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2015 Goals

24 Jan

As it is now the 24th of January, I am a little late on posting this. Heck, a new blog post has been way overdue as my last post was in January of 2014. 

 2015 Goals

  1. Obtain a teaching position in 2015.

2014 was a pretty eventful year for me – I focused on snagging that elusive phantom of life of the post-grad – a job in my field. It had been two years since I had graduated from the University of Alberta with a Bachelor of Education.  To make a long story short, there were very few teaching positions available after I graduated, so I ended up taking a job with the federal public service. After spending two years working for them and constantly having coworkers ask me why I wasn’t teaching, I sat down and asked myself, “WHY wasn’t I teaching?”

I was even applying for other jobs with the federal public service and was in the process of taking a new position when a posting went up for a position in a nearby town. I applied and hoped for the best.  I went for the interview and a few days later I was ecstatic to accept the job. It was a temporary contract for February until June of 2014. Whether I would be kept on after that, they couldn’t say. I took a leave of absence from my public service job and jumped in with both feet. At the end of an exhausting but reaffirming five months, my contract sadly ended, and there was no room for me at the school for the upcoming year. Again, to make a long story short, due to a clerical error and poor timing, I was unable to get a teaching job for the current school year.

One of the questions I get asked most often is why I am not substitute teaching. By the time I was added onto the supply roster, I had just bought a house and gotten a puppy. Many friends and family members commented that maybe this wasn’t the right time to be making big decisions. I countered with there never really is a right time. Unfortunately, the sub roster calls were few and far between. I felt that in order to fulfill my financial obligations, there was no way I would be able to substitute and pay my bills. So I have stayed on with the public service for now.

  1. Learn a useable multi-platform skill

My parents always joke that my hobby is collecting hobbies. I love trying and learning new things, and sometimes this can become overwhelming when I decide to take on too many projects at once. This year, my goal is to learn a skill related to digital media – something that can be used in multiple fields and multiple ways.

  1. Listen more

And not just literal “listening.” I need to listen to my body and my gut instincts more. I’ll be a whole lot happier.

  1. Paint the whole house by June

Honestly, I don’t know what the people who owned the house before me were thinking. Lime greens and pinks everywhere.

  1. Blog at least bi-weekly

I set up this blog to be a space where I could share my thoughts and I let it fall by the wayside. I also used to blog semi-regularly at Triple Bladed Sword, but once I began teaching it became harder and harder to stay on top of those posts as well. Time to hop back onto the wagon.

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Get It Right – Popular Media and Fact Checking: On Sufjan Stevens’ Open Letter to Miley Cyrus

15 Oct

Lately, all the cool kids have been writing Miley Cyrus open letters. This past weekend Sufjan Stevens’ hopped on the bandwagon and penned a quick note to Miley on his tumblr regarding her song “#GetItRight”.

Sufjan makes a compelling argument regarding grammar usage in the song.

“I been laying in this bed all night long.” Miley, technically speaking, you’ve been LYING, not LAYING, an irregular verb form that should only be used when there’s an object, i.e. “I been laying my tired booty on this bed all night long.”

He continues (garnering a LOL from me):

But also, Miley, did you know the tense here is also totally wrong. Surely you’ve heard of Present Perfect Continuous Tense (I HAVE BEEN LYING in this bed all night long [hopefully getting some beauty sleep?]). It’s a weird, equivocal, almost purgatorial tense, not quite present, not quite past, not quite here, not quite there. Somewhere in between.

Sufjan is (gently?) poking some fun at Miley’s grammar and songwriting skills. However, there is a major flaw in his argument. Miley didn’t write the song. Pharrell has sole writing credit for #GetItRight.

I have been perusing a lot of articles covering Sufjan’s open letter. Not a single one has commented on the fact she didn’t write it. So not only did Sufjan not factcheck, neither did many major news publications. Including Pitchfork.com, EOnline.Com, Us Weekly, NME.Com, and even the Huffington Post.

Miley is a hot topic right now, for a myriad of reasons. But before you go ahead and write an open letter, take a moment to check a few facts first before you send it out into the world of the internet.

Productivity versus Procrastination

11 Sep

I know a lot about procrastination. When I say a lot, I mean a lot. But I feel like I need to equivocate that statement by saying that I also know a lot about productivity.

Last week I spent a full day in a training seminar about change in the workplace, stress, and productivity. I learned a lot but I felt like I already knew a lot too. Productivity has always been a field that interested me, not just at an academic level but also at a personal level. I wholeheartedly embrace my Type-A personality and will admit I can go a bit overboard on the organization front. But at the same time I sometimes choose to ignore things when it would better suit my needs to be completing that task right away.

I find that meandering my way though different disciplines in university taught me some very diverse skills in the areas of procrastination and productivity. Once September hit I was a full-fledged productivity responsibility champion, but found that by the end of the semester my procrastination tendencies would start to seep back in. Here’s how I have learned how to deal with this double-sided coin:

1. Write It Down

Ever since junior high I have been meticulous about keeping a planner/agenda/to-do-list/what have you. I have since made the move from paper and pen to a hybrid between my iPhone and a Moleskine Weekly Planner. A lot of people might say that having both is a bit redundant but I am a visual learner. I find I remember a lot more of something when I am writing it down rather than typing it into a screen. By integrating both into my system I also end up not worrying about always having my planner physically with me. The Moleskine is more about long range planning, especially with its handy lined right side pages, whereas my iPhone is more about what I am specifically doing that day.

Image

2. Prioritize

This is one of my key things. I always rank my tasks in categories of what needs to get done when. Email my boss my weekly status report? DO ASAP. Make up the Halloween Potluck sign up sheet? That can wait until later in the month, if not October. I also always write down due dates, appointments, etc. as soon as I am made aware of them that way they can’t slip past me. The number one thing I get asked about regarding my prioritizing system is “What’s with all the markers?” I will confess. I am obsessed with color coding things. One day I came back to my desk to find that someone had rearranged my markers out of rainbow sequence. My reaction:

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3. You Can’t Get It All Done Today

In the last little while I have really learned to embrace this philosophy. If you tried to get every single thing done every single day, you’d have no time for relaxation or fun. So I choose two or three things that are top priority but can definitely be accomplished within the day’s timeframe. It allows me to get things done, but without the stress of “IT MUST BE DONE NOWWWWWWWWW.”

4. Know Yourself

And by that I mean, know what your bad habits are. My number one bad habit is that I just want to do nothing when I get home. If I sit down on the couch, it’s game over. So I try to do as much as I can as soon as I get home from work. Then by the time dinner is on a roll I’ve gotten most of what I wanted to get done and I can then re-assert my love of the PVR and catch up on some TV, read a book, or simply spend hours on Wikipedia looking up arcane subjects like panda reproduction (even with all our scientific advances we still don’t know how it works!), the nuances of Final Fantasy characters, and what exactly sarin gas can do to a human being.

 

There’s a lot more out there than what I’ve outline above. I’m a frequent visitor to lifehacker.com and hackcollege.com and hanging out on productivity boards on pinterest. Let me know if you’ve got some other methods that work for you!

Modern Friendship and The Cult of Accessibility

16 May

Are We Still On For Lunch?

Are We Still On For Lunch?

Dear readers, colleagues, coworkers, friends, and family,

I know we’ve all done it — you’ve received a text, an email, a facebook wall post or message — and you’ve ignored it for whatever reason. You’re in the middle of a movie, or out for dinner, or in the middle of a big project at work.

In the age of social media, we’ve basically thrown privacy out the window. Everyone is a little bit too accessible. There are always new invitations or notifications pending: Facebook, Twitter, G+, Instagram, Vine, the list goes on and on as we add and join more social media.

So sometimes I let my notifications pile up and then I clear them off the screen. I don’t even take a peek. Sometimes I’ll even go as far as to turn on the wonderful “Do Not Disturb” function on my iPhone (It really is a great function — if anyone calls more than twice, the call goes through as it may be an emergency).

But then minutes or hours later when I do have some time to go through them, I make sure I get back to anyone who took the time to reach out to me. So here’s where I get to the crux of my post for today: If everyone is making such a big deal about how accessible they are, why do so many people have trouble taking the time to reach back?

I don’t know how many times when I have texted a friend or even *gasp* called them, and I have received no response. It’s frustrating. It sends me into a spiral of anxiety. And I know that like me, you could be in a movie, at work, spending time with your kids, or doing any other number of countless things. But when 24, 36, 72 hours go by and I haven’t heard back from you? Then it’s time to send a follow-up call, email, text, or what-have-you.

I’m sure this has happened to you all as well. After the follow-up contact, you get the “I’m so sorry! I’ve just been sooooo busy!” Cue the eye roll here.

Because we have all made ourselves so accessible with social media, we all should be able to step up and accept accountability for being so accessible. It’s like how McDonald’s advertises that they are now open 24 hours; you would not be a happy camper if you made your way down to the local Mickey D’s and found them to be anything but open 24 hours.

I for one am making the change starting today. I’m taking the leap and turning on my read receipts on my iPhone — a leap which some of my colleagues and friends have already made, whether they started out with BBM or any of the earlier incarnations. When the read receipts were first introduced I found myself questioning a friend as to why they had chosen to opt in to the receipts. She explained it in the following way:

If someone took the time out of their day to text me a “what’s up?” or “I miss you,” I want them to know that their time matters. I want them to know that I got their text and that it matters. If I don’t reply, I feel like I’m telling them that my time matters more than theirs. It doesn’t.

In the age of social media, where you have all of your “friends” in one handy little list, you can easily lose touch with those friends. You figure “I can chat with them at any time, we’re friends on Facebook!” This has been said many times elsewhere, but this is where social media is hurting us. It is in the day to day personal interactions amoung friends, family, coworkers, colleagues, and even strangers.

So if someone reaches out to you today or tomorrow or two years from now. Be accountable. Sometimes all they’ve been wanting to hear is an “I missed you too.”

Is Social Media Killing the Essay? A Musing

1 Feb

Combing through my inbox backlog can sometimes be a bit tedious, but then I find something in one of the mailing lists or newsletters that I subscribe to that makes me question my position on certain subjects. This morning I quickly skimmed through the January 24th issue of EdSurge Instruct, an independent news and community edtech newsletter.  

 In the issue was a blurb directing me to check out the article, “Art of essay-writing damaged by Twitter and Facebook, Cambridge don warns.”

I myself am an active twitter user and found my first reaction to be a strange one. I hadn’t even READ the article yet, and I felt offended. If I had to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 with how active I am on social media on any given day, I would probably say about a 6. I use it a fair bit, but I am not reading every single tweet or post on my timelines, I subscribe to a fair amount of education-related content, so it’s not like I use the platforms to simply kill time. I’ve written quite a few essays during both of my undergraduate degrees and feel that I am a fairly competent writer and conveyer of my thoughts. However, blogging and tweeting are not the same thing as writing an essay. If I came at blogging and tweeting in the same way that I approach essay writing, I would be “doing it wrong.”

Upon further perusal of the article, this Cambridge professor is hypothesizing that because of modern social media students are arriving in post-secondary institutions without the skills to write a proper essay. After spending my teaching practicums in junior high and high school settings, I would have to agree. But to a point. In my experience, yes, the twenty-first century student is mostly unprepared for the writing of a proper academic essay – but it is not due to social media. When I set about asking a class of grade twelve students if they knew how to write thesis statements I found myself faced with thirty-four blank stares. Not a single one of them even knew what a thesis statement was. So I set about starting from scratch and put my students through a whole essay-writing workshop. Should they have known how to write an essay before this point? The simple answer is yes. The more complicated answer is murky. Depending on (and if!) these students were headed off to post-secondary institutions, did they really need to know how to write an academic essay? In Alberta, many high school students head off into our booming trades sector. Many head off into sciences and engineering. And yes, a few of us head off into the arts. I know that being able to write an essay helps me in everyday life in many ways. It helps me compose emails to my coworkers, write up work procedures, blog, tweet, and even make announcements over the PA system at the Royal Alberta Museum. But it is not the ability to write an essay that helps me with these tasks.

Social Media isn’t killing the essay. We, as teachers, need to start teaching these skills in a twenty-first century context. But that’s a whole other post.

Social media platforms do not lend themselves to the essay format and vice-versa. Which brings me to the questions that EdSurge wanted me to ponder in regards to the article.

What is effective writing? Is a lack of what’s traditionally been considered “good” prose a disadvantage in online communication? Or is the opposite true? What are the most effective ways to  connect with–and persuade–different audiences? What do you think?

What is effective writing?

To me, effective writing, is writing that is well-written and that can catch my attention. No matter how well written the piece is, if there is no personality – no charisma – to the piece, I’ll be thinking “TL;DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read) and moving on. Effective writing also needs to have a purpose. WHY has the writer chosen to write this piece? Have the introduced me to the 5 W’s? (Forgive me, I’m an English teacher – The Who, What, Where, Why, and When). Has the piece been written with an audience in mind? In my case, my audience is my twitter followers, people who stumble upon my blog, or potential employers. I need to keep that in mind while writing else I dare stumble into unfamiliar territory for my audience. And if it is unfamiliar territory, I need to provide enough background information to entice you to read further. Has the information been organized in a logical manner? Can I follow this person’s argument?

Is a lack of what’s traditionally been considered “good” prose a disadvantage in online communication? Or is the opposite true?

Again, I return to the personality of the writing. If a writer’s style  has caught my attention, I am willing to overlook the occasional grammatical error or spelling mistake. Everyone makes them. There’s probably more than a few in this post. To paraphrase my linguistics professor, If you can say it and it makes sense, who’s to say it’s not grammatically correct? If you can parse the person’s speech or text and still derive meaning, does that mean it’s ‘wrong’? Most grammar is innate and is always evolving. This is why we end up debating the oxford comma, possessive nouns, and passive and active voice. Just because a set of rules been prescribed does not mean that that is the way that we are actually using the language (this is the essential argument behind descriptive versus prescriptive grammar).

In online communication, sometimes grammar has to be thrown out the window. Participating in my online course can sometimes be overwhelming by the sheer numbers involved. With over 30,000 people enrolled, posting from all over the world, it can take some time to sort through all the posts, especially when many posters are English Language Learners. But regardless of someone’s mother tongue and grammar, if their ideas are valid and intriguing, is that putting them at a disadvantage? I would say no. Others may disagree.

Sometimes a quick blog entry can be more effective than a long-winded one, grammatical mistakes and all.

What are the most effective ways to  connect with–and persuade–different audiences?

To me, the most effective ways to connect and persuade different audiences is to know your audience, write honestly, clearly, and with your own voice.

On New Adult

17 Jan
Jessica Darling Novels

Jessica Darling Novels

Lately, New Adult (NA) is a term that’s being tossed around the book world. The good people over at NA Alley have put together a great post entitled, “What Is New Adult?” which lays it all out. NA Alley’s view of NA:

We view New Adult fiction (NA) as a category of literature—meaning, it gives readers content expectations, but it does not dictate genre-based criteria. Typically, a novel is considered NA if it encompasses the transition between adolescence—a life stage often depicted in Young Adult (YA) fiction—and true adulthood.

Protagonists typically fall between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, though exceptions may apply. NA characters are often portrayed experiencing: college, living away from home for the first time, military deployment, apprenticeships, a first steady job, a first serious relationship, etc.

Allegedly, NA was first tossed around in 2009 by St. Martin’s Press and the term has been on a steady rise since then. Trawling around some NA book lists, most of what you find are contemporaries. Though the term has been kicking around since 2009 what I consider to be NA has been around for quite awhile.

When I was in high school Megan McCafferty published Sloppy Firsts in 2001. I was OBSESSED. Jessica Darling was me. To this day there is not a single literary character that I have connected with more. Jessica had some triumphs and difficulties along the way and she felt real. So I eagerly awaited each book, following Jessica throughout the rest of the series (Second Helpings, Charmed Thirds, Fourth Comings, and Perfect Fifths) and am gleefully awaiting the prequel series, “The It List.”

So when I hear “New Adult” being tossed around, I’m not surprised. These were the types of books I liked to read in high school (heck, I still do). New Adult encapsulates a very difficult transitionary time for many teenagers and new adults. I’m twenty-six and I’m still not completely sure what I want to do with my life. So I’m glad that NA is getting more press and recognition, because in my opinion, it is a separate genre from children’s, YA, and adult literature.

Confession and Resolution

9 Jan

I have a confession to make.

Some background context: I graduated from Grant McEwan University in Edmonton, AB, Canada in the spring of 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Psychology. The last two years of my degree were hectic to say the least. I had to cram three years of arts courses into two because I spent the first two years of my undergrad degree in the Faculty of Science because I had wanted to be a geneticist. I then realized that that was the last thing I wanted to be and switched from the Sciences to the Arts.

When I completed my B.A., I continued onto the University of Alberta to complete a Bachelor of Education because I wanted to be able to share my love of English Language Arts with the next generation. When I graduated in the spring of 2011, Alberta Education had made sweeping budget cuts and 300 teachers in the greater Edmonton area had lost their jobs. To date, I am still actively seeking a teaching job and am not currently employed in the education sector. But I digress — this just helps to set the scene — let’s get back to my confession.

Since I graduated with my B.A., switching from student mode to teacher mode proved difficult. When I read (when I even had time to read between lesson planning and marking), I wanted to read for fun. So I essentially learned to turn my brain off when I was reading for pleasure. I turned my inner literary critic off and let the stories ride.

Enter Foz Meadows’ tweet (@FozMeadows) this afternoon regarding her review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians (Full disclosure: Up until today I would have probably listed this book, and it’s sequel The Magician King, among my favorite books). So I read Foz’s review and was stunned.

Every single thing Foz said about The Magicians seemed as if she had plucked it straight from my brain. Only, they were all the thoughts that I hadn’t let myself ponder too long over, or even really internalize to myself. Yes, I had problems with Quentin, with Eliot and Janet and Josh and Penny and a litany of other characters and situations that arise from The Magicians and The Magician King (I actually had a really big problem with the ending of The Magician King, but that’s another blog post in and of itself). But I chose to overlook them because of one thing that Lev Grossman once said and it struck me and has stuck with me ever since. Fantasy is essentially about longing. You can read about it at length on Lev’s blog post on the matter and I believe he’s spoken of it elsewhere as well (not to say he’s the one to come up with this idea, but he’s at the forefront of my brain when I think of the concept).

What originally made me like Quentin was that he was like me. I am of the Harry Potter generation. I was twelve when Harry received his letter from Hogwarts, I grew up reading about Narnia and Middle Earth, Merlin and Morgana, The Seeker and the Dark. Heck, I was reading Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors before I even had a learner’s permit, let alone understood some of the themes from his work. I understand the longing that underlies the fantasy genre. So I overlooked. And overlooked. I passed the book onto friends and tried not to feel the way you always feel when you love a book and a close friend hates it: affronted, like they’ve personally slighted you because you don’t have the same taste in fiction.

So today when I read Foz’s review (and by extension Ana from The Book Smugglers’ review), it instantly verbalized all those uneasy feelings and misgivings I had about The Magicians and The Magician King. I had realized that I had committed a cardinal sin; not only had I become a lazy reader, but an intellectually lazy reader.

So, dear reader, there’s my confession. And here’s my new resolution for a brand new year: Read with an open mind and a critical eye.

And then she taught!

A journey through the nooks and crannies of Secondary Education with a lady who sometimes misplaces her maps.

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