Sunday, July 08, 2007

Madre de Teach-o

I may just have to face the fact that it is physically impossible for me to work on an article two days in a row unless there is a large, loin-cloth wearing, whip-wielding Viking standing behind me. (You know, I just spent five minutes on Google images looking for a picture of that. Why can't I find it? Doesn't everyone have that mental image of the big bald oily guy whipping the rowers?! From whence does that image arise? On another note, this may explain why I don't work so efficiently...) The only other way I get stuff done is when I have the deadline equivalent of the whip-wielding guy; or, as my dear dissertation director said once, "march or die!" And that occasionally occurs, but not so much. Not right now, anyway. Instead, I've been hanging out in my office talking to my mother---because God knows I couldn't talk to her from the comfort of my own home! Does anyone else's parents call them at the office?!

Article, shmarticle.

My mother taught elementary and middle school for 30 years. And yes, she's still largely sane. Now that she's two years into retirement, however, she does have far fewer migraines. Possible causal connection? Go figure. Suddenly, she's been approached by the department head of her local U. because he's recruiting retired, veteran teachers to teach methods courses to education majors. I love this for so many reasons: on a social level, I think it's dandy that teachers who lived to tell the tale can impart some of their wisdom to new teachers. I've often wished that I could bring my mom in to talk to the education majors in my classes. Often, they seem so sweet and idealistic, and I just want them to get a shot of practical and kindly advice that won't crush them, but will give them a sense of what they're signing on to do. There also seems to be a significant intergenerational benefit here; like the social security system, those arenas where people cross generational boundaries a bit can act as community glue. When I was twenty, the only people I knew that were retired were my grandparents. It feels like I could have developed some ways of interacting with non-Gen-Xer's if only I'd had some means of accessing them. And wouldn't that have helped me in my current job! Up yours, alma mater that denied me access to old people!

On a more personal level, I love the idea of my mom teaching college students. So much of what I know about teaching I've learned from her. Somewhere down the line, she mastered that whole: I like and respect you as a person, but I won't accept this behavior. (I don't think I'm confusing this with her parenting style, but there may indeed be significant overlap.) It would be so easy to get mad at students (especially middle school students!), write them off, think that they're stupid, or behavioral problems, etc., but instead, she was always looking for some way of integrating them into the class. My mom also has this deep-seated devotion to student learning, even in the face of oppressive state and national standards. I don't know many other teachers of 13 year olds who would hold to the idea of discussing the Civil War with 40 of them, but she did. Five periods a day, for years. (The mere thought of that gives me the willies.)

The even more personal reason that I'm into it is because I think it would be great for my mom. Like any good second generation Asian American, she has an awe about higher education. She likes to give me the speech about how great it is that I'm a professor, that I have a PhD., that I know all this stuff. (To which I say, "hah." And then again, " HAH!") I think that ingrained belief that scholars are to be respected blinds her to how much she knows from so many years of teaching. As if somehow, experience can't possibly compare to all the book learnin' I've done. As if somehow, teaching history to 13 year olds and not murdering a single one of them doesn't qualify you for sainthood. Or, as she said to me today when we were talking about this: "You have all this practice knowing what you think about something. I don't know what I think about things. I'd have to do a lot of research." To which I replied: "Or, there's the times when I assign a book that I like just to see what happens."

But here was the clincher. I asked her what she would tell new teachers just starting out. Here was her reply (and it's paraphrased, of course):
Oh, well I'd tell them that the most important thing is survival. I mean, you can have the best intentions in the world, but you can't let it be your whole life. The school system is so political now; you have to be able to give them what they want while holding on to some semblance of what you know is learning.
How great is that? That's my mom. She rocks the free world and the developing nations.

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Blogger Sisyphus said...

Ah, what a great post! This idea about bringing your mom into the college classroom sounds great.

Sunday, July 08, 2007 7:49:00 PM  
Blogger Sisyphus said...



vikings with torches
(search the page for "wallet")

Corsair whipping galley slaves

(and I should note that some of these pages have really weird or offensive text.)

You're right though; no whip-wielding Viking ship slave driver all in one. He must be under copyright or else the internets would get him.

(I couldn't leave you to suffer this all alone and just heartlessly write my dissertation!)

Sunday, July 08, 2007 8:06:00 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

Sainthood does not even begin to describe elementary school teachers. And they now have to deal with youngsters trippin' on Ritalin to boot.

I substitute taught in a middle school one day and one day only and knew I had to teach in college when I heard the herd in the hallway walk by the door and say, "Oh, look, fresh meat" while checking me out.

Cheers to your mother! And to you for assigning something just to see what happens (my new strategy).

Monday, July 09, 2007 7:33:00 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

Your mom DOES rock! I hope Local U hires her; what a wonderful opportunity for education majors.

Thursday, July 12, 2007 1:49:00 PM  

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