Monday, September 30, 2013

A Radical Endeavor For the Common Idealist - Be a Student

Because today is the 5th Monday of the month, we are proposing a radical idea that every teacher is welcome to try. It is "radical" because of the time commitment, but the intention of it will of course be to improve your in-class skills. 

I'll never forget my 9th grade math teacher, Ms. White. On the first day of class she told us about herself and how she loved and majored in English and History. She was never any good at math, and according to her, that's why she got her teaching degree in math because she thought she could relate better to students because of her personal struggle. This stuck with me and has been a fascinating concept ever since.

Any expert of any field will tell you that one common trait among those who are great  is their insatiable curiosity and love of learning. Or as legendary Coach John Wooden liked to say, "If I'm through learning, I'm through."

Thus, the Secondary Farm Challenge for this month is to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and become a student once more. It's easy to get too confident in your subject as the years go by. And, it's easy to say or think to a student, "how could you not understand this? I said it 5 times in 8 different ways!". It's easy to forget what it was like to be in the student's seat. There are other factors at hand and for you to revisit those factors will make give you insight and empathy. Also, it could be fun.

As to where you might take a class is up to you. A good ol' fashion Google search is a good place to start, but here are some specifics:

1. MOOC - If you don't know what a MOOC is yet, then now is the perfect time to learn. They are college courses online, often from major universities, for you for free! You can sign up for as many as you want and there is no price nor penalty for early termination (nor credit, but still). The best catalog as you begin your MOOC is: COURSERA. Look through the options. You'll be amazed. These courses are a bit more of a commitment, however, maybe you'd prefer something easier.

2. Local Free University - In Denver, there is Colorado Free University. I don't know if this exists in every major city, but I imagine it would. It's a company that gathers teachers who are willing to teach workshops on whatever topic then they connect them with students. They also have a huge catalog. These courses aren't actually free, but they do usually involved hands-on and real people. Their biggest genre of classes are Spanish language, but they offer a myriad of topics. I can personally vouch for the woodworking class.

3. Free Classes Offered by Your City - It's really your tax dollars that provide classes like this so it's in your best interest to take advantage of them. By just googling "Denver free classes" I found acting, cooking gluten-free, yoga, and several others. As anyone who has conversed with me in the past 6 months knows, my favorite of these is the "How to Compost" classes they offer.

4. R.E.I. - This only works if you have an R.E.I. in your city. Of course in Denver, we have one for every Starbuck's. R.E.I. always offers classes; some free some not. Most of them are more workshops as well and typically are outdoor oriented. The Course Catalog is my favorite part about visiting an R.E.I store (it's also the only free thing there). Have a look.

5. The Public Library - Admittedly, at least in Denver, this is the most pathetic catalog of the bunch, which is sad, because it should be a lot better. Personally, I think that because the public library is no longer the go-to source of information for anybody, they should put more emphasis on offering classes to the community. In their defense, they do what they can and it is better for kids. Some good stuff if you're interested in writing a resume, using a computer, or knitting.  

6. Church - Most churches that are larger than 100 members offer classes. Obviously, these classes are usually of religious flavor and involve improving your life, your relationships, or your knowledge of the religion. I have yet to see Beginner's Ukulele offered, but I wouldn't be surprised if St. John's Lutheran in Denver did have it. They do have fitness and paintball apparently.

As I look at the above list, I realize that I am only citing programs that I have personally tried in the last year (except the library but I always look)*. That's lazy research, but even then it's still enough, which is a testament to how available these opportunities really are.

What's important is that when you do take a class, that you not only learn from the teacher, but you also learn through observation and metacognition. Ask yourself questions like these:

Is this challenging?
If so or if not, how am I tempted to react to that?
Is the teacher approachable?
How confident do I feel asking questions?
How confident do other students seem to feel in asking questions?
Does the presence of other affect me positively, negatively, or not at all?
What are things this teacher does that I do/do not like?
Am I motivated? Why so or why not?
How might I be motivated if not?

As adults with general stability in life, we can easily live in the world we want to live in and avoid situations where we feel uncomfortable and/or vulnerable. We're tired, we sleep. We're hungry, we eat. We don't like the show, we change the channel etc.. Students do not yet have all these liberties. Most of them are in school and in class for other reasons than "they want to be." If you can relate to them on that level, you might have an easier time being a teacher that has a class they do want to be in. And, you'll learn how to compost. Give it a try, see what you can learn.

PS: Anyone who has another suggestion to add to the list, please do so in the comment section. Also, anyone who gives this a try, please let us know, also in the comment section. 

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