Perspectives of a Tired Grad Student

The Ethical Dilemma of Ethical Dilemmas

“The fact that we have schools does not mean we have education. The fact that we have hospitals does not mean we have health care. The fact that we have courts does not mean we have justice. We need professionals who are “in but not of their institutions, whose allegiance to the core values of their fields makes them resist the institutional diminishment of those values.”

This quote in Parker Palmer’s article really stuck with me. I think that in every field we have issues where what we learn in school isn’t necessarily what is done in the world of work, whether this be because of lack of time, money, or effort. Obviously this disconnect is an issue, but the bigger issue is the gap in education that we receive in terms of ethics. We’ve discussed numerous times the cursory attention that ethics are given in education, and the more I think about it the more I see this gap everyday.

While writing this I’m sitting across the room from my boyfriend who has a degree in engineering, and he confirmed that he doesn’t recall any of his classes addressing ethics. This man could go out and build buildings, create weapons, design computer programs, and a million other things I’m unaware of, and not once did anyone ever prompt him to consider the ethicality of doing so. Luckily he has a good head on his shoulders, and is a very culturally and environmentally aware person, but what about those who aren’t. What about those engineers or doctors or biologists or teachers who didn’t grow up being taught to think about how their actions impact others? If these people aren’t learning this in their personal lives, and aren’t learning it through their educations who knows what could happen.

There is so much deception, damage, and corruption in the world already. If we don’t, as Palmer says, “humanize” ourselves, and begin to educate in a way that emphasizes the effect rather than the result things will only continue to get worse.

Despite my examples being primarily engineering related, this isn’t an issue that only impacts the hard sciences. We all need to humanize our students. What good does it do for me to teach my students how to give an effective persuasive speech if I don’t address the ethical implications of this type of speech, and when this type of speech might be inappropriate.

We often shrug ethics off as something that everyone already knows, but judging by the current political state in our county I believe we have to accept that everyone doesn’t always know the difference between right and wrong, especially when the lines begin to blur, money becomes involved, and your personal security is on the line. I am throughly convinced that ethics need to be a more prominent subject in my course, and I hope you do too.

From Drones to Organ Donation We Cover it All

Teaching public speaking allows me to meet a wide array of students all with immensely diverse backgrounds. My students come from a wide range of majors and places. One of my favorite things about teaching public speaking is the fact that I can allow my students so much choice and range in what topics they discuss in the class. They never fail to amaze me with the multitude of topics that they choose to cover, and I am even more amazed with the varying knowledge and experiences they back themselves up with.

I can’t imagine how bored I would be if I had to sit in a class day after day and discuss the same types of topics over and over again. I love going into the classroom on any given day and knowing that I will learn about any range of topics from utilitarianism to organ donation and from computer vision to Gestalt Psychology.

This freedom does come with responsibility on my part however. Although students generally choose to talk about things like the growing use of drones or the financial collapse of 2008, at least a few times a semester I will encounter a more controversial topic, like abortion, capital punishment, religion, or gun control. I try to give my students as much space as I can to be themselves and talk about topics that interest them, but I have to keep the class as a whole in mind. There is a fine line between giving my students freedom in the course and giving them a platform to push an agenda, especially when it’s a controversial one that has the potential to offend other students, cause arguments, or harm the welcoming environment I strive to foster.  I have felt it necessary to suggest that a student avoid a topic they chose to give a speech on. Although some teachers would say this stifles creativity and diversity, I believe it is important to teach my students that in a group as diverse as ours some topics either aren’t appropriate to talk about, or must be discussed extremely carefully, and that they do not have the time or expertise to give such sensitive topics the time that they deserve in order to be covered fully. I would never want a student to take on a difficult topic and end up giving a speech that would harm or suppress relationships with other students or hurt their credibility in the eyes of their classmates. Diversity of ideas and opinions is an essential part of my classroom; however, so is mutual respect.

An Age Dilemma

As someone who is extremely close in age to my students (I have a student this semester who is actually a year older than me) I struggle with being my “authentic teaching self”. If asked to describe myself as a teacher, I would describe myself as: friendly, supportive, encouraging, etc. One word I wish I could use to describe my teaching style is open. Although I do try to be open with my students to an extent, I struggle to feel like I can open myself up to them to the extent that I would like to. My worry is that if I open myself up more I will lose the air of professionalism that I have been able to create. My hope is that once I am in a more “professional” role, rather than working in a GTA capacity, I will feel that I have the freedom to be more open with my students and create stronger connections without the fear of losing their respect.


I went to college to beat my friends at Jeopardy

Robert Talbert’s statements regarding the nature of lectures have really gotten me thinking about just how silly education has become in some ways. Talbert says, “Resorting to a lecture because I need to “cover material” is just an admission that I didn’t design my course well. If that’s all the lecture is for, put it online so students can at least pause and rewind.” This point reminded me of a large lecture class I took as a sophomore while in undergrad. I recall the teacher well. She tried to make the class fun and interactive by showing videos and talking about popular culture related to the course. I could tell she was doing her best to make this class engaging. However, I absolutely despised this class. Three years have passed and I am still annoyed by this class (if you don’t believe me just ask my mom, I complained to her about it on the phone just last night).

Why did I hate the class so much you ask? Well in my mind it was completely useless. The class was supposed to teach me about media, and in a way it did, we learned about music, television, internet, etc. What infuriated me was that the teacher spent most of the class spitting random facts at us like, that the first country song was recorded in 1922, and these facts were what we were tasked with remembering for the tests. Maybe you’re thinking “okay what’s so bad about learning some media facts”? Well I’ll tell you. I left at the end of every class with a brain full of trivia wondering what on earth these facts taught me about media. When the professor would go over a theory related to media she would tell us the name of the theory, the basic premise, and who created it. That was it. There was no cohesion. I left the class with some information that might help me perform well when watching jeopardy, but I had no idea as to how these facts corresponded with one another or how they impacted the world of media or what any of this meant for the people who use those media. Nothing was ever connected and I never understood the impact of any of the things I was learning, so to me it was useless.

I feel like many students encounter this frustration, especially with the standardization that has overtaken education. We have a tendency to place students in these huge lecture halls and shoot facts at them and expect them to memorize them, but what good is this system? What does it matter if I know when the first country song was recorded if I don’t know what impact it had on the music industry? What good is it if I know that the Battle of Hastings was fought in 1066 if I don’t know who was fighting or what they were fighting about, or understand the grand scheme surrounding this battle?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that memorization is important sometimes. Trust me I wish I had dedicated more time to memorizing my multiplication tables, so I could quickly perform them on the spot. There are basic skills that we should memorize for the sake of time. If I am an accountant and I can’t remember what 12 times 13 is I’m wasting valuable job time by having to figure it out on a calculator. Then again is it really a huge deal if I don’t remember small details when it so quick and simple to just look them up? As a communication major I constantly had AP style pounded into my brain, and I understand that the purpose was so that I wouldn’t have to take the time to look up every single detail when writing a story, especially considering the time sensitive world we live in. However, considering it takes me about 3 seconds to find an answer with a Google search, is it really a big deal if I can’t remember that Arizona should be abbreviated Ariz.?

My point is, why have we lost sight of the importance of the big picture to focus on those small memorizable facts? If I have a puzzle and the pieces don’t include the interlocking tabs and openings I will never see the full impact of the picture. We have to remember to provide our students with the entire puzzle piece or risk them casting our subjects off as non-essential.

Not to mention the fact that despite being forced to memorize when the first country music song was recorded, when the Battle of Hastings occurred, and how to abbreviate Arizona according to AP style, I had to Google all of those things in order to include them in this post, so obviously something isn’t working.

An Honest Assessment

When reading Lombardi’s article all I could think about was the importance of giving my students the opportunity to hear feedback not only from me, but from their classmates as well. I cannot take credit for this aspect of my courses, because it was suggested by my boss for all GTA’s who teach public speaking, but I capitalize on this opportunity as often as possible.

As someone who teaches public speaking, I have a lot of tips on how to best engage an audience and how to write a speech that is easy to follow, but I am not afraid to admit that I do not know all there is to know about public speaking.

The greatest part of my job is not teaching my students to become great public speakers, but learning from my students what makes a great public speaker. Day in and day out I learn amazing things from my students, and I try to give them as many opportunities as possible to learn from not only me, but one another. One way I facilitate this learning is by having the students assess one another’s speeches. I am always interested in how honest my students are with their classmates about their performances. They grade one another much more harshly than I grade them.

After reading the Lombardi article I have decided that in my next class I am going to explain to my students why these assessments they provide for one another are so important. I want them to understand that they aren’t simply a way to receive participation point or my way of keeping them focused during speeches, but that they allow them to see a wide range of perspectives, because even though I may be the one giving them the final grade, in public speaking you can’t only cater to one member of the audience you must consider the group as a whole.

School & Learning-Autonomous Synonyms

We go to school to learn and we learn in school, but are these concepts as synonymous as we often believe them to be?

I have to say that I disagree with what Mike Wesch said in his video What Baby George Taught Me About Learning. I find his reaction to the teacher’s statement “Some people aren’t cut out for school” to be a bit of an overreaction. I see the statements “Some people aren’t cut out for school” and “Some people aren’t cut out for learning” to have vastly different meanings. As teachers, we can work for days, hours, or even years on end to make our classrooms as inclusive and and accepting of various types of learners, but there will always be students who cannot be satisfied by “classroom learning”.

Although teachers have become more dedicated to implementing various types of instruction to meet the needs of the diverse students who pass through our classrooms, at some point we have to accept that no matter how hard we try there will be some students who just can’t be reached in the higher education environment.

While writing this post a specific relative comes to mind. This relative is intelligent and hard working. He enjoys reading and learning, but doesn’t enjoy school at all. He hardly graduated high school and flunked out of college after his first semester. He has a passion for culinary arts, but even culinary arts classes aren’t enjoyable to him, at least not enjoyable enough for him to fathom staying in college to take them. He would rather learn culinary skills by working at a Bar-B-Q restaurant. Some people simply aren’t stimulated by college courses regardless of how interactive or hands-on the class is or how interested they are in the subject matter.

For people like my relative, higher education simply isn’t suited to their needs. Even the most hands on courses aren’t real enough for them. They need reality to learn. They need to know that what they are doing is resulting in more than a number or letter that signifies their success or lack thereof.

I am suited for school. I have known this to be true for most of my life. I enjoy going to class. I tolerate (and sometimes even enjoy) homework assignments. I appreciate the strict schedules and guidelines. School is what makes sense to me. Although I think of myself as an intelligent human being, I can admit that I am not as suited for learning as I am for school. The things we discuss in my classes don’t always come easily to me. I have to spend more time than others on some assignments and readings in order to grasp concepts (especially the complex ideas we explore in graduate school). I love classes that have practical applications, but I have a feeling if I were to be challenged with a “real-life” scenario in class and were challenged with the exact same scenario in reality, I would perform better in class simply because I would be within my comfort zone.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this video, but I think Suli Breaks makes some amazing points in support of my argument in it.

I strongly believe in the importance of education and I am a huge proponent of catering my classroom to the needs of my students. However, I also believe that some people just aren’t suited for school (which I don’t see as being a bad thing), and I wholeheartedly disagree that being unsuited for school is the same thing as being unsuited for learning.




Using a Personal Platform for Professional Means

I remember being an undergrad in college and having two professors who had created  Twitters accounts dedicated to our course, and another who used her own Twitter account to give updates on class related issues. I followed these accounts only because I was required to for class, or because it meant I would get to see the answer to at least one test question.

I’ve never been someone who enjoyed using social media platforms in the classroom. I’ve always felt that the barrier that was once there between the two was a good thing. When I go to my social media platforms I expect to see posts from friends or family who I have chosen to connect with, because I want to see what they have to say. I use these platforms in my personal time to either catch up with these people or simply as a mindless distraction after a long day, so when I’m lying on my couch at 10:30 having given up on work and school related responsibilities the last thing I want to see on Facebook or Twitter is a reminder that I have Test in two days and I imagine many of my students feel the same way.

I understand why many teachers have chosen to incorporate social media in their classrooms, and I absolutely see how it can be effective in reaching students. I know that students these days spend more time checking their Twitter accounts than their university e-mail, so that reminder about the test is more likely to reach them in through that medium, but at some point I think we have to accept that students deserve a place free from the often never-ending demands of school.

I take education seriously (I’ve been in school for the last 17 1/2 years of my life for goodness sake), and I spend hours upon hours each day working on education related responsibilities, whether that be my own coursework or preparing to teach my classes. Because I dedicate so much time to education related responsibilities, the last thing I want to see when I am on a personal platform like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram is some school related post, so I am extremely hesitant to invade the personal lives of my students in this way. I want them to have time to relax. I don’t want them to feel like they should ALWAYS be thinking about their coursework. I want them to have a place to escape the ever present demands of school, and I think they want and deserve social media to be one of these escapes.

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