0106: Teachers, new and seasoned, remember you’re a person first, then a #teacher
#education #revolution #EtherSec #humanity
Friends who give your lives to the education of others please don’t neglect your own humanity. You are a human first, and then a teacher. We live in a society that so often ties who we are to our careers. Teaching is a commitment, a very deep one. It requires all of your love and humanity if you are to be successful, that is, if you are going to reach your students (testing aside). Teachers have many expectations to meet, and many more stresses that go along with those expectation. It’s easy to watch your humanity—friends, family, hobbies, identity, etc.—slip away as your focus on teaching increases. For new teachers this is a trap. You want to do a good job. You want to measure up. You want to change the world. You’re not achieving your goals or meeting expectations. You want to keep your job. The truth is, these are thoughts that fill the minds of all teachers, veterans an new, but as a new teacher you haven’t always learned to cope with the stresses. New teachers burnout quickly in many cases. Veteran teachers are focused on keeping their jobs, and have weathered many storms. Some have maintained their humanity some have had it stripped from them little by little. For any and all teachers, if you feel like you had no life, you must do anything and everything to begin one or maintain the one you have. It’s not just a matter of social and psychological health, or even a matter of effectiveness (you are in fact more effective if you’re psychologically, socially, and physically healthy). Rather, it’s a matter of dignity and pride. Humanity is the most valuable thing we possess. It’s how we value ourselves. If you have pride and dignity, you will by nature resist oppression. You will have no choice but to advocate for yourself. You will refuse to be a victim. If you value your own humanity, you will be better able to value the humanity of others. You will be better able to connect with the people around you and in your care. You will understand the need to advocate for yourself and others. When you lose your humanity and job becomes just a job. You revert to mantra “one day at a time”. Life becomes drudgery. Regardless of your level of humanity and self-awareness, do something, anything, to move in that direction. Read a book. Write one. Seek beauty and truth. Seek to know thyself. “Treat yo’self.”
Find a friend. Go dancing. Do whatever it is (or was) that makes you feel alive. Don’t fall prey to a dehumanizing system in a dehumanizing world. Arise and celebrate your humanity. Rage for your humanity.
0023: Burnout or Crossroads? Where am I and where do I go?
I am concerned that I’ve become better at talking about teaching than being a teacher. I am plagued with constant doubt of my practice, and my motivation. I do not see myself as the same teacher I was when I started. When I started I taught in a districts “worst school”. The students were violent, the gang problem was out of control, and the kids were the greatest challenge to reach. I managed and thrived there. I felt like I was an amazing teacher and all I was doing was holding on for dear life. Those kids impacted my life greatly. They’ll be graduating this year.
I barely knew anything then. I wasn’t cynical, I was eager. I had a fight for the kids mentality. We were fighting an unfair system together. We engaged in amazing conversation about community and fear and hope. There were times was terrified. A kid brought a sawed-off shotgun in the first week. No one was harmed, but it scared me. Scared my wife too. Kids couldn’t read, they had been put in that school as a dumping ground. But, the teachers there were dedicated. The principal was die-hard. I was bound and determined to succeed.
The kids I teach now face the same problems the kids I taught then did. I just feel half as effective. Half as motivated. I sometimes feel I’m going through the motions. I know tons more about the theory behind teaching. I have more experience. I’m more educated. I’ve done consulting work and written quite a bit. I’ve had myriad opportunities to help other teachers, and blah blah blah. I’m only applying what I know half the time I think. I’m barely here the other half. I have moments when I’m an amazing teacher. I have amazing moments when I’m working with other teachers and the find themselves awakening to new thoughts and ideas in their own practice. I help them reach the genesis of new ideas. I enjoy that. I feel like the teacher I was when that happens. And those moments happen in my classroom, I’m just barely aware of them I think.
I understand that I’m evolving, but I don’t know how. Where do I go from here?
0021: Why Teach? Why not Rebel?
Why teach, when it seems like a constant battle? It is a constant battle for the teachers I’ve known, at least. And maybe it’s the for we teachers who teach in schools that serve at-risk kids, kids who have never quite received all of the equitable education to which they’re entitled. These teachers are under constant scrutiny from administrators who are looking down the barrel of their own job related problems, but the lack of empathy that often accompanies these situations makes the already struggling veteran teacher more vulnerable. This struggle to stay afloat seems to have come about through the corporate testocracy that now runs public schooling. It’s forcing a critical eye at teachers, which is a good thing at times, but it’s equally stripping teachers of the choice to teach. No longer are they showing up to work to motivate struggling learners to explore ideas and texts and mathematical theorems. Now they come as prison guards to enforce the dissemination of facts from ruling class textbooks so their once beloved students can perform on some corporate test. This forced testocracy breeds contempt for the teacher by the student, and certainly a reciprocal disdain from many teachers. In every level of power now their is contempt in public education. Each rung on the bureaucratic latter, from superintendent down to the lowliest of student there is an utterance on their lips: “That idiot wants me to do what?”.
This contempt is natural from students, teachers, and so forth. I dare say it’s a good thing. Contempt can serve as a catalyst for rebellion. Student “misbehavior” is certainly a powerful reaction to the boxes and cages they’ve been placed within. Equally, teacher eye rolling and failure to get around to certain things is the same. Students tend to be a bit more vocal in their rebellion. Rebellion is one of our greatest human abilities. True freedom has historically been maintained through constant rebellion against those who enforce constrictive regulations. Teachers, to not rebel, to not speak out, leaves you powerless and in direct violation of your own goal to teach. To really teach is to help steer individuals toward their truest and fullest humanity. Those moments of realization in students’ eyes make the job and all it’s problems worth it.
How can teachers rebel in this surveillance society that is called public education? First, we must all fight to keep our sanity. That means putting your mental health first and being honest with ourselves. We must be authentic human beings, fallible, and caring if we are going to ever even begin reaching the calloused rabble that is our students. Our students have been disheartened and they certainly are untrusting—with good reason too. Second, we must make sure to teach and nurture those little sparks of curiosity we see in our students. That means chasing rabbits, getting off topic, Hell, maybe even cutting up/cracking jokes and the like from time to time. We have to be human, and approachable. Next, we must cue our students into what is actually happening. Kids are being separated by test scores. There is no benevolent motivation behind standardized testing, maybe somewhere, but it has been lost in the cloud of greed that surrounds them. And, it may seem counterintuitive to let students know your disdain for the test, but they already know you hate it. Why not become allies? You are, by teaching the students how to beat the test, teaching them that our current is a testocracy, and it must be manipulated like any other system. Those who hold the power are those who can survive and thrive within and around unfair and ridiculous systems. We must help those in our care transcend the tomfoolery that is at hand. We must do the same.
0007: Cynicism is a teacher’s greatest battle (what do these tools do?)
Everyday a teacher wakes up to an endless list of impossibilities. The work is arduous, with little thanks or respect, and the results are seldom immediate. Additionally, there’s the battle to maintain focus on a goal that was often forgotten the moment the teacher was set in front of a classroom full of children or young adults who had all somehow managed to slip through the cracks. The challenge to remain authentic or human often slips my mind. So often, and so quickly the I turn inward and forget that my job is to connect to people in a meaningful way so they can learn. (My apologies for the abrupt shift from third to first person; I’ve already forgotten that I’m doing this for my sanity first). The moment I disappear from the realm of true practice is the moment my effectiveness as a teacher ends. Reflection without action is simply masturbatory. Just as action without reflection is activism. There has to be a balance. When the two are not in sync it seems the cynicism increases. I’m cynical because I feel helpless sometimes. My cynicism stems from an understanding that I’m only a small part of this assembly line that we call public education. I add on bolt to this vast machine that is a child’s education. I place a tiny bolt that, to them, if I don’t find the time to let them discover the purpose of the bolt, they may never uncover it’s greater purpose. We supply children with so many tools that are never connected to their uses. Our children have hammers with no understanding that its primary function is to drive nails into wood. Or, they know that nails are to be driven into wood, but they don’t know that pieces of wood can be connected to build something greater. Teachers and students lack the understanding that the tools they are given are for creation. Why else would a tool be needed? They’re all to progress something along, to push the plot forward. Instead, we all have a toolbox with no belief in the potential for their use. The division of subject matter into very separate boxes keeps us from ever uncovering the value of any of it. There has to be multiple opportunities for teachers and students to engage in collaborative problem solving. Teachers should work with teachers; students should work with each other; and, then the lines should blur. There is too much division; thus, there is no team. Just as subject matter is divided and distant, so are faculties, staffs, and students. Teachers fight the battle daily all alone. When they finally get together they’re frustrated from the day, and blowing of steam in a teachers’ lounge, or they’re enduring a meeting that provides them with the appearance of professional development, but is really just another set of obtuse instructions for how to apply the next band-aid to the problem of academics of discipline (both also separate concepts). Perhaps teachers and principals need to engage in authentic conversations as faculties with the set goal to decrease the distance from one another. Teachers are often afraid or mistrusting of their administration, and this has been reinforced through years of sneaky dealings and unprofessional behavior. But, that is not every administrator’s intention. There has to be a moment where authenticity begins and the distance decreases. The process will be arduous and will require efforts from teachers and administrators. Teams need to be built quickly for schools to run effectively. And yes, everyone is too busy to drop everything to build relationships, but if that is the only way to fix a problem, then it must be done. Something has to be done if teachers, administrators, and students are to continue forward.