About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We just want a chance to try and to be heard

Next week I'll post about my new economic model for Higher Ed. That post is going to require some deep thinking, which can't be accomplished this week as it is Thanksgiving on Thursday. As I posted last year, Thanksgiving is a very important holiday in the US. This week we have relatives visiting from across the country (Seattle), down south (Georgia), and nieces and nephews coming home from college.

I have also been very busy with work, volunteering with my daughter's school, and just life in general as the mother of two teens, one of which is in the middle of his search for universities to attend next year.

Over the last week, I had a few insights into my own kids, education, and young adults in general.

1) My daughter tried out for two plays this past month. She went in with a positive outlook, confident in her abilities (she has a spectacular voice if I do say so myself), willing to take any part. Her resume is very good and she is willing to take any part, including chorus, when required.

However, it has been very difficult for her to go through the two auditions she had. In both cases, it was obvious that most of the parts were already pre-cast. As she said, she would have felt better had she known, "we only are casting part X and part Y, looking for this certain look." Instead, she went through one casting call, waited for 3 weeks during which they announced 3 additional casting calls. Then they changed the play and made everyone try out again. It became very obvious during the next audition that the play had already been cast as some people were told by the director what to sing. She also was given a 30 second audition and then told nothing. Others waiting for the audition, however, already knew when call backs would be, and the implication was that they had a time BEFORE the audition as to when they should return.

The second audition she had was not to obviously fixed. However, before going to the audition, she was told who would be getting the leads. It is demoralizing for those trying out to know that they have no chance, though. One girl, in particular, my daughter can relate to. Her older sister is a very talented singer (she is the other lead). My daughter, like this girl, has always felt that she has lived in the shadow of her sibling.

This leads me to the conclusion that most students just want a chance to show their abilities in a fair and equitable process. This is especially true when they might not have been heard within our system of education. A student that does not test well wants to be able to show that they KNOW things that don't fit into the process. Students feel powerless when they walk into a class with certain expectations because of siblings or records that as often as not are based on politics or a system in which those who know how to work the system come out on top. I can hear students' silent screams when they come into my class with an attitude that says, "I don't care if I do well or not. I'm not going to try so you can prove I can't." This is why I try to permit them to have as much choice as possible to prove to me (and themselves) that they can.

2) Related to this was work that I did with my daughter's school. My daughter took on an unbelievable task in putting together a musical review, the first for her "Science/Math/Technology" based school (I put this in quotes because the fact is, the majority of the students are incredibly creative and much more artistic, rather than STEM mentality). She was allowed to do so as long as she accepted all of the students who auditioned. She took up the challenge, put together a series of broadway songs, worked with those students who had never preformed before, put together and taught group numbers/harmonies, and taught acting skills she had learned over the past two years doing community theatre. I did mostly supervisory tasks, although I did identify those areas in which her colleagues might have not understood her.

I was very impressed with how she handled those in the review. She made each of them feel as if they were vitally important to the show. She also knew when to get on their case when they did not focus in rehearsal, or they would give up or not practice. At one point, when she had to come to rehearsal late, they invoked her name, afraid that she would be angry if they didn't buckle down and do what she had directed them to do. I was told by a theatre professional who attended the review, that she had done a wonderful job in putting the show together, highlighting the students strengths, ensuring that the weaker performers did not follow very strong performers.

I did work with three of the performers that had little to no experience. One of my strengths, I have found, is to create confidence in my students to try new things, and to continue on when they perceive they have failed (or to reset their standards).

Students often just want a chance to try things and to feel as good in trying and failing as when they try and do a spectacular job. So when my son and two of his classmates, their last year in high school, played for the football team for the first time in their life, they felt great about it, even though they did not get a lot of play time. Why? Because their coach made them feel that he respected them just for trying something new. At the end of the season, he presented each one of them at a football banquet with over a hundred players and their families, pointing out how each had worked hard to learn the new skill and contributed to the team. It was amazing to see the pride that each had, even though most played only about 1-2 minutes each game (out of a possible hour).

My son and his classmate just asked if they could sit in on an advanced French class in December. Their college classes don't start again until January and both are interested in French (they completed their requirements in Spanish). Their teacher was more than happy to have them come to the class, although he warned them that they probably would not understand very much as neither has studied French. My daughter is taking Art in her free time as an independent study. In both cases, the teachers could have denied them, but they encouraged them to try something new.

Good teachers want their students to try and are proud of their journey and development more than the final accomplishment (test grade). Unfortunately, in the current educational climate in the US, this is not recognized. Low test scores equates to ineffective teaching. This loses the lifelong learning skills often developed by these teachers.

3. Young adults are works in progress until their early 20's. My son, a fairly intelligent, responsible teenager, still has his moments of total stupidity. Yesterday, while horsing around, he ended up with a face full of glass when one of his friends (also usually responsible) put his hand through a window (he thought is was plexy glass). When his mother, the school nurse, the dean of academics, and I asked the same question, "what were you thinking?", their answers were the same, "we didn't know it was glass."

I think we expect too much of young adults: that they know what they are doing is bullying, inappropriate, dangerous, etc..., that they know what they want to do with the rest of their life, that they are not going to make mistakes. Of course, they also like to exert their independence. What is important is that we allow them to make mistakes that won't impact their lives, that we allow them to crawl out of the messes they have made, that we are there, not to "save" them or take on their problems, but to support them as they work through the problems that everyone must face as part of life, and that we teach them the skills to deal with life that sometimes might be overwhelming for them.

I see many of my students who have no one to say, " you know, you're doing a good job coping, life sucks sometimes, but you have to keep going, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel, keep a positive out look." I also remind my students of those that have it worse than themselves (although sometimes it is hard when I hear some of their stories). One way to help students help is to have them help others.

4. Finally, I think we in the US have to recognize that ultimately, most teachers get into teaching because they really care about their students. While we may not always agree with their styles and not all teachers' styles will be effective with all students, teachers DO NOT get into education because they will have their summers off (the fact is, most states require that teachers have additional training during their "time off."). They truly believe they can teach. Most education programs weed out those that don't like or are unable to connect to students. I always have to catch myself when my daughter or son has a problem with a teacher. They may not be "good teachers" as I would define them, but for the most part, they do care about the students.

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