Courage to Teach

Last semester I read the book called “The Courage to Teach“. This book, while valuable in parts, nearly gave me a seizure.

The author does a great job explaining why it is so important to invest oneself in teaching, but he also does a great job instilling into the reader that “there are no bad students, only bad teachers”. I beg to differ. Don’t misunderstand me, I think bad can come on both sides of the equation.

I believe there are discouraged students, downtrodden students, resistant students… these students need to be helped with a personal relationship with the professor, i.e. knowing that the professor genuinely cares about them. The instructor should take on the role as mentor as well as teacher… this is important. HOWEVER, I felt my anxiety needlessly rise through the roof as I turned page after page, leaving myself with the aching feeling that if a student fails, I failed.

I disagree. I do believe that there are some cases where this is true, but not all. I think it’s important to invest ourselves in our classes, putting our best self forward, trying as hard as we can, but not to blame our self for student who genuinely don’t seem to care. I will try my best to reach such students if/when they come along, but I will not beat myself up if I do try and it is simply fruitless.

Technology: Helping or Harming?

Recently in one of my (other) pedagogy courses, I was asked the if students want more technology in the classroom and why.

My initial response was “of course!” but then I mulled the question over in my mind, pondering it further. Do students really want more technology in an effective classroom?  I’m not sure.

I think it’s a great idea to use technology since we will be sending students out into their careers where technology surrounds them. However, I find that many professors tend to rely on technology or use it improperly, making the tools quite ineffective.

I know this question will make me think: “Do I need this technology? Is it helping to enhance the material or am I just playing with a new toy?”

After all, the tools are only as effective as those who use them.



On Mission: Mission Statements

Task: find two mission statements, compare and contrast. Go!
Of course, my first thought was to look up my very own alma mater, the University of Georgia. UGA (Go Dawgs!) is a land-grant (apparently sea-grant as well) public university located in Athens, Georgia. Side note: my dad’s family is from there- very exciting. I’m not going to post the entire mission statement because, bless their heart, it’s long.

The most interesting tidbits I pulled from the essay were the following points:

  • motto, “to teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things,” reflects the University’s integral and unique role in the conservation and enhancement of the state’s and nation’s intellectual, cultural, and environmental heritage
  • statewide responsibility and commitment to excellence and academic achievements
  • a commitment to excellence in public service, economic development, and technical assistance activities designed to address the strategic needs of the state of Georgia along with a comprehensive offering of continuing education designed to meet the needs of Georgia’s citizens in life-long learning and professional education

The most important message I kept from their mission statement, other than the length, was how deeply the state of Georgia is embedded into the University. In case you haven’t had a chance to visit the glorious peach state that I call home, UGA is everywhere. I’m not exaggerating. To me it seems that the mission statement is certainly being lived out.

The mission statement also throws in some “about us” where there is some discussion about the colleges and types of degrees offered.


The second mission statement I researched was the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. UQ is a public university (called a “uni” down under) Side note: I have zero family from here, but spent two summers living it up in the land of OZ as a teaching assistant.

As the mission statement is so succinct, I have pasted it below.

The University of Queensland positively influences society by engaging in the pursuit of excellence through the creation, preservation, transfer and application of knowledge. UQ helps shape the future by bringing together and developing leaders in their fields to inspire the next generation and to advance ideas that benefit the world. UQ strives for the personal and professional success of its students, staff and alumni.

This is much more of what I imagined a mission statement to be. It does not seem particularly specific, but it gets the message across: to learn and integrate ideas for the purpose of improving the world.

Aspects of the page, and not necessarily the mission statement, that stood out to me were the definitions of the mission, vision and values. It helps to guide the user as to the purpose of the site. I actually appreciated that part of it.

Both universities have a clear part of their statements devoted to the aspects of students expanding their knowledge and impacting the world around them. UGA’s is quite a bit more lengthy.

The “take home” message that I derive from both of these statements is that it is important to say what is needed with few words, but be specific. I feel that the UGA mission statement could only apply to UGA, while UQ’s statement really could be from any university.

Agent of change

All of the topics we have discussed in GEDI throughout the semester has lead to this: we need to revamp the system, use our tool belt and change the old way of thinking.

I pondered about how I would word my last GEDI mutterings until one overarching theme finally reared its head: we need to incorporate the real world.




Yep, that’s right. We need to connect the dismal enclosed classrooms that we expect these newfound adults to thrive in, and expose them to the real world. Isn’t college about figuring these things out? A cushy world where it is, in many circles, socially acceptable to wear uggs, shorts, and a white t-shirt in 30F weather? In my mind this isn’t even okay in college, but I digress.

It’s about making mistakes, asking questions, exploring new topics and NOT costing your career because of it. We need to show our students that thinking is encouraged… and the real world DOES connect to your classes! Ground-breaking, I know.

Problem based learning, student-centered classes, using technology, encouraging new experiences… these are on our tool belts. Let’s put them to use.

Embrace change

Gawande’s article makes sense… everyone needs a coach. A fresh perspective, a new way to look at something, a way to improve.

There are some folks at my barn that I really enjoy riding with, not just because they are fun to talk to, but because they criticize me. They watch me ride, they make suggestions, they tell me how to fix what I’m doing… and they don’t sugar-coat it. I’ve been riding for nearly two decades, long enough where many riders get an impenetrable ego and don’t allow change. However, I haven’t ridden all the horses in the world and never will. I can always improve.

I’m lucky, it’s especially easy to ask for advice with a green (“newbie”) horse, when in doubt just blame all the road blocks on her lack of training. What it boils down to though, is that 99% of the time our issues come from me. The only way to improve is to (a) video and critique myself (ain’t nobody got time for that), (b) have a friend critique (read: coaching), or (c) suck it up and never improve.

I like option B.

I have a lot of coaches… better yet… free coaches. This is an important thing to note, there are resources all around us- the minds of our colleagues. Let’s put them to good use. Chances are, they’ll enjoy giving their opinion and your mind will be opened because of it.

PBL… offering REAL solutions?!

Okay, so we’ve given PBL the golden seal of approval. We know it helps students learn, gets them to make critical connections and teaches them to apply acquired skills to real-world problems.

But there’s more. PBL can actually use the available brilliant minds of students, an incredible resource, to actually solve actual problems. Why on earth wouldn’t we ask students to challenge themselves, dig deeper into subject material and potentially change their world?

That’s what a middle school in Roanoke did. Not a bad idea..

The world is full of problems

How many times in your day are you encountering problems and have to find a solution?

If it’s not daily, you aren’t human.

Why should our classrooms be any different? To me it’s shocking that more professors haven’t implemented this practice. Life is problem-based learning. Let’s use it in class… classes to prepare students for real-life jobs.

This teaching method shows students that they can solve problems and there are more than one way to find a solution. It’s a confidence builder and a great teacher on conflict resolution.

The drawbacks? Teacher investment. They don’t have the time… if the desire is lacking.


Prescription to learn

While reading the article on UVA’s med school learning style, I was struck by one table embedded within the photos of operation tables and surgery smocks.



….and, thanks to the glory of copy and paste, here it is:


Applying knowledge

Problem solving



Critical thinking



Hands on

Individualized learning

Self-directed learning


Regurgitating facts

Rote learning





Sole practitioners

Passive listening


Top-down learning

Let’s think about this. Would you like a doctor from column one? Or column two? Who do YOU think would do a better job?

I know what I would pick.

Old dog, new tricks?

These past couple, and coming weeks, have been obnoxiously full of visits to low socioeconomic schools in southwest Virginia… and these visits has been unbelievably eye-opening.
I have noticed that these students are being trained, not taught. They are shown how to bubble in forms, hold themselves to SOLs that are established by school boards and reject thinking for themselves. It’s disturbing.
Classrooms are composed of children from varying levels of learning, troublemakers are addressed as such and ignored. Teachers are trying, but in the system they are in…. rock and a hard place.
Once these students  (hopefully) make it to the college level we, as professors, have to untrain first before we teach.
I’d rather have a blank slate. I have learned with horses that having an older horse with prior training can actually be more difficult than a green (inexperienced) horse with no training. The prior you have to work backwords before going forwards and the latter is just a blank slate, starting fresh. A new opportunity.
Similarly, this situation we’re in is like cancer. This way of thinking from their spoon-fed experiences are so ingrained in some students by the time the “doctors” get hold of them that it may be untreatable. Prevention is better. A drastic comparison? Yes. See the connection?
Prevention and early treatment is key. Why are we waiting until the later stages to encourage creativity?