But What If I Feel Like a Fraud?

The topic of the authentic teaching self is a tricky one, especially for those not so far removed from undergrad themselves. This concept of balance–professionalism vs. humanity–stares me in the face every time I walk into the class room. I’m almost a decade older than these students though I like to think that it’s not that visible yet. I like to think that they can’t tell the difference between 23 and 26, so in their minds, I’m not too far ahead of them in years. They know I’m “younger” than some, but I also want them to respect me. Like Shelli Fowler states in her handout, “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills,” “…As the teacher you are never on a completely equal level with the students, even as you recognize that your students can be both learners/teachers in various moments, and even as your recognize that you can be a teacher/learner” (1).  So again here’s this question of balance: I’m not their equal, but I’m not on a pedestal either.

Like I said, I’ve struggled with this concept a lot. Last fall as GTAs, we were told that it’s a good idea to have a clear boundary with your students. Don’t treat them too much as friends because that opens the door for them to take advantage of you. You know, like that If You Give A Mouse a Cookie-kind-of-story? Last semester, I was super professional with my students, and it worked out very well. They didn’t know that much about me. My professional self was the self the students saw. But even at the beginning of this semester and especially after reading this, I know my authentic self was not as apparent last semester. But then again, I’m generally reserved and quiet with those I don’t know, so coming into the classroom with flashing light shows and vivid personal conversation is definitely not my authentic self. I’m truly trying to navigate the authentic self this semester, figuring out how to be more personal and involved with my students while keeping myself as an authority figure.

But then another problem arises. How can I present myself as an authority figure if I feel like a fraud? Sarah Deel said pretty much everything I feel. As I was reading through “Finding My Teaching Voice, ” I felt so relieved that I wasn’t alone in this situation. While I wasn’t entirely thrown into my classroom, I do feel underprepared, inadequate. I, too, am required to teach papers that I either haven’t written in a almost a decade or have never written at all. I have this overwhelming fear that my students are bored out of their minds and aren’t learning anything or, even worse, that they know I’m a joke. This is that little voice inside my head that likes to tell me that I have no idea what I’m doing. I listen to it a lot because it’s loud. But sometimes that voice of reason finds a way to get a word in edgewise and tells me that I do have a little bit of an idea of what I’m doing and that experience will teach me more.

Aye, there’s the rub. Experience and self-questioning are what I feel is key in both the articles of Deel and Fowler–these writings go together very well. Deel seems to have found her authentic self through semesters of teaching; I don’t think it’s something we know right away. She found what worked for her even if it wasn’t exactly cool or flashy. What mattered was her pedagogy and engaging students, and she found a way to embody that in the classroom. Fowler’s handout gives pertinent questions for me to ask myself to help me “find myself” in the place that is the classroom. The classroom is just as much a learning place for me as it is for my students. What I’ve found out is what I’ll  be trying to implicate more this semester. I’m happy that I already have begun to do so. Being real,  intentionally disclosing appropriate personal information to my students, connecting with them makes them more comfortable with me and probably gives them a more favorable impression of the course. Also, if I’m trying to teach my students not to be automaton thinkers and writers, I shouldn’t be an automaton instructor who shows up to perform the job and appears to have no personality. That’s the worst. I don’t think I was quite like that before (I desperately hope not), but I am working to have more conversations with my students and let me be me.

 


Works Cited:

Deel, Sarah E. “Finding My Teaching Voice.” cte.virginia.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Deel.pdf. Accessed 1 October 2017.

Fowler, Shelli. “The Authentic Teaching Self and Communication Skills.” mynelson.net/grad5114F15/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/The-Authentic-Teaching-Self-and-Communication-Skills.pdf. Accessed 1 October 2017.

 

 

 

When Peter Elbow Says It All…

When Peter Elbow says it all, I still find a way to assemble a lengthy and extremely disoriented post. So sorry!

In “The Case Against Grades,” Alfie Kohn clearly takes issue with how academia currently assesses learning: he detests grading. Understandably so. I can totally understand how our grading system is problematic, how it “diminishes” interest, “creates a preference for the easiest possible task,” and “reduces the quality of students’ thinking” (Kohn). Because wasn’t that how I was in high school? I wasn’t really interested in half the stuff I studied. I wanted the easiest homework possible. I memorized to test and forget. As I’ve said before, I didn’t mind school. Heck, I didn’t mind grades. I was a very competitive high schooler, be it in sports or academics. But that is exactly what grades shouldn’t be. Learning isn’t a competition.  Learning is a life-long process of growth that can be done individually or collaboratively. While I understand Kohn’s sentiments on the current state of assessment, I have a difficult time imagining it being any other way. I suppose this is normal because I suspect most of us were raised in this “QWERTY system” of grades (Liu and Nope-Brandon 9). It’s worked this far. Why change it?

Kohn makes a good argument as to why it needs to be changed. But I tended to align more with the argument Peter Elbow made in “Ranking, Evaluating, and Liking.” I mean really aligned. (If only you could see how much yellow highlighter I used in my Mendeley viewer while reading the article.) Having had a pedagogy class within my major before, I’ve come across Elbow in the past, but this time around it made more sense.  Elbow writes, “It’s obvious, thus, that I am troubled by ranking. But I will resist any temptation to argue that we can get rid of all ranking-or even should. Instead I will try to show how we can have less ranking and more evaluation in its place” (188). What I like is that he wasn’t writing an article on doing away with grading altogether; he was writing an article to advocate for evaluation–a method of assessment that helps the student grow as a writer. Not only does he outline the problem with ranking and even over-evaluating within this article, but he devoted time to the concept of “liking” students writing–this blew my mind because I was thinking just today that I was dreading next weekend when my students’ first papers are coming in for grading and how I wouldn’t see the light of day because of the electronic pile of papers that would be blocking the light from the window. I like teaching my students and working with them on their drafts. I don’t mind commenting on their final papers either. But, honestly, I’m not turning back flips waiting to read them, and ultimately, I’m so confused when it comes to smooshing the comments into a letter grade box. It’s a lot of pressure.

Elbow again seemed to read my mind here: “Writing wasn’t meant to be read in stacks of twenty-five, fifty, or seventy-five. And we are handicapped as teachers when students are in our classes against their will” (204).  I mean, mic-drop. No truer words. How do I solve these problems–my stress regarding reading stacks of papers, my stress at the thought of giving my students a letter grade, and my students simply doing things for this letter grade in a class they just want to tick off their list of “Boring Required Classes?” “Aggggggggggggh” in the words of Charlie Brown.

Another thing that I like about Elbow is that he states the problem AND gives some potential solutions to the problem. This seems normal, but have you noticed how rare it is to come across this in academic writing? There is always a problem, but rarely are potential solutions offered. Elbow writes about a concept and potential solution called “Portfolio Grading” (192-193). I first heard about this concept last fall and thought it was a really interesting means of assessment, mostly because I never had any professor use this method of grading before. I’ve also heard it takes a lot of work and planning. I’m not sure if this is true or not. I would suspect so because evaluating (giving detailed comments on every piece of writing) takes a lot of time. While I think I do spend a lot of time commenting on my students homework and papers, I always feel like I should do more. But I have so little time. Because I’m pressed for time, I made a promise to myself that I would use my two years in grad school as a means of getting myself acclimated to teaching freshmen writing courses before I would try something like portfolio grading. But the more I read about it, the more I like it. As far as I know, portfolio grading involves only giving out one grade at the end of the semester. During the semester, students turn in work only to receive comments on their writing. I also believe conferences are a big part of portfolio grading; this practice enables student and teacher to connect and truly work through issues in writing. The portfolio collects the students writing and evaluates it over the course of the semester. How did the student improve? How did he or she take comments into consideration? How did they not? I like it because it evaluates growth over a longer period of time rather than over the course of four weeks. I really do want to try this out someday.

Currently, I’m planning to offer revision this semester as a means of changing up assessment. I will grade my students papers (as I’m required to), but the grade doesn’t have to mean “end of story.”  If the grade is low, revision allows it to be a “teachable moment” or “learning experience.” I would hope that my students read the detailed comments that I give them, come talk to me about it, and then work to take these comments into consideration to revise for a better grade. While this still adheres to the grading system, it doesn’t suggest that a low grade is failure or that failure is permanent. They have the opportunity to grow and learn as a writer.

And ultimately, that is what I think is wrong with our current assessment system. It suggests to students that learning is done quickly and lasts up until the moment after the test is over. You either learned or you didn’t. If you didn’t recall the information, then sorry about it. You failed. I don’t think that encourages learning at all. Because trying and failing and trying and succeeding are life-long processes.

Networked Learning: Ok, But What Would It Really Look Like?

For the first half of Gardner Campbell’s “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning,” I was wishing that I had a clearer definition of what he believed “networked learning” to be. Is it learning that simply creates interpersonal relationships? For example, working in a corporate company allows many employees to network, meet a variety of people, and maintain connections all over the world. Does it mean building your working knowledge of a topic or discipline off of the learning of others who have come before you? Or, could it refer to online learning in a general way?

After reading the whole article, I would think it could mean any one or all of those things at the same time.  But one line from Campbell struck a chord with me: “The common denominator is a real-world context that provides deeply integrative opportunities for classroom-based learning to be applied to complex and complexly situated problems or opportunities” (Campbell, para. 3). I just started my teaching experience last semester when I was the instructor of record for Virginia Tech’s 1106 section of First-Year Writing. I am now teaching two sections of 1105. I have found that I am a firm believer in this  idea of “real-world context” (Campbell, para. 3). Most of my students are looking to major in a STEM field, not the humanities, because this is, after all, Virginia Tech. I am always wondering how I can make this required English class more relevant to a real-world situation or what we can talk about/read/do that would provide them with real world skills. Honestly, I am terrified of their leaving this class and thinking that it was a complete waste of their time.

So what would Networked Learning look like in my context? What would it really look like for freshmen in 1105 or 1106, and how could it possibly be framed in a “real-world” context? I then read Tim Hitchcock’s “Twitter and Blogs are Not Just Add-Ons to Academic Research.” I have read articles on Genre Pedagogy that talk about using the Blog as a means of making sure students can narrow down 8-10 pages of writing into a bite size morsel or as using the Blog as the final project altogether–ideas which I have never been crazy about considering implementing.

Hitchcock stated something that I found interesting, but something that I think wouldn’t directly translate to freshmen in a class they have about 5% desire to take: “Twitter and blogs, and embarrassingly enthusiastic drunken conversations at parties, are not add-ons to academic research, but a simple reflection of the passion that underpins it” (Hitchcock, para. 4). This explains bloggers in a new light to me. They’re so passionate about a subject that they talk about it in multiple ways and genres. This would also explain why I have never enjoyed blogging in the classroom environment. I simply have not been passionate enough about a topic, I suppose. So yeah–would my freshmen students care enough about their argument paper topic to want to write a blog or two about it? I tend to think no, but I guess it really depends on the topic they choose/whether I let them choose it or not.

But Hitchcock believes that undergraduates writing becomes more clear, concise, and, well, readable with the implementation of blogs (para. 8). So, I’m thinking that for my class, a successful example of networked learning could be that I have students start an online discussion about their thoughts on a paper topic, as a means of talking through their ideas before they start running with them? If every student offers at least one fully-baked thought or opinion on another student’s post, I think that could be helpful and a different, interactive learning experience. The students wouldn’t have to take on another’s advice, only read it and think about it. Because this type of brainstorming, sound-boarding, and collaboration does, in fact, occur in the real world, and these type of activities are always something for which I am on the lookout.

 

Works Cited:

Campbell, Gardner. “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning.” EduCause Review, 11 January 2016,  er.educause.edu/articles/2016/1/networked-learning-as-experiential-learning, Accessed 3 Sept 2017.

Hitchcock, Tim. “Twitter and Blogs are Not Just Add-Ons to Academic Research.” LSE Impact, 28 July 2014, The London School of Economics and Political Science, blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2014/07/28/twitter-and-blogs-academic-public-sphere/. Accessed 3 Sept 2017.