Thursday, January 28, 2016

Learning through Teaching

I am now teaching ~20 hours of English per week -- both in private (1-on-1) environments and in full scale classroom settings. The differences (level, age, maturity, desire to improve, etc.) are vast. 

While it is I that is doing the teaching, I feel that I am learning a great deal. 

Teaching is far more challenging than I realized. I have done training in various capacities for many years, but in a healthcare setting -- how to interact with physicians, how to utilize a particular technology, how to stay organized and composed in high risk, high anxiety areas, etc. 

While there are similarities in both realms, teaching how to tell time to 7, 8 and 9 year olds -- or the difference between quarter past and quarter till -- is far different. 

I have always preferred working with older people -- college level all the way up through adults -- and that remains true. However, teaching younger ones has been an insightful experience. 

The experience has made me a more patient human being, and has further enforced the idea that no two people learn exactly alike. What makes a concept click in one mind, only frustrates and confuses another.

My father once suggested an idea for teaching that I liked very much. The idea was that teaching was something more people did early in their professional careers, but for shorter durations of time. 

He noted (and after ~1 month, I agree) that it is a difficult role to sustain for the duration of a working person’s career. Certainly some can, but all of us struggled through classes (or for teachers -- alongside colleagues) with professors who should have moved on to something else years ago. 

He proposed (if I remember correctly) that teaching be something more people do for a modest salary for 1-3 years. If you excel, you have the opportunity to continue in this realm for an improved salary and benefits package -- an incentive to retain the very best.

Those who were less than superior would move onto other careers better suited to their insights and talents. But now - this group moves on with an improved understanding of the learning process, better equipped to tackle wherever their career draws them next.

Logistically, there are a number of items to further think through -- organization, placement, financials, etc. Nevertheless, an interesting proposal.

For those of you that teach or taught, I commend you. I now understand a glimpse of all that you do, and am better because of it. Cheers! 

$.50 Philosophy

Monday, January 11, 2016

An Open Letter to a Dear Friend #4


Occasionally, I meet a human being who fascinates me. 

Their skills, their ambitions, their history, their character, their motivations, their lifestyle, their beliefs… leave a serious impact on me.

Often times, the individual fascinates me in one or some of the mentioned areas, but rarely all of them. You are one of those wonders, John, that knocks me out across the board as a human being.

Our friendship began around one of our greatest shared passions - music - some 7-8 years ago, and we have been fortunate to share the stage together in a number of different cities ever since.

I like who you are as a person, and I like how you live.

I like what you stand for, and how you do it - strong and vocal about your beliefs, while maintaining the capacity to revisit topics and potentially change your mind. This is a rare character trait, and it is one of my favorites of yours.

You not only wish and pray for the world to be a better place, but you follow it up with action. The story of you packing a U-Haul with supplies and traveling to New Orleans post-Katrina is one of my favorites, but I can think of numerous times in my life where I have witnessed you go out of your way to help another -- offer a smile and a warm embrace, pick up a stranger’s check at a restaurant, treat some friends to a concert, etc.

Not only are you a great person, but you are an animal - the born again neanderthal - who can turn any Sunday afternoon into an unforgettable rager. I am grateful for the many hours we have spent drinking freezer whiskey in the Garaj Mahal, our shenanigans at Mardi Gras or in Memphis, and the many shared meals at our favorite Mt Vernon establishments: King Barbacoa, The Frosty Mug and Pizza Man. 

You have created a life to be proud of, and brought joy and new experiences to a lot of people’s lives - experiences they likely would not have had otherwise. All of it is admirable and really fucking cool.

You are one of my most treasured friends. If I finish my life with a heart half as big and giving as that of yours, I will consider myself successful.

$.50 Philosophy

Monday, January 4, 2016

Good Enough Work

I was 27 years old before I had the courage to call myself an artist.  While I had been making things for many years, I never felt deserving of the title.  Artists did something different, something beyond what I was doing.

For most artists, a project starts as an obsession that grips every waking thought, even seeping into dreams.  It is an all consuming, exciting experience, often followed by an equally consuming period of disgust and disappointment.  After staring at the work for so long, they begin to inflate and exaggerate its flaws until those flaws subsume the entire piece, leaving the artist feeling pathetic, ashamed of what was born out of their heart and invested time and energy.

Presenting creative work to others is an entirely different experience, filled with its own delights and frustrations.  One piece is celebrated, while the follow up is rejected -- often times the reasons for such remaining unclear.

Fearing ridicule from peers, many people skip the presentation step, burying the piece altogether.  I, myself, was guilty of withholding much of my work for years.

This is unfortunate, and should be done less so, as the sharing of work is necessary and important - a different skill (art form) entirely.

For presentation, an artist must consider:
The release (title, placement, audience, etc.)
The explanation (what, why, how, etc.)
The feedback (channels, responses, etc.)...

Artists are often perfectionists - never quite satisfied with what they have produced.  I am no different.

For every song I have recorded, performance I have completed, essay I have written, negotiation I have closed or kiss I have shared, I have always yearned for just one more shot, one final chance, one last take.  One more opportunity to get it just right.

That satisfaction I seek, however, is unattainable.

"Good Enough Work" is what I call the attitude I now employ whenever I am creating and releasing new material in any number of mediums.  The presentation of work is an altogether different skill that needs cultivation. To practice that, one must release what they make.

For those of you withholding your work from the world, consider the approach of Native American jewelers, who purposefully place one incorrect, or out of pattern bead in their jewelry - the sign of an authentic piece.  For them, it is the space from which evil spirits can escape.  I think we can reinterpret this practice and learn something about art and those "flaws" we obsess over, often times to the point of our work's demise.

Good enough work is not encouragement to release work you are not proud of, but to not let that desire for perfection stop you from sharing altogether.  As I said, I believe the level sought after is, in truth, unattainable.

Dream it.  Develop it.  Release it.  Begin anew.

$.50 Philosophy

Side Note:
I would like to thank everyone who has been following along, publicly or silently, providing feedback via a like, comment or personal message.  All responses, positive or critical, have meant a great deal to me.

You will have to forgive me, as I will be stepping away from my blog - and writing in general, actually - for the remainder of January 2016.  Perhaps an occasional release of some things already started - "Good Enough Work" - but far less than December.

I have decided to immerse myself in the Spanish language, and commit myself to a rigorous physical challenge.  For the remainder of January, I will be listening, watching and reading in Spanish alone - music, too - and running harder than I ever have before.

It is time to learn a new language, and achieve a now 4-year old objective.

Enjoy the start to 2016 -- it is going to be nuts.