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

Beginning

One false start down, I’m taking a second try here to get this blog rolling. The fact is, there is so much to talk about with regards to teaching that I never really know where to start.

So, I’ll start here, with the idea of “beginner’s mind.” This concept, brought to us through Buddhism (and proliferated through self-help books, writing workshops, and couple’s seminars), reminds us to come at every old task as though we’d never undertaken it before. Simply put, it means to pretend you haven’t done this one thing – giving a lecture, grading a paper, monitoring a group activity – time and time again, and are instead approaching it for the first, very exciting time.

Beginner’s mind allows for a few different things. As beginners, we generally have more open-minded expectations of ourselves and others. We don’t necessarily know how a thing will work out, whether or not it will go according to our decidedly amateur plan. Also, beginner’s mind frees us from thinking about a task as monotonous; if we sink into beginner’s mind each time we approach an exercise or an assignment, the task looks new, original, and it invites more engagement. Continue reading