Going Beyond

Being a teacher can be a tough and somewhat thankless job. For nearly three years, I was an adjunct professor at the community college, where I now work in the administration for. I both dreaded and enjoyed teaching students about information systems and the uses these seemingly perplexing machines have in our society today. I enjoyed explaining how data-driven queries and algorithms actually have a major effect on people’s lives, even when they did not really comprehend that such processes were being placed in how their lives were being lived. However, I also dreaded being in the classroom because I always had a fear that a student might actually be able to showcase their knowledge having gone further than my own. Looking back, I had such a silly notion in that area.

A few weeks ago, the silliness of that notion was on display in the newest Star Wars film. During the dialogue between Yoda and Luke at the Jedi Temple, Luke laments that he cannot be what Rey needs, and Yoda responds:

…we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters. –Yoda

My fears were truly unfounded. Should a student find a mastery of the topic that went beyond where I was, it should be a joyful moment. I have poured all of my knowledge and wisdom (a truly debatable term for another time) into my student, in the hopes that they will grow beyond the point that I have managed to reach. The goal is not my vanity and ego as being the font of be-all, end-all knowledge. Because, in all honesty, I continue to grow my own mastery and understanding of the knowledge as I, myself, progress in this existence.

In a manner of speaking, a teacher is considered to also be a leader. The expertise and mastery of an area of knowledge, as well as their wisdom (there’s that word again), places a teacher in a position of potentially leading others. There’s a similar area of responsibility in the hands of the follower, who provides a connection to that leader by allowing that architecture to be placed in the individual (or individuals in the case of larger groups with more than one individual placed in a role of leadership). That dual-feed of the teacher providing information, knowledge, and wisdom, and a student placing their trust and faith in an individual or individuals to lead them correctly can be a very wonderful relationship with the right degree of trust and responsibility coming from both ends of it. To quote from many places, it truly is a manner of perfect love and perfect trust. Too much or too little from either side, and it can be a corrosive and/or abusive relationship (another deer trod to travel down at some other point).

What about flawed individuals? People who have done bad or unsavory things when they were in these positions of teaching or leadership? We need to toss everything they have taught us and start fresh with a better perspective, right? Or we need to abandon that particular Path of knowledge because we placed a leader into a position of being far more than what we should have. Our reasoning for following them is flawed; therefore, everything we learned is flawed, right?

I would say that is not necessarily the case. We do need to stop, look back, and re-evaluate everything. But that is by taking everything one piece at a time, determining what value that bit of knowledge has to us, and then making a decision to keep it, alter it to our needs, or pitch it all together. Plus, I have one another thing to consider: every single one of us is flawed in one manner or another. A significant majority of us has done something wide of the mark in our past to one degree or another. However, before we all start feeling guilty about all the stuff we did when we were teenagers or in our early twenties, let’s consider one other side of Yoda’s statement to Luke in that same scene:

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. –Yoda

We have all met failure to one degree or another. We all have weaknesses (one of mine just happens to be Bushmills whiskey). And I would daresay that we have all done wrong by someone or many someones at one time or another. The true measure of these incidents in our lives is not what we did, but rather if we have grown beyond those transgressions.

I am a firm believer in second chances. I am also a firm believer that knowledge can grow and become stronger from places where most others would see rot and decay. Time, patience, and so many other elements are important factors to add. Or as I am fond of saying, x and y are important variables, but their strength in the overall argument can dissipate or grow due to the variance of the z-variable (typically referred to as “time”).

As we, Pagans, continue to grow our knowledge and our various traditions, we stand on the shoulders of giants, as Damh the Bard notes in his song “On the Shoulders of Giants”:

So by peace and love we stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand,
On the shoulders of giants we stand.

We stand on the shoulders of our Elders, our teachers, our leaders – growing our traditions for the coming generations so that our shoulders they will also stand upon – a mighty foundation. Over time, our foundations can wear down, from the equalizer of time, as well as other factors. But even that weathered stone has merit. It may not look as pretty and polished as it did in a time long past, but it is still there. Over time, we may found out that our Elders, teachers, and leaders have done things in their lives that we find to be unsavory or even difficult to comprehend. None of that nullifies the knowledge that was brought to us. Because it is not the individual that provides the legacy, but the knowledge itself. A founding member of a tradition can be found to have done unspeakable, unimaginable things in their lives. None of those actions can nullify the beauty, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, loving attitude, and joyful care that the Priests (men and women – I believe Priest to be a gender-neutral term) in that same tradition have today and what the future Priests will bring as they receive their ordination. I just cannot condemn or color what a tradition is because of the actions of one individual…even a founding member.

As for me, I have my own transgressions in my past that haunt me. No matter how much I want to wipe those away with notations of second chances or excuses, I will live with those for the rest of my life – however long that may be. For those that know what those are, I can only hope that they see the change in who I am today versus that person I was previously. For those that I wronged, and have been able to apologize to, I can only hope that they have forgiven me and accepted those apologies. For those that I cannot make apologies to, for whatever reason, I can only continue to offer my apologies when I pray. And yes, even Pagans pray. And while those transgressions do paint a tone to who I am today; for any future students I have, any followers who may provide me with the reins of some form of leadership — those failures helped me to learn and try to be a better teacher and leader. And through those experiences, as I continue to move further along this nearly thirty-five years on a Pagan Path, I hope that I become the Elder that the Gods have aimed me towards being. After all, I am fallible — like anyone else.

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The Data Whisperer

My old classroom
My old classroom

About three and a half months ago, I applied for and was hired for my current position. My title is “Assessment Analyst” – but it functions far more like a Data Analyst. People around the college request data from me, and I access the various data systems that are in place and retrieve the information for them. Then I put it together into a functional format that allows them an easier time to look through the data presented and draw their own conclusions.  Sometimes, I am asked to draw a conclusion from the data points I present as well. Its a fun job. There’s the challenge of wrestling the information from the database – trying to find the right question to ask, and the right syntax to put that request into. In a manner of speaking, I am learning to be a linguist of data. A few days back, a fellow colleague of mine from the Instructional side of the house referred to me as a “Data Whisperer”.

As much as I love my new job, and thrive in the challenges that I am given – I actually miss being a professor. I miss being able to talk with students about various topics, and trying to find underlying correlations and relations to computer systems (I taught a class that was basically an introduction to computer systems and applications). Teaching the subject was one thing, interacting with students about the overall topic and allowing them to elongate the directions of the topic was intriguing. Some students never understood or caught the flow of what I was trying to bring to them, others not only grasped the concept – they took the tiger by the tail and carried conversations even further afield. Together, we spent time walking down the long, well-worn corridors of Computing History, and even find a few side-trails to take into the as yet realized future of computing. Honestly, as a professor, there was never anything more fun than watching the students take the current ability and application of a computing system and its related software programs – and dream up where it could be taken. And what made the conversations even more fun, was getting them to explain the “why” of their visions.

I truly do miss that.

Currently my position is not setup to allow me to teach. Going into the classroom would mean over-time for me – and as an employee at a state-funded institution, over-time is a huge no-no. My boss has promised me up and down that I can eventually return to the classroom – but I am a bit more realistic about things. My position is tied to the funding of another department – a federal Grant program – for the next three years. Until that time has elapsed, my position’s pay designation is not going to change. I can teach online for another college or university – but frankly, online is not the same as face-to-face. The interaction with the student is not quite there, in my opinion.

So why did I take this job?  Well, its a full-time position, as opposed to the part-time pay I was getting. And honestly, its hard making a living at the wages that an adjunct professor is paid. Plus, there was the challenge that the position offered. I do like a good challenge.  One day in the future…its a hope I will continue to have.  In the meantime, I will whisper to the data, and attempt to tickle the stories behind the ones and zeroes out into the open…

 

A Few Thoughts on Awen…Inspiring and Being Inspired

Awen
Awen

I am completely intrigued with folks that not only embrace their creative side, but are completely consumed by it. Growing up, I had my own areas of hero worship. My love of technology had me completely absorbed with anything that Steve Wozniak had a hand in creating. On my home office wall, I have an Apple ][ motherboard that I mounted to a piece of wood. Its there because I see not only the technical side of its setup, but I also am enamored by the sheer beauty of its simplistic design. I am also very much drawn into the musical side of things as well. During my latter high school years, I had two individuals I looked up to – Randy Rhoads and Cliff Burton. I played bass, and really wanted to be able to play like Cliff Burton – and had wanted to play on stage with Randy Rhoads.  Just once. Each of them died in accidents while on tour – Randy in Florida in a single-engine plane crash, and Cliff in Europe in a bus accident. I still look at their contributions to music as a major inspiration in my life.

Back in my late teens and early twenties, it was really easy to look and see the beauty in someone else’s playing of a musical instrument or the creation of some piece of technology. As I got older, I found inspiration in other areas through the creative of others. The movie Dead Poet’s Society left a lasting impression on me in many ways – the creative in the written word, the creativity of the spoken word, the beauty of inspiring others to reach deep within themselves to find who they truly are. And I find myself being able to do just that with some of the students I encounter in my classroom.

I teach a fairly boring subject – Business Information Systems. To be completely honest, there’s not much you can do to excite someone’s passion about finding patterns in data that can be exploited for the increase of a company’s profit margin. I do my best to try and keep the students focused on the material – but I do attempt to inject some other information into the material as well. I try to show them where the information comes from, how much of it is them just freely giving away pieces of their lives in the Social media platforms, and how companies try to draw these patterns into a series of relationships and assumptions of them as consumers. I spend approximately seventeen weeks with the students in a normal semester. And over that course of time, I learn more about them. I eventually find out where they are trying to aim themselves in their lives, what their goals and ambitions are – and most importantly, I eventually get to know what it is that drives them in their lives. I have had students that are writers in my classes, students that want to get into the medical professions so that they can help others, and students that are just trying to find a way to make as much money as they want. I don’t always agree with their dreams and desires, but I always try to help point them in directions where they might get more knowledge to achieve those dreams and goals – or encourage them to take chances by submitting their writing somewhere – and encourage them to look at rejection in the light of

Its not a ‘no‘ – its ‘not yet‘.

And watching them accept a new way of seeing the world, watching them learn how to don their armor against a world that may reject them outright, and in some cases, getting the chance to see them succeed beyond their wildest imaginations – that inspires me. I will be honest, I get paid shit wages for the time I put into the students. With money running tight, I am now seeking a part-time job that will help hold off some of the bills going into the future. I am not looking for a job that will replace my teaching, but rather something I can do to augment what I make as a teacher – so that I can continue to do what I have come to love.

I have said it numerous times before – I never viewed myself as a teacher or as a leader. I am now entering my fourth year of teaching – and have discovered a job that I enjoy doing, and something that inspires me to take chances in areas I had never dreamed of trying. Earlier this year, I submitted one of my poems into the Literature contest put on by the English Department. I not only won first place in my category, but I also won the award for Literary Excellence – a sort of “best in show” award. I have never won any award for my poetry before – but I have never considered my poetry to be that good. I was inspired to take a chance – and its shed light into an area of my world that I had never considered to be more than outlet for my own emotions.

I’m aware that not every single student I have is inspired by the things I say or the material that I show to them. Not everyone finds my teaching style to be engrossing or fun. Everyone sees the world differently – I am merely glad that I can get some people inspired enough to chase their dreams – and am completely excited when I am contacted by former students who have made their dreams into reality. Every semester, I run into former students who are excited to see me in the hallways or in my old classroom – and they want to tell me how well they have done. And I listen, smile and laugh with them over their triumphs. Inside, I am humbled to the point of being on my knees and shedding tears for their joys, their triumphs, and their personal discoveries. There are days that I will stand in my classroom and see disinterested students staring into the distance – and wonder to myself what the fuck am I doing in here? And all of that melts away, when I met students that I managed to touch that strain of Awen within them – and I see how much they smile when they see me. And that’s the moment that I remember – this is what I am doing. This is why I teach. No curriculum will ever approach that. No set of quizzes, tests or Case Study will measure this outcome. And for me, this Outcome is far more important than any letter-grade or number-grade I could ever give to a student’s submitted assignment.

And walking to the window
He throws the shutters out against the wall
And from an ivory tower hears her call
‘Let light surround you’
-‘Surrounded‘ by Dream Theater

Rainbows, White-Lighters, and College Students

Rainbow SplotchesI read quite a bit. In part, it comes with the job of being a teacher in an Information Systems class. I spend huge chunks of my day going through news stories, trying to find material that will help elevate the boring class material that I have into something that’s a little more interesting. I have found that recent news examples tend to be the most helpful medicine I can dose that boring textbook with. But it also means I spend a major amount of my day connected to the internet – rather than being outside where I want to be. This happens to be true during this part of the class semester – the very beginning. Since I am constantly refreshing the material in my class, I rarely teach my class the exact same way each semester. I am constantly removing and adding exercises, trying to see what works best and what doesn’t. Its a lot of work. And to be honest, like many educators in the various levels of the Education System – the pay is not great. But when the students get that “AHA!” moment, where the material clicks in their minds, and it opens up a whole new way of looking at the world around them – there’s not a dollar figure in the world that would conquer that moment. Its that moment that keeps me teaching.

The same can be said for the way I approach my “religious” and “spiritual” Life. I am constantly adding and subtracting to the way I approach these metaphysical matters in my Life. I know what doesn’t work for me… elaborate ritual, ceremonial accoutrements, hardcore dogma…and I am aware at what does work for me…spur of the moment ritual, awareness/awe of Nature, showing for rituals or gathering as I am. But I am always willing to look at new ideas, new ways of doing things…always willing to see the world through a new set of eyes. I am fully aware that my Life is lived by my own rules, along with a respect that others may not see the world the same as I do. Parts of that have had to change though. Coyote and Crow pull me along a Path of their choice. Surely, they have a purpose, something that I am to do. However, I also have a lot of things to learn before I get to that. In exchange for that knowledge, that learning…I am agreeing to whatever task (for lack of a better word) that they may have for me.

In a manner of speaking, this quite similar to being in college. I teach the students about Information Systems, how these systems are created, how they are used, and how they can be abused. My ultimate goal is for them to walk away from the class with a better understanding of the pitfalls, and dangers in today’s information-centric society, but to also see how these tools are useful in business related application. As I relate to them, the tool is not good or bad, its the usage of the tool and the result (both anticipated and unanticipated) that provide it with a moral coating. If the students pick up other lessons, such as a better way to argue their points in their writing assignments, or a better way to shape their position in an oral discussion – that’s great. In exchange for the knowledge that I impart to them, all I ask is that they continue on in their education, be the best student that they can, and whatever their chosen profession – be the innovators of new products, as well as the harbingers of positive change in how we treat our environment. Yes, I do teach a block on Green Energy for computing solutions in this class.

I have always said that I am not much of a teacher, and to a point that is correct. But, in true essence, we all serve as teachers, mentors, facilitators…we all try to help the younger generation avoid some of the pitfalls we experience in our daily lives. Sometimes, they listen – sometimes they don’t. But we all approach people new to our working environments with welcoming arms, and understanding when these new folks are a little naive about their standing in the world around them. Just one final point to ponder…if that’s what we do at work – nurture the new workers along until they finally “get it”…why do we, as Pagans (in the general sense of the term), feel the need to bag on the White-Lighters and Rainbow Children? Most of the time, these folks are new to their Path…and are the naive, wide-eyed innocents we all were when we started down our chosen Paths. Why treat these folks with derision and sarcasm?  Should we not nurture them and help them along their Path as well? Imagine how different your own experience might have been, if someone else had (or had not) been there to help nurture you on your Path. Just a thought…