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Learning and work

12/30/2012 Leave a comment

“The kind of work that should be the main part of life is the kind of work you would want to do if you weren’t being paid for it. It’s work that comes out of your own internal needs, interests and concerns.”

Noam Chomsky

My experience of finally getting a teaching job, then getting laid off, then getting another teaching job has led me to thinking a lot about the purpose of work. I hated substitute teaching, but I would say that I hated not working more, but substituting allowed me to enjoy the amount of reading and interest driven learning.

Substitute teaching was mindless work, but it was the mindless work that let my mind wander and really focus on the reading that I did. I grew a lot intellectually.

Now I am employed again as a full time teacher and part of me misses that time that I had to focus on my interests. But, they have been refocused on the learning of my students. This has been an even more rewarding experience. I can take the things that I wanted to learn about and bring those ideas and experiences to my students in my classroom.

I’ve really enjoyed my time off over winter break. I got time to read a book I wanted to and to watch movies that I’ve been waiting to watch. Now, I am recharged and ready to attack the next semester. I’m ready to meet my students need and grow with them as learners. It’s a task we all need to be invested in and I am prepared to learn with them in ways they have never experienced before.

This is the work that I want to do. I want to figure out how to better understand the world. No matter how many books and articles I read I will not understand the world better, unless I begin the interaction with people. My substitute teaching isolated me in my own academic cocoon. Now, it’s time for my teaching job to help me move to the next step in my learning.

Work is fun.

Categories: teaching

Thoughts of the Laid Off Teacher

11/05/2012 Leave a comment

“If your work isn’t what you love, then something isn’t right.” Found a Job by Talking Heads

I applied this lyric to my life and I believe that I have found what I love. But it was taken away from me. It had nothing to do with my ability as a teacher or my inabilities to jump through the hoops that are educational system puts us through. I got laid off because of a poorly planned budget.

First, let’s recap some of my background.

I jumped around as a undergraduate. I was lost. I never got pushed as a student in high school and when I got to college I believed that I would be able to coast through. I was wrong. So very, very wrong.

The work was challenging because I never really applied myself to academic work before. (I still struggle because of this, even though I’ve gotten my master’s, writing is a major chore for me and I’m embarrassed right after I finish each sentence.) I nearly failed out and didn’t ask anybody for help. I was drowning. I got really depressed and thought I had messed up big.

Then I took a history class over summer. I worked second shift and took my class in the morning. Three hours a day, but I loved every second of it. I had always been good at history because I have a good memory and most history classes, if not all, are ones that really only focused on memorizing a topic. I was so occupied with school and work I had no time to feel sorry for myself.

I found history and graduated and then decided to get my master’s in education. Financially and career-wise this was probably a mistake. But, intellectually and overall happiness-wise this was the best decision of my life. I loved pushing pushed and challenged academically. I would not be the teacher I am today had I not gotten my master’s. It was the best worst decision of my life.

I thought I was on my way, but reality then set in. I graduated at semester and had to move back home and substitute teach. It really wasn’t that bad. At first, but you can only had out worksheets and pop in a terrible history documentary so many times before you want to just give up. That summer I only got 3 interviews and no offers. I was hired as a building substitute, the next year, which was more consistent work, but just as mind numbing.

So I got to this past summer. I couldn’t find a high school social studies summer job, so I ended up teaching elementary reading classes. I was willing to do anything to get into a classroom. I got a lot of interviews over summer. This was surprising, especially considering the others who were social studies teachers in my cohort only got a couple interviews and I had seven. But still no job.

Then, I got my break. I got hired at a private school as a part time teacher. I don’t think I’ve ever had as happy an event as that.

I didn’t even care that it was a choice school, I just wanted to teach.

Now being on the inside of an institution that I disagree with philosophically was an interesting experience. But I will say this: the teachers at this school cared about their students as much, if not more than the teachers at the public schools I had subbed at. There were some amazing teachers at this school. Administratively, I’m still unsure about the structure that was in place.

The other nice thing about the school, at least for me, was I was given complete autonomy over my curriculum. I would never get this at a public school. I took my students through lessons that I hoped helped them question the dominate paradigms of our society. BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT A GOOD SOCIAL STUDIES CLASS SHOULD DO! It shouldn’t have you memorize facts. Any child can memorize facts, but if a student can analyze, synthesize, critique, and create knowledge that’s what a historian does or should do.

To give an example of some of the topics covered in my class, we talked about: gender roles in society, whether or not it was right to kill Osama Bin Laden or should he be put on trial, the role that money plays in elections and legislation, why there are only two major parties and why both parties like it that way, marijuana legalization, police brutality and abuses, and why I was the only white person in the room.

Tell me what standardized test will measure the learning that went on in these classes. You can’t, because none exists.

Then I learn in the middle of the week that we are having a meeting about our budget. I find out I’m going to get laid off by power point slide. I’m crushed. And still am. I have one more class left with my students.

I decide to give my last lecture. (Funny considering a few things: first job, new teacher, I’m not even sure what it means.) But basically I wanted to students to hear from me what I had hoped for them to get out my classes. I told them that they are all smart no matter what a test says. That the tests are racially and economically biased and don’t mean anything. I tell them about how much they have taught me because their stories and experiences are much different than mine and I’ve learned so much from them all. I tell them to find purpose in life. Treat people with kindness and fairness. To hope. To dream.

I don’t know if it got to them. I opened up and I let my emotions flowed. I cried; I cried a lot that day. Some cried with me. Many hugged me. They wanted to petition and they did a sit in, and I appreciated it, but I know I’m not going to get back to them.

I had students tell me that I was going to be ok. I told them that I knew I was going to be ok. I’m a white straight male the game is rigged in my favor, but I told them that they had to make sure that they questioned everything and understood that they had power. I wanted to help them get through their journey.

7 weeks. That’s all I had with them, but I’ll never forget them. It sometimes doesn’t even feel real, but instead feels like the best dream I ever had and will never be able to recreate.

Now I am back trying to get on sub rolls and I already dread it. But those kids gave me purpose. I know that I am suppose to be a teacher. I could do nothing else. Teaching is not a job for me. Teaching is me.

Categories: teaching

The Failed Crop of the Online Education Harvest

02/16/2012 3 comments

I was pointed to the Michael Karnjanaprakorn article “Does the Online Education Revolution Mean the Death of the Diploma?” by More or Less Bunk.  Bunk, sarcastically says that:

Because we know that learners already know everything they need to know about what they’re learning, why shouldn’t they decide how best to teach what they’re learning too?

I am a proponent of student centered learning, but Bunk is right.  It is a big reach to say that learners will be able to carve out their own paths.  I think that some students do and can do this, but many would struggle with this concept.  The key for this type of learning is critical thinking skills and dialogue between teachers and students (which roles should be interchangeable to a degree).  The is that students usually don’t acquire these skills in high school, because they are drilled with the banking education model and high stakes standardized tests.

Karnjanaprakorn lists five ways in which his “Education Harvest” is being sowed.

The first three points are all basically connected to how education harvest will be online. First, he talks about the anywhere classroom.  He believes that since cell phones, and especially smart phones, are becoming more prevalent that students will be more likely to use them to learn.  How cellphones specifically will facilitate learning we don’t learn here. Socratic texting maybe? He also says that since e-books and online videos like, TED talks and Kahn Academy, are going to become more available then they will be more widely used.

There are a couple of problems here.  First, its not just a problem with how Karnjanaprakorn is thinking, but a problem with education in general.  These people believe that all learning can just be dumped into the heads of the students.  Paulo Friere writes in Education for Critical Consciousness:

The role of the educator is not to “fill” the educatee with “knowledge,” technical or otherwise.  It is rather to attempt to move towards a new way of thinking in both educator and educatee, through the dialogical relationships between both.  The flow is in both directions.  The best student in physics or mathematics, at school or university, is not one who memorizes formulae but one who is aware of the reason for them.  (p. 112)

To assume by listening videos and reading e-books will cultivate a critical learning experience it a major reach.  Books have been around and available in libraries forever and still don’t get touched.  Making them digital will increase access, but how can we assume it will increase the reading of important texts to a field and will that in turn increase the understand of those texts.  Reading takes more than just reading.  Lastly, students just aren’t reading as much in general.

It is important to cultivate real relationships between the student and teacher.  It is through this dialogical relationship that critical thinking is borne. The teacher interacts with the student to make sure that learning is personalized, meaningful, and provided in a situation that allows for the student to think independently and creatively.   It is also important that students learning is put in context and not just a set of random ideas.

This is my main beef with online education.  It basically believes that teaching comes down to a formula.  Get it right and then you can replicate it for all and get rid of the rest of the teachers.  This is not true.  As I have said before I believe that teaching is an art, not a science.  This is another rung on the ladder to deskill the teaching position.  

I put his idea in this formula: E-books + Youtube Videos + tweets x anywhere= learning. It’s just so simple. Yet flawed.  It reminds me of that Forbes blog post,a couple of month ago, where that old white guy talked about how he would get out of poverty if he was black, just read stuff online.  Real learning is much more than that.

Karnjanaprakorn says that Facebook and Twitter to determine their strengths or weaknesses.  I’d just like to ask, how so? If I could guess what my Facebook and Twitter friends areas of expertise would be, I would guess it was baby pictures and dumb youtube videos.

He also talks about how textbooks are becoming digital and lectures are being posted online (hey, isn’t this point 1), but this again makes the assumption that just reading material and listening to lectures will equal learning.  It does not.  It might fill students with random facts, but without context, real learning situations, and teacher-student interactions, this type of learning will be superficial.  I guess somebody could tweet me why neoliberalism and education don’t mix, but I don’t think I would get the point in 140 characters (maybe with emoticons).

Now, the last two points I think that Karnjanaprakorn is onto something, but with cavaets.  I think that the idea of Do-It-Yourself education is a very powerful one, but you need to know what you are looking for.  You need to develop the skills needed to understand what you are trying to learn.  I have BA in History and MA in education.  Now a majority of my days are spent involved in DIY learning, but I would have never learned the skills to be successful at this without the help of my teachers in college.  Where there bad teachers that had no effect on me.  Hell ya, but the ones who helps me, helped in such profound ways that I don’t know where I’d be without them.

As far as accreditation is concerned, I agree as well that it sucks that many jobs require that you have a specific form of accreditation.  As a social studies teacher, I have to get accredited in each area of social studies I want to teach like economics or geography.  I have to take college courses to get this.  Accreditation stinks, but I think that there does need to be accountability for certain professions.  Now, if you want to start a company like Karnjanaprakorn then more power to you and you don’t need accreditation.  (Although he does have accreditation, where I sure he learned valuable skills that he would have not otherwise).

I just don’t think that his predications will pan out.  He says that education is all about the doers, and that academics and theorists are the past.  This will result in shoddy work done by amateurs. He says

Start your own company, build a website, organize an event, get a side project, and you’ll make it.

Has he seen the success rates of start ups?  This just isn’t true, but it is key to remember that he is trying to sell his own product here.  He also distorts some facts from the Forbes top 500.  First, he plays a nifty trick saying that the 6 of the top 10 didn’t go to an Ivy League school, but they all went to college.  Second, he says only 19 of the top 100 didn’t go to college or dropped out.  In actuality, 19 out of the top 500 didn’t drop out.  Now see if I had learned how to be a historian in an online class, I might not have learned about the importance of checking other people’s sources.  He also gives us four companies, I have never heard of who don’t ask for resumes.  Great, but the reality of it is that 99.9% of companies you apply to are going to want resumes and accreditation.

I think that the online class how he envisions it would be great for the type of things that are on his website, Skillshare, for example “How to talk football like a Pro”.  Which is great, but it also shows the limitations of his harvest.  It seems like a nice little business, to go to learn a hobby, but it would never be able to replicate the learning experience of college. His crops have been hit by a drought and I’m afraid they won’t be able to feed all that are in need.