March 30, 2001

Starting a research project

Well, we didn't start a research project, but it was the first meeting where we started to put short-term timelines together for who does what.

The Spencer Foundation, an organization that funds educational research, gave the University of South Florida money for two years to start three projects as part of a new consortium on educational research in Florida (or CERF, if you want to use an acronym). This afternoon, several of the researchers met (or phoned in) to discuss concrete steps at the moment.

This part—dividing up responsibilities—is a new experience for me. I've worked on research projects where I was the flunky and given responsibilities, and I've run my own research projects, generally just myself or where I give graduate students clearly delineated responsibilities. But being in a group of researchers, each of us with our own agenda and professional needs, and starting to work out what to do with limited time and resources, is going to be interesting.

One weakness of mine, as a researcher, is hiring research assistants and training them in a way that both gets the work done with a minimum of fuss and also respecting their needs as students. I'm reasonably sure I treat research assistants decently as human beings, but it's the judgment of what they can do and what they need training on that I'd love to figure out better. Fortunately, as I'm not the boss of this consortium, I get to see others do that.

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Posted in Research at 7:16 PM (Permalink) |

March 29, 2001

Magical moments

Every once in a while, students will say or do something that takes your breath away, and you trust that something you did as a teacher helped set that moment up. Today, I was lucky, and a student was luckier. A student group in each of my sections today organized a part of class around data on student and teacher demographics. In the afternoon class, the student group left on the dry-erase board the results of an informal survey in class, showing that most of the class thought that having role models from the same ethnic/racial group as students was important. Considering the nature of the data (showing that teachers are far more likely to be white females than their students in elementary and, to a lesser extent, secondary schools), that was not a surprising result.

I wanted to shake them up a bit to get them to look critically at what they had "voted." Since most are intending to be teachers (this in a Social Foundations of Education class presumptive teachers need to take in the college), I asked a question that would get them to think about their own capacity to model and make connections with students: "Are there responsibilities of teachers to be role models for students who may not easily identify with them along racial, gender, social class, or other dimensions?" Most teachers think of themselves as being able to make such connections, and the class quickly came up with many reasons or ways to make such connections.

Then one student in the back of the class raised his hand and explained that he was changing his mind. He had thought that having role models was important but realized that if he followed that logic to its extreme, African-American students should only be taught by African-American teachers, Latino/a students should only be taught by Latino/a teachers, and we'd be back to segregation. Discussion continued, in part raising issues that maybe the diversity of a teaching force is as important for white students as others, or maybe the individual qualities of teachers are important, and by the end of class about half of the students had voiced their opinion that an individual teacher does have the capacity to reach students who are different in terms of gender, ethnicity/race, social class, and the presence/type of disability. Then, at the end, having documented how their views were different when talking about individual teachers, I put some statistics from the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education indicating that new teachers are still far disproportionately likely to be white (over 80%) and asked them if they were concerned. Yes, I wanted to leave them at the end just a little unbalanced. At this point in the semester, especially in this particular section, I am confident they won't take it personally. (If you're a student reading this and I've made a horrible misjudgment, please tell me!)

Changing one's mind in the middle of a vigorous class discussion is a type of bravery on the part of students, and it requires a type of intellectual honesty that is wonderful to witness. That made my week.

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Posted in Teaching at 6:00 PM (Permalink) |

March 27, 2001

Juggling obligations

Thirty minutes before my 10 a.m. class, I need to write down the scores of the class's students on last week's quiz, and I'm also working on two papers, one the chapter I worked on over the weekend and one fun, very short article manuscript I'm hoping to send off this week. I suppose it would be a sort of April Fool's Day joke in my field. We'll see. (No, I'm not going to provide any hints about what it is. That would spoil the surprise!)

Last night I stayed up until approximately midnight grading my backlog of quizzes for the 2 p.m. section, and I'll be able to hand them back this afternoon. Tomorrow I work on the backlog for 10 a.m.

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Posted in Personal at 9:20 AM (Permalink) |

March 26, 2001

Working at the library

Elizabeth (my spouse) and I walked to the new library branch this morning, my first time to walk there since it opened almost six weeks ago. The county added two stretches of sidewalk to connect the library's to the others on the street, so it was a very pleasant stroll. I brought my student's quizzes to grade, did a week's worth, and then walked home. I'll do more this afternoon. (I'm behind!)

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Posted in Random comments at 1:10 PM (Permalink) |

March 25, 2001

Faster transcription and going-out-of-business sales

I went to the configuration file and stripped out half of the things that were starting up with the computer, and that solved the problem—transcription is much faster now (the desktop's working right now on that). Yes, I'm back in the office on Sunday. The chapter is dictated, mostly transcribed, and needs references and editing. Whew!

Yesterday, after I came home, the kids and I went shopping for a compass Kathryn could use (found, at Wal-Mart), a frog piggy bank (a froggy bank?) (found, at a Learning Express store—more about that later), horses (same), and an egg timer (not found). Elizabeth (my spouse) does not like the clockwork timer I use to keep my showers short, in this drought Florida's had for two years, and we're not going to bring an electronic timer into the bathroom, so we've been looking for one of those three-minute egg timers. Wal-Mart didn't have one, the local grocery didn't, and we have no idea where to look. Any ideas?

We don't usually buy toys at chic places like Learning Express, but this was with the children's money, so they get to make the choice. (They had been feeding the pets of a neighbor, so they had enough to had some fun.) We also found out that Learning Express is going out of business— well, this particular store is, in about a month. Everything is 30% or more off. Is this the upside of the recession?

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Posted in Research at 9:48 AM (Permalink) |

March 24, 2001

Waiting to go home

My desktop computer is being VERY slow in translating (and I'll have to contact Dragon Systems to ask for suggestions again). The accuracy isn't affected, but sheesh! I'm supposed to be home in four minutes. Believe me, I can't get home in four minutes, and the computers may not be off by then. Time to grovel to my spouse (as she's waiting to work while I take the children).

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Posted in Random comments at 12:33 PM (Permalink) |

Working Saturday?

I'm working this morning on-campus on a book chapter about placement issues in special education. Why, since I'm an historian? Because a former colleague at Vanderbilt, Doug Fuchs, invited me to help write a chapter, and I'm a nice guy (and maybe taking on a slight overload of work is a useful way to avoid boredom). I'm using a digital voice recorder and dictation software to draft pieces of it (which is fine for how I'm thinking, in pieces, today) and going outside to talk for five minutes, inside to set up my desktop to transcribe while I go outside again to talk for ... you get the idea. The day is sunny, 65 F., and its being a Saturday means I can sit almost anywhere without being interrupted by others (or having that noise interfere with dictation) helps. I just wish my desktop were a bit faster in transcribing, but that's the consequence of having a relatively cheap desktop that's almost 2 years old. (Don't ask how old our home computer is!)

I also have about a foot-thick stack of student work to go through this weekend. I put most of that off while reading through the draft papers that approximately half of my students turned in at the beginning of the month, before spring break. Then I visited my parents with my son, so I didn't have nearly enough time to read through them while traveling, and played catch-up after getting back here. Being a faculty member is a balancing act.

I finally figured out how to add my faculty home page as a link permanently to the front page.

Back to the grind ...

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Posted in Random comments at 10:33 AM (Permalink) |