Tag Archives: relational teaching

Advice from my 40-something self to my 20-something self

*taps* Hello? Hellooooo? Is this thing on? (You never know with time travel equipment.)

Ok. I’ve got a chance to send some advice back to my younger self, and I think it’s worth the risks. If I poof out of existence because I tangled the timelines…well, I guess this post will disappear too.

But not before I pass along some good stuff, the hard-earned coin of these past couple decades.

Don’t buy things. Buy experiences.

Young Self, I’ve been sending a lot of your stuff to Goodwill and eBay this year, stuff I bought when I was your age and then didn’t really use much. It’s easy when you’re just starting out in life to buy things that other people use because they seem to be getting so much good use out of them.

Here’s the thing: we Americans are hoarders. We’re consumers. We consume things then leave their discarded husks around to clutter up shelves and closets and the garage. It’s dumb, and it spawns a lot of needless dusting and angst. Let. It. Go.

All you need in your kitchen is …

  • An excellent set of knives. When the Cutco Guy shows up at your door sometime in 2002, make sure you let him in. Yes, the price is outrageous, but good tools cost money. No, you can’t afford it – buy a set anyway. We’ve been using these knives for 15+ years now and I thank Hephaestus for them every single day. We got them re-honed and factory sharpened a couple years ago. I plan to use them till I die, and then my friends can argue over who gets to inherit them.
  • A 12″ cast iron skillet and a 6″ cast iron skillet. You hardly need any other skillets. I don’t know why I waited so long to discover the magic of cast iron, but I’m going to blame it on the stupidity of youth. We make a breakfast scramble in the little one at least once a week and use the big one for nearly everything.
  • An enameled cast iron Dutch oven. This is the other half of my short list of “indispensable cookware.” You can make soup, stew, cacciatore, gravy, roasted meat, braised beef, slow cooked pulled pork….. it’s a magical device. It’s heavy, yeah, but it’s worth it. Make this beer braised pork roast and these carnitas and this Belgian beef stew all year long.  I have the one by Food Network because who has money for LeCruset?
  • Round out the cookware with a heavy sauce pan (I have a great anodized aluminum one from Calphalon), a cheap big pot for pasta (big and thin so it boils fast; mine is left over from a T-Fal set), and a small LeCruset metal enameled pot for making rice or cheesy grits. Any small, heavy pot will get a lot of use.
  • A small supply of high quality tools, preferably ones that do multiple jobs (Alton Brown’s rule). My list includes silicon scrapers and stiff spatulas that resist high heat or work for scraping a batter bowl; wooden spoons for cooking because they can handle high heat and a lot of abuse; a sturdy nylon whisk and a pan whisk (so handy – go buy one), good quality ice cream scoop (this one has held up for at least 15 years) and pie server (Pampered Chef wins here); a citrus reamer (I use this metal coated one); a thin and very sharp knife (I got a few of them free at Pampered Chef parties but you can buy them inexpensively on Amazon); and these little spatulas from Pampered Chef which are absolutely perfect for cookies. We also use stainless steel measuring cups (for dry ingredients) and spoons all the time, and a classic set of Pyrex 1 cup, 2 cup, and 4 cup for liquids. Just like Mom’s! 😉

I’ve got a few other random kitchen tools tucked away, but I’ve gotten rid of a whole bunch of them and I feel so much better.

You don’t need to hoard recipes, except a few proven winners. I have a few handwritten cards of my dad’s recipes (still) and the ones given to me by ladies at my bridal shower (though I’ve cooked only a few…..hmmmm….probably should dig into those).  You’ll soon learn that cooking is an art and a set of heuristics rather than an exact science, and I pull out recipes only rarely.  I pared down my cookbook collection as well, though I did keep a few standards or really pretty ones.

This is our #1 favorite coffee-making machine. We got ours from Amazon; click the image to check it out.  Morning coffee is an amazing, sensory ritual – and takes less than 5 min.

Throw out that damn automatic drip coffee maker. Blech. Ours broke one morning 4 or 5 years ago so we turned to Google in desperation to figure out how the “uncivilized” world makes coffee. Discovered that we were the heathens, imprisoning our coffee for years in that sad machine. We’ve settled now on a simple Bodum vessel and a Black & Decker electric kettle (which also helps out for heating water for pasta). Coffee takes 109x better and our morning coffee ritual (which takes barely 5 minutes) is genuinely satisfying.

I don’t know why I waited 10+ years to buy myself an electric can opener (this is ours and we love it). Sometimes you hate doing a particular chore and it’s worth stepping up to a better tool. I should have bought one in Year One of our marriage. Durp.    I put my KitchenAid stand mixer in this same category. It’s 20 years old and trucking right along.  I’ve used it to make bread dough, cheesecakes, and mashed potatoes, but Coart uses it all the time to mix up chocolate chip cookie batter — and that’s a holy rite which shall never be interrupted.

Ok, enough kitchen…. on to other topics…..

Don’t pretend to be someone you aren’t, even to keep other people happy. Hold your head high when you walk into the liquor store or when you wear that pink shirt and short shorts or when you duck into Hot Topic to see what the kids are into these days or when you crank up the volume on your playlist. I still remember a lady at church talking about hiding beer in her grocery cart and feeling like she had to justify herself to people in the store: “I’m buying it for taco soup!” Look: No one cares why you’re buying beer. And if they do, is it any of their damn business? NOPE. Don’t hang out with judgey people and don’t let them dictate your actions. (But don’t be a jerk either – it’s obviously kind and caring to avoid engaging in actions you know will offend a friend.  I’m talking about the non-friends who exist in your personal orbit.) 

Thing is, there’s a lot of pressure on you to stay within particular boundaries, especially when you’re a teacher.  Don’t go out looking for trouble, but don’t ever pretend to be something you aren’t. Eventually people will figure it out. (And teenagers will detect bullshit immediately.)

If something is wrong or harmful or unkind, don’t do it.  If it’s not any of those categories, then don’t pretend like you don’t do it if you do.  Simple as that.

This is on my list for the front door area as soon as planting season hits. (Links to Amazon)

Plant stuff in the yard the first year you buy the house! Don’t wait around (like we did, thinking “we’ll get to it….”) because then you’ll end up owning the same house for 15 years but still have zero landscaping except now you’re angry about how much nicer your yard would’ve looked by now if you’d scraped together some money for landscaping from the very start.  Skip 4 Starbucks runs and buy a plant or a load of topsoil instead. 

Stop working for low pay. This one might be controversial, younger self, and I’m not trying to tell you what to do. Other than this: take time to sketch out a career plan. Don’t just let your career happen to you. And don’t allow your skills to be undervalued in your earnings, unless you’re getting something else equally valuable (like experience or learned skills or fulfillment).

Get better sooner at making a monthly budget and sticking to it. You aren’t good at this. And growing up poor warped your understanding of money and finances. I know you know that you’ll get more out of retirement savings if you start sooner. Start with something like Acorns with loose change, at first.   I know it’s hard to forego current delights for the sake of future investment. Not working for low pay will help you fix that problem, but adjusting your lifestyle down to enjoy experiences rather than material goods helps too. Go find a friend and hang out. You don’t need to spend $60 to visit Biltmore to do that effectively.

Don’t pay for cable. Don’t steal it either….just….hang in there. They’re going to invent this service called Netflix and also YouTube and then this other thing called Hulu and then you’ll have all the TV you’ll ever need. If you’re really lucky, you’ll have friends who pay for cable but share their online account password with you so you can watch this hot show on HBO called Game of Thrones.

 

I think my connection is fading, so last thing:   Take care of the kids who need you –they’re going to grow up into amazing adults one day, and they’ll appreciate what you invested in them. Don’t stop fighting for the kids no one else thinks will make it. The underdogs can make it – they just need a hand up.

Peace out.

Letter to a Young High School Teacher | Comment Magazine

We teach who we are.

Teaching isn’t as much about the what as it is about the who – who you are as a teacher is communicated more thoroughly than any ‘content’ in the lesson plan.

Source: Letter to a Young High School Teacher | Comment Magazine

This is a great read. Had to share.

 

Why I mentor

As an exercise to wrap up the training this week, I’m supposed to draft my personal mission statement / elevator speech explanation of why I mentor at WGU.

I’m an educator. It’s what I do. It’s what I am.

When I was a kid, I used to pretend sometimes that I was a teacher, and play-act teaching in front of a classroom. This happened alongside pretending to be a lot of other things, like a doctor or a missionary, so I never put much stock in it. In fact, once I got it in my head that I was going to be a missionary, I pretty much stopped looking at any other options.

But now, looking back at myself, it’s no surprise that eventually the teaching profession came and found me. Literally, that’s exactly what happened.  An acquaintance in our area called us up one day and asked us to come talk with him. He was working at a tiny, new little school in the area and they were looking to start a high school. They needed teachers who would commit to at least 4 years, to put a stop to faculty turnover. And they wanted teachers who had a broad liberal arts background and a knack for education. Dennis felt that we had both, so he asked us to apply for teaching jobs. And we did.

The decade I spent teaching was the single most life-altering experience I’ve had. It changed me more than my religious conversion, more than meeting my husband and getting married, more than traveling to Europe when I was 22, more than losing both my parents by the time I turned 25.

Everything about my world changed when I became a teacher.  My M.Ed. program at Covenant drove that change even harder, challenging everything I thought I understood theologically and practically and professionally in the realm of education.

My students rocked my world.  I learned to laugh, cry, suffer, rejoice, and fear with  and for them. I grew up during that decade.  I gained a ton of confidence in myself and in my students. I loved them fiercely and unashamedly. I’m still proud of that.

Leaving the classroom was hard, but it was also right. I had to grow. I had to go away to see more of the world because the classroom had become too small. So these past four years in communications and higher education were needed and valuable. I sharpened a whole set of skills that would otherwise still be dormant. I needed to rub shoulders with new people. It was uncomfortable and scary, but it was necessary or I would never believe myself when I say now, I know that my life’s work lies in education.

For me, teaching is relational. You cannot claim to have succeeded with a student if you merely dumped information into their brains. Any computer can do that with a mere Google search.  I’ve never bought into the idea that lecturing or assigning papers equals giving students a “good education.”  Education should radically alter the learner and the teacher. Both stand side-by-side in the learning space, struggling to make meaning of this broken world.

When I say teaching is relational, I mean that education happens in the context of interpersonal interactions, both with peers and with the teacher. While it’s theoretically possible for someone to be entirely self-taught, those individuals are extremely rare. Humans crave companionship and community. We work better as a team than as individuals. Lone wolves get eaten.

So why am I a student mentor at WGU when that position radically redefines the role of a faculty member (in ways that make many uncomfortable)?

Because the learners who have the deepest needs are the learners who most benefit from personal, caring education. They benefit the most from education that happens within a relationship. 

Not all students should adopt online education as their model. It doesn’t work for everybody. I’m not sold on the idea that WGU is the right choice for an 18 year old with little life experience. By definition, competency-based education requires that the learner bring some competencies to the table. And few teens have lived broadly enough to learn from The School of Hard Knocks.

But many adults have.  The ones who started college but had to drop out, the ones who never saw themselves as smart enough to make it through a degree, the ones for whom school was a prison because the lessons put before them had little connection to the lives they lived.  For these students – often underserved and haunted by the spectres of broken dreams and failure – an education grounded in a relationship may be the only way they escape the poverty and limited opportunities delegated to those who do not walk through an employer’s door with a diploma in hand.

WGU wants to make a difference in the lives of those students, and in those for whom graduate credentials would otherwise be out of reach.  This is a mission I can put my weight behind, and the fact that WGU’s model grounds students’ learning in a mentor relationship seals the deal.

Teaching is relational. And that is why I mentor students at WGU.

 

Want to discuss education?

This is a small plug for a site where I and a few friends chip away at the ideas behind “teaching redemptively” — applying the Gospel to the structures of education, not just the words used in the classroom or censoring textbooks or any number of surface-level attempts at biblical worldview integration.

The title of the blog is an homage to the book Teaching Redemptively by Donovan Graham, a work that profoundly affected the way I view teaching and learning.  Seeing how the Gospel transforms the very fabric of classroom structures, student-teacher relationships, and perspectives on the curriculum & subjects taught deeply changed how I approach discussions of education.

Finding myself in the company of a few colleagues who were studying at the same graduate school and absorbing the same viewpoint, we began writing — a little — in an attempt to tell some of our stories and unpack the day to day experiment of “Grace-based education.”

Our goal was to kick off a longer project of writing a series of case studies that illustrate or illuminate the principles Graham sets forth in T.R.   Names changed to protect the innocent and guilty, of course.

There’s much that we never got around to writing down, and some older posts that we might even wish to revise. But if you have any interest in thinking through what the Gospel means for education across all ages, we’d love for you to join the journey with us.

A note during the changeover:  I can’t update original author attribution until my fellow writers get over here to WP.  For the moment, all posts are listed under my name, but many were authored by my colleagues.  I’ll at least get authors listed over the course of the next few weeks.

Teaching Redemptively: A Blog on Grace-Based Education

TR blog shot

Teaching Redemptively: It’s about the students, really.

Teaching Redemptively: It’s about the students, really.

Teaching is a subject that’s always on my mind, no matter what I’m actually doing at the moment. And finding a teacher who rants in line with my heart on teaching is just the best. 😉

I published my thoughts over on the Teaching Redemptively blog, so head there to read and discuss.

Happy Friday, all!

Online education – just a pathway to low-quality education?

Let me lead into today’s story with a Facebook thread:

My friend John & I had this discussion this morning.  Well, it wasn't much of a discussion since this is all we said. But it got me thinking ....
My friend John & I had this discussion this morning. Well, it wasn’t much of a discussion since this is all we said. But it got me thinking ….

 

John’s personal journey from a pastor’s home to Bob Jones to becoming an actor and an atheist (agnostic? both? probably) and then back into Christianity is just …. crazy.  And awesome.   He also reviews great music albums and great beer selections on his blog. You really can’t go wrong.

But my point here is this:  John is a great student. He’s already far more qualified than nearly anyone in class with him …. he’s read waaaaay more books than I’ll ever get to, he’s well-versed in theater theory and acting techniques, he reads crazy deep theology and philosophy and history books because he thinks that’s fun. We get into arguments all the time.  It should be a sporting event with tickets.  And this guy, of all the people I know, should be able to squeeze an online course for all it’s worth.

But his Facebook post this morning struck a nerve with me.

As long as we define education in terms of knowledge — sheer quantities of facts to be digested, disgorged, arranged, codified, grokked — we are missing the point of true education.

Online courses can deliver facts. Sometimes they can facilitate the development of skills, even – if the online learning community is a robust one, full of self-motivated practitioners who are helping each other reach new levels.

But I’m becoming more convinced that you can’t replicate the Human element of education — the relational angle — apart from deep and rich personal contact.

Perhaps that is my beef with so much of what I see in K-12 and higher ed these days.  The arguments swirling around whether liberal arts colleges should just go off and die the death make their argument on economic and labor metrics.  The Department of Education marches on in its quest to quantify, quantify, quantify.  Colleges cost a lot, and they get a lot of their money from the federal and state governments (financial aid and loans) so the government has a vested interest in finding out whether those colleges are delivering on their promises.

And in a quantified world, the “promise” always boils down to numbers.   How many grads got jobs in their fields? (Never mind that most 22 year olds have no idea what field they’re supposed to be in.) How many students read at such-n-such level?  How many students failed to graduate? How many of the 50% who enrolled in college dropped out before they finished? (never mind the reason)

I’ve done enough education research and classroom teaching to value data in helping us make wise decisions, and obviously something needs to change.  If 100,000 people can sign up for a Stnaford online course on artificial intelligence, then clearly there’s a worldwide demand for good content.

There must be balance — between demanding that mom and dad pay for their dreamer to wander through Bulgaria on an art history vision quest and shoving kids who love the humanities into studying computer programming because those are the only jobs open right now.

Not everyone should go to college; not all pathways to success should be measured in annual income or education levels.

Perhaps everything went wrong when we lost our ability to value the qualitative relationships of teacher and student now replaced by “publish or perish,” or pushed out of K-12 classrooms by the guillotine of standardized testing.

Perhaps online education is just another way to deliver a poor product for less production cost by harnessing underpaid adjuncts.

Perhaps one of you out there can rescue me from a crushing doubt that online education will do anything more than separate the rich and not-rich even further.  You can bet that Harvard will always have a classroom experience.  It’s the community college kid who’s trying to make it through Algebra 2 on a $2,000 state scholarship who will live in the world of the online course where manipulating your way into a good grade is easier to learn than teaching yourself the actual material.

Some clarifications:
– I think graduate level learning may be more adaptable to online delivery, because the students there have already learned how to learn. Undergrads don’t have that advantage.

– Traditional school environments serve only a narrow range of students. I’m not a fan of “let’s all sit here and listen to a lecture” or “read these 12 books, write 4 papers, and call it a class.”  Those methods of education are similarly faulty — but the students who are succeeding in our schools and colleges tend to be students already wired for the traditional classroom.   Thus, some students who would falter in a traditional environment may actually find the online course structure much less intimidating.

If you want to read scholarly words about it, check out this article.  Or if you want to read someone who tells you what a big research study says, try this article….. though I’m not really sold on this one since testing what people know seems like a lousy way to determine whether they’re actually good at anything.