Friday, October 17, 2014

I'm too busy to be a better teacher: What I learned about college teaching from the Iyengar yoga teacher assessment

"Teaching is a difficult art, but is the best service you can do to humanity."
— B.K.S. Iyengar

In the last 3 weeks I defended my dissertation, taught my 4 courses and took the first level Iyengar certification exam.  Although, I would not recommend this combination to anyone I am writing today to reflect on my experience.  

Throughout the grueling process of preparing for the certified teacher exam I met so many amazing people.  I experienced wonderful hospitality from host studio Yoga Tree in the Seattle area.  But this blog is not a play by play of my trip and test.  Instead, I would like to share how my preparation affected my day job as an adjunct Communications professor. 


Unlike K-12 teachers, professors often have no formal teacher training.  The first time I taught as an adjunct I was given a book and a roster and sent on my merry way.  Similarly, the nearest teacher training for Iyengar yoga is more than 100 miles away in Los Angeles or Ventura which seems like a million miles for a mother with a full-time job and 2 kids.

I am so lucky that a locally certified teacher agreed to take me on as an apprentice.  This means that before I started teaching I attended and assisted all the classes she taught before I was permitted to teach.  I first shadowed my mentor more than 4 years ago.  Though continued practice is mandatory and a major part of my life, I have to be honest and admit that at first it seemed the more I taught the less I studied.  

Preparing for certification helped me refine every part of my yoga instruction.  Svādhyāya is the practice of self-study.  It is and one of the Niyamas or self-disciplines we study and apply in the Iyengar tradition.  I didn't change everything about the way I teach but instead I studied other teachers and guidelines to learn how to be better.

My two take away lessons from this process can be summarized in 5 words: 

talk less and keep training.

The hardest part of these words is that my best approach to teaching is to talk less.  For those of you who know me IRL you know that brevity is not my strong suit.  As I grow in my teaching I am learning to be clear by giving concise and simple instruction and to look for the effect in my students.

I have been told a lot lately that "research, professional development, and service" are not part of my "job" as an adjunct professor.  When I think of the 100 outlines waiting to be graded I am almost ready to accept that.  But my Iyengar training reminds me that preparation and self-study are a never ending process of discovery.  My students will fail to learn when I halt my process of discovery or Svādhyāya and become a grading drone.

As a college professor I have the freedom to apply any strategies in my classes that I think will fulfill student-learning outcomes.  What I learned from my study of Iyengar yoga is that I need to humble myself to learn from others instead of always thinking I can figure it out.  Also studying helped empathize with students because taking tests and getting feedback is hard.  But I am happy to report that I passed the first step to certification via the intro 1 Iyengar assessment and have already started studying for my second exam scheduled for next year.

Hope you will come join me for a class in Bakersfield at our local Iyengar studio Yoga Space

A few more photos from my trip.  On the top left is the hallways of the Yoga Tree with healthy snacks and a fellow yogi warming up.  In the middle is my study prep on the way home.  The last photo was my view of Seattle from Pike place.  

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why you should not miss that expensive conference: One Adjunct’s Reflection on the 11th International Conference of the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL)

In a candid moment at the COCAL XI debriefing, organizers admitted that the high cost of travel to the New York City location limited conference access for many adjuncts living on fixed incomes.  I was fortunate enough to hobble together enough support from my union local and inlaws to subsidize my attendance at a conference.  It took 10 emails requests before I identified funding sources but I am reminded that as adjuncts we miss opportunities when we don’t ask or get discouraged from the first 9 “no’s.” 

In exchange for a one thousand dollar sponsorship my union chapter requested a written summary of the event.  To streamline my synopsis I tweeted throughout the event and my interactions with fellow adjunct activists are ongoing.  Some contingent faculty that could not get to COCAL XI joined through social media and that was great.  Physically being in New York facilitated meaningful face-to-face conversations with international colleagues that were not limited by character entries. 

I am an adjunct professor in Communication Studies in California State University, Bakersfield and I am also a Doctoral candidate in the Educational Leadership program.  At COCAL XI, I met a fellow adjunct from Mexico who is also in the process of completing her dissertation to earn her Doctorate in Education. I should make the distinction that we are not graduate assistants but, instead, adjuncts who are also completing our terminal degrees.  Together we, two adjuncts/doctoral students, made plans to collaborate in collecting future data.  This one interaction is representative of the kind of exchanges that occurred throughout the 3-day COCAL XI conference held at CUNY’s John Jay College on August 4-6th, 2014. 

An academic labor journal will soon chronicle the topics discussed at COCAL XI, but this blog is meant as a humble prelude.  It is hard to fit three days of articulate discussion into one short write-up, but here are a few ideas that made COCAL XI an event not to be missed.

The Democracy Index

What matters in learning conditions varies between university management and university faculty. A recent CHE survey ranked Cal State University San Marcos as one of 2014’s “great colleges to work for.” However, if you look closer at the survey results you realize that the ranking was based on just one of 12 criteria: Facilities, Workspace, and Security.

At COCAL XI the faculty interest group “Building National Agendas” came up with the idea to create what they called the Democracy Index. The Democracy Index would be a faculty generated rating system that like US and News World Report would rank colleges and universities as learning institutions. However, instead of graduation rates and alumni success, it would focus on other factors such as shared governance, teacher to student ratio, and tuition. A new rating system could shift the conversation away from what the public is told makes a good higher education institution to revealing democratic colleges and universities.

The Wall Street Skim

I have spent eight of my nine years as an educator in higher education fighting to remain in the classroom. Since the economic crisis of 2008, funding for higher education has been under constant attack. As the economy has improved the plight of adjuncts has not. 

The national campaign for “Adjunct Action” has been working to expose the role of big business in exploiting higher education. Adjunct news is not all bleak in America where Senator Durbin has recently introduced a bill that would make adjuncts eligible for a federal loan forgiveness program. 

However, disparity in pay still exists with adjuncts internationally. Some speakers at  COCAL XI shared that they have terminal degrees and experience in the classroom but are not paid the living wages given to their tenured peers. In Mexico an adjunct professor can make as little as $200 a month, whereas some adjuncts in Quebec are making more than 7,000 per class. As Rosa Manoatl, a UNAM PhD student in pedagogy who has taught in higher education in Mexico for more than 30 years, stated, “We need to dignify the job of the professor in my country.”

Adjuncts are the Pillars of the University

The heading of this section is not meant to indicate that without a cheap labor force the university would collapse. Colleges can afford to pay their teachers a living wage. Instead, it is important to recognize that adjuncts make up the NewFaculty Majority. Contingent faculty outnumber tenured faculty and teach the majority of higher education courses. The adjunct ranks are growing not only because they are generally cheap labor, but also because they are doing a good job. Though most off the tenure-line are hired to teach and focus on pedagogy, many voluntarily participate in research, publication, creative works, and service, without financial or employer validation.    

Discussions about theory and activism were alive in every lecture hall at COCAL XI. One common conversation in sessions was the theoretical implications of corporatizing higher education. Similarly, there were stories of adjuncts empowered to unionize, bargain for equity, and mobilize on adjunct issues. During one lunch conversation a fellow adjunct memorably commented that, “I used to feel secure in my job and work closely with management.  When they got rid of my appointment I became more involved with the union and was able to weaponize my institutional knowledge.”  The implication that adjuncts who are reduced are no longer running scared but using what they know to strategically demand our rightful place of permanence in higher education. 

I could not afford to miss this conference.  It gave me the opportunity to tweet with other social media junkies, collaborate with educators from thousands of miles away, and be inspired by the trailblazers that founded the conference.  Though attending conferences stretches contingent faculty financially, it is important to find a way to get there. Meeting with fellow adjuncts is an investment in the future of the profession and of higher education.  

*This post was published on the Academe blog but was re-posted today on my personal blog to be included in storify of COCALXI


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Legend of the Yellow Rotary Phone

Movies, video games, and television transport us back to era’s past.  Like most 80’s kids watching Guardians of the Galaxy made me yearn for a Walkman and briefly regret throwing out my awesome cassette collection.  

Likewise, Antiques Road Show and American Pickers reminds us that sometimes-retaining objects can result in them increasing in value.  Collectables are not always predictable or many of my loved ones beanie baby collections would have replaced their pensions. 

Instead, the monetary value of collectables is measured only in their ability to evoke meaning from a specific culture or era, a feeling people are willing to pay to recapture.  Sometimes people see a be-be-gun or comic book and return to a time when they felt safe, loved, or innocent.

When I helped my grandmother plan her 50th wedding anniversary celebration we sorted and scanned hundreds of family photos.  In these photos my own likeness peered back through decades of my aunties, grandmothers, and cousins sitting together in my great-great-great-aunt’s Formica kitchen table.  In that kitchen, that forgot it was once a porch, existed an object that exuded for me a feeling of safety and love: my aunts yellow rotary phone.

Even in black and white photos it is easy to spot my treasured yellow phone as a permanent fixture in the periphery.  The kitchen where that phone hung no longer exists.  As I wrote in a recent blog Honey’s house on East California was bulldozed for commercial zoning.

The empty dirt lot that is left where the modest house once stood still makes me sad.  But I remind myself that bulldozers cannot take away traditions that remind us who we are.  A few days ago I turned 33 and enjoyed a quiet celebration with my twin and our husbands at the same ice cream parlor we have frequented since our youth.  My aunt Honey, the owner of the legendary phone, left to be with Jesus almost ten years ago we still feel her presence when we celebrate our birthday the way we use to with her.

The day following our dinner my mother came for an impromptu visit from out of town.  I am not embarrassed to write that I ugly snot cried when I opened my gift and found my aunt’s yellow phone inside.  Before the construction crews started work on the house my mother drove down to Bakersfield and harvested windows, doorknobs, and one magical banana yellow rotary phone. 

I do not have a landline to connect my new vintage phone because as I described above it is not about being practical.  To me this phone is a mystical object that has been cradled by generations of Cruz women.  The same women who held babies, constructed tamales, and shared their lives through its receiver.  I know it is only an old rotary phone but for me it represents joy. 

I will keep you all posted as I attempt mounting locations for my yellow phone at its new home.    
Me with Legendary Yellow Phone post Ugly Snot Cry 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why we need to retire the Old Adjunct: What I Learned at an International Conference about Organizing Contingent Labor

The simple classroom could have been located in any of the four countries represented in the room, if not for the New York skyline in the backdrop.  The dry erase board in the front of the room was cluttered with social justice terminology.  Half of the 25 people in the room had their arm extended indicating their desire to speak.  This was not a room of eager students but contingent educators brainstorming about the media.

The conversation started with input from an editor of an education news agency.  The presenter proclaimed that daily newspapers do not care about social justice and doing education right.  Instead, the media wants to discuss higher education as a “consumer issue.”  Simply stated, the guest journalist communicated that most media is not interested in the plight of college teachers.

It is difficult to explain labor issues to a public that largely is unaware of the existence of part-time professors.  The claim from our expert was clear: when talking to the media teacher victimization is not a popular pitch.  After decades of fighting for job security it is time to retire the adage of the “poor adjunct.”

As the conversation shifted the audience came alive.  The room was a flutter with ideas of how to illuminate the research, artwork, and teaching accolades of adjuncts. 

Then, a millennial peered her head from behind her MacBook and asked the audience to consider her generation.  She shared that she was “not interested in her teachers’ scholarly research” but instead just wanted a “good teacher.”  A room filled with brilliant educators now had to shift gears to not only change the way they tell their stories to media and also, consider a younger audience.

In a few days I will turn 33 and I have spent the last nine years as an adjunct lecturer.  One of the best parts of being at an international labor conference was gaining insight and context from other adjuncts, some which have been teaching longer than I have been alive.  The title of this blog post was not intended to be ageist towards these trailblazing leaders but hopefully get you to read its content on this important issue.  We need to keep our history alive and retire the old messages that work against us.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Survival Mentality of an Adjunct Professor:
The Dream of a House with 2 Bathrooms

The daughter of a single teenage mother my early years were transient.  There were always at least three people in our apartment and only one bathroom.  One thing I have known since I was small child is that when I grew up I would live somewhere with more than one bathroom.  Another passion that emerged early was my desire to be an educator.

In 2006 I was hired as a full-time adjunct professor at a state college in central California.  As the sole breadwinner for my family I was lucky to be teaching in my hometown that has one of the lowest costs of living in the state.  After two years of teaching I was able to buy my first home and was living my two lifelong dreams—a house with 2 full baths and a teaching job in higher education. 

Everyone knows what happens next in this story: the market crashed in 2008.

The moving vans descended and within months our street filled with loud children and barking dogs went quiet.  When the smoke cleared there were only two of the original families left on a street once filled with young working families.

At the University where I work the faculty offices emptied as quickly as the houses on my street.  I remember my University President boasted to local media that our campus had not had any lay-offs.  This is technically true because adjunct faculty are not considered permanent employees. This means, if we never get asked to teach again they do not have to call it “firing.”  Like the empty yards, empty offices created a sense of loss and fear especially for the junior or temporary faculty like myself: to keep my dream career and home I worked harder than ever.  

I did not get to keep my job just because I worked hard.  There are plenty of hard working educators in higher education that were not so lucky.  I was able to keep my job because to protect junior faculty other professors: retired early, increased class sizes, agreed to voluntary furloughs, increased service work, and fought harder as faculty activists.  

*Photo of from 2011 of myself and daughter creating poster at a protest to protect CSU faculty.  

As an adjunct faculty member the majority of my academic career has been spent fighting to remain in my classroom.  This week I am attending the Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL XI) in New York to regroup with international contingent faculty to discuss now that I am still where I belong, what comes next. 

My mental model has been about quality education and survival.  This week I hope the conversation with fellow activists will be about both overcoming my fears and developing a plan for a future.  A plan where my expertise are valued and I am no longer treated as though I am expendable.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Collecting Qualitative Interviews

I recently made it through the first hurdle of the dissertation process and finished my preliminary defense.  For those of you who are completely flummoxed by this statement: I did my homework and made it through the first round of interviews I but I have not gotten the job yet.  After the passing my prelim and getting IRB approval I get to start collecting data and this is where the real research starts.

*photo of me right as I publicly discussed my preliminary research courtesy of Dirk Baron.

Next week I start interviews with geoscience students about their experiences in producing research.  This week I am going to share advice others have given to me about how to get good results during the interview process.

Tips for Interviews

Remind Respondents- My first flight of interviews is with university students starting next week.  Each respondent received an email reminder with their meeting time and location.  In additional I will text each study to remind them the previous day so they don't forget.

Remove Barriers- Non-verbal communication is about sending cues through body language.  The investigator should not sit behind a desk or have any other physical barriers between them and the respondent.  This also includes crossing your arms or having a computer in front of your face while you speak.  This communicates to the respondent that you are un-receptive or defensive about their responses. 

Water-have bottled water available for both the interviewer and respondent.  Do not want anyone to be parched while speaking. 

Notes- even though each interview will be recorded it is important to take notes.  As previously discussed you do not want a computer screen in front of your body while you ask questions.  Instead have a place to take written notes. 

Journal- instead of taking notes on a pad of paper or loose papers it is better to have a journal dedicated to observation notes together.  I already have several journal dedicated to writing both my yoga sequences and reflections.  To keep my notes straight I chose a brightly colored journal that is easy to find to help with early coding.  My favorite color is black so its is a little fun having my dissertation journal titled my "little pink book.”

Interview Transcription- while working in a previous class I had to turn over several interviews in a short span of time.  I discovered “” an Iphone/ Ipad application where you load audio recordings and the transcriptions are emailed back within three days. 

*This project will still review every interview, review with rev transcript and notes to verify content.

Back Up Interviews- iPhones or iPads are good devices for recording interviews but they do not have an unlimited supply of space.  Dropbox, the Cloud and Google Drive are examples of applications for secure back-up copies of you interviews when your phone fills up. 

Getting the Dissertation Done

I have two more semesters before my doctoral program comes to an end.  The completion of my doctorate is dependent on the completion of my dissertation.  Thankfully I have a strong support system with my partner and fellow cohort members.  

The advice, input and prayers of the amazing people in my life has gotten me this far.  Shout out to Jazmine who has been writing advice on dissertation writing in her blog.  This is a reply to Jazmine’s ongoing conversation and I hope it is helpful for other folks gathering qualitative research.