Are You Serious?

So, this is another podcast inspired post. Regular readers know that I listen to a lot of podcasts and the good ones make me think about my role as a teacher, as a husband, and as a parent. So, at the risk of being a “one-trick pony,” I’m going to dig into the podcast well once again and talk about a recent Radio Lab episode titled Translation.  The episode covers a lot of territory by examining how things are translated in different ways. One section focuses on the multiple translations of a single French poem. Another interviews a sign language interpreter who worked at a Jeff Ross comedy show. The episode is jam-packed with awesomeness.

But the most thought-provoking section of the episode focuses on the use of the word “serious” in other cultures. In America, when someone says they’re serious, it usually means that they’re not joking. Or that they’re genuine. Or sincere.  But according to the Radio Lab episode, that’s not the way other cultures use the word. For example, in East Africa, the word “serious” is used when people are so committed to a cause that they don’t just talk about making a difference, but they’re willing to do something about it. So, when someone in East Africa asks “Are you serious?” they’re not questioning a person’s sincerity. Instead, they’re gauging the person’s commitment to action.

The phrase “Are you serious?” has been bouncing around in my brain a lot these last few weeks. Specifically, I’ve been reflecting on my interactions with an undergraduate class I’m teaching. The class is a new course for me so I’ve worked really hard to get up to speed with the readings and design an engaging and interactive course. With the pandemic, the course has been moved online and I’m teaching the class through a blend of asynchronous and synchronous interactions. Most of the students in the class are sophomores with a few juniors mixed in. We’re entering week 5 of the semester and so far, the class has been…. just okay. Maybe I’m being somewhat critical with my assessment (I’m prone to that…) but looking at the students’ interaction and performance in class, there’s a group of students that I feel like I’m just not reaching. They’re (mostly) attending my synchronous classes but their work in the asynchronous components has been mixed. While I feel like I’m committed to my students’ success, some are clearly struggling. And the voice I hear in the back of my head keeps asking “Are you serious?”

So, if my answer is “Yes, I’m serious,” it means I have to do more to reach my students and help them succeed. I can’t just talk the talk. I’ve got to do something tangible to help them. To better support these struggling students, I’ve implemented a variety of strategies. I’ve sent supportive and encouraging emails when they’ve missed class. I’ve met with a few of the students to develop improvement plans. I’ve offered some deadline forgiveness for students who have experienced health and technical challenges. I’ve also built checklists to help students better attend to synchronous and asynchronous aspects of the class. Have the strategies worked? I don’t know yet. But I am a little more confident answering the voice in my head that asks “Are you serious?”

Yes, I am.

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