Thoughts on teaching and learning

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I have spent so many years of my life teaching and, while there have been challenges, none have been as challenging as my most recent experience. I can’t say it’s because of the difference in the overall culture, because I grew up in a very western-like setting and a very cosmopolitan city that is far more advanced than where I am now. Perhaps that could be the reason, and yet I have found such a different attitude towards learning and education here than what I have encountered and know of among cultures in the eastern hemisphere.

In the east where I grew up, education was valued highly. Good education was a privilege, because not everyone could afford it. Nonetheless, nearly everyone wanted to go get an education if they could, and for the middle and higher classes, that meant paying whatever families could afford to go to a more prestigious private school run by a religious organization. Private schools meant learning all lessons in English, which was recognized as a huge advantage. Private schools also meant more progressive curricula and more adequate educational support systems, from textbooks to laboratory and sports equipment. Private schools competed with each other to achieve the highest status because that brought greater recognition and graduates thereof were in demand. Public schools suffered because of lack of funding, poorly paid and poorly trained teachers, and overcrowding. As a result, few public school graduates made it through college or attended mediocre colleges and diploma mills just so they could join the workforce as blue-collar workers. The rest joined the workforce as contractual labourers, farmers, fishermen, house help, and the like. Even training for skilled trades cost more than the average person could afford, so many workers remained unskilled labourers.

Here, education seems to be taken for granted, not only in the public schools, where many children feel they are being forced to attend and would rather not go. I wonder if that is because it is seen more as a right than anything else, and because the government strives to ensure everyone receives an education. Even when they enter a college for technical or vocational training for which they pay a considerable sum, they seem to treat it as a right rather than a privilege. Could that be why many students, as a whole, are more demanding and less inclined to be motivated to do any work on their own? Because if it is seen as a right, is there a general feeling that education, skills training, and knowledge are owed to them rather than something they should work hard to acquire?

That attitude could be a huge problem and a barrier to learning simply because the students expect knowledge to be handed to them on a silver platter. I had that feeling when I taught a class at university for one semester, and the students gave feedback saying that they expected me to lecture them 3 hours straight, which would have been the whole period; they also expected me to teach them everything I knew about teaching–which, by then, was over 20 years of collective teaching experience at all levels, from preschool to university, including professional training and development. Worse yet, many of them did not like the process of delivering demos and receiving 360-degree feedback because they felt they were being embarrassed in front of their peer. My thoughts were that if they could not receive criticism from peers, what more of their students when they would be working as teachers?

In my most recent experience, I have received feedback saying that students did not appreciate having to do research or self-directed study. Also, I learned they were not expected to do much homework or assignments outside of classroom hours. They had 40 hours a week of class time with no real study periods. It seems like a lot of cramming of a lot of information in very little time. I know that where I came from, universities and colleges were regulated in regard to the maximum number of hours of coursework students could take each semester, which would be 24 hours or a maximum of 8 classes each week. That way, students would have 16 hours to absorb any new information, research, and complete assignments. They would also have time for extra-curricular activities. After all, we want well-rounded graduates, don’t we? All that this cramming does to churn out graduates as quickly as possible is spit them out half-baked.

Another thing some students did not appreciate was not being given key search terms for researching in the Internet, or even having to research on the Internet. Research is a skill we develop little by little, from being a beginning reader to one who looks words up in a dictionary, from being a novice Internet user searching for music, videos, and games, to the Internet user who appreciates and takes advantage of links, wiki references, and information databases. The Internet has made research so easy, allowing users to enter anything from words to questions and spitting out hundreds of thousands of search results. The sophisticated user will know how to narrow the topic down to very specific questions, or cast a wider net by searching for keywords. Who determines the keyword? Certainly not a tertiary-level professor. By the time students are at the tertiary level, students are expected to be discerning enough to figure out what keywords and questions to use when researching a topic. Unless they have never worked with computers or search engines (even if they don’t know what a search engine is, they most likely have used one if they have used computers and gone on the Internet), there is no reason a student can’t figure out how to search for a topic, given a question to answer.

I could go on and on and create a dissertation-long blog entry, but I will stop here and explore these ideas further another time. Until then, au revoir.

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Life is…

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When I was a teen, I used to say that life was one big mistake that couldn’t be erased. I even made a poster for it that my high school guidance counselor hung on her door.

I was right about not being able to erase it. I still don’t know how much of a mistake it is–there are certainly so many mistakes that humanity has made throughout its existence and those certainly can’t be erased.

What I have realized is that while my life could be a mistake, as many others might feel about theirs, I was learning from those mistakes. I know so many mistakes were made around me that affected me in so many negative ways. I know I made so many mistakes that have changed my life also in so many ways. But I know that, all my life, I had been seeing mistakes that would make me swear I would never ever do them.

I know now that ever since I could make decisions about things, I have been responsible for making my life what it is. I have been responsible for learning from the mistakes of others as well as from my mistakes. I know now that my life is what I make it and what I make of it.

Life in all its forms, the world included, is so sensitive that every little action makes its mark. Life reacts  by either succumbing to those actions or by overcoming them. Many times, life ends because it succumbs. Most of the time, life goes on because it overcomes. It adapts. It adjusts.

I have made mistakes, goodness knows how many. But I have overcome them. I have adapted. I have adjusted. I still make mistakes. But I have been learning from my past and the past of others around me. I know there will be some mistakes that I will no longer make.

I am on a new path now and that means I will, in all likelihood, make mistakes. But I know that I need to focus on overcoming rather than wallowing in self-pity every time I fall down , which is the easiest path to succumbing and, in some strange way, comforting. I will not wallow in self-pity because I don’t have all the time to indulge in negativism. I need to overcome that tendency and focus on what is needed, on what has to be done, on living my life to its fullest all the time! If that means sitting back and taking a deep breath once in a while, I will do it. If it means asking for help sometimes, I will do it–even if that is one of the hardest things for me to do. If it means drastically changing the way I do some things, I will do it.

I need to remind myself what I often tell my students — the moment you stop learning, you might as well be dead. I’ve been doing it, I just haven’t been paying attention. It’s what I told everyone when I was homeschooling my son — everything in life is a learning opportunity.

It has and always be my guiding principle. Life is Learning. Always.