Thursday, September 8, 2011

Paid for School: My Experience as a Learner

Money as a Reward for Attendance
 
The first experience I had attaching money to any school performance was self-inflicted. I was in college. I had met this guy at my part-time job in the Mall and I had started skipping classes like crazy! I went to a really small college and had a cool, small group of friends that I used to hang out with in some abandoned lounge in the science building. We were all getting too comfortable now that we were reaching the end of our college careers (I believe it was my third year) - we were all skipping classes (sometimes just hanging in the lounge doing puzzles, exploring pi, or nerd-ing it up in some other way)! We came up with a plan: Let's make a skipping jar! Basically, we decided we had to pay $1 to the jar for each class we skipped and whoever skipped the least amount of times at the end of the semester would win the pot.

I didn't win. I didn't even come close. I believe I was the largest contributor, actually. Happy ending? I married the guy. (Good investment!)

Money As An Added Bonus for Learning
 
The next time I came across money for school was after I became a teacher. I was new to the job, teaching grades I had no previous plans to teach and was desperate for help wherever I could get it. I signed up for and went to professional development classes almost every single Friday of my first year of teaching. I loved it, it was exactly what I needed. I usually picked up at least one good tip from each session, sometimes from the instructor, but, even more often, from the others in the class with me. It was valuable in its content, but then these people were paying me to go there too! I simply could not understand why all of the teachers in my department weren't signing up for this!

It didn't stop there. I was a math teacher in a NYC public high school. In the late 90s/early 2000s there was money everywhere for people like me. I have had the pleasure of learning at a number of higher learning institutions, from and with some of the leading professionals in the fields of education, math and math education. I would have paid for these programs if I could have (I probably would have had to choose only one, instead of having so many opportunities), but, instead I GOT PAID TO LEARN. It still baffles me. Here's a a quick run-down of some memorable programs:
  • New York University: I took two courses (no one else was interested when year 2 came around!!) on teaching English-Language Learners in the content areas.
  • Brooklyn College: I took two courses and then was invited back for a third semester for a "leaders" group on H.O.T. Math (H.O.T. stood for "Higher Order Thinking")
  • City College/City University: I was given three immersion courses in one summer - one on problem solving, one on graphing calculator skills and one on Geometer's Sketchpad
  • College of Staten Island: I shadowed a group of high school students learning Statistics in two courses - one that was pure methodology and the other that used the graphing calculator technology. I had a full notebook of tons of learning from that which was extremely valuable when I was unexpectedly asked if I would like to teach Advanced Placement Statistics almost ten years later!
  • Rutgers College/Rutgers University: DIMACS was life-changing for me. Changed my theories of learning, taught me about a division of Mathematics I had never heard of (Graph Theory) and allowed me to be a coauthor on an article in a Mathematics journal (nerd points!!). This was a month-long program for two summers in a row.
Did I mention that I got PAID for all of this fantastic learning??? Still completely unbelievable to me.

This Student's Conclusion About Getting Paid to Go to School

I am a life-long learner. Even when I skipped my classes, it wasn't for a lack of love for learning, it was simply because this silly girl fell in love with a guy. Money has never been a motivator for me to go to school, it has, instead, been a greatly appreciated bonus for all of the hard work put in. However, what has continued to baffle me as a student is how the money is not a motivator for more people! In almost all of the programs listed above (except Rutgers) there were definitely people who followed the money, but not many. In fact, I started to run into the same group of people from program to program, as if we were the only people in NYC that wanted to be paid to learn! It was very odd.

I would often present the programs to fellow teachers, ask them to join in on the fun. The responses were usually the same:
  • it's too time consuming
  • I'm done with school
  • I could just tutor for money
  • I don't want to travel all the way there
  • is there homework?
  • if I go to that class, then I'm going have to teach that course
So money, it seems, is not everything and maybe not as motivating as we may think.

Is money for learning something that appeals to you?
Would you like to get paid to learn something?
If you had your choice, what would you learn?


This post is written as part of the What IF? Project hosted here on the Rivera Runs Through It Blog. Each week a new "What if?" question is presented and I do my best to respond to the query.  You are invited to as well. This week's "What if?" was

What if students were paid to go to school?


[I also answered this question from the perspective of a former teacher, to read this response see Paid for School: My Thoughts As A Teacher

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