time to study. My grades went up as a result of my new-found responsibilities, I became super organized because I found a sense of purpose, and I wanted to do well in all the things I tackled. In other words, I became a better student because I was forced to budget my time. The job required a lot of time at the ballpark, and I needed to do well all around.

Students who are unable to figure out how to work, go to school, and study are going to have problems. Understanding priorities—things like telling yourself “I can’t go out Friday night because I have to get this project done”—are real decisions college students will have to make. In fact, for every class students attend, they should probably be spending somewhere in the neighborhood of three hours reading, researching, working on papers or projects, or studying. Understanding these parameters can help students plan their work and study hours, and then what’s left over is time for them.

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There are many studies that cite that being busy—active in recreational or collegiate sports and activities—can actually be a good thing for students. Sometimes, it leaves them little down time to do silly things or get into trouble.

I know. I know. You are wondering when a college kid gets to have fun? There is plenty of time for fun, believe me. There were many college weekends that I attended classes and studied all week, worked the Orioles games, and then was out at breakfast at two o’clock in the morning on a Saturday with my best friends after going to a club or working a late game. Yes. There is time to have fun, but the work has to get done first.

The best suggestion I can offer students is to live by your calendar or planner. Take copious notes in class (there are actually new reports that find students who hand-write notes are more likely to retain material than those who rely on PowerPoints or type them), pencil in all your assignment due dates, schedule hours you will spend in the library, pencil in the days you have to work or participate in sports or extra-curriculars (blocking out times), and then schedule in your time for fun. It is important to make time for friends, family, and hanging out with classmates, but what’s equally important is being a successful student overall.

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me in the comments area. I’d be happy to respond in the best way I can.

About Creative Writing, On Life

In Summer, The Song Sings Itself

SummerIn a little over a week, I’ll be back on campus teaching my fall college courses. Some people may dread the thought of work, but not me. I always look forward to the fall and going back to school, to using my brain, to being in the classroom, and to seeing young, eager minds ready to work.

BUT I’VE HAD A WONDERFUL SUMMER.

Yes. I have had one of the best summers of my life. I have enjoyed every tick-toc moment of it. Even as I’m writing this, I am sitting on my new back porch working from home, and taking a quick break from researching and writing a textbook to write this post. My kids are happy and we are all about to head to the pool for movie night. We have great friends and neighbors, live in an active neighborhood, my parents are a short trip down the road, and we are closer to my in-laws. We’ve had two great vacations, and we really have no complaints at all.

Summer, you have been good to us. We are thankful.

One of the most wonderful perks of being a professor is the time it allows me to be home in the summers with my children. I love spending time with them and watching them grow; I enjoy spending time with them and their friends as we will do shortly at the pool; and I love having those “nothing” days as we had on Tuesday when it rained and flooded our neighborhood.

Captured this moment at Fenway Park...my son with his arm around his sister during batting practice.
Captured this moment at Fenway Park…my son with his arm around his sister during batting practice.

And although I do work a lot from home and spend a great deal of time writing, I make the time for them—always.

Fall is about to move in, life is going to go back to being more hectic, and school is about to start. But, we’ve got a few days until then, and I’m going to enjoy every last minute of this beautiful summer.

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Atop of the Highland Lighthouse in Cape Cod.
On Life

Retail Therapy: Good for the Soul

At the Queenstown Outlets, Eastern Shore, Maryland

Today was my first “official day” of spring break. Our university is on holiday, and as much as I absolutely LOVE being a professor, I needed some time to catch up on reading and to prepare lectures, as well as time to prep my forthcoming novel for distribution. Things take time, but today, I took a much needed break.

My mother came to the rescue. We went shopping and had lunch at a restaurant on the water. It was just what the doctor ordered.

We decided to venture to the Queenstown Outlets because the weather was absolutely gorgeous here…sunny and about 70 degrees, a bit of a blessing for those of us Marylanders who usually endure cold winters. It’s atypical for March.

I didn’t think about working or editing or writing today. I just enjoyed being outside, shopping, and gabbing with the woman who raised me and loves me despite all my faults.

It was a great day. I purchased a few blouses, two dresses, a necklace, and two pairs of sandals as I wait patiently for spring to officially arrive.

If you don’t think retail therapy works, give it a try. There’s something utterly refreshing about coming home with packages full of items to lift your spirits. I’m tired of wearing the same old things. It’s good to liven up the wardrobe and get rid of the old stuff.

Now all I need is a tan.

The view from the restaurant...

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The goods...
On Life

Letting Go.

Today, I hugged my students goodbye at the close of graduation ceremonies. It is not always easy. As a professor, I get attached to the students, especially those that I spend a lot of time with in classes, work together with through the public relations club, or collaborate on other events and projects that take place over the course of the semester. We spend a lot of time together. I will miss their smiling faces they wear, even as I layer on the writing projects and advertising pitches. I shouldn’t feel melancholy as I watch my students leave the nest, because, after all, it’s my job to prepare them to go out into the working world and become successful. And yet tonight, I do. Nevertheless, the primary reason for all this mild grieving is that it’s all a part of letting go.

Some of us are better at letting go than others. Some of us can let go of an argument and forgive quickly. Others of us let go by forgiving someone who has used our kindness and generosity. Some of us let go of hearing a belittling comment or whisper that was not intended for our ears. Some of us can let go of old loves, friends, and relations that cause us nothing but pain.

And still, some of us hold on.

We hold on to feelings of comfort, in knowing that our teachings have helped guide these students and mold them into what they may become. Some of us hold on to the pleasure of seeing that light bulb go off in their heads when a concept we’ve discussed finally makes sense. Some of us hold on to that one student who is determined to fight off that “C” and earn a “B” or an “A.” Some of us hold on to that email that says, “Thanks for making me read something I normally wouldn’t,” or “Happy Mother’s Day—you are like a mother to me.”

We have to do a lot of letting go in life. I often wonder how I will feel when my own son and daughter graduate from college and move along in their grown-up ways.

Yes, so often in life, we have to let go. It’s all part of the journey.

And I will let go. But today, just for a little longer, I’ve decided to hold on.

Letters & Letter Writing

A Belated Thanks to Mrs. S—

Today I found a letter from 1982. It is from my high school creative writing teacher, Mrs. S—. I was extremely fond of her, though admittedly, a little intimidated as well. She was kind enough to write me a recommendation letter to go along with my college application forms and essays. I have retyped it with my own comments regarding this particular letter in parentheses and italicized them. The letter reads as follows:

Gentleman: (Notice the formality of the salutation! I love it!)

Miss Stephanie Parrillo (maiden name) has distinguished herself as a serious and conscientious student who performs excellently. (Perception is everything.)

Academically, Stephanie earns above average grades. (My department chair at Stevenson will be very surprised to hear this, wink-wink.) My course, Creative Writing, in which she is presently enrolled, is a high level writing course—Phase 3. (I can’t quite remember what exactly that means, but we’ll pretend it was really, really challenging, and demanded serious, thoughtful dedication, along with extremely gifted, off-the-charts writing abilities.) Her performance and participation in class are outstanding.

Stephanie seems to be aware of her academic responsibilities and meets them successfully (my parents may have had another viewpoint on this matter). It is apparent by the quality of her class and homework assignments that she devotes a great deal of time to this type of activity (I had them all fooled; I pretty much talked on the phone and only concentrated on cheerleading.) She is often involved in class discussions and activity. (The activity part was probably passing notes and giggling at a guy who called himself “Spike,” but only to substitute teachers. He was otherwise known as David.)

In short, I recommend, with enthusiasm, Miss Stephanie Parrillo to any situation that combines an academic and practical means to satisfy her personal and career objectives. (Whew! Thank goodness she did! I am pretty certain I put all my eggs in Mrs. S—’s recommendation basket.)

Sincerely,

Mrs. S—

What a well-written piece of correspondence; it must have been persuasive, too, because I did get into college, despite the cheerleading and phone usage. Today, people often write in the salutation “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Dear Sir or Madame.” I love the simplicity of “Gentleman,” though it’s way too sexist for today’s world. It does make me feel like I’m reading an Austen novel, which also makes me feel quite old, actually.

Incidentally, this letter was not found in one of my boxes in my storage room. After reading my Nostalgia post, I know that may not be surprising. It was, however, neatly organized and lovingly kept in a folder my dad gave me recently that included my report cards, the few awards I received in high school, and some letters, such as this, to remind me of my younger days. My dad is super organized and I’m thankful for that, because it helped me remember that Mrs. S— had a profound impact on me. She helped me believe that I could be a creative writer, and all these years later, I am still working on fulfilling that dream.

Therefore, this is a belated thank you to Mrs. S—, for inspiring me, believing in me, and recommending me, though at times I probably didn’t deserve it. Additionally, I am quite sure I didn’t properly thank her all those years ago. Also, thank you, Dad, for diligently keeping a file on my life as a student.

It’s funny how a little letter can cause you to reminisce like this…

Well, that’s all for now, Gentlemen.