The last of the practica

I taught 2 classes to fulfill my last practicum experience for my graduate program. This entry represents the final posting for this experience.

OSU Odyssey
The first class was a first-year experience course called Odyssey. There were 16 students in the class. The class, which took place during the fall term, was demographically homogenous. The students were mostly white (99%), mostly from Oregon, and were all 18 to 19 years old. The class was extremely easy to “teach.” It was like a giant
field trip. Each week, we would either venture out to visit a campus location or we would stay in our classroom in the lovely Rogers Hall and listen to a guest speaker.

I found something out about myself with regards to teaching and rituals. About an hour before class started I would find myself at the coffee shop in the library. I would order a white chocolate mocha with soy. It was a ritual of comfort. I actually had a few anxious moments where I was not able to have my mocha before class. Who new rituals were so important?

My Odyssey students required a lot of energy as they tended to have a lot of questions. I was constantly emailing them with wellness resources. For a time, I was their holistic caretaker. I think the class bonded well enough; however, it would have been nice if we would have had more time together. We only met 9 times. The class was an hour and a half on Monday afternoons. By the time Monday afternoon rolled along, most of my students were exhausted and completely checked out. Needless to say, sometimes my energy levels were not at their peak at that time of the day and I could tell when I was not at 100%. The class often ebbed and flowed with my energies. I think that’s why the coffee breaks were so important!

ALS 116 — Academic Success
I taught my second class in the winter term. This class was called ALS 116 — Academic Success. We met 17 times! This experience was fundamentally different from Odyssey in that I really feel that I was teaching instead of just “driving the fieldtrip bus.” Perhaps this is why there were more than 50 sections of Odyssey with an all hands on deck teaching approach versus ALS 116 which only had 6 sections. For ALS 116 all of the instructors were given a common textbook and a cd of course materials. It definitely felt like we were being given tools for teachers. This practicum was supposed to be composed of 2 separate teaching experiences, but I really feel that I only facilitated Odyssey and actually taught ALS 116. I was able to tailor ALS 116 in such a way that I felt would be most beneficial to the students. Of course I asked for input and feedback along the way, but I had at least created a framework for the general flow of the course. The textbook had wellness and diversity at the end. I flipped the book around and introduced my students to a holistic model of wellness. I incorporated the 8 dimensions of wellness model from UIC. They seemed to like the concepts and were excited when I showed them the online question/answer website: Go Ask Alice.

The diversity conversation was challenging for me as evidenced by this posting:
http://ericstoller.com/blog/2006/02/07/it-was-an-interesting-als-116/

(This post also contains some threads of my thoughts…
http://ericstoller.com/blog/2006/02/20/white-identity/ )

Today’s class discussion was a mixture of white privilege, racism, heterosexism, institutional power, rape laws if written by women, rape as defined by men, the Kennedy’s and their whiteness, the rampant heterosexism-racism-sexism in the textbook, and a general sense that 50 minutes is just long enough to get everyone thinking before the “bell” rings. We talked about the fact that everyone in the class is a TAB = Temporarily Able Bodied individual.

I could tell that there was plenty of resistance from the white students in the classroom. The nonverbals were telling me a lot. I saw several double crosses = arms crossed & legs crossed. We talked about the institutional privileges that advantage white folks. The class came up with a list of institutions — Legal system, Medicine, Education, Government, Corporations, etc. One student said that his family had institutional power. I illustrated that his family did have power but on a small scale and that families did not have institutional power. Then I was struck with a great question: What about the Kennedy’s? We then talked at length about the Kennedy’s and how they could affect change on a large scale. I asked my students why the Kennedy’s had institutional power. They said things like, history, traditions, etc. No one said anything about the Kennedy’s being white. I wrote “white” on the chalkboard and one of my students erupted “WHY DOES WHITE HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH IT?” I calmly proceeded to say that the Kennedy’s power and influence is in large part because they are white. They benefit from all of the other institutions that benefit white people. The Kennedy’s have advantages because someone else has disadvantages. To further prove my point, I referenced the fact the President and the majority of our government leaders are white and this has been the case since the beginning of this country. My students agreed that this was indeed an issue. I asked my students how many presidents of color we have had in this country? or how many openly gay supreme court justices? or how many textbooks reference the “discovery of America” by Columbus.
One of the most difficult parts of today’s class was when a male student said that rape was essentially a term that had been given a bad rap and that only men could rape women. I kept thinking to myself as he was talking that I needed to figure out a way to preserve his dignity while at the same time affirming to all students that rape was 1) awful and 2) could be perpetrated by both men and women. I offered up that violence against women is why women are afraid to walk alone at night on campus and that he would most likely never, ever have to worry about being raped and that I felt that it was wrong that women have to prove that they are raped – which can lead to victim blaming. (How do you squash dominant-ignorant viewpoints, maintain a safe classroom, and still allow this student to feel like he can voice his opinion?) It was probably the most challenging moment I have ever experienced in a classroom.

On Wednesday we are going to watch a clip from the OSU Voices Project about diversity and discrimination. I plan on having the students write a one minute reaction paper and then we will gather for a large group discussion. Wish me luck. 18 students and a guy from Iowa, what a wild ride!

Syllabus creation
One of the toughest parts about this experience was the creation of my syllabi. I gained a tremendous amount of respect for folks who make syllabi every term. The process of crafting a class and then actually putting it down on paper is very challenging. Points, attendance policies, readings, homework assignments, equity statements, disability statements, learning outcomes, and more, all had to be contained on a couple sheets of paper. The experience of prepping for class is something that I’ve never known. It’s exhausting. Professors who teach 3 courses per term are super-human!

These were my learning outcomes:
Outcomes You Can Expect From Taking This Class:

  1. Increased understanding of wellness
  2. Increased understanding of diversity
  3. Development of time management skills
  4. Development of effective goal setting strategies
  5. Review of campus resources that contribute to academic success
  6. Understanding of learning & thinking preferences
  7. Development of new study strategies for test-taking, reading, note-taking, & studying

Competencies
Discussion related to the CSSA program competencies which you intended to meet through this experience and how these outcomes were/were not met;

I should begin this section with the disclaimer that there are 9 competencies that all CSSA students must show competency in, in order to graduate. Each competency has sub-sections. For example: 1a, 3b, etc.

For my Academic Learning Services: Odyssey and Academic Success practicum, I intended to develop the following competencies:

2a. Transitional issues faced by students before and after their tenure in higher education settings
My students in both Odyssey and ALS 116 were at multiple stages in their development. The Odyssey students were all first-year students, but their capacity to transition was influenced by numerous factors. My ALS 116 class included first-year students to seniors; out of state students; and students who were in the class just “for the credits.”

2c. The diversity of student populations including, but not limited to, age, socioeconomic status, gender, race, and ethnicity, language, nationality, religion or spirituality, sexual orientation, ability, and preparedness
I think I have been developing this competency at every step of my graduate journey and these experiences challenged me in ways that I had never before been challenged. I feel that I had a great relationship with my students. Some of my students told me about their learning disabilities, some talked about how their race and/or ethnicity influenced their educational journeys (obviously these were my students of color since most of my white students have a ways to go before they will be able to articulate what it means to be white.), and some of my students expressed frustration with the fact that we were even having conversations about diversity.

3c. Organizational structure, dynamics, and leadership
This competency is slightly vague when it comes to a classroom experience. I learned a lot about the Academic Success Center. The ASC is very important to OSU. I never knew how important it was in the lives of OSU students. All of my practica have reinforced that the ASC is a resource of the utmost importance.

6a. Develop and share ideas and concepts to students, staff, or faculty groups outside of the CSSA classroom
All of the ALS 116 instructors shared resources, techniques, and stories with each other. Padma was my sounding board for quite a few of my class sessions. She would listen patiently as I recounted the tale of a good experiences or how I would drop in and vent about a negative one. She even let me teach the 8 dimensions of wellness model to her ALS class. It was sort of a give and take or perhaps a cooperative sharing!

6b. Incorporate original and innovative techniques that are appropriate and engaging in sharing these ideas
I’m not sure if my teaching techniques were original since my skills have been shaped by those who have taught me how to teach. One thing that seemed to work well for the class was the systematic deconstruction of the ALS 116 textbook. The textbook was often racist, sexist, and heterosexist in its language and imagery. Sometimes would I give the class subtle hints about the oppressive aspects of the book or more than likely, one of my students would beat me to it and ask about a sentence or an image that they disagreed with. I loved it when the students in either class would jump outside of their boxes and surprise me with a truly poignant comment. I used Blackboard as a means of communication for both courses. My students seemed to like the repetitive nature of weekly postings. It seemed to get them in a rhythm which helped them focus. In my ALS 116 class I had my students write a one page weekly journal. They shared intimate details about their lives and expressed needs for support. Their journals helped me help the class. It was a great arrangement!

6c. Reflect on the experience and make constructive changes and improvements
I think I would have had the Odyssey class meet twice a week at a better time than late afternoon on Mondays. The ALS 116 class met on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10am — 11am. This seemed to work really well as a meeting time. My students in ALS 116 had a lot of energy and we all got to know each other fairly well. The Odyssey class sometimes felt like a weekly meeting in which we would try to build momentum and then the “bell” would ring. I am aware that the Odyssey experience propelled me into my instructor role for ALS 116 which is probably why I had a better teaching experience during the winter term.

7a. Positively manage, develop, and engage in working relationships with faculty, staff, and students across functional and institutional boundaries.
I think I was able to manage my classes in a way that was developmental and engaging. The one factor that makes it somewhat difficult to measure the efficacy of these classes is that they were both pass/fail courses. Passing either class was fairly easy. If students attended class, read the readings, posted on Blackboard/journaled, then they passed. Easy, right?

7b. Initiate and participate in working alliance and teams with a wide range of people across cultural boundaries.
I’m really not sure why I included this competency in my original learning contract for this experience…perhaps I was going to connect the relationships that developed amongst the ALS instructors. We met several times prior to the beginning of the term as well as during the fall. Our meetings served several purposes. We vented. We shared. We created. It was probably something that could be called a working alliance/team that spanned multiple cultures.

7e. Manage and/or mediate conflict, crisis, or problematic circumstances
Two of my students (I won’t name the class that they were in) informed me that they had just been diagnosed with ADHD. Two of my students had relatives pass away half-way through the term. I had several conversations with all of these students about resources on campuses that could support them. I was very flexible with any of my students who needed extra help/support. I’ve always been surrounded by mentors who were able to support me when I needed them and I tried to support my students as best as I could. There are other stories of circumstances that arose with both of my classes that I wish to keep silent about, but I did my best to gather support when it was needed and to just listen when that seemed like the best thing to do.

8a. Seek out a comprehensive and well-rounded graduate and professional experience
As a CSSA student, I do not have to teach. I can go through the program without ever stepping foot into a classroom as anything other than a student. I really feel that teaching is something that enriches the soul and it allows for an exchange of knowledge (multi-directional) that I feel blessed to have experienced. I hope to incorporate classroom teaching into my next job as I feel that I have something positive to offer as a student affairs professional who is comfortable with teaching.

8e. Engage in thoughtful career planning and decision making exercises
I think I covered this competency with my response to 8a. At this point in my graduate program, all I think about is career planning!