Finishing Out the Week – Is Senioritis Contractable?

Finishing out this week is a welcome ending to a very chaotic series of events, both personal and professional. The best news of the week is getting an offer to be a full-time instructor over the summer in my beloved New Orleans. So now the frenzy begins – moving, checking out the summer rentals, working on when to officially leave road trip-style. It’s enough to make anyone feel completely overwhelmed!

But as you know, life never just hands you one thing to fret/get frustrated over. I had to grade huge piles of MLA research papers from my TWO Composition classes, totalling about 25-30 papers ranging from 5-10 pages in length. You do the math. But it wasn’t the fact that I had to grade these papers that made me feel discouraged, it was the overall content and organization of a certain set of papers that made me want to cry.

Let me explain. As an educator, I try to be as transparent as possible with my expectations for class participation, class discussions, homework, and essays. That is why I hand out very detailed syllabi with the breakdown of course material that will be covered every week of the semester. I painstakendly sculpted course material to advance gradually so students could steadily improve in their writing and critical content. Because a MLA research paper is chronically much more intense and difficult for students, I took great care in assigning simpler papers at the beginning of the semester, gradually intensifying the material to prepare students for this major assignment. I make myself completely available to students during office hours and via email. I spent many class meetings outlining the paper’s guidelines and offered MANY resources that students can refer to to help them in their endeavor. In short, I did EVERYTHING I was supposed to do.

Despite all of this active precautions and preparation, I have had to read papers that lack the basic guidelines I have outlined since the beginning of the semester in January. Essay headings are deformed, typos and spelling errors run amuck, in-text citations and peer-viewed drafts are missing in action, and repetition makes the reading stale.

I have been talking to my colleagues in the office and they are experiencing the same frustration with their own students. Somehow some students have forgotten the work ethic and professionalism they had learned from their college classes this semester. Is senioritis contagious? Can it be contracted through the campus air conditioning, drinking fountains or cafeteria food? I am afraid for everyone!

I think the reason why we educators take this so hard is because we care WAY TOO MUCH. I mean, this isn’t a profession known for its lucrative paychecks. You get into this profession because you genuinely LOVE what you do – you love mentoring and helping students ascend to their best selves “by any means necessary.” And that is why you stay up late crafting interesting course material, writing syllabi, and finding supplementary materials that we get you and your students excited about learning.

So to see the bright side of the situation, I refer to my students who really “GET IT” – the students who see what you see in the importance of this class and its material. They are the people I work for and give selflessly to. They are the light at the end of this very dark tunnel. Thank you for seeing ME the way I see YOU – empathetic critical learners, writers, and citizens of the global community.

“All You Need is Love” – An Innate Awareness and Direct Action of Human Events

This past Thursday, I had the wonderful privilege of planning a film screening of 2009’s Across the Universe at a college’s theater.  I set this event up for my two Composition classes as a diversion from regular classwork (even though the ulterior motive was to foster critical thinking and connecting the dots of human experience from 1960s to 2011).

While it was a meager showing (only 13 students came),  it was a beautiful showing.  A few students even brought cookies for the event.  I was touched because I wasn’t planning to have food at all.  I suggested bringing enough food for “the class” (of 15-20) but I know my students are strapped for cash (even more than me).  I didn’t want to push the issue.  Despite that, there was a great showing of fellowship snacks and shockingly, DINNER!

One of the students who worked as a pizza delivery driver donated six pies of pizza to the event, saying that his manager even donated an extra pie because the event was “for college kids and they sure will be hungry.”  I almost cried!  This generosity was the embodiment of the film’s theme (and the students didn’t even know it yet).

I also thought about how I can make the theme of the film have practical applications to our world now.  The morning before the screening I was listening to my playlist on shuffle and my MP3 player played a song I haven’t heard a few years at least – “We Are The World” of 1985.  As I listened the lyrics (which I know by heart), I realized that this event could be more than just a diversion from class; it had the potential to make history (even if it is just for these classes and this college).

So I decided to make the event a mini-fundraiser for the American Red Cross towards the Japan Disaster Relief.  The suggested donation was $5 but any donation would be accepted.  Before we watched the film, I collected donations that totaled $37.  That might seem small to some people but knowing my students and the financial stresses they carry with them daily, I was very honored that they offered what little they had to such a worthwhile cause.  That is a memory I was always remember.

Who knows what else we’ll do this semester? Visiting the Smithsonian a-la-To Sir, With Love?  Having an End-of-the Semester Party in DC? Get invited to the White House by the President and the First Lady? The President and the First Lady visiting US on-campus?  The sky is the limit! Stay posted!

“Don’t Take My Kindness for Weakness” – Moving “On To The Next One”

So like always (or every couple of days), my roommate and I got into an argument over unwarranted assumptions, arrogance, and general disrespect. But yesterday morning, the argument took a sinister tone.

My roommate needed a ride to work at 11 but I had to go in to work early because I had some clerical work to do before my 9:30AM class. He assumed that since my job is very close by and my work doesn’t really “start” until 9:30AM, he could take as long as HE wanted to get ready. Naturally, that logic was extremely flawed. There is MORE to my job than just teaching and I relayed that to him. I later addressed the fact that if he doesn’t inquire (or seem interested in knowing) about my work life, he will continue to assume a whole lot of flawed logic. The argument intensified where he called me “immature,” that I was “acting like I was better than him,” and that I was not accepting the “fact” that he was “doing the best [he] can do” by working full-time and getting a paycheck.

When you know a person for more than ten years (I have known my roommate for 19 years), you have a stable sense of who this person is and more importantly, you know his/her potential to impact the world. So when you hear excuses from this same person to not tap into that potential, you listen intently but know that those excuses are holding this person back from his/her destiny. That’s what I told him but instead of hearing how much potential I believe he has, all he heard was that he wasn’t trying hard enough and got defensive. Once he gets defensive, he starts yelling and I stop listening (call it a woman thing).

I realized that his emotional maturity is underdeveloped and the “chip on [his] shoulder” will make it impossible to have any honest conversation about his future. I also realized that it wasn’t up to me to “save” him – he has to want to save himself first.

So now he is planning on moving out at the end of the month and personally, I’m relieved. I won’t be tethered to his insecurity anymore. So naturally, I’m “on the next one” as Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter would say in his song. At this point, I am all about self-progression.

Being an Adult – Just Making Money Doesn’t Make You “Grown”

As my Spring Break slowly comes to an end, I am very appreciative of the time off because it allowed me to rest and make plans for the future (more specifically, the summer and the upcoming fall).  It also allowed me to make some realizations about where I am in my life.

I realized that living from paycheck to paycheck is not living at all; it’s surviving.  It keeps the lights on, food in the fridge, gas in the car, needed clothes on your back, and a place to stay for another month. I spent my twenties nickel-and-diming from one job to another (and even two or three at once to make ends meet) and realized that those days need to become less and less if I have any hope of becoming the strong, independent woman that I want to be.

For that to happen, my skills need to be recognized by employers with full-time job opportunities.  Therefore, marketing and creating exposure for those skills are paramount.  So in a way,  this blog is part of my marketing package.  Freelancing is also another part.  My dream is to become a writer and live (and work) in either New Orleans or New York City.  Just throwing that out to the universe.

But “what I know for sure” is that making money does not insure “success” as an adult.  Anyone can make money in many different ways – some legally but many illegally.  A bi-weekly paycheck is the product; as an adult, one has to focus on the process that creates the product.  What are you doing to get that paycheck? What OTHER skills and life experiences are you cultivating in the process?

These kinds of qualities are not tangible objects to be counted like cash but nonetheless, they are more valuable than a thousand paychecks! Qualities like emotional maturity, responsibility,character, and integrity are just a few things that transform you from a kid working from job to job to an adult pursuing a lifelong career.

I’m not a kid anymore and if anyone claims to be an adult, those qualities need to become a priority because no employer wants a kid as a lifelong employee.  Companies want adults that are more than just worker bees.  They want people with those intangible qualities that can eventually become the Queen (or King) Bee.

To Be Human Is To Be Current on the Latest Developments of Human Events – How To Help the Victims of the Japan Disaster

Last year, the global (and digital) community came together to help the victims of Haiti after the terrible earthquake murdered thousands and displaced even more people from their homes, families,  and friends.  We now have the unfortunate opportunity to do the same for the people of Japan.  Please visit the following link and find out how you can help with this tragedy.  Every little bit helps! Thank you in advance!

http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20473235,00.htm

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#ThrowbackThursday #TBT – Top 30 Things You Should Know About This Blogger

So I realized something about this amazing blog and equally extraordinary audience – if you are new to my blog, you probably don’t a great deal about me. And I further realized that my life has been a testimony to chapters of extraordinarily interesting and fascinating life experiences (yes, I just got a little wordy but it’s for a point). Here is an ironic list numbering 30 items that offer some more insight into who I am as a person, more than just an educator.

#30:I love Christmas music during the holidays!

#29:I love Eggnog! No one in my fam likes it but I get it every year! Then I know it’s Xmas!
#28:I have a special reverence for The Nutcracker – I was a toy soldier and rat (not in the same production) in my dance school’s production when I was a kid. Yes, I was a ballet dancer and I still miss it!

#27: When I got into DC, a strange feeling comes over. I feel this sense of pride and awe being in the region where major decisions in our country are made. And I am THAT CLOSE to meeting the Obamas! Hey, it could happen!

#26: I am so proud of my younger brother! He is my rock (even if he doesn’t know it and gets on my nerves sometimes)!

#25: I hate the smell of chitterlings! When I was younger, my parents would love to cook it on the stove and the entire house had its disgusting smell. To this day, I will never eat a bite of it!

#24: I learned how to type so fast from the Mavis Beacon computer program. When I graduated from middle school, my dad put me on this schedule to work on the program every day, almost all summer. To this day, I rarely have to look down at the keys (really just for the numbers because I don’t use them as much as letters).

#23: I used to be really jealous of my brother when we were little. When he was a toddler and my mom was filming him with the video camera, when she wasn’t looking, I would knock him down softly. LOL! But eventually, I got over it.

Me and My Bro

#22: In middle school, I used to like this boy but he wouldn’t be honest if he liked me or some other girl. He called me up at home and I got so tired of his crap that I played the chorus in Janet Jackson’s song “If” and hung up the phone. Look it up, kiddies. Boy, did I have some guts as a kid!

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#21: My cousin let me ride with him on his motorcycle when I was a teenager. We went REALLY fast! It was so much fun but my mom was so afraid for me. I couldn’t stop laughing!

#20: My mother has an obsession for all things Ralph Lauren, especially when she was pregnant with me. She named me after her favorite designer and perfume.

#19: I am the oldest sibling in my immediate family. My younger brother was my roommate.

#18: Initially, I attended college in hopes of being a doctor. I took an internship in HS with an orthopedic surgeon and fell in love with the practice. But once I started taking the required math and science courses (and started failing those classes even with all help in the world), I quickly switched to English.

#17: I worked in the Human Resources Department in the University Library when I was a sophomore at UF. I learned a great deal about the inner workings of payroll (like library staff gets really agitated when their checks aren’t correct).

#16: No, I have never been married (and I have no kids) but I would like to be someday.

#15: For a school trip in HS, I went to Europe. The class and I went to Italy (Venice and Verona), Germany and Switzerland. Talk about a great Spring Break!

#14: I am a chronic bibliophile. I’ve read Think Like A Man, Act Like A Lady by Steve Harvey, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, My Story by Marilyn Monroe, and so much more. Currently, I am reading the memoir The Legs Are The First To Go by the fabulous Diahann Carroll and I plan on getting the Wendy Williams book collection (last year’s Ask Wendy, Hold Me In Contempt). I also Grimm’s Fairy Tales (you got to know the classics, right?), a lot of Oscar Wilde, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, and W.E.B. DuBois on my E-reader application on my laptop!

#13: I love Spoken Word Poetry. I have two locations in Miami that I used to when work wasn’t too hectic. I have yet to find a new place in the DMV area. Any suggestions?

#12: If I had to choose a TV character that was the most like me, I would say either Brenda Lee Johnson from TNT’s The Closer or Kate Reed from USA’s Fairly Legal. Their mix of strength and vulnerability is something I can DEFINITELY identify with.

#11: I met Hill Harper at Yale where he held a luncheon for young people for his book Letters to a Young Brother. He is incredibly nice and well-spoken. My HS students were trying to hook me up with him. How embarrassing (but he did call me “exquisite”)! Not bad for a HS teacher!

#10: I am a closet romantic. I hate to say it but it’s true. I love listening to my fave love songs (mostly from MJJ) to go to sleep to.

#9: I buy at least two new fashion/celebrity gossip magazines every other Friday. I am also a loyal follower of The Young, Black, and Fabulous celebrity blog since 2003 and Wendy Williams since 2005. A lady has to stay current on ALL kinds of news!

#8: I secretly want to be a DJ. I actually tried it out at a friend’s party and I was terrible (but I loved every minute of it!). I have this secret talent of creating the most amazing mixed tapes/playlists for every mood. My iPad and smartphone are full of them. I have been experimenting with the iPad app DJay and already made some mixes with my iTunes music. And I even got to try it out in real life at Scratch DJ Academy in Miami. Thanks, Jamie and Amaris!

#7: My parents raised my brother and me to appreciate the rich history of African-American music and film. We listened to all the Motown greats (The Temptations, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jackson 5/The Jacksons), Sam Cooke, James Brown, 70’s and 80’s Soul/R&B singers (Earth, Wind, and Fire, The Emotions, The Pointer Sisters, Phyllis Hyman, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Freddie Jackson, The Commodores, Lionel Ritchie, Donny Hathaway), and 90’s R&B (Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Janet Jackson, Anita Baker, Vanessa Williams, Tevin Campbell, Boyz II Men, Usher, TLC, En Vogue). I tend to gravitate to those greats and compare everyone else on the music scene to them – sorry, new artists!

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#6: I was not popular in HS. I was/still am really tall (almost as tall as the teacher), a tomboy (I played volleyball and preferred jeans and Chapstick to dresses and lipstick to wear to class), was a novice writer (I wrote a vampire novel for fun and it became a Freshman sensation) and liked to listening to SKA and rock music (long live, No Doubt, Prince, and Lenny Kravitz!).

#5: After not having an “exit strategy” for graduating college, my parents moved me to CT in hopes that I would go to grad school at Yale. Yale didn’t work out (I worked full-time in a bookstore and in retail for a year instead) but Columbia eventually did. Not bad for a runner-up.

#4: I lived in NYC for two years. While at Columbia, I stayed in Harlem with my great uncle. It was wonderful and I miss it terribly.

#3: I saw the musical The Color Purple two times: once on my own dime in NYC and once when my parents came to NYC. As far as the rest of my family goes, I have become an adopted New Yorker.

#2: As a result of #4, I am a huge fan of Sex and the City. Yes, I have seen the entire set of the series and yes, I own the movie (and I have seen it multiple times). Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed with its sequel – Carrie, you married the love of your life! Work stuff out TOGETHER! You don’t need to go OUTSIDE your marriage to feel complete in your marriage! I’m just sayin’.

#1: I have fallen love in with New Orleans three years ago at a conference and hopefully, I will be able to spend my summer there for the Essence Festival that can beef up my resume.

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#TBT #ThrowbackThursday – Wisdom From A Former Server – Seeing “Regular” People In Their True Light

Just the other day, I read an article about the four jobs every person needs to have at least once. One of the jobs was being a waiter/server. Then an epiphany hit me! I remember doing that only a few months ago and what I learned from that job was invaluable.

This past fall, I was in a financial bind. I was working but I wasn’t making enough money to sustain myself and my new roommate (who was working but hadn’t gotten a paycheck yet). So like most people, I went looking for another part-time job to fix my situation. The problem was the only sustained work experience was in college teaching. I had some experience in being a retail salesperson (at a bookstore and a department store) but it was less than a year in length. Then I hear about a new restaurant opening up in my area and I am immediately drawn to it.

www.astairwaytofashion.com

Mind you, I had zero experience in serving anyone except my family during holidays, family reunions, and family visits but I figured that I could learn on the job and I was right. The first week was focused solely on training – being a “marathon” server, having “fun” while you work, and treating the customer like gold or better. I also was the ONLY person who never served in a restaurant before so I stood out a little. But to sweeten the deal, I (and all the experienced servers) had opportunities to “win” free food from the menu and was paid for the training.

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Once training ended, the real test began. On the first few days, local businesses and neighbors with coupons came for free meals. It felt more like intermediate training with live specimen than actual shifts. Either way, it was a winning bargain – customers got free food and decent service while we new servers got the practice and work experience we needed. And some of us servers even got tips from the free meals we served.

Finally, the real world of restaurants collided a week later. We servers got order books with a mini binder to carry them, aprons, the miniature menu “cheat-sheet,” and finally, table sections (usually 4-6 tables a shift). Then the “real” paying customers started coming to eat. The real test of my serving competency began.

The majority of customers were very nice and understanding. They allowed me to go through my server script of opening greeting and appetizer/beverage/entrée suggestions. I made friends with the kitchen and expo staff so that the right food came out on time and with little hassle. I learned to coordinate the time it took me to get beverages and input food orders into the touchscreen computer with the time to took for food orders from other tables to be cooked and ready for their customers. I’m not going to say that it was a simple process but over time, I learned how to do it effectively.

Viviana Peretti - Italy_Winner - Arts & Culture - Professional Competition 2014  Colombian drag queen and Miss Bambuco Gay 2012 dances at a gay bar in Bogota during the National Bambuco Gay Pageant 2013. For this contest the drag queens dress traditional Colombian clothes and dance the    bambuco   , a regional, folkloric, 'religious related' dance of the Andes, characterized by the elegance of its movements and precious dresses. Generally couples dance the    bambuco    and men lead women, in this series women are drag queens. This drag queen won the contest last year and at the end of the night she will crown the winner. She is from Huila - a region in the South of Colombia - where the folk dance comes from and where there is a big tradition around the 'bambuco' that children learn at school. People in Bogota don't know how to dance the bambuco, for this reason the winner of the Drag Pageant is generally from Huila, as well as the men that dance with the ladies, and the judges of the contest. Bogota, July 19, 2013

And like new restaurants, more people came and more money was spent. I would like to say that my tips increased but that would not be the complete truth. The truth is complicated, like many things in life. When I first started, I had trouble understanding how to complete a cash transaction for a bill. Do I give “the house” all the money? Do I give the bill’s cost to “the house”? Do I keep it and give to my manager after my shift? My training didn’t go over that so I had to learn through trial and error. That meant I tried to hold on to as much money as I was supposed to, give those earnings to “the house” at the end of my shift, and hopefully, I wouldn’t have given all of my tips to my manager in error. Some days/nights were better than others.

But what I learned the most was how people can transform when they become restaurant customers (and managers for that matter). In regular circumstances, mild-mannered people are hospitable, courteous, and accommodating. But something changes when these “regular” people cross the power barrier to become customers or managers at a restaurant. The old adage of “absolute power corrupts absolutely” has never been more true in this situation.

Like during our “free meals” sessions, the majority of customers were very understanding and in good spirits when things went well and not so well. However, the minority sometimes spoiled the bunch of the majority. This minority of “elite” felt entitled to perfection at every meal. Now I can understand that expectation. You go out with your hard-earned money and expect to be treated like a human being (or maybe even royalty) at a restaurant. I want that too when I go out to eat.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 05:  One Direction fans gather near the backstage door at the opening night of the Sydney leg of the British boy band's Australian tour at Allphones Arena on October 5, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. Getty Images

However, behind the curtain, with unreliable food shipping schedules, weather hazards, missing crucial ingredients/supplies, inexperienced kitchen staff, and evasive managers, perfect service may not be a reality in some cases. Unfortunately, all customers get to see is the server and food. The server has the uneasy role of being the face of the restaurant and if things behind the curtain shut down, he/she left dealing with it in the presence of the customer. So naturally, the server has to think logically and quickly in the face of turmoil while looking like he/she is completely in control. It becomes even more stressful when the problems behind the curtain are not revealed until the order is taken.

This minority of customers may only focus on the obvious – missing/late/cold food/beverages, over-booked restaurant, and slow service. The manager may be called so the customer can vent his/her frustration out on a person of authority instead of the “inexperienced” server. The customers may either accept the problem with some grumbling, get bill reduced for the trouble, or get the entire bill paid by the restaurant. In either case, the tip for that server will be nonexistent.

I say all of this to say that working as a server taught me a great deal about people and myself. I learned that some people in power will abuse it to make themselves feel better.

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