I remember reading Edward O’Neill’s post about “The Five Stages of Teaching” when he published it … and I remember thinking I was in some kind of stage transition at the time. When he reshared it on Google+ yesterday, I re-read it and retraced my teaching and learning steps, smiling at the accuracy with which he captures the teacher’s mindset at each stage. Then, this morning, there was a Twitter conversation (which I can’t seem to find now) about “being yourself at school” or maybe “bringing yourself to school” more often … and an excellent response (which I still can’t find) about the assumptions of privilege encapsulated in Tweet-length exhortations to “bring yourself,” to put your whole self on display to a potentially hostile audience. And then there was O’Neil Godfrey’s post about using the different levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy in concert rather than in isolation. And somehow all these threads came together in the idea of bringing yourself.
On this first day back at school after Spring Break, I’ll be bringing myself to school literally, of course. So will Ms. X, Mr. Y, lots of students, and various Powers That Be in schools all over the place. But will we bring ourselves the way that now-vanished Tweet envisioned? Will we share some hopes, some dreams, some fears with each other? Or will we put on the well-worn masks and labels and act out our familiar roles? “You’re always so bad and lazy,” Many A Ms. X says to A, B, or C … so A, B, and C do what Ms. X expects, and the predictable results follow.
Are they pleasant results? It depends, of course … but they’re predictable, and there’s something to be said for predictability when people are tired and fearful. “I just hate that the Particular Class Field Trip will be on Monday,” One Ms. X moaned right before Spring Break. It would throw her and her students out of their predictable routine at a time when That Ms. X really longed for predictability and routine. The calendar for the week is actually quite full of unpredictable things: a Special Celebration for students who participated in the school-wide fundraiser sale, another Large Field Trip on Friday. Ms. X and Mr. Y would prefer a predictable week … even though, when you stop to think about it, there’s nothing predictable in an environment full of teenagers, or of people in general.
“What I love about teaching,” said a wise friend yesterday, “is that it brings you a smile every day.” O has been teaching young children for decades, and when you talk to her, you can feel the love and the purpose and the calling to her work. O brings herself to her work; she’s completely present for her students, and while she obviously doesn’t share everything all the time, she’s not a completely different person at school the way some of us teachers are. We talked about calling and mission, and it was good to talk with her at the end of the break.
But I keep thinking about students (and teachers, for that matter) who won’t or can’t bring themselves … especially those who tried, but whose authentic selves got labeled and rejected at some point along the way. B, who’d be happiest if only he could just sit there … what happened to the bright, eager child he once was? N, who plays the game well but has such obvious contempt for it … what caused the contempt, and what fears and hopes lie hidden under that familiar mask? U, who smiles and does just enough to get by, hides a pain I do know something about … but what other pain, what other fears, what other hopes lie behind that familiar mask? And what about Ms. X, Mr. Y, and the others? What are we all hiding behind our smiles, our scowls, our pleasantries or gruffness?
Mr. Godfrey, in his fascinating post, links attention and behavior problems with not fully using your brain at all the levels it can be used at. Sir Ken Robinson’s quote about students “fidgeting” due to endless hours of “low-level clerical work” showed up in yet another Tweet I can’t find this morning, and the connection was too obvious to miss. For both students and teachers, let alone Powers That Be at any level, it’s hard to bring yourself to a task that demands so much less than your full effort … but after years upon suffocating years of such tasks, it’s also hard to bring yourself to a more complex, more authentic task where the risks of failure and the demands upon you are so much greater. And it’s hard, after year upon dispiriting year of stopping for review and reteaching every April before the Big State Tests in May, to believe that authentic, exciting learning can and should continue into May, June, and beyond.
So it’s hard to bring yourself at this time of year, whether you’re a student or a teacher in a factory-model school. Is it hard to bring yourself to a joyful learning community? I think it’s always hard to build and sustain community of any kind: a very different kind of hard from the hard of dragging yourself through the motions of One More Review Packet and Yet Another PowerPoint, and a more worthwhile form of hard, but still not the kind of easy that comes to students and teachers alike when packet hits desks with its familiar, sickening thud and mostly-compliant students “get busy doing their work.”
I wonder what other new insights and discoveries this first day back will bring … and I wonder how we’ll all bring ourselves to the opportunities that are waiting for us.