Dormant Wanderlust Awakened

How can you miss a place that is not your home? Such a phenomenon is strange to me. I live in the same city I was born in. I have always been here and am happy with my town. So why do I miss the Loch Ness, the coast of Cornwall, the banks of the Wye River, so? 

I am enjoying a Virginia spring. Getting the yard ready for flowers and a vegetable garden. Seventy degree temperatures in mid-March are nothing to sneeze at! Southwest Virginia is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I’ve recently seen much of the USA and a few foreign places as well.  

Yet, I am drawn to a place I have only visited for a few weeks. I miss the smell of the damp forests, the bite of the coastal wind, the beauty of a sometimes harsh landscape. What’s up with that? I expected to love Scotland, Cornwall, and Wales. I did not expect to fall in love with them, to seek ways to return sooner than later, to ponder a much longer stay. 

I have discovered a years dormant wanderlust, lying in wait for the right catalyst. Is this a response to the death of my mother, my foundation, a little over a year ago? Is it that my children are grown and forging lives of their own that need only peripheral interaction with me? Is it all of those things that are releasing me from tethers I secured to my hometown long ago? 

I think it is freedom – the freedom of losing those you love to death and to growing up. We don’t like to call it freedom. I feel treasonous calling it that. The ones I speak of have been, and continue to be the blood of my life, but they no longer need that depth of time commitment from me. So, I am free, free to pursue the newer callings. 

Happily for me, I have a husband who has always tuned to his own wanderlust. I think he has been patiently waiting for me to find mine. I always thought that getting older was a slowing down and a pulling in. But it feels just the opposite for me and for us. It is an opening to, a seeking of, the unknown. I feel Dunkeld, Fort Augustus, Crail, Cornwall, and the north of Wales in our near future. 

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Solite Excavation, Day 6

The best kind of education! Learning environments that incorporate opportunities for real world investigation are the best of all worlds. Playing in sand boxes outside my own always proves to be inspiring. We need to remember that phenomenon when we are teaching. Leave room for connecting the dots, for creation of the hybrid thought. We all grow from considering the perspectives of others; this is true for academic disciplines as well as people. Stop artificially categorizing knowledge as if it is owned by only one group. We’ll all grow from the collaborative effort.

Updates from the Paleontology Lab

Group pic 9-13-14

Despite the constant threat of rain, we were able to get into the pit and make some progress along the exposure. Our crew included Ray, Jim, and me, as well as two VT grad students, two professors from Roanoke College (RC) and several of their students. With so many people, we were able to spread out along the outcrop and focus on removing overburden and connecting our previous pits.  

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Welcome to Waldorf

With this link, I take you to an entertaining and informative blog written by one of my students. She is student teaching in Scotland at a Steiner (Waldorf) school this semester and her blog is a wonderful explanation of why I formed the link to this particular kind of school. We have so much to learn from all the “best practices” out there. I hope the US will soon spend more time in pursuit of real, research-based best practices rather than choosing pseudo-research on which to base their economically driven accountability processes.

It Really Is That Simple

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Every time I visit a school, I find myself pondering what drew me to these environments. I loved school. I still do. Currently, I teach in a higher education environment, one I fear will follow the same negative, standardized path I left behind in the public K-12 realm.

That’s a real shame; and sitting in this high school auditorium, I rack my brain trying to remember what drew me in so successfully over 45 years ago.

I am here to observe a student teacher in a small, nearly rural school and I realize “racking my brain” is the reason I can’t come up with what I miss about school. I needed to rack my heart. The thing that made me love school was that it became my home. My refuge. My laboratory. My playground.

I am recapturing that feeling today watching a beginning teacher build rapport with students who show real interest in the subject. The environment is chaotic, dynamic, but never out of control. There is freedom and movement and students are at ease as they interact with one another and with the student teacher.

But this is a fine arts class. The teacher and students will not be prepped and tested endlessly. They are free to explore the information, to ask questions, investigate tangents. But how will we know they have learned anything?

We’ll know by what they’re doing everyday as they interact with one another other and with the teacher! The same way we’ll know they have mastered math, history, or English – by what they can produce – in a real world situation rather than on the one day they take a standardized test.

Oh, but then we will have to trust the classroom teachers’ assessments. Those same teachers the pols and public malign – until we need them to act as nurse, counselor, mother, father, friend, or mentor.

Allowing teachers to do what they do best – teach – without negative interference, is one step toward making schools real communities. Healthy communities foster a sense of belonging. Becoming a part of something important provides self-worth. Self-worth engenders the intrinsic motivation to learn. A curious, motivated mind is capable of reaching its fullest potential.

It really is that simple. Allow teachers to do their jobs and to bring to it all their personal gifts and talents.

Allowing – dare I say encouraging – teachers to teach as they see fit will not solve all the world’s problems immediately, but it is the one step that can turn schools into havens of learning. And that learning is the catalyst for the solutions we need.

It’s that simple.

But, it’s not easy.

And it’s not quick.

Politicians appear unwilling to listen or to wait; they must do something for which they can take credit – and the more complicated the solution the better. Good outcomes will never come from these kinds of adulterated maneuvers. Start trusting those with the most knowledge and experience. And as a teacher probably told you, use your common sense.

 

Perspective

My mother died last month. That fact appears to have little bearing on my career in education. Except when it has everything to do with it. 

This week I read several posts by a career coach blogger. She appears to be an experienced, astute former college professor whose blog relates the steps to attaining success in academia, a topic of considerable interest to me. But with each post I became more discouraged and depressed.

I have done everything irrevocably wrong. I failed to even try to publish my dissertation. I did not apply to any R1 institutions. I did not immediately embark on my second research project. I did not ditch the small college teaching position that financially sustained me through graduate school. I put my faith in the unfounded trustworthiness of personal work relationships. I declined job opportunities because they required a move.

I can attest to the accurateness of her advice – all of these (in)actions came with a hefty price-tag. I work in a dead-end, disrespected, poorly paid position. My stellar GPA, scholarly awards and fine teaching evaluations do not help pay off my student loans. My age is a detriment, not a sign of my extensive life and work experience.

And then I thought of Mom. Mom, who was just sitting on my couch a few short weeks ago, enjoying a piece of sweet potato pie. Mom, whose voice is still on a phone message asking what food she should bring to Christmas dinner. Mom, who was supposed to look after our cat when we go abroad in a few weeks. And she helped me put life, and success, into perspective.

As a read the positive blog comments, many from folks in their 20s who had plowed through college, grad and PhD programs, I began to get angry. I thought of my beautiful kids and the hours spent playing, watching, helping, guiding; how many auctions and yard sales Mom and I had attended; how often I just sat and talked to my grandparents, aunts and cousins; the times I worked with my mother or went on little excursions with the kids. I thought of working to build a loving, positive home while struggling with an abusive relationship and the loss of a child; of setting up a cooperative preschool or facilitating groups of other grieving parents. I thought of finally setting myself free to pursue the educational path I discarded many years before. These episodes and accomplishments mean nothing if I use “success in academia” as my paradigm. 

This perspective is not an excuse for failing to achieve. It is a way of seeing that I have achieved. It is my grounded theory of priority. I still plan to succeed in academia, but on terms I set for myself. This is the freedom offered by education; a freedom I earned along with my PhD. It is the vision clarified by the pain surrounding Mom’s death: serve my own goals, make family and friends the priority; career “success” is meaningful only when those integral to my life are with me to share in it.

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Teacher Education for schools as they are OR for schools as they should be? That is the question.

The responsibilities of teacher educators to their students (and society) go far beyond rote preparation for passing a variety of standardized tests. The fact that teaching what we know to be integral to good education practice is called into question and labeled subversive is the acknowledgement that such practice is a necessity. Thanks to Tim Slekar for an insightful piece.