OT Syndrome Outbreak in College Students

If you’ve just read the headline of this blog and your heart is palpitating then it’s quite possible, you’re already showing symptoms of Over-Thinking (OT). OT is a commonly experienced syndrome that occurs before, during and after a multiple-choice exam. Symptoms include racing heart, sweaty palms and complete loss of academic confidence. OT is triggered by the presence of options that typically occur when a question is posed with more than one answer. Sufferers of OT report episodes of alphabetic blindnesswhere the letters A, B, C and D become entirely indistinguishable. Although rare, hospitalization may occur when the OT sufferer is presented with the option – none of the above.

The following patient case study is presented to help those that suspect OT to seek a physician’s help immediately.

Brody, 19-Year-Old Male, College Student, OT Suffer – A Case Study

Brody has studied for an upcoming midterm. Although confident the night before, he arrives thirty minutes early for the exam and paces outside the classroom door. As his pulse quickens, he runs through scenarios that might prevent him from completing his exam. He fights thoughts of an alien abduction searching frantically for a diversion to calm his over-thinking. Upon entering the classroom, he methodically lays out five sharpened pencils, a pencil sharpener, and an extra eraser on his desk. He approaches the professor three times to confirm the number of questions on the exam. To hide his OT, he alternates his questions with frequent trips to the restroom and then estimates how many of his peers have noticed.

The exam begins and Brody’s brain freezes. Two questions into the exam and he is convinced he is able to argue that all options presented could technically be correct. He approaches the professor again and makes an attempt to have the question thrown out. The professor, an expert in spotting OT symptoms, reads the question back to Brody and encourages him to eliminate the choices that don’t fit. The simplicity of the solution shocks Brody’s system causing an uncontrollable giggling fit.

This disturbing case study is based on actual events. Luckily for Brody, an experience professor was able to intervene and reduce Brody’s symptoms resulting in a passing grade.  

OT can be treated using The Seven Steps to Sanity

  1. Skipping a question is worse than guessing
  2. Studies show a cat could guess their way to a 50
  3. At least one of the answers is obviously wrong so get rid of it
  4. Pretend you’re a cat and guess once you’ve completed #3.
  5. Find satisfaction knowing that trick questions are designed by mean teachers who will eventually get theirs
  6. If you studied, you’ll probably pass
  7. You don’t need a 100 to get an A

The Phantom Student

Dear Phantom Student,

Your name has appeared on my roster every semester for the last two years – yet, we’ve never met. I call your name daily to no avail. Before class ends, while the rest of the class is packing up, I try calling for you again. And because I really care, I’ll throw out three or four pronunciations, and then apologize if I’ve completely bungled your name. So far, you haven’t responded to a single version.

I’ve assigned you to a group and scheduled a date for your presentation. Your group grumbles their dissatisfaction. Who can blame them? They don’t want to get stuck writing your section of the paper. As the weeks pass, I check with the Registrar, assuming that a “W” will magically materialize by your name and release me from my quest. But no! You’re still enrolled and I refuse to give up.

My attempts at human contact escalate. I send a friendly note to your school email and then I try your personal mail which leaves me wondering how you came up with partykidz@gmail. Then I call your home and leave a bunch of messages. I’m sorry if your parents think I’m a stalker.

Not to be discouraged, I make earnest inquiries across campus. My colleagues are perplexed.  “Do you recognize this name? Have you ever had this kid?” Your name becomes legendary. Like an urban myth, it gets whispered by teachers trying to place a name with a face. “I feel like I’ve seen that name before.”

As the days creep by, the inevitable occurs as the attendance roster is replaced by the grade roster. My choices are limited and I feel like I’ve failed. Except for one thing – the F isn’t for me, but it’s also not for you. You haven’t even tried yet.

So next semester, let’s get this right. Come see me on the first day of class and we’ll take it from there.


Your Very Real Teacher

When Your Pet Dies

This is Buster. Like most cats, he spent the better part of his days ignoring me and the rest of our family. He ate, slept and periodically swatted at phantom objects. He had a cozy basket and only once did he make it through the front door to the yard. That outdoorsy excursion lasted all of a minute. He spotted a neighborhood cat and flew back into the house, paws spread, ready to scratch the nearest swath of upholstered fabric. I think he had his eye on my fancy living couch, but of course, he was declawed – the quintessential house cat.

Buster was a well-loved pet. Part of our family.

Twenty years into his idyllic life, he fell ill. On my way to teach a morning class, I brought him to the vet. After scolding me for not keeping up with Buster’s shots (did I mention this was a cat who’d only left the house once?), the vet informed me that Buster was simply too old to go on.  I called my husband and we decided it was time.

I left the vet with an empty pet carrying case sporting a pair of over-sized, black sunglasses to mask my puffy eyes. Frazzled and weepy, the vet made me exit through the back door so I wouldn’t upset the pet owners in the waiting room.  Then I drove to school and taught my class. I told my students I had allergies. A week later, I picked up Buster’s remains.

This is life. I’ve been there and unfortunately, you’re going to have to roll with it.

If your parents welcomed a pet into your family when you were a child, there is almost a 100% chance your pet will pass when you’re in college. It’s inevitable.  And sadly, it’s not an excuse. I don’t know how to say this without receiving more negative comments than cats have lives, but you’re still going to have to take the final exam. These are the things we learn as we become adults –  how to manage, how to cope and how to fake it.

5 Ways to Relax DURING Class

I feel for students. Really, I do. I know you worked the late shift the night before and then woke-up early for an 8 a.m. class. You’re exhausted and so you should be. By the time you get to my afternoon class, you are officially fried.

Here are 5 Ways to Relax During Class:

  1. Keep it cool – studies show that cooler temperatures allow the body to relax. Optimize air flow by choosing a seat by a window or an air vent. Ditch the coat, pop a few buttons and slide off your shoes.
  2. Keep it comfortable – to release tension, you’ll need to stretch and flex those muscles. Create your own space by rearranging desk options to meet your body’s maximum circumference.
  3. Keep it quiet – put those earbuds to work by pumping through 30 minutes of mindful meditation. Block out the cacophony of class with the relaxing sounds of nature combined with instructional breathing.
  4. Keep it hydrated – herbal remedies? How about lavender tea? Come on, everyone is doing it.
  5. Keep it on your desk – the syllabus, that is and make sure to check the grade distribution. If your class requires class participation, scratch steps 1-4. Sit up straight, dislodge the earbuds, shut the window and chuck the tea. It’s time for class!


Yelp Help!

A dean at Yale was recently removed from her job after leaving a string of negative Yelp reviews. To be specific, she referred to restaurant patrons and servers as ‘white trash’ and ‘barely educated morons.” Not very nice. Not very nice at all. In fact, so not nice, she lost her job.

So, um, wow! I guess I kind of get this. It really doesn’t look good for an educator to put people down. What I’m wondering is who took the time to track down all of her Yelp reviews and make a case against her. Is there an unnamed group of hackers out there in cyberspace creating files of our every move? And what about the cameras on every corner? Is Alexa recording my conversations?

I guess I’ll find out pretty soon because in the last week alone I chewed out a customer service rep.  Then I yelled at one of my kids in the supermarket and then I flipped the bird to a guy in a Prius who cut me off.

I don’t want to belittle what happened at Yale, but it’s starting to make me wonder – should we simply stop posting online? (bet you’re afraid to respond!)

5 Reasons College is Blessing Not a Burden by Klaudia Mernaci



If you were first place in a race, would you give up right before crossing the finish line just because you didn’t want the trophy? Sounds so silly, right? The supposed “ex-valedictorian” of the University of Maryland did exactly that. Gio Managadze excelled in his studies, until he purposely failed his last semester and dropped out two weeks before graduation.  He published his explanation for it on LinkedIn and to my surprise, people were inspired by it. However, I was infuriated. Here are 5 reasons college should be seen as a blessing and not a burden.


(Just a disclaimer: The University of Maryland does not even have a valedictorian. Instead, they grant a medalist award to commence a student’s academic achievements, but you must apply for it. Gio Managadze’s LinkedIn post was most likely fake news, but it generated lots of social media buzz.)




  1. A degree is not just a piece of paper:

“Four years of assignments, exams, papers and all I got was a piece of paper.” Yes, well, two thirds of the US population do not have that “piece of paper.” Higher education is a privilege denied to many. Some people can’t afford it or have disabilities that prevent them from learning. Also, Colleges can only accept so many students- even a school as big as UMD. You’re sitting in a seat that could have gone to another student, but the college chose you because they valued you.


  1. College is an investment:

I’m sorry to break it to you- but college will never be “free.” Even if your tuition is covered by scholarship and financial aid, someone somewhere is paying for you to expand your knowledge. Don’t waste it!


  1. College should not be boring:

Your major classes should be something you’re passionate about. I love marketing, so it came natural for me to participate in class discussions. Of course some required classes won’t always spark your interest. For me- philosophy at 9am was not my cup of tea, but I stayed positive and made the most of the class. I was luckily able to pick a professor that shaped the lectures class around a movie, and that made all the difference.


  1. Professors should inspire you:

You may not always like everyone you come across, but for the most part, you should be inspired by your professors. They are highly educated in their field, and many with work experience to back it up. In order to connect with them, you need to actually go to class.  In many schools, attendance is an option but you’re only cheating yourself by not going. A professor that sticks out in my mind is my micro-economics professor. I participated frequently and if I needed help, I always reached out. By the end of the semester, he encouraged me to take an economics classes because he believed in me and told me I had the talent for it. His advice gave me the confidence to pursue a minor in economics, but I would have never given it a thought otherwise. Has a professor ever shaped or influenced you in some way?


      5. “I’d rather learn by experience”

Learning by experience is a great way to learn but nothing beats having background knowledge. Wouldn’t you prefer to have guidance and direction before starting a project? I know I would! There is less room for error in the real world. Not to mention, professors definitely have stories from their experiences- listen and learn from them.



These are my thoughts, but you tell me- do you think college is a blessing or a burden?

Fidget Spinner Takes Out Teacher’s Eye

Actually no – I haven’t lost an eye. However, I am preparing for the latest classroom distraction. THE FIDGET SPINNER.

My thirteen-year old son found a broken one outside his school. I had no idea what it was, but he quickly repaired the gadget with a penny and tape. Within seconds, that damn thing was twirling through his fingers like a stationary Yo-Yo. I wondered if a frustrated teacher hadn’t grabbed it out of a kid’s hand and chucked it out the classroom window. Regardless, my son was psyched to rescue and repair it. I then watched, helplessly, as he mastered tricks faster than a professional baton twirler. By dinner time, the second-hand spinner had been banned after my older son had me watch a video of his best-friend balancing a rotating fidget on his nose while rapping an idiotic rhyme about what else? – Fidget Spinners.

I’m sure no one reading this blog knows about the deadly precursor to the Fidget Spinner. Let me introduce you to Click Clacks. This wildly popular toy from the 1970’s provided a similar type of repetitive satisfaction – two rock hard, acrylic balls attached with a string. Kids would bounce the balls against each other until, inevitably, one ball would shatter sending plastic shards of shrapnel into an unsuspecting eye. Yup – it’s always fun until someone loses their vision. All I can say about the old days is that a teacher would have strangled a student with their Click Clacks had they dared to bring them to school. Of course, today Fidget Spinners are being touted as a solution to attention deficit disorderStress reliever focus toy for adults and students is how one current ad reads.

Anyway – I’ve weathered a host of disruptions while teaching. My short list includes: a loose bird, a swarm of bees, a squirrel trapped in the ceiling, a variety of spilled foods and drinks, ringing phones, talking students, crying students, vomiting students, fist fights, blackouts and a family of ground hogs outside the classroom window. (For the record, the ground hog clan was adorable. Totally worth stopping a lecture to ooh and ahh.)

So, bring on those Fidget Spinners, the latest answer to classroom boredom and a sure-fire cure for ADHD. I’m ready and waiting.

Question for my readers – what do you do to relieve boredom in a classroom?

Healthy Food, Healthy Brain


I’m not sure what horrible thing I did in a past life but somehow, I’ve been banned to the least desirable classroom on the campus. My room, with its glass door, is no more than a crumpled napkin’s throw from the college café. Right outside my door is an atrium dining area where hungry students wolf down their meals and chat with their classmates while I slog through yet another lecture.

Distracting for me? Absolutely. And here’s why. Students regularly leave class (while I’m lecturing) to grab a bite and then they saunter back into class, with their Gatorade stained mouths and a plate of food.

It’s like teaching at a drive-thru!

And here’s the sad part….no apples, salads, nuts or even a Smoothie has ever made it past the door. My class has become a 75-minute junk food fest. I’m no doctor, but I’m happy to describe the gastronomic effect of consuming chips, soda and cookies in combination with school work – lots of stuffed, sleepy students.

Help me out. Should I ban all eating or allow only healthy foods?

I’m Watching

My worlds – writing mysteries and teaching college –  have finally collided and I couldn’t be happier. Thanks to technology, I’m now able to apply my fictional super-sleuthing abilities to my actual classrooms.

Eek – does that mean she’s spying on us?

In a way.


I am.


On you.

And here’s how……

Almost every student as this point has participated in either an online course or a traditional course with an online compliment. I’ve been teaching online for years, but until recently, I haven’t taken advantage of the tools offered by the educational software packages. This summer, I decided to delve into the myriad of reports offered by the software. Once, I got the hang of it, I spent time coding my digital classrooms to capture just about any type of student behavior.

How often do you log on? What pages do you look at? How long do you spend on each page? How many times did you open a video? When was the last time you logged on? How does your behavior compare to your classmates? How long did it take you to complete a test? Did you look at the calendar, the announcements, the emails?  Your test crashed and you need an extension? Really – because it has to open first before it crashes. You get the idea.

Holy cow! This is insane and so powerful because now I no longer have to have fake conversations with students. In the past, I had to sift through the stories, the tears, the excuses and the inevitable death of Grandma who, for some reason, could never stay alive through final exam week.

The question is whether I will use my newly acquired electronic knowledge for good or evil. Before you panic, there’s a word for this in the educational field and it’s called an Early Warning System.  What I’m supposed to be doing is tracking student behavior and alerting you before it impacts you negatively.

Translation“Hey Student, I see you’ve only checked in once this week. Do you need help?”

Now that we’re on the same page, I have only one request. If you know that I know, then let’s both come to the table and have an honest conversation about your progress.

I’d love to hear from students! Let me know how you feel about being tracked in your online coursework.


Grade Bullies

I’m coining a new phrase that I know teachers are going to love. The Grade Bully. It’s a new phenomenon most likely driven by a shift in parenting styles beginning in the 1990’s. If you think this corresponds with the emergence of the Millennial generation, you would be correct. I like to call this generation the ‘sticker generation’ where any effort, no matter how paltry, received a happy sticker. Some like to call it the ‘trophy generation’ whereby by small silvery statues which were distributed for doing nothing more than showing up. If you’re reading this and you’ve got a box of trophies in your childhood bedroom, then you may want to take this post to heart as it is most likely impacting your GPA negatively.



Grade bullies are students who communicate to teachers, in no uncertain terms, the grade they believe they deserve. These edicts usually include statements like:


“But this grade is not good enough for me.”


You’re supposed to be making me a better student.”


“My grade doesn’t reflect my efforts.”


“Your job is to inspire students.”


“I don’t like being compared to other students in the class.”


“I’m paying money for this course.”


If you’ve used any of the above statements, please read on.


For the record, I do compare your work to other students and not just the students in your class, but also all the students I’ve had over the years as well as national standards.


I don’t grade on effort. Effort is the sticker or the trophy. I grade on the quality of the finished product – i.e. goals scored, home runs hit and baskets made.


I can’t make you a better student, but I will present you with higher-level concepts that make your brain hurt. And worse – there may be more than one answer. You may not be used to this type of exercise, but it’s imperative that you learn how to think cognitively. Making mistakes is part of the process. That’s why everyone doesn’t get an A. Some students are better at it right out of the gate. Others have to work harder and some never get there.


Your classroom is not a movie set, and I’m not Cameron Diaz or Michelle Pfeiffer playing the role of a teacher. If I inspire you, great and if not, welcome to the real world.


Yes, you are paying for an academic course. You are not, however, paying for a specific grade. If you could, I’d be very rich.


I know all of this sounds horrible to your virgin ears, and it might paint me as an old-fashioned teacher with an axe to grind. Descriptions aside, I do have a goal and that is to prepare you for the work force where any of the above statements will earn you a pink slip.


Your future boss isn’t hiring you to make you a better person. They will hire you to produce for them, and your paycheck will not be delivered with a hug, kiss and endless praise. Your future boss is going to expect you to get the job done with little to no direction. Work is competitive and your boss is evaluating you versus your peers. Whoever is better gets promoted, and your boss is not obligated to explain why.


When employers call me to ask about hiring students the most common question is: “Can they work without supervision? Can they problem solve without direction? Can they take a project and run with it? I don’t want to babysit anyone.”


Normally I encourage students to respond to my posts, but I’d really love to hear from employers. What qualities do you look for when hiring recent grads?