Every day, in one way or another, I stand and deliver. I influence the natural patterns of thought of my students.
That’s what learning is all about.
On one hand, I try to avoid being political. I try to keep my own beliefs in the background. I try to bury my bias. My goal is not to sell an ideal but to encourage critical thinking.
On the other hand, I strongly and vocally encourage social justice and the pursuit of cultural awareness. I strive for my students to be active citizens and critical of authority.
This may come as a surprise to many, but I’ve got opinions. I’ve got many opinions on many subjects. Not only do I have opinions, I like to share my opinions.
What job do I ultimately have? To be my authentic, opinionated self, while maintaining a healthy grip of objective reporting, much like Murrow and Cronkite or to be devoid of personality, a list of facts and figures with no bias?
I’d like to say this post is not about what’s happening in Ontario where there is a showdown between the Ontario Liberal Party and teacher unions. I’d like to say that this is a reflective post about the nature/value/danger of my opinion in my classroom.
But it is.
It’s important to know what their teachers are facing. It’s important for students to understand the climate of the school. It’s important for students to understand that regardless of what is happening, their teachers are there for them, despite potential withdrawal of extras.
Does that make students the pawns of both sides?
I also think this post is questioning the rhetoric that what the unions are “fighting” for are the “democratic” collective bargaining rights. I’ve seen it said, “We’re fighting for everyone, not just teachers.”
Yet, I’ve asked colleagues who were teaching during the Harris years and after, did the labour dispute make them overall more political active and the answer was no. Unless the issue was affecting them directly, they were unaware.
If we are railing against the loss of “democratic rights”, why aren’t we up in arms about the federal government’s use of omnibus bills to pass ill-supported legislation?
I suppose at the end of the day, I’m curious, is the nature of teaching political?
He walks into the classroom mid-way through solving the Rubik’s cube. Before he’s through the door, it’s solved. Within seconds he’s messed it up again and then spins the cube to start solving. Within a couple minutes, it’s solved again.
This guy is your typical applied level student. Interesting, nuanced, at points disengaged and most of all, not meant to sit in a classroom doing worksheets all day. He’s easily distracted in class, struggles with writing, and yet, as this huge untapped potential for learning. He doesn’t seem himself as someone school is designed for and that makes perfect sense.
“How did you do that?”
“It’s a simple algorithm.”
“Where did you learn it?”
“On Youtube,” he says non-chalantly as he shows me his Rubik’s cube belt buckle. “My fastest is 1minute and 6 seconds.”
“But, I’m trying to get better.”
He sits down, hardly listening to the school announcements, and whips through it a couple more times. Complete it, mess it up, complete it again.
I ask him to teach me. He says, “You can just go watch some Youtube videos and it will be much easier.” But I sense a learning opportunity. For me and for him.
I sit down, he stands over my shoulder and starts the process. In the position of student, I quickly become discouraged. I say, “I’ll never be able to do this…” and “This is too hard…” and “I’ll never remember this,” but he just calmly tells me to keep trying. He stands over my shoulder for something like seven minutes until I shrugged it off. “Never mind, we’ve got other things to do.”
It’s easy to say that the student who shrug off school, don’t know what’s good for them. Or paint the need for today in the light of their future. But the reality is, it is hard to learn. It is hard to be put into a situation that is difficult, all day, every day, and still maintain your enthusiasm for showing up.
I’ll be back, I’ll eventually (my goal is by the end of the semester) be able to solve the Rubik’s cube, but I see myself as learner. But I don’t have to do it everyday. Just chipping away.
How often do we take the same skill and make students do it over and over, day after day? Maybe it’s time we diversify. Maybe it’s time we allow students to determine when they need a break.
I mean, after all, it’s a simple algorithm.
How do we make others trust us? Often it is through personal, deliberate acts of kindness, generosity and honour. It takes time. It takes repetition of these acts. It doesn’t always happen.
I think one of the most pressing issues within our culture is our culture of mistrust.
It destabilizes everything.
I was talking to my class, two days into the new school year, about the idea of trust. Who they trust? Why they trust these people? Do they trust me? Earning trust?
The overwhelming sentiment in this Grade 11 class, trust is hard to earn, often broken, and sometimes elusive.
I asked them if they trust the government: overwhelmingly no.
I asked them if they trust their teachers: overwhelmingly no.
I asked them if they trust the police: overwhelmingly no.
If they trust me: not sure.
I recognize that this class is not a random or statistically-relevant sample size, and I do recognize that it may be part of a teenager’s m.o. not to trust anyone, however, I don’t think they are alone. And I think this is indelibly sad and dangerous as we move into a more connected world.
Their thoughts in when they decide to trust someone, when they act first. When they feel trusted, they trust.
It is harder now to gain the trust of a stranger than ever before. But that is what is needed. From teachers, politicians, administrators, parents.
Our culture does not trust.
Being antagonistic is not going help. Being adversarial is not going to help. Instead, interactions of kindness will help. Instead, actions of supreme generosity will help and actions of righteous honour will help.
Trust ends where trust starts through actions of kindness, generosity and honour.
As a teacher, what am I entitled to?
Am I entitled to inherent respect from my students? Silence when I demand it? Uncompromising focus of the tasks I deem appropriate?
Am I entitled to students who are never late? Absent?
Am I entitled to students who want to learn? Love to learn?
Am I entitled to students who leave their dramas at home? Have no dramas at home? Recognize when dramas are real or perceived?
Am I entitled to a cell phone free classroom? Facebook-free computer lab? Social media free interaction?
Am I entitled to laugh every day? A work environment free of politics? A work where your value is fairly acknowledged?
Am I entitled to a quiet space to do my work when not directly working with students? Access to the technology I need?
Am I entitled to a succinct, clear understanding of what my responsibilities as a teacher are? A set of protocols of which I must adhere?
Am I entitled to my own classroom? A teacher’s desk?
Am I entitled to time? Space?
Am I entitled to freedom to make mistakes? Freedom to try something new?
Am I entitled to say no to change? Maintain the status quo? Be jaded, cynical?
Am I entitled to teach how I have been teaching for the past 5 years? 10 years? 20 years? 30 years?
Am I entitled to sick days? Personal days? Family care days?
Am I entitled to stability? Job security?
Am I entitled to fair compensation for my effort? My success? A pension? Recognition of my aptitude?
Am I entitled to feedback? To offer professional feedback? To speak for myself?
It seems to me there are many questions about entitlement that are being asked explicitly and implicitly in education right now. There is an expectation of entitlement that is creeping into the daily rhetoric of educators.
The problem with entitlement is we’ll never receive what we are “entitled”. The problem with entitlement is that we’ll never be happy.
These questions can be asked from different perspectives as well. Parents, administrators, governments, students all have a feeling of entitlement.
So, who is entitled?
It’s easy to tell the stories. I like telling the stories. And, over my years of teaching, reading and living, I seemingly have a story for every lesson I wish to impart on my students. Not to mention, I think I’m a pretty crackerjack storyteller.
I understand description and nuance. I can even use different voices, if needed to maintain pretend engagement.
But, that’s not my job anymore.
It’s time to realize that I need to shut up.
Given the tools and the opportunity, students need to be released from the clutches of my soul-sucking storytelling ways. They need to dive in and learn their own stories.
It is too easy to shut off when you don’t hear what you want. It is easy as a teacher to walk away, shut your door and go on with what you are doing.
At the opening ceremonies of a Fire Chiefs conference I attended yesterday, the opening speaker, the Fire Chief of Kitchener said, “To continue the progress that is needed, we must come together and have discussions and debates. Sometimes we will agree. Sometimes we will agree to disagree, but we must always agree to keep discussing.”
This struck a chord.
Too often there is disagreement and then silence. We can lose semesters easily in poorly designed and implemented professional dialogue strategies where the only people who suffer from our lack of discussion are our students. Silence is not leadership.
We need to disconnect the idea for education from our personal investment and be willing to undertake disagreement. If someone disagrees, it is not a personal affront.
No one theory, idea or reasoning is right. I get that. It is the integration of ideas in the discussion that often determines a great course of action. However, too many voices in the education discussion are silent.
For some, it is by choice. We need to encourage these quiet innovators to open their door to the world and encourage their participation. For some, it is by habit. We need to encourage these experienced educators to join the conversation. For some, it is because they have been silenced before. We need to encourage these professionals that our students and education need their voice.
These “difficult discussions” are essential to our mitigating of the rough waters of the education revolution.
In all my blog entires, I encourage you to disagree with me. Challenge my thinking. We will all come out better on the other side. Let’s agree to keep discussing.
The other day was one of those days.
You know, one of those days where I marvel that I get paid for this gig.
My students wowed me with their engagement. From an on-fire class debate about political power, economic power and our inability to sometimes know the difference, to another class “bringing it” in a major way on their spoken word poems, rants and raps. I was left beaming.
And the thing is, I can take very little of the credit.
The success of the class wasn’t because I had worded the learning goal most precisely or scaffolded the learning in just such a way. The success of the class was precipitated by students making other students better. They inquired, challenged, cajoled and supported each other. Exactly what learning should look like. The thing is, I have no doubt the teacher matters, but the teacher matters less when students are giving time, space and opportunity to learn.
I did my job flawlessly, on that day, as I got out of the way. I was able, by fluke most likely, to know when to shut up. I just observed, provided minimal feedback, and stopped acting like I needed to “manage” the classroom. This doesn’t happen often, especially the shutting up part.
Is the flood of “classroom management” techniques inciting us into a winless cycle? Is good teaching the small, unnoticeable details that build confidence and not the noticed lesson plans and scaffolds?
When talking about student success, how do we move teachers away from the conversation about themselves?
“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” — Confucius
I just finished reading “Damned Nations” by Dr. Samantha Nutt. This book is all about the various social justice issues that are taking place and how we have, so far, not dealt with some of the overriding problems that allow war, terrorism, poverty and illiteracy to breed and grow. Needless to say, what I thought might have been helping “change the world” may in fact be contributing. Nutt is one of the co-founders of War Child. This book opened my eyes and is now, on my list, of books I will recommend over and over.
This book reminded me of my incredible ignorance. I try to be world-wise, yet I am foolish to think that reading is enough.
I am plagued with this ever-present question of whether I am “smart” enough to be a teacher.
If I recognize the limitations of my own knowledge, am I equipped to help students discover their own ignorance? Because isn’t this what we ultimately are searching for? A student who understands they don’t know everything becomes a self-guided inquirer, or a self-directed learner. That’s my goal.
To improve teacher practice, do we need a teacher-wide admittance of our knowledge limitations? Will this help re-frame the classroom away from the teacher as “beacon of knowledge”?
I do want to acknowledge that I recognize the difference between information and knowledge. The difference is an important element in our media saturated world.
I know so little, yet my ignorance is an important factor in my teaching. Should it be for all?
I love to talk about education. It’s my passion. It’s what I do. I love to explore the complexities of the art and the machine of the science of learning. Then I love to tear them apart and try as hard as I might, to figure what worked and why it worked with a specific kid or a specific class.
But that’s my problem. I talk too much. I write my blog and express my opinions and too often, I’m met with acrimony from my
colleagues. Not for the ideas, but for my willingness and want of expressing them. Sometimes the acrimony is blatant, “Here he goes again.” or “He’s just being a shit disturber.” But more often, it’s passive aggressive, it’s implied dissent, you know, the eye roll or the “Well…” shoulder shrug.
Now, I may be a little melodramatic about it, but I think there lies a major difficulty in the road ahead in education.
When teachers start to find our pedagogical voice, it is often tuned out by other teachers. Not by administrators or by parents, but by teachers.
I believe the road ahead requires a radical shift that must start with teachers finding their voices.
But as I find my voice, online in the edu-blogosphere or in the Twitterverse, I’m losing my voice in my school. I’m becoming more gun-shy when and with whom I get into it with. I don’t want to be the voice in the wind, yet, the more one says about change, that’s what happens.
So, how do I find balance?
If we want to see the education system we want, we must reclaim our voices and ensure the power of those voices around us are heard.
This post is cross-posted on voicEd.ca, a collective of voices who have an interest in collaborating on conversations, discussion and even debates about the future of education and schooling in Canada.
We’ve got a generation of students who believe this. We’ve got a generation of teachers who figured it out and found success through it.
It worked for me.
You know, learn the rules of the game. Then play by them. And the rules were simple, learn what the teacher wants and do it.
Do as your told, you’ll survive.
Now as a teacher, I’m constantly running up against students who believe this credo. The problem all along is that school shouldn’t be about survival. It should be about learning, but somewhere along the way, we lost sight of that.
Another teacher I know calls it “nanny-state education”. Where a student waits to be told exactly what to do and expects to be walked through it.
The real problem is that teachers have been trained in the same system and so we wait.
We wait for a top-down pedagogical inititative and policy that we can make fun of and employ half-heartedly. And so nothing ever changes, or it changes slowly, excruciatingly slowly.
The real shift in education will only come when teachers stop looking to survive by only doing as their told.
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