I Really Am Not Good With Word Limits

Rather than the typical I-Cannot-Believe-My-First-Year-of-College-is-Over post, I would like to share my thoughts and concepts from classes that I believe changed my perspective on education. The Craft of Teaching, Politics and Public Education and Learning about Learning: Classrooms in Context are three classes that deeply influenced the thoughts in this post.
What constitutes good teaching? My initial response to that question before college: the teacher. As a rising sophomore, I am not so sure if I have such a straightforward answer to that question. While it is true that teachers have a huge impact in the classroom, there are other factors that make a classroom a positive environment for learning. I have come to realize that teaching and learning are related but different concepts. According to the McDonald Triangle, teaching consists of three, sometimes opposing forces, the student, the teacher and the curriculum. At times, once aspect dominates the other two. With No Child Left Behind, and the incoming Common Core, the curriculum aspect is now dominating the bulk of what influences teaching. Student influences on teaching continue to shrink because of standardized testing. Some teachers do teach to the test and with policymakers trying to tie job security to test scores, I can see why.
I have come to realize the difference between college and high school in simply two words: teaching and learning. In high school, teachers try to get students to learn. High school teachers make themselves available to students during lunch or before/after school and some through email and cellphone. High school teachers are still somewhat responsible for grades. However, things are different in college. Professors are only required to teach—not to make you learn. I believe a striking difference between the two levels of education is the commitment of the student. In high school, the teacher provides structure, takes attendance gives homework etc. As a high school student, my commitment to learning did not require much effort: shows up to class, do classwork, do homework. In college, there is no homework, no classwork and the professor rarely takes attendance. So what? It means that it is up to the students to take responsibility for their own learning. Simply put, teachers teach and students learn. However, it is possible that teachers teach and students do not learn.
Even then with a quality teacher, a positive learning experience is not guaranteed. And the question becomes “ why is that?” I believe that it is primarily due to the difference between every individual student. Tracking, separating pupils by academic ability into groups for all subjects or certain classes and curriculum within a school, occurs in schools and is most apparent in high school. Students that tend to do better than their peers tend to take AP or IB courses. Where does this education inequality come from and how can we as a society address that? One typical response is: the teacher is responsible for student learning and teachers should be held responsible for the inequality in the education system. However, I believe that this response puts the blame on teachers when there are factors that are out of the teacher’s control, such as student backgrounds, socioeconomic status, area of residence. It is not fair to put all the blame on just teachers alone. Policymakers, in their attempt to address the education inequality, instead widened the inequality gap. No Child Left Behind, with the goal of achieving 100% proficiency by 2014, is just one example of how policymakers widened the inequality gap. With each state free to set its own arbitrary proficiency goals, it is important to consider education inequality between states. While you’re at it, consider the education inequality between urban and suburban settings. Wealthier parents have the option to move to a different neighborhood, while lower-working class parents are not as free to move. In addition, schools with more money, (read cities with more money) have the ability to attract high quality teachers with salary and benefits that urban districts may not be able to provide. In this situation, less wealthy school districts are left with a smaller pool of qualified teachers. In short, inequality in education exists on every level, between students, schools, districts and states.

There is no silver bullet to fix the inequality in the education system. But I believe that the first step is to addressing the issue is to realize the problems with current system.

I Forgot to Post This 6 Months Ago

The first semester of college is over. Honestly, I do not know how I feel about it. My first semester was filled with fun, excitement, satisfaction and disappointment. An overall experience, I find myself enjoying every bit of college, even the academic struggles and challenges of writing multiple papers at once. I have met some amazing people and had the opportunity to get close with my professors. I already feel like I am part of the Brown community despite being there for a brief four month.
My first semester was a fun-filled adventure. Looking back, I enjoyed getting to know my unit through orientation week events, such as Unit Wars and monthly Unit Meetings with the usual abundance of food, whether it is curry or baked chocolate chip cookie or a chocolate fountain. I remember earlier in the year, I was worried about adapting and doing typical things—laundry. I learned that compared to classes and lab, laundry is really easy. I also met a solid group of friends where we simply do random things in a room together, such as playing board games, going out to eat, or poking each other on Facebook, despite being right next to each other. Whatever we end up doing, we always somehow end up laughing and creating great memories. One night, in a room with whiteboard walls, we drew targets and threw aluminum foil balls at circles we drew.
Unfortunately, not everything was fun and games. Classes I took at Brown were on a completely different level than high school courses. One would think “duh, college” but going into classes, I had no idea what to expect. The smart thing for me to do would be to assess the situation and tell myself that high school level work would not lead me to a successful path in college. Well, I did not do that, until my first midterm. I think high school adequately prepared me for college and there were times when I let myself fail—not on purpose, but because I had no idea what to expect. Homework and classwork had a different feel; professors expect quality work, not some paper done four hours before it was do. Professors have a higher expectation from students. In terms of preparation and difficulty, I would like to believe that I was well prepared in content but completely taken by surprise by the high expectations of professors.
Satisfaction and disappointment. Where do I begin? Midterms, believe it or not, is a contributor to grades, but doing poorly on a midterm does not mean life is over. I had multiple bad midterm papers and one mediocre exam (67/100). As I said earlier, high school papers are not acceptable. Well, I learned that lesson. At first glance, 67 is a D. Grading based on the average is a new system for me. Turns out I was close the average on that exam. I definitely felt the satisfaction of passing the exam. I am actually glad that I had a few bad midterms. I gave me the opportunity to reflect on my actions. Sure I was bummed for a few days, I knowingly set low standards for myself and barely accomplish them. But at the same time, I knew I had to make changes; sleeping earlier will be beneficial for me. As I think back on this moment, however, I strongly believe that this is a moment of personal growth.
My time at Brown reinforces my belief that grades do not and should not play a pivotal role in higher education. Yes, grades are a significant factor, but I do not believe that a letter on a piece of paper is a strong indicator of personal growth. To me, learning take a higher priority that a grade. What I take away from a course, whether it is a life-changing course or not, cannot fully be represented by a letter grade. Yes, the rest of the world will need to see a grade point average but at the same time, this is my education and I will try to make it as meaningful to me as possible for me, and not for the rest of the world.

Thanksgiving at Brown

First Thanksgiving at college! Unfortunately, I will not be returning home for this extended weekend. However, a majority of the people I know are, leaving me and one other person the only people on my floor. The library is closed on Thanksgiving, so doing my research paper using non-digital sources is going to be impossible. On top of that, most of the on-campus eateries are closed for this weekend, meaning I only have one place to get food on campus. On Thanksgiving, finding food is a struggle. Most of the restaurants near the campus are closed for the day. In addition, the only eatery that I can get food from my meal plan opens at 11:30. I was hungry at 10.
Despite my food problems on this one day, for the most part, my college experience has been amazing. Last week, while celebrating my friend’s birthday, we went to Dave and Buster’s, coincidentally on Brown University’s Senior Dave and Buster’s night. Basically, we got free $10 play card from Brown University, even though my friends and I are not seniors. I am also pleased that midterm season is officially over. Why is it called a midterm when there are 2 midterms during the course? I still have no idea. But a junior told me midterms do not end until finals. I am not sure if this is true, but it is difficult for me to grasp that I only have one more week of class before reading period.
The exams at Brown are different from exams in high school. Essay expectations are higher, and professors expect a lot from students. On the bright side, going to office hours to get help with essays really do help. I often find that I have a vague idea of what to write and solidifying those ideas after a 10-minute conversation with the professor. I also learned to show up early for in class exams. This important because even though I showed up before the exams were distributed, I was stuck in a left-handed seat. First-world problems. In the future, I will show up about 10 minutes earlier so I can get a good seat.

This semester went by so quickly. Hopefully I do well on my future exams and I am truly glad that I am here.

Getting Settled in College

College. Yes, summer is over and now I have to accept the fact that once again there will be homework. Then again, I had a summer reading assignment, which turned into summer homework because I procrastinated. The purpose of the assignment is to provide “common intellectual experiences that introduces them to the University and to the pleasures and rigors of undergraduate academic life.”But I am excited to venture into this next step of my life at Brown University in Rhode Island. It also means moving far, very far, from the Bay Area and California itself. While I am grateful for the opportunity to get to go to college, this will also be the first time I will be on my own for such a long period of time. I feel both excited and nervous at the same time; no one will be doing laundry or cooking for me.

I am writing this paragraph of the post on the airplane. Why? There is really nothing else to do on the airplane except sleep. Even though there is Direct TV on the plane there is only one free channel, which prompts me to use my credit card to get other movies or more channels. So I will say this again. A five, almost six, hour flight from San Francisco International Airport to Boston at night is boring. On top of that, it is difficult to get comfortable because of the cramped spaces. Plus, it really isn’t flying unless there is a crying baby. Fortunately the baby didn’t start crying until about halfway through the flight. Unfortunately the baby started crying about halfway through the flight. At this moment, I envy those who can drive to their colleges. At least they have elbow room.

It rained last night. Having rain for the first time in a while, and this was not a drizzle but a downpour of water. IT FELT REALLY GOOD. I couldn’t help but to think about home as I was walking with friends back to the dorm after an alcohol talk. The one thing on my mind is that I am not in a drought anymore. Despite the humidity and the time gap, I am really enjoying myself here at Brown, the students and adults are friendly and seem to be open to anything.

One thing I would like to get done before my first day of school is to figure out my sleeping schedule. There is a three-hour time difference between California and Rhode Island; it also means that getting to sleep at 11 P.M. in California translates into 2 A.M. Rhode Island. All the orientation events go to late hours as well, some ending at 1:30 in the morning. So hopefully I can adjust to the time difference so that sleep deprivation will not be a problem for me the first few days of class.