Finding your voice in teaching: Discovering your vocabulary

This week’s reading dealt with finding one’s teaching voice, and the story Sarah Deel gave resonates with me and my teaching. I too am shy and generally nervous about my teaching quality. I wonder if I am getting through, and if not I must be failing them. I also modeled myself after my favorite professors, largely teaching from a power point and asking the class if they understood, and encouraging all questions. I have fun with this, but then the dreaded question of death comes out of left field, and it genuinely shocks you. A loss of words, a loss of respect? This was and still is my fear teaching. Am I qualified to be their teacher, sure I have read the material I know it. Hell I have written a paper or too on it. But the little things trip me up, the details how we got there is hard for me to explain. I know this, so I research the things I am not comfortable with and at times I struggle with the material although it usually comes to me on the second reading of a term. I struggle with  imposter syndrome. I believe  teaching is a big hindrance to me because of the type of person I am. I worry a lot!

I teach them what I know I correct myself when I make mistakes, and I always try to come prepared to my class, yet I always do feel behind. I believe I am a good teacher, but I also believe I get in my own way. I give them a lot of information every class, I teach until I can barely speak, I incorporate videos, I explain the terms the best I can. I am no expert, but I think I am finding my voice in the class. I know the students respect me, (I think)I joke with them but I also have a professional relationship with my students. It is hard to explain that despite all my perceived struggles in teaching, previous students told me they learned so much from my class. They have never thought about the impact of political economy, or why it matters and what it means. I think I have found my voice I just need to convince myself of that.

Are grades problematic? The grade polemic?

Grades are tricky. Students always ask what should I know for the exam, and I have to answer in some manner. But I always answer with the same response, the big ideas, the concepts you wrestled with as the course came to fruition. Thinking about what you actually learned is a revealing process, because what if I learned nothing at all then what? I believe that is the fear of grades, that they provide evidence of what you do not know, when in fact they provide evidence of my failure as an instructor in not simplifying the material in a way in which the student can understand. With this said grades are important to a point, they provide evidence of what one knows. Although, the inverse is true an A in a class does not indicate they know the information, merely they know what the professor wanted them to know and they will probably forget a large sum of that information they learned. Again grades are tricky, and what professors should encourage is outside learning and conversations about the material. This way students can engage with the material they struggle with, what they do not know, and perhaps gain an acumen for the material. The grade matters in terms of a degree,  and the rubric for a specialty is garnered at this level. So it matters, but the pursuit of knowledge should matter more. As Mark Twain once said,  “I will never let my schooling get in the way of my education.” Encouraging outside learning and specialty is perhaps the best way out of the grade trap.

Can “we” practice change in education?

The readings this week echo concerns of creativity and the lack of skills from current models of education. In some ways I agree, in others I am not as convinced. The Langer section on learning has merit in terms of methods of learning and teaching creatively, yet there is something to knowing the basics of a discipline that help a student in the long run. I agree that being able to interpret and apply knowledge is the most important outcome of education, but if certain traits are not developed early on it may be hard for a student to find a discipline worth pursuing or that they can pursue. For instance, if one wants to work in philosophy they probably need to know Aristotle, Nietzsche, Foucault, and so on. Memorization is a valuable tool that cannot be discounted in any discipline,  different tools are needed for different disciplines.

I agree with the need to diversify, and create new paths to the same knowledge, but I still believe having a set base for a discipline is not a bad thing in its formation. Changing up how we learn that set base is up in the air for me, I think it is better to know how to apply it rather than blindly picking the theorist it belongs to. For instance, I teach global econ and world politics, and I provide my students with the proper background information on how the economy has developed the way it has, and historically that narrative can change with new discoveries but it is a narrative. The terminology and economic policies implemented by the countries in question is where students can get creative, and I encourage it. How we look at economic growth and public policy can change day by day due to our current state of information. The question then becomes what do we do we economically, and how do we account for the political actors with the power to make such decisions?

Many times the answers are not simple, but rather convoluted and at time esoteric, thus having a background of historical facts and terminology helps the students apply their knowledge. I agree methods should be flexible and open for change with an emphasis on application. However, I also think that older methods of education are extremely effective for both memorization and application. Overall, I do not disagree with the points Langer,  and Thomas and Brown, but I am hesitant in embracing their arguments.

Cultivating learners

This weeks readings were interesting because they presented learning more as something that is grown through multiple methods rather than through a static method such as lectures. I think of this as if we are farmers growing crops, we need to cycle the crops so that the soil remains fertile. If we continually try to grow the same crop using the same methods in the same place, eventually it will not work anymore because of the deterioration of the soil. I am not a farmer but I do know that creativity fosters more opportunity for yourself and others. Education needs to be accessible to everyone that wants it, however, I think everyone should not go to college because it is “expected”.

This, in my opinion, is wrong and robs from the cultivation of creative minds by placing individuals in preconceived constructs of society. If we tell people they have to go to college in order to succeed, what message are we sending? “Be creative, but you have to suffer in college for four years while you fall into debt, whether you like it or not.” I do not like that narrative, and I think that individuals that want to go to college should be able to without massive debt perspectives, but not because it is expected. Teachers, instructors, parents, and everyone else should be creative in everything they set out to do, and that will help all aspects of life for all in involved. Creative thinking is about thinking outside of the box, providing resources to help grow intellectually, but in order to do that we cannot place others in the categories we criticize. Maybe I am hypocritical, but I chose college because I wanted to get a job doing something in politics, but say I wanted to make stuff, why do I need a degree when I can get the skills I need through practice? The degree offers some safety, but after college people seemingly cannot find jobs because those that skipped college or got an associates degree are years ahead in the field. Call me skeptical, but I think teaching creatively is good, albeit hypocritical.


Patrick Salmons

Education and the goal of learning? Is it really connected?

Complacency. This one word describes my academic journey so far. An education with a B.A, an M.A.,working on a P.h.D would not seem as a product of complacency, yet in my view it is. These pieces of paper cannot define my education. They do provide an understanding that I completed the requirements for the degree, but what else do these degrees describe about academia? Pedagogy is seemingly bureaucratic in the way it shapes and molds individuals becoming what is required. There is a need for structure, yes, but the vociferous claims of these patterns do not always develop strong well rounded minds, rather there is a breeding of dissonance and heartbreak at your own failures. This is a rather anecdotal understanding of pedagogy and higher education, but it is true of at least me, and perhaps others. Data cannot present the wider whole of an argument such as this. But, the article  by Gardner Campbell, “Networked Learning as Experiential Learning”, provides insight into how one can get out of this funk (if that is the proper terminology). I tend to agree with Campbell on some grounds when he states, “Offering students the possibility of experiential learning in personal, interactive, networked computing—in all its gloriously messy varieties—provides the richest opportunity yet for integrative thinking within and beyond “schooling.”” Although, there is a bigger question, that I think Campbell tends to ignore, that is how do you change these processes and should we? There is meaning behind the system of learning we have today, it works toward its on purpose; graduation and job production. But where does that leave the individual in all this? Perhaps they have an education, one that requires a rigid work ethic, and understanding of key concepts. An education that neglects rather than molds certain aspects of the student in question.

These decisions belong to the student, and if it becomes a part of the pedagogical practices that create problems, will this not be more of the same. Connected, or networked, learning requires outside engagement with the practices not only of the class, but with others and yourself. As Dr. Welsh discusses in his video, it is about the ability to learn in ones own way with others. Blogging, twitter, Facebook, college, all are connected, but what is taken out of these connections is wholly up to the student. Blogging, twitter, and class discussion can encourage creativity and help one’s own personal goals. Hitchcock’s assumptions of blogging and twitter is correct, in that it creates a place of reflection an area of learning that is not addressed in a classroom. Connected learning is empowering because it presents an opportunity outside of the classroom, and it helps synthesize what actually matters in an education.  My field requires rigorous practice in reading and writing, and blogging, as well as twitter, help in articulating thoughts with others. Public connections and collaborations help with education and understanding of the internet as well as our own personal obstacles. Connection and collaboration helps more than a crippling grade ever could, because with the grade you learn how not to write, with a connected writing experience others demonstrate how to write better.

Moreover, networked learning provides practice in skills that are not taught, but are rather learned. Talk to any professor and they will say it takes practice.


Patrick Salmons