Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. ~Rick Hanson
Here it is. Month six of my once-a-month-bloggy-goal this year. I must admit that I’m kind of phoning this one in because I’m really exhausted and homesick. The month ends tomorrow, and I need a day without the laptop and the phone so this will be what is. Forgive half-baked thoughts and typos. I’ve been in west Texas for three days, and as much as I love the work I’m doing, I feel so out of place in that part of the country. I miss my dog. My bikes. My walking trails. My snarky husband. Temperatures where human beings can be outside without dying of exposure and extreme dehydration.
So. What to write about during my two-hour layover in the DFW? An airport that somehow consistently smells like a cocktail of cheap perfume, hangover skin, and Panda Express. Give me the honest smells of body odor and Bacardi breath you get at LaGuardia any day.
Most of what I’m writing about in my personal journal I’m not ready to share yet, and it’s Saturday so I want to give the jobby job journal thoughts a rest. I keep two journals, and somebody shared with me that they thought this was a great idea. It’s more to carry when you travel, but I find it helpful to separate my thoughts and to-do lists. It’s something I’ve done for about six or seven years, and it works in times of acute stress. I write them both by hand.
My brain is most tired, and I’m facing 12 or 13 hours of travel today. Who wants to read about that?
I will share that I adore a VPI that I met yesterday! She smiled when I shared the first online teaching advice I received was to “put all of my handouts online.” A story I’ve told many times as I talk about how we have improved with OL/HY designed teaching. While I was presenting, I thought, “Oh fuck, I’ve offended her. Did I sound too dismissive? Crap. Crap. Crap.” I gotta watch it here in the land of big big bucks invested in all the quality that matters. I always fail to explain that I’m not dissing the certification and the canned processes of professional development–I’m thankful for any attempt to improve shitty OL/HY classes. The silver lining of those certifications gray when I see how much it costs to get that stamp of approval on your OL/HY class when students have no idea what the fuck it all means. How much money a select few of reviewers make with a process that can be done in half the time. How nobody measures whether anyone changes anything about their courses as a result of those trainings. And if they did change something, what works? What doesn’t? How do other teachers learn about it? Why invest in anyfuckingthing that doesn’t directly help students? Hold on, Ranty McRanterson. Keep the Saturday Bloggy spirit light.
Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah. Finding a Sister Fren VPI! We bonded over remembering WebCT! That’s it. Plain and simple. I can always reminisce about what was the best idea at the time, and I find the history (and its criticisms) of educational technology fascinating. I think she expected me to diss it all down and brag all about the possible shiney future techy ideas, and you know, that ain’t my style. I like to talk about what works and how we can make things better without burning it all down. Leaders who lived through the early days of online learning are where it’s at. They get it. We also bonded over a nursing department that still relies on CDs for their students to complete the state-license exam. The mother of fuck, right? Glad to know that the cutting-edge technology needed to save my life requires a boom box compact disc player in order to study. Where is a 19 year old finding a CD player these days? Christ. The one education where you can hop-skip from being poor to the middle-class in just a few years—mostly for women–is totally owned from the study guides to the state-licensure by the Giant Pubby Grubbers. And I’m dying to know if there is major underground market of pirated materials. There has to be.
Oh. Okay. I should really get to a point. Merci mon amour, je t’aime if you’re still with me.
Two weeks ago, I was the lead contact on my bike team’s mountain bike clinic, and I learned a really hard lesson. I can’t be the lead and participate as a sweep and be good at both. I think I pulled it off—meaning I fooled other people into thinking I was a-oky-dokey when I was dying inside. The whole experience left me so drained emotionally that I haven’t been able to process anything from the weekend. Then I jumped into an intense two weeks of work, blah blah so tired blah blah so grouchy blah blah STFU, Indrunas.
Let me describe the the sweetest moment of the clinic weekend. For me.
For those of you who have never participated in a bike clinic like this, let me humblebrag it and say we put on the best weekend for women and girls, and I wish I could do it every weekend all summer. I’m so in awe of all the women on my team who just busted out all of the work. We have created something amazing. So special. There was a point where I looked around at all of the women and girls riding bikes in the field and all the pieces of my life clicked with sparkly joy. Like lake water shimmering in the sun.
We try to keep a seven-student-to-one coach ratio in the groups, and there is always a Sweep with each group, or a person who rides at the back to make sure we don’t leave anyone behind. Sweeps also demo moves and help the coach whatever she needs. The past two years I’ve been a sweep for the beginners, and this year I was super-sonic nervous to be paired up with the intermediate group. My coach, Anne Galyean, is a former professional racer and we were tasked with a group who has some experience mountain biking. And let me tell you, I loved my group! They were all so sweet, and I saw all of them make great strides over the two days we shared on bikes listening to the badassery of Anne. Ladies, I floated for days when I thought of our time together.
And for me, I love love love listening to people who can teach. I’ve learned that any cocky yahoo can present on talking points, but a true teacher/coach inspires people. Makes people feel like they can do something. Makes people feel like you’re making a true connection. Makes people feel like they can do that thing too. Makes people feel like they are something different from when you first got together. Magic.
I tried to share what I could but I really wanted to let Anne run the show. She is a great coach, and what I loved about her style on the bike is how easy she makes it look. The bike and the body become one instantly when she clicks into the pedals–the hours and hours she’s spent in the saddle is the exact grace we’re all aiming for when we take a clinic like this.
The best part of our clinic is the group of coaches that we bring together. I love them all so much, and I can’t wait to bring them back next year.
Here’s the thing.
Anne did this awesome little drill on the trail to teach us about reading lines on the trail, or where you will steer your bike on a trail. Something that’s really hard to teach because it usually happens at speed, and it’s hard to describe what you’re doing.
She told us that she had a pocket full quarters and she was going to drop them on the trail. She wanted us to ride slowly, scan the trail, and count the quarters for about fifty yards or so. My group of seven rode off, and when I followed them I didn’t see any quarters. I rode up, stopped, and stared at everyone.
Anne asked, “Did anyone see the quarters?”
We all shook our heads no. Rather than getting all “Got ya! Tricked ya into learnin’ something. Haha!” she launched into explaining how we scanned the trail carefully, and that sometimes that’s what you have to do to make sure you are ready to react to what’s next on the trail.
She called that “Now” and then she demonstrated what “Next” looked like.
She over-exaggerated with her eyes to look ahead and then down while saying “Now” and “Next.” It was exactly what that group needed, and I loved seeing it click for them. What a great way to empower your students when they are learning something hard. Just pause and teach them something easy so they feel good about what they’re learning overall. You can see roots ahead now, and maybe you have to prepare for the switchback next. Now. Next.
As she rode ahead, she kept repeating “Now” and “Next.” As we rode throughout the day, she’d point out how we use that sighting skill. “Now” and “Next” I’d hear her say as I watched seven women try to pedal and keep up and apply all that they were learning.
She broke down the “Look Where You Want To Go” advice that you hear in cycling, snowboarding, and skiing. I’ve never heard anyone explain the two steps that actually get you there. You look at what you’re riding now in order to see what’s next while you’re looking where you want to go. Nicely done, Anne. Simple. Genius.
So I’ve been thinking about the Nows and Nexts with all the teaching and learnings.
Which brings me to a great podcast that I listened to this week! I’m a little late to podcast craze. I’m not a big fan of books on tape— I’ll be honest I don’t really consider that reading. How sad that you don’t sit and see the words that the writers bleed on the page, I think. How contrived the voices are who read the books, I think. Give me the words. Always. Or make a really great movie—otherwise, I got zero love for books on tape. And thus, I’ve put the podcasts into Ho-Hum Audio category.
What’s brought to the podcaster-y is my new devotion to working out regularly. Training, I guess you could say. I’m running on treadmills at hotels. I’m pedaling on our new Bike Robot (what I’ve named our new computerized bike trainer). I’m walking longer distances. I need something for those hours to keep my brain from spiraling into a black hole of despair about the Nows and the Unknown Nexts. A book that I read advised a certain podcast, and I gave it a shot during one of my runs. Turns out, I kinda dug it. When I can’t really sort what music I want to listen to, these podcasts are filling that space in my head. Who knew?
This week I decided to listen to the Teach Better podcast featuring my Tweep/Hero/Fren Kevin Gannon. Full disclosure, I met Kevin in person in 2015 at the New Faculty Developer Institute where I died a million deaths of the imposter syndrome when I saw that he and Lee Skallerup Bessette were there as students and yours truly was a “faculty” member. Lee wrote an awesome summary of that experience if you want to check it out. I’ve been a religious follower of Kevin’s on Twitter–whether it’s for photos of his dogs or when he’s sparring with fascist buckets of shit. Most of Twitter sparks very little joy for me these days. I’ve stopped following a great many hashtags that I used to love. That’s a story for another day.
Back to the podcast-y thoughts! As I was trying to keep my Bike Robot pedal watts above 175 (why is that so hard?), I listened to the hosts and Kevin rap about teaching. I found myself wanting to add ideas, and I laughed out loud when they talked about Monty Python and their favorite teachers. I felt like I was hanging out with my Teacher Brahs.
What stuck with me was when they (I’m not sure who said what—three dudes with deep voices are hard to parse. That’s the challenge of the podcast for me—it’s hard to tell who said what unless it’s like two distinct voices like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West). I do think it was Kevin who mentioned that we—meaning teachers—were the students at the front of the room hanging on every word of the teacher and we are now faced with the challenge of teaching the students who sat behind us in the classroom.
Yes. Most interesting.
Yes. For those of us in charge of teaching people who are not early adopters of certain teaching practices, we’re faced with trying to reach teachers who never ever come to the teaching and learning center. And they could give a fuck about changing what they do in the classroom.
Yes. Most interesting.
What I took from that bit of the conversation was the challenge that every teacher faces when he/she learns that most students don’t care about your discipline. They are there for the credit. How do you make them care? How do you help them learn?
The day that I realized that my Comp II course was the last and final English course that my students would ever have to take again, and that they really didn’t care about a course that I loved, changed everything for me. I had to find another path to keep myself happy and interested because I was teaching just another gateway course. Course after course after course. I was one stop on the degree conveyor belt, and those students didn’t really care about Now—if I may bring that coaching language back around–they only cared about Next. I was the same way when I was a student. Truly.
Kevin did mention one thing—I know it was his voice—and that’s the importance of having a beginner’s mindset. He was quoting Zen Buddhism there, and I dug that thought. That’s the key to any good teaching experience. You have to remember what it was like to be a beginner. When Next stresses you out because you get really lost trying to find the Now. You can’t even look where you want to go because it’s just not clear.
I’ll leave you here with the definition of Shoshin. Something the most humble teachers I respect practice. My hopefulness in the Now and Next defined:
Shoshin (初心) is a word from Zen Buddhism meaning “beginner’s mind.” It refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying a subject, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would.