Tag Archive | adult education challenges

When You See Progress

I’ve posted that I’ve been dabbling in painting for the past two years. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because Ken bought me some paints, a desk easel, and a couple of canvases for my birthday many years ago. I wanted to begin then, but my time was absorbed by a corporate job that sucked all the life out of me.

I had never taken a painting class or even a drawing class. My closest thing to painting on a canvas was in kindergarten when I was a finger painter extraordinaire. I still remember the wonderful feeling of the squishy paint in between my fingers. I remember the exhilarating feeling of being free.

Facing a blank canvas is almost as threatening as a blank computer screen. The first time I attempted to paint I sat in front of canvas afraid. I knew my first attempt would probably be awful. And I was right. Here’s a photo of one of my first attempts.

Early Painting

Early Painting

At the time I thought it was pretty good, so I kept painting. Then my artist friend Marie came home and with her coaching, things got better. Now I think this first painting was butt ugly.

When I look at my early work, I can see I’ve come a long way; that is not to say I don’t have a longer way to go. The same is true about my writing; that’s why I rewrote my first novel and will soon publish the second edition. Nobody commented on the posted rewritten pages, so I only have my own gut feeling to go on.

The important thing is I’m creating and when the bad days come along, I find painting soothing. It doesn’t make a bit of difference to me that my art may never bring in a check.

And the writing? Well, even though that craft is more serious for me, I so enjoy when an idea comes along and burrows into my heart and head so I can tell a good story.

I hope all of you have a craft you love to do and are excited when you get a little bit better everyday. Create! Enjoy! Live!

The Final Chapter on Teaching

colorful libraryThis is the time of year we all get excited about the holidays, except if you are a student and are coming down the home stretch with final exams leering in the near future. Last night was the last class that I will teach for the year; the two remaining class periods will include a practice test and then a FINAL exam.

We covered our final chapters last night, and I gave the students one final opportunity to raise questions on topics they still have failed to grasp. I can’t say I was surprised at some of the topics — like antecedents, appositives, comma placement, reflexive pronouns, and infinitives. I was surprised, though, when I learned some were still having trouble with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. God knows why these parts of speech are so problematic.

I sure wish there was a magic bullet for these students. English, even when it is your first language, can be so tough to understand. Truthfully, I think the originators of the language wanted to keep outsiders out–kind of like an exclusive club with its secret handshake. Just when a person grasps a concept, there is always an exception. It’s a wonder how immigrants ever pick up our language. I’m happy I didn’t have to learn it; I was born with it. So I can be patient with students struggling with concepts we learned early on in the class.

The saddest part of this class session is the final curtain has fallen on my teaching. I need to devote more attention to Ken, as well as my writing. I have “fallen off the wagon” with my novel, and I want to devote myself to producing another good story by next spring. I also don’t want to deal with the cold and snow when my old bones creak. I would have been a very good bear in winter because I’d just like to hibernate until spring.

Yes, I’m closing this chapter of my life. I’m ending yet another career. Not surprisingly, the constant thread running through my varied careers has been writing. From now on, I will grow where I’ve been planted. I will write until I have passed this life and go on  to the next. Writing and reading take me away from my small living room in a small house in Mid-west America. I can travel anywhere I want to go from my recliner when my real life commands I must stay put.

Do I regret not teaching any more? Yes and No. I’m a little burned out when it comes to trying to excite students who have no curiosity. Students who watch me with a blank stare are impossible to reach. They have no desire to learn, and I wonder why they are in the classroom in the first place. No matter what I try, I don’t seem to be able to light a fire in these individuals. But I will miss those students who look at me with bright eyes and truly do their best work. Seeing their progression is a wonderful thing because I know they will succeed at whatever they decide to do after they leave me with a few more arrows in their education quiver.

Student Teachers

Tormented writerEarlier in the year, I gave my class a Mastery Test to see what areas they need the most help. After careful consideration, I decided to give them all a taste of their own student medicine and make them the teachers of one of the sections.

At first they were all okay with the idea, after all, how hard could teaching be? All a person had to do was stand in front of the class for a few minutes and write on the board. The class was divided into four groups and given class time to plan their approach to teaching their subject.

Last night was guinea pig night. The first group was up. I sat in the back of the room and tried to help them get through the embarrassment of teaching something they really didn’t take the time to understand; consequently, they totally confused the rest of the class. There was a lot of blank faces in the “audience” and perplexed faces on the four students trying to impart their lack of knowledge.

I think the experiment was a success. The team learned teaching isn’t as easy as they thought, especially when the class asked me to reinforce the ideas that the team was trying to “teach.” Hopefully, Group #3 who are up next in November will learn from the guinea pigs and do a better job of preparation.

I had hoped having the students “teach” would make them at least look at the book and try to understand the material. I’m really concerned that so many of the young students really don’t seem to give a rip about anything. Every class, I try to get them excited about the world around them, but there seems to be no curiosity.

I feel sorry for them that they don’t seem to find joy in learning new things. I understand basic grammar and sentence structure  is boring, but with creative assignments like having a chance to teach the class and have the ability to do it the way they chose would get their juices flowing. Instead, they crawled through the chapter and didn’t present anything fun or stimulating.

Oh well, we’ll see what the other groups do as the dog days of the semester crawl on. Hopefully, we’ll find one teacher in the masses. I hope the profession isn’t a lost art.

Leaving Yourself on The Page

This morning as I read through the blogs I follow with regularity, I came across this in Candycoatedreality:  Every time I write, I leave pieces of me on the page.

These few words resonated with me because as bloggers we do so in a very big world. We  unknowingly unveil our very souls to people who follow us.

As we all know, there can be no false masks in good writing. We can all use our imaginations to bring forth fantasy and other fictional tales, but deep down, the writer’s own personality is the bedrock of the writing.

I kind of like that idea. Maybe it’s because I’m old enough to finally accept myself as I am. I’ve tried to fit into boxes other people have designed for me, and dah — that didn’t work at all for me. The images of what other people wanted for me didn’t suit me, and I was the unhappy one. The good thing about going through such experiences is I found out what I didn’t want in my life. It wasn’t until I had the courage to cut MY path by using MY machete to get through the brush did I find the peaceful meadow.

Climbing out of boxes other people build for you is a brave feat. For me, it meant divorce and estrangement from my teenage children. It meant living on my own for the first time in my life. It meant not having the money I was accustomed to having. But the result was so worth the effort. For the first time in my life, I had the freedom to explore me, throwing out the parts I didn’t like and nurturing the parts that I did like.

Liberation does come with a price, though. Some people I used to call “friend” had to fall by the wayside because of the changes that were taking place in me.  I slowly emerged as a new person I liked better than the old one. I wasn’t afraid any more. I stood up for myself and took calculated risks that paid off. After all the exploration and work was done, I met a wonderful man who wanted me for me. He had no desire to make me over in his own image and restrict me to a box.

Ken and I have had almost twenty years together. We’ve weathered the storms of life that caused us to strap ourselves to the mast of our ship. We’ve felt the sting of the churning waters of sickness and unemployment. Weathering such storms together showed us we can face anything.

If you find yourself in a place where you don’t fit, don’t waste time to change your situation. It might be scary or hard or both, but in the long run the sacrifices you make will be so worth it.

Finally, know the only person you can change is yourself.

Putting Writing & Work Together

writingHave you ever noticed students don’t seem to think “work” and “writing” belong together? They believe they can sit down with pencil and paper, or with their hands on the keyboard in front of a computer screen and turn out a work of art–the first try.

Throughout the summer, I’ve tried to explain to them that writing is not unlike a sculpturer who chips and chisels away at a granite stone until he reveals the shape he desires. Writing can also be compared to a painter who has a blank canvas and slaps on shade after shade of pigment until his or her painting comes alive. It’s the same with writing. It’s hard work. It’s a process.

Today I’m giving a practice exam so when my students take their final, they won’t freak out. Test anxiety seems to be high in my class. I have more confidence in them than they have in themselves. One problem is, they over-think their answers.

Since the first day of class,16 out of 20 students have diligently dragged themselves out of bed to attend class, and I showed them they have actually learned something. I proved to them they have grasped spotting grammatical errors with a proof reading exercise we did in class on Monday.

My goal is to inspire them so they can go on and be successful. I also want them to find that inner creative streak. Their creativity might not show up in the arts–it might raise its beautiful head in accounting, computer science, horticulture or even mechanics. I’ve given them permission (some people also seem to need this) to think creatively to ask “why?”

So as our class draws to an end, if they aren’t yet in touch with their inner two-year old, then perhaps more than half of them will pass the final.

Raising the Curiosity Quotient

bookwormAs we turn the page of the calendar to August, again all thoughts turn to school supplies—or so the ads on television make us want to believe. I swear you don’t even need a calendar any more because you can gauge the time of the year by what ads you endure on the “tube.”

I find it ironic these ads appear when my writing class is winding down. We have this upcoming week of classes and then a final the next week. On the 19th of August, my students will know if the work they did with me is worthy of passing onto the next class or whether they will have to repeat the course with a different instructor.

In three more weeks, the Fall semester will begin. I’m assigned to teach the same prep writing class, but at a campus ten minutes from my home, which will make any impending winter weather no threat. The educational cycle will repeat. Some students will excel, others will not. Some students will be inspired; others will sit like lumps waiting for me to pour the necessary information into their heads with little effort on their part. And like my class now, some will pass and others will not. And so it goes.

After teaching for two years, I have learned a lot. One thing is the curiosity level of most student is almost non-existent. If I can influence one thing in their lives, this would be it. I’d like to get them to wonder about the world around them and ask why are things the way they are, and what can they do to change them.  Most young people I’ve met seem to have no zest to learn or to ask questions about matters that affect them. Has their world made them so apathetic and discouraged at such a young age?

So as this semester ends and the next begins, I will spend the following sixteen weeks to try to turn on some little part of my students to show them learning is fun. I will try to open their eyes to see education is the key to unlock the doors of the future.  It’s a tough job, but I’m up for the task. My hope is at least one young mind will be switched on to have the curiosity toask “why,”  the persistence to get an answer, and the courage to fix what is broken,

Testing and Learning–Are They The Same?

failure-successMy writing class had another test last week and as usual, I put off grading them until Sunday afternoon. I don’t like tests myself, and I hate the results I see when I have to grade them. Like most other tests, I was disappointed in the outcome. The highest mark was 85. Five students out of fifteen passed. The rest did horribly.  Everything on the test was in their books. There was no surprises. I cautioned them, “this will be on the test,” as we went through the material together. When asked, they say the test was fair, so, why the high rate of failure?

Students say they want to pass, but I think at this point it’s just lip service. Most of them are in class everyday, but somewhere along the line there is a disconnect. They tell me they love coming to class because I’m their favorite teacher, but yet, I get these kinds of results on my “fair” tests. I wish I didn’t have to give tests to measure their progress at all, but there is really no other way to make sure if they are learning what I am teaching.

These adult novice students have a lot of stresses in their lives with family responsibilities and full-time jobs. Many of them are single parents;  all of them have seen hard times or are living them.  I understand that, but right now, their world is too narrow to see the bigger picture. What these students haven’t learned yet is this:  Everyone who wants to improve must sacrifice on many levels.  I think this is where the disconnect is happening. They are too early in the educational process to realize if their desire is to graduate, they must move their education to the top spot in their priorities.

Twenty-five years ago I learned this the hard way, too. In fact, I always share with all of my classes that I have gone through what they are experiencing now. I was an adult student with full-time school, job, and children, but as I got deeper into the educational challenges of my curriculum, I realized I wasn’t super woman who could do it all. I had to make a choice. Did I want a degree bad enough to make changes in my life?  Those changes involved other unwilling participants who were involved in my life, and needless to say, they weren’t happy about what was going on. They had lost their personal slave who did everything for them.

Now I’m on the other side of the hill–teaching. I do my best to reach out to my students and warn them of the upcoming potholes they will deal with on their journey. But like so many other travelers, they want to blaze their own trail and will eventually fall into the hazards I tried to point out.  My biggest dream is they will take away something more than grammar and writing lessons as they go forward.

Only the believers will succeed, and their sacrifices will be many, so any adult student who walks across the stage on graduation night to accept his or her diploma has my love and respect. They deserve it.

Mondays and Antecedents

Garfield and MondayWell it was Monday again. As usual, I put off grading papers until the eleventh hour last night, so I had to get up early this morning to finish the job and post the grades on the school “blackboard” before I left to teach my nine o’clock class.

In the beginning of the semester, I put off grading papers because  the plethora of grammar and misspelling mistakes fill me with pain and show me how much work I have to do. By now, though, I am pleased to report most students have advanced leaps and bounds, and I enjoy hearing their stories. Why I procrastinate at this time of the semester, well, I don’t get it. I guess it’s just a bad habit I’ve fallen into.

Truly, I love this time of the semester with my folks. By now, I’m left with the people who really want to learn, and we’ve reached a level of trust. Today, we covered the different elements of pronouns. As I went through the text and stood in front of the room, I spied several heads looking at the test. Oh, no. Classroom, we have a problem!  I recognized some of the grammatical terms were perplexing them. OK, grammar has terms–after all, we have to call a part of speech by a specific term, otherwise we couldn’t communicate when we dissect sentences. A term like “Antecedent” threw them for a loop.

So, I shut the door and said in a quiet voice, “I want you all to know that this room is a safe place. If you don’t understand something, I’m not going to think less of you if you tell me you don’t understand. You are letting me know that I need to try again to help you turn on that little light in your head. If you’re having trouble, don’t you think someone else might be having the same problem? By asking a question, you’re helping your classmates and you’re helping me be a better teacher. And as long as I’m your instructor, I will do my best to help you learn.”  Everybody took a collective sigh of relief. It was like I recognized a huge elephant in the back of the room and had the audacity to talk about it.

Finally, a hand went up and the student said, “I’m sorry. I just don’t get this.” Then another student said, “I was having trouble, too.” We all laughed together and took another swing at antecedents. I felt confident when they walked out the door today of two things. One, I don’t think anyone will be afraid to ask a question going forward, and two, I had slayed the antecedent mystery.

It was a good day, wouldn’t you say?

Building Vocabulary, Word by Word

colorful libraryDon’t you just love how things in this world all work together? We have to separate knowledge into different departments in school to make subjects manageable, but if you’re smart enough and take enough classes, you’ll realize that what you learn in a film class affects literature and what you study in an English lit class is mirrored in history. So on and so on.

With that in mind, yesterday, in my writing class I gave a different kind of spelling test. It wasn’t a “normal” spelling test–a list of words to memorize or even better, to sound out to help them increase their vocabularies and make them cognizant of tricky spellings.   The words came from an assigned reading about a day in the life of an ER nurse. At the bottom of the pages in the reading, the unusual words and their meanings were pulled from the text and defined. All the class had to do was read the lesson and pay attention to the footnotes.

Yesterday, the test was given. SURPRISE, SURPRISE! All but one student failed. I proved my point.

This demonstration showed them that reading and writing work together in many different ways, and one of the most important ways is to expand one’s vocabulary. I asked them what they did when they came across a word they didn’t understand. One student said, “Look it up,” of course this is the apple-polisher in the group. Another honest student said, “Skip it and go on.”

Now granted, in common vernacular we don’t use words like cacophony, bane, or palpable too often, but in order to get the most out of the reading a person can just stumble over such words and go on. Their first instinct should have been to head for the nearest dictionary. If they had taken the time to look up the word, their memories would file away another tool in their word arsenal to use later on. They would have accomplished a goal and increased their vocabularies by one more word. My students are adults, but somewhere along the line, they haven’t been taught such a wise idea, or they have become apathetic and don’t care. In either case, they are cheating themselves from growing.

Once again, I attempted to throw another plate of imaginative spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. In this case, I can only hope some of my class will learn from my little practical demonstration. After all, it would be nice to know one other person who knows what cacophony means.

P. S. I didn’t grade the test.

Fallout From “Freshly Pressed”

festival_of_books1Since I was “Freshly Pressed” a week ago, so much has happened. It’s thrilling to receive such a terrific honor, but the best part has been all the great teachers and students who have responded to the post with their own experiences. One fellow adjunct instructor wrote a brilliant line I want to share with you. Listen to this: Education is about exploration, not memorization. I love it!

How true it is. Memorizing something is only good for something specific. I’ m thankful I learned the “Times Tables” in third grade, and I still remember being so proud when I got to the “9’s” — little did I realize I already knew all the “9 times 1 through 9.” Dah. But at the time, it was a proud accomplishment which I use to this day.

I also memorized the little jingle about the months of the year. “Thirty days hath September, April, June and November. All the rest have 31, except February with 28 in leap year when you add one.”  I’m sure you can conjure up some little ditties you learned  helped you remember things you didn’t have to think about often.

We also had to memorize battle dates of the Revolutionary and Civil wars. How boring. That information stayed in my head just long enough to ace the test and then it was gone!

Wouldn’t have been wonderful to have learned history through the experiences of the people who lived it. Like a teacher who came into class one day dressed like a frontiersman or a woman with a spinning wheel and a butter churn? I would have loved history if I had a teacher who would have taught the subject by turning us on to how people lived. Wouldn’t have been a hoot to have a Confederate or Union soldier show up one day and argue their different points of view. What would it have been like to try a hard-tack cracker, which was the food the soldiers carried with them when nothing else was available? Or how about hearing from a person who brought a picnic lunch to watch a battle unfold in front of them like entertainment. Let them tell you about how they ran away when the reality of the noise of the cannons shook the earth and made huge holes in the ground and mud flew into the air. Let them tell of the cries of the wounded and the screams of amputations without anesthesia.

Assignments could also be so creative. How about writing a journal from one of the drummer boys’ or junior officers’ perspectives? Assignments like this would spur students into the libraries to read about such accounts and fire up their imaginations to think about life in a different time period that proved to be so integral to who Americans nowadays.

Learning has become lazy for so many students, but sometimes I think teaching has become so, too, not because teachers don’t want to teach but because so much of their time is wasted on administration or it is taken up with discipline issue which should begin handled at home Teachers in my day were respected  and if you got into trouble at school, you would pay the consequences at home.

I have lots of ideas, but no real authority or even education to make such changes come about. I just know what kinds of things would send me to the library to know more. I’m simply a person who never thought she wanted to teach, but discovered how much I loved being in front of a class to encourage blank faces into inquisitive minds who want to know more. What a quest!