…And as a teacher, believe me, there are plenty of things I have to say on the subject of education, both at the local level and more broadly philosophically. In fact, I can’t think of a more important topic. It’s something that everybody should discuss at least a little, and those of us who are teachers ought to be devoting a lot of time to discussion and thought about how to improve our profession. I imagine that the public, who entrusts its children to our influence, expects us to.
I’ve found, however, that although teachers care deeply about what we do, “what we do” is so hectic and stressful, so undervalued, and so needlessly distracting, that we almost never get the time to have serious conversations about “how we do it”, or, even more importantly, “why we do it”. My colleagues (I work at a large high school in Ontario) are so frazzled trying to keep on top of the seemingly endless parade of administrative trivia, as well as trying to figure out how to make sense of ill-thought-out and even contradictory directives from “above” — to say nothing of teaching full courseloads, with the mountains of grading and attendant management of student, parent, and administrative expectations (read: interference) that come with such a career — that they have little time or patience to have the longer, deeper, philosophical and practical discussions that we need in order to create the kind of education system that we all ache for. “Just get it done” seems to be the attitude of many of my dedicated and more-than-commonly idealistic coworkers, too overwhelmed by the pace and noise of daily teaching jobs to sit down and hash it out. When we do have a spare moment, it generally gets used either to get far away from topics pertaining to education, or to grab a precious moment of down-time, to recharge our batteries so we can go once more into the fray. Alternatively, it gets absorbed into the never-ending search for new ways and means to make our lessons snazzier, more streamlined, more dynamic.
I have tried to start some of those discussions in other on-line forums over the years, but I’ve been stymied by various aspects of my job (the ones that aren’t actually directly related to teaching). I love my job, but there are also many factors involved in it besides interacting with kids. Many of these factors are profoundly harmful, if not downright antithetical, to teaching and learning. I believe that our job as teachers is to nurture the whole child in development: including nurturing their senses of (among other things) confidence, independence, curiosity, justice, compassion, concentration, attention, community, flexibility, critical thought, and inner peace. The impediments to these goals, which include things which range from the political to the cognitive to the administrative to the systemic, will be the subjects of future posts.
For example, I was told some time ago by the administration at my school that to hold a public conversation amongst the teachers (as I was doing) about ways we might see our profession from different angles with a view to improving what everyone agrees is a system that should continue to evolve and get better and better, was inappropriate. It was a breach of my contract, they said, to criticise my employer, the Board of Education.
To which my response was, “Really? The halls of an academic institution are not the appropriate place to be discussing issues pertaining to the betterment of education? Then where?”
This blog is my much-delayed answer to that question. I’ll be posting essays, research (on all sorts of matters pertaining to education), opinion pieces, links to on-line content that I find inspiring or useful (or critiques of those I find less useful), reviews of books or articles on subjects germane to the discussion, commentary on my experiences on the front lines, so to speak; as well as broader philosophical musings. I’ll try to keep my experiences as generic as possible, and focus on their impact on those ideals I mentioned above: I don’t want to criticise individuals; I just want to use my experiences to illustrate my points. The way I see it, if we stay clear in our minds and hearts about what we’re trying to accomplish, then our day-to-day decisions will be clear: anything that increases our ability to accomplish them should be considered and likely adopted; anything that interferes with accomplishing them should be questioned and probably rejected.
I’m aware, of course, that not everyone shares my view of what education should accomplish. But I believe that it is critical that we as individual educators have a strong sense of what we believe we are doing, and know why we believe that. One of the biggest impediments, I think, to a truly excellent system of public education is the fuzziness of thinking that goes into defining what education is actually meant to do. But if we each have a good, solid idea of an answer to that question, then at least a conversation can start to happen, which is essential in a democratic conception of public education.