Tag Archives: teaching

My Job is Great for a Buddhist

I just realized that everything about my job teaching these continuing education classes is great for the Buddhist path.

One class is over every 12 weeks, with no guarantee that I will get to teach another. The other is essentially week to week, without guarantee.

Talk about being unattached!

I have a lot of control over content. I can tailor it to meet the needs of the particular students I have that week or that semester. In this way I can follow the suggestion of Thich Nhat Hanh when he talks about “Right Speech:” “The truth must be presented in ways that others can accept… Before you speak, understand the person you are speaking to.”

And so in my Spanish conversation class, I can tailor lessons to the needs of these particular students. In the budgeting class, I can focus on whichever topic my current students are struggling with, or spend more time filling gaps in certain areas of knowledge.

There are no tests or grades (unless we decide we want some!) so I don’t have to waste time passing impersonal judgments when I can very well hear and observe in which areas they need more help. My Spanish class in particular WANTS to be learning the subject matter, and so it is just a matter of being available to them and guiding their progress. No need for me to “objectively” evaluate (as though such a thing were possible) and then classify along the spectrum from genius to moron. They are each just a student walking their path, hanging out in class and engaging with the material for a while.

I also have the freedom to be the instructor I feel like being that day, whether I’m in more of an entertainer mood, bouncing around the room cracking jokes, or if I’d rather get more in depth, tie in relevant ideas that give the class a more serious tone and encourage students to reconsider fundamental assumptions that might be unhelpful to perpetuate.

In short, other than staying within the general subject matter, teaching these adult education classes seems to be inspiring a very unattached career. And with no benefits, no tenure, no job security, no 401K or health insurance or any other long term advantage, what better way to live in the now?

Okay, I’m being sarcastic with that last part, but definitely trying to look on the bright side with the rest.

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Budgeting Class Update: Spanish Edition

Well, apparently I am able to successfully convey information about financial planning in the Spanish language for a couple of hours. I’m supposed to get it up to three hours, but that is going to involve adding topics, I think. Although today’s class may not be an entirely accurate gauge, since my only student was a very bright lady who seemed to simply be experiencing situational difficulties rather than requiring assistance due to personal financial incompetence.  So when I have a larger group and some of them have some questions and need things elaborated, it may be that the material we have will go further.

I look forward to facilitating the first English version next Wednesday.

Class Tonight

Tonight, barring unforeseen catastrophes, I’ll be teaching again at a college (granted last time it was as a GTF at a University teaching a credit class, this time it is as some kind of hobbyist instructor teaching a continuing education class at a community college) for the first time since the spring of 2007. (Why? Moved across the continent, had two children in addition to the three I already had, have no Master’s Degree to validate my existence, and various other little excuses…)

The Spanish conversation curriculum I’ll be using is something I developed and have taught twice before, but it was within an even more informal arrangement teaching private church groups. LOTS of fun (and they seemed to enjoy it too! :D), but after the ten weeks were up they also seemed content to move on to other things.

I want to create addicts. I want them to love Spanish, to feel like they are gaining incredibly useful tools, to see that they are acquiring keys to new worlds.

I know, I’m a word nerd. The Geek of Speak. We are few and far between. I should consider myself lucky that I get this chance to stand up in front of a group again and spread the language love.

But you know, there are a lot of ways to get people hooked. It doesn’t have to just be on the language. It could be on the camaraderie, on the entertainment value. It could simply be that people come to feel like they are actually accomplishing something, and want more.

Especially since we don’t have grades or tests, and they won’t get any “credit” on a piece of paper for having completed our class, I have to work especially hard to let them know when they’ve succeeded. I have to make it obvious that what they acquire at the end of a lesson is infinitely more valuable than receiving official approval from an institution of higher learning — when you’re face to face with another human being who happens to speak a different language, you can waggle a piece of paper at them showing that you’ve successfully completed some accredited course, but it’s much more important to be able to actually communicate.

I am obsessed. (Less necessary words were never written.) I need to just calmly prepare, then let it go.  If this is the last time I ever get to teach Spanish, or anything else for that matter, let me just enjoy it, and make it the best class I can for whoever my students happen to be. It doesn’t have to turn into anything else, doesn’t have to make me the area’s go-to, beloved continuing ed instructor.

Just make tonight magic.

Master of My Own Destiny

It must be because the huge cultural extravaganza known as “Back to School” is banging on the front door, but I return again to the ghost that haunts me — the Master’s degree.

As teenagers we were assured that you can’t make it in life without a high school diploma. Check. When I quit college at 20, I was warned that I’ve never make it without a Bachelor’s degree. I went back to college at 32, a single mom with three kids, and rocked it, graduating summa cum laude with departmental honors.

Has this piece of paper earned me any respect or validation? No. Tens of thousands of dollars of debt later, those in a position to hire still smile politely and roundfile my application as soon as my back is turned to leave the office. The new base standard is the almighty Master’s degree (cue angelic choir.)

I almost finished one in 2007. I could choose the path of regret, but I refuse. I hated my program and was only in it because I loved every minute of the accompanying opportunity to teach as a graduate fellow. I was marrying that man for his money.

And I still want to teach. My passion for language and deep desire to share it with others is the only reason I keep revisiting this unpleasant topic of validation-by-paper.

That crossroads is still there — to go further down the path of institutionalization, or just once and for all to jump outside the box and run.

The lure of respect, retirement, health care, all the fancy must-have perks of working in the system sing their siren songs beneath a banner embossed in gold leaf with my name, followed by venerable capital letters which would brand me as belonging to the Worthy Herd.

But the other path, that “road less traveled,” where could it possibly lead? How would a person walk it, and how would you know when you got somewhere?

I think the only way to arrive at a comparable level of respect and validation along an alternate path is celebrity by fame or huge accomplishment. Write a well-received book, found a successful institution, develop a new theory or become otherwise positively renowned and they will throw their honorary diplomas at you like confetti. And at that moment, rather than hungrily grab at them, you would smile a bit and half-interestedly watch them fall.

And if this path never leads to respect or validation by those who dwell in an office wallpapered with credentials? If the journey is never more than a humble scraping by?

Perhaps the most essential question is — how can I become one of them, participating in and advocating for a bloated, self-important system whose stranglehold on the job market might not reflect a legitimate need for more and more education but might simply reveal the epidemic of greed for tuition dollars?

But the most vital question for me personally is, shouldn’t I be willing to make any compromise rather than take the risk that I’ll never teach again?

The Job Hunt

Interestingly enough, the two schools where I’ve submitted applications (as well as resumes, letters of recommendations, AND am in friendly contact with the teachers I would be replacing…) are the two schools that my son would be going to next year.  I feel like our fates are tied together.  His old school in the district where we used to live is where my daughter graduated last year.  There’s no way I’m trucking him all the way over there (18 miles round trip, which I’ve been doing twice a day for the past two+ months) unless I get to park when I get there and go to my own classroom.  The other school is in the district we’ve just moved into.  Both potential jobs were just insider tips, fed to me by the same person, actually.

I have my fingers crossed but I’m not holding my breath, just to represent the situation bodily.  Mentally I go back and forth between,” They’re going to be impressed with my experience and enthusiasm and it’s going to be a match made in heaven!” and “I don’t have a license and there are probably 20 other people who look better than me on paper and I don’t have a chance in hell.”

The suspense is killing me.

Even the gig I’ve been hired to do isn’t a sure thing.  I was asked by a local community college to teach a couple of Spanish conversation classes this summer, but all is contingent on there being enough enrollment.  They gave me big glossy posters to hang up, which I dutifully did at 5 different libraries in the area and as many businesses.

I’ve also got emails out to recreation center directors and day care center directors, offering to teach Spanish classes,  but I don’t know how many have even been read.  I’m not sure those opportunities even exist, or if it’s just something I think should be available.

I know I was meant to teach.  The thought of it gives me an enthusiasm that feels bottomless.  I keep coming back to the idea that it is so stupid that a person with talent, skill and drive should have to beg for a chance to be a useful, contributing member of society.  Can you imagine living in a primitive situation and begging the tribal leaders for the opportunity to practice your vocation?  Why do we do this to ourselves?

Freelance Educator

Is such a thing possible?

I love to teach.  I love to learn.  I love to splash around with words and meaning, to engage in true communication, to discuss, read, observe, analyze, explore.

Where the experts are - University of Oregon, Eugene

But I hate grades.  I hate tests.  I despise all the little soul-killing ways we try to educate our hopeful, energetic youth.  I detest the fact that most adults are DONE with learning because they feel, and generally rightly so, that it was all irrelevant crap.

My current plan includes getting a job as a lateral entry public high school French and/or Spanish teacher, then using the three allotted years to get my actual license and possibly a master’s degree.

The thought of being in a classroom excites me to no end.  I taught beginning French at the University of Oregon and it was one of the most fulfilling out-of-the-home things I’ve ever done.

But the thought of being a public school teacher fills me with all kinds of anxiety.  I think the part I dread the most is my own continuing *forced* education.  I will always learn – from life, from books, from sharing with other people, from taking classes and seminars that I deem relevant or interesting, from observation, from internet surfing, to name a few ways.

Up a tree - a great place to be (and to learn)

But to be dictated to as far as what I must read/write/study in order to be a great teacher?  I am frankly insulted.  I defy anyone to get to know me and what I’ve done in my life and tell me that I can’t direct my own program of study.

And the nit-picky crap that goes along with a university education.  The GREs, for example.  I’m supposed to take those AGAIN in order to apply for admission.  I took them 6 years ago, but you have to take them again if it’s been more than 5 years ago.  And yet, within the last 5 years, I took 40 credit hours worth of graduate work for which I earned a GPA of 3.95.  The GPA doesn’t tell you what you need to know?

And so I think: freelance?  Is there a way to be a French, Spanish or English educator outside of the system?  Some possible outlets: continuing education (non-credit classes) at community colleges; classes at daycares; classes at churches whose members want to learn Spanish for outreach or mission work; ESL classes for immigrants; tutoring kids in the system; classes for homeschooled kids; opening a shop to sell education supplies/books to local teachers; selling curriculum I’ve developed; consultant for homeschooling parents… the list seems endless.  In my fantasy, once I get my name out there and people get to know me and my passion for language and learning, it seems like the rest would follow.

Climbing into the light

But the safe path is the one that leads through the hoops.  The walls of the box are very comforting, though it’s stuffy in here and hard to breathe.  Also, not a lot of sunshine or rain, no mud or ladybugs or greenness.  Just the walls and the hoops.

And the silence.