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Sometimes when you fall, you fly.

I’ve always profited from taking risks with my education. Not to say that my most insightful papers were written in a batting cage, or that I had a moment of enlightenment whilst reading poetry on a 10 story ledge, but my experience has been that when you ignore that little doubtful voice in the back of your mind and jump in before testing the water, you can circumvent comfort and open yourself to experiences that many people deprive themselves of due to irrational caution. Don’t do this. The water is fine. An example. I was a transplant my sophomore year of college at UNH. I found myself with two years of college level learning under my belt, but was denied a higher level seminar-style class in anthropology that was reserved for juniors and seniors. I had heard that it was a really good class… So I went anyway. This was an advanced class in anthropological theory and we spent a lot of time pouring over very old texts written in the most dense language that one can imagine this side of a legal notice of foreclosure. But the other students were “on” the moment they walked in to the class

Opportunities

To me, learning is an active experience. Something you do that teaches you a brand new life lesson. It’s extremely hard to learn without actually having a reason why or how. That reason came to me many years ago, and I got 50 bucks out of the blue! Who wouldn’t want that? There I am, sitting in class one day in seventh grade when the teacher announces, “We have a poster making contest with a reward of a hundred dollars; you kids should all make one.” So the day before it was due, I went home and make the crappiest poster, ever, in less than five minutes. So that’s how I turned it in. I submitted it knowing how terrible I did, and continued on with my day. I didn’t feel the best about the effort I put into it, but at least I tried. A week later to my complete surprise they announced that I had won 2nd place! 2nd place meant I won a fifty dollar gift card to Target. If everyone had had the same thoughts that I did, “I won’t win, there’s some perfectionist out there that is going to win just like they win everything”

Learning Through Chewing

I was running late, once again, to a group therapy session in a tall glass office building near Georgetown in the District of Columbia, and, once again, I hadn’t eaten beforehand. I hopped off my bike, locked it up and hurried through the tall glass doors and up the elevator. I punched in the door code and walked through the empty lobby, knocking on the closed door at the end of the hall. Everyone else was already in conversation as I slipped into my seat, listening closely for clues to what they had been talking about. As I did I pulled out a container of leftovers and started chowing down. There were seven of us in the room, including the therapist, ranging vastly in ages between mid-twenties to over sixty. All of us were there because we were struggling with intimacy issues, and every week we’d sit in a circle, on my therapist’s soft ash colored couches, and talk about our lives and relationships. I started group therapy two years ago because I never knew where I stood with the people closest to me in my life. Over the course of two years, in these weekly sessions, I’d gotten a

The Gig

`“Hey guys! Are you going to our awesome gig tonight? We are gonna rock your socks off!” exclaimed my good friend Cameron. Apparently he and Erek were in a “hard core” band that we just HAD to see. So, of course, whether it was out of curiosity or just to humor ourselves, my friends and I decided to go. Though we knew little about the place, we agreed to meet at the Great Mall of the Great Planes at around 7, when the gig supposedly began. Being 15 and surrounded by a bunch of 16 year old friends, I asked if anyone could give me a lift to the extravagant occasion. Luckily, Kevin agreed to take me. Arriving at my house around 6:30, I hopped into Kevin’s car, excited for the night ahead of me. I shut the door behind me, closing off the cool air outside. “Soooo…Where the hell is this place anyways?” Though I should have foreseen it, Kevin, the one who was supposed to be driving us there, had no idea where the Great Mall was and was too damn lazy to look it up. He also did not have a GPS. It was just me, him,

Learning to Speak

Learning is an everyday skill in which a person receives knowledge about a new object, word or maybe an activity. Most people learn through experience of what their stories tell. Some people learn from other people experiences or stories. I too, like to learn things through things I’ve experienced. I like to observe people’s actions, to get an idea on how to do certain things, and I am a hand on learner also. The most important thing I’ve learned is to stop being so timid, and I had to be able to speak publicly and socially. I was being taught this in school and in my home; it took at least nine years to open up. This is important to me because I never said a word coming up in school, all the way from pre-school to the 7th grade. I would speak at home and around family, but all the talking and eye contact tend to turn off at school or around my teachers and other students from school. I’m still not sure WHY I was so quiet at school. Maybe I was nervous or maybe I afraid; it could have been that I wasn’t use to talking to

Karate and the Big Chicken

At the age of eight, my son Josh took a karate class at the neighborhood community center with kids and adults of all levels. I would watch the tail end of the class when I picked him up, thinking, “I could do that.” One day, the instructor sat down beside me and asked me when I was going to join the class, so I took the leap. After a year of weekly practice I finally moved up to the next level, where we were expected to learn to spar. Josh, like all the other boys, adored sparring. I, on the other hand, was dreading it. But learning to fight back was the whole point of self-defense, wasn’t it? As the instructor explained how to “X” the straps of the protective chest pad in the back, I joked nervously “I’d like to ‘exit’ over there,” pointing toward the door. He assigned a young man about my height and weight to spar with me. With speed and precision, my sparring partner advanced toward me, ready to punch. Did I draw on my many months of drills to expertly block his strike, pivot away from the punch or counter with a kick? No,

Swimming by YouTube

It started innocently enough. An email from a friend suggesting that we do a super-short-distance all-women triathlon near where I live. Well, that’s easy! No, I didn’t know how to swim (not-drowning was about as far as I could go), I didn’t own a bike (other than the broken-down oversize man’s bike under the house that I’d rescued from a millionaire boss in New York City who VERY briefly wanted to be Lance Armstrong), and I only ran when chased…or maybe on fire. Maybe. But then it nagged at me. I was approaching my mid-40’s, and this would be a perfect opportunity to do something big. My parents raised me to believe I could do anything I wanted to–actually, it still never occurs to me that I can’t. And really, I should probably learn how to swim. Actually, I should already know. I grew up in Florida, after all. But I was the kid who always got dunked or thrown in the pool. Water was not fun for me. And putting my face in the water? Forget it. So the days and weeks went by while I debated with myself, and the triathlon filled up except for a few ridiculously

Kathryn Smeglin’s Learning Story

A large sheet of blank paper hung on the chalk board in my middle school art room. On top of the paper, in front of my quietly puzzled 8th graders, I wrote ISLAM/ISLAMIC ART. When I asked them what words came to mind when they read the paper, they barely paused before calling out in torrents, ‘Suicide bomber! Twin Towers! Terrorist! Habib! Plane! Hijacking! Turban! Caves! Osama! Jihad!’ With fewer than 5 minutes of class gone, the diverse group was in chaos. Kids were leaping from their chairs. Two students had to be removed from the room. I grabbed the guidance counselor from across the hall to calm the class while the principal (who was fortunately passing by at that moment) talked down two friends who were ready to punch each other. Obviously this was a lesson we needed to continue. When the class came back together, everyone was quiet. The first student to speak said, ‘I don’t think it’s fair that people should be able to say those things! Not all Muslims are like that.’ ‘ ‘Yeah. My friend is Muslim, and he’s not a terrorist.’ This sentiment echoed around the class. Several students apologized for their comments, noting

Kenneth Bernstein’s Learning Story

Can we call this learning how important it is to empower students? My last year at Kettering Middle School, where I first taught, I had only two classes of 8th grade students, each of which I saw for two 73-minute periods a day, teaching them English, Reading, and American History. I wanted them to work on being able to tell personal narratives. I prepared them using several approaches. First, we read a passage from Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored by Clifton Taulbert. The passage we read was about going to see the circus, but were evicted by an usher and were told ‘This ain’t the night for niggers/\.’ Given the largely African-American makeup of my classes, I suppose there was some risk, but my students knew of my own work in civil rights, and were willing to trust me. The next day I came dressed as a Roman Catholic Monsignor. I then put up two different versions of a personal narrative of my own life, when I as a student of Jewish background was enrolled in a masters program at a Roman Catholic Seminary. While I was Christian, I was not Catholic. One of my teachers, Monsignor

Scott Nine’s Learning Story

I still remember every book I was asked to read for Dr. Tom Nolen’s class, The One and the Many. It was my first semester at Northern Arizona University. I entered the classroom curious — but also defined. Raised a devout and conservative Christian, I had helped my family start a church and began giving sermons when I was 14. At 16, my charisma and speaking gifts had me sharing a sermon about every other month with a congregation of 260 people. I was the student body president of my high school, captain of the football team, and the valedictorian to boot. I made the last minute decision to attend NAU, a state school, because the cost and distance of going to the Christian college of choice seemed too big at the time. On the first day of class, Dr. Nolen set the tone. He was inviting us into a large, complex, and uncomfortable conversation. How does society balance the needs and rights of individuals with that of the whole? What can we learn from exploring different views through literature and discussion? There were about 20 of us. The course would be rigorous. We were to keep a weekly journal,

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