Let Go of the Bar

magic_kingdom.jpgI haven’t posted in a while. I haven’t wanted to talk about teaching. Something happens to me when I talk about teaching, and it’s not unlike a child at Disneyland. When I went to Disneyland for the first time, I was in the fifth grade, and me and my family had but one day to explore the magic kingdom. My enthusiasm for riding every ride (and some rides twice), for buying up all the mouse ears and tee shirts and candy, for taking pictures with all the crazy costumed college students far over-reached the possibility of a single day in the park. Time and time again, I felt disappointed by what we weren’t able to do, especially when around me there seemed to be so much possibility. Disneyland is immersive, unlike any other theme park I’ve been to. You can walk the alleyways and streets and paths of Disneyland without ever the imperative to think about the outside world. Disney World is even more immersive – almost delusional in its immersion – where the rules of normal time and space seem intentionally suspended. Bills? What bills? Deadlines? What deadlines? Work? Are you kidding? There’s Winnie-the-Pooh! Oh, and look, there’s a honey pot on his head. Continue reading

of Rules and Relevancy

url.jpegAn instructor comes to me with a quibble about late policies in my department’s composition courses. I’m feeling ornery and rushed when he e-mails, I’m feeling curious and obstinate, so I ask him: “What is your pedagogical reason for penalizing late work?” I know when I ask this that it’s not really a question that needs asking. Is it? Penalizing late work is an assumed practice in teaching. Not unlike the way that “you’ll sit there until you finish your vegetables” is an assumed practice in parenting. Or teaching your dog to sit is always part of dog training. But this morning when he e-mails me and I’m feeling ornery and curious (and I really don’t want my decisions on the subject challenged), I ask the question. Continue reading

Schools Needn’t Fail

65095480.jpegWhen I originally started this blog, I started with a pretty self-important diatribe against the systemization of education, especially in the form of standardized testing, rubrics, and the like. I find myself wanting to return to that discussion again, especially in the wake of the ongoing debate fueled by a post on Clay Burell’s Beyond School blog. On the other hand, I feel the urge to exactly ignore that discussion, because ultimately it leads to an us-against-the-administration discussion, or a persistent feeling of hopelessness, futility, and desperation. Because I did not get into teaching to feel desperate, nor to feel oppressed by or to battle the administration (hey, I am the administration), I hesitate to the point of intentional inertia to enter that discussion. Continue reading

Authorship 2.0

authorship.jpegTwitter, huh? If you aren’t already familiar with Twitter, you might want to check it out. According to the front page of the Web site, Twitter “is a service for friends, family, and co-workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?” Essentially, it allows users to post as often as they like these tiny little blogs that keep any followers of the posts updated on the minutiae of someone’s day. Posts like “Just landed in L.A.” and “Slept in until 10” are common, as are posts that describe other activities: “Reading an article in the New York Times about the writers’ strike” or “Wishing I hadn’t had so much to drink last night, even though it was fun.” Some people Twitter their thoughts about politics, religion, relationships, etc. There is no matter too insignificant or significant for a Twitter post. If you think it, do it, say it, hear it, you can Twitter it. Continue reading

Brave Tailors All

At the end of the semester, I hear everything. During the semester, I’ve operated the department with relative naivete, believing all classes are sailing smoothly across the weeks. I have time to design classes, to indulge faculty in a little professional development and pedagogical discussion. At the end of the semester, though, the story changes. Students call me at home to tell me how poorly they believe their teachers performed; teachers warn me that I might be getting calls from students who claim mistreatment. I work with each one as I go, trying to give whoever has contacted me the benefit of the doubt, always keeping in mind that it isn’t teachers or students – one or the other – that I must support; instead, I must support successful learning. Teachers, as much as students, can sometimes get in the way of good learning, so when I get the call, I look for where the learning has broken down. Continue reading

How Teachers Talk

This evening I have been part of a round robin of e-mails. Technically, I’ve only been copied on the e-mails since the matter of the discussion involved one of my instructors; nonetheless, I’ve followed with rapt attention. Not just as a supervisor, but also as someone who rarely sees instructors from different departments, all of whom have different philosophies, interact and communicate to try to solve a problem.

The problem is this: a student who “arrived” in class late in the semester (recall that I teach entirely online, and so arrival is a relative term), and who has had various complications during the last weeks – I gather she was sick, and that a nephew was killed in a car accident – is now asking for an Incomplete so she might have a good chance at passing her classes. Three separate classes, three different instructors. Each of the classes, of course, places unique demands on its students; likewise, each of the instructors has his or her own requirements for satisfactory performance. Continue reading

The Kindness Factor

Am I being too obviously a softy to wonder why we cannot approach our students with some measure of kindness? I would wager that most teachers, when cornered about it, believe teaching to be at least partially an act of nurture. Teachers nurture the growth of the mind, they nurture people into new understanding, out of the shells of not-knowing, and more. Recently, I hired a new instructor who, a tad nervous about taking on 40 students this semester (previously, she’d only taught to a classroom of five), asked me for advice. I looked at her and said: “You’ll be fine. Just be a parent. To forty children. Love them, and let them know you want them to succeed.”

I am too much a softy, I suppose. I mean, listen to me. Love your students? What, buy them toys, dry their tears, bandage their boo-boos? I can hear teachers groaning restlessly, bringing out their vegetables and grumbling for me to get off the stage. Yet, I sort of want to insist: why wouldn’t we start out each new semester thinking first of our students’ delightful potentials, their own (albeit now and then latent) excitement for new knowledge? And how much they need us to coach them toward those things? Continue reading