Passion and Pedagogy: The Transformative Journey of an up and Coming Educator

by Justin Teeman, M.Ed. 

“Psychology is an arena where the premodern ways of teaching are still the most effective ones, even in contemporary life. We don’t teach psychology in elementary schools because we don’t need to. Every distracted or commanding teacher, every successful bully or heroic defier of bullying, every charming flirt or captivating class clown, is a rich psychology tutorial of their own. While a new tool or technique, a wheel or a lever, may be impressive, the psychological wheels and levers are really the things that move the world. Mastering physical causality can give us the means to explore or destroy the world. But psychological causality, the words spoken by some humans to others, actually makes the rockets go up or the bombs come down” (Gopnik, 2009).

The quotation above is one that I recite to my students during our final week of coursework. It has a way of tying up many layers of thought into a neat little package upon which students can reflect. Words when strung together in just the right sentences have an ability to drive the occasionally amorphous ideas and theories embedded in one’s coursework home in a memorable manner. After a few moments of “shock and awe” Students will come up to me after class and strike up a conversation typically centered around some form of the idea that they. “Never thought about Psychology quite like that before.” Such for me is one mark of a job well done.

Now that you’ve heard the end of the story, let me lay the foundation for you. As I write these words I am nearly halfway through my second semester as an Adjunct instructor in the Department of Psychology here at UCO.

Countless pages have been written about the lives and backgrounds of contingent faculty members. There’s really not enough space here to outline all that can come with that territory. There is one factor however that we can trace across the lives of many of these folks, most of their time is spent among first year students in courses that will serve as the foundational building blocks of their academic journey. This is no different for me as I’m currently teaching two sections of Introductory Psychology. I’ve found that knowing one’s audience is a pivotal step towards a successful semester for everyone concerned.  Introductory audiences are those for whom yours is the only incantation of your subject that they will see in a formal setting. With such a limited time to reach these groups our pedagogy must be chosen carefully such that it can provide a thorough survey of the material and deliver it in a way that causes students not only to succeed academically, but also view their world through new lenses. Psychology is the “dream course” for such an occurrence because it deals with areas that we are embedded in every day and capture our interest. One even spends a chunk of time learning how we as humans learn. I tell students at the start of each semester that they are there to learn and become conversant in a new language, the language of the human mind. This metaphor is applied in various contexts throughout the semester and gives a rationale for what can seem like the same rote memorization that students become accustomed to in those first years of college.

In addition to learning a new language students are also forced to wrestle with their pre-existing ideas and schemas (background information) about how human mental life and behavior works.

The language of learning from a psychological perspective can even give one cause to view the framework of transformation in a different light which is what I desperately needed when the university began to adopt the idea of transformative learning. While I no doubt felt the passion of its cheerleaders leaping off of the page or within the excitement of their voices, I remained, and to a certain degree still do, skeptical of the idea as anything that new or exciting. Simply because no one could give me anything that I felt was a consistent or unified definition of the concept. As Solomon penned ages ago, “There’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NKJV). None of this is to say that the technique or method could not be applied in novel and highly useful ways; It would just take me viewing the ideas through lenses with which I was far more familiar to begin to see the proverbial light. This is where my academic background, passion for performance art (of which teaching is a high form) and our beloved “Central Six” would merge to give me a framework of transformation that proved to be another great tool in my pedagogical toolbox.   One would do well to take note of Dr. Jeff King’s 2015 TEDx UCO talk on transformative learning where he used the language of neuroscience to show transformative learning in action. This too helped ease some of my skepticism. Though it came after the formulation of much of what follows.

The baseline definition of learning found in many an Introductory Psychology text is: “A relatively permanent change in behavior due to experience” (Grison, Heatherton, & Gazzaniga 2015). From this standpoint one can see that learning by definition is a transformative act. That is to say that if something didn’t change (read transform) then it could be argued that learning, at least in any robust or lasting sense, did not take place. Such a baseline was helpful in my own understanding of transformation. In any briefing I’d previously had on transformative learning a sage on the stage would admonish a group of people not to be “sages on stages” (read lecturers). The frustration of such for me was what reminded me of what I often tell students about the material covered in introductory courses. This returns us to the metaphor of each unit as a tool in our toolbox. Each piece leads us to another until we reach a unified whole. This is where the Central Six comes into play and it is what would show me that even a well presented lecture or presentation could take one beyond the realm of discipline knowledge if the orator’s passion gripped his audience in the same way it gripped him. This is where I began to blend passion with pedagogy. Whichever part of the whole one may examine more closely on a given day be it global and cultural competency, health and Wellness, leadership, research, creative, and scholarly activity, service Learning and civic engagement, or, discipline knowledge each one of the six tenets (UCO, 2015) has a home in the field of Psychology as there is material designed to cultivate each area such that it hits right on UCO’s transformational target of “Expanding student perspectives beyond their discipline to expand their relational perspectives…..” In psychology one not only learns what humans do but why they do it and why it matters. Perhaps this is why social sciences remain consistently popular elective selections, one cannot help but to view various domains of life through a different set of lenses after course completion.

For me transformation occurred the first time I laid eyes on the quotation that opened this piece. It caused me to view a field of study that I grew to enjoy first out of my love for close-up magic, in a new way. It hammered home the metaphor of psychology as a language all its own. The real magic for me as an educator was seeing how my passions could become agents of transformation too. I share a piece of my magic show each term as we cover sensation and perception. This elevates what at base could be thought of as a lecture and takes it to new and memorable heights. It’s one of the most oft discussed facets of Professor Teeman’s course. I’m often most easily remembered on campus as “That guy in the wheelchair who does magic.” That’s a label I’ll wear proudly so long as students remember how I’ll often close out a day of class. “Never let your limitations be any match for your dreams.” When one engages that thought how could they not be transformed?

 

References

Gopnik, A. (2009). The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Can Tell Us About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Farrar, Stauss, And Grioux.

Grison, S., Heatherton, T.F., Gazzaniga, M.S. (2015).  Psychology in your life.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Holy Bible, New King James Version

King, J. (2004). Beliefs Create Educational Realities.   Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBXOIKYSvL4

UCO (2015). Transformative Learning: The Central Six.  Retrieved from http://www.uco.edu/central/tl/central6/

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