Why

One of the hardest things I am finding about teaching is interacting with a student (or students) and getting so frustrated at their attitude or lack of effort or whatever only to realize (often in the moment) that I was just like that when I was in school.  In the religious studies department, we are always talking about the role of a person’s worldview to shape one’s perspective.  Becoming a teacher has definitely shifted my perspective and is making me rethink a lot of what happened in high school.

For example, I still remember this terrible basketball coach we had sophomore year.  She would get so mad whenever we would ask questions about how to do the drill or run the play and we never understood.  Looking back, I thought I was so much smarter than her, knew how to play basketball better than her.  Now as a soccer coach we have a couple girls who are always asking questions.  Why do we have to run six laps?  How far is that?  What’s the purpose of this drill?  There’s a part of you that wants to say because I’m your coach and I said so, but you swallow your pride, take the student aside and explain the drill and encourage them to watch their tone.  Because now I identify with my high school basketball coach.  Who knows if behind my soccer players’ whys are feelings of superiority, like there were behind many of my whys.  Perhaps she really is confused and I and the other coaches are too sensitive.  Either way it is hard to be questioned, especially when you already feel out of your element, coaching a sport you haven’t played in 10 years.

It’s also making me think really hard about how I can respond graciously because I had a lot of teacher throughout the years that I talked back to or made mean comments about.  And the good ones, held their tongues and continued to teach me, not just about the game or the subject, but about how to be a better person.  Even though what I told my soccer play today she may not have liked hearing, I hope underneath all that she heard what matters most, that I want her to succeed.

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Climb Every Mountain or at least Hill

So this is what I did today instead of teach: Wake up, get on bus, hike up a mountain with other faculty people, grade quizzes, read the life of the Buddha, and knit for three hours while a bunch of students walked by me, finish hiking with faculty, eat chili, ride bus back. Here’s the view from the top…

that peak you can see in the distance is the mountain the seniors hike, underclassmen hike a smaller trail of an unamed hill/mountain

Bringing You Up to Speed

A lot has happened since I last wrote, yet it also seems like nothing has happened.  I mean I pretty much get up, plan class, teach class, coach soccer, and then do something else (meeting, dorm, sleep).  Yet each day feels new and exciting.  At least once a day I think, I should write about this on the blog and then the day goes by and another and I’m overwhelmed by all that I want to write about.  So here goes a fly by of my last two weeks of teaching:

(last) Monday: So I wanted to make sure my students were understanding the basic religious jargon, you know symbol, ritual, myth, monotheism, def. of religion, but I didn’t want to just stand at the board, BRAINWAVE – crossword.  They have these awesome website where you put in word and definition and then it create a crossword.  Internet you ROCK!  The night before I put this plan into effect I get an e-mail that my boss is going to come observe me and I start to worry.  Will he think the crossword is a bad idea?  Is this too middle school?  But he really loved it.  Score.

(last) Tuesday: The morning began at 5:15 am when a student came to our door asking for a ride to the infirmary.  Thankfully this is a quick trip, but I couldn’t get back to sleep until like 6:45 and my alarm goes off at 7:15.  Sleeply Sarah is no good in the classroom.  I’m pretty sure we all looked at our watches more than once.  Sleepiness, hormones, and a bad teaching day are a great way to psych oneself out.  For the next two day, I began planning my new career as a knitting goddess.

Friday: We spent an hour in both classes talking about the Upanishads (a sacred text of Hinduism).  They were so engaged.  They were wrestling with the text and this is saying a lot because it is a tough text.  What does it mean that Atman is Brahman, but Brahman isn’t Atman?  No kidding, I lost track of time, I was so into the discussion (hopefully, they felt the same way).  Nice way to end the week.

Monday: They had a test in the paired class.  Despite this they were still pretty engaged for an hour, but the last 20 minutes they started to fade.  I think one student even put his head down on his desk, which is bold in a class of 14 students.  It was a good lesson, that I need to find ways to get them active on days when they have quizzes and tests, because they often focus more on the studying and less on reading for that specific day.

Tuesday: Bhagavad Gita day!  We actually started the Bhagavad Gita on Monday, but we didn’t start discussing until the last 20-30 minutes (see above for why that didn’t go well).  Today I took a different approach.  The ole, give ’em questions (in this case theme words), have them write silently and then start discussing.  It went a lot better.  With a little prodding they made great connections between the key themes.

Wednesday: Debate day!  So when I was in high school, I pretty sure I was one of the students I’m about to complain about, but here goes hypocrisy.  For so many of the students, debate meant winning the argument, proving how the other person was just wrong.  While that can be the point of debate, my goal is for them to see the complexity of the issue, that in truth neither side is all right or all wrong.  The experience has really made me sit back and think about how I want to have the students do debates in the future so that they walk away both understanding the issue better and how to communicate better.  Of course this will probably require me learning to communicate better too.

So that brings us up to today.  Well, sort of…I’ve left out the most exciting part of my day.  Coming home to hear a little bell jingle as Calvin runs to greet me.  It’s really sweet.  I get home from class and rush to change for practice and he follows me from office to bedroom to bathroom to kitchen and back to office.  Bell jingling the entire time.  Right now he’s napping next to me with his paw on my leg.  I may be verging into the crazy cat lady phase.  Thank God that I have a crazy cat man husband who doesn’t think I’m crazy.

What-up Paycheck

Last week something incredible happened, really a lot of incredible things happened, but this one was a first…

I GOT PAID!!!!

It was my first real paycheck from a real job that took out adult things like health insurance, dental insurance, and money for a 401K.  What did I do, what any self-respecting formerly poor student does, go shopping.  Nothing major, just a cute dress for teaching.  After 25 years of either paying to live or barely making minimum wage, I felt a little like a millionaire.

Last night, I did the budget and reality set in slightly, but it is nice to get paid.  And it’s even nicer to know that in a few weeks, another pay check will come.  I could really start to like this whole working thing…

Reflecting Back on My First Week

Oh blog, there is so much to say.  I really should have written on Friday when it was all fresh, but alas there was too much to do.

While I am loving living in the dorm, working as an adviser and helping out on the soccer field, what really gets me excited is watching students make connections and get excited about learning.  This week has been such a fun week because I’ve gotten to meet the students.  They are already teaching me so much.

One of our first exercises was to watch a movie called Baraka.  While the movie has many important messages, one message is to be more open-minded.  This week, was a reminder in just how hard that can be.  On the second day of class, my colleague in the history department and I led a discussion on the film.  Three students stood out to me because they continually talked while others were talking or made smart (not the good smart) comments.  I began thinking, oh no, these are my problem students.  What a difference a day makes.  The next day, it was one of these very same students who made the connection between the homework and our class discussion.  After class was over he came up and handed in his notes for class to make sure he was on the right track.  Two days later, another of the students almost perfectly summed up the essence of an exercise on perspective and worldview.  While I may have been correct that these students are liable to get easily distracted (a challenge to me as a teacher to find more engaging ways to present material), it was an important early lesson, that I will probably need to be reminded again, not to make snap judgments.

Calvin update – As I am writing this Calvin is literally chasing his tail.  Then he’ll stop and jump on an invisible thing on the ground.  Cats are hilarious to watch.