As 2018 begins, I’m inspired to join a host of educators on Twitter and Facebook in committing to focus on #oneword2018 this year and to provide that reflective opportunity to my students. My word is PERSPECTIVE.
Personally, in the past year I have raged and despaired over the deterioration of civil public discourse in contemporary society. It’s easy and tempting to blame “those other guys” for this disrespectful and contemptuous atmosphere, especially the ones who hold political views diametrically opposed to mine. But rage and despair have gotten me nowhere; sadly, they have overcome my normal optimism. I am changing this for 2018.
I commit (hand over my heart) to striving respectfully to comprehend the perspective of others, and to model that for my students and my community. As my English students learn, a world of literature told exclusively from a single, first-person point of view would be limiting and boring. Jon Scieszka in The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs and Gregory Maguire in Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, engagingly re-tell familiar tales from alternative points of view. And our own imaginations and sense of possibilities are the better for it.
My hope is that, by being open to listening to each other’s stories, we can create empathy sufficient to destroy the suspicion, negativity and downright bigotry displayed at the highest level of government in the last year.
I often begin the school year with a bucket of old reading glasses, 3-D glasses, and swim goggles that I ask my students to try on. They also swap prescription glasses with classmates with much giggling. It’s a terrific, visceral demonstration of how hard it can be to see another’s point of view without wearing their “eyes” or walking in their shoes.
So here’s to a new year of sharing perspectives!
I love this variation on a widely-circulated image illustrating the difference between equality and equity. It explicitly acknowledges the presence and value and needs of people (i.e. students) with
disabilities different abilities.
In several of my classes today I had to decide how to deal both equally and equitably with the content I had to cover and the behavior problems involving only a few students. I decided to treat all classes equally by setting out a standard for behavior and consequences. But I also equitably differentiated the treatment of Act I of Macbeth in my classes to support and to challenge my students. Let me tell you, it’s hard!
Teaching is truly more an art than a science. That’s the problem with a scripted curriculum that forces teachers to be lockstep with one another. Different classes are just different, and that applies to individuals as well.
On the other hand, (I’m a Libra, remember?) all students deserve equal access to the content and equal energy from their teachers to support equal opportunities to learn. No student should be deprived, for example, exposure to Macbeth if that’s the agreed-upon curriculum. Still, not every student needs to parse EVERY line to acquire the skill of paraphrasing Shakespeare’s language; nor does every student need to explore EVERY contemporary connection to the themes.
Achieving that balance (and I believe I accomplished it for at least today) takes understanding of one’s students, the content, and one’s own limitations. My head hurts and I’m REALLY grateful it’s Friday….
As part of our unit on The Value of Life, my elective class called Contemporary Studies watched Randy Pausch’s lecture called “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Knowing he was dying of liver cancer, Pausch delivered a funny, moving, and inspirational talk on how to live a good life in which he described some highlights of his journey as a family man, a student and a professor. The best-selling book he published called The Last Lecture expands on the stories and lessons of his 75-minute speech.
Pausch’s lecture contains so many meaningful lessons, but the one message that most resonated with me on this viewing was HELP PEOPLE. That’s a given in an educator’s job description, but it also describes an attitude for anyone in any profession or any role, including student. We can learn so much from connecting with others without expectation of personal gain. The beautiful irony is that, with that mindset, we often get back more than we give. Pausch calls that a “head fake” or indirect learning, where in the doing of a fun task we learn something difficult. My own beloved father Angelo Ozoa preached that lesson and lived it, as a doctor and community leader whose legacy includes an annual medical mission to needy areas in the Philippines. So go do what Randy and Angelo said — help people!
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Lately I’ve encountered problems where the ancient advice of stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius served me well. It’s easy for teachers to fall into the trap of taking events personally or feeling responsible for fixing difficult situations or reacting defensively. But sometimes our professional best can only take us so far. When we hit a wall in frustration, all we can control is our own reactions, not anyone else’s behaviors.
Sorry for the vague post. I never feel comfortable even hinting at details about problems involving students. Suffice it to say that putting myself in their complicated, emotional shoes helps me to react with compassion, not anger, with empathy, not enmity, with solutions, not punishments.
In other news, one of my favorite 20% Time Projects in the past two years was an AP Language student who read four biographies, including one of Marcus Aurelius, and ran the stock investment club at our high school. He wrote a 7,000 word guide to stoicism and value investing called The Stoic Investor, and self-published it on the Amazon Kindle store.
For the first time in my career, ALL my students are reading science fiction at the same time. I am in geek heaven! My juniors are reading 1984 and my elective students are reading Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. The latter is tough to get into, especially for the non-readers in the class, but they find the story’s “what if?” fascinating, that this humanoid race is androgynous. What if WE lived in a world with no distinct gender roles?
Before getting too far into the novel, I train my students to identify the Cognitive Strategies (see Carol Booth Olson’s research) they use in reading so they can read more intentionally and closely. We do a fun activity where they record themselves reading and thinking aloud, then identify three strategies and document them, including the recording, in a Google Slides presentation. Students enjoy using their cell phones for schoolwork and hanging out outside on a spring day in SoCal to make their recordings.
Yesterday in class I apologized for what felt like an entirely too lengthy passionate rant about the value of literature. But my students encouraged me to continue and one said, “It’s okay; it’s like a TEDtalk.”
I had the pleasure of hearing UCI Dean and Vice-Provost Michael Dennin, a physicist, speak on “Understanding Creation and Evolution: How the Bible and Science Provide Insight Into Our Origin.” Much of his talk is detailed in his book, Divine Science: Finding Reason at the Heart of Faith.
At the risk of oversimplifying his argument, I’ll comment only on one particular metaphor that struck me as powerful. He explains that the Fullness of Reality includes the physical world AND the world outside our understanding that is other parts of God’s creation. Science describes the rules that govern physical reality as accepted through experimentation. He likens physical reality to the existence of a fetus in the womb, evolving but knowing only what its limited senses can perceive. The Fullness of Reality is like the mother who nurtures that fetus. She is a creator whose reality extends beyond what the fetus can experience. Only after the fetus emerges from the womb can it understand the Fullness of Reality.
It’s not perfect, but this metaphor works for me to account for the mysteries of faith and the yet-scientifically-unknown. For example, my own babies seemed to recognize the “Jeopardy” theme shortly after birth. I attribute that to my watching the show almost every weeknight of my pregnancies.Years later the internet abounds with articles on how to teach your baby in utero by placing headphones on your pregnant belly.
We have added so much to our scientific body of knowledge over the centuries, but I doubt we’ll ever learn the Fullness of Reality without embracing more than our five senses or instruments that augment them. Emotion? Intuition? Faith? I wish more than ever I could time-hop or visit parallel universes.