First Day of Teaching College (This Semester)

January 6, 2009

Here are my thoughts from my first day of teaching today.

First of all, spent some good time planning out a lecture this morning. Had some coffee. Used a moleskin and got off the grid. This has some really beneficial effects for deepening my thoughts and I’ve seen some other public intellectuals suggest the same thing. Let’s face it…the computer…and more specifically the Internet is the biggest time suck on the planet. It doesn’t help that deep thought necessary for a new idea.

You’ll hear me write about the process of developing a new idea over and over again in this blog. It is, in my opinion, one of the key elements of the kind of thinking that is necessary in this new digital age.ᅠ

But back to my day teaching.

I’m teaching two classes. One is 83B, a C level reading and vocabulary class at Santa Monica College. This class usually has very low level readers. Students that found English 83A which is practically our lowest reading class quite difficult end up in English 83B.

The other class is 84R. This is the next step up from English 83A, which I usually teach. You’ll also learn more about these types of classes and students more in future blog posts.

I’m writing this blog because I just have too many educational ideas floating around in my head and I need to get them out in one way or another.

Also I have found two new colleagues, Kevin Menton and Daniel Cano, whom I having fantastic dialogue with. But it has been kinda limited to email exchange so I thought…well maybe I’ll just put my thoughts on a blog then they can comment on it. And then maybe in fifty years someone will find these words and go wow…look that guy was struggling with the exact same thing that we’re struggling with.

History has a way of repeating itself like that. Or so I like to think.

This blog just might turn into a video blog real soon. Or I’ll add videos to it. Not sure exactly yet.

Okay back to first day.

Here’s my old school teaching style.

Okay class…tell them a couple of stories. Told first class a few Zen stories. Told second class the story of Plaxico Burress and Michael Vick…for some reason I am fixated on stories of young men that have tasted success but then it all fell apart on them. One of these days I’ll connect it to the Greek Tragedies and hubris and it will be one hell of a lesson but until then…this somehow connected to my lesson about my theme of the day…LEARNING.

Now I’m reading this amazing amazing book What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain. This book is a study of America’s best college professors and a breakdown of what they believe, what they do, and how they relate to students.

One lesson that struck me reading it this morning was that the best college teachers focus on their student’s learning. Simple enough.

I’ll teach my students how to learn something.

So I came up with a ten step process for learning just about anything.

Told the students (actually in the spirit of this blog post I’ll call them learners)…okay told the learners that they need to pull out a piece of paper and write down these ten concepts/ideas.

1. Beginners Mind
2. Energized Mind
3. Purposeful Learning
4. Notation
5. Visualization
6. Mnemonics
7. Recitation
8. Rewiring
9. Evaluation
10. Meta Learning

I gave definitions of each. Demonstrated examples of each concept. And had students practice. I basically explained that this is what you have to do in college. The teacher will be in front of the class giving you a bunch of new words/ideas so it is your job to learn them…so…here’s how you do it.

We took a little quiz on how well they remembered these ideas. Let’s just say my first class did not quite as well as my second class.

Then the fun part began. One of my goals this year was to learn every student’s name the FIRST DAY of class. So why not have all my learners (whew that will take some practice) learn everyone’s name also.

So we used all the techniques listed above. Especially a lot of VISUALIZATION (which you’ll learn a lot more about on this blog). I got the learners using their IMAGINATION from day one. For example we had problems remembering Alana’s name. So someone mentioned think of “a lawn”…of course, why didn’t I think of that?

So we went around the room…learning each person’s name…then we took a little practice quiz. Scores were very high. I even asked when someone got 17/20 why they missed three names…told them that they should shoot for 100%.

Then I went through the syllabus quickly introduced the books. It was enough for the day. Everyone learned a bunch of new things and names.

Three side notes…

Zach came up to me after class and said his dad was buying a video camera (a Flip which I recommended) so he could start his video blog about 1900-1910 baseball.

Another girl came up to me and said that she was dyslexic. I asked her to read for me privately after class. Clear decoding problems…those I can help correct after years of specialized reading intervention experience…she asked if there was any special help for her on campus. I said I don’t know. I sense no. But I will begin to inquire about it this week.

She then began to cry. Saying it has been hard for her all her life. She had failed this class before and had it taken her two times to pass the previous reading class. This is life with low reading skills. This is life with low reading skills and without trained intervention by a reading specialist. In some way, somehow, I will begin to help dyslexics at Santa Monica College. I know what to do. It really is just a limitation of time on my behalf as I drive around teaching at three campuses trying to make a living. But that’s just an excuse.

Here I was standing in front of someone crying for help…and I know how to help…I’ve got the medicine. But reading intervention takes some serious time and training to help. I will have to pray for guidance on this one.

The third interesting note was that one of the young men in the class, Alan, came up to me and said he might have problems reading our book, My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell because he is an Iraqi war veteran. His doctor has purposely told him to stay away from places, people, thing that remind him of the war. He tells me he has won two purple stars. I ask him to briefly look at the book tonight and get back to me. I promise to get him in another class if it is too much.

The irony of this situation is well, ironic. That the very marginalized voices of contemporary youth when it comes into a classroom can be so upsetting that we have to avoid it.

Then my car dies on the freeway on the way home. Time for a new car. Might not make it to school tomorrow as I have to take the car into the shop first thing. It has reached that point of diminishing returns. I have to say…I am very tired of being a poor ass English teacher. It is moments like this on the side of the road with a broken down old truck that I wonder why put myself through all this poverty and driving…

Yet my belief that reading and writing is a transformative and powerful journey for both my students and I guides me forward.

Overall great day…glad to be teaching again…I love it.

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