Saturday, May 15, 2010

Beyond the Class; Or What I Hope They Take From My Course

Regardless of the topic, there's much I wish for my students to take from my course and it's in reflecting through my own instructors that I realized where these urges originate.  I have had a great deal of fantastic instructors, mentors, and colleagues (some of whom were instructors and mentors at one point) that have taught me so many things beyond the specific content of their course and so many of those lessons I hope in some way to instill with my students in whatever way I can (and preferably relevant to course material).  Here are some of those that come to mind.

Be active; not passive with life  

It's the "Carpe Diem" approach that remains so present in my mind from my sophomore year of high school when Mr. Marshall showed us Dead Poet's Society.  Life moves quickly and there is so much one can do with it.  Don't waste it.  Like I say in a great deal of my courses; if you have made it to the college, you have surpassed the education and opportunities of billions of people on this Earth--do something with those opportunities.  You should be challenged and engaged with life; not idyl.  There's much to this world waiting to be discovered and enjoyed.  Maybe a better way of stating this is to be conscious of your life and what you're doing with it. 

Words matter

Whether you're deciding how to word a criticism towards your friend ("That sweater doesn't suit you" = That sweater is damn ugly!) or how you word your final essay; how you say it is as important as what you say.  We are shaped by language and that can be problematic in many ways, but the important lesson is to remember that words have meaning and subtley.  Be conscious

Education is more than a grade

If high school was about passing; college should be about growing.  The classes in which I learned the most were the ones that I sometimes did the worse in or had the most to learn.  The grade for obvious reasons is important; but the focus should be on the process and consideration of learning (and deliberating on whether you are open to learning or just getting a degree; the difference could be between succeeding in both internal and external ways or barely making it). 

Help is not a bad thing. 

We learn at different rates; we need different approaches to learning; asking/receiving help is a good way of attaining those things we are having trouble getting.  Don't sacrifice help for pride, fear, or some other thought that claims help is a bad thing.  No one makes it without some form of help.

Failure is a significant part of the learning process

An extension of the previous one for certain.  We often learn best from our failures.  Whether that is getting a question wrong in class discussion, doing poorly on a quiz, or failing a course.  Failure can be good learning process if you take the time to consider how/why things went wrong and pay close attention to where you (or the situation itself) may have gone astray.  If we all quit the first time, we fell off our bikes, no one would learn how to ride a bike. 

Meeting the bare minimum is not way to go through life

Some students make the comment, "I just want to pass this course."  Regardless of the course, the bare minimum of passing seems problematic for several different reasons.  The first is that, this is your education--you pay for it with money and time (time in the class; homework; commuting to the school, etc).  Do you want to approach your education as "Just enough to pass"?  Equally problematic is that, while a bachelor degree is important to your overall work potential; more and more, they are not signficant enough to open that many doors.  Competition for jobs gets increasingly tougher and fair grades simply won't cut it.  You need to be committed to college; not just there to get through it.

Have direction in life, but realize you're using a map and the final destination may often need updating. 

This one's simple.  Make plans, but be prepared for them to change.  The plan will help you focus; being prepared for change will allow you to adapt more easily.  The world is changing at a rapid pace in a variety of ways; it will not always act in the way you expect.

Whatever the course; there is something redeeming and relevant to take from it.

If I responded to students who said "I hate history" with "I hate students who hate history," needless to say, I would see massive flight from my class if not some panic-striken faces.  I don't (and other faculty don't) expect love of our subject matter, but often you are there as part of a larger purpose (such as a Bachelor's Degree) and therefore, this course you're in is part of that and has something to offer.  Often a student's reluctance (I hate subject X.  I can't do subject Y) are the biggest obstacle to doing well in the course--not the course itself. 

Reflect; often and thoroughly.

If you can't articulate "Why" you like something; then you might want to take a step back.  We're told so often of what we're supposed to be, to enjoy, to like, to aim for.  But if we can't find substantial reasons for why, then we're not acting of our own volition but are being directed by others and usually those "others" don't have our interest in mind (P.S.  "Because others are doing it" is not a valid reason either).

Every choice we make is political. 

Springing from the one above, realize that so much of what we do is part of a large world system in which we are connected in thousands of ways to people all over the world.  As people who live on the high end of the economic scale (and if your in college; that most usually true), our choices with regards to clothing, food, material goods, cellphone providers, marriage, childrearing, etc all have political ramifications that ripple throughout the world.  This can be exhausting and many would rather stick their head in the sand, but it's learning this and being a more conscious decision maker that may make the difference between our own success and demise.

It's not about knowing the answers; it's about asking the right questions.

I tend to be of the camp that the more I learn; the less I know.  However, conversely, I get better at asking the right questions and unravelling the messages behind the message.  So much of life is about decoding the signs and realizing the signs are rarely fixed; therefore, so long as you continue to question, challenge, press forward, you're in a better situation than just assuming you "know" it.   

College is more than just class.

If your thought of school is simply going to classes and getting a degree; you're missing out on half your education.  The various programs, groups, clubs, activities, events, etc at the school are there for you to benefit from in both direct and indirect ways.  If you don't leave college without expanding your professional network by some 50+ people, you've wasted a good deal of your time.  Going to college is engaging in a variety of events and meeting people (besides dates for Friday night--as important as those are). 

Talk to your instructors; soon and often.  

We're not mind readers and more often than not, we're actually real people with genuine interests and concern for our students.