Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Politics, is it a good thing anywhere?

Recently I have been learning a lot from the comments of Dr. Pion who is graciously reading my sometimes rambling posts and giving much wanted feedback. A comment by Dr. Pion has gotten me thinking about politics in teaching.

When I was in undergrad I wanted to teach 6Th grade, boy was I wrong. First day in the teacher's lounge taught me that I was not cut out for squabbles over who used the paper room and left a mess and why teacher X is getting new stuff in their classroom......

Did I trade one kind of politics for another?

At my CC there is little discussion of paper rooms but there is always something going on. As an adjunct I was happily immune to it all. I just was not on campus enough to know what was going on. But now I am starting to see where there is tension and my first faculty association meeting was a wide eyed experience learning how to navigate the sometimes clique-ish faculty.

I am brand new to the full time gig and am currently working on tenure. Tenure in this setting is heavily based on teaching but I also have to be involved in the goings on of the CC and community.

Recently in reworking our Gen Ed goals I have been able to get my foot in the door and get involved in something I am excited about and something that will help with my tenure endeavours.

What I realize now was that I also threw myself into the political life of the college. I am now the newbie speaking out on things when maybe I shouldn't. I think I am good at sitting back and observing, it is part of my teaching pedagogy, but I also like to be active and involved. My MA work was all about stuff like gen ed goals and course alignments, etc. I really can contribute but at the same time I am running the big risk of stepping on toes and am quickly learning what it means to be in the camp that agrees with the division chair and then all those who do not.

It is such a strange situation to be in, wanting to be your best and really shine so they want to keep you and then being sure to not play it up in front of some to avoid awkward and angry situations.

Monday, August 06, 2007

getting started (Again) for the second time

I cannot believe I let and entire semester go by without reflecting on anything I had done all semester. Along with blogging again about all this I have made a number of changes that I think are pedagogically informed, yet I am still worried about them...

1. I noticed on my reviews by students that very few of them refer to the syllabus. When I was a student I hardly ever refered to my syllabus either but then harder classes sprung up and I was behind the learning curve. I realized if I wanted students to use the syllabus more I needed to make it work their while. Now the syllabus contains a detailed schedule of what will happen each week along with outlining assignments and when they are due. ( I have to admit I think this change comes from time spent. I never could have done this my first two semesters teaching. I want to remain flexible and reflective, continuing to make the class form around students needs and interests but I also need to provide some structure so they feel comfortable and confident)

2. "They seem to be missing so many skills"
each semester grading papers seems to get more and more disappointing. So many students have great ideas but struggle to express them. Organization is rarely there and most seem rushed. I have noticed as well that often there is no intended point to be made in their papers. they will write forever about how a work of art looks and never actually discuss why they are talking about it. This is true in group discussion as well. So I have created and intro packet and made some room for a week of building up some key skills. We are going to walk through observation skills, note taking skills, discussion practice and writing tips. I am sure that I cannot fix essay writing for my students in one week but it seems like it is a good idea to get the ball rolling early. Maybe this will get them comfortable in asking for help and in general getting a good picture of what is expected of them.

3. course mapping for the students?
Our school is heavily engaged at the moment in course mapping and aligning my course assignments and activities to the course objectives and outcomes to the institutional goals and objectives. I create actual paper maps of this process (ah I am such a visual learner) to show how all these pieces connect. I think it is time for the students to see these. I am working on a more friendly student version so that they can see where we are going with different activities. these have been time consuming and I will be posting drafts of them soon.

I am unsure of the outcomes from these changes but I am eager to see what will happen.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Change Seekers Manifesto

I believe that the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" was developed in the sixteenth century for the express purpose of the exploitation of people of color by those who inhabited the continent of Europe at that time and that this exploitation continues still--brutally, unapologetically, and with the realization of great wealth. As a person bearing the physical characteristics attributed to Europeans and European-Americans, I accept the responsibility of becoming ever more cognizant of this reality, ever more sensitive to its effects, and ever more committed to changing it. I do not perceive myself as worthy of particular benefits such as are bestowed upon me, often without acknowledgement or even awareness.

I stumbled upon this on a website but now cannot find it again. While i try to stick to actual experiences teaching on this blog I could not help but address this statement in relation to what I have been working on.

One of my favorite things about my community college teaching job is that there is so much more to do besides teaching. Obviously teaching is the root and all other activities lead back to it in some way.

One major project I have been able to work on has been revising General Education Goals. These goals are so important as they are part of the basic building blocks of the classes I teach. The idea is that after any and all gen ed classes there are skill sets that all students will have had exposure to. These are the characteristics of great students who enter the world to be great citizens.

I got involved with this topic when I called into question eurocentric language and priveledge in our newly formed gen ed goals. This is not to pat myself on the back since recognizing my priveledge as a white middle class american is hardly something to stand up and cheer about. Recognitiion does not always mean action. As the Change Seekers Manifesto states that we must be committed to changing this not just being aware of it. Though awareness is not easy and is a very important first step.

In our gen ed goals when it came to critical thinking a definition was given that was "logical" or some might say "common sense" Either way it was giving priviledge to one way of knowing which is not so different from the practice of racism, sexism, classism, and globalism (in its negative lets all be humans and pretend race doesn't matter but it obviously does kind of way).

When it came to the arts gen ed goals the term fine art was used. While the art world is making changes (though some would say at a snails pace) fine art still excludes women and minorities as well as untrained or folk/craft artists.

These terms and definitions were not meant to be harmful and were in fact written for a greater educational purpose. They are also a textual example at the way many times people forget or do not have to consider priviledge.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Hot Seat

A few weeks ago I had a classroom observation done on me. It was not like a pop quiz or anything like that. I even picked the date that I would have my evaluation. After the observation my students took an anonymous survey and today I got the results of both the observation and the survey....

Both were very good and as a new techer it is really great to get such positive feedback. I was even given a few helpful ideas from the observer and the students about slowing down sometimes when I am talking, giving more consistent feedback on a regular basis to build confidence and changing up classroom time from time to time to confront boredom.

For some reason though things like this always get me so depressed. I have never been one to say, If I can just reach one student then my job is done. I know I may never reach them all but I've got to be able to do more than one!

On these surveys the students fill out I was above three on all of them on a scale of 1 to 4, this is great right!?!?! But when I read the breakdown of those numbers at times there were three students saying that I needed much improvement on something depending on the category. I was also given written comments and while most were positive and some were helpful there was one in each section that was just bad.

Now to be honest I have to admit I dont know why that one student would continue to take my class, this is college, you can drop!

And why would I let one unhelpful negative comment destroy what is otherwise very positive feedback with places to improve and some places where I am already doing well??????

It is more than wanting everyone to like me....I genuinely believe that what I teach is necessary to being critical citizens of the world. I realize most nursing or economy majors will say that art history does not make them a better nurse...but I think it does. Ask me anyday when my life is in the hands of a doctor and I can choose between the one that took art history and the one that didn't and I would pick the one that did. The arts help you to observe, they give a way to express ones self and ideas, art can be a window into a cultre or community and often times it is about relationships and critical issues. It is visible thought porcess. I can't think of a single major or life event that is not made better with these skills!

So where do I go from here? Try to make that one student happy (that is probably not possible)!

So I will be commenting more in their weekly journals so that they are getting that constant feeedback and building confidence. I will be trying to think of more interactive assignments to do during group discussion time to keep it all going. The big one for me is going to be framing each lesson so they are not guessing at why we are doing what we are doing. That means sometimes force feeding the connections and then letting them discover other personal connections!

This is harder than it looks!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

And I say to myself....what a wonderful (read scary) world

Well, my first semester as a full time community college teacher has begun!

In some ways it is a wonderful place of continued education and higher goals. In other ways it is frustrating!

Just yesterday I gave the first exam of the semester to one of my classes. The material spanned cave paintings to the peoples of the Aegean Sea. In addition I asked them to fill out a small (literally small as I sut the paper in half) classroom assessment tool that I told them would be anonymous. I asked them to beriefly state a muddy point in the class and a clear one. I let them know that only I would see them and that I use what they say to help me be a better teacher. I try to be transparent in the classroom to keep from weilding all the power (probably that is another post for another day).

What I got was primarily lazy responses. I got a lot of comment like what was muddy was that I did not spell out for them every detail of the exam. I teach art history and while it may be an outdated teaching method there is some slide memorization involved. I do not tell them what slides to memorize, instead I tell them to reflect on the themes present in each chapter and then to find a few art objects that refelct those themes and memorize those. Since I test primarily on the themes and not small details this is a good study strategy.

However, more than half the students felt like what was muddy was this one point. So maybe it was genuine confusion or maybe it was wanting me to do the work for them???

At the heart of this issue is something I think many teachers go through on a regular basis. How do we facilitate learning in a way that is pleasant but also demand a certain amount of effort from our students?

To the students who reflected that they wanted more review of the images my first impulse is to say, "then review them!" I post my slide shows for the entire class to see before I actually give them and they stay up the entire semester. I also provide a lecture outline so that studens can print it out and follow along with me. -- However, that is assuming that these students have the tools to review works effectively.

While my first instinct was to say if you think that was hard wait til art history two where the teacher requires students to memorize slides in the language they were made in. But that would not be fair, positioning my class as at least not something else does not change the concern of the students.

So from here I begin to build into my syllabus some notetaking skills, study skills specific to art history and even more time setting up what test expectations are!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Postmodernism and Bringing it All Home

This is the last week of classes and I felt like it was important to bring together all of the things we had been talking about all semester long into a context that hits them directly and leaves them with skills to tackle images in their own world! We started with talking about postmodernism and identity. They very quickly began to jump on the idea that interpreting art and visual images is really about building identity. Although it took us a little while to talk about identity in terms bigger than like and dislikes. This week we looked at images dealing with power from the Art 21 series by PBS. The slide show was done for me (bonus) and the images were great. The students had a chance to try out their interpretation skills and then we reflected on those interpretations and tried to locate places where their identity played a role. This was a good activity but as it turns out a little boring. So today we tried a number of photographs dealing with gas prices, immigration, and Iraq. ( I chose these as they represented the first three news stories I saw this morning) We then took a quote from Coco Fusco about the importance of photography in building American Identity and pulled it apart and in a large group discussion answered or reflected on the following questions:
1) Do you agree/disagree with Coco Fusco that photographs build identity?
2) How do we see or not see ourselves in images popular media creates?
3) Do you see yourself/generation/culture represented in the images given?
4) If images make, "cultural classifications visible, understandable, and useful" then what cultural classifications are visible.... in these images?

The response was good overall and students seemed to like discussing something they know alot about, themselves and popular culture. They were able to discuss without me the ways they are portrayed and what images are harmful helpful to that portrayal. They also made statements about not just believing the images they see but asking questions about them!!!!! I was worried that since this is the last class they would be distracted and antsy but I think by challenging them with a difficult quote to digest as well as issue that directly effect them, that they were willing to stay focused and almost spend an hour talking about these things.

I feel more confident now about not leading with critical pedagogy but easing into it. It has lead to wonderful discussion and allowed students in on the process of learning. I also feel like I need to make a bigger effort sooner to engage the students in more challenging reading and ideas. Today was the first day that I really handed them a challenging quote and they did well with it. I am still wary of work that is academically privledged with jargon and big confusing words. However, there are plenty of artists and theorists out there who have conversations about visual images that speak in understandble terms. I think the class would benefit from some of these harder to chew on quotes. There needs to be a mix of down to earth, everyday language as well as the academically challenging. Stricking that balance will make for a stronger class and I think a really interesting exchange of ideas.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

I'm a Mess But They Had Fun

A teacher once told me that what makes a teacher great is being able to salvage the greatest lesson plan they have ever written after a fire drill.

Not so sure that I am great but I am working on it. Today in class I had this really great intention of talking about postmodernism so that we can next week discuss contemporary art in the context of postmodernism. To do this I borrowed and created and I really think I put together a good lesson.

My agenda was:

  • Assign the final essay ( A reflection paper on the semester)
  • Introduce Post Modernism ( As a set of ideas, a changing theory, and also to focus onto he aspects of identity formation and adaptation as well as isolationism versus community and understanding ones past through multiple lenses)
  • Imagined History (As a group we created a few imagined histories for random objects brought from home. We based these stories off of known information ie its a keychain, visual clues ie tag from China, broken compass, and whatever we could make up ie used to store drugs, a secret code to smuggle people into the country)
  • Bio Poems - Thanks Sue and the I AM Culture Project! (Since Post Modernism is about identity this short poem asks students to think about how they identify themselves beyond what can be seen)
  • Chicano Park (In response to the recent popularity in the media on the subject of Latino workers and fair wages, show images from Chicano Park San Diego, CA and look at them as images of Latinos, by Latinos, for Latinos as well as showing a history through the lens of civil disobedience)

The essay was well received (probably because it is not a research paper). The Imagined History activity went really well. They were creative and active and responsive to how this connected to an actual theory. It was suggested to me that I play slow sad music while working on the Bio Poems and we should all click instead of clap for each other :) However they did get into the poems and will be working with them again to create their final art work. They also appreciated that I let them read mine later.

When it came time to look at slides I showed the first image which in large white letters on the side of a freeway post says Varrios Si, Yonkes No! I explained that this had to do with the land struggle in this area. One student, who asks really great questions, asked if this wasn't reverse discrimination? At which another student stated that if that sign were reversed in her neighborhood it would be racist! This set off other students to suggest that no sign was needed because white people did not have to fight for their land. One student asked if we could go back to the pictures but that person was out voted by a louder member who said no I like this topic and so it went. We did talk about some really great things in an almost all white space. The issue of whiteness actually came up from the students! My slide show was toast and there was no nice wrap up at the end, we simply ran out of time.

I know this was great! Self directed talk of critical issues that we discovered in art work! It is like a critical pedagogy dream. Where can we go next? The possibilities are endless, Critical Pedagogy has triumphed. Oh wait, next week is the last week, and we have one more required chapter to cover. Ok dream interrupted by reality.

It will still work. We can cover contemporary art that is better then the crap in the book and be critical, super fun! But it won't be led by the students! I guess that's another possible page in my possible book, learning to keep up the small baby steps. This class is a stepping stone, a place to begin, hopefully for them the conversation will not end completely once they leave this class!