Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Education Remuneration

A while back, as I opined against merit based pay for educators, Max commented as follows:
Kenny, I would like to hear your thoughts on the tenor of the debate surrounding teacher salaries and how to get rid of "bad teachers" and motivate "good teachers." I personally imagine that the character of the lazy tenured-teacher is a rarely realized as the myth of the welfare queen, driving around in her pink Cadillac fueled by government handouts and the tax dollars of true-blue hard-working citizens. Is this scapegoat a threat, Kenny, or a smokescreen?
Since I am a big fan of comments, I try to address requests made therein, either further along in the comment stream or in an... eventual... post of its own. This one seemed worthy of the latter.

Let me first note that I may be guilty of the same arrogance in success of the ex-smoker scoffing at how addicting cigarettes are, but no matter how personally invested in their classes my teachers seemed, they seemed uniformly willing to encourage my exploration if I showed an interest in the material. As my sister recently reminded me, I had a class where I would turn in an entire semester's worth of work two weeks before the end of the semester, because it was accepted late up until that point, but in that same class I would enjoy the discussions, ask questions, and learn quite a bit. This, perhaps, colors my view of merit based pay and apathetic tenured-teachers.

I think that it is much more important to motivate students to learn, something a teacher has limited control over, rather than to motivate teachers to teach. However, I would like to change some aspects of the teaching profession. Most fundamentally, I would make teaching qualifications much more demanding than they apparently are. Requiring mastery in a subject before one is permitted to teach it would serve the purpose of giving teachers greater ability to explain to their students in a coherent and well informed manner and, as with any increase in standards, serve to weed out those who view teaching as an easy, fall back, career.

Along similar lines, I think making salary decisions based on demonstrated mastery of their subject, rather than highest level degree achieved in general, would be beneficial. My impression thus far, having spent the better part of 20 years in scholarly settings, is that the only people who don't consider Education classes a joke are people who teach Education classes. Encouraging deeper knowledge in a applicable field seems more useful and likely to further weed out roustabouts. Replacing pedantic Education classes with some manner of apprentice/mentor relationship seems like a worthwhile consideration as well.

Of course, considering that we experience teacher shortages as it is, one might ask how is it even possible to continue raising the bar? And here the issue of salaries come in. If we want to attract more people with a good educational standing into the teaching field, we need to better compete with the opportunities that they have in other fields. Granted, the calling to be a teacher may, in some measure, balance against the money one can make in other endeavors, but being able to support one's family is pleasant.

There you go Max, I hope you feel better soon!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Travelogue II: Fear and Hope

There have been two main emotions evoked thus far in my travelings, assuming exhaustion is not an emotion, and they are fear and hope. Let us start with the fear, for it came first.

Aside from the mundane fears of missing flights, connections, or getting stabbed to death in the gritty streets of Portland, I experienced some more interesting fears this trip. As I mentioned yesterday, I started out at the wrong terminal, which definitely contributed to my fear of missing my flight; however, on the bus I experienced a different type of fear. I took a shuttle to the other terminal and, in the course of that interminable seeming journey, two men of vaguely Persian appearance got on board. And let me stress here that it was very much of vague appearance; logically I realize that their facial features match those of people that I know from the Indian Subcontinent all the way to Italy. However, after they shared a slight nod, I began to evaluate whether or not they were a threat.

Of course my association of their appearance with the Middle East informed my fear in the encounter, and of course I think that this is an undesirable thing. That said, I think it is an important thing to admit and confront. When the frenzy of condemnation for the NPR analyst occurred, I was tempted to make a similar point, but cowed into quiet by the overwhelming negative backlash to his revelation. From my understanding he was trying to say that increased wariness around people perceived to be of Middle Eastern descent was both natural and should not be condemned.

I agree with both points, although perhaps for different reasons than he has. It is natural; human beings associate to concepts whether we are being told that they are linked, or being explicitly told that they are not. So, whatever you say when you argue about all Irishmen being drunkards, you are reinforcing the mental connection between the concepts. I also agree that it should not be condemned, not because it is desirable that we have these fears, not even because it is natural that we have these fears, but because I believe an open, rational examination of our darker emotions is beneficial necessary if we are to come to terms with them, rather than be ruled by them. If we produce public outcry when people admit to these human failings, it seems that we only push them deeper, which seems to causes them to fester rather than disappear. Try not to think about white bears, you only end up thinking about them more. Thus, I would rather see admission, without acceptance, of such problematic responses, as I am trying to do here.

That is all I have to say about that facet of fear, but I do think it worth noting the other thoughts that entered my mind as I wondered if the shuttle that I was on was about to become a smoldering wreckage. One big thought was that it was terribly unlikely to be the case, followed by the more interesting and less comforting thought that the same could be said to be true for anyone else right before they were blown up. This led to some wondering if other victims of sudden bombings were considering whether they were about to become victims right before they did. Of course, some people have sure knowledge that they are in danger, but I was curious if someone else had been reassuring themselves that this sort of thing was terribly unlikely to occur to them at this specific moment, right before it actually occurred. An interesting exercise in imagination, and all I have to say about this experience.

The next big fear I experienced was caused by turbulence taking off in Denver. There had been a little rough air on our descent, but nothing compared to the shaking we experienced on the way out. I felt something different between the abstract recognition that the aircraft was being shaken quite powerfully, and the visceral response that I had to my falling sensation being activated repeatedly. The involuntary terror of this experience led me to wonder if I could keep my composure in a panicked situation. Setting aside the fact that I think calm produces better results than panic, even if there were no way for me to affect my demise, I should prefer to end my life in quiet reflection, rather than mindless terror. This is one of the reasons I try to look out the window as I land, as last experiences go, soaring over the ground does not seem like a terrible one.

And, after all the fear was released, there still was hope left at the bottom of my heart. At the Beaverton library, a beautiful structure by the way, I was quite upset to discover the Wi-Fi required an ID and password to access. Their gorgeous facility turned mocking in my mind if they were the first library I had ever encountered to limit free use of the Internet thusly. However, when I resorted to asking directions to Powell's bookstore, the destination I was trying to look up, I noticed a list of usernames and passwords for guests to use on the desk. This library, like all the others I had visited, did have Internet, for free, for anyone who cared to partake. As I walked away from that lovely building, it occurred to me that we build these places in so many of our cities and towns. Places where people give away books and information for free to those so inclined to make use of them responsibly. Public libraries were already a place that held great emotional meaning to me, and this seems a good reason to add more. This seems like something worth inspiring a little hope for us poor, frightened, lost humans.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I caught the embers of a beautiful sunset over Denver which was a great ending to the day. Of course, that was six hours ago and I am still awake, but by now the word "day" has taken on a very malleable meaning. But, I am back on break, so it is time for me to resume putting up blog posts. I shall endeavor to get two a couple of topics I was asked to elaborate on, but today we shall discuss my Monday/Tuesday.

For reasons of sleep and stress, Monday and Tuesday have sort of been one big day to me, one in which I took a lot of naps, but a day nonetheless. Monday started with the usual semester end "celebration," proctoring, then spending six hours in a room with the other MTH 133 instructors/TA's grading 500 or so exams. However, instead of finishing grading then proceeding to enter grades and relax, instead I spent much of the evening attempting to scratch the arcane surface of my number theory homework. The less said about that, the better. I whiled away the rest of the night watching TV on the internet packing. Then I went back in to the math building, where exhaustion caught up with me and I grabbed two hours of sleep on my office floor. Why did I come to school then fall asleep first thing, rather than sleeping in my own bed, probably out of fear that I wouldn't wake up on time from my own bed.

After scraping myself off the floor, I "finished" my assignment, as well as some administrative tasks, ran some errands, and prepared to venture to the bus. The Wi-Fi was not working on the bus, so I grabbed another hour of sleep in between stops. Unfortunately, I debarked at the wrong terminal, so I was heading into security when my flight was "officially" beginning boarding. Fortunately, security, while crowded, went very smoothly, and I made it to the terminal before the flight actually started boarding. As mentioned, landing in Denver I was treated to a beautiful post-sunset sky. Unfortunately, I landed in Denver at the same time that my next flight was, again "officially," supposed to begin boarding. In reality, we were to the gate at about the same time as boarding began. Since my next flight was just one terminal over, this gave me time to purchase and scarf a sub, since I hadn't eaten in about 12 hours.

Fast forward, I am safe in Oregon. I have no idea what I am doing tomorrow, but I'm sure something will happen, and hopefully it will be good. I have some further thoughts inspired by traveling, but this post has been quite long enough, so expect those tomorrow.