Bidness Communication

For half my career I taught Bidness Communication at a very large university. I taught upper and lower division and, for a while, there was talk of me taking a graduate class. But that (naturally) didn’t happen as I do not have a PhD in Bidness. Or an MBA, for that matter.

I’ve been working on a proposal for a small company over the last few days and it brought it all back to me. The main lesson I had to “impart” (fancy word) was “Know your audience. They do NOT live in your head.” This is especially true of written communication. As I communicate with the people I’m writing this for I see that playing out. In my communication with them, I try to make sure I give them the whole story because we’re NOT face-to-face speaking with each other. We don’t even know each other. They, of course, go blindly into every email they send me and it’s my job to decode what they were thinking.

It’s also been interesting working when I do not have to. Yesterday I remembered what it was like to have to give low grades in order to keep my job. I remembered how unhappy I was toward the end with all of it. Teaching had become “bidness.”

I am doing good work on this project, but I know it’s not my project. Nothing hangs on it. Even payment, which, of course, I want, but if I don’t get it, I won’t be “behind.” I won’t be happy, but I won’t be facing foreclosure. That’s really freedom.

Anyway, back to it.

Casting Away Stones

Recently, I was looking on the website of the local university for a concert I’d seen advertised. I didn’t find the concert. I found a job. The job was written for me. My “Get classes!!!” mentality went instantly into action. I immediately got my CV. I updated it and refreshed it then set about finding out what else I had to do to get this job. I thought of how nice the money would be for things like repairing the garage and paying my credit card. I thought it would be fun to teach literature online.

Luckily, it was 11 at night and I wasn’t going to stay up and put a job search packet together, so I left everything where I could find it the next morning. I was about to put my computer to sleep when I was hit by a massive satori.

“Let someone else do it. Let some young person with a fresh MA have that job. Let them start their life. It’s their turn. It’s your turn NOT to do it. You have a place to live and an income. You don’t need it.” 



Ecclesiastes 3

“Kennedy, You’re Weird”

“I never feel like I get any closer to you,” she’d say. When the Carpenters came out with their song, “Close to You,” she’d say, “That’s how I think of you. You’re difficult to reach.”

It made me feel guilty, but I didn’t understand what she meant. I was just me. I was just a kid. What were other people like?

“I never feel as if I really know you, or touch you. You’re always somewhere else.” Echoes but this was the great love of my life, not my mom.

What in the world did they want?

Now I believe the “complaints” came from fundamental differences in personality that I didn’t know about until I required hundreds of business majors (my students) over a period of years take the Myers/Briggs Personality Inventory as part of a report project. My goal was to:

1) teach them how to write a business report as a group project,
2) teach them about different kinds and levels of research,
3) expose them to a work problem — there were two; one was using personality tests in hiring which is done fairly often and the other using personality tests for team building, also used fairly often,
4) give those who were unhappy in their major a chance to question their direction if they wanted to.

I learned about me.

Some of my students rejected the tests out-of-hand saying, “It’s like a horoscope” to which I replied, “Sure if you get your ‘sign’ by answering questions about yourself then it is. I agree.”

Most of my students thought the project was kind of fun. One of them said, “Whoa, I’m changing my major to ceramics.” That was the ONE kid out of thousands who had the same MBTI type as I have. INFJ, (Introverted/iNtuitive/Feeling/Judging) statistically the rarest personality type. No, that doesn’t make me think I’m special. It actually makes me special. Sorry. So all the people who have said over the years, “Kennedy, you’re a freak,” knew what they were talking about. 😉

A group of business majors is already a self-selected, elite group of people who are unlikely to be introverts, and very few were. Most were men, my direct opposite ESTP  (Extraverted/Sensint/Thinking/Perceiving) and ESTJ with one or two “accountants” ISTJ sprinkled in. Since the class wasn’t required for accounting majors, there were never many of those. Once in a while there was an “N”, an intuitive person, usually a girl, who was tuned in to the feelings of others. All of these types are very common in our world. They are the people that keep the world going every single day.

Their personality types were extremely outgoing. They were not prone to self-reflection, not aware of the feelings of others or overly concerned about them. Extroverted, Sensing and Thinking, they went through life without a lot of interpersonal awareness. This is all a way to say they were not the most sensitive people in the world and were strongly ego driven. I, as an introverted, intuitive am almost always aware of what’s going on with other people and I wear my heart on my sleeve. They could hurt my feelings easily. They would say things to me and get in a physical proximity to me that were very challenging. When I understood who they were, I realized it wouldn’t hurt them at all if I gave them back what they were giving me, and it didn’t. They expected it. They gave it to each other. It was the way things were supposed to be in their worlds, from their perspectives. I stopped defending myself ever.

“Why did you give me a D?”

“I didn’t give you a D. You earned a D. If you don’t like the D, you can talk to me about what you could have done better, otherwise, I don’t have anything to say.”

“OK. What could I have done better.” Challenge, provocation dripping from his/her voice.

“I’ll tell you if you’re really going to listen, but if you’re just angry at me right now make an appointment to come and talk to me next week.”

“I’m angry.”

“OK. Come see me Tuesday before class. I don’t talk to angry students.”

I don’t think those kids ever knew what it took from me to be the classroom teacher whose classes they fought to get into or the teacher in the office who sat with them for hours helping them learn to see their own work, their own selves, take responsibility for their own achievement. They naturally figured I was like them, deriving boundless energy from proximity to other human beings.

Until I had done this project with several classes, I’d been skeptical about the tests. I’d seen it simply as a good project that would interest my students at this moment in their lives — 19 is all about self-discovery. I became a believer when I saw how knowing the overall personalities of a class of business majors could help me teach them.

We are not all the same. That “special little snowflake” thing has more than a germ of truth to it, but we’re stuck with the other people in the world. From this experience, I saw why I’m hard to be close to. I need a lot of psychic and physical privacy. I have a lot going on inside my head. I thought everyone was like this, but my 10,000 business majors taught me that is not the case. They also taught me how to compensate, how to reach others, and that was an enormous gift I wish I’ld learned earlier in my life.


Rock Star

I got an ovation once. It was at the end of a student show at the end of the term at the international school where I was teaching. I was thrilled, surprised, honored by the ovation. Proud of my students and of myself. The group in the auditorium — students — stood up and yelled, “Martha! Martha! Martha!” But now I don’t even remember the amazing thing they did under my Professor Keatingesque tutelage!

For some reason, for years I was kind of a “rock star” to students. My classes were “not like the other teachers’.” I don’t know how they were different, but… For a while when I walked across campus students would cheer. It’s true. It’s weird, but true. I’m a humble person, and I found it kind of embarrassing and still kind of cool.

I wasn’t even completely aware of it as a phenomenon until, one day, one of my former colleagues at the international school asked me, “How’s teaching at the university? Are you still a rock star?”

That’s when I started noticing it. I also began noticing the way my colleagues looked at me.

We all know teaching is a serious business. Teachers aren’t supposed to have fun and students aren’t supposed to have fun. If the teacher and the students ARE having fun, no one’s learning anything. My experience over the years showed me that teachers are often among the most conventional and unimaginative purveyors of social norms. Thinking about that some more, I began to see that’s what’s expected of teaching. A teacher’s job is to keep the values of society intact. A teacher’s job is not to challenge and provoke and inspire. I began to see that clearly in the response of my colleagues to me.

If students do well in your class and get high grades, you’re an easy grader NOT an effective teacher. If students do Hamlet  as an extended role play, you’re not teaching Shakespeare. If, in a class that lasts 4 hours, your remedial writing students turn out a complete essay, you have failed to teach them discipline.

I viewed teaching as a dance. The students were my partners and we were trying to get through the song with as much grace and joy as we could. I believed nothing was too hard for them IF they wanted to do it. I believed some things that were difficult were so good and so important that they needed to deal with them — but I’d help them. I believed they were human beings, and, as most were 19, they were human beings in search of self not in search of society’s expectations of them.

I’m glad I was a rock star. It’s kind of hard to imagine at this point, but it really happened. And there are students out there — now in their 30s or 40s — who know that some of our best friends are “dead friends” (exist for us between the covers of books) and that the Crossopterygii was our ancestral hero.

There is Nothing More than This

A teacher is the carrier of a baton. Most of the time, we never know who grasps it as we pass by, but once in a while something happens and this morning  I woke up to the most amazing thing, messages on Facebook and comments here on WordPress that needed my approval. What?

I got an early Christmas — and the BEST — present today. Fifteen years ago I taught a young man — a kid — he was 17 — in a summer intro to literature class.  He had — at that point — never studied literature. He asked me outside the classroom if I thought he could do the class even though he’d just gotten out of high school. He didn’t just do the class. He fell in love with literature and with Goethe and then with German. His dad was German; his mom Mexican. One of HIS students found my blog post in which I had written about him as he was long ago and she wrote me this:

Hello, Ms. Kennedy,
Your former student, Prof. Schorsch Kaffenberger is my world history professor at a college I attend (I found this blog from a year ago by googling his name to find his office). Professor Kaffenberger must have been an extraordinary student for him to be remembered after 15 years. He’s one of my coolest and most supportive professors. 🙂

This student was exceptional in many ways, mostly in his courage and passion for learning, his curiosity and openness to all that was new. In that first class (I taught him in a few classes) he was shy and young, but stepped forward to read lines from Oedipus when no one else would. He took what I had to give and he ran with it. That his student describes him as “cool” and “supportive” means the world to me.

I might have always had other dreams and aspirations, but when I turned that corner in 1976 and became a teacher, all the other dreams and aspirations took second place. In my heart lives the hope that the people who grasped the baton handed me by my teachers carry it into the future with love, faith and passion. There is really no treasure worth more than this.


But My English Teacher Said…

It’s a cold morning here in Heaven. The sand truck has been through town and improved the traction on the US Highway that happens to be my street. I wish they’d been through a lot sooner, like yesterday afternoon, but if wishes were horses etc.

Today is the big Christmas doings in my little town. Santa is bilocating in the bowling alley and the local hotel this morning. Following that, there is a Holiday Bazaar (craft fair). When dusk falls, there is a parade and then this evening a concert by a pretty famous (in Colorado) cowboy band at the auditorium build during the ‘3os by the WPA. It’s a panoply of diversions, an array of Christmas crafts, a deluge of delights.

Panoply is an English teacher kind of word, a word I’ve often read in student homework mixed in with “plethora”. Reading student essays, I could almost see the wheels in their minds turning, “How can I get an A?” and the thesauri on their computers burning up.

I know some English teacher had said to them, “Expand your vocabularies so you can express your ideas more clearly!” I know this because mine had said this to me. To some this advice translated into “Using big words will impress my teacher,” and to others it translated into, “OK, that’s a good idea.” I think the motivation depended, usually, on how much (and what) that student read for fun.

It was always cute to run across one of these words, and not all that easy to have to bring down the hatchet, “Dude, here’s the deal. When you write, you want to use words other people know.”

“But my English teacher said…”

My PhD

My working life was spent in academia — in fact my life from the age of 18 to 62 was spent in the world of universities. Even my non-teaching job was doing PR for a private college of law. I recently worked as editor — and, it turned out, adviser — to a woman who’s big dream in life is getting a PhD and being “academic.” She has no aptitude for this whatsoever, though she does superlative work in her field. I personally do not understand her drive, especially as, all the way through school, no one compelled her to learn academic skills.

I’ve hated this job but because I believe in her project, I persevered.

But it made me think about my own PhD.

I was essentially ejected from my masters program after two years. Those they felt had talent (or fit in the department) got a third year to dedicate to research. I wasn’t offered this. I was told I was not a “good fit” and that was that. A third year would have been nice since it meant another stipend and two classes to teach, but I found a full-time job. I’d gone to grad school in the first place because I wanted to write my thesis. I had a subject and I loved it and that was that. I managed to attract the attention of the best possible thesis adviser (for me) Dr. Robert D. Richardson, Jr. and we worked together very, very well. He understood me. But, when I asked him if I should go for a PhD, he said, “No, not you. Do you want to spend the rest of your life grading student papers?”

Well, actually, I kind of did. I loved the classroom and I loved teaching writing. Crazy, I know.

“You’re a writer. You have talent. You’re not an academic.”

The way he said it felt like a compliment. And, then, too, my dad always said there was nothing a person with a PhD could do that a person with an MA couldn’t do — and he proved it throughout the course of his life. What you get with the MA are skills to do research and practice whatever art you’ve pursued. My dad didn’t stop learning when he walked down the aisle with his light blue liberal arts cape and neither did I.

The department head — who’d thrown me out — had expressed surprise to see I’d finished my thesis. I got my MA, my family came all the way from Montana to witness the event, I had a great time at the graduation ceremony because my job at the law school meant I knew the mucky-mucks of the university. The best part — for me — was my dad had earned his MA at the same university and our theses would be cataloged next to each other in the library.

But it stuck in my head, “You’re not an academic. You’re a writer.”

The thing is, I had to earn a living, and in the passage of time the question of a PhD came up again. I went back and took the GRE. I didn’t do great. It hit me in the middle of an incredibly absurd multiple choice test on literature that the exam was bogus. At a certain point I sped through the thing, answered all the questions I knew, filled in the ones I was somewhat sure of and then marked the ones I didn’t know. I spent 30 minutes on a three hour exam and still scored an 85%, high enough that schools did look at me.

As they were looking at me, I was looking at them. I had no burning project pushing me back to school. It was just a matter of getting that “terminal” degree and hopefully a tenured job. I was admitted to a university in San Diego, and looked at the program. I saw from the course offerings that the study of literature no longer had any meaning to me. I was not the person to study the critical analysis of this or that critic. I was never going to be a post-modernist or a deconstructionist or any of the current trends in wanking. I didn’t have $30k, least of all to spend three or four years incarcerated with Derrida and his ilk. I was always going to read beautiful poetry and weep at its beauty and truth. I would never ‘get’ Kafka or Heidegger. I would always want a “story” and care about the sounds of words. I would always find history more compelling, the lives of people more intriguing, than I would ever find “literature.” All the things that had made me a misfit in my masters program were alive and well inside me, still. And so I closed the door on that adventure knowing I would write.

I still didn’t know what, but the most unlikely series of events led me to THE STORY.

A few years ago I presented a paper on the Medieval Leper at a conference. My then boss — a fantastic guy — read it. He said, “Wow. This is masterful. Why don’t you have a PhD?” He had one and, I guess, felt that a PhD was a requirement for doing “masterful” work. I said I just hadn’t had the funds at the time I wanted to pursue one. Only partly true, but just as I do not want anyone disrespecting me and my hard won achievements, I would never negate his.

And so my friend is a step closer to her PhD and I helped. I hope it make it easier for her to achieve the things in real life that she hopes for.



In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Night and Day.” Have you ever had an experience that was amazing the first time, but terrible the second time around? Or vice versa? What made it different the second time?

Not exactly the “second time” but a definite change… For most of my career, I loved teaching. I was a college and university writing instructor. I engaged easily with my students and I was effective — and entertaining — in the classroom. Since I never taught anything anyone WANTED to learn (I taught only required classes) I as lucky that I had conviction about the importance and intrinsic interest of learning how to write.

As a part-time teacher (no, I didn’t teach part-time; I taught more than full time) I just had to go into a classroom prepared and “divest myself” (as a jokingly referred to it). For decades I was one of the most popular teachers in every school in which I taught.

Then it changed…

The final two years of my career, I actually had classes that never came together filled with students who — for one reason or another — I could not engage. I began hating what I had once loved, and dreading what I had once anticipated enthusiastically. In my final two semesters I had both the worst and the best of the classes of my whole career — and the best was good beyond all expectation and the worst was heart-shattering.

The factors leading to the change are complex and myriad. Was I part of the problem? Yes. I was done. I’d reached a point that — at the beginning of my career, in my early 30s — I didn’t even imagine possible. At that point in my career I went to a conference and heard an older teacher talk about dealing with burnout. I thought, “Then you were never a REAL teacher, you lump of fabric.” Now I know, she must have been a real teacher or she would not have cared enough to burn out.

Other factors? I think the biggest other factor was the change in the school system before college. By the time I left teaching, my students did not have the same basic foundation of knowledge and skills my students had had when I began. I could not assume the same foundation. These creatures shocked me daily, from a girl (not a good student or an interested student in the first place) raising her hand and saying, “You have to print on the board because I can’t read cursive,” to the kid who didn’t know there was such a language as modern Greek. Because they were so ignorant — and so arrogant about their ‘knowledge” (they could use electronics) — I began to feel contempt for my students, a contempt which, sadly, they deserved and yet could not have cared less about (or in their parlance, could have cared less…).

No one should teach if they view their students with contempt. I had plenty of those professors in my life and they, oddly enough, inspired me to become a teacher. When I became them, I knew I had to get out of the classroom.


I think about all the times in my life I’ve thought I knew what I was doing only to look back and see that I had no clue. This is another one. I was a little less occluded than in times past when I retired but occluded nonetheless.

I’ve been learning all these months. Like a lot of newly retired people I have a work habit meaning I’m used to a certain level of work all the time every day. In my case it was pretty intense. When I quit the co-op I plead something like “PTSD” from teaching. I don’t think I was understood. I don’t think anyone here really gets what it is like to be a “freeway flyer” in California and teach at more than one “institute of higher learning” and patch together an income, often with little or no job security.

One of my new friends here — a wonderful woman that I really like — made a point about that. “College teachers don’t know what it means. I taught all day every day.” She was a public school art teacher. I listened politely and got the “hidden” message which was “How can you as a college teacher begin to know what REAL teaching is like?” I’m not sure but I think her model is the normal college teacher with tenure who teaches 3 or 4 classes/semester and doesn’t some committee work and gets a sabbatical every seven years or so.

That was never me. I taught 7 classes most semesters, 2 classes most summers, and all were writing classes which is an immense grading load. I usually taught six days a week and often drove 40+ miles to teach ONE class. I was also expected to maintain my professionality at a higher level than my tenured colleagues. To remain competitive I had to be ahead of the curve learning the necessary educational software and I had to be able to adapt very quickly to any changes in administrative policy anywhere I taught. I was obliged to publish and to attend conferences, but on my own dime. It was hard work. And, as time went by and it became clear I would never have tenure and that the people I taught were turning into unrecognizable creatures thanks to No Child Left Behind, it became absolutely painful to walk into a classroom. I lived for moments of light and fresh air, an intelligent engaged student, a student who would accept a challenge to learn, someone who was simply nice. I had learned the difference between sucking up and genuine interest, and the sucking up made me angrier than being told to “Fuck off” did. I’d long loved teaching, but at the end, I thought it was a complete waste of my time. I wasn’t, personally, going anywhere with it. It had become a dead end.

Relentlessly. I had no status anywhere I taught and yet as obliged to get along with everyone, never rock a boat, make all my students happy etc. etc. When I wasn’t teaching I was prepping or grading or learning how to use new software or examining texts. I was ALWAYS teaching.

For the most part, I’ve come to a peaceful place with teaching since I retired. I had things I wanted to say, and I’ve said them on a different blogging site (Medium) and, I think, reached a few people with some points that might be useful. And I was done…

But “PTSD”? Sure. Besides having dealt with physical threats and attacks of other natures — complaints from students to, no less, the President of the university once, verbal attacks, the frustration of students unhappy with their grades, the criticism of bosses who knew nothing about what I taught and couldn’t possibly have done it (didn’t do it, when it came to it), I have endured thousands of chaotic meetings. There are few things I hate more than being trapped in a small space around a table with a bunch of people who are pushing their own agendas.

I taught business communication which included how to have a good meeting. First rule, consider the comfort of the people there, ie. don’t meet at dinner time without eating. Second rule, limit the amount of time people can speak, including discussion. All of this enveloped in that most important thing; respect each other.

So now it seems once again Goethe’s words are my best friends…

“Hold your powers together for something good and let everything go that is for you without result and is not suited to you.” Conversations with Eckermann

Herding Cats — Communication

Artists are notorious for their egos. And now I’m involved with local artists in a co-op and a group. I undertook my first task in one of these organizations and made a postcard/announcement and posters. I solicited photos of work by the artists in the group to put on this poster/postcard.

I viewed it as a marketing tool and in that reality description is good. I also view the “gallery” the co-op is opening as a shop because things will be for sale and most of what will be exhibited there is not art at all; it is crafts. It’s (incredibly beautiful) handmade scarves, shawls, jewelry, ceramics, greeting cards. There is some art — art being stuff that’s essentially useless except to look at — but it is more store than gallery. The goal of the graphics I put together is/was to get people in there to buy stuff.

One of my colleagues who sent me photos and explained what she does. I asked her if she’d like to be described more, uh, descriptively than “Fiber artist” and I offered her a description more concrete than “Fiber artist.” “Handmade, wearable fiber art.” She liked it. I put that description with her name. In my opinion, it told the audience that this person makes beautiful clothing. It said more than “fiber artist.” She “got” that description because she responded to my request for photos with a description of her work so I understood her better.

The shit hit the fan. One of the OTHER two fiber artists got her nose out of joint because she was just listed as a fiber artist AND our shop is a gallery and “galleries don’t use descriptions like that.” Well, in fact, they do; I didn’t make up that description. And, I had sent everything out to everyone to be approved, and I’d heard nothing from her.  As a new person, I’ve been very careful; I don’t know these people and I’m really afraid of overstepping my bounds.

I thought about this. People have their visions of things and often think other people share that vision. Some of our visions are based on illusion. I thought about my experiences as a writer and a painter and how disillusioning they’ve been, and I began to see that’s good. The disillusionment hasn’t stopped me from writing or painting, but I am not overburdened with ego any more about it. Except maybe about my lack of ego about it. 😉

I also thought about teaching the tides of students who entered my classes every year. I always required that my business communication students do a complicated group project that required they do problem solving. This meant I always had to deal with their interpersonal conflicts and the fact that they hated group projects. Ultimately, only a very few of those groups fell apart. When students would argue with me about the validity of group projects (they were business majors) I always said, “90% of your future is going to be a group project and you won’t have a teacher up here to smooth things over for you or keep your group in line. You’ll have a boss who expects you to succeed and will fire you if you don’t. For you as a business major, this is probably the most useful and common kind of communication you can learn.”

Their problems were the same as those I’ve had this past week. First, no one had undertaken a flyer or any other promotional material for a shop that’s going to open in six days (from now). Second, no one had thought about what the promotional material should say. I don’t know if anyone has formulated a mission statement for the co-op store, but everyone seems to be going off on his/her own tangent with their own vision of what they’re doing. Third, of course, as in all group projects, some people aren’t doing what they agreed to do. Fourth, when communication is offered, people do not necessarily respond in a timely or useful fashion. Fifth, naturally, someone has a snit over a perceived slight.

When I left teaching it was with the desire to reserve my energy for my own work, to take charge of myself. I realized that participating in stuff like this is probably not what I retired for. I’m giving it until December.