Archive for the ‘pedagogy’ Category

First job out of college: Tutor?

March 3, 2008

A couple weeks ago, the need for money began to outweigh the desire to do nothing but either be lazy or work on my resume.  After a lot of thought, however, I was quite positive I did not want some run-of-the-mill clerk or retail position at the local big box store or Starbucks.  What’s a poor graduate to do?

Craig’s List offered an answer: Tutoring.  The pay level was quite enticing (base of $30/hr), which meant I could work 4 or 5 hours a week and make the equivalent of a part time position with, say, Best Buy.  I submitted my information and received a call back a week later from a woman who runs a local service.  Would I be interested in tutoring mathematics? Sure! 

I show up to my first session with a junior at a local high school who has had trouble in her Algebra II/Trig class.  “Algebra II/Trig?” I thought, “No problem!”  When she pulls out the book and shows me her old tests, my stomach hit the floor.  “I don’t remember any of this,” I thought to myself.  I managed to make it through the first session without letting on that she probably knew what she was doing better than I did, and I have since spent approximately 10 hours over the past two weeks teaching myself Algebra II/Trig out of a textbook I got at the local public library.  Divide $45, the amount I make over a week’s time with her, by the number of hours I’ve spent studying for our sessions (about five a week).  Now I’m down to $9/hr.  Not as impressive.

Now I’ve been asked to start working with a middle aged, Hispanic man who wants to get his GED.  He’s a pretty successful, experienced mechanic but he wants to get out of the industry, and the first step on that road is to get his GED.  But while he speaks English fluently (he’s been in the country for at least 25 years), and while he can read technical manuals with little trouble, any other sort of expository writing or reading flusters him.  And of course, he must also learn basic history, science, and social studies.  How do you teach someone all that they were supposed to learn in high school?

I really want to do well; I want my students to do well.  But this is different than the tutoring I did in the basement of Monroe the night before the big macro or development exam.  I was willing to spend as long as my friends and acquaitances needed in clarifying material, but if they didn’t do well I never felt like there was any skin off my back.  Now I find myself anxiously waiting to hear from my Algebra student how she performed on her various quizzes  and tests on logarithms and exponential functions.  Not just for my sake (for clearly I must produce results to keep my job), but also for her sake (because I want her to do well, regardless). 

Lacking the training and the organization that I would think qualifies someone as a tutor, I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea.  These people are counting on me to help them in some way.  What if I can’t? What if I don’t know how?  And even if I was willing to put in the 15 or 20 hours a week that would be required to find new methods of teaching these people that meets their style, doesn’t it cease to be worth it at some point?  I mean, that’s like $6/hr, at most. 

I have to decide soon.  If I stay in this, I’ve got to commit to the middle of June and, just like in college, I’ll have to go balls to the wall and do everything I can to perform well in the capacity for which I’ve been hired.  I don’t know how to half ass something like this, and I wouldn’t want to even if I did. 

If anyone has any advice or bits of wisdom, I’d love to hear it.

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“Dating” College – Time to Break Up?

October 23, 2007

In this second entry, I want to continue with the theme of reflecting on my education by examining the conflicting influences I feel both to stay at college for another semester…. and to get as far away as possible as soon as possible. 

First, why stay?  In a word, academics.  I enjoy learning, and I’m coming to realize that I thrive in a more structured learning envrionment (I will broach this topic in another entry).  What’s more, there are some really fascinating classes that will be offered next semester, one of which promises to be an extremely unique experience.  There will be an advanced macroeconomics seminar taugh by my academic advisor and friend, Steve Greenlaw.  I denied myself the opportunity to learn in such a setting under him last semester in the belief that I would enjoy another class better, but I regret that choice now. 

Also next semester the anthropology department will be offering its economic anthropology course, a class that I have been hoping they would offer every semester for two years. 

Saving the best for last, my thesis adviser and developmental economist Shawn Humphrey is offering a hands-on policy development and implementation class in conjunction with a local development NGO… all under the guise of a seminar.  This would be a highly unique experience and I am sorely disappointed that I will be missing this class, most of all. 

To restate then, the only thing that is pushing me to stay here is my desire to learn just a little bit more in an environment of my own choosing.  Next semester would promise a very fascinating and, possibly, eye-opening experience.

So why leave? 

Because I’m 26.

Because my girlfriend and I really want to start out lives together.

Because just about everything about this place besides my professors bothers me, and even they drive me nuts from time to time. 

This last point deserves some expansion.  I think that I can split up my grievances into three categories: frustration with the administration, frustration with the student culture, and frustration with the strictures on my education due to an unwillingness or inability to teach certain topics.

With respect to the administration of my college, I find it to be altogether a lumbering and stupid giant of red tape and beauracracy. This is not to slander any one person; rather, the administration lacks a visionary at its vanguard, especially after our former president’s run-in with the law last semester.  I could register a multitude of complaints about the problems this creates, but they are all the typical enormous-glob-of-an-organization grievances.  In general, however, I think the poor administration leads to a disaffected student body, a demoralized teaching staff, and a generally poorer education and overall experience here.

I am also fairly unhappy with the student culture.  I find students to generally be one-dimensional both in their academics and their personal lives, and it does not help that the typical student comes from a fairly narrow cross-section of life experience (white, upper middle-class, usually from northern virginia and or the north-central eastern seaboard).  I want to be careful how judgmental I am, because I am older and and I have had more experience in the “real world.”  Nonetheless, I get the sense that this student body is lacking more than its typical counterpart on other campuses.

My final, and quite tertiary, complaint is that there are limits on how far my education can proceed here. Part of this is self-imposed because of time constraints of my own device.  The other part, however, is a frustration with the ways in which my education in economics has been limited, I feel, by the unwillingness or inability of my economics professors to put a little mathematics into their courses.  I am not the only person to complain about this – there are two other seniors currently doing/planning theses that are equally frustrated with the department in this respect.  We are all three of us potential graduate students in economics, and we are concerned that we are unduly prepared for the mathematical challenges of that environment, despite taking several courses in math independently. These are skills that are going largely unused in the context of our actual specialty, and we find this to be frustrating.  Nonetheless, this is a highly particularistic complaint; the quality of education that the professors do offer is the only thing keeping me here, as discussed above. 

All this makes me wonder if going to college is a little like dating someone.  In some cases, the infatuation can last a long time, several months or even a couple years, before the little things about the person really start to bother you and you have to ask yourself: “Is it worth ending the relationship just because of annoying habit X?”  If so, then better to end it before you start to fight and argue. 

Well, literally, I am starting to fight and argue with almost all aspects of this school.  Conclusion: It’s time to move on. 

Reflecting on Education: The Job of Student

October 1, 2007

This is the first of a few entries which I will devote to discussing my educational experience, and how it has aligned (or not) with my expectations.   

Last Thursday, I attended the first of what is to be a series of lectures at my college on teaching in higher education.  This particular presentation was given by Dr. Mary Huber, and focuses primarily on the ways in which professors interested in improving their quality as educators have sought to accomplish this goal.  She concluded that professors must form a community across and within disciplines, seeking advice from one another and sharing successes and failures, all as part of a larger process of discovering better ways to best serve in their role as educator.  The archaic scholasticism that seems to pervade the higher educational system was downplayed.  At the same time, Dr. Huber suggested that more hands-on activities utilizing modern communications technologies (blogs, wikis, etc.) and demonstrations of theory in practice is a fertile ground since it plays to the skills and expectations of the modern student. 

Noticeably lacking from the presentation was any mention of the role of students in the educational process.  I tried to bring light to this fact during the Q&A session by asking, in so many words, whether there was any room for students in this reform of higher education.  Her response, again in so many words, was “Yes.”  Apparently, my question was simply not blunt enough. 

A fellow student blogger did a fine job some months ago of expressing the frustration some students feel about the lack of interest amongst their classmates, and I have discussed the need for an inclusion of students in the reform process in higher education a long time ago in a comment @ Pedablogy, so I will not restate those ideas here.

I do want to say that ignoring or downplaying the vital importance of students’ desire to learn (or lack thereof) will retard any attempt at reform in higher education; that is to say that I would hypothesize that this desire is a necessary condition for meaningful reform.  To a certain extent, better teaching methods will encourage students who want to learn but have a hard time doing so in the traditional classroom, but Huber’s assumption seems far too optimistic:  All students, on some level, want to learn, and higher educators just have to find ways to connect to those students.  This strikes me as unrealistic.  

To me, an F seems a just reward for failing to show interest in a class.  This may seem harsh, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeling like the guy asleep behind me in class is free-riding on my tuition.  He’ll still pass, he’ll still get his 40k/yr job.  Meanwhile, that’s one more person that my professor still has to waste her time on, grading his work, wondering why he isn’t interested, spending time trying to figure out how to engage him.  HE DOESN’T WANT TO BE ENGAGED!!! 

How can my professors better teach me?  By ridding themselves of the distractions personified in other students who don’t give a damn.  With their knowledge, direction, and attention unimpeded by obligations to serve students who could care less, the already high quality of my education would increase to greater heights.  I’m thinking that Dr. Huber and I might be on extreme opposite sides of this debate, and clearly there must be some compromise, but I just want to be sure that students are held accountable for their education, too.