Andy Hargreaves: Teaching is an emotional practice (Journal Excerpt)

It makes sense that teaching is an “emotional practice.” Such an inherent part of teaching is the building of relationships between student and teacher. I think it’s fair to say that students who feel no connection to their teacher are unlikely to feel they are in a “safe community” where they can be themselves fully and feel safe to do the trying-and-falling that is an integral part of learning (Sapon-Shevin). (Also, is it possible to spend an average of 30 hours a week in the same room as someone and not form some sort of relationship, whether healthy or not?) The first part of Hargreaves’s conclusion is that this emotional aspect of teaching needs to become a part of the discussion when talking about the work teachers do and the work that needs to be done to improve our schools:

“…the discourse of educational reform must acknowledge and even honor the centrality of the emotions to the processes and outcomes of teaching, learning and caring in our schools. The emotions must no longer be ignored, still less demeaned as peripheral in the proclamations of policymakers or…‘agony aunt approach’ leading to ‘a sloppy and sentimentalized kind of caring’ (Young, 1997” (850).

Seth Godin’s statement that teachers can “inculcate” their students with passion is an aspect of emotional work. Passion is an emotion! Passion for a topic, for an idea, for an action can be instilled in people and teachers have that power. “The discourse of educational reform” certainly involves much talk about teachers–how we need great teachers. Well, yes, but what makes great teachers great? What do they do that is better and beyond mediocre, average, bad teachers?

I would argue it’s the emotional labor and investment great teachers put into their work and students.

Where I’m From

I am from the motto: “Do you mean where I was born or where I live now?”
from here, there, and both at once
from the ROK with its morning calm
and the USA and patriotic fervor
but my heart belongs here in the PNW

I am from kimchi and rice
but also mashed potatoes and gravy
a goose mounted in the living room
and moon vases located in places of honor.
I am from wafts of Mom’s designer perfume
and camouflage ironed and hardened by starch,
spit-shined boots missed when absent

I am from roars of jets but always children laughing
the Mustang playground then the move to a fenced-in yard,
complete with weeds, neglected garden and
giant trees impossible to climb
but not from a lack of trying

I am from Hal-mi and the child she wounded
from Emos and Unnies and Dong-saengs
who claim me as their own
but see me as a foreigner
I am from indomitable Ans and selfless Jettes
and a baby brother who embodies both

I am born from a dying tradition
given up to new opportunities
with no love lost in-between

Teaching is…a metaphor

Teaching is transforming old constructs.

When I started my college education, I did not expect everything I believed to be challenged. Some of those beliefs I have held on to steadfastly, while others have transformed and although some in my life would tell me I have been “brainwashed” by “liberal institutions” like the media and the university I attended, I know the transformations occurred because I was asked to look at and think critically of the social constructs that have shaped our lives and the ways in which Americans interact with each other.

This metaphor and the image that brought it to my mind is the reason I decided to become a teacher. One of the many responsibilities of teaching, as I have progressively learned over this past quarter, is to competently create and navigate a classroom and school community that is increasing diverse, with a myriad of strengths and weaknesses. Connecting my teacher education to my previous undergraduate education, and having the perspective that is a result of my life’s experiences, I can acknowledge that students are individuals with individual experiences, but also the products of greater forces at work: race, gender, government institutions that are inherently biased.

Margaret Buchmann calls teaching an act of taking up moral obligation to students, families, and communities. If we accept this as true, then it is our moral obligation to help students think critically about the social constructs that shape our daily lives and even for some, our fates. Why are certain people portrayed a certain way in movies and television? Why, when at the toy store, are certain toys advertised for boys and others advertised for girls? Are there certain people who are over represented in American prisons than in the larger population? If we decide these things are unjust, how do we go about fixing them? 

I am also reminded of Sir Ken Robinson’s idea of “Changing Paradigms” and his arguments for the “transformation” of the schooling structure. Indeed, I at first intended my metaphor to say “rebuilding,” but decided “transforming” would make more sense. “Rebuilding” sounds like tearing down and then putting up the same structure. It would not be enough to just analyze or “tear down” these social constructs. We would also need to help create citizens who leave our schools and make it their work to “transform” these unjust constructs into ideals of equity, social justice, and understanding.

Caring Enough to “Transform” the System (modified from Journal #5)

I’ve been thinking about how “good teaching manifests itself as caring” and passion and caring drives a teacher to provide the best education she can, and I have been thinking about this as an ethical commitment inherent in the teaching profession, as I think Buchmann would argue (Prof. Van Galen). Sir Ken Robinson and Seth Godin have gotten me questioning whether caring about our students is enough when we have to do the caring within the industrialized schooling we are familiar with. While it is relatively innovative for the entire teaching profession to take up the moral obligation and commit themselves to justifiable work, we can take the innovation even further and challenge the factory-like system itself. Compulsory education must be one of the few structures that still looks the same as it did since its inception. It clearly does not work for far too many students and Sir Ken and Godin make good points about why but it makes me wonder why it worked for some, why did it work for me?

I thrived in the school environment described by Godin–I was a “competent” student in the “competencies” as Godin defines the word. I am reliable in my punctuality, and I work well with deadlines. I rarely, really never, questioned teachers because they were authority figures. I never questioned them, even when I thought they were questionable as the authority figures I thought they were supposed to be. I won’t lie, I am slightly embarrassed to admit these things about myself (never have I ever been embarrassed about my dutiful punctuality!) because I wish I could say I was the challenger of status quo back then the way I want to be from this point on, as a teacher.

Now I am thinking that I need to channel the passion and caring, the moral obligation, and create a new competency as an educator–challenge and change the way schooling is structured so it does not benefit a few, but benefits all. So how do we do this? Is it enough to have an entire community of teachers arguing for a change in the structure when everyone else is stuck “sharpening the same pencil we’ve already got” (Godin)? How can we convince people for change when the structure already in place worked for some people, but especially for the people who have the power to carry out change? The answer I have right now is that change is going to take more than this generation. We will have to be the teacher Godin argues for by taking on a “new teacher role”: “What we do need is someone to persuade us that we want to learn those things, and someone to push us or encourage us or create a space where we want to learn to do them better (67). We will have to help our students connect their talents with who they are, and change the structure from the inside, out so that it is not the outside-in, Industrial Revolution-model Sir Ken argues kills the creativity in our students. Our students, could, I think, be “inculcated,” Godin calls it, with the passion and caring of their teachers and connect it to the innovative structural changes we need to truly educate everyone, not just a few. We could take the structural changes we need in the entire system and apply it to our classrooms, and share the responsibility of change with our students. But could this work, could there be the repercussions we envision? Do we continue our work in the hopes that future generations, the graduates of our inside-out classrooms will become the voice that “transforms education into something else” (Sir Ken)?

Ideas are forming, and I have to admit I am hearing those whispers of hesitancy Godin urges us to fight. The whispers are not telling me these changes are unnecessary–they are necessary–but whispers of whether I can handle the responsibility of this new competency, this obligation to effectively transform our schools for our students. This takes me back to a blog entry where I stated my need to have a professional community of peers. I need these peers because taking up this challenge is incredibly daunting and I would be lying if I said I weren’t a little…terrified. Also, what use is it to transform a single classroom when we need to transform all of them?

C18 as a Professional Community (an excerpt from Journal #3)

One of the joys and challenges of our UWB program is that we are already starting to set standards for ourselves as to what kind of teachers we will be. We have to uphold these standards for ourselves and I think we are beginning to expect that the rest of our cohort will be doing the same for themselves. Beyond our cohort, we should be able to hold our future co-teachers to similar standards and the moral, ethical obligations we hold inherent in teaching. We should be able to rely on each other for support the way I know my dad relied on his fellow Airmen during his time in service, the way my brother relies on his fellow firefighters and the way my artist boyfriend relies on his artist friends. This is not just friendship, it’s a mutual understanding of the work, the struggle, and the deeper call to participate in that particular field. If we are going to take up work like the work Lisa Delpit advocates, then I want to know that my work is being supported in the classroom next door and the teacher there and the teachers across the country have similar feelings of moral obligation to our students and to each other. Simultaneously, we have to share our success and failures and works-in-progress with each other and make our profession–the hours, the effort–more visible to the public. If we demand that the public treats us better and change popular opinion about our stature as a “real” career, then perhaps we should begin behaving like one as a whole.

I once attended a lecture given by Geoffrey Canada, and I remember specifically his opinions on one of the first steps we should take to improve schools in America–treat our teachers like the professionals we expect them to be. We do not expect doctors and computer scientists to run the same gamut year in and year out. We expect them to be innovative and try new things and take (acceptable) risks. And they get paid a corresponding salary. Why shouldn’t this be extended to teaching? We would never allow doctors to practice medicine or lawyers prosecute criminals without the appropriate credentials and experience; why should we allow teachers teach without proving dedication to this “role orientation” described by Buchmann:

“role-oriented teachers…placed themselves within a larger picture in which colleagues, the curriculum, and accountability figured in some fashion. They looked outwards rather than inward…[T]hey felt bound by obligations; the personal element in their responses was framed by a sense of the collective” (536).

It seems that while our work is easily ignored, we are highly susceptible to quick criticism and judgement. It seems unfair to me that people can freely insult what I do, think that my career choice is due to some personal failure, yet expect me to achieve the results promised to them by politicians and/or other well-meaning member of the education discussion, without paying me for the time and energy required by innovation. And it is easy for them to do this because the effects of our work are not immediate and definitely not immediately measurable. It is not life or death or life and imprisonment, but we are the difference between a thoughtful life and an unfulfilling life. Maybe this is overreaching, the bright-eyed optimism of a preservice teacher to think teachers have this kind of power and efficacy in an individual’s life. But if us teachers as a community want our profession to receive the respect we know it deserves, we should work to elevate its status by agreeing with each other that competency is a requirement, just like any other profession.

The more time I spend with this cohort in this specific program, the more complex my feelings and understanding of the profession become and I am asking questions just as fast as the information is coming in. Although I think that is one of the best benefits of having this cohort, I have to wonder how much push-back and hesitancy we are going to receive when we are out there as certified, practicing teachers. But I do feel encouraged that coming out of this cohort, I will not be the only advocate.

A Critical Incident

Last night’s discussion in 427 reminded me of something I wrote in my educational autobiography: the “critical incident” when I realized that my public education had not been multicultural, diverse, or very critically engaging. I thought I would post that part here, and also suggest that one easy way of making our curriculum multicultural is to make sure what we teach is inclusive of diverse peoples and cultures. Why shouldn’t we tell students from the get-go that the Mayans invented zero? I didn’t learn that until I read it in Delpit’s chapter from To Become a Teacher! Why not talk about Malcolm X in conjunction with MLK Jr, even if he is a more “controversial” figure of the Civil Rights Movement? And as Annie Johnston writes in “Out Front” in ROC Vol. 2, “Gay has to be integrated into our picture of current events, historical reality, literary themes, and scientific exploration. We need curriculum in which ‘gay’ is not relegated to the ‘Sexuality and Sexually Transmitted Diseases’ discussion in health and social living classes” (197). In just the same way, race and culture shouldn’t be relegated to specific months (Black History Month) or shallow “culture fairs” where kids choose a country and talk about the food eaten there. We should be “integrating” heroes, historical figures, previously marginalized viewpoints, artists, authors, and so on, into our curriculum so students see and feel how diverse experiences are truly ingrained in the larger American culture and experience.

The first time I read Toni Morrison’s Beloved, I was shocked–shocked by its visceral language and the emotional reactions it incited in me with every page. But mostly, I was shocked that I had never heard of Toni Morrison. I was surprised because judging by the accolades this author and scholar and her novels had earned, I should have at least heard mention of her name. Yet here I was, a relatively educated individual who considered herself somewhat “well-read” in the classics of American literature, ignorant to the genius and prolific work of one of America’s most respected writers. In the context of the course, with the help of great material and a great instructor, I began to question Morrison’s conspicuous absence from my education. As I began to question, I began to decide: it was absolutely not okay that in the course of twelve years of public education and four years in high school honors and AP English classes for me to have never read Toni Morrison

This “critical incident” was the gateway to my pursuing teaching as a career. I realized how sheltered my education had been, how I had been taught only the prevailing, mainstream viewpoint of history and even though I had been lucky enough to have many great teachers, none of them had prepared for me for the intellectual challenge I faced in college. Why was I getting the feeling that everything I learned was wrong? I realized it felt “wrong” because it left out so many views: views of the oppressed, views of the minority, views of the marginalized. I ran across this quote by Morrison a few years ago and it has stuck with me ever since: “I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’” My family and I have been given certain privileges we did not necessarily earn. When I realized this and came to terms with what it meant about me, that is when I made the conscious choice to get into teaching.

Teaching is a “Living Act”

“…people teach as an act of construction and reconstruction, as a gift of oneself to others. I teach in the hope of making the world a better place” (Ayers 20).

………………………….

“Teaching is more than transmitting skills; it is a living act, and it involves preference and value, obligation and choice, trust and care, commitment and justification” (32).

When Ayers argues that teaching is “an act of construction and reconstruction,” I infer that teachers are not just trying to “construct” students’ abilities, they are trying, within the confines of the classroom, to break down the constructs of the outside world (even the world within the school) and show the remnants to the students, to facilitate explorations and discussions and recognition of where we are now as a community, country, world, and model the act of “reconstruction”–be the example showing students that just analyzing and dissecting is not enough, they need to take the pieces and rebuild the world into a better place. This itself is the “living act” of teaching.

A “living act” is an act that reproduces itself, an act with effects that cycle and get recycled, and “construction and reconstruction” are those things. It seems a reasonable argument that how we live today at this precise moment is a construction and reconstruction of how things were ten years ago, a hundred years ago. The “living act” of “construction and reconstruction” is never ending and I think it is part of a teacher’s responsibility to engage in self-efficacy, as Ayers says; address and share your “preference and value,” exhibit “obligation and choice,” have and deserve “trust and care,” and exercise “commitment and justification.” It is an act of the living to question, probe, analyze and decide whether life is acceptable as it is or if it can be made better by deconstructing and reconstructing or constructing from little to nothing. Teaching is taking on the responsibility to model this ability in front of students and show them, transparently and while admitting mistakes, they have the power and ability to construct, deconstruct, reconstruct.

In his introduction, Ayers explores Dr. Martin Luther King’s “‘revolution in values,’ which would shift us from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society” (3). In his first chapter, Ayers gives us a blueprint for leading and living such a revolution in front of and for our students. We address “preference and value,” admitting that we as individuals, as an entire community and/or country assign certain values as worthy or unworthy, display values that are worthy or unworthy, and perpetuate values that are worthy or unworthy. We exercise “obligation and choice,” taking our social responsibility and turn it into our calling or “vocation,” answering the call of duty not solely out of necessity, but because we believe and choose to address that necessity (36). We have to “trust and care” in ourselves as educators and in our students as the living, breathing vessels of our attempts to exercise “obligation and choice.” We have to have “commitment” to this “revolution in values” and to the students we will come to rely on to lead it and we will be required to use “justification,” to argue for and defend our “living act.”