Lifelong Learning: What I’ve Learned – March 2017

When I sat down to write this post last month, I struggled to remember or think of anything that I had learned.  This month, however, has been completely different.  I’m not sure if spring break refreshed me, if my brain cells just came out of hibernation, or if it’s a combination of both, but my mind has simply been buzzing with new thoughts, ideas, and epiphanies.

First, as you may remember, I’ve been very diligent about my personal reading and journal writing time this semester.  Since January, I have read and/or written in my journal almost every single day.  Apparently – with apologies to Field of Dreams – if you schedule it, it will get done.  At least, that’s true for my personal reading.  This lesson seemingly needed to be a two-parter this month.  The first lesson came last week when I tried to schedule work reading into my life.  I was reading a 4 chapter (plus an introduction) book about competency-based education in Texas.  Logically speaking, I should have been able to read one chapter (or section) a day during the work week.  I planned it out and wrote it on my to do list.  Never happened!   I finished the book (notes and all), but I had to do it at home over the weekend.  I just couldn’t get the reading done while at work.  I’m not sure what the difference is, but reading for a project just doesn’t get the same priority as all of the other tasks on my list of things to do each day.

Along those same lines, I realized that I prefer my personal reading to be on the lighter side.  That’s not to say that it’s “fluff” because I’ve read some books with some deeper themes and contexts.  However, while reading Between the World and Me, I felt as though I should be highlighting and taking notes on some of the phrasing and issues that Coates used.  But I didn’t because that’s different from my academic reading.  It makes no logical sense, but in my mind, my at-home personal reading is meant for enjoyment, not for studying.  If I learn something and think deep thoughts, that’s great, but I don’t want to be forced to do so.  I want to enjoy the writing for what it is and experience the simple joy of reading for pleasure.  What I will do, however, is re-read Coates at a later time when I can more fully devote all of the attention that it deserves.

The second thing I learned this month is that there are different versions of the word “poor.” I feel like I grew up poor.  When I talk to other people, even those here on campus, I often hear people say, “We were poor, too.”  And, even though this isn’t the intent, I often feel as though my experiences while poor aren’t any more important or different than those to whom I am speaking.  With the release of Trump’s budget proposal, I’ve seen items on social media (whether true or fake – that’s not the topic of debate here) that seem to suggest certain groups or people feel that if someone owns a microwave, has a cell phone, or has indoor plumbing, then they aren’t poor.  I’m not sure what exactly the overall lesson is in this case, but I think I’ve learned that there are often various definitions and sides to every situation. I need to be more cognizant of putting myself in the same situation as someone else without being fully aware of what his/her situation is.  I may inadvertently be trivializing their experiences without meaning to do so.

While reading the competency-based education book, the six institutions in Texas either hired, or realized that they needed to hire, coaches to support the students in these programs.  The faculty were responsible for the content and assessments, and the coaches were responsible for contacting the students on a weekly basis, checking on their progress (most were in on-line programs), and motivating the students to finish and stay on track.  I was shocked at this delineation of tasks.  I’ve always assumed that part of my job as an instructor is to check on my students, to make sure that they are understanding and progressing in their learning, and to provide motivation and encouragement.   I suppose my “learning” on this topic was simply the realization that in a some cases (or at some institutions), faculty are viewed as content and assessment experts and not as someone who is there to help the students succeed in their courses, in lives, and in their careers.

Next, my spring break was spent scheduling my year.  I planned my reading list books to make sure I could read all of them in the 52 weeks I’ve allotted to do so, and I organized my home office.  I realized, being a stationery junkie, that I have a pile of journals that I haven’t used.  I buy them because I like them, and I end up with an unused stack.  And, even though I have this stack, I continue to buy more !  So, in a minimalist-style mood, I decided to plan a use for the journals.  I could use some for planners, for journaling, for specific purposes, etc.  I counted pages and planned the perfect use for each and every one.  I made it all the way to the end of the year (1-2 pages a day for planner, 3 pages a day for journaling, etc.) and I still had journals left over!  It’s a sickness; I know (slight confession – I just ordered 7 notebooks/journals last night)!  Then, I sorted all of my projects, broke them into small manageable tasks, and started scheduling those over the next several months – a small task or two every day to move some projects forward.  The result?  I now feel as though the year is over, and there’s no room left for anything spontaneous.  While it may be good to plan, it’s not so good to plan out your entire year in March!

Finally, I learned that HEB Curbside is “da bomb!”  If you haven’t heard about it yet, you should check it out.   We’ve used it the last two weekends, and I love it.  I really wasn’t aware of how much time I spent getting groceries on Sunday each week, but now that I have that time, I’m not sure I can go back to shopping for my own groceries 🙂

That’s five things (if you don’t count the two-parter separately), and I still have more that I feel like I’ve learned.  If you have some time and are interested, I’d be happy to share with  you some other things I’ve learned like marginalized groups and empathy, keeping your thoughts towards students positive, and the fact that I am horribly bad at small talk.  Just let me know via comments, email, or in person.  I’d love to discuss these topics with you – just not as small talk 🙂

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