Carol A. Hand
There are so many ideas swirling in my head and heart today that are waiting to be written, yet the most I can do to give voice to them at the moment is a simple reflection about teaching. I need to put creative urges aside, or channel them into grading assignments and developing a new class on research for summer. Teaching for me isn’t really about a paycheck, although the chump change I earn as an adjunct is helpful. It’s about the sense of responsibility I feel toward students who are eager to learn even though they have chosen a field that will probably never make them rich – social work. They are willing to balance child care, family obligations, work, sometimes long commutes, and take on debt that they will struggle to repay for many years. I feel blessed to be able to work with young people who care enough about the well-being of others to make these sacrifices. I owe it to them to give feedback on their papers and design courses that may help them in the future.
The class I am teaching this semester, American Social Welfare Policy, is the second least favorite class for social work students. (Research is the least popular.) Yesterday in class, I could see how intimidated many felt at the prospect of policy analysis, yet as we brainstormed about options, it was heartening to see them feel empowered and excited because they were beginning to feel they could figure it out.
I don’t teach policy the same way I learned it and the way it continues to be taught year after year in most colleges and universities. We do have a textbook, but it focuses on knowledge and skills to pursue social justice (Jansson (2011), Becoming an effective policy advocate: From policy practice to social justice). We are also using one book intended to help them explore the importance of “class” and power (Class Matters), and one to encourage them think about history and hegemony (We the people: A call to take back America). This semester I am also able to draw from all of the fascinating and important information from other bloggers, a far better resource for information about contemporary issues than textbooks or other media.
The class is just beginning the daunting task of analyzing policy in teams of three or four and developing suggested improvements and strategies they can use for community and legislative advocacy. They won’t produce boring policy analysis papers that will sit on a shelf gathering dust. The end product is a presentation about what they have learned from their analysis and their proposal for making changes from a social justice perspective. The dread about studying policy is beginning to turn to excitement, as this student email demonstrates,
“Just a cool moment… I’m a member of policy council for my son’s daycare. We were taking about policy changes and talking to legislators…woohoo I knew where to send people! You’re awesome. Thank you!!!”
Now, it’s time for me to face the pile of papers I need to grade and figure out how to structure a research class that is centered on improving people’s lives rather than showcasing one’s knowledge of sophisticated statistical methodologies!
Photo Credit: spectrumcenter.mich.edu
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