There is hope for Humanity

Yesterday in several Mexican cities, the so-called Pro-Family Demonstration was carried out by what it is said to be thousands of people, all aligned to different conservative groups. The main self-proclaimed goal of this demonstration was to show support for the traditional model of what a family is supposed to be like: Mother, Father, and children. These groups are openly against the Executive’s law proposal to reform the Constitution to allow for marriage to be between two people, instead of, as it has been until now, between a man and a woman. This demonstration of intolerance and discrimination against other ways of life is slowly having less support from Mexican society as a whole, and particularly, among the younger generation.

As this demonstration was taking place, I had to grade 78 partial exams. Yes, se-ven-ty-eigh-ttt. For the Critical Thinking section of this exam, my students were required to write an essay about the Orlando Shooting, and while not all of them will be happy with the grade they earned, I was pleased with every single one of them. This is surely a small sample, and certainly not representative of Mexican Youth, but I felt proud of them and hopeful for human kind as I was reading kind words of respect and tolerance when talking about gender identity and interculturality.

What pleased me the most were the few who very assuringly stated that they did not agree with homosexuality. To be tolerant in the face of something we embrace is not that hard, so to speak with respect about something that is in conflict with your own set of values has a special worth to me. Even those who wrote that  homosexuality was against their religious beliefs, all were respectful and embraced the right of people to express their gender identity as they seemed fit.

While outside there were people spreading words of discrimination, either out of ignorance or out of hatred, my young grasshoppers were making me proud. It is not a secret that I dislike grading, but this time, as hard as it was to get it done through the weekend on top of the other stuff, it was worth it. Thank you young ones for giving us hope in the future.

And now, back to more grading…

 

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End of Semester reflection.

When I was taking a mindfulness workshop a few years ago, I was told one of the best healing practices we could do, was to practice gratitude. Most of us (at least where I am from) are told to say “thank you”, almost by default, without ever learning how to feel grateful for what we have and are given. Now that another semester has gone by, I want to express how grateful I feel.

This semester was particularly exciting. I must confess (sorry boss!) I was not exactly thrilled when they told me about one of the classes I was going to teach this Spring: Global Entrepreneurship. As someone who after working in international businesses and trade came out sick and tired of it, I was not looking forward to teach it. And then, I learned about how much Entrepreneurship (at least at Prepa Tec) has changed in the last few  (yes, FEW!) years since I took it, and that was the first thing to be thankful about.

Students in that class have a shot at solving some of our community’s most pressing issues: poverty, mental health, lack of opportunity, pollution, traffic, food waste, quality of education, animals rights, obesity, youth alcoholism, bullying, among others. They had to create either a product or a service that would be a step towards solving their targeted problem, with the goal of eradicating it if implemented formally. Some of their projects left me in awe with the level of commitment shown by the young grasshoppers, and how invested they were in doing the best job their could. I am grateful for those who took the time to go beyond their comfort zone, to expand their sphere of perception to the world around them, and to truly and sincerely wanting to make the world a better place.

Giving away final grades is usually a painful process, as it is never pleasant to me to have students fail my class. Why is it that some students think teachers take pleasure in it? Their fail sometimes feels like (and sometimes, it might be) my failure too, and it saddens me. It is always the hardest when a students does not earn enough credits to pass the course, and I could see that they cared, that they worked hard, and still fell short. That is tormenting. And surely there are those students who go to revision trying to pluck whatever credit they can for the most ridiculous reasons and with the most outrageous excuses. Those drag me from annoyance to exasperation. I am grateful for my colleagues, who understand and go through the same discouragement, and for being not only a shoulder, but also a hand and a brain when I need it.

The past couple of days were full of mixed feelings, and I am grateful the good moments completely tipped the balance against the sour ones. As there were moments like the ones I wrote above, there were plenty of incredibly moving ones. When a student lets me know they enjoyed my class and that they thank me for a great semester, it surely brings me joy. And when they tell me they could feel that I cared about them, that I care about teaching and what I teach, and that they truly enjoyed our time together, I am deeply humbled. Furthermore, when they tell me about how our class made them see the world differently, or to make them think twice before buying things, my heart skips a beat. I am grateful for and to them, because even though sometimes this world seems like it is going downhill, I am grateful it will be in hands of people like them, and that they are up and ready for great things to come their way.

 

 

Ludification of Education

Play. Game. Sport. Training. 

I have been reading Ready Player One for a couple of days now, and one of the planets in the virtual world described in the novel is called Ludus. The main character reflects on the meaning of the word, and in turns made me think about one of the current trends in education these days.

I am one of those teachers that embraces technology in the classroom. Heck, I even feel jealous of science professors sometimes: they get to play with robots and drones! I use digital tools whenever possible, as I believe it makes the class more engaging for a group of students that is by now used to, if not expectant of, to classes being taught in this manner. It is however, a trend that it seems that in some cases it has lost focus and has forgotten that, above all, the goal for the use of these technologies should be aligned with learning objectives.

I was lucky enough not to have jumped into the teaching profession without a certain degree of preparation. From an online TEFL certification (which was surprisingly interesting and focused more on the actual teaching part), to Graduate School Seminars on Pedagogy, I had the chance to learn about learning and guiding others to learn. I do not claim by all means being an expert, as I recognize that as in any profession, many teaching skills are developed only through experience, but for a young professor like myself, I can safely say I am doing rather well.

And this is where I worry. I worry that in an effort to reach to a generation of youngsters (argh, using that word makes me feel old!), the so-called millennials (by most standards I qualify as being one of them… but that is another story), a lot of what happens inside the classroom is not quite addressing the challenges they will be facing. These challenges will arise not only when they go out and become part of the working force, but also in their next few years in college, and I fear we (I?) are not preparing them well. Not everybody can go on not to finish school and build their own start-up service-centered company, and most won’t even want to.

During the past week, most of my students attended a series of college-level classes and activities. Instead of feeling all pumped-up about their college experience, some complained about how boring and how long their classes where. Of course: you have a room full of students who are used to be entertained by the ‘miss’ or ‘mister’ (talk about treating them like babies! *barf*) in front of them, and put them in a lecture-centered classroom. It wouldn’t matter who is leading the lecture, and how engaging this professor really is: they will still be looking for the game, for the treat, for the extra-credit. No extra-credit? Not even regular credit? Won’t do it. Researching? It is not in the first three hits on Google? It doesn’t exist. It is a sad stage of affairs, but not entirely their fault.

The more we pander to this culture of treating students like kids, like crying-babies mommy gives them a toy (tablet?) to play so they shut-up, the less likely they will mature soon enough to face their upcoming professional challenges. Of course, this is good news for the few who actually care and use their digital-skills for improving their educational experience, but for those who fail to do so, I hope their parents set up a trust fund. Being a generation with the basic skills already embedded in them, they should be the most productive generation ever, and somehow only few reach that potential.

Part of the problem, and of the solution, lies within the professors themselves. We must embrace technology in the classroom, but not as means to entertain the class (which most times tends to be the case), but for the students themselves to use them wisely. But we also need to teach discipline (when did discipline acquired such a bad rep?), frustration-management (and its offspring, persistence), and why not, even how to handle those rather idle moments and to be able to tell between actual boredom and the need to focus in just one thing other than a screen.

Because of our emphasis on the playing part of ludification, we seem to have missed the training part of it. Good luck young grasshoppers: you have a tough way ahead.

 

 

 

Growing up

People have different milestones they mark for determining when do we go from one life stage to another. I guess today I am achieving one of those. 

I am writing in the few available minutes I have before my first Jornada Académica (Academic session), which seems to be a larger event than what I first expected. Never mind the topic, of which I will probably have more to say later on, but, it is a win already. 

Just on arrival I come to realize that this is not just for High School teachers, but rather, for professors from all different levels. Boy do I wish I knew that. To be on the same side as many of the people I admire and learned so much from, my true inspiration in teaching, is a feeling that doesn’t wear off. 

I have a new love

And it is wonderful!

It has been some time now that I have been wanting to have a pet. With all due respect to the departed Juan The Fish, I have seriously missed that part of my life. And now, I have the pleasure to welcome little Hunter The Cat: a black, rescued, domestic (I guess that’s an euphemism for mixed breed?) kitten of just 3 1/5 months old.

I guess I am doing pretty well with my 2016 resolutions already!

48.1

“How much do they usually charge you?” Asked the taxi driver as he was dropping me off at work the other morning. “30 or 25 pesos, depending on how rich they think I am that day”, I said. “No pos…”, and he gave me 20 pesos back from my 50.

Now, as I do not wish to get any enemies at the Sitio HEB Valle Alto, I do not complain. I wish I could have said: “Do you think I would be riding a transport van and then a bus to then grab a cab, instead of just driving my own ride, if I were rich?”.

And then it occurred to me that I kind of stand out like a sore thumb whenever I take the bus. Not every route, just the ones going to the south of the city at that time of the day. Those are the ones I take when I do not make it to the university’s transport van. At that point of my commute, the bus is almost empty and it is only for a couple of kilometers.

As much as I dislike stereotyping, I will take my chances and say that I get to share the bus mostly with people four or five tiers below mine in the socioeconomic scale. Colleagues and friends seem almost in disbelief when I share some of the details on how I make it to work. In my social circle, it is assumed you already have a car by the age of 16, unless your parents do not want you driving.

I do not want to claim that a few bus rides has made me a ‘woman of the people’, nor that I understand the financial struggles some of those families must experience. But it is an eye opener to the kind of everyday hurdles those that are already swimming upstream face.

Not only does it take longer to get anywhere by public transport, but the conditions on some of the buses are quite deplorable. A longer commute to fewer places inside the city, minus the ability to look presentable (especially in such a looks-oriented society as Monterrey can be), can be a detriment for the professional achievements of some and income opportunities for others. And yet, those women that I share the bus with, they are taking that bus ride all the way south because they are catering to the needs of the burgeoning upper-middle class that is moving to the south of Monterrey.

This is one of the characteristics that has always impressed me about Monterrey. Monterrey is a city of contrasts, and it is palpable from the way the city is setup, the way it and its people look, the cars that ride their streets, and the buildings people live in. High-rise buildings are popping-up all over the city, with fancy names like Micropolis or hipsterish like La Capital. Those buildings are side by side to old housing developments (like the one I live in!) or neighborhoods like La Maspalomas (which I used to live at!), in which rent is cheap and perks are none. Unpainted houses next to all glass tall-buildings, cars that are barely recognizable from all of the spare parts they were made from driving past the Maserati dealer.

If Mexico’s GINI index is 48.1, I wonder: What is Monterrey’s?

Oh Mr. Trump!

Yesterday I went to another training session, as I start my new teaching job tomorrow. Once again, one of the things that was emphasized was that as professors and educators, one of the challenges we face with the new generation of students is that they get easily distracted. The solution: to be able to entertain them.

This is far from being the first time I hear the recommendation to add “being entertaining” to the teaching skill set. Not that I actually need to, as I have been told in more than one occasion that my class is fun (I try not to think too much about whether that is a compliment or not), but it has been constantly addressed at workshops and seminars here and abroad. Where do we draw the line between seriousness and funniness when entertaining? And where does it stop? Why do we always seek to be constantly entertained?

This is by no means limited to education, but has expanded to the news and information sphere. While in a classroom setting it is perhaps easier to handle, the line seems blurrier in politics, as the absurd has permeated reality to a extent that seemed inconceivable just a few elections ago. The Sarah Palins (who wanted to obviously stand by their North Korean allies) and the Herman Cains (Pokemon quotes, anyone?)  of the United States Republican Party have given place to the new entertaining piece of the 2016 bunch: Donald Trump. This time, however, is more of a tragedy piece rather than the plain-out-dumb comedy we were beginning to get used to in the recent past.

Someone like Donald Trump fuels with force the gear of the satire news industry. Beyond Saturday Night Live, shows such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and the kind, have little room for satire when the base material is already serving itself on a silver plate, ripe for comedic relief. The problem: when Trump is heading the polls for the Republican Party Presidential Candidate race, it is no longer funny. While in part this might be due to name recognition (the recent outrageous comments made by Trump regarding Mexicans or even Senator McCain has kept his name on the news) or perhaps the fact that he was a host of a TV show and that this is not his first GOP rodeo, it is still worrying that if the primaries were held today, he would be the one facing (probably…) Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Just like in the classroom, and in so many other settings feeling the pressure of having to entertain, politics must give place to reason and seriousness. The people leading should not be rewarded for their dumbness nor on how many re-tweets their faux-pas gets. Entertainment should give room to engagement in those settings, as engaged audiences are more active than the passive entertained ones.

If we as the public want to be entertained, we become only consumers of information, and when all we demand is trash, trash is what we will get as content. If we ask the same from our politicians, from our teachers, from our supervisors, we will open a Pandora box that will have great social consequences. What we need is that those people, those politicians, those teachers, those leaders, are capable of inspiring us to engage. The public must be willing to have an open mind, and we all must be smart enough to stand up for the challenge.