Saturday, April 12, 2014

Fear and Teaching

As mentioned here or elsewhere, I am working through Parker Palmer's The Courage to Teach.  It is a must read, but I don't think it would speak to young teachers, someone in their twenties.  It is for people who have taught at least a decade and have enough life experience for what he writes to resonate with them.  It is both a wise and spiritual book.  I hope to write half so good something about teaching  in the future, and I plan to use the book as a basis for a learning community in the fall, related to my dissertation.

The chapter on fear and the Student from Hell so resonated with me that I am still in awe.  My students are fearful, and sometimes they hide it with bravado, rudeness, seclusion, avoidance.  I am fearful, too, stupidly of student evaluations.  So much is put on those that we good teachers are afraid to challenge.  I don't mean like the colleague who told his students to get their heads out of the a---. I mean to avoid pandering and putting a mirror up to them about their world.

As mentioned before, I am taking a class at UGA I am not particularly fond of, but I am working through that and learning anyway.  What has surprised me most is my classmates' lack of knowledge of the world; if these doctoral students don't know about China's one child policy, if they don't know what's going on in Syria, if they don't know why the U.S. should be concerned about Putin and the Ukraine (and these are serious questions brought up in class), how can I expect my students or Joe Blow on the street to care.  What the hell is wrong with us?  Why are we so self-absorbed?

I am reading, slowly, through Sherry Turkle's Alone Together, which could be called Fearful New World.  As a communication scholar, it's scaring me to death.  In Human Communication class the other day, (it's a very basic course) the chapter I was teaching was on Mass Media (from Julia T. Wood's book, Mosaics, which I highly recommend), and my lecture was the five theories of mass media's influence on us.  I started by having the students write on the board the TV shows they watched on a regular basis over the last three years.  What a collection--almost nothing I would watch (but I watch almost no TV anyway).  Then after the lecture I asked which theory explained their viewing.  They wanted to say Uses and Gratification theory, but it was clear to me it was cumulative effects.  They watch shows that have over the years caused them to not be shocked by anything!  So I said that.  I was not afraid to, and I think that is the difference between pandering and engaging, between being courageous and being fearful of what you will be thought of and that it might affect teacher evals.  This is why I hope, and think, that tenure will go away, and why we need better methods of evaluating teaching.  More on that later.

At the same time, I have been an incredibly fearful and wimpy teacher at times, more times fearful than courageous.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Power in the Classroom, revisited

Parker Palmer writes:  We collaborate with the structures of separation because they promise to protect us against one of the deepest fears at the heart of being human--the fear of having a living encounter with alien "otherness," whether the other is a student, a colleague, a subject, or a self-dissenting voice within.  We fear encounters in which the others is free to be itself, to speak its own truth, to tell us what we may not wish to hear.  We want those encounters on or own terms, so that we can control their outcomes, so that they will not threaten our view of world and self."  (p. 37)

This is a big answer to the previous post.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Power in the Classroom

I have been enrolled in a doctoral program in adult education for almost two years now.  My gpa is 3.96 or so and I am ahead of all my cohort on the dissertation, which we are supposed to write during the classwork, a difficult process.  I am taking a day off today having spent the last two days at class and struggling with something.

I did not expect this doctoral experience to change me as much as it has.  I have been in the classroom 35 years and have been taught to examine a lot of my assumptions.  I was always rather self-critical, so examining and questioning my professional practice is a good and welcome and rather natural thing.  However, there is only so much self-criticism one can endure until one feels like her self or his self is being sucked away.  So I end up backing off, being angry that I am expected to change, especially when the person asking me to change is hardly in a position to do so.

One issue that has hit me this semester is the power of the professor in the classroom.  I have a professor for whom I waver between contempt and pity.  This person is wasting my time, dramatically.   I won't go any further than that.  I want to stand up in class and tell this person off, but this person would block my forward progression, and although I am pretty sure my classmates would agree with me to some extent, they would not stand behind me.

This person has power over me because I have agreed to let it be so.  I wanted something and did not realize that the process of getting it would mean having to subject myself to such things.  I see why it is important that young people are careful about where they go to college and to whom they submit themselves.  I am an adult with pretty fixed viewpoints, but this person has assumed power over my viewpoints and misrepresented them publicly.  I have little recourse for the anger I feel, but it's  spiritual problem and I will seek a spiritual answer.

So many college professors define critical thinking as "agreement with me."  It goes no further than that.  They misuse their power, small as it is.  Maybe they realize how minute their power is and therefore wield it as much as they can.  

The point:  pray for this person; the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous person (and I'm only righteous because of grace) accomplishes much.  I have been discouraged lately that it seems that the Christian faith holds me responsible for other people's spiritual state.  First of all, it does not; that's nonsense, despite all the preaching.  I am also discouraged that so many of those around me have intractable viewpoints.  Again, they don't, they only seem so.  I am encouraged to pray and leave it at that.

All this has made me more conscious of my own possible use of power in the classroom, although I like to think I don't misuse it.  I may be wrong, at least at times.  To eschew any classroom power is also to shirk responsibility.