I have been both a teacher and a student. For the past four years or so I have been a student. I have changed courses a few times until I found the right fit for me. I have studied at three different TAFE Colleges and at each I have found the teaching to be excellent. Unfortunately, I seem to keep coming across the same issues among students and since this is my blog and my place to talk about the things that are important to me I thought it’s time to tackle these issues. Even in an adult learning environment there seems to be a misunderstanding of education.
What You Don’t Know?
The first and probably oddest thing in education is that you cannot learn something until you know something.
Think about that for a minute!
You cannot learn something until you know something.
When I first heard of this concept it was like a light dawning in a dark place. I need to know before I learn. The best way to describe this in action is something that happened to all of us. When we were young, very young, we saw and learnt what a bird was. It was a flying thing. Then we see something else that flew like a butterfly and we point and get a quizzical look and say in a stuttering manner bir…bir…bird? We know that birds fly but this isn’t what we know a bird to be. Now we learn that other things fly. Now we learn that there is a thing called a butterfly. Your parent or carer who was with you probably smiled and helped you to learn this new information. That brings me to the ZPD.
The ZPD is a shorthand way of writing the Zone of Proximal Development. This theory is the work of the Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky. I am a huge fan of the ZPD and to me Vygotsky is almost a god when it comes to educational theory.
What is the ZPD? It is the difference between the known and unknown. Sound confusing? Well it is stuff you are learning and how you are growing from your current knowledge base to the next level up. Again I will go back to what happened in childhood. At school you learn the base word first such as “AT” then once you know that the teacher helps you to learn that it can be added to and changed. So you learn you can place an “M” in front of the word “AT” to form a new word with a new meaning “MAT”. You may have heard the word mat, you maybe able to point to a mat but now you can spell it and it is just a matter of placing a letter you know in front of a word you know. Then you find out about “C”, “H” and “S” so now from the base word of “AT” you can write mat, cat, hat and sat. Then a simple sentence is able to be said and written: On the mat sat the cat in the hat. The unknown becomes the know and again once you know something you can learn something.
The ZPD requires a scaffold. A learning scaffold. A teacher assists the learner to understand using a learning scaffold. This is by first spoon feeding the information. Breaking it down into bite size chunks. The teacher will continually question and as you go to answer will give you hints, clues and prompts until the information becomes learnt. So in the early stages of learning new information when the teacher asks the question they might even give you most of the answer until you fill in the parts you know.
I saw a brilliant display of this last Thursday during my class on Colour Theory. I am study a Diploma of Photography and Photo Imaging. This was our second class and Craig (the teacher) started off by asking refresher questions. Teaching 101. The important point is that as he asked and students went to answer he was giving hints, prompts and clues as they went to answer. No one seemed to notice the scaffold! He supported the learning process. No one felt they couldn’t do it. It was the ZPD in action to perfection.
Going back to my earlier example of the new word of “mat”. The teacher might ask, “in our last lesson we learnt a new word does anyone remember what it was?” As hands go up the teacher might say, “it started with mmmm.” As the student goes to answer the teacher might even start the word with the student.
The process is repeated as mat is transformed into “matter” further along in the learning process.
TIME TO BE STUDENTS!!!
Now that we know that teachers know more than us on the topics being taught. It is clear that teachers really do know their stuff. Teachers are professionals just like other professionals such as doctors or lawyers. So why are students such complainers? Here I am talking of adult learners. Those who should know better.
I learnt a very valuable lesson from a good friend of mine when I was studying at university. I was getting a pretty inflated ego because I had learnt a few things or at least read a book or two and after a particular lecture was infuriated that the lecturer didn’t have the depth of knowledge that I did on the topic nor did they take into account x, y and z point of view. This friend listened to my rant and then calmly said, “Are you going because you know everything or you want to learn?” WOW! That stopped me in my tracks. “I am a student” I replied but was cut off by “Then be a student, shut up and learn!” One of the most important sentences of my life was just spoken to me. Then be a student, shut up and learn!
I hear so many student before a class, in the break or after a class complaining about this teacher or that teacher knows nothing. Firstly, everyone knows something. Secondly, they couldn’t be a teacher if they didn’t know the course material. Maybe, just maybe you need to be a student, shut up and learn. Stop the excuses of this teacher doesn’t like me or I don’t like that teacher. This whine will never bring you joy.
This type of complaining can actually stop others from learning. People who may never have had an issue with that teacher may suddenly start to see the flaws you lovingly point out. Be a student, shut up and learn. If you stop someone else from learning then you just became a speed hump on the road to their success.
All singing. All dancing.
Learning can’t always be a spectacular event. This isn’t Hollywood. Sometimes learning is just sheer hard work and determination. Not every lesson can be all singing and all dancing. Sometimes the shift in the ZPD is huge and needs not only the scaffold along with the hints, prompt and clues it requires effort on the part of the student. Learn is a verb. To learn means doing something. The teacher cannot magically place the knowledge in your brain.
Learning is like walking. None of us may remember the day that we chose to walk. What happened on the day you decided to take your first steps was you moved over to a chair or table. You reached out and took hold of the leg of the table or chair. With great effort you lifted your butt off the floor and got to a really shaky standing position. With a huge smile or a giggle you turned, let go of the furniture, stepped out and then fell hard on your butt. The important point is that the fall didn’t stop you. It was hard to learn to walk but you did it. Why do you think learning anything is easier?
Do The Learning
As I have already said I am doing a Diploma of Photography and the basic tool of photography is a camera. This is a practical course. The doing is important. Unfortunately, I see so many who don’t want to do. Sure, they do the minimum and I often hear “I just need to shoot blah, blah for my assignment”. We get a thing called open access to a fully kitted out studio. In fact there are three fully fitted out studios and if needed a green screen. This is professional grade equipment. People complain they don’t understand the classroom learning because they are not doing the practical stuff. They haven’t put the doing of the verb into action. Oh I hear the excuses… Oh I’m to busy. Oh I have children. Oh I’m married. Oh it’s too cold. Oh it is too hot. Here is a secret! Everytime I walk in the studio I save between $300 and $600! Yep! How? To hire a studio in Sydney will cost $300 for half a day and $600 for a full day. If I want to use a light it is extra. If I want to use a modifier it is extra. If I want to use the kitchen it is extra. I save every time I walk in the studio. I learn every time I walk in the studio. I practice. I attempt. I learn. Some shots take 3 or 4 hours just to set up. To get everything correct doesn’t just happen. I did an image of a quill not long ago and that set up took over 3 hours. Shooting it was easy. I learnt so much in that three hours. Photography is problem solving. I am so happy with the result. Could I set up for a product shoot now. You bet I could!
I go into the studio 2 – 3 times a week. If I take ONLY 36 images each time and I attend TAFE 40 weeks a year means at the end of the year if I only take advantage of the studio twice a week I should have 2880 images! If I do three sessions it is a total of 4320 images! That is by doing a minimal amount of work. 3 different setups per week means at the end of the year I have undertaken 120 scenarios. Talk about being industry ready! I can make it happen or make excuses.
Be a student, shut up and learn!
I should have known it would happen. I should have seen it coming. When it happens it is like a bolt of lightning and it is just as sudden and just as intense. Depression.
I have only wanted to publish positive blogs and to be honest I don’t know if it was for me or you. Did I want you to know that even though I have a major mental illness I could and was dealing with it and that I am ok or did I want to convince myself that things had changed. So many times I wish with every fibre of my being that I was cured or that I could be cured. Maybe that isn’t what I deserve.
Today the Black Fog not only enveloped me but was so thick that I almost choked on it. For those that don’t know I refer to my depression as the Black Fog. Like any fog it just descends and once you’re in it you lose perception. In the Black Fog little exists because it is like a wasteland. There is no seeing outside of the Black Fog nothing nothing else exists in any real way once inside. So once shrouded nothing else matters. Nothing penetrates it not friends, not family, not future, not the present, not God. In the fog there is no light or life. The fog is a struggle for survival. It doesn’t just feel like life and death it actually is a life and death struggle. This isn’t just like feeling sad or unhappy this is a struggle on many levels including: fear; self hate or loathing; worthlessness. Even getting out of bed is a struggle. There is weight and mass to the fog it weighs me down and wears me out. If you have never felt it I don’t think that I have the words to describe it to you and would be like me trying to describe the colour orange to a blind person. If you have never felt it I am glad for you because this I wouldn’t wish on anyone. It is evil and it is awful. If you have ever seen anything that glamorises mental illness then it is wrong! There is nothing glamorous about it. As I have already said it is a struggle. Don’t ever wish to enter the Black Fog.
I feel sorry for my friends and family who support me. They have been to my hell and back. In fact, they have brought me back from the edge so many times that they deserve a medal. I do not say that lightly nor do I say it in a joking way because only I know how much they have done for me. They put up with my worst to make me my best. I know that sentence is grammatically wrong but it is so meaningful.
Today is a major struggle. Today was almost my last day on earth. Today I struggle. Tonight I struggle. Will I win? It depends on what you mean by the word win. Living, isn’t necessarily winning because it can be hell. Will I make it to morning? Don’t know. Would it really matter if I didn’t? As the lyrics in the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby say…
Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
Father McKenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
No one was saved
When will the Black Fog leave me? When it decides to! It isn’t here on my invitation. I don’t invite it. I don’t long for it. It comes and goes as it pleases not mine.
In life I wear so many labels. Friend. Disabled. Brother. Schizoaffective. Student. Mentor. Old. Male. Which one is really me?
This is a question that I often ponder. Where is me in all of this? Do I choose the label depending on the audience? Is the label pinned to me by others?
I think that the label is a way of others defining me. Do they see me as a friend or disabled or ill. The label is given but to some degree I wear it because it keeps life simpler and gives me a role that I must play in set contexts. If I am being extremely honest I think that the way that others see me is important. I oddly enough liked to be liked.
I want to give myself a brand new label. I know I probably have far too many labels to deal with now but this one is important to me. I am a photographer. I know you will probably think that is either a job description or something to do for a hobby. There is no arguing that but you see I am a photographer. This encompasses so much of life. To be a photographer and I mean a good photographer I have to be good at doing so many things including:
– Math after all photography is based on mathematics.
– Visualisation of the end result
This is a label that I choose. I am a photographer. Why photography and why a photographer? I never feel so alive nor so complete as when I have a camera in my hands and I’m taking photos. I don’t mean the happy snap of someone standing by a statue when on holidays. I am talking of a much different animal though still related in the same way that humans and kangaroos are which means they share the same DNA but are not the same. Photography is a way of making art or communicating ideas or sharing knowledge. When creating I am in a spiritual place. I am a photographer. Photography is an extension of who I am.
I am a photographer but that doesn’t mean I can do all types of photography. I do not have the gentleness of spirit to be a landscape photographer. It just isn’t in me. I love the interplay between light and shadow. I am enjoying being in the studio and creating images. I have never thought of myself as a creative person but that has changed over the last year or so. I do credit this re-emergence as a photographer and the awakening of creativity with TAFE and in particular Nepean Arts & Design Centre (NADC) www.facebook.com/wsi.nadc They have been both kind and patient with me. The reason that I got back into photography was mentioned in the blog post called 2016. I can honestly say that having a camera in my hands makes me the happiest I have ever been. I guess it would be the same for a painter to have a brush or a sculptor their chosen materials in their hands. There is something incredibly freeing and liberating in photography for me. It is the same feeling I got many years ago when first taking up photography and happens for me once I get past the technical side of cameras. There is a learning curve with any art-form and with mastery of the tools comes a deeper love and desire to create.
What type of photographer am I? I am a developing as a Fine Arts Photographer. I have always loved looking at and shooting the isolated parts and details of an object. I already have one exhibition booked in for 2018 and hoping to have at least one other. Most of the images that I have taken so far deals in some way with my mental illness. No longer will I accept the label of mental illness or disabled but I make my own label. I am a photographer. I am not a happy snapper and a holiday only shooter because I am a photographer.
Time to live my dream and to move into a future where I do the thing I love and hopefully others will find enjoyment. Importantly, it isn’t for others that I do it because it is my art and creativity that drives me.
Live your dream. Follow your own path and be happy. I have never been happier or more certain about anything as I am about being a photographer. So I have a new label and one that I love: I am a photographer!
5:30AM! I blinked more than a few times as I looked at the time. My mind was in disbelief. It cannot be 5:30AM. It is too dark. I have had one of the worst night sleeps imaginable though it was more of a string of punching the pillow and then tossing from one side to the other. While I hadn’t slept and was awake I also didn’t want to get out of bed. I looked over at my Assistance Dog Buddy, and said, “you don’t REALLY want to go for a walk yet do you?” Buddy’s response was to jump on the bed and back down a couple of times. Hmmm I guess he did want to go for a walk. So up I get and off we go.
I walked out into the morning after. Yesterday of 46+ degrees on the Celsius scale which would be around 116 in Fahrenheit. It was hell hot. I don’t handle heat well. I am not a summer kid but love autumn and spring weather the best. Crisp air is great! I love autumn for the colours of the leaves turn on the trees and listening to the fallen one’s crunch as I walk. Spring holds the promise of growth and renewal. Summer in Australia is relentless. So today as Buddy and I walked out of the house and up the driveway in the grey early morning light I felt like I survived a major natural hazard.
The air was without sounds! Things were quiet. No cars. No music. No people. Nothing! I love it when there is no one around. I am not a people person. I also love the soft pastel light just before the sun comes up. As we walk we see it slowly happen. Silently. Ever so slowly, kind of like a smile the creeps on one’s lips when you remember a happy memory. The red begins to tickle the clouds like a lover slowly running the tips of their fingers on the cheek of the one they are kissing. It is only lightly at first. For me it is like being part of a precious moment as the day is ready to appear out of the darkness of night.
I look up and see the day break. It is a wonderous thing. To feel the breeze on my face and to hear Buddy walking over dried grass and fallen leaves is like beautiful music to my ears. With my mental illness there are times of great struggle to keep on living but in this moment I am content. Something I rarely feel. I am looking at something that will never ever happen again. Sure there will be more sunrises but there will not be another one today. I am witness a miracle. How can I be right in the middle of suburbia and still feel at one with the natural?
I wish I could begin to describe how my skin tingled and my heart raced as I watched God give life to this day. This day when so much would happen for so many. People will be born today and their mothers will know the joy of holding their baby for the first time. Someone somewhere will laugh or giggle. People will wake with blurry eyes after the struggle that was the night before. Some might have to clean up the mess after the night before. Without a doubt what will happen today will become the memories in times to come.
Summer days in Australia are often heralded in by a riot of colour and light. Today was no different. This is one of the most iconic things to see as an Australian, the dawn of a new summer day. The colours are bold and brash. The heat is already beginning to build. There are many times I wish I could be somewhere cooler but at seeing this sight my heart knows I am an Australian. I once heard someone say that whenever a scot hears the bagpipes they long for home but whenever I see a day like this begin I know that in ever fibre of my being I am Australian and glad to be alive!
Lately I feel like I been ten round with Muhammad Ali! I have been fighting the feelings of or desire to suicide. TBH it is my greatest longing. I am trying to fight it. I am doing everything I can. I even went to a local public mental health facility for day patients yesterday and sat in the waiting room. No one talked to me. No one questioned why a guy with a dog was there for a couple of hours. No one noticed me. LOL no one even noticed Buddy. Let’s face it most people are just there for the pay like any profession but I just need to be somewhere that I knew I wouldn’t harm. It worked so yeah.
Today I saw my psychiatrist up at St John of God, North Richmond. I don’t know what it is about this place but neither my Assistance dog or I like it. Maybe it is to clean and sterile. I don’t like engaging with people but everyone who passes you at St John of God asks the same question “how are you” and i so want to answer with mad or insane or oh you can see me but I don’t. For those just catching up with my story MI means mental illness. I am a fairly complicated case. Schizoaffective Disorder which means I am 50% bipolar with 50% schizophrenic, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, paranoid personality disorder and ever encroaching agoraphobia. Anyway, I see my psychiatrist: I yell and swear and tell him I am ticked off at the MI professionals that because if you can string a sentence or two together or have a shower they think compliance and me using my words mean nothing to worry about (read cured). Screw that! He is a very good man though anti any religious faith. Nevertheless, I told him about this incredible desire to suicide and basically, “this too shall pass.” He was like, “well you know about the cycles and how you rapid cycle and you have been here before and survived and that was because it passed and you know that this too shall pass”. Really, after they have administer medication there isn’t much else but these few words of “this too shall pass”. We are pushing the boundaries of the amount of anti-psychotics meds and within range of antidepressants but mood stabilisers haven’t changed in a couple of years. Basically, our session was me yelling, swearing, crying and giving Buddy snacks. Oh if you don’t know I also have a psychiatric Assistance Dog whose name is Buddy.
Then it a pleasant trip back to Blacktown so I could go to Centrelink to put in my receipt from my psychiatrist. Always a for joy experience.
Then an afternoon session with my psychologist. Oh yeah a big MI day! I do like her as well. If you don’t like them as people then they’re as useless as an ashtray on a motorbike. I tell her about my desire to die, she seems a little more concerned or at least animated. I slip in that I have chosen an exit date. I won’t tell anyone the date but did tell her it was months away. Just in case you are wondering, we cannot forcibly lock anyone in an MI facility even if they want to suicide. It is not an illegal act. It is not an against the bible or God act either. Back to the story. We go way over time. She’s a good egg. She cares. She wears great shoes.
Went and sat and had coffee at one of the coffee places in the shopping centre to contemplate a question that the psychologist asked me: Do you have any hope? Response: No not really, no.
If you are Christian then you are going to jump all over me saying Jesus is your hope. You have the Holy Spirit. The hope of heaven. The hope of being well. The hope of what God has in store for you. Yeah, thanks.
When the Black Fog of depression descends, nothing exists. Nothing. No hope. No future. No present. No past. No friendship. No love. No caring. No life. No desire. No peace. Dare I say no God? The heavier and darker the fog the more hopeless things are.
I apologise that this is not a happy I conquered all type of blog post. I will never be cured in this lifetime. I know that. I have lived this hell since my first suicide attempt in my
pre-teen years though most at the time thought it was rambunctiousness gone awry.
Oh damn I told her about the sexual abuse when I was a small child and being raped at 15. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr
Where does that leave me? I still have colour pencils and colouring books.