I’m a teacher educator, in the small subfield of “Foundations of Education” which essentially means that my courses are focused on the very questions of “why”: Why schools are the way they are, why they came to be this way, why it has become so hard to envision schools otherwise, why the role of “teacher” is circumscribed as it is, and why — now — these questions are being nudged to the back seat of the bus the that is “what” driven “reform”.
So I sat up and took notice of this week’s videos about the “why” of connected courses.
Two ideas are churning in my head as I process all that was in this week’s videos: First is Randy Bass’s thoughts about how the things that faculty are passionate about are the difficulties and ambiguities of our fields. Second is Michael Wesch’s thoughts (in the main webcast and also in the linked “Summer Camp” talk) that we need to create “states of play” and course cultures of chance-taking.
Without really having articulated this to myself before, I’m thinking that my “why” is very much at the intersections of these two ideas. I’m constantly working to complicate students’ understanding of what it means to assume the social role of “teacher”, to shake their own experience of schooling as benign, to draw them into deeper ethical questions about structural inequalities and historical contexts and ill-informed policy making and their potential roles as change agents in all of this.
My courses come as a surprise to students expecting to be “trained” to deliver instruction and manage behavior. Someone once described my course as the place where they have the rug pulled right out from under them.
It would be fair to say that courses such as mine are often taught with a scowl. The content, after all, becomes quickly depressing, as we grapple with formidable power structures, injustice, and the historical efforts to teacher-proof life in classrooms (with the corresponding rhetoric that justifies the de-intellectualization of teachers on the ground that they are stupid, lazy, and only marginally invested in the work). Imaging schools otherwise is incredibly difficult work.
But I try to teach all of this within a class culture of play, where students can safely do the complex work of reframing their understanding of the social role of Teacher, where we can laugh at the enormity of what we’ve taken on, where we play with images and create short videos and step as far from traditional student/ teacher roles as I can take them so that we’re not playing out roles that have become so comfortable for them in 16 years of schooling but are instead trying on new ways of thinking about themselves as learners.
And we talk all the time about the “why”as I narrate my own decisions about the class and the ambiguities in this field.
So my big why: I teach to challenge students to take this work of making schools more just very seriously (the very difficult) while not taking themselves too seriously (the play).
It can feel sometimes that I’m not pushing them hard enough on the injustices. I do not often scowl.
But I also believe that they cannot learn these very complex ways to think about themselves as teachers without creating a culture of play, without a course culture where the entire point is to take chances.
Social media has become important in creating this culture of play, but that’s another blog post.