Monday, October 16, 2006

For me, the worst feeling in the world is frustration. This feeling can overtake me anywhere. Sometimes it creeps up during understandable situations, such as when I cannot get my class to understand some concept I consider ridiculously simple. However, I can also get frustrated during the simplest situations, such as when I can’t thread a needle or pull the backing off a label or bumper sticker. After I have spent a few minutes being unable to divide the sticker from its backing, I’ll get a certain feeling in my chest. This feeling causes me to throw the sticker on the ground, probably cuss, and even physically attack other inanimate objects, such as nearby chairs and tables. The feeling combines the helplessness of an unexpected breakup with the irritation of an itch that cannot be satisfied, regardless of how much scratching.

I bring up this feeling because it is exactly how I feel when I sit in my graduate school classes at Ole Miss. I have not been this frustrated in a classroom since I was in 6th grade, when my Social Studies teacher would spend the entire class having students take turns reading from the textbook. It takes my professors five hours to give information that I could grasp and understand in thirty minutes. With one notable exception, every academic leader I have had at Ole Miss has been a major disappointment. They provide no challenges, intellectual or otherwise. I have gotten into the habit of either “phoning-in” or simply ignoring homework assignments because I view them as a heinous waste of my precious time. The issue about homework is not the fact that I would rather be doing something that I find entertaining – hanging out with friends, reading a novel, or watching a movie – it is the fact that I could be doing something productive. I could be planning lessons. Or grading essays. Or calling parents. Or redecorating my room. Or creating tests. Or figuring out how to help my students who are in danger of failing or dropping out of school.

It is not that I have a problem spending time doing work for graduate school; I have never, and will never, shy away from any academic challenge. That said, I want my work to be worthwhile. There is no point in spending time on homework which is, basically, busy work. I wish that my professors would take the advice they so eagerly give to their students: make sure the class is involved, make sure you aren’t just “talking at” your class,

When I made the decision to join the Teacher Corps, I thought the graduate school courses would be a highlight of the program, a welcome respite from the daily grind of teaching. The opposite has become true. I fear the weekends we have to travel to Ole Miss to take classes. I can’t stand every moment we spend in the Education Building. My head aches, my thoughts wander, and my chest is filled with that awful feeling of frustration.

I do not know if this lack of academic rigor is more a reflection of the University of Mississippi, the Mississippi Teacher Corps, or education graduate schools in general. Regardless of which institution is at fault, I recently told my father that I regard the entire process as a farce. I truly hope that this is a symptom of the first semester, and not a disease that ravages the entire program.

Next semester we will be taking a class with a gentleman who, in my limited contact with him, has appeared to be intelligent, intellectual, thoughtful, caring, and dedicated. This cocktail of attributes makes him an extremely rare ace in the School of Education’s deck; I only hope the rest of the professors I encounter at this school are not jokers.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

To fulfill a requirement for EDSE 600, I gave one of my classes a learning styles inventory. Although I see the concept of "learning styles" somewhat limited and a little touchy-feely, it was my hope that I could learn something about my students from such a survey. In this vein, I decided to give the inventory to my "worst" class, the one that seems to have not only the most discipline problems, but also the lowest achievement levels.

Most of my students seemed to be visual learners, which does not surprise me. More recent generations - mine certainly incuded - watch so many hours of television, and spend so many hours on the computer, and play so many hours of video games that I am not surprised they would associate the distribution of information with visual media.

Auditory being the second-most commonly occuring learning style amongst this group of students. I don't really know how to interpret this data, but perhaps it speaks to the passivity of current teenage life. Listening, like watching, is an activity that does not require any kind of physical movement. Given the lack of physical activity amongst this generation of students, I am not surprised that auditory and visual are the preferred learning styles.

What was most fascinating to me was that the absolute worst students, in this my worst class (so, the bottom of the barrel in 10th grade) were tactile learners. I was really interested in seeing the responses of two students in particular because they are doing so poorly in my class, in regards to both discipline and academics. Both of these students were tactile learners. The fact that both these students feel the need to always attempt to leave their seats or make comments without raising their hand should have foreshadowed their preference for tactile learning; their bodies and mouths always have to keep moving.

To be honest, I don't really know how to react to this information. If I was a science teacher, or a math teacher, or even a history teacher, perhaps I could design lesson plans to fit these students' preference for tactile learning. However, English is English. There are certain things these students have to learn, and there are certain ways they must learn them. This is particularly true in regards to reading comprehension, with which the students need the most help. Though I try to vary my lessons as much as possible, learning is hard work. If the students don't want to work in the first place, it doesn't really matter if they are tactile, auditory, or visual learners.