Monthly Archives: August 2014

10 Things Every College Professor Hates

I (Clare) read this amazing blog by Lisa Wade about “things” students do that drive students standing at a wallprofessors crazy! I particularly laughed when I read # 2 – Did I miss anything important?  I know that I will get questions like these ones this year – and plenty of other inappropriate ones (e.g., do you mind if I miss class next week?)
As many of us are gearing up for the school year, you might want to share this blog with your students. The full article can be found in the Business Insider:

I got this email from an Ivy League student when I arrived to give a speech. She was responsible for making sure that I was delivered to my hotel and knew where to go the next day:

Omg you’re here! Ahh i need to get my s–t together now lol. Jk. Give me a ring when u can/want, my cell is [redacted]. I have class until 1230 but then im free! i will let the teacher she u will be there, shes a darling. Perhaps ill come to the end of the talk and meet you there after. Between the faculty lunch and your talk, we can chat! ill take make sure the rooms are all ready for u. See ya!

To say the least, this did not make me feel confident that my visit would go smoothly.

I will use this poor student to kick off this year’s list of Professors’ Pet Peeves. I reached out to my network and collected some things that really get on instructors’ nerves. Here are the results: some of the “don’ts” for how to interact with your professor or teaching assistant. For what it’s worth, No. 2 was by far the most common complaint.

  1. Don’t use unprofessional correspondence.

Your instructors are not your friends. Correspond with them as if you’re in a workplace, because you are. We’re not saying that you can’t ever write like this, but you do need to demonstrate that you know when such communication is and isn’t appropriate. You don’t wear pajamas to a job interview, right? Same thing.

  1. Don’t ask the professor if you “missed anything important” during an absence.

No, you didn’t miss anything important. We spent the whole hour watching cats play the theremin on YouTube!

Of course you missed something important! We’re college professors! Thinking everything we do is important is an occupational hazard. Here’s an alternative way to phrase it: “I’m so sorry I missed class. I’m sure it was awesome.”

If you’re concerned about what you missed, try this instead: Do the reading, get notes from a classmate (if you don’t have any friends in class, ask the professor if they’ll send an email to help you find a partner to swap notes with), read them over, and drop by office hours to discuss anything you didn’t understand.

  1. Don’t pack up your things as the class is ending.

We get it. The minute hand is closing in on the end of class, there’s a shift in the instructor’s voice, and you hear something like “For next time …” That’s the cue for the students to start putting their stuff away. Once one person does it, it’s like an avalanche of notebooks slapping closed, backpack zippers zipping, and cell phones coming out.

Don’t do it.

Just wait 10 more seconds until the class is actually over. If you don’t, it makes it seem as if you are dying to get out of there and, hey, that hurts our feelings!

  1. Don’t ask a question about the readings or assignments until checking the syllabus first.

It’s easy to send off an email asking your instructor a quick question, but that person put a lot of effort into the syllabus for a reason. Remember, each professor has dozens or hundreds of students. What seems like a small thing on your end can add up to death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts on our end. Make a good-faith effort to figure out the answer before you ask the professor.

  1. Don’t get mad if you receive critical feedback.

If an instructor takes a red pen and massacres your writing, that’s a sign that they care. Giving negative feedback is hard work, so the red ink means that we’re taking an interest in you and your future. Moreover, we know it’s going to make some students angry with us. We do it anyway because we care enough about you to try to help you become a stronger thinker and writer. It’s counterintuitive, but lots of red ink is probably a sign that the instructor thinks you have a lot of potential.

  1. Don’t grade grub.

Definitely go into office hours to find out how to study better or improve your performance, but don’t go in expecting to change your instructor’s mind about the grade. Put your energy into studying harder on the next exam, bringing your paper idea to the professor or teaching assistant in office hours, doing the reading, and raising your hand in class. That will have more of a payoff in the long run.

  1. Don’t futz with paper formatting.

Paper isn’t long enough? Think you can make the font a teensy bit bigger or the margins a tad bit wider? Think we won’t notice if you use a 12-point font that’s just a little more widely spaced? Don’t do it. We’ve been staring at the printed page for thousands of hours. We have an eagle eye for these kinds of things. Whatever your motivation, here’s what they say to us: “Hi Prof!, I’m trying to trick you into thinking that I’m fulfilling the assignment requirements. I’m lazy and you’re stupid!” Work on the assignment, not the document settings.

  1. Don’t pad your introductions and conclusions with fluff.

Never start off a paper with the phrase, “Since the beginning of time …” “Since the beginning of time, men have engaged in war.” Wait, what? Like, the big bang? And, anyway, how the heck do you know? You better have a damn strong citation for that! “Historically,” “Traditionally,” and “Throughout history” are equally bad offenders. Strike them from your vocabulary now.

In your conclusion, say something smart. Or, barring that, just say what you said. But never say: “Hopefully someday there will be no war.” Duh. We’d all like that, but unless you’ve got ideas as to how to make it that way, such statements are simple hopefulness and inappropriate in an academic paper.

  1. Don’t misrepresent facts as opinions and opinions as facts.

Figure out the difference. Here’s an example of how not to represent a fact, via CNN:

Considering that Clinton’s departure will leave only 16 women in the Senate out of 100 senators, many feminists believe women are underrepresented on Capitol Hill.

  1. Feminists “believe”? Given that women are 51% of the population, 16 out of 100 means that women areunderrepresented on Capitol Hill. This is a social fact, yeah? Now, you can agree or disagree with feminists that this is a problem, but don’t suggest, as CNN does, that the fact itself is an opinion.

This is a common mistake, and it’s frustrating for both instructors and students to get past. Life will be much easier if you know the difference.

  1. Don’t be too cool for school.

You know the student who sits at the back of the class, hunches down in his or her chair, and makes an art of looking bored? Don’t be that person. Professors and teaching assistants are the top 3% of students. They most likely spent more than a decade in college. For better or worse, they value education. To stay on their good side, you should show them that you care, too. And, if you don’t, pretend as if you do.

Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada

I (Clare) was talking to Kim Turner who is a member of my book club. She told me about this upcoming book, Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada. I asked her to share some details with me about the book. Dana Wanger one of the authors wrote the following blog for us.
The refugee system in Canada has undergone big changes in recent years. It’s now harder for asylum seekers to be accepted in Canada, and more difficult for them to get on their feet when they arrive. Cuts to health care for refugees was part of the reform, now making headlines because a Federal Court judge called them “cruel and unusual treatment.”
Not surprisingly, serious policy changes like these are also complex. They’re hard to talk about. The issues are hard to engage with.
Maytree, a foundation in Toronto, wants to engage Canadians on this topic. How? By telling human stories. Authors Ratna Omidvar and Dana Wagner document the stories of 30 refugees who arrived in Canada after an extraordinary journey of flight, in Flight and Freedom: Stories of Escape to Canada. These individuals, a mix of men and women from over 20 countries ranging in age from their early 20s to early 90s, give a detailed account of the events that caused them to flee their home countries, and the decisions that brought them to Canada. Forged passports, thousands of dollars, human smugglers, armed guards, drifting at sea, starvation, rape, death, survival – these are some of the pieces of escape, and a backdrop to a question posed at the end of the book: Would they get in today?
Peter Showler, lawyer and former chairperson of the federal Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), answers the hypothetical question by analyzing how the cases would be handled under Canada’s new refugee system. By telling stories first, the policy discussion turns tangible. The loss of appeal for certain categories of asylum claimants, for instance, is not a legal labyrinth of Convention rights and government responsibilities – it’s a simple wrong. It’s wrong that Sabreen would not have the right to appeal if she lost her asylum case today. But a few years ago, she did have that right, and she successfully appealed a negative decision to become a status refugee in Canada.
Storytelling simply works, on many levels. It’s a book you won’t want to close. The experiences of all 30 characters will break you down, their equanimity will pull you back together.The release date is set for 2015. Sign up for updates here:

Power of Reading

I (Clare) am getting ready to start teaching my literacy methods courses. I came across these great quotes on the power of reading. I will use them in my first class as a way to “kick start” the discussion of the importance of reading. I especially like Frank Serafini’s quote –  “There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book.” As a child I did not learn to ready easily or at an early age. I can totally relate to Serafini’s position. Once I found books on topics I like, I have not stopped reading. If you want the link to these quotes here it is:

children reading1. A book is a gift you can open again and again. —Garrison Keillor
2. Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. —Kofi Annan
3. Once you learn to read, you will be forever free. —Frederick Douglass
4. Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his needs, is good for him. —Maya Angelou
5. There is no such thing as a child who hates to read; there are only children who have not found the right book. —Frank Serafini
6. Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. —Emilie Buchwald
7. One of the greatest gifts adults can give—to their offspring and to their society—is to read to children. —Carl Sagan
8. You may have tangible wealth untold; caskets of jewels and coffers of gold. Richer than I you can never be. I had a mother who read to me. —Strickland Gillian
9. Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or Library book shelvesduty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift. —Kate DiCamillo
10. Whenever you read a good book, somewhere in the world a door opens to allow in more light. —Vera Nazarian
11. Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. —Groucho Marx
12. There is no substitute for books in the life of a child. —May Ellen Chase
13. To learn to read is to light a fire; every syllable that is spelled out is a spark. —Victor Hugo
14. It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own. —Katherine Patterson
15. When you learn to read you will be born again…and you will never be quite so alone again. —Rumer Godden
16. We read to know we are not alone. —C.S. Lewis
17. So it is with children who learn to read fluently and well: They begin to take flight into whole new worlds as effortlessly as young birds take to the sky. —William James
18. There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all. —Jacqueline Kennedy
19. The greatest gift is a passion for reading. —Elizabeth Hardwick
20. There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favorite book. —Marcel Proust
9d21d-thekeepingquilt21. Fairy tales in childhood are stepping stones throughout life, leading the way through trouble and trial. The value of fairy tales lies not in a brief literary escape from reality, but in the gift of hope that goodness truly is more powerful than evil and that even the darkest reality can lead to a Happily Ever After. Do not take that gift of hope lightly. It has the power to conquer despair in the midst of sorrow, to light the darkness in the valleys of life, to whisper “One more time” in the face of failure. Hope is what gives life to dreams, making the fairy tale the reality. —L.R. Knost
22. Read, read, read. —William Faulkner
23. Read. Everything you can get your hands on. Read until words become your friends. Then when you need to find one, they will jump into your mind, waving their hands for you to pick them. And you can select whichever you like, just like a captain choosing a stickball team. —Karen Witemeyer
24. Books are a uniquely portable magic. —Stephen King
25. Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time. —E.P. Whipple
26. A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say, “How to Build a Boat.” —Stephen Wright
27. Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body. —Richard Steele
28. There is a wonder in reading Braille that the sighted will never know: to touch words and have them touch you back. —Jim Fiebig
29. A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called “leaves”) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time—proof that humans can work magic. —Carl Sagan
30. A house without books is like a room without windows. —Heinrich Mannwonder
31. A parent or a teacher has only his lifetime; a good book can teach forever. —Louis L’Amour
32. Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything. —Tomie dePaola
33. It is books that are the key to the wide world; if you can’t do anything else, read all that you can. —Jane Hamilton
34. I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. —Anna Quindlen
35. A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read. —Mark Twain
36. Comics are a gateway drug to literacy. —Art Spiegelman
37. He that loves reading has everything within his reach. —William Godwin
38. Let us read and let us dance—two amusements that will never do any harm to the world. —Voltaire
39. Wear the old coat and buy the new book. —Austin Phelps
40. I will defend the importance of bedtime stories to my last gasp. —JK Rowling
41. Just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier. —Kathleen Norris
42. It is not true that we have only one life to live; if we can read, we can live as many more lives and as many kinds of lives as we wish. —S.I. Hayakawa
43. I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library. —Jorge Luis Borges

Rich Hill: Documents Rural Poverty In America

“We’re not trash. We’re good people,” says Andrew, one of the adolescent boys featured in the documentary Rick Hill, a film about rural poverty in America. As directors Tracy Droz Trago and Andrew Droz Palermo chronicle the lives of three adolescent boys Andrew, Harley and Appachey, they challenge us to take an unflinching look at a cycle of poverty that often locks families into socio-economic hardship for generations. The intimate use of the camera, and a narrative that builds slowly, provides viewers with unfettered access to the intricate relationships that exist between the boys and their families and the complex hardships they face daily.

Using Pinterest in the Classroom

While wedding planning, I (Pooja) used Pinterest, the social media application, for the first time. People from all over the world create and share virtual pin boards. These pin boards are a collection of one’s interests essentially. It’s a great way to gather, organize, and share ideas. It has become very popular for cost-saving DIY (do-it-yourself) ideas for events like weddings, birthday, showers, etc.

However, I recently cam across an article which highlighted ways in which university instructors are using Pinterest in their higher ed courses. Below is an infographic explaining how it is being used (in the U.S. context):


Slam poetry, literacy and classroom culture: What one young teacher shares

Several posts ago I shared an example of slam poetry. Slam poetry, for me, is alluring. It captures my attention. I have always found that with poetry, all kinds, there is passion, feeling, and emotion.  It speaks to me. Slam poetry is raw and real and leaves little to the imagination. It shares the here and now of one’s experience and tells the story of one’s truth.

Here is a short clip of a young teacher who shares with us what he tells his students:  tell your truth.

His 4 core principles (literacy related):

Read critically

Write consciously

Speak clearly

Tell you truth

This teacher speaks of classroom culture, modelling ways of thinking and being, and his experience as something worthy of words and sharing.

On the eve of a new school year, I want to wish all teachers, students, and teacher educators a year filled with passion for learning and inspiration. Teaching is not easy but when the fire for learning ignites in our students we know, as educators, that there is little more gratifying or rewarding.


The Baby Liked the Questions: The Joys of Research on Teaching

As Clare mentioned back in May, I (Clive) had to serve as “baby whisperer” for an hour or so while she interviewed one of our New Jersey teachers, and I acquitted myself quite well. This past Thursday a similar situation arose, only this time I was on my own.
One of our tenth year Ontario teachers, Serena, had a baby girl in March and has been on mat leave since then. She kindly agreed to let me come to her home for her annual interview, and when I arrived I was pleased to see that “Sara” was to be part of the event. She is an exceptionally happy baby, but like all 5-month-olds likes to go on to new things fairly often.
Sara appreciated having a visitor in the room and bounced around on Serena’s knee for about 15 minutes, keeping an eye on the interview. Next came 10 minutes suspended in a jumper surrounded by toys, followed by a feeding time. As new distractions failed to impress, it become obvious she had to transfer to my knee. I was very comfortable with this arrangement, but after about 20 minutes the novelty of watching the interview from that perspective also wore off.
Back on the sofa next to her mother, Sara then discovered Serena’s copy of the interview questions and took great delight in them. Gleefully tearing them up and chewing on them occupied her for a full quarter hour! We were able to finish a wonderful interview and everyone was happy.


Louise Erdrich wins Dayton Literary Peace Prize

Author Louise Erdrich has been named as the winner of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. The Dayton prizes recognize “literature’s power to foster peace, social justice and global understanding.” Erdrich’s written works, which includes novels, short stories, poetry, and children’s books, candidly explore contemporary Aboriginal life. She has been praised for “weaving a body of work that goes beyond portraying contemporary Native American life as descendants of a politically dominated people to explore the great universal questions – questions of identity, pattern versus randomness, and the meaning of life itself.”


Little Free Libraries

“The “take a book, return a book” boxes are catching in even on places where Kindles and brick-and-mortar books abound.”

 I love the concept of the Little Free Library! The Little Free Library movement operates from a universally understood “take a book, return a book” policy. The first Little Free Library was built in 2009 in Hudson, Wisconsin. Since then, Little Free Libraries have been popping up all over the world:

There are now 18,000 of the little structures around the world, located in each of the 50 states and in 70 countries—from Ukraine to Uganda, Italy to Japan. They’re multiplying so quickly, in fact, that the understaffed and underfunded nonprofit struggle to keep its world map up to date.”


Little Free Library in Qatar


Little Free Library in Toronto (St. Clair Ave)


Find a Little Free Library near you!