How can I, the individual, come into the class and be in a way that is mindful?
How can we work together to talk across difference and engage multiple perspectives to be productive?
Janekka: I was intimidated by the rumors of taking Foundations of Education. I was told it would probably be the hardest class in the College of Education and that Dr. Huckaby is a hard grader. The unknown placed me in a vulnerable state. After reading the syllabus, and interacting with Dr. Huckaby and her Teaching Apprentice, Mila, I found comfort in believing,
It’s going to be ok; this is a safe place.
I relinquished the fear and embraced the experience. Dr. Huckaby points out the dynamics of the class by saying, “We could think about this notion of paradox as having conversations across differences, across possible co-existences that look at what kind of rules we would need to make co-existence of contradictions possible.” We believe that given the conversations and dynamics of the class space ground rules provide comfort and accountability that set up the tone of the space. I was choosing to be mindful of the experiences of my fellow colleagues, teaching apprentice, and professor. I had to be fully present and not just think about grades.
In a conversation with Dr. Huckaby, we discussed biases and beliefs in the context of this class and she shared her concerns about not influencing students with her own beliefs. She stated,
I get passionate and frustrated and angry about what we [as a society] do with education. You know it’s not just an intellectual endeavor; I can’t do it in a neutral way. I’m wondering if some of the reasons why I create assignments that take us to other places and times is because the distance makes it easier for me, as the professor, to be open to students approaching the assignments in multiple ways, to not have my views about particular issues spill over too much. I’m wondering what you think of that, like is it worth taking the risk of showing my political stripes?
Katie: If I were to answer Dr. Huckaby’s question I would say yes; yes it is worth it. We believe in order to fully be present and productive in the space, both the professors and students should be honest about their biases. As a student, I know the risks are real in being my full self. The risks are real for everyone in the classroom, professors included. To be anything but a version close to one’s real self would defeat the purpose of the class. The problems are real, so we must be real; the importance goes further by acknowledging issues, facing issues, and talking about them. The key to showing your bias in a space involves remaining critical and respectful of the experiences and voices of each other. Through conversations in this class, I learned to be mindful—to control emotions, listen to other voices, and to ultimately talk across notions of difference.
Janekka: I believe, critical dialogue teaches us to have uncomfortable conversations that stretch us beyond our borders, allowing the expression of opposing views. Much of my previous group was cooperative learning, where we focused on specific subjects to achieve certain content and pedagogical skills. This class broke barriers of group work and made me think beyond the borders of a textbook—to question my view of the world, education, and myself. I think critical dialogue needs to be present in classes. Critical conversations produce another level of learning. For instance, I became acquainted with my colleagues in our cohort one year prior to this class. Through dialogue, I became mindful of who they were. Generalizing from this course, I believe educators should model authentic dialogue by first being honest and open with their biases to allow students to express themselves within the boundaries of respect.
Katie: Although I believe owning and naming our bias is important, I think we need to be gentle with each other when coming to the shared classroom. There were times when I felt like I was being thrown into an ocean and it became a “sink or swim” moment, because this class changed almost everything I thought I knew; about my family, my friends, my life, my reality, and my profession. It invaded the surest parts of my being and rattled them. I went from knowing what was true in my life—that I would be a great teacher, that I was a good person—to realizing that the way I came to know these things were shaped and maybe created by the lens I use to see. My lens isn’t the same as yours, yours isn’t the same as mine; so I am left with not being sure what true means, what real means, or how I know things to be real and true. So you can see, I am now in the ocean, alone and afraid; all because of one class. The moment I thought I was ready to burst with anger and embarrassment, I made it to an island. Still feeling lonely and confused, but I had my feet; I was standing. What was this island?
As a TA, I was able to see the very intentional planning that went into the class. The class is partly meant to shake things up and to make us uncomfortable. There is a need to see things in a way that is different from our own; but I can also see that being in the ocean isn’t because of the class. Feeling alone in the ocean is because of everything that happens before the class. Dr. Huckaby reflects on her intentions when she writes,
The intentions for this class are genuine and well thought out.
My intention as an educator is to try and create a space where students are also teachers and teachers are also students. I think the structure of the class iterates that at times, but I think the imposed hierarchies get in the way; the grading is impossible to escape. The assessment and feedback is necessary but doesn’t necessarily have to be grades, but in this university context grading is inevitable, gets in the way at times, and adds that extra layer of stress.
Janekka: A key to being productive in this space, in my experience, has been collaboration. Students, teaching assistants/apprentices and professors work together given the power dynamics and hierarchy imposed by the university setting. Although, grades were more connected to collaboration with peers than the hierarchy of the institution. Coming together to learn, you will have to work with and depend upon each other—to read, to understand, to discuss, to wrest meaning, to share, to write.