So, this post will be a bit rambly because I am completely exhausted after a marathon paper writing editing session. However, I figured I should write this now while these thoughts are still in my mind. In the past week or so, a few seemingly unrelated events/discussions have gotten me to think about how we get where we are. Now, lets start off with the things that got me thinking:
- a …how do I put it nicely…well a crazy woman wrote an article about “Chinese” mothers that some of my friends keep linking me and asking… I don’t remember my mom being this awful do you?
- a very interesting discussion about expectations for our students with my colleagues at the start of the school year
- a paper submission to a conference
I’ll start with the article… now firstly, I’ll start off by saying that I pretty much disagree with just about everything the author talks about. While my mother is definitely chinese (I can ask her again but I doubt she will say different) she was not the crazy woman in that article. However, there is one thing that my mother did do … she believed that her children could learn. I’m not talking about always being number 1 in a class but she believed that since my brother and I seemed perfectly healthy, we should have no trouble learning and that it was just about working hard at it. I remember that in grade 3, I had nearly been held back a year. Thats right… I nearly flunked grade 3 (gasp). It was a year of movement for my family. I had started school in Toronto, then my family moved to Brandon, Manitoba (missing about 2 to 3 weeks of school during that process) and moved out to Winnipeg Manitoba for the last month of the school year. Moving twice in a year can be rough especially if you move between provinces/school boards with different curriculum. Add to that an English problem and it was pretty easy to see why my last teacher suggested I redo grade 3(I was still in ESL at the time…btw total sidetrack but, I want to give a big Thank You to the ESL teacher from Meadows School in Brandon, Manitoba for telling me to stick out my tongue for “th” sounds! you rock and while I don’t remember your name, I do want to thank you) My mom understood that it wasn’t my ability to learn and asked that I be put into grade 4 with the provision that I would repeat that if necessary. That summer, my mother made me learn the multiplication tables at home and got me a tutor for English. It was a summer where I had to put in a lot of extra time to schooling instead of to playing but in the end I had no problems with my education again. Rambling point being this… my mom believed that I could learn, and made sure that there was no excuse for me to not do so. It took a lot of work but in the end I got through school just fine.
At the beginning of the semester our colleagues and I had a discussion about what we should expect of our students. My colleague Dave had reflected on this discussion earlier. I think that like him I often feel that our students are given the short end of the stick…they have to go out and prove that they are just as capable as a University grad. In the time that I have taught here at Seneca, I have met a lot of students who do such wonderful work that they continually amaze me. Sometimes we get to chit chat and talk about their past. Some of them had struggled in high school which had barred their entrance to University and yet here in College they flourish. Partly this is growing up and partly it is finding something that they really want. If you ask me what makes one student better than another, I would have to say that mostly it is drive. They succeed not necessarily because they were the type of programmers that were born with a keyboard wrapped around their fingers but because they want to succeed. They put in the time to learn things they don’t know and they keep working at something until they get it. This more than anything else is what sets them above the rest. It is how they are able to succeed.
And finally my paper. Today I submitted a paper to a conference and it was right down to the wire. Part of the problem was that I was paying for my own laziness years earlier. When I was doing my master’s thesis I had asked my prof if I needed to write it with LaTeX (pronounced Lay Tech). Its a layout language widely used in scientific publications. My prof’s answer at the time was that I should. However, because it was a master’s thesis and not a phd thesis that he wouldn’t force me to use it. I was allowed to write it with a word processor as long as I stayed to the formatting guide lines set by the faculty. Thus, like many people who take the easy way out when they could… I did. I did not learn to use LaTeX and just wrote my thesis with a word processor. This morning while I was finishing the final editing of our paper, I just couldn’t get it to look anything even remotely like what the conference wanted. What I knew was that they had a LaTeX template so I got their template and put my paper into that form. It turns out that doing that wasn’t really hard to get the paper into the template but it was all the little details that I had problems with. There were just some things that did not work like I thought they should. I kept feeling that it would have been much easier if I knew how to do this from the outset that I wasn’t flipping through helps and faqs trying to solve the simplest problems. In the end the submission made it in just 30 min before the deadline and did not have time to include a few more screenshots or make an awesome movie. All this because I was too lazy to learn it when I should have learned it… one of those lessons that bites you only later.
In the end this rambling post is mostly about this… while you have the chance to learn, learn as much as you can. The easy way out is never free, it always comes with a price. That you while you should expect to succeed it never comes without work. Finally there is no reason to believe that you cannot do something if you work at it. It just requires time, patience and work. Not always fun but definitely always rewarding when you realize you can.