When we consider the multiple life challenges and wellness issues faced by college students, it is safe to assume that the impact of trauma is manifest in every classroom. Trauma, whether experienced as a singular event or as a chronically unsafe environment, shapes how survivors perceive their vulnerability in the world and challenges their ability to cope. When we pursue greater understanding of the effects of trauma on individuals and the systems in which they operate, there is also a growing awareness that trauma is far more prevalent than we might have imagined. In fact, recent studies indicate that exposure to trauma is a widespread experience.
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Effective Classroom Management
It is no longer news that the 2016 U.S. Presidential election revealed and exacerbated a political polarization that has been growing in and beyond the United States. The heated nature of modern news reporting and political discourse both reflects and feeds such polarization. It also presents significant challenges to teachers who hope to foster critical and reflective thinking.
In August, Ashton Black and I began a new school year at Piedmont College, he for the first time, and I for the Nth time. I have been teaching since I was 21, and now, as the French say, I am a woman of a certain age. This is only important because there’s no male equivalent in discussions of being middle aged. Identity is so firmly rooted in gender stereotypes that we can hardly free ourselves from invisible habits. That was until Generation Z made those of us simply going through the motions look up from our college-ruled notebooks and take note.
There’s a mental health crisis on today’s college campuses. According to research conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness: one in four college students have a diagnosable illness, 40 percent do not seek help, 80 percent feel overwhelmed by their responsibilities, and 50 percent have become so anxious that they struggle in school.
There are three basic ways that I hear faculty talk about difficult dialogues—in-class dialogues that were planned but did not go particularly well; in-class hot moments that were not anticipated and that the faculty member did not feel equipped to handle; and difficult dialogues that happen during office hours or outside of class.
It’s the first day of class. They shuffle in, spot similar life-forms, and slip in with that group. Hipsters sporting wild hair and tats, buttoned-up and serious young scholars, middle-aged moms and dads, maybe a couple of aging hippies. One or two sad souls choose spots isolated from the others; they don’t want to identify with them for reasons of insecurity, arrogance, or something else.
It had happened before, sitting at the computer, working on a syllabus, again, fluctuating between excitement about a new course and a vague sense that life itself was being sucked out of me one sterile byte at a time. I was fighting boredom. And this was supposed to interest students? I tried to imagine it igniting their curiosity, but instead I saw them staring at it with the enthusiasm saved for the fine print on a life insurance policy. But they must read it. It is their life insurance policy for a future full of knowledge and wisdom! It defines how we’re going to relate! As I sat there writing my syllabus I had a vision of the Ferris Bueller video of the professor droning on and on while asking for input: “Anyone? Anyone?” That was not where I wanted to go. I had to stop and rethink what I was doing.
In “Good Teaching as Vulnerable Teaching” (The Teaching Professor, December 2012), Rob Dornsife of Creighton University invites us to embrace the uncertainties teachers encounter. The article prompted me to invite colleagues also to embrace being strict when the conditions warrant it.
The first day of class is critical. What happens on the first day, even in the first moments, sets the tone for the entire course. The impression you make will last the entire semester, and today’s students are not shy about sharing their opinions. Most students will make up their minds about the course and the instructor during that first class period.