Getting ready to learn

Chapter 1, paragraph 1, page 3 (PDF version):

“When one travels around the world, one notices to what an extraordinary degree human nature is the same, whether in India or America, in Europe or Australia. This is especially true in colleges and universities. We are turning out, as if through a mould, a type of human being whose chief interest is to find security, to become somebody important, or to have a good time with as little thought as possible.” — J.Krishnamurti, Education and the Significance of Life

School hasn’t officially started and I since don’t teach students in the summer months this post will be less about my classroom and more about my work as an ELL (English Language Learner) Specialist.  As a Specialist I spend June and July researching everything from federal and state policy on education, to what it means to be “college and career ready.” I spend hours deciphering the language of the Common Core State Standards, exploring developments in pedagogy and andragogy, familiarizing myself with changes in standardized assessments, attending conferences where I can collaborate, pose questions, and only hope to spark an interest in new ways of bringing equity to academic education. (K is likely turning over in his grave at the thought that anyone this interested in his book is as heavily imbedded in “the system” as I am!) Any and all of these topics eventually get blended into an infinite number of professional development sessions, workshops, and trainings. Many of which I create, all of which I deliver for educators and administrators. You might also find me coaching and mentoring teachers and colleagues throughout the year. So when does the teaching come in? My classroom work with students will resume in mid-August and runs through the end of May, but a Specialists (and a teacher’s) work is never done!

The most fulfilling aspect of my role as an ELL Specialist is being an advocate. I’ll take any opportunity I can find to discuss the classroom conditions and learning needs of students who are also learning English while learning academic content. (That’s a lot of learning in one sentence.) Although it’s unlikely that K had multilingual students in mind when he wrote “Education…”, in previous readings of his book I discovered many, many connections to his ideas, my students, their learning, my teaching, and our classroom. I promise those connections will surface in future posts.

There are days when education does seem to be all about “…turning out, as if through a mould, a [certain] type of human being…”. The current emphasis in the U.S. is that every student will graduate “College and Career Ready”, but if K were still alive I imagine he would be asking, ready for what? Larger amounts of funding are being allocated to programs that focus on the objective of College and Career Readiness at a younger and younger age. In and of itself, I support the idea that everyone have a choice about college and/or career.  But is there something more fundamental to human development that should be a focus of education?

K’s concern in this opening paragraph appears to be that students will leave school prepared (or conditioned) to only seek security and reputation, and by means of the easiest route to either one. There are days when I wish for more security – maybe a newer car, more retirement savings, the daily presence of a partner. Other days I want to feel important – shouldn’t we recognize each other for something well done? I like to be right because being right gets a different sort of attention than being wrong. And of course I do occassionally imagine myself in a job that requires little effort but provides substantial monetary reward! The days I’m describing are the days when I’ve forgotten that I have the privilege of making a choice about being a teacher.  Neither security or importance comes with the territory of being a teacher in adult ESL education.  However, I do have a good great time in the classroom despite it often requiring a good deal of work.

I love being a teacher because being with my students illuminates the learning I need to do in the classroom within myself.

Thanks for reading!

Re-envisioning Education and the Craft of Teaching and Learning

Why have I chosen this topic?  The short answer is that I’ve just returned from a seven-day retreat, “Re-envisioning Education and the Craft of Teaching and Learning” at the Krishnamurti Education Center in Ojai, California.  The retreat was centered around the book, “Education and the Significance of Life” by J. Krishnamurti.  But the more interesting answer will take a little more explaining.

For two months prior to the retreat I had read and re-read every word of the book.  In many places Krishnamurti’s (K) words resonated with me.  Other times I was aware of labeling his thoughts as unrealistic. This troubled me.  And I thought, how can I possibly explore whether this sort of learning environment can be created?  I’d spent so much time with the book that I’d even counted the number of paragraphs.  (There are 370 to be exact.)  Given that a few paragraphs contain only one sentence, I realized that by focusing on one paragraph a day I could reread the book over the course of a year and reflect on how just a single paragraph applies to daily experience.  As a Benedictine oblate I’ve been well-schooled in lectio divina.  And as a graduate of a Jesuit university, concepts of social justice have woven themselves into the fabric of my life.  An avid journal keeper, a plan slowly began to form in my mind.  I considered how a blog might keep me motivated to undertake an entire year of integrating K’s text into my life as an educator.  With each day of the retreat, I waffled back and forth doubting if I had the stamina for such a public undertaking.  Yet here I am, typing well past my bedtime.

An overarching question at the retreat was, “Can you design a school outside of ‘the system’?”  The ‘system’ being one built on:

assessment,

sorting and ranking,

linear batching and sequencing of knowledge,

reward and punishment,

and one teacher-many students.

I don’t deny it.  My realm (public schools) is fraught with the stresses of students, teachers, and administrators mired in an elaborate system containing the above components.

There were times during the retreat when I felt like the villain in the room while I waxed rather poetically about why, for example, I use rubrics and how they help me remain impartial and consistent in my evaluation of student work.  Without looking, I sensed the barely perceptible intake of breath, the narrowing of eyes, or the merest hint of a raised eyebrow.  As if by merely using the word “rubric”  I was somehow offending the sensibilities of those in the room who’s educational utopia thrives without the use of any student evaluations or assessments, much less rubrics.  But are rubrics inherently “bad” or “wrong’?

Back home and 1,668 miles away from the retreat I no longer feel as certain about my intentions.  One minute I’m no longer sure of how much anything I do contributes to real learning and understanding.  And in the next minute of thinking about the retreat, I feel more grounded than ever in who I am as a teacher.  School starts in a few days, assessments will begin, and evidence of student progress will once again be requested to fulfill federal and state funding requirements.   I know from having given over 1,000 standardized assessments in my career that they provide a blurry snapshot (at best) of any student’s capabilities.

Perhaps it was my imagination or merely that I wanted to hear something that would enable me to recognize the relevance of my work in the sphere of public education.   During his closing remarks the retreat facilitator, Dr. Gopal Krishnamurthy,  implied that authentic learning can take place when a teacher so committed closes his or her door and dares to leave the bureaucracy outside.   His words solidified a sort of defiance that had been building in me all week.  I realized that while my efforts to ensure my students are really, truly, and deeply engaged in learning may not always be perfect, I can indeed carry the intention of creating a K-school in my heart every time I step into a classroom.

Thanks for reading!

 

The reason I’m starting this blog

I’m starting this blog to:

  • reflect on my inner self in the classroom and in the world.
  • challenge assumptions – mine and others – about how learning happens and about classroom as a fixed space.
  • to experience the role of teacher and learner as more than separate and fixed, but as something inseparable and fluid.

I was inspired to create this space for myself after attending a retreat, “Re-imagining Education and the Craft of Teaching and Learning” hosted by the California Krishnamurti Foundation in July 2015.

This blog is dedicated to:

  • The memory of Chef John Joyce, Johnson County Community College.  A mentor whose heart was as vast as his artistry.
  • In gratitude to Dr. Judy Levin, (retired)Creighton University.  Even though writing is at the foundation of your teachings about life-story, nothing written can fully express my gratitude and love for you.

 

Thanks for reading!