Thursday, February 13, 2014


Last Friday I deejayed a party for a bunch of my friends. And by “deejay” I mean sit at my laptop and put songs in order. In response to Harvard’s pricey “Masquerade Ball,” two of my friends decided to throw the first annual “Financialade Ball,” targeting those of us who have accepted our status as broke, unemployed graduate students. I must have missed the part of the email invitation that said that the dress code for the Financialade Ball was still fancy. I showed up dressed as regular old me.

At one point during the night, a friend said that she liked how I looked in “DJ Mode.” I’m pretty sure was referring to how I was dressed. Jeans, polo shirt and cap. I said “thank you,” but I couldn’t help scratching my head a little bit. Then it occurred to me that, from her perspective, I was dressed up in my Hip Hop costume. From my perspective, I had been wearing a suit all day and was happy to finally be wearing “normal” clothes.

So, what’s the point? The point is that, even though I’ve developed a lot of deep, great relationships, there is still a large portion of this community that has an extremely limited perspective of who I am, based on the fact that we only interact in the context of Harvard Graduate School of Education. Between meetings, job interviews, and other miscellaneous first impressions, I end up dressing like a full-fledged grown-up a lot these days. So it got me thinking, “Who is the real me?” And maybe the more interesting question is, “Has the real me changed since I’ve been here?”

Now, you might be tempted to cry out, “DON’T CHANGE! Don’t let the system get you down, Drew! Don’t sell out!” My first response to you is, “stop yelling.” Then I would ask,  “What’s the point of doing all of this if it isn’t going to change me at all?”

Thankfully for you, that’s as deep as this post is going to get. Instead of wallowing in introspection, I’ve decided to present a lighthearted list of some of the habits that I actually don’t want to pick up along the way. The first edition of this list will focus on a few "gradschoolisms" that I often hear thrown about in various class discussions and meetings. While they are designed to make you sound like an intelligent card-carrying member of Academia, I believe that they are over-used, annoying, and downright silly.

1. Meta-
In all fairness, one of my professors warned me about this word way back in August. At HGSE, everything is “meta.” As if nothing is worth doing if you don’t dedicate half of your brain power to being conscious of doing it while you do it. But really, it’s gone to far.  In other words, this word is getting meta-annoying, because it bothers me, and I’ve thought about it a lot, and I know why it bothers me.

2. Unpack
Many professors and colleagues here will push you to “unpack” what you just said. In other words, that simple comment you made is actually reeeallly complex, and we’d all really like to know what you meant when you said, “I thought the reading was boring.” 

3. Push Back
This is a really polite way to go about pointing out that what somebody just said is actually bogus. As in, “I just want to push back a little bit on what you just said about all Asian kids being excellent at math and science.” I’m all for keeping things civil, but sometimes I just want to bust out like Rep. Joe Wilson during Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address.

4. Piggyback
This one often gets used in combination with “revisiting” or “building on.” It’s really popular with people who are looking to squeeze the juice out of those five points for participation. It wouldn’t be so bad if “piggybacking” actually took the conversation somewhere new. But most of the time, when someone starts a comment off with “I just want to piggyback” or “revisit and build on what Sarah just said,” they are either going to repeat exactly what Sarah just said, or say something that has absolutely nothing to do with what Sarah just said.

5. Myself
To be honest, this one’s been getting on my nerves since way before I got to grad school. In fact, my freshman year English teacher was the first person I heard articulate just how annoying this abuse of grammar is (shout out to Nancy!). Yes, I can be a little anal about grammar, but the fact that this word get used incorrectly is not really what bothers me. What irks me is that when people misuse the word “myself,” they often think that it’s making them sound more intelligent. So, for the record: “myself” is a reflexive pronoun. That means “myself” cannot do anything. You cannot contact “myself” to touch base, or do anything else that sounds professional and important. I am the only person that can ever do anything with myself. Just like you can do whatever you’d like with yourself. So, next time you’re about to use the word “myself” in a professional environment, please reconsider and double-check to make sure that you don’t really just mean “me” or “I.” There. Now I feel better.

When making this list, I was really tempted to include the word "scaffold." Before coming to grad school, I had probably used this word a grand total of eleven times in my entire life. Now I find the word "scaffold" coming out of my mouth every other day. But here's the thing. It's a great word, and I haven't found a good substitute to describe a lot what we are trying to do as educators. Our work is necessary, but if we do it correctly, we should be able to remove ourselves from the equation at the end of the day, leaving a structurally sound student standing tall. When teachers embrace their work as scaffolding, it helps remind us that it's not about the teaching, it's about the learning.

Pura Vida,


PS: I recently uploaded my 2013 Reading List as a new page on this site, so if you're interested in what I was getting into on the book front last year, click here to check it out.

Special thanks to Bart at Drivellian Photography for documenting the shenanigans at the Financialade Ball.