Tag Archives: Students

Hope That Helps

I recently received the following email from a student I taught in eighth grade a few years ago. She is at university now.

Hey Mr.R!
Long time no talk. How are you? How’s the family? Hope you’re all doing well. I’m going into my second year now at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I sort of hate it, but I’m learning to deal with it, so I guess that part’s okay. I wanted to ask you for some advice – I’m in a weird place right now. They really don’t prepare you for college in high school… Well, anyway, I’m kind of stuck between wanting to be an English major and struggling with what my odds would look like career-wise, and trying to pick something more “practical” like Psychology and going to med school etc. I’m so confused and it’s so unbelievably frustrating to be debating myself about my entire future… please help!


My response:


You find yourself in a familiar spot for anyone who has ever been entranced by the word. For every person who’s been tricked into believing that perhaps a living can be made from prose and metaphor and creation and bliss.

The reality, and I really hate to be the one to tell you– as perhaps I was the one who lit the fire, or at least fanned it early in your life, is that there is nothing practical about literature or writing. It is a dead end road obstructed with angst and pain. Forget about careers and security and normality.

You may be one of the lucky ones who has the tenacity, talent and verve to become an actually writer. A tattered creature scraping by enough money to make what they call a living, but the reality is more likely that you will fill your head with the magic of words and find yourself powerless to exist in a world that seldom values them.

Maybe you will become a teacher who spends her life hoodwinking others into believing that art and beauty and dreams are more a human act that working and careers and money can ever be.

You ask me advice about practicality? I know little about the subject. Follow your heart and what you love, the rest will fall into place. Do what you believe will make you happy. Think of what has always made you happy thus far and stick with that. Do not be led by practicality. There are more than enough people following those pursuits. There is nothing wrong with Med school or psychology, but do it because you love it and you feel you have no other choice. Do not allow your decisions to be made based on what you think you should do. Make them based on what you must do.

Whatever you do, will be the right choice. Life is long and simple and pleasant when you do what you love.

Hope that helps.

Mr. R

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by aroid

Do you have any advice for her? What would you say?


Brave New Voices

In the media and information saturated world in which we find ourselves, it is not always obvious what to do with the bits and pieces of digital content, fragments of knowledge, or pieces of learning that filter through our network feeds. I receive hundreds of links to articles, blog posts, jokes, youtube clips, bands I must check out, photos, and 8-Bit Computer Games That Do Not Exist a day!

Drinking from the fire hose, on any given day, can be exciting, exhilarating, or down right exhausting. I have to choose which Tweet link to follow, which Facebook recommendation to actually read, or which RSS blog post to skim or save for later. Not sure when this quiet reflection time is ever going to come, but I am assuming some day I will have time. Ha!

Anyway, sorry, I know you are busy, so let me end this verbose introduction. I received the clip you are about to see from @wmchamberlin a few days ago attached to a Tweet that said, “You are going to love this.”
He was right. My immediate reaction was to RT it and post it on Facebook, because I wanted to share it with as many people as I could, but after reading @cogdog‘s blog post about Are You Liking the Like Web, I got to thinking. I tell my students that they are welcome to embed Youtube clips into their blogs as long as the content does not conflict with our AUP, which they have signed. But I tell them, never to simply post the clip.

Anyone can watch a clip on Youtube, why is watching it on your blog different or special?

Well the answer is that if you are sharing a link of any kind, it would be nice to frame a conversation around the content. So watch this clip and I will meet you in the other side in 2:06 mins.

A lot has been written about education reform. Hundreds if not thousands of teachers around the world are trying to see public education in a new light, and for your effort I applaud you, but here is my question- What if the system is not broken? What if the educational system we have in the US is exactly what the people who designed it want it to be? A system that trains and produces low level, non-critical-thinkers who will be happy non-active citizens who do not question authority and do what they are told- work hard, try to be rich and consume. It keeps minorities out of the equation all togther, by making sure they are seldom properly educated, and allows the wealthy to continue to extract the nations wealth, while the population has been “educated” to admire them for it.

What if we realize that the public education system in the US is designed for the American free market capitalistic system, and until that changes, education cannot and will not change? Why would we expect that the wealthiest 1% of the nation who control the banks, Wall Street, the major industries and corporations, who depend on the population not only for the labor we provide, but also for our spending capital as consumers, why would they want us educated?

What better way for them to stay in power than to have us running through mazes of Ed-reform and standardization, Regents Exams and yet another new scheme? Year in-and-year out, a new administration comes to Washington with the answer. But it is working?

People talk about Ed-Reform; I say we start talking about revolution.  Don’t get me wrong; I am not suggestion Maoist revolt, so before you cry red take a look at the definition of the word: a fundamental change in power or organizational structures.  You tell me what that looks like. Education is not working because the Free Market is. I think the kids in this video have the right idea. Who is their teacher? Let’s get connected. Thoughts?


News Alert Humans Like to Socialize

This headline Social networking ‘damaging school work’ say teachers and subsequent from the BBC spawned a few trickling tweets from me, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I needed more room, some space to really get my thoughts down, because let’s be honest, it is a bit absurd, and it is exactly the paranoid anti-technology hoopla that makes our jobs so much more difficult. And just like it is every teacher’s job to stop bullying or stop and speak to kids who use homophobic insults as tools to cause pain, it is also our job to speak up when someone, especially an organization as “well-respected” as the BBC says something foolish.

Before I begin, let me state clearly that I do believe that everything, especially the things we love and defend need be used in moderation. As every good IB learner understands balance is the key to a happy and successful life. I am sure there are cases where kids have slacked on their homework because they were chatting on Fcebook, but that is no excuse for the BBC to start their article on Social Networking with words like obsession.

Many teachers believe pupils’ work is suffering because of an obsession with social networking, a survey suggests.

Two thirds of teachers questioned said children were rushing their homework and doing it badly so they could chat online.

The article goes on to make some pretty threadbare claims about what teachers surveyed “believe.”

Out of 500 UK teachers involved in the online survey by One Poll, three quarters said parents should limit the time their children spent online.

And 58% said spelling was suffering in the digital age.

A similar number said children’s handwriting was not as good as it should be because they were more used to keyboards and touchpads than pen and paper.

Half of those who took part said children’s “obsession” with social networking was affecting their ability to concentrate in class.

And one in four said they believed children with the poorest grades in school were those who did the most online social networking.

Did these teachers ever stop to think that maybe kids were losing their ability to concentrate in class, because their classes were dull, boring and irrelevant?  Or that maybe handwriting is suffering, because we don’t really need it anymore? Pointing out hyperbolic paranoia and sloppy reporting, or is this just poll sharing, was not my intention for this post. I wanted to think about and discuss the mixed message we send our students:

  • Collaboration is good. But don’t talk to your friends when you should be doing work by yourself.
  • Communication is a key skill. But don’t talk to your friends when you should be listening obediently in class
  • Community is important. But don’t talk to a network of people you know about anything that doesn’t have to do with school.

Why can’t we just admit that we are not “obsessed” with social networks? We are obsessed with being social. And who needs to be in touch with friends more than teenagers. This connection and socializing is who they are. It is who we were, accept I remember hanging out on the curb and the telephone. I didn’t have the opportunity to chat with friends and be able to socialize once school ended. These kids do, and we should learn how to use that, not fear it and block it.

Kids today are socializing in ways we never dreamed of. This shouldn’t scare us. We should learn from them. We should celebrate their love of being social and guide them in how to be able to switch from silly wasting time behavior, which has a place in teen age life, to a more productive use of these powerful tools. As I said in the beginning, of course there must be balance, but that is not how this article was presented. We were led to believe that kids are becoming idiot zombies addicted to mindlessly checking their Facebook feeds, while this may be true for some ( I am guilty), they are simply trying to find a place in the herd, socialize and build identity.

Yes, they are using new ways of doing it, and in new places- online, but we cannot bar them from going there; we must understand their needs and make sure they are safe and confident. So for the last time, parents, teachers schools, stop blaming social networks for strange obsessive social behavior in teenagers. That is their nature. Stop blaming their disinterest in your outdated teaching style and subject matter in the digital age and get with the times. Stop surveying teachers on what they “believe” social networks are doing to kids and ask the students themselves! If we want our kids to be effective communicators who can collaborate and work with others to build productive communities, why are we afraid to let them try?

What do you think?


The Facebook

I saw the Social Network last night and I was very impressed. I do not want to turn this post into a review of the film, except that I will say I found the script hilarious, sharp and witty. The acting, especially Justin Timberlake, was natural and compelling, and the music by Trent Reznor was a perfect complement. It was not just background music, but at times felt like another character helping to move the plot and add tension. (I am actually listening to it now as I type this post.)

I know some people have criticized the movie for not having any positive female characters, and while I agree this is a valid criticism, I would like to state that while we may not agree or like to admit, the mind of the college man dwells in dark places, and most of our time in those caves is spent pondering one thing and one thing only- Women. I am sure there are balanced, well-intentioned, sensitive, young men out there, who do not spend every waking minute of their college life obsessing about women, but for most of us college is a time of great insecurity and is most often consumed by trying to find ways to be as close to the opposite sex as possible. The sexualized fantasies of the film may have been exaggerated and unrealistic, but the obsession was not.

But like I said in the beginning, this was not meant to be a review of the film. As I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but thing about how the Internet is changing the way we create and understand self, and more importantly how does this newly developed public self go about creating social groups and/or communities? How do we as adults who did not spend our schooling years making friends online, learn to understand this change and work with our students to understand the new phenomena?

One of my favorite lines of the film was when Timberlake’s character is at a party and says, “First we lived on farms, then we moved to cities, and now people live online.” While this idea may terrify some, or feel like hyperbole to others, I feel it is pretty close to the truth. While it may appear quaint and nostalgic to champion face-to-face interactions, please believe me I am an advocate of the organic as well as the digital, the reality, whether we like it or not, is that we spend a great part of our lives living online. I am not talking only about those of us who have embraced the social web, those of us with blogs, youtube channels, twitter and The Facebook, I am talking about your average person who Skypes friends, checks status updates and photos, and stays connected through the web. We are all slowly migrating from the cities to online.

For most adults, this living online has been a slow shift. We knew how to make friends, some of us better than others, before the Internet, and so transferring the ability to maintain relationships in “real” life, to life on the web has been a steady continuum. But how do kids these days deal with it? They are learning how to make friendships online as they learn how to do it face-to -ace. This is a fundamental shift in how we foster and maintain relationships and build communities.

It is important that we acknowledge the fact that sites like Facebook are where young people to go to be social. Many nervous administrators want to block social networking sites, like Facebook, but they must realize that this is where kids hang out. While this idea of hanging out on the cloud or in cyberspace feels strange to those of us who did not spend our time there as kids, we owe it to the students we teach to begin to understand the dynamics of online social life. We must begin to ask students what life is like on the web, so that we can help them understand the value in face-to-face relationships. On a more selfish level, it would behoove us to learn more about socializing online as many of these kids will be in charge of the world as we age, and it is always a good idea to understand how they operate. Teachers have a tendency to think that the way they did thins was better than the way they are being done now, so they are constantly trying to force students into the model they feel the most comfortable with. Social networks are here to stay, and we can pine for the good old days when life was private and people knew how to have conversations, but the reality is that those days are gone. We can help students understand the importance of face-to-face interactions, but not until we show them that their digital social rituals have value.

I think the film exposes some important areas for exploration. The main one being, why are we social at all? On the web or off. What is that pressing need that we have as humans that makes us want to fit in and be loved. To be accepted. It is easier for mature adults to look back at our teenage years and scoff at our juvenile behavior in middle or high school. Or to be embarrassed of the days when we considered joining a fraternity or a “Final Club” so that we could be cool and find a date. All of these activities, merely, highlight the need that people in general are insecure and looking to fill the gaps in their personalities with the acceptance of others. We want to be understood, accepted, and if we are lucky loved for who we are. The problem becomes how do we articulate who we are to others.

In the past before the Internet, we relied on what I think are more superficial indicators. For me, in middle school I was judged by how I dressed, which reflected my economic class status, by how I looked, and by the way I acted in class etc…None of which were remotely accurate to the person I was. Like most adolescents and young adults, I had a rough of idea of who I was, but most days even I was confused. So to be judged and evaluated on how I presented myself to the world seemed unfair. No one got me and I had no way of setting them straight.

I think this need to present ourselves as we create and recreate ourselves and change and grow is the central theme of both the movie The Social Network and social networks. Zuckerberg’s goal was to give people a place to stake claim and announce to the world who they are. He wanted to level the playing field. You could, by publicly sharing your profile, dictate to the world how to perceive you once and for all. You no longer had to be the quiet wallflower or the dense jock, if people could see the books you were reading or the music you listened to. Suddenly, you became much more multi-dimensional. Social networks allow us to create who we are much more accurately than non-digital life.

I think I may have more material that will fit into this post, so I will wrap up for now. In closing, I just want to point out that life has changed, is changing, we are in the middle of a very exciting time. The very nature of who we are and how we connect with others is in flux, but this change need not be terrifying. Yes, our children socialize in radically different ways than we did when we were kids, yes young people tend to stare at screens instead of at each others eyes, but we must keep in mind that behind every screen is another person, or two, or three. While staring at a phone and texting may appear anti-social to us, it is actually the most social of acts for them. We cannot ban or force kids to abandon a form of socialization simply because we don’t understand it or because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Make me think of a line I just read in John Spencer’s book Teaching Unmasked: Criticize the tools you use and use the tools you criticize. I for one am going to tack that up on my classroom walls and jump in feet first to help my kids find their voice, find their passion, and their confidence to build and maintain meaningful and mature relationships, both face-to face and online. You can choose to stand on the sidelines and fear the world as it comes at you, or you can choose to go with the flow and move forward.


Education Lasts a Lifetime

There are hundreds if not thousands of posts online about how teachers use or misuse Facebook. I am not a huge fan of Facebook myself; my personal opinion of the tool have flip- flopped more times than I would like to admit, but I have found it to be an easy way to keep in touch with friends who are not overly connected in other ways and with other tools.

I have recently found it a very cool tool to stay in touch with former students. You see, in the international school circuit, teachers and students lead very transient lives.  We come in and out of each there lives very quickly. I have found Facebook to be great tool for not only keeping tabs on former students, but as a place I can continue to teach and learn from them

I am firm believer that we are now at a time and place where  learning is happening everywhere, and both students and teachers must take advantage of the connections we make, no matter how fleeting. If I find and teach a student who is a talented writer and enthusiastic blogger in six grade, I want to be able to continue working with her for years to come.If I find students who are compassionate caretakers of the earth and active with social issues, I want them to remain active members of my network.

I guess what I am trying to say is that if we are too scared to connect with student using social media, then we are denying ourselves a crucial segment of our learning networks. I love having former students who I follow on Twitter. They sometimes leave the most insightful comments. Just today I had two great connections with  former students through Facebook.

Before I share the stories, let me explain my student Facebook policy. I do not friend any current students on my Facebook profile. I have in the past,  however, when moving on from a school, friended a few students who I really trusted and connected with on deeper level. There are only about five of these students with whom I stay in touch. One is now a twenty something year old women who I taught six years ago in The Bronx, and who I visited last time I was in NYC. The others were in 8th grade when I was in Malaysia and recently graduated. One recently sent me this request:

I love the fact that she trusted me enough to ask me for my advice. We have stayed in touch through blogs and Facebook since she was in eighth grade. She is a kind and brilliant young lady.  She is a valuable member of my network.

My more current policy, looks like this: I have created a Mr. Raisdana fan page which I share with all students current former etc..This way, tehy cannot see my personal content, and I cannot see theirs. I use this site to share homework, articles, and try to instigate conversations between my current students and the kids I taught last year in Doha. My current kids are still a bit shy and quiet, but my students in Doha have been active staying in touch. Sometimes it is just silly catching up:

But it can also be a great tool to continue teaching kids:

So as you can see, Facebook and social media do not have to be something to be scared about. All social media is about building relationships based on openness and trust. There is no reason why we can’t create and foster long lasting teacher/learner relationships with our students. You are not going to stay in touch with every student you ever teach, but wouldn’t it be great to stay in touch with the ones who really got what you were teaching? To be able to advize, teach, and learn from them as they grow up and become adults. Life long learning, means life long relationships.

I want to thank my students for everything they have taught me and invite them to leave a comment and join the conversation.