Teachers: Now a Working Class Profession

magister“From the Sage on the Stage to the Guide on the Side” is now about 20 years old. A little shopworn, but still a…how shall I put it….goal, of some teachers and how they adapt to technology. It is the gist of an Atlantic article by Michael Godsey, a K-12 teacher witnessing the “progress” right before his eyes. Another (and earlier!) way to look at it is John Higgins’ differentiation of teacher as Magister, the German cloak-clad lecturer, and the pedagogue, a poor wise man following around the son of a rich client to explain things to him. Find this in articles from 1983 and 1984, but also in his book from 1988.

pedagogueI have been in meetings all day, discussing the curriculum for next year. One area of contention is control of the part-time teachers (adjunct staff). I felt a palpable want, almost a need, to put restraints on behavior to standardize content among students and classes. And I think that is just because we can. Some adjunct staff even prefer to come in, teach the text, and leave. Labor rules here in Japan now promote this system of itinerant labor by capping any part-time contract at 5 years, requiring the university to make them full time, or let them go. So now we have churn.

But the attitude toward teachers (no, not adjunct staff), even though most are highly qualified to deliver a quality course, even when asked to provide their own materials. And yet…that desire to make sure they are doing not just anything they want is still there.

Which brings me to an article at one of my favorite websites, Hybrid Pedagogy. John Rees asks How long will your class remain yours? Here is the first paragraph.

The late labor historian David Montgomery wrote famously about workers’ control in America during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. “At times the story involved little more than silent and opaque resistance to the demands and innovations of employers,” he suggested in 1979. “At other times, workers in skilled crafts adopted and fought to enforce collective work rules through which they regulated human relations on the job and wrestled with the chronic menace of unemployment.” When I first read those words, I was in graduate school. I never thought they’d actually apply to me. Now, I believe that the working class in academia at all levels of employment are beginning to move from the first set of times that Montgomery described to the second.

He goes on to paint a very dark picture, but does leave the doorway open a crack with the following: “However, the key takeaway here should be that every professor should adopt only those tools that best fit their style of teaching (perhaps including parts of the LMS if they meet a particular need).”

The problem is, that most teachers today don’t know how to use many tech tools for teaching and thus will be at the mercy of those who do, the programmers and instructional designers. So if you don’t start putting some online tools in your toolbox, and learn how to use them in a class, or even outside a class, online, you will have to learn tools assigned to you.

I had my last graduate school class of the academic year (we start in April, end in February), and my student was worried after we went through the Atlantic article (link above). She was worried that she would be out of a job. I told her first, not in Japan. The horizon of change you can see in the US, but here, not even a hint. She is still trying to get a projector and laptop for her high school classroom, all she has now is a blackboard. Second, language learning is like learning a sport, or a musical instrument. Really difficult to put online. So we are safe, as long as we learn how to adapt the tech to us, before the admins try to make us adapt to the tech.

Tired of Mr, Mrs, Ms? Why not Mx?

moto-cross-214937_640No, not motocross, which is what we used when I was a teen on a bike.

This is a salutation, a title. The only time I use this in English any more is when I sign up to present at a conference. Some organizations insist I pick a title. But now on to the crux of the matter.

Why not use Mx for everything? I didn’t realize that sex-based titles have only been around since the mid-1800’s. Go figure. Before that they were mostly about class and status. Read more about this over at Language: A Feminist Guide.

 

Disconnecting Europe

modem-145529_640Today showed me again why I both hate and love Spain, with a little Ireland thrown in. At the end of a vacation visiting friends in Barcelona, and family in Ireland, I returned to Barcelona for one night at a hotel near the airport to rest and prep for the return to Tokyo. I had ordered and used a portable wifi service in Ireland, and this is the story of my attempts to return the device.

Travel Wifi sent the device to my hotel in Barcelona, after I had canceled that order and reset it to my hotel in Dublin, just before I picked up the lads, after my week in Barcelona visiting friends. They advertised that it was as easy as pie, get the device by FedEx, return it the same way.

So I tell them of their mistake, and they say OK, just bring it to Ireland. I do, and use it all week. It is indispensable as Google Maps guide, replacing the Garmin, as well as allowing all of us to communicate from anyplace. Invaluable as it was, the hardest part was returning the damn thing.

In the FedEx envelope, instruction say I am supposed to set a pick-up for the device at my last hotel. Problem is, Central Hotel to the Airport, or driving anywhere in downtown Dublin is a nightmare without Google Maps. So I keep the device to guide us to the airport. No FedEx office at the airport. I have 6 hours, and find an office near the airport, but it is really difficult to get to. I try to buy stamps and an envelope, but am stymied by the envelope. No advice on regular mailing. I still have 6 days on my contract, so I wait for Barcelona.

The flight is delayed so I arrive after business hours. When I check in, nobody knows anything about FedEx at the hotel, so I go online. They ask me to drop it off at a center, or schedule a pickup. The FedEx website requires an account number for the pickup, and none is on the label. Travel Wifi is cryptic in their messages, and the only instructions look like they have been copied and pasted from the website. I figure I have a few hours after checking out at noon, and before my 10pm departure. A Drop-off is listed on the website about 2 km from the airport. The idea is to drop it off. This is the story.

After arriving at the airport, I try to drop off my suitcase and check in at Qatar Airlines. No can do. So I go to the Consigna, Left Luggage, where I can leave my luggage to get to the FedEx. No schlepping. 10 euros.

I discover that the left luggage company deals with FedEd, and the guy tells me if I leave a 10 euro deposit, they will make sure it gets to the FedEx people. But then the other guy calls Lisa The Boss, who says it is too much of a hassle, and that it is not possible. So I check the suitcase and set off for FedEx. Taxi has a minimum 20 euro fee from the airport. The bus that goes to the other terminal passes by FedEx in the cargo park, but does not stop. The driver, though is really helpful and points me to a local bus. Another 2.15 euros gets me on a bus with another extremely helpful driver. He drops be between stops near the FedEx. I can taste success.

The FedEx has lots of trucks hanging around, and not much action. I arrive just before 2pm lunch. The door has a buzzer. Once, twice, thrice. It says if there is no response, call a number. With what? I write down the number after a half-hour hopeful wait, and wander over to the DHL and another shipping company.They tell me today is a holiday (duh, September 11 is Independence Day for Catalunya), and thus the lack of action. You really need a phone to get things done in Spain. I ask to borrow one from 3 workers at the next place over, and they all hem and haw. One says she can’t do that for the competition. I leave in disgust. FedEx takes holidays in Spain. Typical. And everyone is dog eat. Typical.

So instead of spending another 2.15 and with time on my hands, I hoof it back to the airport, about 2km. Why not. Plan B is to get stamps and an envelope, available in the Tabacalera, but the lady assures me the slot is too small to accept my wifi device.

So after spending about 6 hours spread over 2 airports, I realize that I should have just left the device at the hotel in Barcelona and gotten THEM to schedule the pickup. Instead, they will get it from Tokyo. The soaring and crashing that came from trying to return it both in Dublin and Barcelona were lessons in thinking and planning. At least my family got to the airport. Time to go check in. And no time to worry about it in Qatar.

Burma Bound

MyanmarSchool3A friend of the family has wrangled me into volunteering as a teacher trainer for a week next January in Myanmar. The group is small, and works through a travel agent and has connections to the Education Network, founded by the National League for Democracy (NLD), the political party founded by Aung San Suu Kyi.

At first, I was a bit apprehensive. I had to raise funding to get there, and stay there, and also find someone else to match that. I was extremely fortunate to ask Frank Berberich, longtime friend, who has recently retired. He immediately signed on, saying he had been looking for something exactly like this.

We are in the process of raising funds now, and getting visas. It looks like we will be training about 100 high school teachers in the Yangon (Rangoon) area. These teachers are part of a network of schools that teach the poorest and most disadvantaged children in Myanmar.

MyanmarSchool2So here I am, an expert in using computers to teach adults languages, and I am going to try to train teachers on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of polite Japanese school girls as students, we will have harried teachers, trying to add to their arsenal of teaching tools, so as to open up Myanmar to the world.

As we approach deadlines and prepare for the training, Frank and I are getting more and more excited. We are going along with 6 others on the trip, and will meet them in Yangon shortly after the new year. I will keep you updated on events as they happen.

Audio Books and Driving

drivingJim Dean, my dad’s colleague and long-since-retired English teacher at Larkin high school near Chicago has a wonderful laugh and a razor sharp wit. His appreciation of English is also remarkable. When he sent me this link to an account of driving across country while listening to an audio book version of Moby Dick, it made me smile. I love audio books and reading as well, and find they are very different experiences. Especially with something like Moby Dick. The money quote from the New York Times account:

I was always glad at day’s end too, when we parked and turned off “Moby-Dick.” Not that the book ended then. Usually, in the evening, I would begin reading the book where we had left off listening. I have never been so struck by the silence of the printed word. I have never grasped so clearly how inward words have to go in our minds before they come alive. I was the one leaning forward, hearkening to Ishmael, keenly aware of the whiteness of the page, just as I had been every time I’d read “Moby-Dick” before.

But I also smiled because just last summer, after more than ten years without a real road trip, I escorted my daughter along the left coast, shopping for colleges. Instead for flying from Dad’s retirement home near Denver, I drove to LA to meet her. I threw in an old CD audio book about how the Irish Saved Civilization, Dad loved it. It made for great listening (anything about Ireland needs to be both rich in language and delivery), speaking of green verdant fields as I passed Moab, fearing the Goths as I reached the Grand Canyon. Maybe I will try an audio version of Joyce if I drive around Hawaii. Incongruent enough? Maybe Maugham.

But I keep wondering. Now, who’s Ishmael?

***1 AM Update (too much coffee). Over at my favorite blog, the Dish, Andrew Sullivan points us to research that says even if we are reading silently, we are hearing the words. Love those Internet Coincidences.