Teaching Self

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” – William Arthur Ward

Teaching, to me, is an engagement in a communication or conversation between teacher and student that produces a harmonious music. It is a learning and growing opportunity for both, the teachers and students. Whenever I thought of myself as a teacher, I have always felt a multitude of complex emotions.

At a very early stage in my education, I struggled to cope with increased academic stakes of not getting higher grades and always being in a competition with peers that I often found myself being in a constant state of confusion and lack of interest in learning. Consequently, I had been trying to hide myself and getting even poorer grade until one of my 8th grade teacher noticed my struggle and lack of interest in chasing grades. He encouraged me to study beyond the syllabus of social sciences and always reminded me of my potential to do great things in the world, even with my poor grades and lack of much understanding about the world. However, his approach worked and beyond that point, I started enjoying school and gained confidence in my ability. Gradually, my grades started improving and I topped in 9th grade class. I somehow remembered his until now and continued to do well in my further academic journey.

Looking back in the past, I always wonder how my life-path could have been different have not my teacher been so kind, compassionate and motivating towards me. What I have learned throughout my academic journey is that, a teacher can have a remarkable impact on her student’s development and as a teacher, in the least I can always give my students a gift of appreciation and acknowledgement of their work and effort and help them to look into the positive aspects.

I believe in the uniqueness of every students and I am interested in creating a classroom atmosphere where they can share their opinions and knowledge with other students. In addition to delivering knowledge, understanding the learning differences among students and helping them grow in their unique potential with empathy can optimize the educational outcomes in a learning environment. As a teacher, my goal, therefore, is to help student, irrespective of the differences and challenges they might bring to the learning environment, to nurture their unique potential and help them thrive.


Life Experience Matters. “Knowing is not Enough” By Efon

Just as Parker Palmer noted in today’s reading, knowing is not enough for any professional. Institutional and organizational challenges requires competencies beyond classroom lessons and textbook knowledge. Dan Edelstein also alluded to the question of competency. That is competencies that can translate personal and learned experiences into workplace skills that will enable individual (in this […]

Reflection on raising innovation in learning

The discussion topic for this week is about teaching for the 21st century. Reading the article of D. Edelstein on “how is innovation taught?” I start thinking of what are the approaches to foster innovation and creative thinking?

As Edelstein elaborates in the article, increasing the innovation is inherently challenging since there is no specific rules or guidelines for this. Some people also argue that universities don’t directly contribute to increased innovation. As we already know, there were genious people who had a significant impact on technology or science without even getting a degree from college (examples of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg).

Reflecting on my background at university (more than 8 years in undergraduate and graduate), I must say there were only few examples I remember that were effective in improving innovations. I think one useful approach for the STEM disciplines (my background) can be problem-based learning as it challenges students to tackle real-world problems. As a result, students start to employ the set of skills that are covered in the class or book resources, though it’s not sufficient to rely on those due to the inherent challenges of real-world problems. As a result, this can trigger students’ thoughts at looking into new dimensions or alternatives that are not covered by course material, which can further increase innovation. This was just one example of what I experienced before…

I believe how to increase creativity and innovation at the college level requires redefining many syllables or curriculums and making modifications to the educational system. Nonetheless, exposing students to more cognitive process is a key element to that end.

Empathy is Crucial

The article “When do Medical Students Lose Their Empathy” was definitely striking to me personally…even though I’m definitely far from being a med student. Reading through these higher education experiences that are vastly different than mine definitely opens my eyes to the notion that being empathetic to those that you are helping (my students in my case) is crucial to treating them the way they deserve.

Often, filling the role of both student and instructor is rather difficult, especially as you progress as a student yourself and more and more is placed on your own shoulders in order for you to succeed, and it becomes even more difficult to give students equal time time. It is easy to look at students as just a number or just a name on a paper, but empathy is what keeps us from that. I often consider how I would have wanted a professor to treat me if I was in the position of my student, and while that helps ground me in the moment, it is difficult to keep this frame of mind at all times.

However, this article sheds light on exactly how crucial your empathy can be to your success. While never something to avoid, empathy is not always considered a strength in our society, but I feel as if there are certain areas in which it is definitely crucial…like being in med school or a medical professional (and being a teacher too!). The article does a great way of softening the blow of this lack of empathy as well, and definitely makes it seem to be something worth striving for, because for some people it’s make or break and further still for some people it might even be life and death.

Teaching for the 21st Century – Connecting the Dots

There is a general awakening that seems to have driven the realization that much of the contemporary pedagogical practices seldom produce the desirable well-rounded professionals. With this awakening, have come calls for a paradigm shift towards a pedagogy that is critical. Teaching and learning must be interactive where the teacher and learner exchange roles at different times with the ultimate objective of enabling the learner to create their own knowledge with which they may be able to perceive of their wider contexts beyond the classroom walls.

As we teach for the 21st Century, in heeding the calls for the pedagogical paradigm shift, it must be borne in mind that a new kind of professional is desirable. According to Parker J. Palmer in his paper A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited, we must seek to produce professionals that do not only possess the knowledge, but they must also recognize the same. They must be able to stand up for the greater good of humanity over and above what might be tyrannical institutional establishments. The professionals must be able to apply their objective technical knowledge and subjective emotional knowledge in order to remain relevant in varying contextual situations.

The simultaneous pursuit of objectivity and subjectivity, however, is something that can only be possible with a certain measure of innovation. Important as it is in this new paradigm, Dan Edelstein points out in his article How is Innovation Taught?, that innovation is something that can be very hard to teach. Notwithstanding this difficulty in teaching, he argues that students within the humanities, as opposed to those in the sciences, get exposed to situations that demand and subsequently develop innovative skills at an earlier stage of study. This might be true considering that in the sciences, serious innovation usually follows the development of a solid theoretical foundation. Much as a similar prerequisite foundation might be required in the humanities, perhaps there might not be need for as much time and material devoted towards the theoretical foundation before higher levels of innovation become demanded of the students. The early exposure may therefore mean that at the same level of study, students from the sciences and humanities may demonstrate varying levels of innovation.

Edelstein’s article cites a number of scholars who make a case for the humanities on the basis of the value that they may add in the pursuit of science. The scholars argue that, knowing how closer innovation is to the humanities, it is important that the sciences be blended with some humanities subjects in order to foster development of innovation amongst the sciences students. However, this may seem to position the humanities as nothing more than just a tool for the advancement of the sciences and with little inherent value in themselves. This accurately captures the status quo as demonstrated by diminishing funding towards the humanities research. If the humanities are to be portrayed in this way, would we still be staying true to the desire of creating the new kind of professionals? Perhaps what might need to be emphasized is the collaboration between those in the sciences and the humanities to create homogenous teams working collectively towards the ultimate human good. In order for this kind of collaboration to work well, just as those in the sciences would be getting a blend of the humanities, those in the humanities may also need to blend in with some science subjects to build a common ground.

In efforts to create the new professional, we perhaps, inadvertently, seek to create individuals that do not merely collect the dots but also connect them, the kind that Seth Godin argues for in his TEDX presentation Stop Stealing Dreams. This connection of the collected dots would be akin to innovation. However, to argue that school in its present form only strives for obedience and that it poses a hindrance to innovation as Godin does, may not be entirely accurate. In the present form, perhaps, school with all the obedience that it fosters sets forth one aspect of innovation out of the two, namely, the collection of the dots. What needs to happen is an enrichment of the process for the collection of the dots so that it advances into the higher realm where the dots are connected. To be sure, it is only those dots that have been collected that may be connected.


New Professionals in the Writing Classroom

In his article*, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” Parker J. Palmer offers that he became a professor “animated in part by the belief that education can humanize us.” Palmer asks “Does education humanize us?” and concludes, “Sometimes, but not nearly often enough” because we “turn our graduates loose on the world as people who know, but do not recognize that our justice system often fails the poor, that corporate logic usually favors short-term profits over sustainability, that practical politics is more about manipulating public opinion than discerning the will of the people, that our approach to international relations is laced with arrogance about our culture and ignorance of others, that science and technology are not neutral but rather means to social ends.” Palmer asserts that “If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.”

Palmer makes the case for “educating a ‘new professional'” as in “a person who is not only competent in his or her discipline but has the skill and the will to deal with the institutional pathologies that threaten the professional’s highest standards.

Palmer mentions two important realities undergirding his “call for a new professional who can confront, challenge, and help change the workplace”: (1) “our large, complex institutions are increasingly unresponsive to external pressure, even on those rare occasions when an informed and organized public demands change” and (2) “the functions of a profession are not necessarily those of the institutional structure that house it . . . We need professionals who are ‘in but not of’ their institutions, whose allegiance to the core values of their fields makes them resist the institutional diminishment of those values.”

In seeking to answer the question of, “What would the education of the new professional look like?” Palmer shares “five immodest proposals”: (1) “We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us, as if they possessed powers that render us helpless — an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue” (2) “We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as we take their intellects” (3) “We must start taking seriously the ‘intelligence’ in emotional intelligence” (4) “We must offer our students the knowledge, skills, and sensibilities required to cultivate communities of discernment and support” (5) “We must help our students understand what it means to live and work with the question of an undivided life always before them”. Palmer suggests that overall, “The education of the new professional will offer students real-time chances to translate feelings into knowledge and action by questioning and helping to develop the program they are in . . . an academic culture that invites students to find their voices about the program itself, gives them forums for speaking up, rewards rather than penalizes them for doing so, and encourages faculty and administrative responsiveness to student concerns.”

In his conclusion, Palmer suggests that “The word ‘professional’ originally meant someone who makes a ‘profession of faith’ in the midst of a disheartening world. That root meaning became diminished as the centuries rolled by, and today it has all but disappeared. ‘Professional’ now means someone who possesses knowledge and techniques too esoteric for the laity to understand, whose education is proudly proclaimed to be ‘value free.'” Further, “The notion of a ‘new professional’ revives the root meaning of the word. This person can say, ‘In the midst of the powerful force-field of institutional life, where so much conspires to compromise the core values of my work, I have found firm ground on which to stand—the ground of personal and professional identity and integrity—and from which I can call myself, my colleagues, and my profession back to our true mission.'”

I found Parker’s piece so moving and significant, that it of course prompted me to think about how I can take advantage of opportunities within my own coursework (including GEDI) to transform into a “new professional” as he outlines throughout his article. For starters, I think I may assign this article as the first reading in my First-Year Writing (ENGL 1106) courses here at Virginia Tech next fall. I believe this piece gives students an conceptual excellent framework for understanding the need for a broad well-rounded education, including the ability to write. Secondly, inspired by Palmer’s work, I want to cultivate an environment in my classroom where my students feel free to critique the program itself. I plan to have students make some early decisions as a group about what we will study, how we will study it, and to make frequent check-ins with students to check the pulse of the class and how the learners are interacting with it. Lastly, I also hope that my writing classroom can help students develop the skills needed to cultivate and hone their professional identities, to be able to articulate their views and their opinions and needs in a clear, compelling manner.

*Parker J. Palmer “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited.” Change, vol. 39, no. 6, 2007, pp. 6-12.

Connecting and collecting the dots

Listening to the Seth Godin, the speaker explained that school was defined as a place to teach obedience. And then I ask myself the question what is a school for?  For me I would elaborate on the definition; by adding that school is also a place to get a basic knowledge to solve the real world problem or It a platform to solve and see real-world problems.  If we say that there should be diverse of education, then there will be times when we have to collect the dots and times when we don’t have to collect but we would connect instead. I said this because I believe there is basic knowledge that is needed to be known to make real-world issues solvable.    Teaching in the 21stcentury should involve both connecting the dots and collecting the dots. I said so because there is basic knowledge that needs to be known in some subject matters. For instance, subject matters like physics and chemistry require some fundamental knowledge and principles which cannot be figured alone by the student except through the help of lecturing by the teachers and also the student memorizing those principles. teaching in the 21st century requires innovation for teaching and learning. However, it goes beyond lecturing a subject matter to the students. 

According to Dan Edelstein innovation is the most difficult of all skills to impart. it does not have rules for its practices. It’s something we hope the student will pick up on their own in or out of school which can be achieved when students are made to collect and connect the dots. Collecting the dots has to do with educators showing, directing and teaching the student on what and how to learn and solve problems while connecting the dots has to do with students being put in a learning situation where they can fail and then try figuring it out themselves until they become masters of their learning. It literally makes them critical thinkers.  collecting the dots are very important because by teaching student obedience, you are impacting into them some morals which include following instructions, respecting teachers and their peer- groups and so on.  In conclusion, I believe balancing the two shows the involvement of innovation.  


Professional coaches – why I want one

I loved the article “Personal Best: Top athletes and singers have coaches. Should you?” written by Dr. Atul Gawande, a surgeon who specializes is endocrine surgery. To summarize the article, Dr. Gawande writes about his experiences of having a former colleague observe and critique his work and how these experiences have enhanced his performance. Dr. Gawande also discusses his interviews with professionals who have personal coaches and his experience with the Kansas Coaching Project, an organization that teaches coaching for schoolteachers and encourages schoolteachers to use coaches to improve the quality of their teaching.

Here are a few quotes that resonated with me:

I’ve just stopped getting better.” — Dr. Gawande admits that before asking for help he had peaked in his performance as a surgeon, which is important to be aware of and acknowledge. It is also something that I have feared for myself as I pursue a career in higher education. I want to continuously grow as a teacher, which Dr. Gawande also points out is difficult to do on your own. I’ve considered sitting in on lectures by instructors that I respect. However, I believe that watching others teach has its limits on what I can learn about improving my own performance. Continuing education classes and workshops might help, though they are not going to immediately change my performance in the classroom.

I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?” – Yes! Well, not about the paying part but as a youth soccer coach with limited experience and a GTA with limited experience, I have started to wonder why instructors don’t have “coaches” that observe them and help them improve their skills. I’d love for someone to come give me advice so that I can do my job better. Of course, when I am being observed I feel uncomfortable about the experience but I have always felt better and more in control afterward. I have also enjoyed and valued being the observer. While observing, I typically feel cheerful and curious. I know I am not there to scorn or criticize, I am simply there to observe and brainstorm ways to help my colleague improve. At this point in the article, I was wondering why aren’t professional coaches more common place.

Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. …They don’t even have to be good at the sport. …Coaches are like editors.” – This speaks to me for two reasons. First of all, I enjoy being a coach, which I do agree is different from being a teacher. I think coaches provide guidance and a more critical eye. Second, I have been struggling to convince myself that I will be a great teacher (or coach), because I know that I am not the best chemist (or athlete). Dr. Gawande reminds me that most famous sports coaches to date were never the top performers in their sport. However, they are effective coaches because they are able to recognize areas that can be improved and provide guidance on how to improve them.

You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula, goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. – I just love this quote. How can you really begin to improve when you can’t effectively evaluate your own weaknesses?

Lastly: “Coaching done well may be the most effective intervention designed for human performance.” And just before that, “For society… we may not be ready to accept—or pay for—a cadre of people who identify the flaws in the professionals upon whom we rely, and yet hold in confidence what they see.” – Dr. Gawande is suggesting that the performance/abilities of humans as a whole will get better with good coaching, to which I agree. He also has good reason to believe (i.e., from personal experience) that the layperson will be hesitant to trust professionals who are being observed. However, I think that given the right explanation for the observation and with more exposure to observers, laypeople will be more receptive to observers in professional settings. For instance, I think it is understandable to have little confidence in a medical resident due to their limited experience. Yet, I’d feel better knowing that my experienced medical doctor is dedicated to their professional development and is seeking the guidance of an equally or more experienced colleague.

In closing, I think we should all strive to be better and we should always be open to being observed and accept guidance on our performance.

What is School For?

Seth Godin poses a question in his TEDx talk that I have been mulling over all semester: what is school for? I think we can all agree that a school isn’t just a building to hold students for the day; although, as Parker Palmer points out in “A New Professional,” “the fact that we have schools does not mean we have education.”

I am inclined to agree with many of the points Godin makes about how education may (should?) change moving forward and with the availability of technology:

  • Making lectures and course materials available online would give students control over their schedules, and the freedom to manage their time as they please. In concert with an expert in the subject matter– available either in person as Godin suggests, or online in real time– to direct questions toward, this seems like a promising model.
  • There may have been a time when memorizing information was necessary, but in a world where we have constant access to resources, this is an outdated idea. It is likely that students will, over time, memorize the important facts that come up repeatedly in their work but requiring memorization and regurgitation is unnecessary and ineffective.
  • Godin mentions “precise, focused education.” Products we purchase are customizable, we have precision medicine (kind of), so why not education too? I have some trouble imagining what exactly this would look like. I think of my undergraduate experience; I completed a degree with an interdisciplinary major, which gave me the ability to select courses that aligned with my interests. On the other hand, it failed to create a cohesive progression in my studies that students in established departments had.

Empathy, Always

While I am not a medical student in any way, shape, or form, there were way aspects of reading “When Do Medical Students Lose Their Empathy?” by Dr. Sonia Henry that resonated with me. I studied social work in my undergrad and am now in school for student affairs (helping in nature professions) and I saw connections between both and being a graduate student in general. First, Dr. Henry talked about the pressure and anxiety she felt being in school—while once again, I am in not medical school, but I think a lot of graduate students in other disciplines could also feel this way. I know that as I have continued in my program, I have had times where I have had anxiety and have been stressed out. I think it is universal to want to succeed when seeking graduate degrees and knowing the work it takes to achieve a graduate degree is high.                         Personally, I know that I have also rationalized my feelings of being overwhelmed with “everyone feels this way, its normal”, just as the article talked about. I am fortunate that I have a great support system in place to help me get through those times of feeling overwhelmed. However, I think more emphasis on mental health should take place in graduate programs if we know how common those feelings are for students. For example, I think it is great that Virginia Tech offers weekly drop sessions with Cook Counseling for graduate students. However, I think we need to make it more interwoven with actual programs to show students that while you should be challenged in graduate school, you should not always feel completely overwhelmed and what to do if you are.

Another aspect of this article that resonated with me was her point about losing her empathy. The author talked about how she had a patient that was given horrendous unexpected news and she did not think much of it until later in the day. Dr. Henry talked about how she went into this profession because she wanted to care for others and currently was finding herself losing that aspect of herself. I have heard this before from professions in fields that experience crisis routinely, that after a while you can become desensitized to crisis level situations because you are around them so much or you are just moving through the motions. While, my current area does experience some crisis situations, especially when serving on-call, I hope that no matter how long I am in the field, I never become desensitized to what others are experiencing. I think it helps to make you a good professional that you can empathize for what the person is going through to help them figure out how to get through it. I always want to feel and have empathy for those around me. I think this article is a good reminder of being cognizant of what you are doing and remembering why you are doing it. Theoretically, for whatever profession you are in, you started in it for a reason and it is vital to remember that reason and it keep it close to you.

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