Thursday, December 11, 2008

Handmade Pledge

Thinking of a topic for this last post on Democratic Principles has been difficult. Thus far I've talked about the importance of individual contribution to the whole, and the importance of the whole supporting all the individuals. I suppose what's left is individuals helping individuals. The trick is, wouldn't that be more anarchy and less democracy because then there is no whole? But then could that be seen as the democratic ideal? Just individuals contributing to each other, with no need to a governing body? I'm not sure, but we'll go with it for this post.

This Christmas I am buying only things created by individuals, a sort of handmade + indie pledge. I developed through this decision since last holiday season. I appreciate spending a little extra money to help out someone who has a small business, or no business. I like anything that decommercializes and personalized the holiday season. Shopping handmade feels like leaving a large tip at a restaurant, it uses a small amount of money to create a connection with a person and makes both of us feel better.

The trick is, what is handmade, what is indie? Sure something bought off of or Poppytalk is fine. Anything website with a handmade pledge patch is in the green. Ten Thousand Villages was an obvious yes. But what about, say Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog? It was made on a very small budget, independently marketed, but at the same time in mentioned in tons of magazines and is sold through I ended up voting yay, but there was some unease over the decision. Still, the purchase made me feel as if there was a connection formed. Perhaps that was only because of the Dr. Horrible twitter feed or other things that feel so intimate despite being mass produced.

The Dr. Horrible purchase made me, however, question the whole handmade pledge. It made me look at the underlining hypocracy. Sure if feels like decommercializing, but it is still me purchasing products, even if I get a hand written note by a jeweler on etsy, but I still don't know her. The connection is weak at best and delusional at worst.

Then I listened to some Mates of State and Santogold and decided I needed to be less cynical and problematic. Shopping handmade is still shopping, but that's unavoidable and I might as well make the best out of the situation that is Christmas shopping.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Encouragement and Honesty

Early this semester I found myself in a funk over wether I truly wanted to become a teacher. A job in public history was beginning to sound desirable, and my field placements at schools were leaving me unsatisfied. I tried to talk to some of my friends about this, but they could not really understand, and therefore were not helpful. In my search for advice or an ear, I sent an email to one of my old High School teachers.

He addressed all of my concerns, and really gave me the emotional boost I needed. He reminded me how so much of teaching is about the relationships with students and how short field placements really do not allow for much rapport building.

Another portion of his email that was helpful was an admittance that teaching is hard and at times is more unsatisfying than satisfying. This was important for me to hear. I have often heard from teachers (and all kinds of professionals) that the day they wake up and don't feel like teaching is the day they'll find a new profession. Well, that's just not accurate or helpful, and I'm glad that I found someone who can offer me the right mix of encouragement and honesty.

Mrs. A. Non

Talking about past teachers is tricky for several reasons: a)I'm the not the person I was when I was a student b)They are not the person they were when they were my teacher c)The internet is public.

The first two are really the most important, the third problem just keeps me from naming names.

When I was in High School I was mostly indifferent about most of my teachers. However there was a teacher I really did not like and several teachers that I did like. When looking back however, I believe that I would not appreciate my least favorite teacher.

She tried to give us lots of freedom in our projects and assignments while also having high expectations. She made references to popular culture. She allowed for more artistic vision, and she tried to encourage the girls in the class.

She was in retrospect a lot like how I would like to teach. She lectured, but kept it interesting and more like a dialog, she allowed for great differentiation in assignments, she believed in personal and societal responsibility.

She was my least favorite teacher.

I did not want a class that encouraged me to invest into assignments, nor did I want someone trying to make me more introspective or, well, do anything hard. So though she was a very good teacher, I was a very lazy student. But here's the real trick. I wasn't "normal" lazy, or her differentiation would have accommodated to me. I was academic lazy. I wanted to follow clear guidelines that reigned me in and kept me from thinking to much. Or well, maybe that is normal lazy. Anyways, now in college clearly defined rubrics frustrate me to no end and I love to have classes with teachers that were like her, and that's hard to get my head around.

Maybe I should write her a letter, cause I'm sure I made her class more difficult.

For extra credit for the one person who reads this blog regularly and who went to High School with me: Guess which teacher I'm talking about. Hint: You loved her

Wednesday, December 3, 2008


Back in High School when I taught Karate, my studio had a banquet/potluck thing in which we all got to see each other in a social context. Part of this was also introducing myself as an instructor to all of the families and students who might not be familiar with me or in my classes. When it came my turn to say a few words in front of everyone I found myself thanking the parents who drove their kids to class each week and who supported and enabled both their children and us. In many ways the relationship between instructor and parent and teacher and parent are the same.

I'm not really writing this post just to say that parents are important and contribute to the learning process, but to suggest that parents are underrated and underutilized. Yes, they can sometimes be frustrating, but they also contribute in many ways when asked. Field trips often require parents to come along, PTAs raise extra funds, and even little things such as getting their child up each morning and sending them off to school. You know, small things.

I'll admit, my experience with parents as a teacher is nill, because I'm not yet a teacher. Also, when I was an instructor I really had a love/ hate relationship with them. They were especially frustrating when they blamed me for their child's struggles. But at the same time, at a karate studio most parents sit in the lobby and watch each class, so they tend to feel more hands on.

As I've become older, and as I've seen how many teachers interact with parents, I believe they are a resource and ally that is often overlooked.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Wire

Despite a heavy academic workload these last few weeks of the semester, I have been finding, or rather, refinding, a good way to relax: The Wire (and How I Met Your Mother, but that's for another post).

For those of you unaware of this masterpiece show about the systems of the city of Baltimore, well watch it. I could extoll its many virtues for a very long time, but again, that's for another post.

This time around, I was brought in particularly by Season 4 which focuses with the school systems of Baltimore and the lives of middle schoolers. Though the focus of the school scenes are these students, ample time is also spent on the various teachers, especially one new teacher who will be unnamed due to spoilers. Anyways, while watching this season I noticed a lot of things about what is and is not effective in such a classroom/system.

A form of tracking happens at the school and is shown as being fought by the administration, but allowed by the parents. Now this tracking did not involve giving worse resources to worse students, it involved giving worse students different goals. This in many ways reminded me of my field placement in a special education classroom at Goshen High School, those kids were not given less attention or resources, but they also were working towards being able to live and find a job whereas most general education classrooms are working students towards higher education.

This sort of tracking seems very beneficial for both sets of students. The trick is such a system of tracking requires more faculty and staff and could only work if the parents and students agreed to being tracked towards vocation instead of towards college. Now of course this was in a television show, but I thought it would be a beneficial idea could it be implemented well.

Throughout the season the new teacher struggles. First he has to keep the students from being violent, he attempts a token economy, social contracts, and several other forms of behavior modification. In the end he more or less settles on changing the curriculum to foster rapport building between him and his students. After a time of this he transitions back into the normal curriculum. While I think this was a little extreme, it illustrated well how important rapport is and how creativity and flexibly is also key to teaching effectively.

The trick with rapport is that sometimes personal attachments can become too strong. Near the end of the season this new teacher struggles with several students being socially promoted to High School. He argues with the administration that the students are not ready yet, to which the administrator replies that the goal is to help as many students as possible and that the teacher needs to keep in mind that next year there will be a whole class of students who needs him as a teacher just as much.