Tag Archives: teaching

There’s Always a New First Time (The First Day)

So, I was sleeping until I woke up for no reason at 2:47 AM.

Didn’t have to go to the bathroom or anything. Laying in bed, I checked my phone and had received a message from a friend with a sneak peak of a blog post he was going to make public today. J. Wiggins is one of my dearest and most talented friends. They say that “Familiarity breeds contempt,” yet I know this dude’s government (read: birth name on government documents) and he’s heard me say things I’d turn red about if repeated in public, yet he never ceases to inspire and amaze me. He fascinates me, and shows me things about my self as a person and professional that make me better.

His most recent post helped me explore some aspects of humility I’ve been struggling with, and also, helped me understand why I’ve been anxious about the beginning of this term. I haven’t been nervous about the first day of school since 5th grade when I moved in the middle of the year. It was the one and only time I EVER remember being nervous. Yet…

“So, I was sleeping until I woke up for no reason at 2:47. Didn’t have to go to the bathroom or anything. Laying in bed, checked my phone and you’d sent me the link to this post.

First, thanks for the “sneak peak.” Second, get out of my damn business with your lessons in humility! Third, I can’t believe I get to both know you and call you friend. God’s got something special going with you dude. 

Thank you for sharing with me. I realize now why I was up at 2:47 AM…today’s the first day of the semester. The first day of the second semester of me being a full time professor. Last term I was too swamped with being “new” to be nervous. Yet after a semester of the many of the students enjoying how I engage them in my classroom, and the administration responding to my request to teach two new and different classes based on student interest, I realize that I’m at a new level. After more than a decade of teaching what I’ve been doing won’t be good enough. Figuratively, they’re lined up outside my storefront, based on word of mouth, and I hope the first ones in don’t tell the others to just go on home. They’ve shown up, and I hope to God it’s worth it.”

Blog Vibes: Someone That I Used to Know by Luke Conrad; Diced Pineapples by Rick Ross; Do You by Miguel; Too Close by Alex Care;


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Sometimes we miss the point: Thoughts on Bias in the Classroom

picture from google images

I just read an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about a study done by Darren Linvill and Joseph Mazer, both of Clemson University, on student learning and instructor bias. I believe that the article and some of the folks interviewed about the study and the larger issue it addresses – teaching, learning and bias in the classroom – ironically ignored a larger fundamental teaching and learning issue. The implicit and explicit construction of power that emerges when students are unclear of how it will be judged that they know the content of the course (i.e. their final grade).

Bias is present in all social contexts involving humans – period. Even if they are not expressed by professors we all have our biases. This fundamental fact is at the core of research methodology. In research there are mechanisms that limit the impact of bias. This is also the case in the classroom environment, yet for a myriad of reasons, we do not employ them – which is unacceptable in the arena of research.

Pedagogically, the use of rubrics, the creation of clear and measurable learning objects (that are then incorporated into the rubrics), and the use of student centered learning practices (that focus on said learning objectives) make it clear to the students how they earn their grades in the course. Therefore it isn’t about their opinions on the topic discussed in class or the instructors opinions; its about course objectives. Therefore these communication and debating skills, being recommended by both the study proponents and detractors, can be developed in the classroom and across disciplines – because both students and instructors can speak freely having reconstructed the power dynamic around meeting clearly described learning standards. This is much more effective and productive a strategy, rather than students, and profs, believing grades are associated with something that pleases the professor.

You can read the article that sparked this post here, and find the original study by clicking here.

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When you feel like you can’t go on…

This is the time in the semester when many folks, faculty, admin and students alike are harried and just counting the days until the term ends with both intense anticipation and earnest dread. There are goals and deadlines that haven’t been met, as well as moral and motivation to keep up – and this is usually just at school. In addition to these pressures, life doesn’t stop, finances have to be managed (it’s tax and FAFSA season), families have to be engaged (proms & graduations & funerals & open houses and…and…), and sanity has to be maintained.

It can be overwhelming. I often say to my colleagues and students, and even to myself, “Just tuck at roll, let gravity do the work; it’s all down hill from here and will be over for better or for worse SOON.” I was really feeling it this semester; more so than ever before. Then this evening my introduction to sociology students began presentations and these things came out of their mouths…

“To see a different perspective you have to speak less & listen more; even when it hurts.”

“it takes a certain amount of humility to understand a different point of view; this is what sociology is about.”

“poor people are being taken advantage of, not just left behind. You can subsidize rent & food, but where does someone go to subsidize their spirit.”

Teaching makes my heart sing, and the promise of sociology is alive and kicking.

In Solidairty,

Dr. Baranda J. Sawyers

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