Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Teachers Are Teachers

Over the past few years I’ve developed a pretty effective strategy for life... at least, it’s been working out pretty well for me. Basically, it goes like this: “prepare to be unprepared.” Clearly, this strategy works well when you’re relocating to new countries—but what may be less obvious is that preparing to be unprepared can be an effective approach, whether you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer or a pre-school teacher.

That being said, I don’t get too worried about having all the answers. Uncertainty doesn’t freak me out—in fact, I kinda like it. A couple of weeks ago, my roommate’s friend was bombarding with questions about life in the Peace Corps because she is currently in the application process. One of the first things she told me was, “My leave date is January 2014 and I'm going to be stationed in blah blah blah.” My curt response was, “Yeah, no it’s not and no you won’t.” I tried to explain to her that if she could count on one thing, she could count on the Peace Corps to flip the script on her at least once between now and when she actually leaves. And really, she couldn’t even count on that. I submitted my application to the Peace Corps in January 2010 and I was on a plane for Cape Verde in July... of 2011.

The interesting thing is that the application process for joining the Peace Corps is excellent practice for life as a volunteer in the Peace Corps—the uncertainty, the constantly readjusted expectations, and the glacial speed of progress. Having survived all of that, I can honestly say that there wasn’t much about starting graduate school that truly freaked me out. Still, I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some huge questions about what my life would be like, both in the classroom and beyond.

The first question I pondered was whether or not I would actually have a "life." I am happy to report that I do, even if my social life looks and feels a lot different than it has for the past few years. For example, I have not danced until the sun came up. I have not spent an entire Saturday at a beachfront bar, eating french fries and watching back-to-back-to-back European soccer matches. I haven’t had a trago of aguardiente or grogue, or mug of Aguila Light or Strela—actually, I haven’t a sip of alcohol since I got on a plane headed for Boston.* Yet still, I have a life.

Last weekend I made a 24-hour trip to West Hollywood to see my Sands get married. It was a special night for so many reasons, including witnessing my first in-person group Wobble (no, the Wobble has not spread to South America yet). Getting to this wedding was another step in the process of reconnecting my brothers from Kappa Chi, the most thorough chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. on the planet. It started back in May when Demek came to Medellín for his bachelor party. Now, I'm joined by my "big" brother and fellow HGSE student, Al, who has been my right hand man... literally... he's sitting to my right studying in the library while I am not. At Demek's wedding I caught up with some of the "old" heads and met some of the younger ones from our chapter that crossed after I left D.C. in 2001.


Sure, I’m pressed for time, but I can still enjoy the finer things in life—like watching soccer. For example, on the way to the library today, I passed by the Harvard University Athletics Complex and decided to pop in to catch the second half of the Harvard vs. Davidson match. We looked good but we coughed up a late, well-taken to goal to lose the game 2-1.

 It was a tough loss, but not as tough as watching the USA get slapped by Costa Rica at Banshee Pub, the official Boston home of The American Outlaws. Sandwiched in between those losses was a great win for the Boys Varsity team at Cristo Rey High School. I was truly impressed, and I must they, their coach was very professional... and handsome too (cough, cough).

So, now I’m no longer “worried” about not having a life. I’m taking the regular 16 credits (including an internship at the YMCA of Greater Boston) and I’ve taken on a part-time job (see reference to handsome coach in previous paragraph). This is a heavy load—I’ve been told that each class requires about 12-15 hours of work per week, including time spent in class. So that adds up to 60-70 hours per week, before you account for my "life." This may sound crazy, but I take solace in the fact that decent parents around the world are putting in a similar shift, week in and week out. I got this.

My second “worry” was based on something you often hear about higher education: professors aren’t necessarily great teachers. This makes sense, in the same way that great soccer players don’t always make great coaches. Can you imagine Coach Cristiano Ronaldo, or Coach Luis Suárez (shiver)? We often hear horror stories about professors that care a whole lot about their research or the book they’re working on, but not so much about their students. Well, let me put that one to rest. My teachers are TEACHERS, and they are damn good at what they do. While writing this, it dawned on me that this might have something to do with the fact that I am in the school of EDUCATION! If I were a betting man, I would bet that on average, the faculty at HGSE are better at teaching than their equally-intelligent peers in the other schools at Harvard. But maybe I’m biased.

In my last post I included some golden quotes from the professor of my Educational Neuroscience course. I also forgot to mention the part where he said something along the lines of: I don’t require you to come to class—I don’t think it makes sense for me to penalize you automatically for not showing up to lectures. It’s my job to make the lectures interesting and productive so that they help you do well in the class. Like I said, this is my kind of teacher. My assignment for the first week was to watch a series of five short video lectures as an introduction to brain structure and function. To give you a taste of what I mean when I say, “damn good at what they do,” I’ve included a link to one of those videos, which you may or may not give a rat’s ass about.

My final “worry” about coming to grad school had to do with the culture of Harvard University. While I knew enough about Harvard to know that it's hardly one big Klan rally, I still couldn’t stop thinking about the part of Cornell West’s memoir where he talks about what it was like to be a professor here. If you haven’t read Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, please do. Thankfully, I haven’t had any eye-opening/heart-breaking run-ins with Larry Sommers.** Honestly, I’m happy to report that there’s nothing unwelcoming, stuffy or pretentious about my environment—so far. Again, I believe that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m in the School of Education, and not the Business School, the Law School, or the Kennedy School of Government. Ironically, I've found the average student at HGSE to be less offensive and self-righteous than a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers. Who woulda thunk it?

Signing Off,***


* Every year, I set aside a month to be completely sober. I'm three weeks into that month at the time of writing this... and I'm looking forward to next weekend.

** Lawrence "Larry" Sommers served as President of Harvard University from July 2001 until June 2006.

*** In light of the behavior of Costa Ricans over the past week, including their President, I have temporarily renounced my pseudo-Tico citizenship, and cannot "sign off" using the phrase that I normally would. Call it petty, but that's just how I'm feeling right now.

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