I Need More Ice Cream for This

It was not in Raj Lyubov’s nature to think. Character and training disposed him not to interfere in other mens’s business. His job was to find out what they did, and his inclination was to let them go on doing it. He preferred to be enlightened, rather than to enlighten; to seek facts rather than the Truth. But even the most unmissionary soul, unless he pretend he has no emotions, is sometimes faced with a choice between commission and omission. “What are they doing?” abruptly becomes, “What are we doing?” and then, “What must I do?”
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula Le Guin (2010, p. 124)

When I started reading the selections for this week the above quote from one of Ursula Le Guin’s books came to mind and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s went into my hand. In higher education, in our graduate school careers, in the courses we teach, and with the students we work with the question remains: what are we doing?


What are we doing when students from historically marginalized populations continuously take the third shift of educating their peers, and us, about what it is like to be at an institution that was never meant for them?

What are we doing when we make students jump through hoops of paperwork for “accommodations” that may not actually fit their needs out of fear that someone, somewhere would abuse our generosity if we simply took students at their word?

What are we doing when our peers and colleagues say they suffer in ways we could never understand, that they’re tired, that they have to be on their “best behavior” to avoid validating stereotypes and that they feel tokenized when the only time their voices matter is if they are needed for a photo-op for the upcoming recruitment brochure or for a video highlighting the diversity at a given institution?

What are we doing in these situations? Sometimes this

When I read this weeks readings I felt/feel: angry+sad+irritated+ tired…

All these birds at once…

I feel like I need to go grab another three pints of Ben and Jerry’s even though I know I’m probably at least partially lactose intolerant and that I should be a vegan.


I feel all these things and this is what is missing from most of the classes I’m in and from a number of the conversations I have with folks outside of my friend circle: emotion and affect.

Palmer’s essay was about this notion and long before Palmer people such Audre Lorde pointed to the uses of emotion and affect, in Lorde’s case The Uses of Anger. In fact, most of his essay read like the work of numerous liberation scholars including liberation theologians and those historically invested in black liberation. While what I say next is in keeping with what Palmer says, it’s from the space of the liberation scholars who did the labor before us all and are no longer around to see their labor bloom into a new movement and conversation.

Contrary to the commonly espoused belief, emotions can serve in a clarificatory capacity for some people at least some of the time. Which  people? Well, probably the folks who historically have had robust reasons to be irritated with the current state of affairs and higher education.

How does this semi-diatribe relate to being a “new professional” and connecting the dots? It’s an invitation to reflect on the final question: What must we do?

How do we make space for emotion and affect to be in our classrooms where our students can be their full, authentic selves even in the midst of deep and sometimes uncomfortable conversations?
How do we relate to those who question the system when historically and systematically we are given disincentives and incentives to the contrary to censure, ostracize, and disassociate from the “revolutionaries”?
How can we be our authentic selves while we are here?

How can we do these things? By being revolutionaries which is what Palmer is gesturing at even if they never use the word and say they aren’t calling for an uprising.

What would that look like? I don’t know, but I suspect that the answer relies on building capacity and a network of colleagues who can share the labor, work together, and change a system to be in the service of those it is charged to serve-to place the system into the obediential service of students and faculty/staff alike.

What might it require? Being for and with one another even in battles that are not our own.

Being for and with our students in the project and labor of inviting them to be critical of themselves, the programs they are in, the lessons they learn, and of the institutions they attend.


It requires solidarity (tapputu in Akkadian), emotion, labor, and hope–but what these look like are things we will have to figure out in the process of relating to one another and figuring out our revolution.

“You cannot buy the Revolution. You cannot make the Revolution. You can only be the Revolution. It is in your spirit or, it is nowhere.”
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (1974, p.301)


Skills, Flow, and Teaching

 “Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments in our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something that we make happen. For a child, it could be placing with trembling fingers the last block on a tower she has built, higher than any she has built so far; for a swimmer, it could be trying to beat his own record; for a violinist, mastering an intricate musical passage. For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves.”
― Mihaly CsikszentmihalyiFlow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience


Flow. Chances are you can remember exactly what you were doing the last time you experienced it. You can probably also remember at least a semblance of how it felt. Maybe your breath becomes a little shallower or your heart beats a little faster at the memory. For me, flow has most often occurred when I am playing music or teaching. I started playing the violin in fourth grade and have played it on and off ever since. (I asked my parents for an accordion in third grade. They did not comply. Then I asked to play the bass. The violin was their compromise. Thanks, Mom and Dad!) Even with my inconsistent practice, I have spent a lot of time playing and, along with teaching physics—the other activity I have spent many hours practicing and improving–, it is the activity that has been the most challenging and rewarding in my life. I attribute my musical joy to Jim Lockwood, my middle and high school orchestra director. He chose challenging music that made us play in seventh position (really high notes), move our bows very slowly, and move our fingers very quickly. We practiced. We got better. We experienced joy.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, we experience more desirable emotions (arousal, flow, and control) when we are engaged in activities which challenge us and for which we have at least moderate skill. When we engage in activities which are not challenging, we tend to be bored or apathetic, and when we take on challenges which outpace our skill level, we tend to feel anxious or worried—uncomfortable states. Developing a new skill always requires time spent in this uncomfortable region of the emotional spectrum, and the only way to experience flow is by going through this process of skill development. The path to flow requires us to endure anxiety and worry. Growth and discomfort are necessary bedfellows.

One of the dangers of the digital world is that it can be used to avoid the discomforts of learning and miss the growth that results. We would all probably agree that there is some set of basic information—facts and understanding–that must be acquired in order for us to communicate and think. We need some net of existing knowledge which we can use to sort, interpret, and arrange new information as we encounter it. We cannot look up everything we need to know. As teachers, we get to define that basic information for our classes. The challenge is to choose a set of information that both creates opportunities and leaves space for application. Learning this basic information requires practice. Sometimes it is possible to use the computer as a crutch instead of wrestling with the practice required to learn. Students who use online resources this way never develop the skills needed to attack challenging problems and never experience the joy of solving them.


As teachers, we can encourage and support our students as we lead them through the forest of confusion and discomfort that is a necessary part of learning. Students who fail to practice the hard tasks of learning—reading difficult articles, doing long division, memorizing basic math facts—will lose those skills. Fortunately, our brains can just as easily regain the skills through practice. As teachers, we can define a well-reasoned and insightful set of basic knowledge and provide both opportunities and reasons for the painful and necessary practice needed to master it. We can then create learning experiences in which students can map what they are learning to the ubiquitous expanding digital universe of information. This is where computers can become partners in learning. In this way, students become the “centaurs” that Thompson refers to in his book. In this way, we create a path that increases our students’ skill levels and provides the types of challenges that engender arousal, flow, control, and the addiction of curiosity and learning.

Attention! Can I have your attention please!

Ok, so attention and multitasking…  I am horrible when it comes to multitasking.  You all know by now how I Google big words that I don’t know when I’m in class.  I hardly ever just work on one thing at a time.  I’ve never been diagnosed with ADHD, but it’s probably a pretty fitting diagnosis.  I’m qualified to diagnose others with ADHD, but I don’t think I could do that for myself.  Anyway, (my point exactly) multitasking…  I will start on one assignment and then think about something that needs to be done on another and soon find myself bouncing between 3 or 4 different projects at once.  And the worst part is that I know the inefficiency of multitasking (aka polyphasia for those who also like to google big words).  I know that for each additional task added on to your workload that performance in each significantly decreases.


We can see in The Myth of the Disconnected Life the dangers of paying attention too much to the wrong things, such as focusing so much on one’s phone that you trip and fall into a fountain.  It would appear that the obsession with technology is not a new phenomenon.  I appreciated the story of how obsessed people were with the Kaleidascope in 19th century England.  That article talks about how people were mesmerized by it.  If you are interested in the origin of the word “mesmerized,” it has somewhat of a similar origin based on Franz Anton Mesmer.

One of my favorite videos for attention is this one:

So as you can see, sometimes we need to be more aware of how much attention we are paying to the events in front of us.


As I’ve been looking at these articles for the week and writing up this blog, I am reminded of where our blogging started out this semester.  We started with networked learning and how technology affects education and then moved on to mindful learning.  We have also covered methods of engaging the imaginations of digital learners.  It would seem to me based on this week’s readings that finding a good balance among these topics is important.  Technology can greatly facilitate learning, but focusing too much on technology (i.e. not being mindful of our surroundings) can lead to someone walking into a fountain!  I’m in favor of taking a digital Sabbath now and then because I greatly appreciate being disconnected now and then.  As much as technology is an integral part of my daily life (especially being a student), I appreciate disconnecting from time to time because I find myself noticing so much more about my surroundings.  The last vacation I was able to take was a cruise, and I was amazed how many people bought the internet package and were on their phones the whole time.  For as much as I multitask, I go on vacation to get away from the rest of the world!


I can see how the majority of the topics for this semester are related to attention in one way or another.  Inclusive pedagogy in itself requires quite a bit of attention to detail.  Taking time to recognize and be accepting of diversity does require time and energy, but it can create a learning environment well worth the extra attention.  Critical pedagogy really seemed to be an adjustment to attention on the part of the student.  Instead of having to sit and listen to the professor lecture for hours (hard to pay attention), students are more engaged with each other and thus able to better pay attention.


Ok, so true to my own multitasking, I was able to tie in how many of the different topics of this semester are related to attention (and add in a few tangents as well).  I think the main item I’m taking away from this is that technology can be a great tool that helps us accomplish so many tasks at once, but BALANCE is still an important concept to rely on.  We have to be able to take some opportunities to pay attention to ourselves, our own well being, and take a break from all that is out there for us to focus on at once.  As seen in the video, trying to pay attention to too much can cause you to miss out on what may be more important.

From Tired, to Hopeful, to Mad, to Empowered

There was so much goodness in this week’s readings. There was a whole lot of this going on during my reading.
Everything has just tied in perfectly to things going on in my life and world right now. If you didn’t read my blog last week I posted about how tired I was last week. I was exhausted from the pressure I feel to be a leader for my people and represent us well to the rest of the world. That was the beginning of the roller coaster of last week. We then had an amazing Tribal Leader’s Summit here on campus Wednesday & Thursday which was just amazing. It was incredible, moving, and also emotional. Then Thursday morning… This happened.

Needless to say, I moved from tired, to hopeful, to just plain mad. (I won’t rehash that transition here but it’s on my twitter if you’re looking for it. Haha.) I think I called my parents more last week just emotionally exhausted from it all then I have in a long time…
To then go from that to reading about Freire’s concepts and thoughts on Critical Pedagogy –
Every time I opened a new reading, I was like “YES! That’s me! That’s what I’ve been looking for! There’s actually research & practice that supports what I’ve been thinking about!”
I found this, “Liberation is akin to a painful childbirth that never completely ends, as oppression continuously mutates and morphs into unprecedented forms in new epochs. Thus, liberation is not merely a psychological change where an individual comes to feel better about herself. Freirean liberation is a social dynamic that involves working with and engaging other people in a power-conscious process.”
It’s never over.  Every day I have to put on my armor, rejoin the fight, and defend my existence not only to my oppressors but to myself. One of the readings explained “the oppressed, Freire frequently reminds his readers, have many times been so inundated by the ideologies of their oppressors that they have come to see the world and themselves through the oppressor’s eyes. “I’m just a peasant, or a hillbilly, or a black kid from the ghetto, or a woman, or a man from the Third World, or a student with a low IQ; I have no business in higher education.” This is actually part of what I was struggling with last week. Thoughts like “I have no business talking about this”, “I am not a leader”, “Is this really my place?”, etc., etc., etc…. So it’s not just outside influences that I am fighting against. It’s not just ignorance. It’s not just racism. It’s this internal inundation of what the world, centuries of assimilation, and generational trauma has told me what I’m suppose to be, do, or act like as a Native woman. I am reminded of something I heard Sherman Alexie tell me and fellow indigenous students here at VT when he visited – “Don’t give a shit about what other Indians think. If you can’t rebel against your own people, how can you rebel against the dominant culture?” So maybe the whole reason I don’t feel like a leader for my people is actually what makes me a leader?? Maybe the fact that I can leave my people, my traditional homeland, and pursue an advanced degree, that my ideas are a little different and a mix of contemporary and tradition, is actually what my people need of me?
So what does this look like in a classroom? It’s a classroom that doesn’t ignore, negate, or hide from the surroundings of the world. No matter what the subject, discipline, or setting. Too many times, engineering professors, at least in my experience, ignore what’s going on in the outside world for fear of it conflicting with the content or the “integrity” of the science/work. I have seen this for myself in the aftermath of the election in November. I had a graduate level, engineering class in my department at 9am Wednesday morning. A female classmate who I know identifies with the LGBT community quietly cried almost the entire class period and our professor just continued with class like all was normal, never acknowledging anything. This attitude has also been seen in the March for Science in their assertion that the march is NOT political and that these discussions – particularly in the area of diversity, inclusion, and the experiences of underrepresented scientists – are dismissed as taking away from the science itself. As I am not an expert on these topics and am just coming to the MFS game, I would direct you to Katherine Crocker, Isabel Ott, and Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos. They discuss these issues with the MFS at great length eloquently and I really appreciate their voices. Freire’s ideas of Critical Pedagogy explain how these attitudes can actually hurt the “science” and the learning process. Freire argues that “education is always political and teachers are unavoidably political operatives. Teaching is a political act—there’s no way around it.”
To ignore the outside world, we are just “depositing” tons of information into our students and perpetuating the idea that this knowledge is static, unchanging, and that their role as students is merely passive vessels, meant only to memorize the content we’re sharing. We’re missing out on showing them how dynamic the world really is, the knowledge really is, and what it all means for society. One of the paper’s I’m reading for my engineering education class this week talks about how first-year engineering students report “enjoying engineering less and viewed it as less important and useful than they did at the beginning of that first year” (Jones, et al., 2010). Could this be tied to our ignorance of the world outside our engineering classrooms? to our not tied these engineering concepts to current events and scenarios? to just dumping information or wanting them to just memorize things?

Willing to Accept Critical Feedback to Produce and Construct Knowledge

One of the quotes that really hit the spot for me in this week’s reading is, “To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge.” I find that this quote really defines what it means to be a teacher. The current educational system is based on the “Banking Concept of Education.” The teacher has a list of things that they want the student to “memorized” and the students are then tested on how well they retained that information. A great teacher not only knows how to “deposit” information to the students, but they also know how to teach the student how to produce and construct their own knowledge.

I know that most of my engineering course are based on the Banking Concept of Education. The teacher stands in front of the classroom lecturing about a particular topic, and the students try to reproduce that information for the classwork, homework, and tests. For me personally, I am able to develop a “bank” of the available types of questions that could be asked on the test. Sometime it comes down to a bank of memorized facts rather than true understanding of the material. I found that I only understand something if I have experience and struggle through the nitty gritty details.

Some of the best teachers have taught me how to ask effective questions about topics that I have little knowledge of. I find that part is the hardest thing about teaching and learning. Most of the time when I am learning a new concept, I do not have enough background to truly understand what I do know and what I do not know. I frivolously try to write down everything that the professor is saying rather than understanding. I am not able to come up with questions until I take the time to sit down and really try to digest the notes. Once I have a basic understanding, then I am able to ask effective questions.

This is Spartahttps://media.tenor.co/images/a1fdde5e73a2bed6ac04fff952c94b94/raw 

One of my mentors from the industry has done a great job in teaching me how to develop effective questions. I remember when I first started working, I brought a problem to one of my senior technical engineers without truly understanding the questions that I wanted to ask him. He was extremely harsh to me, and he grilled me in ways that made me felt inadequate as an employee of the company. After this experience, I was determined to never let that happen again. I went back into my office and reworked the solution to incorporate his critical feedback in my new design. Before I went back to my senior technical, I sat there at my desk for an hour thinking of all of the critical questions that he could ask me. I asked myself, “What would Bruce grill me on today.” To my astonishment, I developed over 30 questions and answers to what I could be potentially asked by my senior technical. I walked confidently back to his office with my new proposed design and prepared answers. He started asking away, and I started to defend. After about ten minutes, he realized that I have come much more prepared than last time. He took it up a notch, and asked me questions that I have never would have thought of at my experience level. I paused for a minute to think about his questions, and responded to the best of my ability. This continued on for a while, and his feedback were as critical as ever. As the conversation is coming to an end, he grinned at me and said, “Good work.” I was stunned when I heard that compliment from him. He just spent the past hour kicking me down a pit, and started throwing rocks at me when I was at the bottom. After working with him some more, I began to understand the merits of his teaching style. He wasn’t interested in just transferring 30 years of experience to me. He was interested in teaching me how to ask effective questions. He was teaching me how to produce and construct knowledge.


According to The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vendantam, children start to realize face colors when they are three years old and assign specific attributes and stereotypes to different groups of people. It is admitted that this tendency comes from our nature of lazy brains that turn on autopilot mode frequently. As an international female. I would like to share my experience with two children.

Two years ago, I went to the Disney World in Florida, and was playing merry-go-roung. Suddenly I realized a little girl was looking at me curiously.  She was about two years old and was accompanied with her mother on a wooden horse by my side. From her smiling eyes. I felt the pure love that I never experience before. Somehow, there was a deep connection between us at that moment. We were looking at each other’s eyes and smiling until the end of that playing song. She was still smiling at me on her mother’s shoulder and finally disappeared in the crowd. However, I could tell her mother was not so friendly. She did not say anything or smile, even though she observed the friendship between her daughter and me. From her eyes. I realized that I didn’t belong to their group and definitely was not treated as a friend. However, in my heart, her little daughter liked an angel who cannot tell the differences of skin colors or any stereotype assigned to that.

The second thing happened in three weeks ago. I went to the gym and there was a small girl playing with some young white ladies at the locker room. She was about four years old and looked very pretty. I smiled at her and sat down to change my shoes. However, when she walked to me, her face changed dramatically—from smiling to angry. She beat me and scolded me by some words such as “pig!” At that moment, I was so angry not only because of her offensive behaviors but also because nobody she played with there said anything her until her mother came back and simply apologized to me. Then she said nothing to her daughter. I really hesitated to forgive her but had to say “It is Ok.” in order to be polite. I think there is something wrong in that girl’s education.  I’m afraid that when she grows up, that bias and hatred will not disappear but hide deeply in her unconscious mind. She might be as superficially polite as her mother, but treat people differently based on their races, religions, cultures and background.

These two things make me think that whether my small angel in the Disney World will turn into a girl like the unfriendly girl in the gym when she grows up to the year of four, due to the influence of her parents, teachers or the public media in the very early stage of education. If this happens, I will feel so sad.



Shankar Vedantam. How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us

What Harry Potter Taught Me About Teaching: Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart.

Be a McGonagall, not a Lockhart. Be a Dumbledore, not an Umbridge. And even though he turns it around in the end, when it comes to teaching, probably don’t be a Snape.

I’m a mega Harry Potter fan, right down to noticing (and sometimes loving) the slight differences between the books and the movies. Like most people who grew up reading the series, I can’t quite put into words how much these stories impacted my life. I can only tell you that I loved them as a kid, and I love them still. And with respect to both the books and the movies, my favorite Minerva McGonagall moment on film comes as the Battle of Hogwarts is about to begin in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. (While the filmmakers did add a little bit to the existing plot line for this scene, I will emphatically defend the added line of dialogue, but that’s not the point of this post.)

Some of you may know the scene I’m referring to, but if not, please watch it courtesy of YouTube:

When McGonagall transforms the statues into soldiers ready to fight for Hogwarts, tensions are climbing. Everyone is afraid of what is to come and uncertain whether or not any good will come of their efforts. (Yes, I was crying through this scene, as McGonagall brought the castle to life. I really felt for her, a teacher trying to protect her students and save her school, even if saving it meant destroying it.) Then she said it.

“I’ve always wanted to use that spell.”

Aside from the comic relief that moment brought, I can also say that it was a defining moment for me not just as a Harry Potter fan, but as a student and a teacher. There was something about her momentary joy in a moment of looming terror that struck me as important. And I was reminded once again that even though she would have been strict, I know McGonagall would have been my favorite teacher. In that moment, I saw a teacher who knew exactly who she was, and I saw a teacher excited to try new things.

Of course, that reminds me of some of the readings for this week, including this observation by Sarah Deel: “I hadn’t considered that certain qualities described me (like my earnestness or attention to detail) could be a legitimate part of my teaching voice.”

Of course, I’m not here asking, “What would McGonagall do?” because that isn’t how my brain works; I have to find my own teaching path, my own voice. The are many ways to be a good teacher (or a bad one). McGonagall’s to-the-point, no-nonsense, strict but fair attitude was always something I liked about her in the HP series, even though I never would have wanted to replicate it myself, at least not to the same degree. Granted, my first semester teaching was full of confusion and uncertainty and seemingly endless questions about my identity as a teacher: How should I act? How can I be myself? Should I? How do I keep it professional yet lighthearted? How would I describe myself?

(The answer has been the same since I was eight: I’m a little bit weird, thankyouverymuch.)

Again, with respect to Deel’s piece, what stuck with me especially was the most important commonality she noted among good teachers in her life: “They explained their strategies to their students. The context of the particular classroom was very important; since the students in each class understood their teacher’s philosophy and evaluation style, they were able to learn from the teacher’s responses to their writing.”

And it makes sense; students want to understand why they work they’ve been assigned is relevant to their own lives. Granted, I’m not McGonagall tasking Neville Longbottom with finding a way to blow up part of Hogwarts in order to protect it, but I do want my students to feel like the work they’re doing means something and is useful to them.

And this, of course, is where I turn from McGonagall to Gilderoy Lockhart.


First, let me admit that my favorite student comment from my first semester of teaching evaluations is as follows:  “Rachel is the most charmingly self-deprecating teacher I’ve ever met.” If you’ve read Harry Potter, then you know this puts me about as far from Gilderoy Lockhart as I can get, and I’m pretty proud of that. Usually, if I’m toeing the line of being too professional and reserved, I tend to back away from it if it means I think I can help my students.

Where Gilderoy Lockhart would embellish and lie about his experiences to make himself look better, I’m willing to throw myself under the bus when it comes to explaining to students terrified of giving presentations that I too used to have a massive fear of public speaking. I’m willing to tell them I didn’t particularly enjoy math, and that my success with it was largely dependent on a college professor who understood that her course was only good to most of us if it could be useful in our daily lives. From full-on stuttering and sweating at the front of a room to barely making it through a statistics class, I’m willing to share my experiences with students whether they’re the good, the bad, or the ugly, so long as I think it might engage them and leave them more open to the work I’m asking them to complete.

So even though I’m still defining my identity as a teacher, and even though I’m still developing my own understanding of my “authentic teaching voice,” I like to think that I’m on the right track. Maybe I’m a combination of some parts Dumbledore, McGonagall, Lupin, and even a little bit of Snape… I am a Slytherin, after all. These Hogwarts professors are not afraid to be themselves and they are open, at least to some extent, to sharing their experiences in order to help students learn.

Seeing as my story is not finished yet, it feels like a pretty good start.

Breaking the Ice

Not everyone gets the opportunity to develop a teaching philosophy before their first teaching experience. When I first started teaching, I had no previous guidance. I started with the conventional routine of introducing myself and covering the course outline. Never did I think of ways to interact with my students, or how to develop good communication skills between us. I started facing language barriers, group formation barriers and general class management difficulties, but the most important challenge to me was to feel more comfortable and pass this feeling on to my students. In other words, breaking the ice!

Towards mid-semester, I noticed that I’m having a hard time in getting the class to interact with their friends, participate, or even joke around. It felt like they weren’t enjoying class. I figured that I need to develop strategies to promote active learning. After taking advice from some of my colleagues, I started to shape my own teaching philosophy. I wanted to promote an environment where everyone in class can feel comfortable. On the first day of a new semester, I started my first class this time by distributing blank papers for students – this time, it was for name tags. While I was modelling my instruction on forming a name tag, I was happy to see that most of the class was participating. Calling out individuals by their names on the first day made them feel recognized and appreciated. I can imagine how disturbing it can be when your class instructor spends the whole semester without knowing your name. Since then, I gave the students casual class breaks where I took the time to talk to some of them on topics outside of class materials. Developing a basic friendship with students was my aim in helping them break down that barrier that’s usually is almost always there between students and professors. As I continued to come up with simpler ways to communicate with the students, I knew that teaching will become less challenging and more enjoyable than what I initially experienced.

The importance of breaking the ice in a classroom begins with providing a student sense of recognition, and sets up a stimulating environment that encourages participation and communication between students. Students receive a sense of responsibility as part of their learning by comfortably interacting in groups and generally building an optimum performing and dynamic classroom.

From Cooking to Becoming a Chef

In a recent conversation with a colleague, I realized how our intellectual processes are like cooking by yourself at home. Thoughts are food of our brains. We gather the ingredients, apply the recipes we learn, but most importantly we personalize it. We may not afford to cook at home all the time. We may need a quick snack or sometimes we even crave for comfort food. However, at the times we go to the restaurants we assess the authenticity of the recipe, the creativity of the use of ingredients, the mastery in cooking and service.


The classroom setting is where the teacher presents her/his best recipes with the ingredients as rich as possible. But it seems it is half of becoming a well-known chef. The design and serving are also artistic sides of becoming a chef, which is considered to be her/his signature of success. The success of the chef lies at her/his creativity and skill in using the cooking material, as well as adjusting different tastes in harmony. In that sense, a chef needs good observation skills, s/he needs to be mindful, to be open to critique and reflection, and to be self-reflective. Cooking
is both an art and a responsibility for a chef, like teaching is to a teacher.

Deel presents the dilemmas she encountered when he first started teaching. Her discussion reflects how we may easily rely on the conceptual models about teaching, which are more or less caricaturized, in depicting success of a teacher. The task of engaging students in discussions or speak out in the classroom environment is a preliminary benchmark of the quality of the communication between the teacher and the student. The silence or enthusiasm is a symptom of how well the engagement has been accomplished: however, focusing on the out-come will not contribute to making progress as Deel argues.

Two lessons Deel brought to the discussion on authentic teaching is invaluable in helping to readjust our focus on the process of teaching. Explaining the teaching strategy helps the student assess how much and/or s/he can digest an information. It also helps the way in which the intellectual food we prepared to be distributed fairly. Yet, teachers, like chefs, engages in a conversation with students through their own style, which may be too spicy for some or entire class, as well as too sweet or too salty. The teacher needs to create her/his own assessment  to serve what s/he prepared.


Finally, a chef does not aim at feeding but creating something unique and artistic. A teacher should not aim feeding the students, but s/he should set an example of how to become an experienced cook, to engage in a conversation about cooking and the way in which we process, use, and digest intellectual food, how we narrativize and apply a recipe, and the most importantly, how teachers guide students to cook their own beneficial intellectual food that will help them to survive and develop.

So they can grab the hands of a thousand more…

Image result for the ascent howard rainer

Grab hold,
And take this hand that
Reaches out to you.

Look up
Into my eyes;
My spirit
Cries out to you:
Friendship is my thought.

Let us climb
The jagged cliffs of life
And fight the ascent of
Opposition together.

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

This is my authentic teaching voice. Since the moment my father showed me this poem when I was in high school, I knew that this poem embodied everything I am. It is the embodiment of ga-du-gi. Ga-Du-Gi is a Cherokee phrase/concept that loosely means working together for the good of everyone. It is woven into my DNA – into the fabric of who I am. That need for community is something I innately crave and without it I am not whole. It’s also something I’ve struggled with finding here at Virginia Tech but that’s a different post. But more importantly for this topic, it’s who I am, so it’s how I teach. It’s actually the whole reason why I love teaching. The problem is – this is not the norm in my field of stereotypical engineers who put up this wall between them and their students.

As I began to find my voice and place in my department here, I actually struggled with being different from those I was seeing in teaching leadership positions. Another phd student I looked up talked about not going to certain events because the students she TA’d might be there. In our TA workshop for the year, the professor leading it told us that we could be friendly but we shouldn’t be friends with our students. I understood their reasoning behind their comments but I started thinking…

“That’s not me. Is there something wrong with me?”

But then I discovered Palmer’s book “The Courage to Teach” and I started this journey on finding (no – recognizing) my authentic teaching self. Palmer calls it teaching from your authentic self which was honestly a major “ah-ha” moment for me. If I am not authentic to who I am as a person with my students, then I am doing them a disservice.

“Student see posing and posturing very quickly; do not be someone you are not in
your classroom” – Dr. Fowler

It will be felt – not only in the room – but in my soul. It’s like denying a piece of who you are and expecting to still be happy with life. For some, that space between them and the students is authentic to them. But it’s not for me. I need my classroom to be a community space where we can truly work together for the good of everyone in the room. I’m sure I’ll get some push back for this seeming utopian or altruistic but that’s my culture and if we can sustain thousands of years of systemic genocide doing things this way, I think I can make it, being true to myself and my voice, in my classroom.

“One of Palmer’s major theses is the idea that the more you bring yourself to your teaching, the better teacher you will be.”

This does not mean that there are no boundaries or order in my classroom. On the contrary, my classroom is based on mutual respect. One of the big takeaways I’ve gotten so far this year, is really to be upfront with your students in the beginning about why you’re doing the things you’re doing. You show them respect in sharing this information and journey of learning with them and when they that my purpose for these silly things I do is really just about helping them succeed, I have more of their respect as well.

This concept of ga-du-gi is also a really empowering one in the classroom. It means everyone is actively involved in their own learning as well as the learning of those around them. We learned a little bit about empowerment in one of the previous videos. When workers were allowed to work on whatever they wanted for a day every month I believe, the company saw more innovation then ever before.

“When we empower our students, amazing things can happen!”

So I’m still in the process of figuring out what this physically looks like in the classroom everyday, but I know that it’ll be real. It’ll be authentic. And it’ll be me. I can already feel my pedagogical statement forming and it’ll all be summed up into one word – “ga-du-gi”. So yeah, maybe it’s ideological or utopian to think, but I have to believe that one person can change the world and that that starts in our own classrooms.

Because if I can help, connect, or simply pull up even just one student in that room, they will reach back and grab the hands of a thousand more and that’s all I really hope for…

1 2 3