Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mental overload= My own learning "crisis"?

Looking back on this week after an intense Wednesday evening class, a revisiting of  Kolb's learning styles, an analysis of my own teaching style as it pertains to Kolb, a sixteen-minute interview with my student, Julia, and two highly complicated chapters of Understanding Youth: Adolescent Development for Educators, I need a space to process all that I have done and read in the past five days.   I can honestly say that I was about as stressed as I have ever been about coursework.

Ever since Wednesday night, I had been perseverating about ways in which I can bring diverging, assimilating, and converging learning styles into my teaching since, as Kolb proved, I am very much an accommodating learner.  I made a point on Thursday and Friday to vary from my normal routines and push myself outside of my comfort zone, essentially letting my Spanish IV honors dictate the pace at which they began to read and process their Jorge Luis Borges excerpt.  I was particularly nervous because my student teacher from Wheaton College would be observing me.   I asked her to feel free to offer me her ideas and join in conversations as I conducted the class. She did!   I found that instead of my worst fears coming true (utter chaos and minimal learning), we had rich discussions entirely in Spanish for an hour-and-a-half block, laden with many side conversations and group analysis of a good chunk of El Otro.  We strayed from "academics" for a few minutes to point out that my teacher, Haley, was only a few years older than them at 21.  I worked hard on being patient and open-minded.  I tried not to lead and I tried instead to learn, and the result was a terrifyingly powerful experience in that Spanish IV class.  What was even more surprising to me was that I saw one of my students after school at a volleyball game, and he kept the conversation going in Spanish!  That, along with my yoga class on Friday, was the highlight of my week. 

I wish I had read Chapters 2 and 3 of Nikkola and Toshalis prior to conducting my interview with my student, Julia, on Friday afternoon.   I cringe at times when I listen back to my sixteen minute interview where I occasionally interrupt or proclaim "Great!" at other times.  School psychologist Mitch Guillermo's handling of Julian's identity crisis with compassion, lack of judgment, relationship building, and listening made me feel grossly inadequate in my own tendency to clump learners together according to what I perceive to be their learning styles and personalities.   After this week, I started to think that I need to recognize that no two students are alike, no matter how much I might think to myself that Student X is a young me and Student Y is a younger version of Student C that I taught two years ago.  I realized that I am quick to jump to conclusions about people, relying heavily on instinct and not spending nearly enough time carefully observing and culling out information about my learners. 

I loved hearing Julia's voice on my phone.  I realized in the 7 or so times I played back the interview how grossly inaccurate I was in my preliminary judgment of her.  If that's how I feel after interviewing just one student, I cannot imagine how bad I am going to feel when I face these kids tomorrow.

That is the moment that it occurred to me mid morning today that perhaps I am in my own state of crisis right now.  I am thrown off kilter about everything I knew to be a truth about my teaching (I have good relationships with my students) and now need to consider that maybe I need to work much harder to get to understand my students as learners.  It is a tough nut to swallow.   I have nearly cried and lost a lot of sleep over this and another graduate class that just started up last Tuesday, but I am realizing that this "crisis" will likely lead to a new and improved self-identity as a learner.   I feel so keenly aware of how taxing it is for adolescents to negotiate so many identities during the course of a day (p.33).   It brought me back to having just been there myself, on the cusp of contemplating suicide one day and feeling amazing the next.   I will also look for strategies to create safe risk-taking environments in my classroom and the school community.  On a bright note, this hard work and identity crisis of my own will hopefully help me when it comes to being a mother to my own sons who are quickly approaching that adolescent age.


  1. Amy. I can relate to your feelings of being a bit overwhelmed this semester. Thinking deeply about how my students learn has challenged me to think about all aspects of my teaching, and in turn I have had to change how I teach some material. This has been a little overwhelming because I feel like I am 'reinventing' the wheel. I also feel that when I move out of my comfort zone in teaching that I am not being a good teacher or teaching the lesson effectively. This could just be my lack of confidence with change or trying something different. Don't worry Amy, we will work through it together.

  2. Amy I feel the same way!! I am so overwhelmed this year as well. Just when I think that I am making some some progress, I am going back three steps. I am struggling to figure out what these kids need. How do they learn? How do I know that they are learning? However, I would not change what and who I am teaching for anything. In spite of the uncertainty, I couldn't be happier and more fulfilled as a teacher.