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A Mindful Approach to the First Day of Fall Semester: Like New Year's Day!

Last year, when I wrote this post, I said that the first day of the Fall semester was like Christmas morning, because I got to come down the stairs five different times to see the presents under the tree with  each of my new classes.


This morning, as I contemplate the new academic year ahead of me, it feels like January 1, New Year's Day. I find myself searching for new goals, new areas of particular focus that I would like to improve upon.


I would like to use the tool of Mindfulness to slow my reactions down and resist the temptation to judge, to be impatient with students who waltz in late, who ask questions that have already been answered six times, and who cannot seem to form a complete coherent sentence.  These students appear to be my teachers this lifetime. I know this because they really piss me off. 


I would like to use the tool of Mindfulness to stay in the present moment, to not get ahead of myself with concern for the future. I sometimes suffer from pTSD. This is a new diagnosis I invented based on a Case Study analysis: my own. It stands for Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder - the experience of anxiety caused by trauma that has not yet happened - except for in my own creative catastrophizing mind. I hope to live not only one day at a time,  but one life at a time - the one that is actually happening right now in front of me in this moment. And when you think about it, most "this moment right now" moments are pretty manageable.


I hope to use the tool of Mindful Self-Compassion to not take myself too seriously. I Comedy Sign
intend to be a compassionate witness to myself. I hasten to add that I want to use a humorous lens through which to experience myself as starring in my own Emmy Award-winning sitcom.  Through Humorous Mindful Self-Compassion, I can laugh at myself with a knowing smile of acceptance and I suspect this will help me to extend this benefit of the doubt to my students as well.


OK, I think that is a good start toward a good start. 


Let the academic New Year begin with lighthearted mindful awareness of this moment unfolding into the next. Throw open the doors to the school; I am eager and ready to get started!


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Did You Feel It? Could You Tell We Were Talking About You?

Students To the Student SignI think it's only fair that someone tells you that over 400 of us got together this past Friday and we talked about you all day long. Yes, we did. We plotted to do this a year ago. We rented out the Albuquerque Convention Center downtown for the Second Annual CNM Conference on Teaching and Learning. Many of us petitioned ahead of time, requesting to talk about specific things related to you. Then, everyone else picked what they wanted to hear about you and then they talked about you, too.

We even paid an expert on you to fly in from across the country so he coulWorkshops Hand With Microphoned talk about you. He did and then we clapped. When he was done, we spread out to different rooms and we talked about you some more.

Were your ears burning? We got into some pretty animated conversations about you. In the rooms, in the halls, in the bathroom and in the ballroom. We laughed about you; some of us even teared up about you. We spent only a little bit of time talking about how sometimes you infuriate us; you can be aggravating and exhausting. But mostly, we avoided that. We set that aside and we focused on the best of who we know you - and we - can be. Of course, you inspire us; you bring us alot of joy and satisfaction.

You are the reason we are here. We love to teach you. And we spent all day Friday trying to figure out how to better teach you, to help you grow and to reach your dreams. We gathered together to share our experiences, to report on the latest research, and to translate all that into better ways to serve you - on Monday.

The diversity was grand. The carpentry teacher taught the philosophy teacher who passed it on to the math tutor who shared it with the nursing instructor who wrote it down and passed it along to the business teacher, the aerobics instructor, the academic advisor, and the dean.

I thought you would want to know that we care about you. We really do. We see you. We want to see you learn and grow and move on from here to run headlong into your now brighter future.

And when you get there, remember to drop us a line and let us know how you are doing. So we can talk about you some more.

Accomplishment Man At Top Of Rock Silouette

Free Advice For Students on the First Day of Class

Teacher with Test
It's the first day of the semester. Welcome! And congratulations on your good judgement in choosing to take Intro to Psychology.  If this is your first semester of post-secondary education (that means "college"), then a particularly hearty welcome to you! I am sure that my faculty colleagues join me in wishing you success. Please know that we are not the enemy; we are your advocates and we look forward to the day you attend your Graduation Ceremony and we get to line up and clap for you as you go by.

There are several factors that contribute to your success in college: emotional support from others, skills in time management, note-taking, test-taking, study techniques, stress management, goal-directed motivation, willingness to seek, find, and accept help from others, perseverence, a sense of humor, and finally, an easy rapport with your faculty. Today, I would like to offer a few suggestions that might make that last factor - relationships with faculty - more likely to be successful. These are some tips for interacting with me and they might be applicable to some of your other instructors.

  Checklist Color Illustr.

Some Tips to Maximize Your Success

  •  You should probably know right up front that I don't give As in my classes. I also don't "give" Fs and I don't give Cs or Ds either, for that matter. I give my time, my expertise, my effort and my encouragement. You will earn whatever grade you earn. Let's hope you reach your goal in our class.
  • Please do not walk up to me and ask out of the blue, "Did you get my email?" How can I know if I got your email if I don't know who you are or what it was about? Say, "My name is Sally Student and I wondered if you got my email about needing to miss class during the third week of the semester."
  • When you speak with me before or after class, please use complete sentences. Your speech should include a subject, a noun and a verb; that's what a sentence is. So don't just hand me a piece of paper and grunt something about "my paper." Say, "Would you please look over this rough draft of my paper?" You might want to formulate your full sentence before you get up from your seat.
  • Remember the manners you learned in grade school? They apply in college. I really appreciate those old fashioned courtesies such as "please," "thank you" and "excuse me."
  • Please don't ever say, "I missed the last class session; did you cover anything important?" Really, now, what would you expect me to say to that? "No, not really, in fact it was an entire waste of everyone's time." I don't think so. Perhaps you could ask, "Did I miss any announcements?"
  • While I care very much about your academic success, the fact that you may lose your financial aid because of your low grade in my class is not really my problem. You plead with me - during week 13 of a 15 week semester - as though if you sound pitiful enough, I will somehow be persuaded and "give" you a higher grade. That's not going to happen. However, if you talk with me after the second test and you express concern about your performance in the class, I will work with you to develop a strategy for your success, not my capitulation (look it up).
  • Please do not concern yourself with any special accomodation you believe I have made with another student. That student's situation is not your business; remember that you don't know the whole story and you are most likely about to make the Fundamental Attribution Error (we will cover that in the Social Psychology chapter or you can look it up now).
  • I can forgive a multitude of sins, so please just be honest and confess your transgressions. Take responsibility for the fact that you missed class, you didn't turn the paper in on time, you weren't listening in class, you didn't sign the attendance sheet, or you didn't follow the directions. The minute I hear even the slightest hint of not taking full adult responsibility for yourself, I begin to shut down in judgmental disdain. When you begin the conversation with, "I screwed up," my heart chakra opens up and I begin to feel compassion and a willingness to help.

No one ever said, "I want to be rich; I think I'll become a teacher." I certainly didn't. In fact, I didn't really consciously choose this career. This career chose me. I believe this is a sacred contract that I made and I am just showing up to keep my Promise about how I would use some of my gifts during this lifetime. I love teaching. I love it when you love to learn. I even love it when you don't particularly care about psychology, but you show a desire to be a good student and a good person. I want to be a good teacher and a good person. Let's work together - 'cuz I really can't wait to go to your graduation and fuss over you and gush about your success and clap as you go by...

Classroom Blackboard With Chalk

First Day of Fall Semester - Like Christmas Morning!

Teacher Apple on Desk With Pencils
It must be Fall semester.  There's a cool in the air, the trees are beginning to turn, the marching band is practicing in a distant field, and the school zone lights are once again flashing around 3:00pm. OK, well, at least the school zone lights are flashing again.

It is the first day of school. Believe it or not, I can't wait to get started. There is something about the first day of Fall semester that feels like we're throwing a party and around 27,000 guests have RSVP'd.  No, it's better than a party. It's like Christmas morning to me and I teach five classes, so I get to come downstairs to find the presents under the tree five different times!

Christmas Santa Claus Ornament Close Up

I throw open the door to the classroom and there you are! You size me up; I size you up and we're off! Who are you people, anyway? Why are you taking this Psychology class? Whatever reasons you think you may have for taking my class, I know the Real reason in the Big Picture. I am meant to cross paths with you. And you are meant to cross paths with me. For better or worse, the universe has thrown us together. Let's not make things worse; let's make things better. You bring your gifts and I bring mine and hopefully, our dynamic together will enrich our lives and we will part in December better people for it.

I know that might sound schmaltzy to some, but I don't care; I love teaching. I love psychology, and I love teaching psychology at CNM! And I do believe there are no coincidences. So, welcome to our class.

Now, as I size up my class, I wonder who will be the class clown? Please God, let there be one and I hope you will sit up front. Who will dominate the discussions? I hope you will gain more true self confidence by the end of the semester. Where are the perfectionists who take notes with rulers and different colors of ink? I hope you will learn that you are good enough regardless of your final grade. Who among you doesn't particularly care about doing well at all? Maybe you will surprise yourself by being open to loving psychology. Where are the returning adult students, scared to death that it's been "too long" since they've been in school? You deserve a standing ovation. Who will be the lost child and never utter a word the entire semester? You are the one I want especially to See. And how about the "gang member" with the black leather and the tats and the piercings who scares me at first and then teaches me that you, too, are a worried parent or a straight A student?

I get a kick out of all of you. You are each a present under the tree and I look forward to getting to know you. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Tree Lit in Woods

Students' Lives: Giving New Meaning to Daytime Drama

Students To the Student Sign

I love teaching Psychology at a large urban community college. Somehow, the best college students in the city manage to get registered for my classes. It's uncanny. I have been amazed by the trauma and drama that they encounter in their complicated lives. And yet, they manage to work around weekend incarcerations, eight hour waits in Emergency Rooms, restraining order violations, pregnancy complications, car thefts, sudden deaths in the family, relationship break-ups, cancer diagnoses, and house fires - to hand in that two-page paper on time on Monday morning. Truly, I have been amazed by their resilience and determination. Sometimes I wonder if they have had so much chaos in their lives, that they have become accustomed to crisis being the norm. They seem to take it in stride with such casual acceptance.

I will never forget the phone call from one of my students who had just missed her morning class. We exchanged pleasantries at first and then she matter of factly asked if she might be allowed to hand in her paper later today. I asked what had caused her to miss class. She calmly explained that the SWAT team had surrounded her apartment complex, and in fact, she is still on lock down and can't leave until the all clear is given. Apparently, the shooter is still in the area, and everyone is advised to lock their doors and stay close to their phones. So obviously, the thing to do is to call your Psychology instructor and see if you can hand in your paper a bit late after this pesky little incident gets resolved. Coincidently, I had watched this incident unfold on Breaking News that morning, so I knew this was not just a creative excuse to miss class. She got an A on that paper.

Drama Sign

I remember being a college student, though I attended a midwestern four-year residential college in the early 70's. I know how Life can conspire to make some semesters more emotionally difficult than others. The most I ever had to deal with was probably the occasional relationship break-up. But this is a different time and a different place and a whole different demographic. I am humbled by the adversity that my students overcome in order to achieve their dreams.

Just over a year ago, I turned on the morning news to recognize one of my recent former students being interviewed in front of the smoldering ruins of her burned out apartment building.  It was February, during that awful two week freeze that much of the country endured. She and many others escaped with just the clothes on their backs. She was now homeless; she lost everything in the fire. About a week later, I ran into her in the hallway at school. Astounded, I asked, "Are you still in school this semester? I saw you on TV." She smiled and cheerfully exclaimed, "Of course! I need to finish my program; I graduate in May!" Apparently, the Red Cross had placed her in another apartment building and no, she didn't want to ask her adult kids for help; she would be just fine.

No doubt. With that attitude, she will accomplish whatever she wants. I just know that I want to be like her when I grow up.

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True Confessions From Your College Psychology Instructor

Students To the Student Sign





There are so many things I want to say here, I think this might become an ongoing column of sorts. I have already thought of several post topics I would like to write about. Here are just a few:

  • Why I Pulled Off of  I-10 In Arizona at a Truck Stop to Call Back to the Dean to Say I Want to Teach the Death and Dying Class
  • Five Things to Never Say to Your Instructor
  • Why I Love Teaching Psychology to You
  • Memorable Students
  • Why Is It That I Get Older But My Students Stay the Same Age?
  • You Crack Me Up: Hilarious Excerpts From Your Reaction Papers
  • Which Students Will be Taking Care of Me Someday in the Nursing Home?

These are just some of the things I think about when I am in front of you in the  classroom. You think I'm paying attention to the lecture topic, but my mind can wander just as well as yours can. And don't tell me it doesn't. Sometimes, I can just see your minds floating out the window... and mine wants to go, too!

Today, I passed a colleague in the hall and we said "hi" to each other. Then, I added, "I get to go teach now!" And I thought how fortunate I am that I love what I do.

Yesterday, a student stayed after the class to ask about his points. When we were finished, I couldn't help but ask, "Now, why were you smiling so much during the whole lecture today? You were practically laughing at times, but I didn't see you whispering or talking to anybody." I thought maybe he went off of his Haldol.  He grinned this huge toothy grin and said that he really got it today that he wants to be a therapist and help people some day. He said that so many things that I talked about (Theoretical Approaches to Doing Therapy was the topic) just resonated perfectly with who he thought he was and what he wants to do with his life. And he's only 19! How awesome is that? So I went on and on about how he might pursue his academic career and I think I made him late for his Anthropology class. Sorry 'bout that. God, I love teaching.