Monday, April 22, 2013

Trial and Error

At the end of every term, I usually bring doughnuts, cookies, or cupcakes for my students. The fact that they are also filling out course evaluations on the same day that I bring treats for them is purely coincidental.

Before I started teaching, I was naive enough to think that it would be like one of those inspirational teacher movies. If you've ever seen one of them, then you know what they're usually like. The teacher is confronted by angry, disrespectful students at first, but by the end of the movie they're singing together, starring in plays that the teacher directs, writing in journals that the teacher provides, or eagerly reading more books, studying, and earning A's because their teacher inspired them to.

Well. Several years and many classes later, I still work hard to teach and inspire my students. But I'd also love it if they would look up from their cell phones more often without my telling them to do so.

College teachers do not usually receive the same training that high school teachers and elementary school teachers do. I took one class on how to teach college writing, and that was it. I think one reason is that professors have to be scholars and teachers, and most of the focus is on our research. (And yet most grad students spend a lot of time teaching, not to mention all the teaching we'll be doing once we complete our degrees.)

Although I do think that college teachers should receive more training, at the same time a lot of what you learn from teaching can't be learned from books or lectures. A lot of it is based on trial and error. Each class helps me figure out what works and what doesn't. A lot of the mistakes I made that first year (including the one I most regret, which was that I let a few disrespectful students walk all over me) are mistakes that I would never make now.

That's one reason why those course evaluations that the students fill out are helpful. The students provide feedback on what they thought of the course and my work as a teacher. Sometimes they do write constructive criticism, like what they thought of the books we studied, or they'll suggest other books they thought should have been included.

When I first started teaching years ago, I did receive some negative evaluations. One of them said something like, "I think we should spend more time watching movies in class and less time reading books." Another student wrote, "I don't see the point in studying grammar. It's really not that important." More than one student wrote, "I don't think it's such a big deal if I show up late or don't show up at all sometimes." (Seriously. I'd love to hear those students say that to their bosses.)

There were some evaluations that were more than negative; they were nasty. One student said the department should fire me, because I was a terrible professor. He said that he knew more about teaching the class than I did, even though he wasn't even an English major and he had no teaching experience. (Right. And the fact that I had majored in English in college, graduated with honors, earned a master's degree in English, and had taught several classes by then meant that I was less qualified.)

When I was still starting out as a teacher, the negative evaluations crushed me. It wasn't like I didn't receive any positive evaluations during my early years in education, because I did. But somehow the negative comments stayed with me. I talked to other teachers, and they said that they received bad feedback too; it was part of the college teaching experience.

I still receive a few negative evaluations here and there, though a lot fewer than before. Usually the negative evaluations are from students who are unhappy because I refused to give them grades they didn't earn. (Side note: The strong sense of entitlement that several - though not all - college students have surprised me the most once I started teaching. I never thought that students would try to argue with me over their grades, or that they would try to pressure me to change them. I never thought that students would threaten to go to my boss and complain if I didn't change their grades. But I stood my ground and refused to back down. I told them that the grades I gave them were the grades they earned, not the grades they thought they deserved.)

I recently read the evaluations that were filled out by the students in classes I taught last fall. I was pleased that the majority of them were positive. One student wrote, "She's so funny! And she's always so animated in class." (It's true. I'm happiest in classrooms, bookstores, and any place that sells a lot of caffeine.)

Another student wrote, "She was always available to help, both in class and after. I love her." (I'm sure that when the student wrote, "I love her", it was meant in a platonic way, and not in one of those creepy Lifetime movies of the week that has a title like Forbidden Love way.)

One of the students wrote, "I really learned a lot from her. I didn't even like to read before I took this class, but she helped me understand the books more easily, and I actually enjoyed it. She's a great teacher." (That comment in particular made my day. I'd been feeling discouraged over my dissertation, so it made me feel happy to know that at least I was doing something right.)

Teaching is a difficult job. It isn't like one of those inspirational teacher movies, but it can also be very rewarding. I've learned more from teaching and from my students than I have from anything else. It's the one thing that has kept me going through the nine circles of Hell (also known as grad school) all these years. I just hope that I can get my dissertation approved eventually, so that I can finally JUST MOVE ON to the next phase of my life, and continue doing what I do and love best: teach.

What about you? What kinds of things have you learned from your job? How do you feel about feedback, whether it's positive or negative? For example, if you're a published writer, how do you feel about those online reviews of your work?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sad, Angry, and Scared

My eyes are red because I couldn't sleep very well last night. I kept thinking of what happened at the marathon. I kept seeing those images from the Boston Marathon, the ones of the runners lying on the ground, the people crying, and the police officers rushing to help them. But most of all, I thought of the eight year old child who was killed. And thinking of that child made me cry.

This morning I went grocery shopping, and all around me I could hear horns honking, drivers yelling, the train clanking on the tracks nearby, dogs barking, and people chatting on the sidewalks. The normalcy of it all failed to soothe me. Instead I wondered how the neighborhood could seem so ordinary when everything else in the world seemed to be so chaotic.

I went into the grocery store and walked into the produce department, and the bright colors of the fruits and vegetables nearly blinded me. That's when I realized I was crying again, and I had to go home.

I feel sad about what happened, even though I don't know anyone who was at the marathon. I feel sad for the people who saw what happened, the people who were killed or injured, and their families. I feel angry, too, because I can't help thinking of how much hate, fury, and pain a person or people can be filled with that can motivate them to do this. Nothing justifies what they did. Nothing.

I feel scared, too, because I live in a major metropolitan city, and I work on college campuses. What if something like that happened here? There have been many shootings and other violent incidents in Chicago; usually they're gang-related or "domestic disputes". At one school where I used to teach, someone once called in a violent threat, which turned out to be fake. I was on the bus yesterday and for one panic-stricken moment I thought a guy had a gun in his pocket. But he pulled out a water bottle and started drinking from it, and it made me realize how all the violence that has occurred lately has put me on edge.

But there is one good thing that has come out of all this. Maybe it's selfish of me to say this, but I'm grateful to be alive. I'm grateful for all the things I took for granted before as well as all the things and people that are important to me. It doesn't take away all of my fear, sadness, and anger, but it helps me keep things in perspective.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Exercise Fanatics, Nacho Lovers, and Cubs Fans

(Side note: I wrote this post a couple days ago. When I read the articles about what happened at the Boston Marathon, I suddenly viewed the things that happened in this post from an entirely different perspective. I'm so sorry about what happened at the marathon, and I feel sad and scared for all the people who have been affected by it. I hope they find whoever did it so that it never happens again.)

Earlier this week I was using one of the weight-lifting machines at the gym, when I was suddenly confronted by a Possessive Exercise Fanatic. This is the kind of person who will spend a long time on each machine because he or she does several sets on it, but the Possessive Exercise Fanatic will also alternate by doing sets on other machines. The PEF thinks that because he or she hasn't completed all of his or her sets, that means the PEF is entitled to lay claim on all the machines he or she wants to use, even if the PEF isn't actually using them at that moment.

I kind of think of the PEFs as those little kids I encountered when I was younger, who would say stuff like, "These are all MY toys, MINE! You can't play with them!" Only the PEF's version is "These are all my exercise machines, MINE, and you can't use any of them until I'm done with them, because only I shall have the muscular biceps/six-pack abs/perfect calves, weakling! Hahahahaha!"

I had seen this particular Possessive Exercise Fanatic do several sets in a row on one of the machines, but then he moved on to another machine for several minutes. I thought that meant it was okay for me to use the machine that he had left. But I had barely done one set before he was tapping his foot in front of me and saying that he was still using it.

I insisted on finishing my set rather than get up and leave right away like he wanted, though what I wanted to say was, "Last time I checked, we both pay the same membership fees, so I have just as much right to use this machine as you do. So shall I drop a dumbbell on your foot now, or later? Because it will happen NOW if you keep hogging all the machines. And stop glaring at me like that, because otherwise I'm going to introduce my sneaker to your face."

When I was riding the train, I saw a guy eat nachos covered with jalapenos, sour cream, salsa, and beef out of a fast food container. Most people (including me) tend not to eat on the train, partly because of the fear that someone might sneeze on our food. But that didn't stop this guy. He only finished eating about half of the nachos. Before he left the train, he shoved the open container under his seat, so that the rest of us could admire his half-eaten meal and smell it for the rest of the ride. I wanted to chase after him and say, "Hey! You forgot something!" Then I'd yell, "Catch!" before flinging the nachos at him.

Inconsiderate, self-centered people like the Nacho Lover and the Possessive Exercise Fanatic drive me nuts. In fact, if people like them didn't exist, this blog would be at least two hundred posts shorter. I think that one reason they bother me so much is that I was taught to be considerate of other people. The nuns and priests at the Catholic school I went to when I was younger told us that we should do at least one good deed a day, if not more, and that included being considerate of other people. I think it's also partly due to the fact that I am a writer; writers are supposed to develop a stronger awareness of their surroundings, and that includes being observant of other people and their needs. (On the other hand, I know that there are plenty of writers out there who are observant but also very rude.)

So I try to be considerate of other people, and that includes cleaning up after myself, not hogging anything, and not blasting my music or television at all hours.  I also try to help other people in small ways, at least once a day, whether it's leaving a tip for the baristas at the cafes that I write in, holding a door open for someone, buying a sandwich for a homeless person, or helping a person in a wheelchair cross the street. In other words, I try to remember what I was taught, which was that I should treat other people the way I would want to be treated.

That's why it's still disheartening when I come across supposedly mature adults who show no consideration for other people and focus solely on their own concerns, even if it hurts or annoys someone else. I'm supposed to "turn the other cheek", but what I really want to do is introduce my sneaker to their faces. But I'm not a violent person, even though sometimes I fantasize about what it would be like if I was the female version of Jackie Chan or James Bond. Then NO ONE would dare mess with me.

I often write down what I'd like to say to those people, because I know if I said it out loud it would probably start a fight. I know I shouldn't let their rude, thoughtless behavior bother me, but it does.

But fortunately, not all people are like that. On the day of the first Cubs game of the season, there were several people wearing baseball caps, jackets, and shirts with the Cubs logo on them. When I saw them on the train, I immediately thought, Oh, MAN. Now the train is going to be extra crowded, and I'm going to have to listen to them say stuff like, "Do you think if I throw up later, it'll come out blue because I'm a Cubs fan?"  I also always end up trapped on a train full of Cubs fans when it's ninety degrees outside and the A/C isn't working. (Fortunately, it was cold that day.)

The train was crowded, but when I stood up at my stop to leave, I heard several of the Cubs fans whisper to each other, "Step out of the way. She's trying to get off the train." Unlike many locals I've seen who only inch out of the way or don't move at all when other people try to get off the train, or who push and shove their way onto the train before the people in the train have a chance to get off, these people actually made a narrow path for me to get through. Their courtesy and consideration for me, a perfect stranger, made me think that chivalry really isn't dead after all. (It also made me think that maybe they were tourists who hadn't adopted the "me first" mentality that so many Chicago commuters have.)

So on the rare occasion when someone is considerate towards me or when I see someone doing a good deed for someone else, it always makes my day. That incident on the train almost made up for the time that I was in Wrigleyville after a game and saw Cubs fans peeing outside of apartment buildings.

What about you? What is an example of rude or inconsiderate behavior that bugs you, and how do you deal with it?

P.S. Is it true that there won't be a Google Reader anymore starting in July? How are we supposed to know when blogs are updated without it?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Shopping Makes Me Feel Fat

I've been rereading a chick lit novel that I particularly like, except there's one scene in particular that bugs me. The protagonist is shopping with her friend, and she complains about having to wear a size six because she thinks it makes her look fat. When I read that I thought, I really want to stab you with my fork right now, but I'm using it to eat this doughnut. 

Even though I have to put off online dating until this summer due to the fact that I have to focus on my dissertation, I figured I'd also use the extra time to get back in shape. I went up a dress size this year due to the stress of my dissertation, which gave me less time to exercise (and more excuses to order takeout). It was also due to the fact that when I tell people I've been eating more greens, what I really mean is that I've been eating more green M&Ms.

I managed to lose nine pounds, but then I got a coupon for a free pizza and it all went downhill from there; I ended up gaining three of those pounds back. (Not just from the pizza but also from the soda that I drank with the pizza, and all the caffeine-induced decisions that came after that.)

I've noticed that many guys on online dating profiles specify that they want women who are "athletic". When guys say they want "athletic" women, they don't just mean women that they can play football with or go to Cubs games with. They mean they want women who are thin.

There's nothing wrong with being physically attracted to someone who is in good shape, of course. A lot of women are attracted to physically fit men with big muscles, including me. But on the other hand, I have found that big muscles are also not enough to make up for bad personalities, because good looks can only take you so far. (Otherwise I'd still be dating the personal trainer who made me want to dunk his head in the marinara sauce along with the calamari we were eating.)

There are some guys who complain about "superficial" girls who don't want to date them. I've read profiles where other men complained  about those superficial girls (I'm not making that up).  I think what they mean is that the girls only want the guys who resemble movie stars or at least make as much money as movie stars do. I admit that there are women like this, though I am not like them. But the fact that they blame women for the fact that they're still single and take no responsibility for their own lack of success in dating is very unattractive and hostile. Not to mention I've met guys who only want to date girls who look like movie stars or supermodels. I've read profiles where the men said that they were looking for women who looked like Natalie Portman.

Like I said, looks are not everything. Personality, shared values, and mutual affection matter more. Also, sometimes a person you may not have noticed right away can become more and more attractive once you get to know him. I'm also willing to bet that those men who complain about superficial girls would also immediately say yes if a Sports Illustrated model suddenly asked one of them out. So THERE.

Nevertheless, I know that looks matter to some extent when it comes to dating. But it's more than that. I want to lose more weight so that I can feel better about myself. I recently went shopping for new clothes for the first time in a long time. Even though it's still cold in Chicago, a lot of stores are already selling summer dresses.

I tried on a couple of the dresses. I looked in the mirror and I didn't like what I saw. I felt ashamed of myself for gaining weight again, especially after I'd worked so hard to lose it. I was afraid that I would gain even more weight and be like the person I used to be. I also felt jealous of the thinner girls who could look good in most of the dresses that they tried on, whereas the only dresses that were being sold for not-so-thin girls made it look like they had wrapped a shower curtain around themselves.

So I've gone back to working out five times a week. I spend hours at the gym every week when I'd rather be lying on my couch, watching NCIS, and eating ice cream. That's why I cut down on my soda intake, even though sometimes I fantasize about swimming in a pool filled with Coke. That's why I muster up all the willpower I have to walk past the cupcake bakeries, though sometimes I break down and buy a chocolate cupcake with sprinkles. I think the fact that I can't give up junk food entirely is why I'll never be skinny, because those low-fat/fat-free foods will never taste as good as one of those cupcakes.

There are beautiful women who are not thin, because you don't have to be thin to be beautiful. One of my new favorite shows is The Mindy Project, not only because the actors are good and the writing is funny, but also because the star, Mindy Kaling, has a figure that is similar to mine. That is, she isn't super-skinny, but she's not too overweight. And she's beautiful, which gives me hope.

And not to be vain or anything, but when I'm not scowling at someone for being annoying, I think I am okay-looking too, maybe even a little "attractive". But I still want to lose more weight so that I can wear a summer dress without feeling self-conscious (although the possibility of the wind blowing my skirt over my head still worries me, because I do live in the Windy City, after all), and so that I can improve my health. And okay, I admit it, I also want to lose weight so that I can attract potential dates.

There's also the fact that I know what it's like to be extremely overweight, and it did not feel good. I remember how in the past, guys hit on me, but they did it in a mocking way, which they would then laugh about with their friends; the idea of flirting with the fat girl was hilarious to them, and it was all I could do not to cry in front of their sneering faces. I remember what it's like to not be able to help yourself when you are eating junk food, and to not be able to stop eating. I remember the shame and guilt I felt after eating too much junk food, and how I hated looking at myself in the mirror when I went shopping. I don't want to go back to that, not ever.

I'll never be a size four, but I'm still going to make an effort to look good and live a healthier lifestyle. And I want a guy who looks good, IS good (though he doesn't have to have huge muscles, because I don't want to feel like I'm dating Popeye), and wouldn't dump me if I went up a dress size. I don't think that makes me superficial, especially because I wouldn't dump him if he gained a few pounds. (If he gained a hundred pounds, though, I'd take him to the doctor and a nutritionist.)

On the other hand, I think it'll be a lot easier to lose weight if I stop drinking Coke and eating M&Ms altogether. I'll think about that after I get back from the cupcake bakery.

What about you? Do you ever feel pressured to conform to a certain body image? How do you deal with it? 

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Best and Worst Things about Getting Older

You no longer have a "bedtime", which means that you can stay up as late as you want.

But if you stay up as late as you want, the next day you'll be like Frankenstein's monster and end up knocking people over and walking into walls, because that's what often happens when people are sleepwalking.

You can eat ice cream for dinner.

If you eat ice cream for dinner, you'll either obsess over the number of calories you just consumed or you'll spend the next two hours at the gym trying to make up for the fact that you ate ice cream for dinner.

You don't have to pretend to know how to dance at trendy night clubs where everyone else is dressed in tight clothes and you're wearing baggy clothes to cover up the fact that you kept eating ice cream for dinner.

You end up having to do the chicken dance at your friend's wedding, because apparently no one has the nerve to say to the bride and groom that the chicken dance is stupid. (And when was the last time you saw a chicken dance, anyway?)

You don't have to concern yourself with worries of who's going to invite you to your school's biggest dance.

You do have to concern yourself with all the invitations to your friends' engagement parties, weddings, and baby showers, while you are still single and continue to go on dates with guys you're not really interested in but you date because a small part of you is afraid that you'll never have your own engagement party, wedding, and baby shower.

You don't get carded if you want to buy alcohol.

It makes you wonder if you really look that old because no one asks to see your ID anymore, which makes you contemplate plastic surgery, except then you'll have to tell people that the only reason you got it was so that you would get carded when you buy alcohol.

You don't have to go to school anymore.

If you're like me and you choose to go to grad school, then you will be in school FOREVER. (Or at least, that's what it'll feel like.)

If you're optimistic or idealistic, then you can look at the successful people who are your age or younger than you and think, If they can do it, then so can I!

If you're pessimistic or as neurotic as I am, then you will look at those successful people who are your age or younger and think, Why is it that they're so successful and it took me more than a month just to figure out how to use all the apps on my cell phone?

It's my birthday today. I'm thirty-two years old. I realized that I'm the same age as several of the women in the romantic comedies that I like to watch, like Carrie Bradshaw in the first season of Sex and the City and Bridget Jones. I don't have the kind of life that so many of them lead, though, partly because they apparently only spend about 10% of their time working and the rest of the time obsessing over the hot guys that love them for who they are and not for the fact that they're ten years younger than the guys or the fact that they're a size two (in Carrie's case, not Bridget Jones').

I'm not where I thought I'd be at age thirty-two (married with kids, successful, and at least ten pounds lighter), but on the other hand, at least I'm living in a city that I love, I haven't given up writing (my last act as a thirty-one-year-old was to submit a story I wrote to a literary magazine), and I refuse to "settle" for a guy just so I won't have to be alone. I'm living my life on my terms, despite the fact that there are still several people who try to get me to live, work, and date the way they want me to. And that is something.

But I still wouldn't mind meeting a great guy who doesn't mind the fact that I'm in my thirties (so many guys my age or older only want to date women in their twenties, though I know not all of them are like this) and also doesn't mind the fact that I will never be a size two. Maybe I'll meet him before my thirty-third birthday. Here's hoping!

What about you? What do you think are the best or worst things about getting older?