My husband and I found ourselves at In-N-Out Burger last Saturday just before midnight. (We’re old-ish but we occasionally have late nights. Leave it alone.) In all the fun with friends that evening we forgot to eat. And that’s how we found ourselves watching the choreography of the burger-joint food preppers as we waited for “Guest # 29” to be called.
What we saw were employees of all backgrounds united by a crisp uniform and the task at hand – feed hungry (and maybe hangry) late-nighters. What struck me is the buoyant banter and the bounce in their steps. It was like watching a well-timed ballet as they bobbed and weaved around one another. One particular food server had a booming laugh that broke us up every time it peeled out. At that moment, I yelled to my husband, “This is why I love teaching at the community college!”
His puzzled look prompted me to explain. I believe the work of these employees was fueled in part by the dreams they hold for their lives (while making the best French fries in the universe). These workers were young and full of energy and striving. And that is exactly the clientele I have the privilege of teaching every day. I get to spend a good chunk of my life around people who are in the very business of pursuing their dreams.
My late-night In-N-Out epiphany led me to ask the students in my statistics courses to share their dreams with me this week. (I told them I was a “dream catcher” – yuk, yuk!) Their responses did not disappoint, as seen in this sample:
“I want to be a journalist, to learn from the world around me, and share that information with others. I want to make life better for the people around me.”
“I want to help my kids become respectful/successful adults.”
“I dream of the possibility for humans to live in peace with respect for nature.”
“I want to be able to give back to my parents. That is my biggest dream.”
“A dream I have for myself is to become a registered nurse, working in a hospital saving and improving lives.”
“Dream #2: Win the lottery. Not the entire lottery, just enough to pay off all my student loan debt!”
As their professor, I have dreams for them, too. In my courses, I hope my students will engage in learning that sticks. I want them to get slayed (in a good way) by ideas and get hooked into the pursuit of knowledge. I want them to be stunned by new information and come to understandings that help improve their lives. Yes, I dare to dream!
So, the dreams of both teacher and student are inextricably intertwined. I want students to learn things of value, and they want to achieve their life goals. At this intersection is the motivational concept of instrumentality. For students to deeply engage in learning, it helps when they can see the relevance of what they are learning to their own goals.
To tap into their sense of instrumentality for what they are
learning in statistics, I also asked my students this week, “How is this
statistics course supportive of your dreams?” Teachers of statistics know that
this question is not without risk. (To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “That’s a pretty
big matzah ball
hanging out there.”) But, their responses were consistently positive. In truth, most students mentioned that this course will help them meet their major requirements, and we discussed how this type of extrinsic motivation is the way of things sometimes. However, some students mentioned more intrinsic value for learning statistics:
“This class helps me not believe every number I see.”
“It gives me the ability to think for myself and question information I am given.”
“It helps me to see the realistic numbers with life and how things are calculated in the real world. So it helps me to open my eyes to new things.”
“This course is helping me figure out how I learn best.”
“This course provides a way of spotting false research. It makes me not take everything at face value.”
“Taking this course supports my dreams by keeping my brain healthy and active!”
How can it not be anyone’s dream to teach at the community college? To be around people day in and day out who are on the cusp of making their dreams a reality. I attended a teaching conference today, and one of the presenters said, “Education is often done to students, not with them.” Having explicit discussions about the dreams and how their courses are useful to them is definitely an example of the latter.
This post is part of the Write 6X6 challenge at Glendale Community College.