As the semester draws to a close, there seems to be a communal feeling of exhaustion that unites all levels of the university system. Everyone seems to be united in counting down the days to summer break while simultaneously listing off every task that must be accomplished before the semester can officially be over. I can completely relate as I found myself on the verge of dozing off while standing in line at the grocery store this afternoon. With all of the end of semester busyness, meaningful reflection and critical thinking seems to get pushed to the side in the name of productivity.
So, when I read the New Yorker Article, Personal Best, this week, it resonated with me. Here was someone seemingly at the top of his game, who was still seeking to improve his skill set. He did that by allowing himself to be vulnerable and open to constructive criticism and showing the gumption to make the changes suggested. He didn’t settle even when he could have without the questioning of others. The veteran middle school teacher in his article didn’t settle either.
As this semester draws to a close so does my first semester as a teaching assistant. While I wasn’t responsible for a whole course, I lead two lab sessions throughout the semester and got a small taste for what it is like to teach. After seeing the amount of work that goes into preparing for just the lab section of a course week-to-week, I can see the temptation for making minimal changes year-to-year. However, if there is anything that I have taken away from this semester, it is that true learning doesn’t take place in the classrooms of complacent professors. For effective learning to take place, everyone has to be engaged, and change is inevitable and inseparable from learning.
Watching people who are further along in their careers, it is fairly evident to me that the busyness doesn’t fade away; it often expands. With that being the case, being an effective educator must be a continual practice to make engagement and self improvement a priority much like the surgeon demonstrated in the article. It is a choice not to settle for what seems to be working but to strive for what could be truly exceptional.
This week the topic of conversation focused on critical pedagogy. My reading was an expert from Paulo Feire’s book, Philosophy of Education, chapter 2, the Pedagogy of the Oppressed. His writing in this chapter focused on movement away from the banking concept of education and towards a more liberated classroom. The idea essentially being that the professor relinquishes the complete control over the course and allows for students to teach each other and the professor. It recognizes that the students have a wealth of insight and perspective to offer as opposed to the idea that they are “empty vessels… the be filled with the contents of the [professor’s] narration”.
Thinking back on my own education, I realized that the professors whom I’ve had that bought into the banking concept were often the most boring. Even if the concept the professor covered was quite interesting, the approach was dry and tended to stamp the enjoyment out of it.
I also realized that my freshman/sophomore college had courses which were actively structured towards a critical pedagogy approach. They called them inquiry-based courses.
“Also called Ways of Inquiry, INQ, or simply Q courses, these classes help sharpen your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. In INQ courses, you’ll learn to understand and question the ways in which knowledge is pursued. And you’ll develop abilities that transcend disciplines, honing skills in reading critically, communicating effectively and pursuing knowledge independently…. INQ courses will stimulate your intellectual curiosity and independent thinking—and many have service components.”
At the time, I signed up for them because they were a course requirement or because it was over a topic that I had an interest pursuing. Recently, I went back to my college transcript to see if there was any correlation between the classes I felt I learned the most from and the critical pedagogy structure. All but two of those classes fit into that category. One of the things I liked about those courses was that I felt like I had a voice. Participation was encouraged and expected.
To be fair, there were a couple of courses which fell into that category and were not enjoyable. One being a statistics course with rather ambiguous problem sets that my friends and I somehow muddled through. However, overall, those courses were a highlight of freshman and sophomore education. They helped me to think rather than memorize, and the time spent in the class was more meaningful. I also felt more compelled to show up because I felt valued by the professor.