The Case for Teaching: Inspiring Students AND Inspired by Students

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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.

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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.

 

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.

 

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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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.

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.