Hey Teacher! Give those Kids a Different Role.

Gold stars, sweets from the teacher’s candy jar, and “Proud Parent of an Honor Roll Student” bumper stickers are the favored instruments of an education system that induces passivity, punishes non-conformity, and prepares students for a life of pleasing the gatekeepers.

Most of us were subjected to this system right out of diapers. As products of this system, most of us subject our children to this system without reflection. What kinds of behavior does this system condition it members to exhibit?

  • Sit quietly at their desks
  • Color within the lines
  • Take copious notes during class
  • Nod one’s head in approval whenever the teacher speaks
  • Circle their answers on the exam

While some of these behaviors are admirable, as a whole this system is failing to prepare our students for the future.

In some ways I perpetuate this system at the collegiate level.

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Who do you think you are? Thought leader, ha! Who asked for your opinion? This is the self-doubting commentary I have struggled with and continue to struggle with from time to time. Some of us have no trouble standing up, speaking out, and throwing our ideas and thoughts into the world. For a long time, I was not one of them. What was I waiting for? Pedigree.

I never believed I had it.

What is it?

Let’s take a bit of a detour and let my research on combat answer the question.

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Write Now!

van_halen_5150_logo_by_uberkid64-d34cbwhThe email had one word in the subject line: “Mentor”. Once invoked, my priorities are adjusted, schedule rearranged, and attention redirected.  That word is my personal “Bat Signal”.  Let me tell you a bit about the former (non-traditional) student of mine who flipped the switch.

He sends me emails, sometimes at 3 am in morning, with kick-ass links to interesting events, people, and ideas.

He introduced me to Seth Godin (thank you!).

Books show up on my front porch with titles like “The 48 Laws of Power” (incredible) and “Mastery” (still working through it but incredible) – each with a short note of encouragement inscribed inside of the cover.

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Processing Failure

how-many-lights-do-you-seeNinety global partners have joined us this April to celebrate the 2013 Month of Microfinane (MoMF). It’s a list of who’s who: Kiva, Accion, CGAP, MIX Market, Microplace, and Whole Foods’ Whole Planet Foundation to name just a few. Through our digital platform, my students and I have connected high school, college and graduate students the world over with each other and the microfinance community. We have built a global community focused on facilitating a nuanced conversation around the ideas of client-centered microfinance. My students are right at the center – working with our partners, guiding them in how to participate, and authoring blog posts.  To top it all off, we launched the 2013 MoMF with a video post from Professor Muhammad Yunus – winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. All of this, all of it, was accomplished with only a $25 budget!

So, how do you launch a global grassroots movement on a $25 budget?

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Five Captains

When your dissertation committee shakes your hand and welcomes you into the ranks, you enter the job market with everything you need to be a professor. Everything, that is, except the training to be an effective teacher. That is something you are left to figure out on our own. So, who do you model yourself after?

You have your dissertation committee members, of course. You also have your college professors. Teaching, however, is so much more than the expert transmission of knowledge from one individual to a group of other individuals. Effective teaching requires leadership.  Your job is to lead a classroom of diverse individuals (some eager, others capable but shy, and still others anxious) into an intellectual territory well-trodden by yourself but uncharted by them. So, who do you model your leadership style after?

You have your parents. You have your coaches. You have your scout leaders. You have your former bosses. And, of course, you have your five Star Trek Captains.

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I Do Not Know

“Dr. Humphrey, I think your calculation is incorrect.”

I looked at the formula. I looked at my notes.  I looked at the student who asked the question. I was only covering the price elasticity of demand, in a principles course mind you. Yet, my head was still thick with a cold and he appeared competent and confident in his statement.

I took another stab at it.

I turned back around for his feedback. Expecting a nod of approval, he shook his head.

I looked back down at my notes. I looked back at the whiteboard. I turned around and looked at the 60 faces staring at me. I was all alone. No one was coming to my rescue. I grasped the notes in my hand a little tighter. I could feel the panic start to rise. I looked at the clock. There were only two minutes left in class. “All right, we will pick this up next week. Have a good weekend” I said with a significant sigh of relief.

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Blue Collar

Chalk HandsI miss chalkboards. After teaching a class, it was always rewarding to look down and see my pants covered in chalk. I could open up my hands and see the thick calloused hands of the men and women of my family. My hands are not thick. My hands are not calloused. However, when we had chalkboards, they could at least be dirty. And, at the end of the day, I could reassure myself that I did work today.  I had earned my keep. I had provided for my family. I was whole.

Those hands represent the hands of my mother cleaning the Burger King fryer at 3 am in morning. Those hands represent my Grandfather driving a rig for Roadway. The men and women of my family worked with their hands. They cleaned other people’s homes. They work behind machines day in and day out.  We are a blue collar family.

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Where We Become La Ceiba

I could not sleep last night. All night long Honduras has been calling me back. How could a place I do not call home have such a hold on me?  What does this place mean to me and my students?  How do I explain the importance of Honduras to others?  How do I let them know that experiencing Honduras together is pivotal?

To borrow a turn of phrase from one of my students, Honduras is where we become La Ceiba.

Honduras is where we my students become the experts and I become an observer. Whether they are teaching a class, interviewing a client, executing a loan or orchestrating a meeting, they have no choice other than to take the lead and rise to the occasion.

Honduras is where we feel the true weight, pressure and responsibility of our work.

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