Your Career Memoir

Going into the final weeks of my University Studies course, career development gets some well deserved attention. One of the skills a successful student (and student of teaching) must have is intrapersonal intelligence.  For me, it’s the ability dial in your GPS career coordinates in the now.  Then, look back to understand the motivations, people, and circumstances that brought you to this moment. Then use that data to glimpse potential futures.

I’ve had my fair share of juicy plot twists along the way.

I worked for my first employer from ’86 to ’96. In ’93 I had my first son and took three weeks vacation to be home with him and my wife. Result? My old-school boss wrote me up for “lack of dedication” to my job. Human Resources helped my boss understand that the world had changed since he worked for Sterling Cooper.

Lesson learned? Take nothing for granted – not your legal work rights and certainly never assume your employer has your best interests in mind.

In 1996, I cashed in my 401(k), left the only company I ever worked for, and joined the entrepreneur-class. I was a third generation printer; what could go wrong? Eighteen months later, I joined the ranks of the failed business owner. I even sold my car to keep the business alive a few more months.

Lessons learned? One, don’t go into a business just because you think it can make money. I did not like printing but it was all I knew. I probably would have failed in another business though because I also learned…I prefer to work for other people. There! I have outed myself. In this vague period of self-directed and self-employed and completely empowered version of work we see today, I say “no thanks”.

I like being part of a group, I like not having to make all the decisions, and I really like a dependable paycheck!

The rest of the 90’s and early 2000’s were various sales jobs. Good jobs sure, but the limited jobs available to a person with hustle, the ability to wear a tie, and NO COLLEGE degree. So just like in 1992, when I realized how much more career advancement was possible in an office vs a production line, I leveraged my relationships and experience and vaulted onto a new path.

Frogger

My volunteer efforts landed me an interview for a Director of Career Services job with a 9-month certification school.  I was not qualified but got the job anyway (see previous paragraph, re: Hustle). This was six months after earning my English degree. Then I did some calculated jumping, similar to what James Citrin advises in his blog, How to Move From Job to Job.  My goal? To get a job at a degree granting college.

Over the next ten years, I stayed in the same role (Director), in the same field (Career Development) in the same industry (Post Secondary Education). But I learned about the many ways education is delivered. I worked at nationally accredited colleges, market-driven colleges, and a state college. It was not always pretty, but I also was fortunate to serve a similar student cohort everywhere I worked – first generation college students from Inland Southern California.

So, flipping to the last chapter, I gear up to break into a new career in Summer 2014. My gift arrives, just at the top of the story arc, 3 days after Christmas: An interview to teach first year college students full time. I get the job! How? Patient and deliberate (somewhat) planning. It was the culmination of my effort and intentions over the last two decades. It was setting up a SMART goal. It was using the tools at hand.

I wrote, revised, and edited that story for years.  Lots of blank pages left. Time to get to class and write some more.

What’s your career story? Ready to tell it? Better yet, are you ready to live it? If not, today is a great day to start.

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Using the “F” Word in First Year Student Experience

Like the other popular “F” word, feedback can be used in many ways during a college students’ first year. A mindful conversation about how to make the most of this complex word may improve the classroom experience.  Contextual feedback fans a burning interest in the material. Timely feedback provides encouragement to keep going! But specific feedback improves the lives of students and faculty members in equal measure.

My students and I just completed week 4 of our 7 week University Studies class.  We use the time in class to get to know each other. A variety of in class assignments provide chances to craft and deliver a message that engages the learning and listening styles of your audience. Learning about the styles is one thing. Putting them into practice is a true achievement that furthers the goal to earn a Bachelor degree.

feedback-heads1

Learning curve item of the week – Weaving reminders of what was covered in class into the written feedback to students may improve retention. For example, instead of saying something bland like “Good progress on applying the learning styles to your note-taking“, a better sentence may read –  “When the tech support person came into class to help us hook the laptop to the projector, creating the chart of the steps she used is an example of Visual-Spatial Intelligence.”

The halfway point is a great place to provide feedback. Since feedback must be timely, it is a good thing we started the practice of feedback on Day 1. That way, the feedback now can be compared to last month and progress can be clearly measured. Two encouraging signs at this point:

1. Students are modeling in class behavior to the reading and activities. Many have written plans of study and as a result, assignments are getting in on time and properly formatted.

2. The feedback they give me is also contextual, timely and specific! What they are sharing with me shapes how the next 3 weeks will go.

Returning to the title of this post, overusing the “F” word, both of ’em, makes communication boring and less effective. Being mindful of when it is time to speak, when it is time to listen, and when it is time to act improves the first year experience significantly.

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Speaking of the First Year Experience…

Whew! I just completed week 3 of my first 7 week course as a full time faculty member.  Teaching University Studies, University Writing, and Critical Thinking to students just starting their college experience – or perhaps back from an extended break – is a true joy and privilege. Over the next year, I intend to share my experiences here. I will leave the data crunching and success metrics to the experts at University of Phoenix.  What I wish to share are impressions, interesting anecdotes, and light advice for anyone interested in the college experience, particularly that fraught first year.

My first piece of advice?  Work in a community you care about. I am fortunate to say I have been able to serve students from Inland Southern California (aka – Inland Empire, aka – Inlandia, aka “that place east of LA”) since 2004.  I tell my students the first day:

“Listen, I’m here for selfish reasons. As members of my community, if I help you finish your degree, you will likely be happier with your career. That career happiness translates into economic improvements for where I live. Which in turn improves revenues which can be used to improve schools, services and infrastructure.  I help you, my community wins, I win!”

My first observation? The less I talk, the more they listen. When I start the discussion and pass it off to them, they pay attention to each other.  Here’s how they helped me build MY faculty schedule. At the third hour of a four hour class!

larry's schedule

My first lesson? Set your expectations high. I erroneously assumed that since I would be teaching freshman, they may not be well prepared and need MANY HOURS of work just to get them up to speed. I have found myself in the enviable position of seeking out advanced activities to bring to the classroom to keep them from becoming bored! Thanks to the book, An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi (free plug, I am not a paid hack – www.bookofbadarguments.com) I know that was the logical fallacy of a Hasty Generalization. Thanks Ali!

I could go on, for pages, but will stop here. Thanks for listening!  Next week we are discussing learning styles, study habits and ways analyze and discuss the writing of others.  Any suggestions to help those topics? Most welcome!

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Look Down! You are Standing on Someone’s Shoulders

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I’m in heavy training mode these last two weeks thanks to my full time faculty position with University of Phoenix. I get the pleasure of working with first year students to support their career and academic success. What I am learning is too large to put into a list…but I have dozens of PowerPoints and Word documents at my disposal!

What is clear, from all of these resources and the excellent Wiki page the faculty and staff have put together, is a structure that has been built over decades – and I get to stand on it and say – LOOK WHAT I CAN DO!  Hopefully I will do more than that. My hope is that I will be able to add a wall, or a floor, or even a curtain to a window of this amazing and ever changing structure.

What I see all to often in my professional career are folks who just never look down. Perhaps it is fear, perhaps it is hubris, perhaps just bad training or not enough hugs as a kid, these people forget their history and think they need to destroy or radically alter the city-scape they inherit in order to “leave their mark”.

In short, those people are wrong. We all know these people. We also know that they typically do not last. Their lack of vision and limited growth potential make them poorly equipped to do much useful for an organization. The employees we need to hire, train, value and care about are the ones that know they stand in greatness only because of the greatness of those who came before them. And they understand the obligation to continue that good work.

It is better to be part of something larger that will last for decades. Anyone can bring down those around them to stand tall for a minute, but the quicksand they spread all too far and wide will eventually bring them down as well. In parables from business, religion, history, or politics, our systems work best when built by caring hands who intend to grow what is in front of them and conserve it for the ones who will do the work when they are gone.

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Week #2 Training – Telecommuting 102 – Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings

Well…

Off to another excellent week of training for this new teaching role with University of Phoenix. Week 1 hit on tons of stuff (drinking from the fire house as our trainers like to remind us!). What strikes me is the attention to student support at every stage. When we discuss the learning objectives, we talk about how the students incorporate the learning. When we talk about communication by forum or email, we talk about how the student interprets our actions and words – what we say and don’t say is heard loud and clear. When we correct, we do so from a desire to help the student improve.

It should go without saying that we don’t want to derail their motivation or crush their young college hopes and dreams. But it reminds me of how often I go into a situation only looking at the resolution and not at how the feelings of those involved are concerned. Some might say (and some of my former managers have) people should not be concerned about others feelings. I disagree. Feeling shape our perceptions – our perceptions shape what we think we are capable of learning and doing – what we learn and do BECOMES a part of who we are…which will influence how we feel.

Ah, another circle found. It bears remembering that these things tend to come round and round. Therefore, the good and the bad we leave in our wake – as managers, as teachers, as partners, as humans – affects the feelings of others. And it will still be in our path when we come around again. Better to leave things we need – things that nourish and help us grow – rather than laying traps and debris in the way.

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New Job Day #2 – Adjusting to Telecommuting

want me to staple that for you?

want me to staple that for you?

More good training today. Everyone returned for Day 2 which is a good sign.  How cool is this…I am now one of more than 300 full time faculty working at University of Phoenix.  I love being part of something bigger than myself and that’s how it feels at the moment.

My short discussion today will focus on the more pedestrian parts of telecommuting –

Dress code/grooming – Today I’m dressed to engage my body AND mind. I’m in workout clothes, no shoes…but I did brush my teeth! I bought an exercise ball to use as a chair.  Doing core exercises and learning how to make students feel welcome on their first day, feels like a win to me.

My co-worker, Blue the Mastiff-Shepard mix, is guarding my door against intruders and interlopers – Good Boy!

Not for nothing, but I’m in a good spot to work and keep an eye on the neighborhood.  Has not been too distracting. I’ve managed to get all my work done, now I can watch some more tutorials and search for some neat things to bring to class next Wednesday!

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New Job Day #1

Wow, many new and exciting things in this new job. First, I spent last night moving my new home office from my bedroom to a spare room. After looking at the set up required and the number of hours I will be working from this space, it just made sense to move it down the hall. I checked to make sure the equipment work…it did the first time!

Got plenty of sleep, woke up on time to make the “commute” down the hall for the 8 AM start!  I’m part of about 30 other newly hired full time faculty (FTF). So cool to be part of this initiative to better support student success – GPA, completion, retention, graduation. And knowing I will impact local students where this is there best chance to achieve career and academic success is key for me. I want my work to make a difference. I was pleasantly surprised to see community impact listed as a Core Value in my training this AM at University of Phoenix :)

All the technology worked well and there was a minimum of background noise…but it is still amazing that folks out there still have not mastered the “mute” button for teleconferencing…I hope I don’t run into these people at a movie.

Our structured day just ended. I’m spending the duration of the day on personalized training, setting up the new class (GEN127) I will start next week, and chatting with my new peer mentors.  It still feels unreal, those first few days are always the best, so I’m going to try and stay in this great moment as long as possible.

More to come!

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