I don’t know why this last blog post was is being so difficult to write for me… But the more I think about it the more clear that muddiness becomes. It’s that point in the semester where panic ensues almost everyday and where the rest of your life seems to just be placed on hold until you survive that last week of classes – where you’re living an UNDIVIDED LIFE.
As I’ve mentioned before, I have been a fan of Parker Palmer’s since I found his book The Courage To Teach. It was in this book that I first learned about teaching from the undivided self and I have already put the book he mentioned about this topic in our readings on my kindle wishlist. As in teaching and in life, we are not at our best when we are divided. I am at my best in the classroom when I bring all of who I am into that room – when I utilize & talk about my Cherokee heritage and values, when I connect my life as a entrepreneur to being a student, when I give examples from all aspects of my life – not just the “professional” ones. I am at my best in life when I am fulfilling my responsibilities as a wife, as a student & teacher, as a business woman and as just a person. When I divide or deny an aspect of who I am for too long, I begin to suffer in all of those aspects.
And I need to create an environment in my engineering classroom that allows students to be their undivided self as well. There are things that I love to do or was good at when I started my undergraduate engineering career that I honestly think were drilled, taught, or just pushed out of me. I want my students to be able to be all of who they are in my classroom, to not have to suppress or push down their creativity, to not be afraid to have the conversations that need to be had just because “this is an engineering classroom”.
This is the goal in teaching the New Professional. We need to not only allow space for emotions and creativity in our classrooms but support and encourage it. There shouldn’t be a set of steps that must be followed exactly in order to find the right answer. Students should be rewarded for creativity – for innovation – for working through that problem in a new way. This comes out in both the Parker Palmer article and the Innovation articles. The New Professional cannot deny or ignore their emotions if they want to make real change in the world and in order to teach our students innovation we must teach them that the knowledge we’re teaching them is not the end all be all. Both innovation and this desire to make a difference in the world are common reasons students list for being interested in engineering in the first place. And yet, as seen and discussed several times before, something happens between them being freshman and seniors that changes their outlook entirely.
I believe we are disconnecting them from why they enjoyed and were interested in engineering in the first place through our current education style. We are telling them that emotions have no place in science and engineering – even though it was those emotions that led them to us. We are teaching them that the numbers do not lie and that all that matters is the right answer – but never letting them explore what that number means, never showing them how to tell if its even reasonable in real time, or discussing that engineering is always changing and this might not even be the way of doing things when they get out of school. They leave us without practicing innovation and as divided husks of the idyllic person they once were.
I know this is a bit of an exaggeration and isn’t true of every person or every institution but it’s the current system. And as Palmer discussed, we cannot change the system until we realize that we are a part of it and have power over it.
I can change how engineering is taught. I can welcome and utilize emotions in my classroom. I can utilize mindfulness and teach my students how to as well. I can have those difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion in engineering, what it means to be an engineer, and who can be an engineer. I can help them think critically and not just be passive banks in their education, depositing knowledge. I can live an undivided life and bring ALL that I am into the classroom and teach my students to do the same. To utilize their strengths, no matter what they are, to help them be the best new professional engineers that they can be.
If I can lift you today,
You will look back
And grab the hands of a thousand more.
That is the way
The Great Spirit would have it!
-Howard Rainer, Native American Poet