Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A jinx on both your classes

I wrote a few weeks ago about the oxymoronic exhortation to be spontaneous.  Closely related is the conundrum of being labeled "creative," a surefire way to create a self-consciousness that rarely co-exists with creativity.  Next semester, I have the opportunity to take all of this to new heights by teaching a class entitled Innovation and Creativity for which I will be "perfect" because I am "so creative."  Oy vey.

Honestly, I like marching to a different drummer, singing my own song, taking the path not traveled, and seeing things from a different perspective.  But the minute you label them as unique or try to teach them to others....well, they kind of become mainstream and defeat the intended purpose of expressing uniqueness.  So, I tend to let others teach it and write about it ("it" being "how to be different") and just do what seems to work for me in any given moment or situation.  Now, however, I'm supposed to teach a group of graduate students how to be "it."  Oh my.

Yes, I love to teach.  Yes, I love a challenge.  Yes, I think it's important to find a unique contribution to the world.   I'm just not sure I know how to teach something I've never stopped to analyze or study and which seems to be nothing more than how I make my way in the world.

I have textbooks and a syllabus from the previous semester, both of which I am devouring in the hope that I will discover some magic formula for teaching something that seems both ineffable and idiosyncratic.  Perhaps it wouldn't be so daunting if I didn't feel the pressure to BE CREATIVE in front of 30 students who assume I know this stuff.   If chaos is in any way linked to creativity, then I'm feelin' real creative about now.  And that real creative feeling is temporarily getting in the way of preparing for both my Spring classes, as I'm having trouble with the focus part of creativity.

I started writing this blog to remind myself how it feels to be the learner; I am considering myself reminded.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A license to tech

I touched on related topics recently and the technology-privacy connection keeps bouncing around both in the media and in my head.  We are giving our youth access to technology and tools they don't understand and they--our youth--are reaping consequences...consequences which often have public and far-reaching implications.  Why are we doing this?  And why aren't we more concerned?

We are concerned about responsible use of an automobile.  My state places restrictions on the learner (at age 15) and removes the restrictions gradually until the age of 18, understanding that the highest likelihood of a fatality is when a teenage has limited driving experience combined with less-than-optimal emotional maturity.  In other words, less experienced, younger drivers make more lethal mistakes.  It's pretty high stakes.

And at an even earlier age, we have children using technology (text messaging, cell phone cameras, social media, as just a few examples) without the emotional maturity or life experience to understand the repercussions of many of their actions.  Is it as high stakes as a driving an automobile irresponsibly?  Maybe not.  But I'm not sure the difference would be all that compelling to the parents of teenagers who've committed suicide over images that went viral.

Frederick Lane, the author of American Privacy, describes it this way in a recent CNN article:
We're putting very powerful tools in the hands of children who don't have a frame of reference on how they should be used.  There are obviously very serious consequences when people break these kind of ethical and moral boundaries associated with privacy.
Lane goes on to say that education is the key.  Education may very well be the key, but I'm not sure what lock it's intended to open.  Cognitive development occurs in predictable stages.  We design our schools (and our driving requirements) accordingly.  Maybe it's not education that's needed as much as attention to how and why we are putting these technology tools into the hands of children who cannot possibly understand the implications of their misuse.  Perhaps the fallacy of composition in my own premise is that adults DO understand...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Just relax...and be spontaneous

Some of the least helpful advice I've ever been given is in the subject line.  It's well-intentioned and may, in fact, be quite sound.  But the exhortation to "be spontaneous" strikes me as something of a Catch-22.  For me, thinking about spontaneity pretty well guarantees its absence...and it's already far too easy for me to forget (in the midst of what we'll just call Life) that being the best version of who and what I am makes me the best teacher I can be. 

Education is a landscape rife with landmines, a reality we (the educators) can't ignore and can't escape.  Why we do the political equivalent of circling the wagons and shooting in, I can't answer.  But Bud the Teacher (in his recent comparison of teachers to Superman) offers this perspective:
I’m interested in those of us who are not invincible, who can only take so much, and who bleed, suffer and break when the rocks get tossed.  I want human beings in our schools.  I want kind and compassionate mortals working with our children, people who know what it means to hurt and fail and to rise up and succeed in spite of the foolish words from high places. 
I've been spending some time lately discovering how many educators (elementary, secondary, higher education, college, and beyond) write and/or read blogs.  The sharing of ideas, the call to courage, the support of radical creativity are a goldmine for me, but I am wondering why so many of my peers don't seem to find that support from the colleagues next door or down the hall.  Or from the parents of our students. 

As I begin my preparations for a 9-hour teaching load next semester, I am faced with a new Blackboard system, a class I've not taught before, a not-insignificant revision of a course where I had (finally) felt comfortable, and new departmental alignments.  Though I am fortunate to have supportive colleagues and administration, there are inherent risks when I bring my genuine, spontaneous (and, yes, well-prepared) self into the classroom.  It's much harder some days than others.