Over the past 5 years, my experiences in STEM operate under a cycle of instruction and teaching that has done more harm than good for myself and my closest friends, many of whom have been weeded out. We cannot interrupt the cycle unless we face that the cycle exists with nimbleness and critical reflection, to which Jeff, a learning doctor I discovered by going into office hours, calls system navigation. The entire narrative about the underperformance of students in college is required when there’s a financial structure that is based on saving those students.
If everybody in my CS courses received a full score on their ACT and SAT, then the billion-dollar industry of test/college prep is gone. If all the students in the CS department received a passing grade, then it is likely that the adjunct or assistant professor will receive shade from their colleagues, for conducting a class with not enough rigor. To which I would say: rigor doesn’t have to be rigor-mortis; if we had brain activity monitors on during in class meetings, it wouldn’t take long to see how engaged we really are during technical lectures without dialog around motivation, prior knowledge, and feedback.
Sadly these methods of instruction and grade distributions become the norm even when tenure is awarded, to where we really only allow the most privileged or remarkable students to create significant learning experiences during this out-of-date right of passage. I will continue to call out some of the truths I’ve experienced in my college journey in hopes of resonating with your experiences. However, I will also present a solution that has empowered me not to be weeded out, earn +$30,000 in scholarships, complementary travel around the world due to my mediocre ability to write personal statements, and ignite a career path in community college teaching I never knew was ever a possibility.
Imagine if everybody in our neighborhoods feels fully actualized, graduated college and earned a stable middle class job within a year of graduating. If that were the case, a whole scholarly body of work around community-focused interventions would be broken. “These cats construct hills of our downtroddenness, then they can create industries about our victimhood, so they can perceive themselves as savior and make it a generation of income and about status” said Chris Emdin, one of my favorite speakers of all time.
As students, if we’re lucky and gritty enough to have made it this far, we understand that we have an opportunity to interrupt the cycle by not being complicit in the articulation of these stories. It helps to experiment in setting clear goals for ourselves so we learn how to learn, and complete our course work with genuine fulfillment. If haters are always telling and publishing stories of our downtroddeness, they will always see us as victims and never see us as victors.
We will NOT be a victim of poor STEM pedagogy where we gotta act that way, dress this way, speak a certain way, and perform STEM only in this particular systematic way that our teachers are barely staying above water to grade, anyway. Bars, dat rhymes right dur. Education was never meant to be institutionalized or systematized to begin with – say no to the banking and labor model of education, that grinds our most precious resource, human capital, to dust.
When we (keyword: we) do this, they make us complicit in the dominant narratives, so the students who become weeded out, become the marketing scheme of the brokenness.
The restoration of our collective humanity is the most essential piece of any revolutionary work.
This is why there’s a dozen students who continuously show up to my Supplemental Instruction Sessions for Data Structures and Algorithms because we restore humanity by co-learning at a healthy pace that is revealing just how flawed and constrained traditional methods of teaching are in the very little shared meeting time we have together. For more on this please read “How Learning Works: 7 Principles to Smart Teaching by Ambrose et al.”
Oftentimes, it’s about the psychological work first.
Harriet Tubman “I freed XYZ amount of slaves, I would have freed so many more if they knew they were already free.”
When our minds are free and our souls are fed, our brains will follow.
When our school system, meaning the classes we are in, does not feed our sense-of-self or belonging it’s no question we will replicate these types of oppression. #FreeOurTeachers to #FreeTheStudents. Replace 50% of an educators teaching load, with time they can spend developing out their course:
- Why critically thinking about their students prior knowledge matters?
- how to help them organize their knowledge?
- what students true motivations tangental to the curriculum or syllabus may be?
- how to design and scaffold their course for evidence based mastery (such as a portfolio of work), not drill and kill or regurgitate information (which is no longer scarce) only to be dumped out when the grade is given?
- how to facilitate goal directed practice with critical feedback?
- how to create a social, emotional, intellectual climate that is conducive to learning, but more importantly belonging?
- how to empower their students to become self-directed learners?
For more about these 7 Principles here check out a 50 minute workshop by an Author of this work: https://youtu.be/9-an_8tN_mA . Until teachers are incentivized, funded, respected, acknowledged, empowered, finally heard… to do this work above, it falls onto the shoulders of students. It has taken me four full years of experimentation in my teaching roles to realize, each one of these principles demand to be a full time research job, to be able to truly design meaningful educational experiences for students who will run our world, with or without their degrees, in the (very) near – future.
Here is my proposal for y’all: generate help-seeking practices and find support for each and every single class you struggle with. Without doing this for the past 5 years, I would have 100% been weeded out, fallen off the rails, or have gone away.
Implicit here is the collective healing work many people in academia, including myself, haven’t done yet… due to the attachment of systems to policies rooted in the gut of dominance & control (from our GPAs to our teacher’s Salary Caps and workload). The incentives passed down by the systems act as if they were the only ones to grant us affirmation, value, and success… as if those elements cannot be created by ourselves and with our students and learning communities collectively… This is taking its toll on everyone. Just look around, how many people in higher ed. have a spark left in their eyes?
The blind pursuit of capital – or curriculum/syllabus – at the expense of humanity is the underlying flu that robs all of us of our collective worth. By virtue of growing up in the Bay Area in the early 2000’s and having friends who live in the marginalized communities we label in higher ed… we have the genius to share, that is suppressed in our traditional schooling practices, because personnel and policy do not want to invest to see our light. We gotta empower Young folks to find then understand their humanity and identity… to position them to see that you all are inherently wealthy. Contemplate this: The more we repeat a behavior, the more we you reinforce the identities associated with that behavior. In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin word essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your “repeated beingness.’”
Take a moment to reflect on what growing up in your communities, on planet Earth means? Research the famous people that grew up in your neighborhoods, or have a deep conversation with people who have played a huge role in your life and what their upbringing was like.
Schools have to reimagine what they think of as curriculum, to incorporate community cultural wealth and capital to be just as essential as Computer Science, Math, English, Physics, if not more quintessential.
The moment a student registers for a class, from four principles of the book How Learning Works by Ambrose et al: 1) given their prior knowledge, 2) how they organize knowledge, 3) their motivation, 4) their current ability to be a self directed learner- BEFORE they even meet their teachers or begin the course, they will very likely be either an A student or a student who’s about to get weeded out, given the inequitable game of grades. As CS professor Seshadhri Comandur who earned his Ph.D in CS from Princeton University, states: when we blindly pursue the curriculum or syllabus, we are expecting our students to run a marathon at the end of a semester, when some can barely run a mile to begin with.
It’s when we center the human dimension, learning how to learn, incentivizing the advanced learners to engage and inspire the less motivated students… in the very little amount of shared class time we have… where we might begin that healing work for the marathon. Yes, educators are healers. And yes students who are hyped about class content and have stronger learning foundations, in our very classes, could lead mini small group lessons if given the proper guidance and human (not capital) incentive. This happens in every S.I. session I host for two dozen students in a Computer Science class by the way, this can be designed. If I can do it, you can do it too.
One of the most important things you can do for yourself is building a small support team for each one of your courses. From strategically going to office hours with a focus on human dimension before content, to tutoring centers, to reaching out to students in the class by stating: where you are with the course, what’s going well, and what you’re struggling with, and whether or not they’d like to set up a time to study together.
From research on: habit formation, Plan Act and Reflect portion in a learning doctor’s syllabus, and 100’s of office hour meetings with Jeff Anderson here is an image I created that you may save, print, or better yet, re-create for yourself in your own words.
Here’s an example focused on help-seeking practices using this table above.
- Do: Make it Obvious. We can all use help in our learning journey, that much is obvious. Lead with intentionality that you are willing to be vulnerable and be willing to communicate. Share what is going well for you and what you’re struggling with in the class and multiple dates & times you are willing to study with your peer, go into office hours, go seek tutoring services.
Don’t: Make yourself invisible to your professors, peers, and support services at your college. Don’t Do It, please.
- Do: Make it Pleasant. Think about the most fruitful experiences you’ve ever had in your life, there’s a good chance it’s with another human being. We are surrounded by fascinating people in our college journey, and we create the culture where we occupy.
Don’t: Reach out for help only 1 time with your peers, going to office hours, trying out tutoring, then giving up on that service and interaction completely. Learning how to create healthy help seeking practices will require finding the sweet spot (link), and a willingness to remember the reward at the end is much greater than content knowledge.
- Do: Make it simple. If you’re messaging your classmates on what’s going well and what you’re struggling with, along with your availability on when you could meet, copy and paste this message and send to classmates you believe in – base off their behavior and attitude in class. If you’re going into office hours, in the first week of school, put office hour times and locations into your weekly calendar to reduce friction. If you’re going into tutoring, make an appointment and follow through.
Don’t: overthink what reaching out for help really means. Remember people thirst for a human connection especially in academic settings, so lead authentically and learn together.
- Do: spend time reflecting on what you enjoyed about the help seeking practice you tried. Think about what you can do differently and what you can do better. How to prepare, how to experiment, how to adopt a growth mindset about seeking help.
Don’t: operate with a deficit lens by focusing on only what went wrong or was unsatisfying.
Fall 5 times, stand up 6.
Please share in the comments below what help-seeking practices mean to you, and what your best help-seeking practice story is!
Please try implementing the habit table above and let me know how it goes.
What are 2 useful things you found in this post – if 1 isn’t the table I drew, how can I improve on the table so it makes more sense?
What’s your number 1 habit you attribute your successes to?
What’s your habit table look like?