Still Finding My Voice

Sarah Deel said that she is “…fascinated by this process of figuring out who I am as a teacher,” which is really encouraging to me because I honestly do not know my teaching voice, so to read that someone who currently is a teacher is still working on this is comforting. I have only ever guest lectured for professors when they were out of town or been a teaching assistant for a class/lab that did not require me to be the main teacher so I have not been able to find/discover/create my voice yet.


I would like to think that I would be an approachable, likeable, funny, easy-going teacher, but like Deel said it is a fine line between being liked and being respected as a teacher so maybe that would not be my true teaching voice after all. I may end up being the opposite of how I usually act so I can actually be a disciplined, uncool, hard-nosed teacher, which to me seems like some hallmarks of good teachers I have had in the past. I honestly do not think I could be that sort of teacher, though. I think laughing is the most important thing we do everyday, which may not bode well for being an effective teacher. That being said, Shelli Fowler gives points that allow us to discover our authentic teaching self and a few of her points really stood out to me: be genuine, don’t pose/posture, and that we can control the classroom without being controlling. To me, knowing that these are considered important aspects of being a teacher gives me some hope that I can be my normal, goofy self in the classroom and even if students think I may be a dork or unfunny at least they will know that I want to be honest with them and that they can trust me. And being trusted is important for being able to communicate with students so they feel comfortable engaging with you on things they otherwise may not bring up with someone they do not trust.


I think teaching is probably like most things in life that require a balance so I can be pretty sure that whatever voice I find I will not only incorporate jokes and witty comments, but will probably include some hard-nosed teaching as well. And that is alright with me. If being known as a teacher who will make you laugh, but also make you think hard and work hard is what I can be known as I would take that voice in a second.

To Believe, or Not to Believe…

I realize that the words to follow are going to seem hypocritical in the context of this post, but I think there is still some underlying importance for the larger “issue” at hand, which is the reason I felt inclined to write about this topic. The topic I am referring to is religion. Mainly focusing on Christianity in the United States and the concept of Christian privilege. The reason I think this post will be viewed as hypocritical is because I do not think it should matter what your views on theism are, just as your sexual orientation or even your favorite cereal should matter. But, in saying it should not matter I am still typing up a blog and discussing it, which is bringing attention to it and doing the exact opposite of what I feel should happen.

I thought of this topic the other day when I read a story on ESPN involving a football player, Arian Foster, who plays on the NFL team the Houston Texans. Recently he has “come out” as someone who does not believe in God, which is not a normal occurrence in the NFL, especially in Texas. Foster was interviewed about his decision to make his beliefs public, which were not entirely well received, but have gained support from many people, including myself. Not to overstate his act, but I do think it took a lot of courage to tell the truth when he was almost certain he would be ridiculed for it.

I respect his choice to make a public statement regarding his nonbelief in God and I respect some of the points he brings up in the article about belief. Foster says, “I’m not a picket-sign atheist. I just want to be a happy human being and continue to learn,” which is something I really appreciate considering I feel someone’s views on the subject of theism are his or her own and do not need to be forced on others. Also, I feel his point on continuing to learn is of paramount importance because he says he is open to having his views changed, which would come from learning something new, and I completely agree with that sentiment. I am more than welcome to having my views changed because I realize that I do not know everything and actually look forward to learning new information; especially new information that could change my current view on theism. Foster also says, “There’s a lot of ignorance about nonbelief. I don’t mean a negative connotation of ignorance. I just mean a lack of understanding, a lack of knowledge, lack of exposure to people like me.” I thought this was an important point to bring up because there are judgments that come along with someone’s beliefs and Foster is trying to not ostracize people. He is trying to make a point by saying someone is not stupid if they do not understand and/or agree with his viewpoint, but rather he would like to have an intelligent conversation on the subject that would leave both parties feeling as if their viewpoint was respected. A great example of that is his relationship with teammate Justin Forsett, who is a Christian whom Foster has engaging, meaningful conversations on the topic of religion all the time and they still coexist as not just human beings, but friends. And I feel as a society it should be our goal not to just tolerate others who have different views as us, but engage in meaningful conversation and learn from each other.

In response to Foster’s interview, there was a blog post written by Brandon Vogt of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. Obviously, Vogt is writing from a position of someone who does believe in God and while I do not agree with everything Vogt writes in his article, I do think he brings up some good points. Vogt writes, “Foster may think it ‘weird’ that football players ask for God’s help, but that’s no justification for atheism,” which I can agree with. Foster thinking it is odd that players pray before (and after) games does not disprove any presence of God. I also agree with Vogt in thinking Foster may have been a little too simplistic in his rationale for discrediting religion in saying, “We’ve been to the moon, and there’s no heaven up there. We’ve dug in the dirt, there’s no devil down there.” I will say, regarding that quote, Foster may have been using the moon and digging in dirt as symbols for our lack of witnessing physical proof of a God vs. actually not seeing heaven in the clouds as well as an underground hell, but I really do not know what Foster meant by his statement. Other points brought up by Vogt I tend not to completely agree with, but on the whole I think his reactions to Foster’s interview are fair and probably echo what he thinks, which I think is great. Considering I read about other places in the world where differing views can get someone killed I am extremely happy that I live in a place where people have the ability to voice their opinions and still live happy, normal lives.

This point about people being able to voice their opinions, though, is why I wrote this post in the first place. Everyone should have the ability to say what he or she thinks (hopefully this would exclude hate speech), but I also believe that someone’s views on some topics, here being religion, should be a non-issue and should not require justification. I mentioned the term Christian privilege earlier, which is something I feel is different from other forms of privilege we talk about, but I think it is apparent in certain situations in the US that not being Christian (i.e. being Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Agnostic, etc…) will result in some sort of judgment that is different from someone who is Christian. Some obvious examples of Christian privilege that come to mind are: not having to work on Christmas, even though there are other religious holidays that are not recognized in the US, most likely having a government representative that is some denomination of Christianity, and being able to easily find a Christian community to join in most places in our country. Personally, I can say that I have benefitted from these privileges through most of my life, but as I have gotten older I have realized I have a different set of beliefs, which has brought forth some of these obvious, and not so obvious Christian privileges to my attention. Some examples of Christian privilege that are not as obvious are that now I feel uncomfortable bringing up my beliefs around strangers out of fear of being judged, as well as even some family and friends whom I know will assign stereotypes to me if I were to tell them. So, what I end up doing is essentially not mention anything until there becomes a time where I feel comfortable enough to talk about it, which does not always occur.

I hope in the future that people of all beliefs have equal opportunities for happy, productive, distraction-free lives, but I feel that will only happen when it becomes unimportant about what religion you follow. The Arian Foster interview and the post by Brandon Vogt are examples of stories that bring attention to religion (namely to Christianity here in the US), but I hope in the future that articles like these do not need to be written. It is important to be able to have intelligent discussion about our differing points of views, but to glorify or ridicule anyone for their views on religion (and theism) seems to be the wrong direction to take for a society that is accepting of and embraces everyone’s beliefs, which is the country I want to live in.

The Importance of Winning

When you have a scenario that involves grades and rankings there becomes one obvious goal that everyone wants to attain: being the winner. The concept of winning is clear in sports, business, and petty arguments with our siblings, but it is not so clear when we bring up education, even though education may be the most relevant example of winning (and losing) to all of us throughout our lives. How “well” you do in school is a direct measure of how you are viewed as a future member of society and how your ability to contribute to a job/career is assessed. I am not going to dwell on the major issues of how assessment stifles learning and thinking critically, which is apparent and well supported (see Alfie Kohn’s article titled “The Case Against Grades”), but rather the overall issue we have as a society with our obsession of being a winner that necessitates on the other end, a loser.


The concept of “extrinsic motivation,” which is manifested via grades in the classroom, seems to only serve as a measure for how we stack up against the rest of our peers. I have been a contributing member all too many times to conversations that involved the question “What grade did you get on the test?” just to be able to see how I ranked against the others and I think it is fair to say that in those classes I was much more satisfied with getting an A vs. understanding the concept. Actually, if I left a test unsure of some of the material, but still ended up with a good grade I was relieved! “Well, I may not have learned the subject, but I got a good grade so I am happy!” It is that type of mindset where I can personally say grading has been detrimental to my own learning experience, but if it helped me not lose in this education game that I was a part of then I was happy.


On the topic of assessment and how winners are being rewarded, Dan Pink brings up the importance of three concepts (autonomy, mastery, and purpose) in his TED talk titled “The Puzzle of Motivation,” which focused on how people are motivated in certain situations. The one point he talks about in his video is autonomy, which is a practice that has shown to allow people the ability to step back from their assessment-driven work and focus on challenging themselves to think of creative solutions to their problems at hand. I really like this idea of autonomy and not having to constantly be checking over your shoulder for what your peer is conjuring up. To pair Pink’s ideas with that of Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon’s that emphasizes using our imagination to help tackle our issues I feel there is room for a lot of potential for problem solving to occur. And not just problem solving, but really just a successful take on learning. Not having to constantly be comparing ourselves to others via assessment while simultaneously promoting students’ autonomies and imaginations seems like a very attractive educational system to strive for in the future and while I have been a little hesitant to adopt some newer ideas in terms of connected learning thus far these are ideas that have my 100% full support.

Who’s Leaving Whom Behind?

I have a difficult time watching the video Michael Wesch’s students put together titled “A Vision of Students Today.” Why I find it difficult to watch is because reading statements like “I Facebook through most of my classes” and “I spend 3 ½ hours a day online” make it seem as if the students saying these things are not holding themselves accountable for their own education. To me, these quotes make it sound like they are blaming some other entity for the time they spend online and/or facebooking, which is a sentiment I do not sympathize with and find very concerning for future student generations. It would be fantastic if I could understand the importance of everything presented to me in a classroom setting without having to think about it. In reality, though, what is needed from us, as students, are the desire and enthusiasm to find how and why what we are learning pertains to our lives, which can require more function than just listening to the words spoken to us. This view on learning makes me anxious because if future students keep on following this trend of putting all of the emphasis on the educator to spoon feed every detail to feel as if they are learning something then I will fear for future students’ abilities to critically think on their own and realize that truly the only person responsible for one’s education is themselves. That is not to give teachers a free pass to not try, but I bring that point up to emphasize that if we want to learn something it is up to us to learn it! Nobody became a great thinker by relying on someone else to tell them what, how, and why to think. Great teachers probably inspired them, but the student had to do most of the work on their own.

That being said, I do agree with Dr. Wesch that teachers have a major role in cultivating a learning environment that promotes critical thinking; an activity lacking in many classrooms today. Dr. Wesch’s article, “Anti-Teaching: Confronting the Crisis of Significance,” brings up the notion of a non-stimulatory, ineffective education system that fails to produce students that can produce original, creative, meaningful questions, which is absolutely true. I have been in a few classes that reward memorization and regurgitation of words without much emphasis on critical thinking and it is fair to say I barely remember anything from those courses. The courses I remember well are the ones where teachers were engaging and promoted discussion on the subjects at hand. The reason I am still in school today (and love learning in general) is due to teachers/professors who challenged us to participate in discussion during class and to come prepared with talking points/questions that we generated between classes. I think it is fair to say, though, that most of my professors in recent years really wanted us to be engaged and wanted to promote a friendly, supportive learning environment, but where they fell short was the implementation of that environment. This point is exactly what Dr. Wesch is talking about in reference to the medium being more important than the message. Promoting a different style of learning other than just lecturing at students from a chalkboard is a wonderful idea and I hope successful alternatives become more standard throughout education in the future.

I would not begin to say that I have the answers for how to fix the lack of enthusiasm that seems so pervasive in our education system, but I feel there needs to be work put in from both sides, teachers and students, in order to make it a meaningful experience for everyone. The point that teachers bear a large responsibility to create a great environment that supports the success of their students’ learning is true, but I feel that is just one side of the story. The other side of the story is the large responsibility that students should bear as well to hold themselves accountable for their learning and to not give up because they feel they would rather be on facebook.