Preparing to Teach “Teaching in the Community College.”

•December 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

This winter, I am teaching a class on “Teaching in the Community College.” In preparation for this course, I am collecting articles on education from the last couple years that have been influential in the discourse among teachers about what teaching is and the sorts of struggles that teachers are experiencing presently.

I recently re-wrote the description for the course to focus on the problems we’ll be exploring:

“Students who attend community colleges are a diverse population by every measure, including age, socio-economic background, academic preparedness, long-term goals, and more. As community college educators, we often need to make choices that seem to either tailor to some students’ needs while dismissing others, or to pursue all students’ goals in equal measure at the expense of a more mediocre education for all. Is our goal to have the same expectations of our students as would be expected at a more selective four-year school? Or, should we “meet the students where they are” in the pursuit of our students’ growth, no matter where they may be? When teaching underserved students, do we have a moral responsibility to address social inequities, or should the professor avoid politically divisive subjects? To what extent are any of these questions false dichotomies? In this course, we will explore these problems, learn about the community college and its students, and how to be an effective educator in such an environment. Readings will include classical pedagogical theory texts, such as Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Dewey’s Democracy and Education, as well as recent empirically-driven arguments, such as Make it Stick and What the Best College Teachers Do, and contemporary articles from publications like “Inside Higher Ed” and “The Chronicle of Higher Education.””

This post will be one in progress as I add new articles to consider for inclusion in the course.

If you are reading this and have articles you think would be good for the course or interesting to read, please share them in the comments.

Taking a cue from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, I’ll number principal articles with a cardinal number, and articles that respond to principal articles with a decimal of that cardinal number.

1. “I am your professor, not your teacher.”

I disagree with the central message of this article, but I am sure it speaks to how many professors think. From the article:

“First, I am your professor, not your teacher. There is a difference. Up to now your instruction has been in the hands of teachers, and a teacher’s job is to make sure that you learn. Teachers are evaluated on the basis of learning outcomes, generally as measured by standardized tests. If you don’t learn, then your teacher is blamed. However, things are very different for a university professor. It is no part of my job to make you learn. At university, learning is your job — and yours alone. My job is to lead you to the fountain of knowledge. Whether you drink deeply or only gargle is entirely up to you.”

2. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me.”

2.1  “I’m a Professor. My colleagues who let their students dictate what they teach are cowards.”

“I don’t have the luxury of simply changing my syllabus to make my students more              comfortable. You see, I’m also black and a woman.”

2.2  “I was a liberal adjunct professor. My liberal students didn’t scare me at all.”

3. “How a School’s Attendance Number Hides Big Problems.” This article covers chronic absence rates among students. It is geared toward k-12, but this has been a serious problem in my classroom too. The article defines chronic absence as missing more than 10% of classes. I generally teach 30-32 sessions per class, depending on holidays, so chronic absence would be anyone missing more than 3 classes. Right now, about half of one of my classes has missed more than 3 classes. Many have missed quite a few more.


4. Homelessness among Community College Students:

5. Quality over Quantity in Assignments:


Tiny Note on Focusing, Wandering, and Wondering

•March 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

A mind without focus is barely a mind. To have one’s thoughts jump to and fro without purpose is not even to exist. It is the worst way for time to pass. Despite that, we still find our mind succumbing to that condition, and there seems to be little one can do to escape it, except, like a fever, to wait.

Wandering is at least a purpose-driven lack of focus. It is for enjoyment, mental ease, exploration, and play. Those are useful. But there are different qualities of wandering. Wandering is good when we are alert, curious, reflective, and/or inquisitive. It is the sort of wander that inspires wonder. But sometimes we wander because we are distracted, bored, anxious, tired, sick, or frustrated. That sort of wander doesn’t inspire wonder. I find myself in the second type more often than I would like.

Rule of Kamran. Intermission. Reflection on the Project. Habits good and bad.

•March 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

It has been a few weeks since I posted the last set of rules. Rule sets I and II have been successful: nearly every morning since the first postings, I have been awake sometime between 5:00am and 5:30am, occasionally sleeping in until 6:00am. The coffee is always ready by the time I wake up. So all I need to do is trudge myself to the kitchen to grab coffee and breakfast, turn around, and crawl back into bed. Breakfast and coffee in bed every morning has been a wonderful new tradition in my life. I have then proceeded to study Latin for about one hour every weekday morning, with a couple days of exception. This morning, I have found my mind is wandering too much for effective study (which does not bode well for the rest of today), so I am making the best of it and returning to writing a new entry here. 

I have been excellent at following a few of the preparatory rules, such as emptying and cleaning the coffee filter in the morning, so that I can prepare coffee hassle-free in the evening. Small habit changes like this have proven to be effective in instilling other, more significant good habits into my life. This was the intent: I was working under the Spinozistic concept that I lack free-will, that I am totally governed by passions (to which ‘I’ am the passive effect), that passions and actions operate in a strictly non-free cause and effect relationship, and that knowledge is the most powerful cause that brings me to the good. My knowledge of my own habits, that I am slow until I have coffee, that the thought waking up and then making coffee and waiting for coffee, that the waiting is such a frustrating idea that I simply lie in bed mindlessly surfing the internet on my phone–my knowledge of these things brought me to the knowledge that if the coffee was ready when I woke up, removing the cause of my morning frustration, enabling me to get the coffee and begin that morning–my knowledge of these things effected a more productive morning, with stimulating Latin lessons followed by a strenuous exercise: this is a clear case of my rules project working as intended.

I have not obeyed my Sunday rules very well. There have been three Sundays since my post about the weekend, including the Sunday on which I wrote the post. On the day I wrote the post, I did everything precisely as planned. My week benefited from it. But the second and third Sunday were interrupted with social plans and a trip to Seattle. This disrupted my weekly maintenance. As a result, my apartment is currently a mess, my laundry is off-cycle (forcing me to do laundry during the week, which is exceptionally inconvenient), and my grocery shopping has been limited. With limited grocery shopping, I am spending more money than I should on eating out for lunches and dinners. Nor is it as healthy or as fulfilling as purchasing groceries and preparing my own food.

Of course, being distracted, engaged, and spontaneous with the world is both the necessary condition and worthwhile boon of living in the world with people. I do not live in a monastery. And despite being a relatively solitary person, I treasure my friends and my job, and wish to be a good brother, son, and uncle to my pacific northwest family. So I can be okay with adjusting and adapting to disruptions in my routine: I must embrace that. One challenge is to clearly understand how to adapt to those disruptions to my rules, enjoy them, and get back on track when the disruption has passed: or permanently change my rules if certain long-term life-conditions change. 

Bad Habits that have Abated

Since beginning my rules program, I am much better at using my morning productively. My breakfast+Latin studies are a budding routine/ritual that I hope lasts a long time to come. I have been excellent at getting a morning workout: better than I have been since my Marine Corps days. I feel healthier, stronger, and even younger than I did just two months ago. At first, the new morning exercise exhausted me so much that I frequently felt exhausted, hungry, and distracted throughout the day. But I think that was a sign of my body readjusting, for now I have more energy than I have ever had in my thirties.

I have not wasted nearly as much time on the internet as I was doing before I wrote these first rules. There are exceptions: yesterday, I was in a daze, and realized I was doing nothing in front of my computer for literally hours into the evening. Fortunately, I stopped myself in time to get a good sleep. This is a case where I could write it off as simply needing a break: some time to relax and unwind. But frankly, there are more productive forms of leisure, since there are video games, television shows, movies, and fantasy books that I want to play, watch, or read. When I finish those things, I feel some sense of accomplishment, and they are worthwhile as far as leisurely activities go. The only problem with those things is when I become addicted and it starts cutting into my work or routine. But if I keep those activities moderate, and if I needed rest anyway (a frequent occurence), I might as well use it on something relatively more productive than mindlessly wandering the internet for cat pictures and stupid gossip.

Fortunately, the amount of time I have spent on video games and television shows has been drastically reduced in the past few weeks. I have not exhibited any addictive behavior toward those things, and have played and watch them in moderation.

Persistent Bad Habits:

My mornings are excellent. But as the day wears on, I become less and less focused. Yesterday, for example, I got home with the intent to do laundry, clean my apartment, and grade papers. I accomplished precisely nothing. For some reason, perhaps because of the recent trip and lack of a truly restful weekend, or perhaps because of the 11.5 mile run from that morning (a new record, and frankly, only accomplished because I underestimated how far my route would be).

I still drink a little too much. In the evening, I routinely have two or three glasses of wine. Not awful if done occasionally. But nightly? This is too costly, dulls my mind and judgment, destructive to the long-term health of my mind, and frequently inhibits deep sleep. It is therefore an activity that not only sacrifices the excellence of an evening, but resonates into the quality of the next day. And if the quality of one day is inhibited, the chances that I will resume bad habits and further inhibit future days are further inhibited. I have absolutely no wish to remove alcohol from my life. But except for social outings, this needs to be limited to one glass of wine during the weekend. And beer, despite how much I love thee, needs to be removed entirely except for social outings and the rare exception.

The degree to which I am behind in grading papers, and my incredibly slow progress in completing them, is a disaster. This terrible habit is the thing I need to fix the most. I would be most productive if I sacrificed my morning Latin ritual and exercise routine for the sake of grading papers. But then I will become resentful toward school, and the lack of exercise will make me anxious and unhappy. And I have decided that is not what my solution can be. I need to pursue my own goals and be a good teacher. I cannot sacrifice one for the other.

I want to make leisurely reading a bigger part of my life. My recreational time has been devoted more to electronic entertainment than literary ones. I have decided that perhaps all I need to do is go back to the addictive reading habits of my youth, in which I read fantasy novel after fantasy novel. It has been years since I’ve read any fantasy novel other than the “Game of Thrones” series. Fantasy novels are not, usually, high literature. And certainly, there would be more educational or stimulating things to read. But if I simply admit that, at the end of the day, my mind is too exhausted to concentrate and think, and that if I recognize reading an addictive fantasy novel is at least better for my reading habits and imagination than watching television or playing video games, then it makes sense to replace my more costly electronic habits with cheap literary ones.

Rule of Kamran. Part III. Weekends

•March 2, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Foggy headed today, as I’ve come down with a cold. I can already tell I will need to return to edit this post.

The previous rules are primarily about the default workdays, Monday through Thursday, and sometimes Friday. These cover the general outline for weekends. This is obviously more flexible, as I make time for social plans, etc.

Friday and Saturday: These two days present me with the best opportunity to do my own interesting work, or get caught up with paper grading. Unfortunately, I often feel so exhausted by the work week, that my bad habits rule through these days. Laziness, distractions, and drinking erode my will to work.
1. Set goals. Usually, I do not explicitly write down goals.

2. Get out of the apartment and read. The best and most consistent way I break my bad habits is simply leaving the apartment in the morning with a bag of some books and journals and hunkering down in a big coffee shop with decent food. At the very least, I will complete a couple hours worth of reading and having a god walk.

3. Once a couple hours of reading have been complete, do whatever I feel like doing. If this means more reading/writing, then do that. If I need rest, then rest.

Sunday: Sundays are days for rest and resetting. The most important things to accomplish are:

1. Laundry

2. Purchasing groceries for the week

3. Cleaning the apartment and organizing.

4. Rest and relaxation.

Preparation: It is important to get a good night’s rest without much alcohol so that the day can be appropriately appreciated. I will also need $5 worth of quarters for laundry.

7:30am: By around 7:30, all laundry needs to be ready to go.

7:55am: Bring laundry to the laundry room. Given the size of my apartment building and limited availability of machines, it is critical to be at the laundry room when it opens at 8:00am. If the machines are already filled, laundry can take many additional hours

8:35am: Dressed for the grocery store, move washed clothes to the dryer, and go grocery shopping.

Begin cleaning

9:20am: Collect laundry

Make sure the apartment is neat and clean by the end of the day, since I’m generally a bit more productive when the clutter isn’t distracting me. Rest for the rest of the day. Have no more than one drink, and get to bed by 9:30pm.

This is a day of sabbath. I will not work for school on Sundays. Sundays are my own. If I work, I find that I’m resentful come Monday, and am unproductive then.

Rule of Kamran. Part II. Exercise and Morning Preparation

•February 20, 2014 • 1 Comment

There are many mentally active people who are not also physically active. But I always have a slight to great feeling of dissatisfaction and laziness when I am not fit.

These rules will be modified from time to time depending on the semester schedule. This schedule assumes the 11:00am start time for all my first classes on Monday through Thursday.

Maintaining a workout habit that last for more than a few consecutive weeks has proven difficult for me, however. Since I began teaching, I will maintain good practices at the beginning of the semester, and sometimes at the end of the semester. But when I start receiving papers to grade, managing gym time becomes increasingly difficult. I begin telling myself that I need to sacrifice a day’s workout in order to grade papers, and then another, and then another. Before I know it, my habit has changed into not going to the gym. When I am working out, I am better at going on Mondays through Wednesdays, and then often drop my good habit by the end of the week and through the weekend. This results in about two workouts per week. This is not satisfying to me.

The purpose of the rule is to have a rational law set down so that when my bad habits and volitions kick in (as they are doing this Thursday morning: I simply want to lay in bed all day), the rule reminds me of what I ought to do, according to my own rule.

Preparation: During the “Coffee” phase of the morning, or before 6:30am, change into athletic clothes. I find that this is the biggest part of the habit-battle. If I manage to change into my athletic clothes, then I almost always go to the gym. Sometimes, I have been in the habit of getting dressed, then surfing the internet or some other distracting and addicting activity, and then realizing it is too late to get a decent workout and get to work on time.

Workout: At 6:45am, march to the gym. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays are devoted to strength resistance. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays are devoted to long-distance running. Sundays are for rest. On Mondays through Thursdays, or other days on which there is a schedule to maintain, the workout lasts until about 8:15pm. The specifics of each workout are determined outside these rules, since they are very specific and change rapidly from week to week.

Transition to Work: Arrive back at the apartment no later than 8:30am. The next phase is critical. I am tired and have a number of small things to do in order to prepare for work and make it there on time. I historically become easily distracted during this time.

1.Immediately upon entering the apartment, go directly to the kitchen and consume the post-workout meal. Place toast in the toaster.

2. DO NOT turn on the computer or phone. There is nothing important there.

3. Strip and shower. Move quickly. Long restful showers are reserved for the weekend.

4. Dress, pack bags with school supplies. Have a book or other material in an easy to reach pouch in the bag, in order to easily read something on the bus.

5. If it is Monday or Wednesday (long work days), make two sandwiches. If it is Tuesday or Thursday, make one sandwich. Pack the sandwiches in the bag.

6.  Get on the express bus. To catch the express bus, leave at 9:03, 9:12, 9:21, or 9:31. Aim for the 9:12am time.

When I arrive downtown, grab coffee and get to the office. This should provide an hour of prep time for classes. This brings us to the next phase, which involves conduct at school/work.

Rule of Kamran. Part I. Sleep and Coffee.

•February 19, 2014 • 1 Comment

The “Rule of Kamran” is a set of laws designed by myself for myself, with the goal of addressing the sorts of broken or inconsistent habits that I have.  Its aim is to help me live a more reflective and conscious life.  These rules will come in parts, as I reflect on each set and write them out.

I am happiest and most fulfilled when, in the order of most to least important, my life is devoted to the pursuit of knowledge (both reading and writing), when I have regular contact and stimulating conversations with a variety of friends, and when my physical health and budget are well balanced.

I. Sleep and Coffee
Sleep and coffee are not the goal of any day, to be sure. But most “good days” start with the foundation of a good sleep and a quick start-up in the morning. Though there is no clean beginning of any day, since the actions of previous days and weeks always contribute to the excellence of any particular day, the 24 hour cycle seems to be the most basic “unit” of habit. The cycle of sleep and coffee begins about 24 hours before the day’s actual wake-up time of 5:00am to 5:30am.

1. Each morning, after the coffee has been brewed, empty the filter, wash it out, and set it out to dry. This is to ensure that the filter is ready for use in the evening.
2. Every evening before bed, setup the coffee machine to brew automatically at 5:00am.
3. Drink little: no more than 1 drink on most nights, 2 if they are spread out. Exceptions are made for social events.
4. Be in bed no later than 10pm. Set alarm for 5am.
5. When I wake, poor coffee immediately, eat breakfast in bed, and read either (a) the newspaper, (b) my Latin language book, or (c) something in philosophy, or (d) devoted to some writing.

6. This transitions to the next phase of the day, the morning workout, which begins at 6:45am.
A good rest, a minimal amount of time between wake-up and coffee, and some early mental stimulation are the most satisfying ways to begin the day.


What do I think about when I think about God: Preliminary.

•June 24, 2013 • Leave a Comment

What do I think about when I think about God? The absolute, the infinite, and the necessary. Absolutely egalitarian, seeing all things that we see as ephemeral, irrelevant. What matters more are the searches for truth and benevolence: all mistakes, ignorance, and evil intentions are caused more by the absence of knowledge or the limitation of empathy than actual evil.



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