My authentic teaching self

I’m a former high school teacher and over the years have learned a lot about my teaching self. I don’t think that I ever compared myself to other teachers that I was taught by but instead focused on how to teach the content in an effective way while also managing classroom behavior. Even with the most engaging class activities that are rooted in the various philosophies and theories of education, I still found myself having to address behavior or react to classroom visitor such as an administrator. Teaching is pretty demanding and there are a lot of factors beyond teaching the content. There is engaging with students, considering their lives and the things they go through, testing, lesson planning, content development and delivery, professional development,  and other various tasks. To balance all of the demands, I needed to be organized and task-oriented. This did not always work and some days I found myself completely overwhelmed and exhausted.

When it came to my students, I would try to be open and transparent with them. I would allow them to come up with ideas for assignments and projects, we would invite in class speakers, go on field trips, watch movies, and sometimes just sit and discuss different things. I focused on their learning but also other areas such as career skills and post-secondary education.

My teaching has now transitioned from high school to undergraduate students. The parameters are a little different and there is a different level of expectation that is present. With my students that I teach now, I ground myself on being task-oriented and organized, helpful, understanding, firm but also flexible. I especially have to be task-oriented and organized because I am also a Ph.D. student with other life demands. I also try to be helpful and understanding because I know that the students have their different demands but we all have to have reasonable expectations. I have to be firm on assignment expectations, deadlines, and class objectives. But even while being firm, I allow some flexibility depending on need and how I see fit. I don’t try to be like any other teacher, I am myself in the classroom because it’s too tiring to do otherwise.

Self-directed education could lead to self-directed workforce

I think that the most profound part of the Dan Pink videos for me was the mention of the disconnect between what science offers and what business actually does.

Pink says, “there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” He mentions that what we thought worked (if-then rewards) only works in certain circumstances and often destroy creativity. There is a misconception in business that higher incentive automatically equals higher productivity and that a system of rewards and punishments do not lead to high performance.

This makes me think about the action of effectively communicating science to lay audiences. Is it that the science is not clear enough for the businesses to understand and take action or is it that the science doesn’t fit the business models or is too expensive to implement?

The same concept applies to grading. Good performance relies on intrinsic motivation. I think that if grades were not used in education in the similar carrot on a stick fashion, perhaps the desire to do things for self will travel to the workforce once students graduate.

Teaching Through Children’s Storybooks

“Respect for diversity often creates a dilemma regarding the choice of teaching material. How can teachers find material that will be meaningful to people with such different cultural backgrounds as we find in many of our schools?”

This is a quote that I read towards the end of the Mindful Learning article by Ellen Langer.

It puts me in the mind of a mindful learning practice that I am helping to develop with a few other students in a seminar course. The professor of the course has us thinking of ways to teach a diversity in agriculture undergraduate course.  She came up with the idea to use children’s storybooks that detail experiences in agriculture according to children of various backgrounds. The idea is that the undergraduates will be able to discuss how same, similar, and different cultures represent agriculture.

I like the idea of using storybooks as a teaching material because it places less emphasis on formal, academic literature and allows the students to connect with the content in a different way.

Changes in Education

I’m inspired by Jean’s Teaching Innovation Statement. There are many great components that are described in the statement that I wish were implemented more widely. Jean described lectures in a very real way. There are many factors that break the attention between the student and the content. Other students, personal lives, technology, feelings or unimportance or irrelevance, and general lack of interest are all barriers that stand strong in the average lecture.

It wasn’t really I started my doctorate program where I felt that my professors were genuinely interested in me and what I had to say. I believe that graduate school is mostly successful at implementing some of the changes that Jean made to her class. Individualized programs and classes, freedom to allow learning styles, preferences, abilities, schedules, and comfort levels to dictate how objectives are met and content are mastered. The problem is that many undergraduate programs and courses do not extend the same type of instruction. Online learning might be an option but it is hardly as involved in the way that Jean describes. Hands-on activities, well-developed assessments, feedback, and video or in-person lectures are some of the components that are void in courses. Some schools, programs, and courses have been successful at implementing some of these components. I believe that there has been an effort to change the landscape of education. And rightly so, because gone are the days of colleges with only traditional students enrolled. Our lives are different than they were years ago.

I wonder how education might change if more classrooms (face-to-face and online) began to look like that of Jean’s. Do you– the reader–believe that things would be different with more accommodating options? Or is it ambitious to think that real change may come to the education system with options like these?

Networked Learning = Change

When reading about Networked Learning, the first word that comes to mind is change. It is changing the way in which we share information and interact with colleagues and the public from different corners of the world. It creates an opportunity for dialogue that is missing from conferences and forums.

Incorporating blogging into school programs may change the way that students perceive the learning process. In his talk, Dr. Wesch discusses students who were basically shuffling their way through school. Only seeking information to complete an assignment and to check another class off of their plan of study. To be honest, I feel like that sometimes. I just want to be done and move on with my life.  Around me, there is so much talk about what we should be doing to secure a faculty position. Everything is about how to earn the most or publish the most — not about how to make the most impact. There are also politics and unwritten rules.

Taking classes outside of my department has introduced me to networked learning and has provided a new way for me to be actively involved in my education.  I’m not fully immersed in the concept though — I pretty much only blog when required for a class. That may change at some point because I have kind of enjoyed blogging. I’ve also opened up to tweeting.

As a TA, and maybe a future professor, I have been pondering ways to incorporate networked learning into my classes.

Networked learning also puts me in the mind of the Open movement. Open Access, Open Data, and Open Educational Resources. Scholars can share their Open information through blogging and tweeting. All of these concepts celebrate connection and openness.