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To my faculty colleagues: do you remember what it was like when you really did not understand something? Because we have mastered so much to be able to teach in higher education and to produce new scholarly contributions to our disciplines, it may be a long time - in some cases a very long time - since we were literally bewildered by an experience.

I had that experience last week. I went to the preparation meetings for our college football team's planning for their opponent today, Ursinus College. And I was pretty much bewildered. Because I am sick in bed with congestion and cough, I am posting this tribute to what the coaches and players do when readying for a game.

I remember reading a book called How Learning Works and how important it is to ground new information with students' previous experience or content knowledge. Well, now I know how it must feel to come into a class  - a new discipline - with very little previous content knowledge. I mean, I do watch football games. I know the basic rules. But that is nothing like the preparation meetings, where film is analyzed, new plays are created, and old plays modified. While in these meetings, I realized that I really did not have anything concrete, any specific previous experience, on which to "hang" this current information. I don't know the names of the plays or the formations. I could not tell a right hash from a left, without really thinking about it.

Another realization I had from attending that meeting is this: we have great coaches. And coaches teach. I consistently learn a lot from the coaches, even when I am limping along with hardly any background information on which to hang the new material. But the coaches know that the players know the plays. The students know the formations, and so the coaches take them, step by step, building on that previous knowledge, getting them to see the new areas that they need to see and understand. And then, after those meetings, they go out onto the field and practice, combining the physical to the mental images that they just saw on film and in diagrams.

My hat is off to the coaches and the players for all that they do for their sport. It is a lot. And I want every student on our team to know: if you ever go into a class and feel bewildered, that was me today. I'm not too proud to say it or admit it. But it is in not knowing that we learn. And you know I'm gonna be asking questions of the coaches because like I tell the players, "Talk to your professors when you do not understand!" I am living that truth!

Now go out there and beat the Bears!

 

I have been thinking about the issue of helping students with issues and problems that are not always academic in nature. Students might come to faculty with issues about their personal lives regarding relationships, finances, identity; the list can go on. This type of listening is often referred to as "emotional labor" and is sometimes required to be done at colleges and universities. Often it is noted that this work is  disproportionately performed by women, and it is often not compensated financially. While harassment and other forms of discrimination also happen in the academic world that disproportionately hinder women, I am referring specifically to "the invisible labor of mentoring students [that] isn’t rewarded in the tenure-and-promotion process" that is discussed in this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education. I would argue that this invisible work is not academic advising. This work goes well beyond the role of academic advisor.

I have been thinking about this a lot lately, for my work as the mentor to the football team has me often wading in waters for which my Ph.D. did not give me much training. And it is work for which I am not specifically financially compensated by my institution. It could, of course, be lumped into that catch-all of "service to the institution," which can mean anything from committee work, to participating in faculty or administrative searches, to advising, and to participating in any number of "ad hoc" groups.

For me, this diagram offers a different way of thinking about my mentor work:

Related image

While I still believe that it should be compensated financially in some way, I am finding that there is a reward - an intrinsic reward - in doing this work. The gratitude that is expressed to me by my students when I listen to them and help them form a plan to fix whatever problem they are having reminds me why I teach at a small school that says we genuinely care about students. We are part of the Colleges That Change Lives book and the website for CTCL has this quotation for our entry:

“This [McDaniel College] is a community of nice, earnest, unassuming, quietly self-assured teenagers who realize they are getting a first-rate education and who regard their teachers as their friends and mentors.
Colleges That Change Lives

I am proud to be a part of that. While I work to make sure that the mentoring work that I am doing will one day be financially compensated, I will continue to realize that I'm in the sweet spot with my role as faculty mentor to the football team. I am good at it, it's what the world needs right now (at least on my campus), I can be paid for it (though my pay is for my teaching primarily), and possibly most importantly, I love what I am doing. As the diagram above shows, it's my profession and vocation, but it's also my mission and passion. They all align to that sweet green star that reflects my purpose.

May we all find a way to the green star of our purpose. And be paid for doing it. While this post doesn't advocate that this work should not be paid for, I would also say that it has its own rewards. If you're good at this work, and you're at a place that values it, I hope you'll continue to do it. And if you are a tenured faculty member, I hope you'll think about doing it. There are so many faculty on the tenure track - and many more off it - that expectations for this sort of work would be nearly abusing their roles. However, if you, like me, find yourself in the privileged position of tenured full or associate professor, think about this type of mentoring work. Because this world, and the young people trying to make their way in it, need people to guide them, friend them, and mentor them.

* After I published this post, this related article popped up on Twitter:, and my college, McDaniel is mentioned: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/showing-that-they-care-college-faculty-called-on-to-aid-floundering-students/2018/10/07/6b67d098-c6a4-11e8-b1ed-1d2d65b86d0c_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.b2771064700a

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I am traveling this week to Barton College to consult with them about how to support student athletes. They will be adding a football team in the fall of 2019, so I am interested to learn about how they have planned for that and to offer them suggestions on how to support these students inside and outside the classroom.  Since I am traveling, I feel fortunate to have a guest post from blogger Sarah Fawcett on how students can keep the drive to learn alive. Thanks for reading and I'll be back next week with a post about my visit to the folks at Barton.

Gretchen

Keeping the Drive To Learn Alive by Sarah Fawcett

Finding the motivation to learn is one of the most challenging aspects of being a student. It’s easy to say that studying leads to academic success and is therefore essential, but there are days that even picking up reading materials is difficult. However, with the right mindset, anyone can keep the drive and motivation to learn alive.

(image: Unsplash)

Set goals

To cultivate the best mindset for studying, you should start with setting goals. Instead of aiming to be the class achiever, Teacher Magazine suggests that students should try to set personal bests, a type of goal setting where you try to surpass your own grades. There’s still the element of competition (you vs. you) that will inspire you to work harder. But at the same time, it minimizes the tendency of comparing yourself to others, which can be a source of pressure.

Manage your time wisely

One of the reasons students have such a hard time with school is that they can’t manage their time wisely. There are too many things to do outside of academics that you can get too engrossed in a particular activity, and lose the time to study and with it, the motivation. However, if you can stay disciplined to stick to your regular study schedule, you can learn how to pace yourself, finish faster, and have more time to devote to your extra-curricular activities.

Avoid procrastination

Procrastination is a student’s mortal enemy. Very Well Mind enumerates the major reasons behind academic procrastination which include overestimating the time you have left to complete assignments, and the motivation you can summon in the future. When the time does come for studying, the lessons may no longer be fresh in your mind and you will have to review the concepts. Plus, when time is limited, students often resort to a quick scan of their notes or tend to get sloppy with their projects.

Give yourself a reward

A reward system is one trick you can employ for self-motivation. The secret to maintaining the efficacy of this technique is incentivizing smaller goals. For instance, after each chapter that you read, you can eat a piece of chocolate. It’s essentially half of the operant conditioning theory in action, where positive behavior (i.e. studying) is reinforced through rewards.

Aside from self-motivation, it’s also important to recognize external factors that have a significant impact on students drive to learn. Maryville University explains that academic performance is influenced by your mental health, which can be affected by certain environments. Parents and peers can directly contribute to academic pressure which can have negative repercussions on a student’s mental health. In fact, NPR reported that one in five kids in the US have issues with their mental health, but the majority of them don’t get the help they need. This leads to several issues in school including "chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out".

The steps mentioned above can help students retain their motivation, but remember that teachers also have a vital role in this matter. One of the questions previously posed here on the Gretchen Kreahling McKay blog is about an educator's responsibility in stimulating a student’s curiosity.

To sum everything up, motivation is a combination of a student’s internal need to continue learning, and the proper support system or environment that fosters growth. Without the other, it will stall and learning will reach an impasse.

Especially written by Sarah Fawcett for gretchenkreahlingmckay.net

Today I read this column by James Lang in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The title of his piece is "What Will Students Remember From Your Class in 20 Years?" Lang recounts how he had this discussion with faculty from different disciplines. Almost no one said anything about specific course content, and yet many of us teach that content as if content is the end of the world. "Oh, I can't not cover "x" work of art in the survey course!"

What do you want your students to remember?

I have already thought about this and this is what I want them to know. I want them to know:

  • How art historians think what they think and know what they know;
  • Why art historians have different ideas about works of art and that works of art can have multiple interpretations;
  • How to talk and write about works of art;
  • How to visually analyze works of art so that propaganda and commercialized ads don't lead us to decisions we don't think about first;
  • How to read a critical piece of writing that has a thesis and to determine if that argument is proved

That is just the start. I also want them to remember that they did things in my class. That they were involved. I do not want to them to ever remember me telling them everything. I want them to remember the debate they had about whether or not the Elgin marbles should go back to Greece, or if the Second Crusade should be aimed at Edessa or Damascus, and what the future of art should be in Paris in 1889.

I believe that these goals are all incentivized by active learning. If I tell them all the things, then they are likely not to remember it next year, let alone in 20 years.  James Lang is a proponent of making small changes to teaching that allows for more student reflection and activity. That doesn't mean that I sometimes don't have to just tell them things, but it does mean that wherever possible, they are going to be actively engaged in observing an Egyptian work of art, or designing a new type of church for Justinian, or debating the role of artists in fighting fascism.

I probably won't know if I make the mark in 20 years. But I am pretty confident I am laying the foundation firmly for them to do so.

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