The Waiting Game

There’s this job interview tomorrow… I’m in a nervous state. Sleeping poorly, waking in fright, minor panicking, that sort of thing.

Panic

The thing is, I want the job LOTS. I think I’d be great at the job, and it seems to suit my myriad skills. But the job is far, far away in a pretty Middle Earth* country, and I’m fearful of actually getting the job and having to move away from my husband and life in SE Qld.

I’m a little worried about self-sabotaging my job interview as a result. This would be the third job I’ve been interviewed for out of 5 proper jobs in the past year I’ve applied for. That’s a good result but kind of not. My first interview was diabolical. I was super well prepared for the presentation (which was awesome) but less prepared for the interview. And the interviewers were awful. I mean, not all of them: just the Chair. I couldn’t make head nor tail of the questions and the Chair clearly had not attended the presentation, so I was left thinking “hang on, I said all this already in the presentation” and rather inexpertly RE-explaining myself. Awful. Couldn’t give an elevator pitch – had never been taught how to, but also because I can’t reduce myself like that to a few dot points.

The second interview went really well but in the end I felt that they wanted someone who was a better fit for the job, someone with better electro-acoustic recording skills. I’m no good at that stuff. I had a look at their website today to see if there was a new member of faculty but I couldn’t see anyone. Maybe no-one fit the bill!

So this job. Fits my skill set. Hopefully they want me. A colleague said to me a few days ago: don’t try and anticipate what they want. You will sell yourself on your strengths and skills. And so it will be, I hope.

Third time lucky, eh?

don-t-panic-button

 

*C’mon. You know where that is, don’t you!

 

 

 

 

A personal statement on teaching philosophy

A recent job advertisement asked for a personal statement on teaching philosophy.

This caught my attention, even during my depressive phase when it’s all I can do to get out of bed. In all truth, I try NOT to think about teaching. It’s something I’ve never felt particularly drawn to: I initially taught music because it was quite a time-efficient way to earn money, when I was both a sole parent of 2 kids and a part-time student. But I also dread teaching. I’m a bit of an introvert. Teaching forces me to become extroverted, loud, encouraging, big. I don’t like these things. But in order to carry heft in classroom/choral music teaching (because loud and noise management), one has to be loud, big, encouraging, strong. Also, you have to interact with people. It could be argued that teaching does not require extroversion or volume. But you show me a quiet music teacher and I’ll show you someone who only teaches classical guitar. Or harp. In a private studio.

Anyway. So. I’m required to think about my personal teaching philosophy.

thinking chimp

I’ve never been asked to reflect critically on the history or strategies of teaching, except in a recent job interview (which I buggered up). I’m a bona fide qualified teacher for Grade 5 to tertiary and beyond. I’m pretty sure I was never asked to think about how or why I teach the way I do. I was never asked to think about my personal ontology and subsequent epistemological position. Which, arguably, is needed if you’re going to be teaching other thinks to thunk.

I was also never asked how I learn. Or how others learn. Yet, back in the recesses of my tiny thunking thinker, I’m sure my Graduate Diploma of Education made me do some kind of philosophy of teaching module. Just cannot remember it. Which means it was a useless course because no memory of it. The ONLY thing I remember are De Bono’s hats. Which is really about managing management meetings, not teaching. Even my PhD allowed me to sidestep some of the great theories of edumacation (Dewey et al) to focus on the private singing studio master/apprentice approach.

I’ve been thinking recently about school mottos, vision statements and the like and how my own philosophy of teaching/learning has been shaped by these. There are a few I like. The first motto I like is the school I attended from age 10 – 15. The motto was: Age Quod Agis. We were taught this meant “do what you do, do well”. In other words, if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it really really well. Excellence presumed. Ok. I like this, although it makes making dinner a bit of a challenge. No reheated meat pies for me. Actually, this is hard for girls anyway, because we’re always taught to do everything perfectly, which means job hunting becomes a bit of a challenge – we’re often not prepared to attempt something until we have ALL the skills. And we play down our capacities all the time. So while I love this concept, in reality always striving for excellence can get in the way of actual achievement.

The other motto comes from a school I taught at a while back. I love the simplicity of this vision statement, even as the individual teachers there  (me included) had very little intrinsic respect for such fancy schmancy pedagogical concepts:

developing the whole person through timeless principles of learning –

  • To Know
  • To Do 
  • To Live With
  • To Be

with innovation and wisdom.

What a great statement. To know, to do, to live with, to be, with innovation and wisdom. In those words written by an anonymous someone (possibly a committee but a seriously good one), I see the history of education, of thought, of philosophy. I see metacognition. I see application of knowledge through concrete skill building. I see humanist principles and the development of the whole person within the world’s community. I see looking back at history (wisdom) and looking forward at what is yet to come (innovation). A lovely sentiment, not necessarily well enacted at the school but at least the idea is there.

So, a personal philosophy of teaching, as stated by the job application, surprisingly misses the most important thing here: the learner. There is no philosophy of teaching without the learner. Therefore, my personal philosophy of teaching is this: the learner comes first. Here’s the rest:

If I were to label myself as a teacher it would be this: I’m a caring facilitator. I believe the best learning comes from a learner’s intrinsic desire to understand how or why a thing works or happens. I help learners become independent thinkers and I don’t always give them the answers. I promote a safe space for learning – learners will learn best from their mistakes, so I do not ridicule error. I use encouragement and praise where due, and I aim to be respectful and caring at all times.

For me learning happens best when I am engaged and interested in the material and when the teacher is caring and respectful of my space and my need to be independent, but who understands when I need to ask a question or two. Goal pursuits theorists Deci and Ryan’s Self-Determination Theory had it down pretty well when they wrote about the three main needs of humans for successful goal pursuits: Relationship, competence, autonomy. Good relationships foster good learning, a sense of competence helps to promote more learning, and autonomy – a personal empowerment and sense of self – helps with feelings of self-esteem etc and fosters yet more competence. And the cycle continues. I like to add something about the sense of belonging to a community (my cultural psychology studies inform me of this stuff but so do Lave and Wenger with their Community of Practice), because we are social creatures and need to belong to and identify with a social group. So a good teacher fosters good relationships, helps her students develop competence, and creates a safe, encouraging learning community where autonomy is paramount.

On the down side, I’m not good with stupidity or willful ignorance, insolence, laziness or contempt. From adults and children alike. So don’t put me with someone who either doesn’t care about what they are doing or doesn’t want to be doing the subject at all. Which is why I have so much respect for teachers who have to teach subjects with students who don’t want to be there. And I also respect teachers who work with little children. Ugh.

 

 

 

 

Whoops. Well, that was quick.

I quit my job on Friday. It’s a casual singing teacher job at the local university which pays by the hour. It’s well paid but without any entitlements such as sick leave. I was due to work 120 hours this semester which is a substantial amount of money for what amounts to 3 full-time weeks worth of work. Problem was, a student decided they wanted to quit mid-year and learn from someone else, and then I was informed my pay scale was being reduced by $24 an hour. The combination of those two events tipped me over the edge. They were the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

I have been struggling with teaching for a while now. I am not a vocational educator. That is, I went into teaching because it was convenient. Teaching allowed me to take school holidays with my kids, it stopped me from being really poor and it was a stopgap between what I really wanted to do and poverty. As a performing artist, teaching is a valuable means of support between gigs. Paid by the hour, it’s quite lucrative. Divided by the year it’s not, but my work is specialised. 

I’m a good teacher. But I’m not a natural one. I’ve had to work hard to be competent because it’s a draining and exhausting occupation for an introvert. I give a lot of myself. The relationship between singer and teacher is pretty intense because of the complex interchange of embodied instrument and soul urge and sense of self. So when a student decides they want to change teachers it’s heartbreaking. There’s a lot of trust that goes into the relationship. Last week that trust was broken by this student, 3 days before the start of semester. 

Now, in my private practice I don’t give a rats if students want to leave. We’re performing a transaction here and it’s a negotiated one with a financial basis. They come and go and I don’t mind. They originally chose to approach me and I agreed to teach them. That’s fine. I have the authority and responsibility to control and conduct my business as I see fit. You’re only bound by the length of the invoice. So if students choose to stay it’s a positive affirmation of your worth. At the same time, I can choose to cease teaching a student if they’re not up to scratch. 

But in my tertiary position I wasn’t able to select the students.  So when they wanted to shift teachers I had no recourse. It’s a finite pool of students and I couldn’t just fill the space with another student. When you take on a tertiary student you are basically taking them on for 3 years. It’s a long term arrangement. Therefore you plan their education accordingly, and you can only trust that they will accept this long term planning. It’s also about sustaining a positive relationship with the student over this time. So when a student quits, it feels like you’re being told you’re not worth the investment. That’s heartbreaking. 

I’ve had a few moments like this in the last 6 months, and it has been getting to me. Last week I was given a teaching commendation by the university. Awarded every year to the top 3% of teachers across the university (that’s about 60 teachers, so guess the size of our academic staff), it’s based on our student evaluations of our teaching. Students have said they like me. It’s now proven. But if one rejection can send me in a tailspin it’s time to reevaluate my priorities. 

I felt like I was the teacher students wanted to switch from. It became a trickle I couldn’t control and it was impacting on my mental health. Combine this drop in self esteem with a kick-in-the-teeth pay reduction 3 days before the start of semester and I was done. No loyalty to their staff? I felt no loyalty to the university after these events. Luckily as a casual staff member without a contract or entitlements all I needed to do was give an hour’s notice of intent to quit. 

What about your other students, I hear you ask. What about leaving the department in the lurch? Actually, loyalty to the department is only as good as the treatment of its staff. I was not being treated kindly or well. As for the students: I’ll miss them. But I had stopped trusting them. I never knew which of my students would decide to up and leave my studio. Every semester I would hold my breath, waiting for the axe to fall. The anxiety was too much. And too painful. Because as a teacher you love your students very much. You want the best for them and you give them every opportunity to achieve their goals. But if every semester you wonder if you’re going to be dumped you start to protect yourself emotionally and this is not a good place from which to be teaching. It burns you out.

On top of this was my desire to do something that filled my soul’s urge. I’ve finished my PhD. I have the floppy hat picture and the testamur and the conferral letter. What now?

Well, it was time to give myself a push. Take a risk. Take a leap into the unknown. Challenge myself and stop using teaching as my safety blanket. 

I have a book proposal to write. I have jobs to apply for. I have a house to renovate and children to care for. I have a supportive, loving husband whose salary can support us for a little while on one income, and I have some new directions to find. I have a mid life crisis to manage! 

Time for a change. 

Thinking about those goals again…

About 5 weeks ago I wrote about some goals I was thinking of aiming for, mostly to do with my personal and career goals. I was thinking at the time that I’d like to write. Maybe a fiction novel, or create a book out of my thesis. A cabaret. Or some journal articles, even.

The other thing I thought of doing was applying for a gig as a singing lecturer down south. But as time has rolled by, I had to explain to my DH just today that, actually, I don’t WANT to be a lecturer of singing, especially not down south, where I’d be away from him and our house and our life together. He has been super supportive about this job application – urging me to apply – but I just don’t want to go for it. I don’t really want to be teaching at all, if I can avoid it. It’s not that I can’t teach, I can, really very well. But I’m burnt out from it. And as much as I enjoy Musical Theatre, and as much as I love singing, I’m finding a new energy for writing.

I’ve been writing in this blog for several years, mostly agonizingly self-indulgent little pieces about my research and the sheer craziness of doing a PhD. Now I think I’d like to make forays into fiction again. I was always quite a good fiction writer although I’m not sure I like my narrative voice very much. I tend to write best when I create a narrative voice and prose style that is sparser than the one I use for my stream-of-consciousness one you see here. Actually, I’m a bit of a bower bird: I can mimic quite passably the narrative voice of any number of good writers. But as with academic writing, my best work comes from finding my authorial voice and creative muse.

So, as the weeks go by since I got the PhD email, I’m turning once more to reading and writing. Lots of it. I’m thinking short stories and small scenes first. To rebuild my creative writing chops. And, no, I don’t think I’ll go do yet another course on how to write – I’m done studying for now!

I’m not out of the woods yet – I am clearly in some sort of mid-life crisis, one that thankfully does not involve buying a sports car or dallying with a younger version of my DH – but the panic is over.

I’m taking time to think.

Also, I have a house and body to renovate.

Misery guts

I’ve been a bit of a misery guts lately. Something to do with not having anything to do bar go to work teaching singing 4 days a week, and feeling too shitful to clean the house or make nice crafty things. 

Because now that I’ve finished my PhD and am legally entitled to be called Dr, I’ve realised I’ve been studying for about 10 years. I started my Masters in 2005, finished it mid-2007, then began my doctoral studies in 2009.

While I’ve had time off during this time, it’s never been a study-free event. I’ve always had something to THINK about. Now, with an uncertain future yawning ahead of me, I ask myself, what the hell do I do now? What do I think about? 

So because I need to have a goal and currently I’m just doing what I’ve done for 8 years anyway, I’m thinking why did I bother doing this degree? What earthly use was it to me when I’m still doing the selfsame shite I was doing before?

On the up side, DH bought me a gift from Tiffany’s. As a congratulations. Not a cheap gift, but lovely. Bracelets and earrings. May never take them off.  

The Christmas special

This might be the last blog I write in 2014, as my time gets taken up with a ROAD TRIP south and Christmas celebrations with the family. I take a moment now to reflect on all the stuff that I have been through this year, and my plans for 2015. Take heed: it’s a long post. Grab a cup of tea and a biscuit.

Firstly, my beautiful daughter M. After coming out as transgender in September 2013, she moved unwillingly up north to Brisvegas in January of this year, to be cared for and supported by me and her step-father. This was a traumatic move for her, given her dislike of the hot humid state generally. She has been through a lot. So have we all as a family, now. M’s experiences as a transgender mtf woman have been typical of this marginalised group. She has been misgendered, she has suffered discrimination and abuse from trolls in Logan (a bogan suburb now proven beyond doubt), and despite help from health care professionals and a truck load of pills, she has suffered mightily from her own demons. These demons were the hardest to manage.

Before she found peace in her appearance with a stonking great new haircut and gorgeous red dye job, she was seriously depressed about it. Her male-pattern hair growth and male looks cause her great heartache, and she often thinks about suicide. My daughter is tall, model slender, and, to my mind, absolutely beautiful as a trans woman. As the female hormones kick in and the testosterone blockers do their work, she is becoming more feminine-looking, softer, and smoother, with clear, fine white skin and beautiful grey-green eyes. But she doesn’t yet see herself that way. She started hurting herself. It was a low point for me as a mother to see my beautiful girl cut into herself and hate herself so much.

It has taken quite a bit of encouragement to get her to see her health-care providers and manage her condition. She is not out of the woods yet. But already her increased medication is improving her well-being, and she is in contact with her health-care providers who have been very supportive. And of course, she talks to me, and I to her. Talking helps, and we are starting to see the triggers for her unhealthy behaviours. One of them is mis-gendering by strangers. She needs to call them out for it. Another trigger is her appearance and hair style. She needs to feel in control of that, and have enough funds to cover her look. I’m sure there are other triggers, and I’m sure one of them is me, when out of fear and concern I say things that might inadvertently hurt her.

But my daughter, despite living in the margins and interstices of life, can be incredibly black and white, and tends to stubbornness. Actually, she has always been as stubborn as a mule. Nothing there has changed since she was 2. And, bless her, she sometimes fails to give a little. We parents have to do all the compromising, and most of the time it’s fine. But there are some minor moments when we also need that compromise from her, and this is when the problems arise. Mostly it’s about the condition of her room, or her sporadic contribution to the housework, or the people she invites to stay over without asking us, or her clothing when she is going out with us. Stupid things. Adolescent things. Things that mean nothing in the grand scheme of life, but that mean a lot in the day-to-day living.

I finally snapped a few weeks ago and realised I needed support from others in a similar situation. I’ve contacted PFLAG in Brisvegas and already have had the most wonderful outpouring of support from parents with transgender adult children, who, like me, need someone to talk with and to share stories with.

But, more importantly, I’ve received the most wonderful support from my friends and family and work colleagues. They have been understanding, quiet, and caring. After all, there’s very little they can say or advise me on – they do not have the experience of this. Instead, they have listened, silently offered their friendship and love, and for that I am truly grateful. One great woman is Deb. Deb is M’s employer. M, with help from me, my boss and Deb, was given work near my work’s local coffee shop. M is fast becoming a great employee, given up to 25 hours work a week at the moment while another employee is on maternity leave. Deb has been a marvel of patience and love and I don’t know how to thank her enough.

Second on my list of 2014 happenings, I finally submitted my PhD. Today is the day when the reports are due back. As if. (Actually, I just checked online – one is already back. And now my stomach is churning.) But who knows? I certainly know I will be a Dr by this time next year, and with any luck I can call myself Dr by March next year, when it actually counts. In the end, the last gasp to the finish line wasn’t nearly so horrible as others make out. I took small vacation breaks to write in: 3 days here, a week there. And at the end, it was 2 hours here, a day there. After shrinking from my Lit review for most of the 5 years, I finally sat down to do it in July and found a way through. It was a rewarding, engrossing time of discovery and, once again, epiphany. The last 3 months of my PhD weren’t hard, as I have previously reported. On the advice of a friend, I compiled my entire thesis into one working document, formatted it early, got most of the frontispieces done (although obviously missed something as I had to keep going back and revising it for stupid bureaucratic reasons), and organised the appendices early too. That way, I was just adding to the lit review and the reference list as I went. My final weeks were about me reading the whole document through, finding tiny edits and enormous sentences and fixing both. In the end, I was writing as if I was dancing. It felt joyful.

But I didn’t really count on the grief I felt at finishing this big thing, and not having something else to work towards in the future. My job is peripatetic, without security, and I have no way of knowing what income I will receive next year. As someone who has struggled to get by for so long, I am rather sick of it. I have teaching at university since 2008, I’ve published and will continue to do so, I’m researching, I’m doing everything a good girl entering academia should do, but am struggling to convert all this work into a full-time gig. And I’m angry at the people who take the system for a ride and refuse to contribute while people like me are on the sidelines waving their arms about saying “pick me, pick me!” Anyway, grief and anger have been my friends the last month or two. Not helped by M’s emotional turmoil, of course.

Thirdly, work. Work has been engrossing, rewarding, at times frustrating and also heartbreaking, when the people you teach, care about and care for, sometimes reward you with insensitivity and thoughtlessness. But at the same time my expertise is getting ever better, my approach more thorough, my interactions with work colleagues more relaxed. It has been a good year. I teach too much and it is exhausting work, and it is certainly not something I would have wanted for myself when I began my performing career, but I’m pretty good at it. But there’s no denying I would like to balance my teaching work with research and more performance. All to come, I guess.

Fourth, travel. This year has mostly been about me escaping home for anywhere else. Noosa in QLD, Aireys Inlet in Victoria, Montville; all these places I have stayed at to finish my PhD. And of course, there’s NYC. A big trip but not a perfect one. Note to self – leave DH to his own devices so I can shop without him being all grumpy guts in the corner.

Fifth, house and home. We’ve been planning our renovations and we have money actually sitting in the bank gathering dust (certainly not gathering interest, FFS). But it’s not quite enough to do all we want to do, and the plans have stalled and my designer, who has great ideas, is very bad at staying in touch. DH and I are both annoyed, but I am particularly annoyed because I cannot keep teaching in my studio space – it’s just not good enough or quiet enough for the money my students are spending on me to educate them. The waiting around has become a pain in the butt.

Sixth, Poppy love. I love her, she loves me, nuff said. Oh! And I’ve finally worked out how to artfully clip her poodle fur using the right equipment, so it should be easier and cheaper now on to clip her ourselves. Huzzah.

Seventh, shows. Lots and lots of shows. So many shows. Many, many shows. Am I showed out? Nah. Love it. Bring it. My experiences make me more critical, but this is a good thing. Always aim for perfection, even if it’s impossible to reach. Highlights? Desh at the Brisbane Festival, Honeymoon in Vegas on Broadway, and It’s Only a Play, also on Broadway. I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change and Into the Woods at our place. Rigoletto at Opera Queensland and Frizstch’s last conducting gig with QLD Symphony Orchestra performing Mahler’s 3rd. Lowlights? Old, outdated and overblown: Aida at the Met, The New York Theatre Ballet with a turkey of a Swan Lake.

Eighth, DH and me. It has been a huge year. He has taken on the top job at our workplace, and I have been finishing my PhD, and my trans daughter has been living with us. It has been a bit of a rocky time, and at times we have struggled to maintain our connection to each other. It’s there, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes other commitments get in the way of a strong, loving connection with one’s life partner. But he is coming on a road trip with me, and we have to spend 3 days in a car together. That’s a good thing! And when we head to the beach house (my folk’s place at Aireys Inlet) I think he really will relax. Even his work colleagues are beginning to complain that there’s no evidence of tapering off at his work! In other words, he came dashing into the top job and everyone has been frantically dashing about ever since, trying to keep up. I think they want him to go away on holiday. For a long time. Me? Well, I long since stopped trying to keep up with my workaholic hubby. We pull together pretty well, and I bully him into stopping work every now and then.

I’m sure there’s more. But now I have to go shower, get ready and lunch with a fabulous friend. Happy Christmas, everyone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I AM SO TIRED…and what is a Pomodoro?

I’ve nearly finished the dissertation. Half a discussion chapter to complete (20 pomodoros) and fix up the abstract (4 pomodoros). Rewrite the conclusion so it doesn’t suck (10 pomodoros). Add the figures and adjust the TOC (8 pomodoros). And I’m done. But do you think I want to even look at the thing? Nope. I can’t even bring myself to open the bloody document and do a couple of pomodoros to get me started. I just don’t want to do it. And I knew this would happen as soon as I started teaching again. Teaching just wipes me out, emotionally, intellectually, physically. I care about my kids and I want the best for them, so I spend a lot of time and energy on them. And I just can’t bring myself to work on the thesis. If I look at the amount of pomodoros I need to finish, it’s 21 hours. Half a week of full time work. Maybe the discussion chapter will take a tad longer than 20 pomodoros, but if I stick to the script…

Pomodoro, by the way, is a special term intended for developing better time management to improve work efficiency. 1 pomodoro can last as little as 15 minutes or as long as you like, but the trick is to take an actual stand-up break for 5 minutes in between work activities. So below is an approach quite useful for me during morning sessions:

1 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

2 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

3 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: 5 minutes

4 pomodoro: 25 minutes

break: long break.

Pomodoros are useful blocks of time for those who work at computers and have ready access to internet and email. You don’t look at email or do anything other than the work you have set yourself for that 25 minutes, and then, during the 5 minute break, you get up off your chair and grab a cup of tea or do something physical. It’s a great way to achieve focus in an accessible and reasonably short block of time, therefore tricking your brain into thinking it’s super-easy to do just 25 minutes. But I can’t even bring myself to do 1 pomodoro on my thesis this week. Blah.

I am so tired. But the end is so close. SO close.

I looked over the literature review the other day and it holds up ok. Just need to finish that blasted discussion chapter. But that means deep thought. I’m incapable this week of deep thought. This month, this semester. Gah.

I keep looking for spare weeks in my diary where I’m not teaching 10 hours a day. I found two in late September. I’m only teaching or auditioning in the mornings. Good. This will get me through the rest of the thesis, provided I can just finish the discussion chapter.

And let me not start on the blessed administrivia and bureaucratic nightmare that is my place of study or coping with the continual roadblocks barring my way at the last minute.

Care factor? Nearly zero. Desperation to finish? Out of 100: ninety-nine. Deadline? November. Totally possible, except I have no time to work right now. It shows me how deep I go when I am in the throes of writing, and how much time and space I truly need in order to write. Charles Bukowski was a alcoholic bullshit artist with his poem that you don’t need time and space and light and air to write – if you really want to, you just write. Well, sure. If you like writing bullshit. And if your paid work consists of brainless stuff like cleaning where there’s lots of time for thinking.

Every few days I read a fabulous blog by Pat Thomson, called Patter. Her last blogpost could have been written just for me. I’m sure she’s looking over my shoulder cheering me on. Even if she’s not, her blogs eerily mirror my current trajectory. Thanks, Pat, for providing such great information to those desperate PhD students who are just a little sick of Jorge Cham’s PhD comics. Great for when you’re a full time science student, annoying when you’ve been writing your dissertation for too many years to count and the characters in the comics never age. Plus the comic is overwhelmingly US-centric and young grad-student. Therefore limited and not really relevant to an old chook like me.

One thing’s for certain: I’m desperate to write a bit of fiction in the next few years. Desperate. And also to get out in the sun. And do something other than this.

What if they hate me? An exercise in vulnerability

Got my SET scores today. In academic land, SETs are Student Evaluations of Teaching. They are there ostensibly to inform the lecturer or teacher about their teaching approach and what is good and what can be improved. It’s a bit like a performance review except that students are in charge. And it’s official.

The butterflies I get before I read the scores reminds me of the horror I have of being evaluated. I hate it. I want to be loved. I just want people to love me. And I know that a proportion of people just won’t love me because we’re not on the same page or because we disagree on fundamental aspects of life. Like politics and religion and being nice to people and living lightly on the planet. That sort of thing. But as I sat in front of my computer, shaking a bit while the scores downloaded I thought “why should I care what people (spotty undergraduate students) think of me?” and I realised I obviously have a need to be accepted and liked. As do all human persons, but it tugs at me that I care so much about what my students think. Bless them, they’re young and at times pretty stupid, but what made me latch onto the nastiest thing said in my SET comment sheet? Why did I go to the worst comment and let it affect me so much when there was so much good commentary that far outweighed the bad?

Well, a bit later (immediately) I looked up Brene Brown’s TED talk on the Power of Vulnerability, in which she talks about her longitudinal research study on vulnerability. She said exactly what I was feeling. It’s the shame of not being liked or accepted. Her research found that it was those who learned to be vulnerable and to have courage (heart) who lived most fully in the world, with joy, presence and purpose. And she talked about learning to be vulnerable and how it was vital for us to live well.

And as I took my beloved Poppy-groodle for a walk I wondered what had made me NOT be vulnerable? What had frozen me out of vulnerability and made me hard? DH occasionally remembers me as being hard when we were first dating, even some time after we married. We’ve talked about it a bit. He’s super patient.

And I can think back to – not events – but long term circumstances in my life, that perhaps broke me a little bit. First was being the first born of 5 girls with loving but busy parents, who did not or could not communicate with me very well and who at times made me feel worthless. Not because they felt that way at all – both my wonderful folks openly love and value me, particularly the older I get. But I think I felt very vulnerable as a child, and when I was naughty, which was often, my family’s method for dealing with this was to FREEZE me out. The silent treatment. Ostracism and coldness. And so I put up a shield to deal with that stuff. I think I was probably a difficult child and the ostracism was a result of me being hard to handle. I was a truly horrible teenager. I was bold and angry and proud and defiant and obnoxious. I’m secretly a bit proud of parts of that teenager. I was bolshie, man! I would lift up my chin and be defiant. So, that’s circumstance #1. I think.

Circumstance #2 was my relationships with men pre-DH. That would be boyfriends, partners and husbands. Got together at 18 with a guy (I was way too young but see above for why I might have gone to the dark side – at least SOMEBODY noticed and cared – even though I’m at pains to point out my folks really do love me and they’re wonderful and we have a GREAT relationship now) who was not good for me in EVERY way. I was an abused wife. Not physically (well, mostly not), but I was mentally held hostage for a very long time. I was very afraid of that man. Getting away from the daily reminders of how worthless I was took some doing, I can tell you! So, at 25 with 2 children under 5, I’m a single parent just coming out of an abusive marriage. Oh! And I’m also a musician and I don’t have my BMus yet and I live on the single parent pension. Way to have value in the community, Jess.

So I really had my 20s together. NOT! I continued my tendency to date men far less together than me because at least then I was in control. But it did not help my home situation and certainly did not make me feel any better about myself. And I was NOT vulnerable. I was invincible and hard. I think “being strong” was the only way I could cope at all. It was so difficult being a single parent with no money and few close friends. And my singing voice went to pot and I had nothing to hold onto except my pride and my stubbornness and my anger. So I held onto those things and stayed invulnerable. Closed. Frozen. Impatient of vulnerability and weakness in others, I could not see I was a raging mass of contradictions and that I was in danger of breaking apart like cracking ice (sorry, just had to have the Frozen metaphors in there).

I think I lived frozen and invulnerable for a long time because I was all I had. My kids needed me. No one could be allowed to get to me the way my ex-husband had gotten to me. No-one could ever get too close. I was determined not to be a victim, but in truth, I think I was. Of me. Of the grief that comes with not being loved and being ignored and the fear that you will never be loved again. And the shame of that.

But over time something shifted, and when I met my DH, I was learning to live with vulnerability again. And that made me open to being loved, and to loving, and to having hope, and to feeling joy.

I felt like Brene Brown was talking about me when she talked about herself. She went to a therapist – one of the ones who treat other therapists because they have a good bullshit-o-meter – and told the therapist to forget about all the childhood shit and mother problems and just give her strategies to her problems of vulnerability. And I laughed and laughed because that’s exactly what I would say to my therapist if I had one.

So this brings me back to those darned SET scores. Was I good enough? What if they hated me? What if I was NOT GOOD ENOUGH? And I realised then and there as I picked up Poppy’s poop that these were not my words. This was not me. Why should I be concerned with what these students thought? I’m not perfect. Never will be. Who said I had to be perfect? Phew, luckily mine were pretty good. On a rating of 1-5 with 1 being “kill yourself buddy because you’re a worthless hunk of shit” and 5 being “I want to deify you”, I’ve come out at about 4.4 across all my teaching loads. That makes me pretty happy because it means the students are evaluating my teaching as being very good but they’re not blanket licking my a**e. There’s always room for improvement.

But I’m reminded of how I used to be pre-DH and how hard I have had to work to feel ongoing joy, love and contentment in my life, and how being vulnerable is an exercise in letting go of the shield. And I’m not sure I’m quite there yet.

Using reference system APA 6 is a B***H !!!!

OMG APA 6 is horrible. I thought I knew APA pretty well, but APA 6 just blows it all out of the water. For goodness’ sake, how many different referencing approaches can we fling together in this ghastly system?

*If you didn’t already know, I am a tutor for a few Uni courses at my workplace and I get to mark them as well, oh joy, oh rapture.

So, here I am marking 60-odd annotated bibliographies (marking is not an issue for me unless it exceeds 100 papers), and every new paper I open I have to go and research whether they have followed APA 6 protocols and formatting. EVERY SINGLE PAPER. Because if it’s not a book it’s a journal, and if it’s a video it’s something else, and if it’s online with an ISSN or DOI or URL it’s different AGAIN. And don’t get me started on newspaper articles and online encyclopaedias and MUSIC SCORES. Because music scores aren’t represented in APA 6. At all. WHO THE and WHAT THE?????

I OWN the APA 6 publication manual. Since APA 4 (forget about 5, we all have) protocols have changed for some pp. and not others. For example, you use pp. in an edited volume, but not in a journal. You use pp. in the in text citation but not in a magazine reference. Gah.

And then I need to go check the referencing tools at about 6 universities as one tool is simply not enough. Gah.

Oh, BTW, American Psychological Association, consider yourselves lucky that we in music research use your referencing system and for Pete’s sake give us some musical scores and manuscript options!!!!!!

Rant over. Back to marking.

(ps I’m a little bit ill today – took the day off yesterday and stayed at home, sitting down studying, thought I would be fine today and all was going quite well but got to work and worked with one student for 30 minutes and gave up. Felt all weird and dizzy and faint. So I’m home again, marking and doing PhD work. Because I don’t feel so bad when I’m sitting down.)