Personality v. Culture v. Self-Acceptance

This weekend, I began reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.

I didn’t begin reading it for myself.  Generally, unless something relates directly to my own research, I don’t “read for myself” anymore.  I decided to read it because: a) I had just finished reading Raising Cain:Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson and I was looking for more insight on understanding my son and b) because I was just talking with a student about opportunities for participation for introverted students in the classroom.

But, almost as soon as I started reading it, I began thinking about the post I wrote last week about being a quiet scholar activist, and about my struggle to break my silence, in the face of knowing that I had things to contribute but finding it difficult to do so. I’ve always thought of myself as more of an extrovert than an introvert, but because of this, the strain of being Asian-American has been even greater, and this led me to a reflection on who I am and how it affects what I do.

When I was younger, I felt the pull of being praised for speaking up in class, but feeling like what I said at home was bothersome and unimportant. I would bring my mom proudly to school events where teachers would say how awesome I was as a student and my mother would humbly dismiss their praise.  I knew she was proud of me, but I didn’t feel like my success meant very much.   As I grew into adolescence, I wanted to be social, to hang outer study with friends, but I was told that this was going to distract me from my studies. Because I wasn’t as naturally smart as my brother AND because I was a girl (and therefore far less safe for me to be out of the house anyways), I was foolish for wanting to have a social life as this was going to erase any chance I had for lifetime success and leave me to end up with nothing of my own to stand on.  This tension ended up culminating in a very public fight with my mother during my sophomore year of high school after a choir concert where I really just wanted to join my friends at Denny’s after the show, but my mom refused to compromise.  She was tired that day and didn’t want to hear me continue to pester her and so she got angry and swatted at me in front of some of the school staff and my friends.  They were forced to file a Child Protective Services report (which, now as an educator, I know, is required by mandated reporting laws) and the police came to my door later that night and questioned my mother.  That incident caused a terrible rift in our relationship, making me fear my mother, but in many more ways, making me hate myself for wanting to go out in the first place, for not being a “perfect daughter,” and for causing her so much trouble. We never got to fully repair that rift as 9 months later, my mother passed away in a car accident.

My plans at that time had been to pursue chemistry or genetics, but upon my mother’s death, I lost all confidence in my ability to be successful in the hard sciences without her support & help (she was a chemist) and I felt freer to explore the humanities which I had always been talented in, but never really thought of as a viable option since everyone else in my family was in science or engineering.  My choice to pursue a course of studies related to the humanities (and eventually the social sciences) was a way of accepting my place as not good enough, not smart enough, to be successful in the hard sciences (this is not to say that I feel the humanities & social sciences are lesser than the hard sciences, but they were often described to me that way growing up, at least in my own cultural experiences).  While I was, in a way, giving up on who I thought I should be, studying the humanities in a large public university like UC Berkeley was also my ticket into a world of the “extrovert ideal” as Cain calls America’s emphasis on extroversion as the preferred personality type of success since the 1920s.  This world, while somewhat foreign to me, was the ideal that I aspired to–I wanted to be social, to be heard, to have something important to say and to contribute.  If I could not be the “perfect daughter,” I could still become the perfect extrovert. I could still be what others thought was ideal.

The problem is, that I’m really quite the ambivert which perhaps isn’t so problematic, unless you’re aspiring to an “extrovert ideal” or to a cultural norm which values quiet. I found myself ridiculously irritated in political science classes where people spoke to get participation points and simply restated points that had already been made.  I was finally free to go out, but found (and still find) a packed social calendar to be exhausting & overwhelming.   As hard as I tried and as hard as I try, I’m still rather awkward in new social situations, even though being around people gives me energy and life.  Despite my need to be around others, I still desperately long for time on my own to write, to think, to read, to be. And so I am stuck, in between two cultures, two personalities, not perfect at either and somewhat lacking in both. And this comes out throughout my blog.  This sense of never being quite good enough.

So, while I’d love to hide behind analysis and a discussion of personality v. culture, what I’m working on is self-acceptance and making change in the way that honors how I can most effectively contribute, whether that means in a classroom or through this blog or in social media, or through a more public voice.  Perhaps, if there was less focus on dichotomy, there might be a greater sense of peace and a greater understanding of the importance of each person’s unique contribution to the world.

The Privilege of Literacy, the Privilege of Learning

Literacy is a gift and a privilege.

When I talk about literacy, particularly with my students, I present a broad and critical view that encompasses “reading the word and the world” (Freire & Macedo, 1987), a view of literacy that connects us as readers, writers and interlocutors with a given text (be it written, spoken, visual, media-based, movement oriented) in a given situation (taking into account our lived experiences, the time, space and perspectives we bring).

Literacy is always an amazing privilege, particularly in its critical forms, as I know that there are many places where a critical reading of the word & the world around us is discouraged or even punishable; but, on some days more than others, I am struck by the awesome power and privilege of words, texts, connections and meaning.  Most of these particularly powerful literacy-based days, I feel the privilege of learning with and from my students and my colleagues.

Yesterday was one of those days.  In my Reading & Writing in Secondary Schools course (#edse457), students are asked to complete a “Literacy Based Choice Assignment” where they can choose from a more traditional writing to learn based assignment (like note taking in a variety of formats to demonstrate an understanding of the material), they can explore cultivating a professional voice (through blogging); they can connect with a professional community (through participating in a live twitter chat); or they can create a digital story that incorporates ideas related to their content area and/or literacy (in relation to their content) with music, narration & images.  The goal of this assignment is to connect words to the world, either the academic world, the professional world, or, in most cases, both.

There is something about digital storytelling that I always remember.  Whether the story is a personal literacy autobiography, the reading of a literary text or teaching about forces of gravity in Physics, the stories are powerful, voices are moving and the impact is real upon me.  What moves me most is the passion and conviction in student voice that comes alive when they tell their stories, the ones that are important to them and that they want to be heard.

Of course, that passion is often present in their blogs as well, but what is clear to me in the blogs are the space for praxis-relevant reflection.  Students use this space to think about what we’ve done in class & how it might relate to their future teaching as well as to think through critically some of the ideas & strategies presented in class and adapt them to their own professional identities.

In this semester, I’ve also seen greater participation in twitter chats, participation that extends beyond simple introductions to actually contributing resources to their colleagues.  Reflections on their participation demonstrate students’ appreciation for the resources that can be gained in extending their professional worlds outside of the college or even their local communities as educators across the country participate in the weekly chats.  While the pace of the chats could be somewhat overwhelming, the benefit in gained resources was worth the hour of time invested  to participate.

Finally, even when taking notes, which may seem like the least flashy of the literacy choice assignments, teacher candidates were doing so in 4 different formats, learning various ways to organize their thinking so that they could help their students more effectively think through their content areas and interactions with texts.

After an afternoon/evening (followed by a morning) of assessing these literacy choice assignments, I felt moved by the privilege of teaching about literacy in relation to professional teaching and learning.  Then, I got to read a paper by a dear friend & colleague that came from an inquiry she conducted as a part of a grant that I had helped to draft.  Three years ago when working on this grant, our hope was that teachers, through reflection on their practice and experiencing the connections of writing and science would be able to better teach both science & writing, particularly in working with their English Language Learners and struggling students.  What an amazing experience to get a glimpse into my friend’s work, reflection and classroom through her paper.  It truly moved me to see what this grant was actually funding & who it was benefitting.

Days like these are treasured gifts in a teaching & academic life.  They are gifts afforded by & through literacy and gifts that demonstrate the power of ongoing learning.  What a joy to be an educator and to be able to use various forms of literacy to engage with the world around us.

The (Quiet) Scholar Activist

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear a lecture by Dr. Michael Apple and Jesse Hagopian on thinking critically about educational reform movements. Actually, it was less of a lecture and more of a call to action. As a teacher educator, scholar and human being committed to social change and social justice, it made me think about what I do well and how much room I still have to grow.

And, originally when I started writing this blog post, that was what I planned to reflect on–how I could use my roles of privilege and power as a teacher of teachers, as a research, as a human being, to fight for what I believe is right–social and racial equality in and through education, in and throughout the world.

But, I found myself stuck.

Despite the strength of my convictions and the fact that I know that not that many people read this blog (and most of those who do already know my convictions and commitments), I found myself really struggling to talk about my voice, my power and my potential to influence anyone to do anything.

I found myself silenced by my own fear of making the difference to which I’m so committed, afraid to embrace any power for fear that I’ll disappoint anyone and everyone by falling short, afraid to speak my truth. A far too familiar place for me.

I know that this comes from my history, from my culture & gender and from my own internalized oppressors.  You know, the ones that say, “You’ll never be as good as your older brother,” or the ones that look disapprovingly at my loss of my heritage language or the ones that ask why on earth I would choose teaching when I was so smart and could have done something that made so much more money.  I give power to the ones that urge me to be satisfied with where I’m at, to not ever rock the boat or ask for more, to be careful to always say the right things, the right way, at the right time, lest I dishonor myself and my family.  I smile politely when someone compliments my English rather than claiming my citizenship and correcting their ignorant assumptions. I deny my intelligence, claiming that my successes are due only to hard work and good fortune, sacrifices made for me, being born Chinese American to educated parents. I fear that in speaking my truth, I will seem ungrateful for my privilege.  There are so many others that have it so much worse than you.  Never complain.  Never be seen.  Just do good work and you’ll be recognized someday.

I do not need others to silence me as I am a master of suppressing myself.

In the face of those voices, I have still found courage.  I advocate in many quiet ways, through my work and my teaching, for what I believe in and each small step forward is still a step forward.  But, I must break my silence.  I must take the quiet out of the scholar activist.  I must be true to myself and not the oppressive voices that call me to stand by for fear of not being good enough. There is an urgency that is louder than the fear of failure.  I just must remain vigilant to that call.

Keeping Connected to the World Around Me

It’s not my typical Monday on campus.

Generally, Mondays are a long day of meetings (valuable, but not my favorite part of my job), followed by office hours (where I’m usually sitting on my own) and then, finally, teaching, which, of course, is always the highlight of my week, but makes for a draining 14-hours on campus.  Today, however, I got the opportunity to meet with my friend, Jayne Marlink, who is the director of the California Writing Project and it was great to be able to hear about what sites are doing and what she was up to.  It is always so important for me to get back to my writing project roots, remembering that writing teachers write and that the best teachers of teachers are teachers themselves.  It was inspiring to hear about the CWP’s involvement in GLSEN’s Day of Silence  last week, which even led to my own day of silence selfie:

Keeping connected to the world, to classrooms outside of my own and to schools is one of the things I’ve struggled most to do in this transition, but one of the things that is the most important to my professional identity.  Hearing Jayne share about the work that’s happening at Writing Project sites throughout the state and in classrooms she’s visited was really inspiring.

After meeting with Jayne, I got to give a guest session to a Supplemental Instruction leaders meeting where the leaders got to engage in interaction strategies that hopefully will help them to support their students’ learning in the classroom.

One of the best parts of this workshop was getting to make a difference with student instructors who are working with & supporting other students as they transition from secondary to post-secondary work.  It was great getting out of the College of Education (although I love my home) and getting to work with instructors from all over campus to help them think about their practice.

I’m currently holding Office Hours (so that’s normal) and fielding virtual & in-person questions about instruction and differentiation.  It’s amazing to watch my own students grow as future professionals.

Tonight, I’ll get to go to a talk sponsored by the College of Education’s Veffie Milstead Jones’ Endowment on why we should be worried about dominant educational reforms:

Another great opportunity to connect to the educational world around me (I’ll likely be live-tweeting this talk) and to think critically about educational reform.

Then, I get to round off my day teaching about technology in the classroom to my content area literacy (#edse457) students.  I love this lecture because it’s about exploration, digital media & how to integrate digital literacies (and technology as a tool to support many forms of literacy)  into the classroom.

Days like this, when I am both in my own world & extending myself to the educational community around me, help me to feel the privilege of my work. It helps me to miss my 8th grade classroom just a little less, as I see different groups of learners engaging with important ideas and the good work of teaching, learning and thinking critically about our world that continues all around me.

Being Thankful for Opportunities Rather than Outcomes

I’m a results-oriented person.  I confess that I used to be a “grade monger” (i.e. a student who did everything she could to get 100% or over in a class including begging for extra credit) and that I still have a measure of satisfaction when I feel successful in reaching a goal–whether it’s having a publication accepted, finishing a semester’s worth of grading, or giving a talk that is well-received.  But today it hit me that sometimes the opportunities are just as valuable as the outcomes of a process.

Example: I recently submitted a final paper for a large research conference in my field.  Will anyone (except for the discussant of the roundtable at which I presented) ever read my paper? It’s unlikely, or at least, I hope it is, as it’s certainly not my best work.  However, the process of working through my preliminary data to get that piece out, as rough around the edges as it is, was so helpful in my thinking about my current research.

Example #2: I’ve been working on a presentation for a talk I’m giving soon on a topic that’s highly relevant to my current practice and knowledge in my own field, but is being presented in a different context than my typical audience.  Preparing for this talk has given me a better sense of that audience’s world as well as opening up new possibilities for lines of research to pursue in the future.  I don’t know how the talk is going to go, but preparing for the talk and thinking about the way that my experiences can connect with the great work that is already happening in this community has been such a valuable process.

Example #3: Yesterday, I spent the majority of my day on the phone and not “getting work done.” While I don’t have any concrete products to show as fruits of my labor, the power of the conversations I had shaped my perspectives, left me feeling incredibly connected to important people in my community and helped me to open new pathways into areas I hadn’t previous explored.  It was one of the best days that I’ve had, in terms of my sense of self as a professional and as a scholar, but there wasn’t a measurable outcome in the traditional sense.

So, the moral of today’s post, at least to me, is that being present along the journey and thankful for the various opportunities that I have, regardless of the end result, allows me to be more joyful as I learn and grow. And that, I am sure, will make all the difference.

Just Do It

I am a thinker, a pontificator, even, but I’m also a pragmatist.  Sometimes I find myself overwhelmed by all there is to do and the stress starts making me sick.  That’s when I roll up my sleeves, make a cup of tea, and get started.  All of the sudden, the nausea disappears and sometimes, I even get more done than I anticipated.  I try to take breaks from my typical pace of life, but honestly, breaks make me tired because my head starts spinning again.  I’ve got to keep in motion, particularly over these next few weeks which are insane.  Sure, I’ve got to sleep and eat too, but keeping focused on the goals will help as the end of the school year rapidly approaches.

Crafting a Vision; Crafting an Identity

I’ve been in an extended period of inquiry lately regarding my professional identity (who am I kidding, this has been at least a 14-year journey in various iterations) and I’ve come to realize that as much as I struggle with how these different parts of myself get expressed, there are certain commitments that are at the heart of who I am as an educator: commitment to ongoing growth through reflection; commitment to students; commitment to praxis (the intersection of theory & practice).  When I look at these 3 categories, I really see myself as an educator and it makes me happy that essentially, I’m not as complex as I originally thought.  I wanted to use today’s post to sort through these 3 areas for myself to give further clarity as I’m preparing for future work.

Commitment to Ongoing Growth through Reflection

This blog is part of that commitment, but it’s seen throughout my research as well, in that most of my work has been anchored in the work that I’ve done, whether facilitating inquiry, teaching pre-service teachers, or in my own 8th grade English classroom.  This commitment is also present in my pedagogy as I promote my students’ reflection in their work and their growth through thinking about what they’re learning and relating it to their present selves in the emergent stages of their professional identities and what implications the work they’re doing now and ideas they’re learning about now could have for their future practice.

Commitment to Students

Recently, when asked to make a pie chart of where my time goes as an academic, I placed 65% of my time in teaching.  While acknowledging that this is not a healthy balance, it’s a hard one for me given that my students have always been central to my identity as an educator.  Whether my 8th graders (staying with them after school, making parent phone calls, grading until all hours of the night or redesigning lessons to be more engaging) or my preservice teachers (answering late tweets about assignments, extending office hours, giving extensive feedback on assignments, responding to discussion board posts, e-mailing them to check-in), my students and the difference that our work together might make in their futures are what make this work so fulfilling.  I became an educator to make a difference in the lives of others and to this day, it still drives me in my work.

Commitment to Praxis

At the end of the day, I’m a pragmatist, but I will never be a technocrat.  As part of my commitment to students, I want my practice to be informed–I continue to study, read theory and empirical research, and model research-grounded practices, but I also couldn’t ever solely immerse myself in theory without a practical application.  It’s been hard for me to acknowledge that, as research really captivates my inner nerd, and I LOVE engaging in thoughtful discourse related to ideas, but without the relationships with students and the enactment of theory into practice, something is missing for me.  I’ve come to a point in my life & career where I know that my work will always be grounded in practice and will always seek to inform the practice of others whether teacher educators, preservice teachers or currently practicing teachers.

So, it’s probably not all that easy, but it’s inherently more simple than I anticipated.  And when I look at who I am, it helps to ground the person I am becoming–in the end, what honors my professional identity any more than that?

A-Ha Moments: Modeling Teaching & Learning

I had a great a-ha moment last night.  I had just finished an awesome session on extended writing in the content area classroom where students creatively engaged in writing RAFTs including some great political speeches from the likes of Bob Dole & Vladimir Lenin; some great coaching dialogues around tennis & solving one-variable algebraic equations and some rousing speeches about the problem of climate change.  I was on a teacher high, patting myself on the back for such authentic modeling of extended writing opportunities and the writing process when a student approached me after class to ask why we didn’t engage in the writing process at the post-secondary level.  Since we had just engaged in a mini-writing group around our RAFTs and since students in my curriculum & instruction course have been actively engaged in an ongoing version of the writing process all semester, I asked him what he meant.  He noted that while we gave each other feedback on ideas on the discussion boards, we didn’t engage in the full drafting, feedback and REVISION parts of the writing process in an authentic way with our lesson plans for this course.  And he was completely right.  Although I had incorporated this aspect of the writing process in my curriculum & instruction class, it was missing from my content area literacy class where students would benefit just as much from the thoughtful feedback of their peers.  In continuing to talk with my student and lamenting my oversight, he wisely reminded me that it wasn’t too late and that this allowed for the opportunity to model reflective, flexible practice.  So, we’re adapting our final lesson plan to incorporate the option for revision and resubmission after peer & instructor feedback. And I am left feeling even more inspired by the teaching, learning, feedback and growth that I get to take part in and facilitate whether it is that of my students or my own.

Marathon Mondays & Making Mistakes

I had a wonderful student in my office for office hours today who reminded me of myself when she said that she just wanted to get it right the first time and not make mistakes that caused her to have to revise all the time.  She was overwhelmed with managing 4 courses & a full time job and I realized that trying to balance teaching, research, service & family is a not so far off version of this same dilemma. In fact, I had just realized that I had double booked myself during an already full week and was wishing that I could get out of my forgotten commitment.  As my former 8th graders would have said, “Ms. Hsieh, you be doing too much.” For real, Kids. I reminded my student that making mistakes is part of the learning process, but I was actually reminding myself.  Maybe I also need to remind myself to stop doing too much. I’ll ponder that after I finish teaching in 4 hours.

Disappointment & Anticipation

There’s been a lot going on lately and even more coming up in the next few weeks. Much of it is good & almost all of it is self-created so I don’t feel like I should complain, but at the same time, I find myself sometimes, often, at this point in the semester wondering why it is I get so busy and how to do things in a way that avoids disappointment (my own or that of other’s) and allows for living in the present moment rather than in a state of constant anticipation & over-commitment.  I guess I should accept that this is part of who I am, and that there would be inherent dissatisfaction in living any other way, but alas the restless spirit is always looking for its next haunt unless it’s in the midst of the haunting. So much for the ephemeral balance of yesterday…