Thursday, October 28, 2010

But can it validate my parking ticket?

Not too long ago, I was trying to cheer up a friend about a professional set back he'd experienced. I jokingly suggested he take an "external validation" class--and then realized my Freudian slip; I'd meant to say Education class. But I wasn't really wrong. I've noticed marked differences in the way the class is run and how performance is evaluated in both my Ed. and Science classes, and it's very interesting.

The Ed. class tends to be more nurturing: we discuss and respond a lot and, when mistakes are pointed out, it's usually as part of a larger, positive comment. The Science class is a refreshing change from those back in the dark ages of lecture, lecture, lecture (now it's lots of doing, not much sitting), but there is regular assessment and you know exactly where you stand point-wise (i.e. exams, quizzes, assignments). So it can be externally validating, if you are doing well, but not so much if you forgot to do the reading.

The education class is an advanced class, so naturally there is more synthesis and discussion going on than the Intro class. But I think both approaches have their benefits; however, like everything (say, yoga snark, for example), it takes a light hand. I think it's important for students to feel safe to be wrong; I think it's important that students--eventually--get their information correct. I think different viewpoints are a crucial part of seeing the big picture; I think that some people confuse opinion with fact, or want their opinion to be considered fact, despite proof to the contrary.

Both approaches work for me. It seems like they should be contradictory, but I find the combination kind of soothing. I can enjoy the energy of debate (albeit very gentle and supportive) in one; I enjoy feeling like I'm laying groundwork in the other. I don't mind loosey-goosey part of the time, but the Type A/Big Sister/Striver in me likes to have a number in hand.

And, as we continue to talk about how to train yoga teachers, I see the need for both in a YTT syllabus (obviously, we don't need a lot of facts and hard assessment in a regular yoga class for practitioners). You have to understand (maybe there is a better word) yoga from both a personal and a physical perspective. These are the metaphysical benefits and this is the muscle that needs to be open for a Down Dog to happen. This is the way you might feel during pranayama and this is a Sanskrit name for Extended Triangle. One type of information is easy to present, one isn't.

With a really well-crafted YTT program, both would happen at the same time. As with any good class, a teacher can encourage and allow students room to experiment, but also correct mistakes and get the misdirected back on the right path. You should have a good feeling about what (how) you are learning, but you need structure. How to insure that? Probably a system of assessment that includes both written elements and observation by peer teachers. A guarantee that the teacher trainers have been trained to teach (for public school education, you are trained by education professors, not your colleagues). A set of standards that should be met--altho they can always be expanded on.

And, I suppose, if you're really paying attention to your yoga practice, you can eventually dispense with the need for external validation, all together. But for most of us mere mortals, that's an assignment we're still working on...

Thursday, October 21, 2010


...Group Projects! *yelled with a frustrated roar, like Charlie Brown**

I can't stand group projects. I'll bet this animosity can be used as a pop "psychological test" to assess my self-esteem/ my impatience/ my competitiveness/ my ability to work well with others. I hated them as an undergraduate and, now back in school, I am completely reminded of why they drive me nuts. They're right up there with partner work in yoga class (there's the yoga tie-in).

I can totally see the pedagogical value of both: students learn to cooperate, they can to do more work than they would alone, the teacher can see them in both leader and follower mode, there aren't as many final projects to grade (or asana to oversee). Check with me in a couple of years, and maybe I'll be won over.

But, for now, they make me feel at the mercy of other people's work habits. And hog-tied to their issues with deadlines. I get it, this is what working with young people is like, but my old brain cells don't bounce back from a lack of sleep like theirs do. I can't think about pig dissection at 6am when trying to proofread a final draft before printing. And I certainly don't have patience for paper jams at that hour.

I like working with other people. I like sharing ideas and debating. But then I like to hole up with my books, paper, and computer and digest all of it by myself. I like the energy of a group class and seeing a teacher's take on a pose or series. But then I just want to do it alone, in my own space on my mat.

Selfish? Individualistic? Just a grump? There are plenty of group projects in my future (why, there's a lab report next week), so I'm taking any attitude-adjustment you folks can pass out.

How do you get through a project or partner work with a smile...or at least a sense of well-being? What am I missing?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Art. Teaching. Nature. Nurture.

Back in the old days, we used to argue, my costume design colleagues and I. Can you teach creativity? Can you teach some one to be artistic? We were learning all sorts of skills in grad school--draping, millinery, drawing, conducting fittings, sweet-talking actors; but it seemed some talents that makes one a Master of Fine Arts were to be picked up by osmosis--taste, a sense of proportion, successful color combining, communicating character through clothing.

Some of us "got it" (or, maybe we already had it) and some of us didn't, but I'm not sure the fault was with our education. Maybe there are some things that can't be taught...

I wonder if this isn't the same thing with teaching, itself. I often think of the teachers that have most inspired me and the qualities they possess--it seems to boil down to their "energy," whatever that is. Are they engaged with their students? In the present moment? Not married to the lesson plan? Can roll with the energy of the room? Passionate? Funny?

Of course you can learn subject matter and classroom management. You can learn how to structure class time and explain the important information. But can you learn how to convey a sense of calm authority and compassion, of dedication and deep interest? Some of it just comes with experience but, I think, some of it is innate. Either you have it or you don't.

Presumably, most people who go into teaching do it because they love it (it certainly can't be for the money). Of course, it's a way to support a more esoteric area of interest--probably the case with a lot of college professors and artists--but, to stick with it, you have to find something compelling about the profession.

So, if some one thinks, "I want to teach," is that enough? Can they really learn to be effective? Affective? To inspire students? To transcend the subject matter? What qualities do you need to truly wear the mantle of "teacher" and can some one else give you that information? Or are you born with it...

I have my opinions, but I'd love to hear yours--all you teachers and students out there.