Surviving Graduate School

As someone still at the very beginning of her graduate career, at times (okay, a lot of the time) the expectations can be quite overwhelming.  Recently I was talking to an old friend and she asked, “How is school?  How is life?”  I laughed… “I think life and school are the same thing right now,” I replied.  Because that is how it feels.

Anyway, on days like today when it snowed 6″ overnight (and is still snowing) and the world still seems to be asleep when I leave my house at 6:45am, it’s nice to know that others have gone before me and have made it through.  And it’s nice to know that others are going through it right now and managing to make it work for them.  If you have a chance, Simply Bike has a great post on “tips for getting through graduate school”, and in general is a wonderful blogger who writes on academia, parenthood, biking, and life.

What encourages you to keep going?

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Ways of Knowing

Having read quite a bit in the past few weeks on ontology, epistemology, and methodology, I was struck by the following quote:

Studies of school effects need a more grounded, realistic methodology to assess general, qualitative impact rather than a fragmentary, quantitative one.  Isolated research findings cannot be taken out of context and proposed as “quick fixes” to educational problems.  The study of indigenous knowledge forms is necessary.

– Vandra Masemann, “Ways of Knowing”, 1990

Research in the field of education can be mired in epistemological disputes over the right way of ‘knowing’ about the world.  But what is important with a discipline like education, is to remember its practical aims, which are, among other things: to understand the role of education (both formal and non-formal), to improve practice, and to address inequity.  This is not to say that methodologies or epistemologies should be any less rigorous than in any other field, but that we should not lose sight of our purpose.  Moreover, contextual understandings – and local experiences of education – are important.

How Children Learn

If a picture is worth a thousand words (or so the saying goes), what might pictures of schooling from around the world tell us?  How are images used (either implicitly or explicitly) to shape our constructions of education in a particular place?  British photographer Julian Germain has been working since 2004 to capture school life, and has recently published a book entitled Classroom Portraits, 2004-2012.  All together, Germain has taken more than 450 photographs in 20 different countries.  Here are some of my favorites.  (You can see more photographs here.)

Taiwanese Kindergarten

Taiwanese Kindergarten

Nigerian Secondary School

Nigerian Secondary School

Brazilian Elementary School

Brazilian Elementary School

Saudi Arabian Kindergarten

Saudi Arabian Kindergarten

Whenever I look at images like these I inevitably compare it to my own experiences teaching first grade in rural Louisiana or second grade in North Africa.  I think, what would my own classroom have looked like if someone came by one day?  Personal biases and reflections notwithstanding, I also think about what I see and what I do not see.  How are the students oriented?  Are they in a group?  Or facing the teacher?  Why might that be?  What types of materials and supplies are there available to the students (at least in the picture)?  How are students dressed?  Is there a uniform?  What purpose might that uniform (or lack of uniform) have?  What is the racial, ethnic, religious, gendered composition of the classroom (at least in this moment)?  Why did the photographer choose these schools or classrooms, as opposed to others?  What purpose might he have had in these choices?  What is the “absent presence”?

What do you think about when you see photos of other schools?

Ph.D. Comics

SemioticsOfAProfSignature

Have you come across Ph.D. Comics?  If not, its a collection of comic strips and short animated cartoons on the ins and outs (mostly the outs) of graduate school life.  And it’s absolutely wonderful, particularly after a long day of reading, writing, more reading, meetings, and then some more reading.  Best enjoyed with a cup tea or coffee.