Why?

 

Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at desk
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.

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7 Responses to Why?

  1. Jane, as a first-time student teacher, just about everything in this post hit home for me. I am studying mentorship and how one takes on the role of “teacher” (a term I am using very broadly include other terms like “mentor” and “more capable peer” and “ally” in the complicated world of academia) and it seems to me that a culture of play is exactly what is necessary to teach future teachers. It is all very bleak without having a safe place to think about the many different roles you can take as an educator and to imagine yourself as “allowed” to move between each of these roles.

    My absolute favorite part of this post is when you talk about the ways in which you structured your class: “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.”

    Thank you for thinking about the different ways of being that go in to becoming a “teacher.” This is something I’ve been struggling with as I think about my own teaching practices and observe my peers’ practices. Do we ever really figure it out? Do we ever really do this weird “teaching” thing perfectly? No, perhaps not, but I do believe that there are healthy ways of thinking about teaching and learning, like the ones you think about in your course (which I wish I could take). So, thanks!

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    • professorjvg says:

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I was wondering if there were other people in teacher education here. I don’t think that we ever figure out this complicated work. I know that I’ve often questioned whether I should scowl much more. This is serious work. But it also is not simply intellectual work, and that’s why I think that play is so important. we don’t figure it out, but I think that figuring out what questions we should keep asking of ourselves is pretty crucial — and for me, most of those are the “why” questions. Thanks so much for helping me to think about this.

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      • danifernandez8 says:

        I can’t imagine scowling in my classroom, but I’m also very young and I think all of my students are incredibly bright. I scowl in private over the students who refuse to take the opportunities that I make available to them, but I’m reminded to smile by the ones who leap at every opportunity because they love to learn. That’s what keeps me coming back every day. I learned the hard way in another class that you simply can’t force anyone to want their education. You can be supportive and offer opportunities to students but they have to want it.

        By any chance, would you be open to sharing the reading list for the class you teach? I’m not sure if that’s an appropriate question but I’m very curious and would love to read more about why other people choose this crazy profession and how they get through it.

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        • professorjvg says:

          It is common in my field to scowl to show one is serious about the subject matter :).

          It’s of course appropriate to ask for the reading list. My syllabus is digital and has some student content on it that I need to scrub. I’m seeing your email here so I’ll email it to you. If I get distracted and haven’t sent it by early next week just remind me ok?

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  2. I love this idea of finding the balance between asking the tough questions while maintaining the culture of play. Your course sounds more thought provoking than your average foundation course. Which is AWESOME! Challenging norms, exploring new ideas to engage future teachers are essential steps toward building a successful (and relevant) future classroom.

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    • professorjvg says:

      Thanks for reading Nathan. I’m finding that using digital connections is a bit part of nudging them into different ways of thinking about schooling and learning, and play is so essential there.

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