Friday, December 5, 2014

Ok so maybe you are just a little curious about my tagline: “Online Yoga Professor”
That was Henry’s doing, but I like it, although it’s not entirely accurate. I’m an English professor who teaches all my comp, creative writing and lit courses online here at SWC, crazy I know.  And I’m a yoga teacher who teaches live, in person, yoga classes to mostly 55+ students in Pacific Beach. This set up actually relates to the motivation question that challenges us this week. That is, teaching yoga to people in bodies right in front of me with my body, is a welcome balance to the somewhat disembodied atmosphere of teaching English online—staying balanced is one thing that motivates me.

I started teaching online almost 10 years ago to deal with my waning motivation for teaching live.
I’d been teaching English in a classroom for almost 20 years at that time and found that my students were just too young to get my jokes or cultural references. Since I lived for their laughs and for turning on their light bulbs about writing and loving the written word, I really lost my joy when those blank stares and awkward silence pervaded the room, never mind the trouble of lugging around piles of papers and red pens and constant struggles with overhead projectors and media that didn’t work and group workshops with only one student actually working and just finding a parking spot in time to get to class. Back then we called what I had “Burn Out”. 

Many of my colleagues suffering from the same malaise became administrators, or union reps, or early retirees, or just dropped dead on the way to class, so I decided to go cyber and teach from home, never getting out of my yoga clothes and having time for a downward dog or head stand between sets of essays.
So now some voice might ask: “How’s that working for you?”  
(And before I throw up or throw a punch at that annoying voice. I’ll take a round or two of alternate nostril breathing to balance out my left and right brain so I can get to my perceived point of the prompt this week and actually reflect on my motivational strategies and teaching choices in the here and now.)



So motivation at the end of the semester:
Mainly for me and my students there’s the impending thrill of Completion. There’s actually a place in the pleasure center of your brain that’s specifically activated by completing something.  So we focus on that.  I post reminders that the end is near.  And we reflect on how much work we’ve done and how much we’ve learned in those final discussion boards. In the last essay, they apply all the skills they have learned.  One of the great things for me about teaching online is that I require myself to have everything up and running, all the lessons, lectures, assignments, front loaded at the beginning of the semester. It’s a journey mapped out from the start so we just have to keep going to succeed.  It’s a scaffold of skills, one thing leads to another, so that students have, at least, the “illusion of progress”.  And this front loading lets me avoid, to some extent, the procrastination disorder that often plagued me in my live in the classroom teaching, especially at the end of the semester where putting off or not really knowing what came next meant high anxiety, coffee fueled late nights, and the threat of certain failure, no amount of calming breath or homeopathic remedies could overcome.

But come to think about it, the most motivating thing at the end of the semester in my online classroom is the love in the room.
By the end of the semester they have been reading and writing to each other and to me, literally thousands of words about their values, their lives, their thoughts  and perceptions of the ideas of other writers—great writers or not so great.  And everyone who wants to pass has to participate, not just the extroverts and high achievers that dominate the conversation in a brick classroom.   They fall in love with each other through their words as they appear on the page, and so do I. There’s an intimacy in the online classroom that surprises.  People reveal so much more about themselves when the eyes looking at them are behind a screen.  And even though my eyes are permanently red from staring at that screen grading and grading, my heart is filled with joy to see these people find a their voice and the power of the word and have an experience of community that, in my book, is the real take away from going to college.


  1. Thank you for reminding me about the thrill of completion. That one really works for me, and I needed to hear it :-)

  2. We need to come up with a "cultural reference cheat sheet," something that lists side-by-side the names of celebrities, popular movies, etc. from "our era" and the younger students' era. Like, who's "our version" of Beyonce? What's their version of Saturday Night Fever? Who's our Tatum Channing? Who's their Tatum O'Neal?

    That doesn't begin to account for for new media (youtube clips, websites, games).

    Your post reminds me that for some of my most basic writers, just finishing a single book or composing their first five-page essay is a huge accomplishment. So many of them come to my class without having done any sustained project. Worksheets? Homework? Yes. . . but not the kind of sustained work - or relationship building - that we assign. Sometimes they've done larger projects having to do with sports or performing arts.

    Yet I see many who walk into my classroom not having completed anything longer than a one or two week project. Nor the kind of "love in the room" from doing a project with a community. Sounds like you're having success. I've avoided even thinking about teaching online courses precisely because I don't know how to scaffold for the kind of "love" online. I'm looking forward to (virtually) peeking into your classes.