More Than Meets the Eye, II

There seems to be a lot to say about the quote from Dr. Ralph Tyler that sparked yesterday’s post:

“Teaching, is not just a job. It is a human service, and it must be thought of as a mission.”

Three phrases troubled me – must, human service, and mission – and yesterday I explored their effects on factory-model teaching and teachers.  But what about learners?  What’s it like to spend years receiving others’ attempts to provide human service, others’ self- or other-imposed missions?  How does it feel to be treated as helpless and aimless, as an empty vessel waiting to be filled, a garden waiting to be planted by someone else?

Years ago, at a staff-development workshop, we shared our metaphors of teaching.  I lost count of the number of colleagues – kind, earnest, mission-driven colleagues – who saw students as vessels or gardens.

How does it feel to be filled and planted, over and over again, by a series of well-meaning strangers?  What are the long-term effects on that vessel or garden?

My students O, E, E, and U, whom I’ve mentioned several times, are sweet and intelligent, but they don’t see that in themselves.  And they really want to make everybody happy.  That’s a toxic combination when your friend wants to talk right now, when you have a naturally loud voice, and when you’ve rarely been asked to manage yourself, to notice your own volume level, to think about whether right now would be an appropriate time to speak.

Vessels and gardens don’t get asked to think about those things.  Vessels and gardens can’t manage themselves; they need someone to do that for them.

Ms. X, Mr. Y, and their predecessors have spent years yelling and labeling at O, E, E, and U … and doing stuff for them.  Calling them bad, lazy, and loud … and “making” them be quiet and copy those notes.  Yelling at them … to stop yelling.   Threatening … and occasionally carrying out a threat.  “I will write you up and send you to the office” – where the over-worked administrator has neither time nor resources to help.  “I will call your parents” – who also had bad experiences with yelling and labeling teachers.  “You will get detention or in-school suspension” – which might be preferable to Ms. X’s yelling and labeling class.

Slowly, ever so slowly, O, E, E, and U have started to take ownership of their vocal volume … and their learning. They’re realizing that they can manage their own behavior, that they aren’t vessels and gardens.  “Have you noticed,” I asked at one point on Monday, “how every time I specifically ask you to stop talking, you do – at least for a while?  Do you think you might be able to ask yourselves?”

That’s not how O, E, E, and U expect to be talked to.  That’s not how you talk to a vessel or a garden.

“Teaching,” said Dr. Ralph Tyler, “is more than a job.”  No argument there.

“It is a human service,” he said … and it is.  Teaching does – should – involve giving yourself in service to others, helping them find their own right paths.  But that’s not what human service means if you see yourself as a service provider.  Service providers are superior.  Take a look at “The Creation of the Teacher” on this page, where Dr. Tyler’s quote is also featured.

“And,” Dr. Tyler added, “it must be thought of as a mission.”  That’s the part that troubles me most, and Debbie’s Google+ comment helped me clarify why:

“I am on a mission!” Wonderful…. and we go back to the “I” part. My mission. Me. I guess if we look at the quote from this perspective that I am providing a service, my service, and you have to want it and take it as it is offered then, yes, we have a problem.

If the service, however, is to provide support, guidance, challenges, experience, Wisdom, and mentoring to the student as he/she needs it then it is no longer about me and my journey. It is about the the learner, student, or whatever you want to call him/her.

“I” am a resource — but, I am also the Wise Elder, bringing my Wisdom and experience into our interactions and, yes, teaching is more than a job. It is my way of contributing to the community at large and to the Greater Good. I am part of the whole, just another perspective around the Fire of Truth.

On the same G+ thread, Brendan noted that mission-focused service providers often operate

based on an assumption that life is expected to be miserable, that it’s par for the course to count down the days until the end, that relief comes from the cessation of one’s everyday life.

Coming from that perspective, Ms. X and Mr. Y would be as suspicious and terrified of joyful learning community as they are of the notion that students – those bad, lazy, irresponsible students – could possibly manage themselves.  They’re vessels and gardens, not self-managers!  After a dreadfully long meeting on Monday, someone said without a trace of irony, “But this is supposed to be a college-preparatory school!  It’s supposed to attract the good students who know how to work!”

Only well-washed vessels and pre-plowed gardens need apply?

On Monday evening, a friend shared this Wired article from 1993.  So much has changed  … and nothing has changed … and yet everything changed.  Factory-model schools and teachers still loudly proclaim how important and indispensable and vital and needed they are … but the audience grows smaller and less receptive all the time.

Bright, articulate young people didn’t make videos like this one in 1993, did they?

How can we build a joyful community in a slowly dying factory designed to sort and process vessels and gardens ?  How can we move teachers and learners off the adversarial assembly line and into a mutually supportive circle around that Fire of Truth?

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Published in: on December 11, 2012 at 11:10 am  Comments (1)  

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