Holding Back The Tears

Why should it take so long to find one’s preferred learning style? How many years does it take to earn a doctorate? Why is it only now, taking an American Sign Language class taught in a voice-free zone, that I understand that voiced environments have been just about too much for me for just about as long as I can remember. The professor, a colleague, hands out a page with facial expressions we are to master during the course of the next several weeks and learn to use them when signing corresponding words and ideas. It is all I can do to restrain the cascade of tears that threaten as I glance at things I would barely know how to feel, let alone express. Extreme? Perhaps. But someone out there understands in her bones what I am writing about. I know that I am not the only one on Planet Earth who has lived with low-grade panic for so long that “feeling the fear and doing it anyway” is no longer even an understatement. I felt a modicum of relief when someone or circumstance, some decade or more ago now, provided me with the ‘hyper-vigilance‘ frame. But, absent a way to redirect one’s chronic thought patterns, or an understanding or diagnosis for the accompanying disorders, one remains trapped, as it were in her own living nightmare.
Chicken or Egg? I don’t know. All I know is today, for the first time in 20 years of teaching (and, by the way, as a direct result of a thought that had room to rise during a meditation workshop at this semester’s convocation) I began my class in a darkness punctuated only by the sound of my voice reading something to my students that mattered to me. Light filtered in from the muted projection screen and a shaded window high in the wall behind which was an overcast desert sky. All of that is to say, that today, 20 years into teaching and counting, was the first day I started class within MY comfort zone.

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Much Ado About Something

Asked to complete a survey about yet another textbook instructors are expected to force-feed students, I opt here to post my response to the question asking which text I would prefer to use. Many were the times during winter break that I thought to return to this blog and yet resisted the urge. Preparing for my sabbatical blog, I dip my digits back into the blogosphere with this entry.

Writing About World Literature by Karen Gocsik is preferred (if likely, in surveyors’ opinions, to be comparing apples and oranges) for the following reasons. 1 – Content available digitally in the public domain is sufficient for an eight-week course. 2 – Students, given the opportunity / expectation to produce Background Research, are able to provide rich context while polishing their own critical and creative thinking skills. 3 – Gocsik gets to the point elegantly in just about the fewest words imaginable.

Got Wired?

KittyWithLaser So last week I left off grading Morning Pages process papers midway through and decided to finish them first thing this morning. In an attempt to subdue the Kitty with Laser that resides upstairs, I determine to note distractions, instead of pursuing them, using Peabrain. I send myself no fewer than four SMS between 9:32 and ten minutes later when I can resist distractions no more and begin this blogpost. It’s the last straw that always sends me blogging. Too many things inspire. Too many things connect, in my head anyway, to resist stirring whatever pot seems available. Writing always has been my response. Kitty and I wonder if it always will be my drug of choice or if there are other, more interesting and creative ways of staying alive, faking sane.
The texts2self include a title to research and write whether it exists already or not; a note to call cousin about our twin iPads’ first coos; and two messages about an article I’d like to write and submit to the Chronicle about a student-managed writing practice that makes my life at this point in the semester not just possible, but pleasurable, perhaps even satisfying. Back to reading. But first, a call to HR! My peabrain vibrated. Um, I mean a reminder just appeared on my phone…

Integrity Matters

I sit at a booth in Panera Bread trying to stay warm as I grade Background Research submissions from students in Migrant Literature. Only one of the four submissions so far provides no evidence of plagiarism. It is a current too strong for me to strive against.

In class, I make remarks in passing and get a laugh here and there for my comic’s timing and delivery, but they do not attend, continue to steal, preferring to posture academically than be themselves. What more can I do after points have been deducted or assignments and classes failed?

Today, in Preparatory Composition…

The person serving as Perpetrator, whose task it is to select the opening freewriting topic and lead discussion afterward asked: What’s the best way to get help in edmodo? The person serving as Bystander set her phone for 10 minutes and we began. I wrote the following with a mind toward interrupting lemming-like behavior in evidence on the Introductions Discussion Board where not a single post made the distinction between listing responses to each question in the Is eLearning Right For Me survey and reporting their score on the survey as requested.

The best way to get help on edmodo is to ask a question. To ask a question, one must know what they don’t know. To know what you don’t know requires humility, engagement, care, and being awake in the world. To be any of these things means that we have, against all odds, managed to maintain and inhabit a corner of freedom in our minds despite all the hostile attacks of the media and capitalist society run amok.

To be awake in the world means to have broken free of the Matrix, to have liberated one’s self by thoughtful, disciplined, consistent, pro-social action. When one is awake in the world, one takes responsibility for the challenges reality places before us and does whatever makes sense. To know what makes sense, however, requires collaboration and a flexibility and resourceful resilience that many possess yet few call upon.

We have all suffered great, unspeakable losses, but having that in common should not require us to keep silence. We need to learn to grieve the losses and move on the better to celebrate what life remains. The life of our families, communities, generations depends on our relationships to ourselves, our Source and Origin, and one another. How does one maintain and cultivate such connections when media is pulling our attention toward things that matter less, away from things that matter most?

Edmodo is a microcosm of society. To flourish in either context requires self-directed learning and a persistence we have all mastered but that yet remains to be transferred. It is one thing to come to class and be marked present. It is another to be accounted for with actions that contribute to the whole and bring your goal a little closer than it was the day / class / moment before. We have all been conditioned to see differences. What if instead, we decided to see similarities and built on those?

I did get to ask students to consider thinking for themselves about instructions given before submitting any and each assignment, and several teachable moments opened up to discuss the format of the Freewriting Analysis that was submitted, the affective and unspoken curriculum that includes 21st century skills, but the Syllabus Quiz that they were eager to take at the beginning of class was given short shrift and so I will have to provide another opportunity for students to demonstrate mastery and discover where opportunities for growth yet remain.

Can I Say That?

Can I ask for my room to be changed because the one we were moved to smells like white male privilege? It’s the second day meeting in that room and the colleague whose class is in that room before and after my class has left late and arrived early and today, to add icing on top, began erasing my white board without so much as a by your leave at 22 minutes past the hour. My class ends at 12:20 and the professional courtesy, in most cases, is to split the 10 minutes between classes when set up or break down time is needed.

As I slowly packed my things with this professor behind me, I considered saying something but couldn’t trust myself to remain professional or civil. Twenty years of the S.O.S has left me raw around the edges. So instead of saying something to my colleague, I told the three students with questions that I would meet them for further discussion outside. After two were satisfied with clarification offered about the homework, I led the third to the computer lab where we tried unsuccessfully to get him access to the network. A HELP Desk ticket was submitted and access is expected within the next two days.

As I walked across campus back to my office, I considered putting in a request to change rooms and thought the better of it. Occupy till I come is the Lord’s command. Occupy, I will. And, if my colleague persists in his privileged ways and disrespects me again, I will be sure to return the favor. Sometimes, experience is the best teacher.

Celebrating A Life of Reflection

Today marks my 20th year of entering college classrooms in the role of instructor, sage, guide on the side, teacher, professor, provocateur. Our mission, as I understand and accept it, is to subvert with the appearance of conformity. Lucille CliftonPaulo Freire and James Baldwin are my models. My role is that of witness. I am not given to shrinking from harsh realities or tender truths. I try, as Parker Palmer instructs, to hold the tensions between the two with the grace of a fractured soul. Self-knowledge is shared power.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

–Paulo Freire, Banned author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Fifteen of 18 registered students were present and accounted for. I did not let the room change, non-cooperative computer, non-responsive HELP Desk or growling tummy get in the way of having a blast and drafting everyone to my 8-week party celebrating 20 years on the front lines of education. I even left, outside of consciousness, the images of the student whose smoke I was forced to share to get out of my building, and the frown of the VP who did not acknowledge my greeting and gratitude for accepting grill duty on the first day of the semester.

I was consoled by a colleague’s thanks after class for a workshop I co-facilitated on resilience and motivation last week, and another colleague’s bringing a student by to meet me because the student and I have things spiritual in common. On balance, after so many years of braving the campus and classroom, my good days outweigh my bad days. I won’t complain.