The Case for Teaching: Inspiring Students AND Inspired by Students

Screen Shot 2017-05-01 at 12.44.31 PM
One of my students wrote this piece about my blog for our campus newspaper. So cute.

It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting on my porch writing this post and looking at this glorious day sipping my cup of coffee from my Yeti (which keeps it INCREDIBLY hot, let me just say). In a little while, my daughter and I will head to my parents’ house and sit by their pool and spend time with my brother and his family who are visiting. My son and husband will go play golf–a ritual they’ve tried to do on one day of the weekend. I love that they do this, as my son has one year left of high school before he enters college. I love my summers; they afford me a lot of writing, reading, and family time. That’s for sure. And, they allow me time to plan for the upcoming academic year.

In less than a month, I’ll be back on campus at Stevenson University teaching classes for my 17th year there (my 24th year of teaching overall). I started teaching when a neighbor of mine, who worked at the community college, asked me if I could teach an adjunct course in public speaking. As I had a minor in speech communication and a master’s degree, I told her I could, and a year and a half later (yes, it took that long!), I taught my first course at night.

I fell in love with teaching right then and there.

I was incredibly lucky, as I already had a full-time job I loved working for the Baltimore Orioles. Now, I had a part-time job I loved, too.

When I was hired by Villa Julie in 2000, and then became a full-time faculty member in 2008 when the college changed its name to Stevenson University, I was ecstatic. Somewhere in the back of my head even as a college student myself, I knew I wanted to teach. My mother taught middle school English for 30 years, her uncle was a teacher, my uncle is a professor, two of my aunts were teachers…so you get the picture. Sometimes, honestly, a profession may just be in your blood. And sometimes a profession feels more like a passion.

I probably don’t say it enough, especially to my students, but I love working with them. And to my former students, I loved working with you all, too. I enjoy watching them grow from quiet and unsure freshmen to confident and self-assured young people ready to take on the work force. Some of their transformations are downright amazing, while others of them confidently continue on their trajectory to success. I am so proud of what they have become and what they continue to do out in the world today.

Being in the classroom with students is one of my favorite things. In my writing courses, I especially love when we have meaningful discussions and I get to hear from them about their lives or how a particular piece of writing affected them. In my advertising class, I get to see them make a final pitch—trust me when I tell you, some of those pitches would knock your socks off! In my public relations class last year, the students actually made me so proud when they executed their press conferences that I got a little choked up and teary. And this year, I’m teaching a whole new course, whereby we will function as a full-service agency. It’s going to be exciting.

6ca5f79981e5188802f5326d344c5361--inspire-me-inspire-quotes

As a university professor, no two days are the same, and I don’t have to sit behind a desk all day long. I am there to inspire the students, but the truth is, half the time, they end up inspiring me. They make me want to be a better teacher each and every day.

Honestly, if you open your ears and listen to what your students have to say, it can be quite powerful. They have stories to tell and experiences to share, and they are always eager to understand what I have to impart, even when sometimes they may not fully understand the method to my madness. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.

But it’s always worth it.

Yes, school starts in less than a month.

I can’t wait to see what this academic year brings.

 

Stephanie

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.

 

Celebrating 6 Years of Blogging with “The Best of” Steph’s Scribe

* * *

We all say it.

Time flies.

Before you know it, my kids will be done with high school and college and I’ll be retired, sitting alongside my husband on a beach somewhere sipping something with an umbrella in it and attempting to play golf.

Well, that’s the dream, at least.

Yesterday marked six (6) years of blogging. Six years. It kind of blew me away this morning, but it reminds us what a love for something and a little discipline can do for us. At the minimum, I blog one day a week; most weeks, I blog twice. It’s not always easy coming up with things to write about, but the bottom line is, we do. As bloggers, we always have something in mind that makes us think or that we want to share with others.

As such, to commemorate these past six years, I decided to pull together the posts that get the most hits as sort of a “Best Of” celebration.

Thank you for following, commenting, and sharing Steph’s Scribe with others. I can’t wait to see what the next six years have in store.

BLOGGING has become part of who I am. I cannot imagine my life without it now.

Best of Steph’s Scribe

Birth – The Very First Post on Steph’s Scribe

A Little Game of No Repeat Fashion

Most Attractive Names

How Pinterest Helped with Our Home Renovation

Inn Significant Released

Beneath the Mimosa Tree Wins Readers’ Favorite Award

Instructions for Writing a Love Letter

Lessons from “The Holiday” and James Cameron

Political Opinion Posts and Friends

You Can’t Get There From Here

Learning from Conflict and Experiences & Oprah

Don’t Bring Negativity to My Doorstep

Baseball

Travel

Storytelling

Stephanie Verni is Professor of Business Communication at Stevenson University and is the author of the newly released Inn SignificantBaseball 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.  To visit Stephanie’s Amazon Author page and see her books, click here.

 

 

White Hot and Passionate

WhiteHot&PassionateI’m one of the lucky ones.

Today, as it often happens when the semester begins, and as I was lecturing about feature writing and discussing the introductory chapter of our textbook, the reality of what I do for a living hit me. It often hits me over the head as a big, huge reminder of how lucky I am to have found my niche, my passion, and a sense of happiness that one doesn’t always feel from a job:

I have a career I love.

Helping students become better writers, more appreciative readers, and better analyzers of the written word makes me happy. As I presented the list of award-winning feature articles we will read this semester, admittedly, I got a little giddy. They don’t know it yet, but some of these articles are going to stay with them for a very long time, maybe even for the rest of their lives.

The fact that I get to share this experience with them, and watch them grow as writers and help them further develop their craft, is worthwhile to me. For years I wondered what my “end career” would be when my children were in school all day. What would I do with myself? How would I spend my time?

What was I passionate about?

Over and over again, it was teaching. In terms of career, and besides writing, it made me tick.

As Roald Dahl says, white hot and passionate is the only thing to be.

Someone get a fire extinguisher.

Why You Will Fail to Have A Great Career

Ted Talk Speaker Larry Smith. Photo credit: Ted.com
Ted Talk Speaker Larry Smith. Photo credit: Ted.com

I only have time for a quick post today as there are only hours left in our spring semester, but this was on my mind.

If you’re like me and you love learning, you may be addicted to the Ted Talks at Ted.com. I’ve found these 15-30 minute speeches on a variety of topics educational, thought-provoking, and persuasive. There’s a certain sense you get when you’re watching them that they are uniquely Ted–they are uniquely asking you to consider something.

As a final exam in our magazine class, I asked two pointed questions. The first was about Larry’s Smith’s notion regarding his thoughts on “Why You Will Fail to Have A Great Career.” The second was one about the class itself.

I feel a great sense of satisfaction after watching Mr. Smith speak. In all avenues in my life, I have pursued my passions. I will not look back on my life and say, “If only I had…” Additionally, by reading some of the student responses, I know they thought about this. It’s worth mulling over as they are about to graduate. As well, it’s a good video for anyone not currently in love with his or her job.

Watch Mr. Smith’s memorable presentation if you have time. If anything, he will make you think not only about your own life and your own goals or passions, but those of your children as well.

To watch Mr. Smith’s 15-minute inspiring talk, click here. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 

20 Years and Counting The Pleasures

I distinctly remember Beth, my neighbor at the time, and the assistant in the Humanities department, asking me the question: “Could you teach a public speaking class?”

“Yes,” I said. “I was a mass communication major with a minor in speech communication.”

It was the Thursday before Labor Day, and the course at the community college was scheduled to begin on Tuesday. In a matter of days, I read the textbook, outlined the goals of the course, and wrote my first syllabus on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, my friends encouraging me as I scribbled in my spiral notebook and they helped me brainstorm ideas.

On Tuesday night of the following week I was teaching my first college course.

* * *

This morning as I was taking my son to the orthopedist after fracturing his foot while playing tennis on clay courts for the first time, we were talking about different things. Somehow we got on the subject of teaching.

That’s when I realized how long it’s been.

“I started teaching 20 years ago as a part-time adjunct instructor. At that time, I didn’t know it would roll into a full-time career.”

One word crossed my mind: lucky. I’m really lucky. Not many people are fortunate enough to find a true passion—something that makes them tick—and that they love doing over and over again. When you find that thing that you’re good at, you should do it. And if you’re really good at it, doing it over and over again is a true pleasure.

When I would say to people, “I worked at the Orioles for 13 years,” that felt like a long time. Now, I say I’ve been at my current university for 13 years, AND that I’ve been teaching for 20. Twenty lucky years.

* * *

During my first year of college, I had to give a speech. The professor made us reach into a hat and pull out a subject. We then had to spend hours upon hours at the library researching that subject, pulling periodicals and looking up things in the card catalog.

My topic was speech apprehension.

On the day I was to deliver my speech, I was unusually nervous. I was third to last to go. The adrenaline was pumping through my body so wildly, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

When it was my turn to speak, I got up and made my way to the front of the room. Three-quarters of the way through the speech on speech apprehension I succumbed to my very topic. So apprehensive had I become that I couldn’t finish my speech. My heart was racing, my head was spinning, and I felt like I was going to pass out. I had to sit down. I couldn’t go on.

It was my first taste of public failure.

* * *

A few years into teaching through the community college, I had a group of students that I taught at the Army base in Fort Meade, Maryland. These public speaking students were good; most of them were in the military, and a good portion of them would continue on and complete a four-year degree at a university.

One student began to speak. She had a strong topic and her delivery was solid.

Three quarters of the way into the speech, she stopped.

“I can’t finish the speech,” she said, and ran out of the room.

I looked at the rest of the students and told them I was going to go talk with her. “If she comes back into the room, be ready to give her a big round of applause,” I said.

I went out into the hall and she was sitting on the floor, her knees up to her chin in a ball, on the verge of tears.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I just can’t do it.”

“Yes, you can,” I said.

“No, I can’t,” she said. “I’m just too scared.”

“Let me tell you a little story,” I started. I told her about my failure and how I didn’t complete the speech and how I had to battle back the next semester and fight to get over that fear of public speaking. “If you don’t come back in the room now and finish, you will forever hate this moment. You can do it. You have a room full of people in there ready to cheer you on,” I told her.

The class was ready. When she mustered up the courage and looked at me and said, “Okay, let’s go,” I knew she was going to be fine.

To thunderous, encouraging applause, she took her place at the podium.

“As I was saying…” she began.

I will never forget the sound of the clapping, the encouraging students in their seats wanting her to succeed, the look on her face when she finished that darn speech, and the look of thanks she gave me from the podium.

To this day, it is one of my most proud accomplishments in the classroom. Whenever I have a bad day or feel like I can’t get through to a student, I remember that moment.

It’s just one of many memories I have of the pleasure of teaching for the past 20 years. I hope I have the opportunity to do this job for many, many more years to come.

The Fortune Teller: A Piece of Flash Fiction

Image:
Palm Reading: A Little Guide to Life’s Secrets by Dennis Fairchild

What is Flash Fiction? It’s telling a short story in a limited amount of words. Some call Flash Fiction a story in 300 words, 500 words, or under 1,000 words. There are varying degrees of word counts for this type of writing, and some Flash Fiction definitions include a word count of 1,500 words. In today’s case, I’ve told a little story in 586 words. Usually with Flash Fiction, there is a clear beginning, a middle, and a wrap up.

THE FORTUNE TELLER

“That boy loves you,” the old woman next door calls to me as she sees Sam drive away. She is sitting on her stoop in the 98 degree weather, her hair in old-fashioned rollers, as she wears socks with her slip-ons. The look on her face indicates that she wants me to engage in further conversation. We have been friendly since we’ve lived next to each other in the row homes of Baltimore, but have never had a long, in-depth conversation.

“He may, but he’s leaving,” I say.

“Probably for the best,” she replies.

I’ve lived beside her for almost a year, and she pretty much keeps to herself. She knows nothing of my personal life. Her name’s Mable, and I’ve heard others on the block refer to her as “the palm reader,” though she has no official business. I don’t believe in fortune-tellers and have never engaged in any sort of it.

“Come here,” she says. “I’ll show you.”

For curiosity’s sake, I walk down from where I am, and climb the four steps to meet her. I’m tempted to see what she knows, trying not to let the tears fall in front of her. Her appearance alone warrants concern; there seems to be a twitch in her eye, and she’s wearing more mascara than a runway model. It looks uneven and gloppy. It is difficult to take her seriously.

She stretches out her hand and asks for my palm. I extend my hand and turn my palm over for her to see.

She examines it. “There is a lot of passion, here,” she’s pointing to the line that runs up across my palm in a curve where the line ends at the base of my fingertips. “There’s a great deal of love for that boy.”

I nod.

“However, you will not see him again after today,” she says.

I feel a lump build in my throat.

She continues to look at my hand. “You have a good career, but you’re not quite sure if you want to stay in it. You’re thinking of uprooting yourself and moving someplace far away.”

I get a little chill up my spine. I’ve had this particular thought for the last two weeks, and I’ve told no one. Not even Sam. Not my own parents, or my best friend, Ava.

She focuses on one particular line on my hand, tracing it with her fingertip. She looks puzzled.

“Interesting,” she says.

“What?” I ask, now confused.

“You will travel. You will go where you’ve decided to go, and you will be happy.”

“Without Sam,” I say, more as a statement than a question.

“Yes,” she says. “There will be passion again, but only if you go.”

Sam and I have been together for a year. However, I can’t be with him long term, nor should we ever have been together. Sam is unhappily married. He lives apart from his wife, but they are not formally divorced. Nor are there any plans for them to be so. The passion with which Mable speaks is true; it currently exists, but it is a sick, twisted, unhealthy passion, and it has become the ruin of me.

Three weeks ago, I was offered an opportunity to work for my friend’s father’s business in Rome. I’ve always wanted to go abroad, and have seriously contemplated accepting it.

Mable is offbeat, quirky, and possibly the worst dressed person I have ever seen, but something tells me to listen. Something makes me take her seriously.

And sometimes, you just feel it yourself from deep inside.