Friday, February 17, 2012

"Good" Teaching ... Not Always What it Appears

My masochistic tendencies, as my millions of faithful followers are aware, have taken me deep into the bowels of academia once again.

This time I'm in a Ph.D. program at the University of South Florida in Tampa -- in the College of Education, no less. Ostensibly, I am studying children's literature in a program called Childhood Education & Literacy Studies. The path to literary paradise, however, is paved with courses in philosophy and policy and statistics -- lots and lots of statistics.

Once a week, I place my brain on the rack, pin it to a matrix of rows and columns of data, and turn the inferential crank until it is stretched one cog past snapping. Then I gather up the pieces, repack my cranium, and spend the week mending the grey matter.

This past week in stats class, we dissected an article called "The Influence of Gender on University Faculty Members' Perceptions of 'Good' Teaching," published in a 1993 issue of the Journal of Higher Education. The authors list some "generally accepted characteristics of "good" teachers and teaching situations: enthusiasm, knowledge of the subject area, stimulation of interest in the subject area, organization, clarity, concern and caring for students, use of higher cognitive levels in discussions and examinations, use of visual aids, encouragement of active learning and student discussion, provision of feedback, and avoidance of harsh criticism" (p.166).

My purpose here is not to review the methods used in this study. We could discuss such matters as the difference between good teaching and good learning and how one can measure teaching. How many years down the road when the "aha!" moment happens does it still count as good teaching? What about the cumulative effect of one teacher building on previous teachers' work? Was a MANOVA appropriately applied and were all post hoc tests completed?

We could -- but we won't.

My purpose here is to focus on the last item: avoidance of harsh criticism.

Speaking only for myself, some of the times I have grown the most deeply are the times I have received the harshest criticism.

In fifth grade, for instance, we were assigned to cut out and bring in a newspaper article. I hacked one out of the paper and turned it in, and my teacher held it up and commented -- in front of the class -- that most people learned to cut things out in kindergarten.


But she was right. Meekly, I took my clipping back and trimmed it neatly.

I have seldom merely hacked anything out since then. Sometimes I spend too much time on projects, searching for just one more reference, because I still hear her reprimand.

What if she had not made that comment? Would I have just been content merely to hack out an existence and get by?

Or is she the reason these masochistic tendencies kick in every now and then and I submit myself to being stretched beyond what I think I can -- or need to -- endure?

Bless you, Miss Robb, wherever you are.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wastin' away again . . .

One morning, late last fall, the toilet in our little bathroom--the one just off of our bedroom--started gurgling.

It wasn't the first time I'd heard the toilet gurgle recently.

A few days before there had been a little ba-lurp. Nothing more. Nothing to worry about, right?

This particular morning, when the toilet started gurgling, it was still dark out. Half asleep after a late night plugging away on some writing assignment or another, I burrowed further under the covers and listened to Lee showering in the other bathroom and to the toilet ba-la-lurping nearby.

But then the ba-la-lurp became a gurgle and the gurgle sounded suspiciously like it was growing into a gu-g-gurgl-gurgle, expanding to fill the bowl and--

Suddenly awake, I threw off the blankets, dashed to the other bathroom, stuck my head in the door, and yelled into the steam, "The toilet in the other bathroom is overflowing!"

I grabbed some rags from the closet, dashed back to the little bathroom, and began to try to staunch the fountain bubbling forth from the blue porcelain bowl. Thankfully, we were able to contain the overflow to the bathroom itself with no other damage to carpet or walls.

We called out the honey truck and had them suck out the septic tank, thinking that after almost ten years with no problems it was about time for it to be cleaned out.

Yes, you read that right--septic tank.

Actually, tanks. As in two. One for the old house; one for the new house. It's complicated.

I know. Who in this day and age still has a septic tank? You'd be surprised. And, having written about waste treatment systems, I can tell you how septic systems can inhibit the economic growth of an area, how into the 1940s the government was encouraging people to  modernize and install septic systems (!),  and what concerns public officials the most about our out-of-sight, out-of-mind waste water systems, a vital part of our infrastructure.

In any case, Lee dug down to the top of the tank, removed the cap, and let the honey truck do its work.

End of story.

We thought.

In the meantime, he decided to try his hand at growing herbs and veggies, so he built several one-foot square garden boxes and planted basil, oregano, carrots, cabbages, and more. For Christmas, he put down a block pathway from one side of the house to the other.



About a month ago, I heard the old familiar song playing in the potty. Just a note or two. But then I took some laundry to the garage and discovered the utility sink half full of shower water and a bit of overflow on the garage floor.

Turns out the drainfield was no longer draining and it would cost as much to run a new one as to tie into the city's sewer system -- the one that had been installed, oh maybe twenty years ago and was running right behind our house. The previous owner hadn't wanted to be beholden to the city -- he was / we were independent county folk -- and so hadn't taken advantage of being grandfathered into the system without having to annex in to the city...even though the city has collected sewer fees from this address for all these years.

We, however, had no choice.

So we filed the annexation paperwork, got an emergency permit to do the tie-in, and called out the plumber.

And Lee took a couple of vacation days to dig up part of the walkway and all of the patio he had just put down -- thankfully bypassing the gardens. He dug trenches from both sides of the house and out to the clean-out cap marked by the city crew.

The plumber, one we've worked with for years, was impressed with the quality of the trenches -- all he had to do was drop in the pipe -- and we saved a good chunk of change on the job.

But wait! That's not all folks!

The septic tanks then had to be broken so rainwater would drain through, the concrete lids had to be dropped into the tanks, and the tanks had to be filled-compacted-filled. The health department had to inspect them after breaking and dropping and before filling.

Out came the sledgehammer and the ram bar. 

The trenches had to be filled and compacted. The grandkids helped with that. The gizmo to the left is a power compacter that jiggled and shook the ground -- and our whole house -- to get everything settled.

I'm sure the neighbors were thrilled.

But it's done.

We're officially city folk.

We've officially entered the modern plumbing era.

What you can't see is the fingernail that turned black from all the digging and pounding.

Or the sunburn from neglecting to wear a hat one day because it was so cool.

I rather suspect he was enjoying the work. At the least, I know he is satisfied knowing it's done and done right.

I'm just grateful for a husband who digs digging.