it’s not all sunshine

Some days, living in Romania looks like this.

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And some days, it looks like this.

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Adjusting to a new home is difficult, even if it’s also exciting and interesting and fun and informative and entertaining.  As much as I’ve learned, there are plenty of things I don’t know.  For everything I’ve figured out, there are many things I don’t understand. I like so much about living and teaching here but I don’t like everything.

That’s as it should be, I think.  You need the starry eyes to clear in any relationship so you can see a clear way forward; after all, you can dislike something about your partner and still want to fall asleep together at the end of the day.  London is a good example, in my case: I am unashamedly in love with that city but I’m not immune to cursing another damp grey day when the Tube is overcrowded and the local Tesco is out of my favorite yogurt; I just forgive and forget when the sun comes out.

So, no, I don’t like everything about being a professor here (nor do I like everything about being a professor in the US but that is a conversation for another day).  Education is a difficult enterprise on the best of days and they aren’t all best days. I struggle with some of the expectations.  I don’t understand some of the customary responses.  I am frustrated when students don’t come to class.  I want to bang my head on the table, weeping, when half of my students submit plagiarized papers.

But.  I’m always working in a different academic system with a complex educational history.  I’m fascinated by how they approach education and why they view learning in certain ways.  It isn’t a matter of my way being right and their way being wrong.  Agree or disagree, it’s a matter of figuring out what works so that students have the chance to really learn.

In the end, while I flail about, trying to get myself settled in a rocking boat, I want the students to take away something meaningful from their time in my classroom.  It’s a fair assessment to say that some did, some didn’t.  That hurts, of course: I’d like to walk out of the classroom knowing that I’ve advanced their learning in some useful way.  As I often tell my students at Purdue, however: We all want something, honey (also a conversation for another day).

So, when I’m having more of a wall-covered-in-graffiti kind of day than a blue-skies-beyond-stone-walls kind of day, it’s good to read through students’ explanations of something important they’ve learned this semester:

 

I was surprised when we were taught that it is acceptable to allow your students to have their own interpretation of a text and that they should not all agree with the one “correct ” interpretation.

We, as teachers, should never force our students to think in a certain way.  Everybody has the right to think freely and we must help them learn how to do it, assisting them in the process.

We all must know that war isn’t a video game.  War is real pain.  The pain that you feel inside all your life and an experience that leaves scars at the surface but also deep inside.  We must teach our students to look closer and from different perspectives to see what it actually means.  If they understand the real meaning, maybe one day there will be no wars. [NB: We finished the semester reading one of O’Brien’s short stories.]

You showed me that a course from 8:00 can be really nice and pleasant.  I think it is a first in so many years of school.

Group work is useful, even though we were not used to it, and it helps the students to get used to speak up and to work in teams (cooperative inquiry).  We’ve got a chance to meet alternative types of teaching-learning and to make new, sometimes unusual connections, in literary criticism.

And the one that made me laugh out loud:

Personally, I learned how hard it actually is to be a teacher, at least theoretically, and how many of our teachers don’t really care about all they can do and take the good ol’ “let me dump all this information on your head and force you to memorize it” method without even trying anything else.  It also taught me how rewarding and satisfying the job can be when you manage to pull some of those things off (like multimodality and all that) and how the hard work of being a good teacher pays off.  It taught me to show gratitude to those who try and truly deserve it (speaking about teachers).