I have probably said this too, at one time, though now I am ashamed to admit it. The educational system conditions us to think that students must keep pace — -and that as good teachers, it is our role to must ensure that they keep pace.

But you know what? We learn at different paces. Or maybe we should not think of the word “pace” at all when we think of learning. Learning isn’t something that can be rushed or completed; instead, it’s an ongoing, recursive process. There are some lessons I am constantly relearning because I’m always forgetting.

If…


Is School Anti-Learning?

More and more, I am coming to believe that school is a place that is, sadly, antithetical to learning. It is a place where students pretend to learn in exchange for a grade that certifies that they “learned,” and are thus qualified to move on in the system. School values performance over learning, standardization over the individual.

Instead of pursuing “outcomes” in education, we might be wiser to consider what types of behaviors are pro-learning and what types of behaviors are anti-learning.

Learning involves struggle, mistakes, confusion, clarity, and more confusion. It is not a linear process…


The quote “Stress blocks learning” with a pencil next to it.
The quote “Stress blocks learning” with a pencil next to it.
“Educational Postcard: ‘Stress blocks learning’” by Ken Whytock is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

We must stop using rewards and punishments in order to motivate our students.

I have believed this for years, but I have never felt it so strongly as last week, when I discussed intrinsic motivation with my community college English composition students.

My Zoom class of 27 understood and could vocalize the concept of intrinsic motivation, but when I asked for a specific example, the previously talkative class went quiet. In the chat, someone typed, “Professor, it’s too hard.” Someone else suggested that perhaps sleeping was an example of intrinsic motivation.

“No,” I replied. “It’s something that is hard work…


I used to have a folder on my computer called “rubrics,” which contained over a dozen variations of rubrics for each writing class I taught. Some were point-based, others descriptive, such as the one below. I worked hard to craft these rubrics, taking care to make the language accessible and precise. If I could bottle all of the time and energy I have spent over the years revising and retweaking these rubrics, I could probably power a rocket to Mars.

The final version of my rubric, which I threw away.

About five years ago, I took that rubrics folder and dragged it into my trash bin on my Mac. The…


Like many teachers, I have spent countless hours trying to devise a perfect grading system, one that is equal parts fair and rigorous, that will reward students for hard work and punish certain behaviors that I saw as detrimental to my students’ progress. For twenty years I worked on this, tweaking certain policies, changing the weight of various assignments, assigning extra points for this or that. Sometimes, after revising my grading system, I ended up with a system much like the one I had scrapped two years before. Though it had long seemed to be a fruitless task, I kept…


A few years ago, the California State University (CSU) system decided to drop Introduction to Literature as a graduation requirement for its students. Shortly thereafter, our college and many other California community colleges followed suit. As a consequence of this change, students would go through their entire college education with no study of literature. Since our college dropped Introduction to Literature as a requirement, the enrollment for this course has been steadily declining, and most likely, the course will eventually go away.

I protested at the time, and wrote letters, and even had students write letters attesting to the value…


I share this essay written by my wonderful student Elisa Castillo so that we can learn from her wisdom how to be happy in these trying times.

— Jennifer Hurley

We were created to be happy. The whole purpose of our life journey is to find happiness and peace within. Having control of our happiness is essential for our life. We dedicate our life to search for success and money, in order to be happy, but true happiness is beyond accomplishments or wealth; it is something we cannot touch.

True happiness is within, but most of us try to outsource…


Perhaps I jinxed myself when, at the beginning of 2020, I announced to my husband that my word of 2020 was “slow.” Since the coronavirus, slow has become an inescapable reality. There is no traffic to battle, no hallways to rush down, no clutch of students waiting outside my classroom door. There is no yoga class to attend, no shopping to do (save for toilet paper), no events to plan for aside from the daily walking of the dogs.

So here we are in the land of slow, against our will, in opposition to our plans — and this unplanned…


The logic of student learning outcomes is so unimpeachable that I’ve hesitated to challenge it, even in my own mind. How could we possibly find fault with a system designed to help us set and evaluate goals for our teaching? There is something pleasingly tidy about the idea that we could do such a thing. But like most “good ideas” in education, the implementation of outcomes in a classroom of actual human beings is where things go awry.

In the community college English courses I teach, my students are all over the map in terms of their abilities and background…


It is only a slight exaggeration to say that reading saved my life. I was born prematurely, with undeveloped lungs, and I was not expected to survive. In the middle of the night — this was February, in Maryland — I was taken by helicopter to a bigger hospital and put into an incubator. When I survived, I was not expected to develop intellectually. So my mother read to me. She read to me day after day, and I feel like all of this reading must have saved my mind.

During my childhood, I read like a parched person seeking…

Professor Jennifer Hurley

Jennifer Hurley has taught literature, composition, and critical thinking at Ohlone College since 2001. See more of her writing at www.professorhurley.com.

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