Not ready to go back

Parts of this post were published on a sister blog, Jazz en Guadalajara.

From Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, 1929

What if everybody went on strike? I originally posted this back in July. This was before the great walkout and the so-called labor shortage currently affecting the bottom lines of many corporations in the US. If you are unaware of the situation I am talking about follow this link

Hypothetically Speaking: 

Imagine a language teacher, say,  who doesn’t want to go back to his job, at least as the position was conceived before the pandemic. Mind you, he likes his job, likes most of the people he works with, likes most of the students he teaches. What he finds troubling is the corporate philosophy of his workplace. It has not changed since before the pandemic. Hell, it hasn’t changed much since the conception of the university. How employees are treated also hasn’t changed much since Taylorism was a thing. One can imagine a core group of administrators (‘leaders’) wistfully talking about the ‘good old days’ when professors (employees) were in their cubicles and could be watched and their work existence measured. Stifled. Conformed. Unfortunately, the pandemic has taught our language instructor a lesson that appears to have been lost on academia.  That lesson is this: The time to change your ways is here.  Make the most of it.

Taylorism and the Institution:

 In fairness to my university, few of the others have done much to adjust to the lesson being taught to them. My workplace did try to adjust to the new “New” by purchasing new technology for hybrid teaching, but even that is a reflection of the old ways.  That “talk and chalk” method of teaching remains the subconsciously preferred method of pedagogy (I think it’s okay to talk about the psychology of the corporate hive mind) at almost every university. Cameras that track the professor at the front of the classroom don’t lend themselves very well to student engagement.  Sigh.  Anyway, until the SEP (secretary of public education) gives the green light, most classes will be partly synchronous, but with a lot of asynchronous material. 
I have already been informed my classes will be online next semester. Language instruction isn’t really a priority, so the language people will be among the last to return.  Fine by me. I haven’t finished the lesson the pandemic has been trying to teach me and all of us.  It’s time to try new things and give these attempts the full measure of our ability. We no longer have to conform to the traditional ways of teaching,  and we shouldn’t go back to them when this is all over.

Pale Death and Our Collective Conscious: 

The pandemic has brought a lot of disruption to our lives, jobs, and plans.  I don’t have to give examples because if you have been paying attention you know already.  Time to re-focus on what the pandemic wants to teach us, which is also that we have a shared common experience that we need to heed, remember, and adapt to. We are all in this together for a change. As Horace said, “pale Death visits with impartial foot the cottages of the poor and the palaces of the rich.” We have a COMMON EXPERIENCE, A COLLECTIVE MEMORY, a chance to embrace each other as equals…if we choose to.
During my pandemic stay at home time, I have created a pretty bullet-proof work flow for my classes, including super up-to-date and interesting activities (my students say so in their evaluations). I have gotten grading down to a science and can handle 30 + students per class with ease.  I am now doing research on smart classes in which I can use the power of information to leverage differentiation.  It’s going to be great for my students.  

Where Good Ideas Come From: 

Outside of work, I have read several books and lots of research articles, practiced my guitar daily, worked out and have been able to focus on my health and happiness. Because I have flexibility with my time that I didn’t have before the pandemic I can approach things not when I have time, but when I want to and when it makes me happy.  In other words, if the mood strikes me during my work hours to pick up my guitar and start to practice,  then I am happy to do it. I am not forcing it to happen.  
During the quarantine, I have managed to compose four reasonably good songs. I am not the best guitar player, but I do know a good tune when I hear it.  I have been able to let the sounds come forth naturally, unhurried and not at all on any type of schedule.  Of the four songs I composed, not once has the whole song been there, ready to go. One part might have come on Friday and the other the following Tuesday.  I also have been able to work with an expert musician to make the songs that much better, richer.  I feel have become much more creative than before; that without pressuring myself to do so. 
Herein lies the thing about learning new things, be it music, languages, math, whatever.  Time to absorb, experiment, make mistakes are the keys to fruitful learning. Creativity and new ideas can’t be forced, they need time to blossom. This is time that our current education system doesn’t seem to have.

Not All Learning Should Be Easy:

The semester and partial semester system, the need to constantly assess learning that has occurred for no good reason, all inhibit learning and make it a burden. Not all learning is easy, nor should it be. But things that make learning unnecessarily difficult reflect a faith in traditional pedagogical and bureaucratic systems that undermine real growth in learning and life.
So that’s what I like about not returning to the old ways. I allow myself the time to improve my creativity naturally.  My ideas are better, my thoughts are much clearer (generally) and I am sure my students are happier to have a more thoughtful, less stressed out teacher who can venture out into the creative ends of teaching where the students might actually learn more than a language. It’s my hope anyway, but I think better learning may follow as a result.

Thank Heaven for the Quarantine:

 I am not sure how any of these things would have been possible without the pandemic quarantine, but then again, I did listen to the lessons it was teaching. I hope the lesson hasn’t been lost on many others.  When others hear and heed the lessons they could be learning,  then I am sure I will be ready to go back to work. If not, then I will continue to look for a better work situation with people who are willing to grow.

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