Wonk Wednesday is going to be my new weekly post, in which I will reflect on whatever I am currently doing in school, and most weeks I will post the reflection essay (identifying information removed) for my History of School Reform seminar, based on my readings and reflections for the week.
This week, I’m thinking about teacher vulnerability.
There’s a lot of dialogue around why teachers are so hesitant/resistant to change their classroom practice, despite the never-ending attempts of policymakers to force this to happen.
Teacher vulnerability is my number one explanation for why this doesn’t happen.
1) Teachers are primarily in it for their students. Changing up “how to do school” is risky for students, running the chance that they will become overwhelmed, scared, or angry about the changes. Students can suffer damage to their confidence, as well as to their learning. When the entire foundation of your purpose is helping students grow and learn, that is one hell of a risk to be taking without any guarantee of payoff!
1b) Teachers are strongly emotionally invested in their students and their work. While many professions take pride in their work, there are few professions that involve such an intimate intertwining of practice and personality. When a teacher engages with students, the teacher is making him or herself vulnerable and putting themselves at risk along with the student. Teaching is an act of emotional giving, and how we teach is deeply personal. Thus, not only are we being pushed to change something that is fundamentally who we are, but we are running the risk of ruining whatever rapport, trust, or relationships we have built. Teachers, particularly in extra-demanding districts and classrooms, are profoundly emotionally vulnerable, so our defenses are up a lot.
2) Parents say they want reform, but what they actually want is for their kid to get good grades, go to a great college, and get an absurdly high-paying job. They do not actually two figs about whether or not Junior is having a deeply inspiring classroom experience–that would be dandy, but if it comes at the cost of Junior’s SAT scores, no matter how meaningful and motivating the experience was, almost all parents will consider that a bad pedagogical decision. Curiosity and inspiration is encouraged, but RESULTS are valued. This means teachers are in jeopardy of disciplinary action, up to and including losing their jobs.
3) Admin. See above.
4) Policy trends move so goddamn fast, and often in this ridiculously cyclical fashion. It is entirely plausible that by the time a teacher has rewritten an entire curriculum, completely revamped how they structure their classroom, and managed to promote the deep change within themselves needed to really get into this new “adventurous” teaching, there’s a very good chance that we’ll be back to the old way. Seriously. It’s ridiculous. Because policy is so closely intertwined with elections, things tend to change a lot. Teachers become like rocks, washed in the rain of policy–sure, things might change, but it’s gonna take centuries, so I hope you’re prepared to wait. Because by the time teachers have subscribed to this current trend, they’ll have to switch around and go on to something else if they want to keep their jobs. It’s easier to protect yourself by only adhering in a very cursory fashion.
Ultimately, teachers want to be the best teachers they can be. They want to try new things and they want to learn and grow. However, the opportunities are seldom presented, and they are very rarely presented with the kind of support, resources, and time that are needed. Teachers do work that is so demanding that adding additional vulnerability into their already challenging positions will automatically be met with resistance.
essay1 <–the ugliest ever PDF imbed of my reflection essay on this topic for my reform class
Texts for this week:
- Cuban, Larry. (2013) Inside the Black Box of Education. Cambridge, CA: Harvard University Press.
- Cohen, David K. (1988), Teaching practice: Plus que ça change. In Phillip W. Jackson (ed.), Contributing to Educational change (pp. 27-84). Berkeley: McCutchan.
- Elmore, Richard F., & McLaughlin, Milbrey W. (1988). Steady work. Santa Monica, CA: Rand.
…Not that I think anyone is reading this thing. But nonetheless.
It’s been a long, silent three years, hasn’t it? I wish I had kept up with posting–I had intended to post several days a week during my lunch break while I was teaching, hoping to use it the practice both to be reflective of my teaching and growth as a teacher, and as a bit of stress relief. In later years, I would have liked to have become a blog where teachers could go to discover resources and/or get inspired.
That failed, clearly.
So now here I am in graduate school, getting ready to add another couple letters of alphabet soup to my Social Justice Warrior certification list. Once again, I’m hoping to post regularly to use this as a place to reflect on my growth and process the learning I’m doing, but also to hopefully have some good dialogue about education, policy, teaching, and learning.
I know that to many teachers–oftentimes myself included–the idea of leaving the classroom is tantamount to giving up or selling out, and policy people/researchers are the WORST. So I guess I’m kind of joining the enemy. However, I believe that SOMEONE has to do the dirty work so that the talented teachers can do what they do with the least amount of interference. I far prefer that the person doing the dirty work is someone with experience in the classroom and not just some MBA who thinks they understand schools because they can perform a cost-benefit analysis, so goodbye free breakfasts for students!
I’m hoping to post three times a week, but I’m committing myself to at least once a week. Although education will be the focus, this will continue to be the jack of all trades blog it has always aspired to be.
Later this week: why I left teaching. I know a million ex-teachers have posted their thoughts, but dammit, now it’s my turn.
It is the third week of the school year, and I am already contemplating the fact that I might not make it through my first year of teaching.
There’s a lot of factors at play here–the stress and difficulty of my cross country move being a large one; not only do I feel lonely, but the majority of my time outside of school is spent in trying to do things like procure groceries, unpack my luggage, buy a lamp, or find the UPS depot to pick up a package (and end up losing over three hours of my night to their disorganization; thanks UPS!). Many of the factors that are burning me out are not school-specific ones.
However, there are several issues that are issues many schools face.
For one, I suffer a significant lack of materials. My curriculum–which was assigned to me by my school–is based entirely around handouts and reading packets. However, I am denied photocopy paper and the machine is rarely stocked with paper. Somehow, I need to make a minimum of ten pages of copies per student per day, but I am not provided with the materials. Without the copies, however, I can’t teach the content.
When I DO manage to make copies, I have to stick to the bare minimum. With ninth graders, you need to give them a lot. They need graphic organizers, note-taking guides, vocabulary lists, hard copies of all assignments and the requirements (right now I have to settle for writing everything on the board), worksheets, etc. I can give them none of these things because I can barely even give them the work the school expects them to do.
So, at best, I can give my students the absolute bare minimum of materials, with absolutely nothing to help them utilize what we give them.
In addition, I have no technology in my classroom. I have a very old over head projector (the kind with which you use transparencies, not the kind that hooks up to a computer) that doesn’t focus the entire page at once. I also don’t have a screen onto which I can project with said projector, so I have to use either the whiteboard (which doesn’t erase fully so whiteboard marker barely even shows up) or the wall above the whiteboard, which is so high up that most of the students have difficulty making out the words of the poorly focused projector. And yes, I know how to focus it–I get it to the best possible setting and then hope for the best. I can’t give my students projects based on technology–such as presentations using Powerpoint or other media–because there is no guarantee that they have access to such things at home, and even if they stayed after school to work in the library, we would be unable to access their efforts in class. Likewise, I cannot use Powerpoint, videos, audio, etc in class. I teach a double-period block class, but I have no way to break up the monotony of the class. Media makes an enormous difference, and it’s yet another resource I cannot utilize.
I’m teaching my students about California geography, but I have no map of California and no way to access such a thing. I’m teaching short stories, but often without knowing if I will be able to hand out the stories or not.
My class has no textbook, and the novel we’re supposed to start next week… won’t be available for another two weeks or so. So I have been told to “fill time.”
Meanwhile, I’m a new teacher, and teaching out of my subject area, so filling time is hard for me. I dislike giving busy work, and I dislike giving work that I cannot collect and grade, and I’m already in over my head. I try to put writing prompts and assignments on the overhead, but that’s ineffectual and difficult. I can’t give the students handouts because I can’t make copies. I can’t have them work in their books because they have no books. Meanwhile, I’m struggling with classroom management, so I end my days drained and empty despite having gotten next to nothing done over the course of the day.
Finally, my classroom is not my classroom. The previous teacher has yet to move out her belongings and materials, so my social studies classroom is full of science and physiology posters and books, and I keep being told “it’ll be cleaned out soon.” I don’t have enough seating for my students, and instead of desks, like every other teacher, I have long tables, which makes arranging the classroom near impossible. It is difficult to create a classroom culture in a classroom that is not yours, regardless of whether or not you are the only one teaching in it.
I have phenomenal colleagues who are working hard to support me and help me, but without materials and resources, I feel powerless and lost. By the end of the day, I want to cry. When I get home, I want so badly to work on getting ahead on my curriculum, creating new materials, improving my systems, but I am generally so crushed and overwhelmed that it’s all I can do to cook dinner and sit on the couch, let alone deal with any of the mess of my personal life or professional mess.
This is where new teacher burnout comes from. People talk about classroom management overwhelming and demoralizing new teachers, and it does, but the thing is that we already have the odds stacked against us before we even have to deal with student problems. There are already so many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that by the time we enter the room, we already feel like we’ve lost the battle, so of course classroom management is just the icing on the cake. It’s not hard to break something that’s already barely holding together.
Hmm. And I swore I was going to be more positive.
Reporting LIVE from writing a paper about the Marxist themes present in The Principia Discordia!
Your vocabulary word of the night is KYNICAL. Screw those cynical hipsters, I am all kinds of kynical, baby. (I’m too sexy for my paradigm. Too sexy for my paradigm. And I do my little turn on the discourse.)
Here’s a lovely little excerpt for you from Slavoj Zizek’s “The Sublime Object of Ideology”:
But all this is already well known: it is the classic concept of ideology as “false consciousness,” misrecognition of the social reality which is part of this reality itself. Our question is: does this concept of ideology as a naive consciousness still apply to today’s world? Is it still operating today? In the Critique of Cynical Reason (1983), a great bestseller in Germany, Peter Sloterdijk puts forward the thesis that ideology’s dominant mode of functioning is cynical, which renders impossible–or, more precisely, vain–the classic critical-ideological procedure. The cynical subject is quite aware of the distance between the ideological mask and the social reality, but he nonetheless still insists upon the mask. The formula, as proposed by Sloterdijk, would then be: “they know very well what they are doing, but still, they are doing it.” Cynical reason is no longer naive, but is a paradox of an enlightened false consciousness: one knows the falsehood very well, one is well aware of a particularly interest hidden behind an ideological universality, but still one does not renounce it.
We must distinguish this cynical position strictly from what Sloterdijk calls kynicism. Kynicism represents the popular, plebeian rejection of the official culture by means of irony and sarcasm: the classical kynical procedure is to confront the pathetic phrases of the ruling official ideology–its solemn, grave tonality–with everyday banality and to hold them up to ridicule, thus exposing behind the sublime noblesse of the ideological phrases the egotistical interests, the violence, the brutal claims to power. This procedure, then, is more pragmatic than argumentative: it subverts the official proposition by confronting it with the situation of its enunciation; it proceeds ad hominem (for example when a politician preaches the duty of patriotic sacrifice, kynicism exposes the personal gain he is making from the sacrifice of others).
Cynicism is the answer of the ruling culture to this kynical subversion: it recognizes, it takes into account, the particular interest behind the ideological universality, the distance between the ideological mask and the reality, but it still finds reason to retain the mask.
So. I hope you wanna go read some Zizek now. Dude is pretty awesome, and the essay is short. It’s dense, but short, and well worth reading.
Just… process that last paragraph in that quote for a little bit. Cynicism–and, dare I say, a huge amount of our “self-aware” and “ironic” popular culture–is just a big ol’ discrediting of valid complaints and criticisms. Every time someone says that it’s okay to make inappropriate jokes/comments because we live in a post-racial/post-feminist/post-whatever society, that’s what’s going on.
So do everyone a favor and go out and punch an asshole. Then explain we live in a post-violence society, so it’s just FUNNY. A-yep.
P.S. This post has totally inspired me to add a new tag. “Under the influence of academia.” For posting while snorting grad school.
P.P.S. This paper makes me want to stick a hook up through my nose and yank my brains out and then pop out my eyeballs with a grapefruit spoon. I fucking love grad school and I don’t ever want to leave. I am serious. This is what I love.
Well, it’s been a while, but I’m finally up and posting again. I’ve been crazy sick for a while now, and today I was finally out of bed again. Hooray for that. Anyways, over Labor Day weekend, I went to Atlanta, GA, for my annual pilgrimage to the geek mecca that is Dragon*Con. Dragon*Con is one of the largest conventions on the East Coast, and I’d argue that we have the most fun. There’s drinking, parties, concerts, incredible programming, and just a whole lot of ridiculous good times to be had.
I attended several amazing panels this year, and as much as I’d love to write a post on each one, I know that I won’t, so I’m going to try to fit my entire D*C rundown into one post. We’ll see how that goes.
Comics in Education: I attended a great panel on Friday in the Dragon*Con Academics track. This panel discussed the use of comics in the classroom. I was so excited about this panel, and while the panelists had a lot of good stuff to say, I was a little disappointed by how they seemed to focus exclusively on college-level classroom use. There was a great discussion about how students can best annotate pages of graphic novels, because that is a significant concern. Bringing images into a normally text-centric classroom definitely requires a different approach. However, in the case of many of us in the audience, we’re coming from the perspective of public high school classrooms, which means that students do not have their own copies of texts, and we cannot rationally ask them to obtain them. So, we have to consider how we can get our students to take effective notes and how much we can supplement with photocopies and handouts. Regardless, there was great discussion going on in the panel (which I regrettably had to leave early due to an obligation to be at a photoshoot), and I can’t wait to see what the track comes up with next year. I’m hoping to get some continued discussion going on through the internet between now and then.
Comics, Gender, and the Body: Another gem from the Dragon*Con Academics track. That has to be my new favorite track, and I’m really hoping to submit when they put forth the call for proposals for next year. Anyways, this panel was just phenomenal. One of the presenters discussed the gendering of superpowers, another discussed why the Invisible Woman is invisible. The discussion that followed was just amazing as well, and we ended up getting kicked out of the room so that the next panel could fill in. What a great panel experience! I’m hoping to look at some of this a little bit more in depth in my “Superwomen, vampires, and cyborgs” class this semester.
Battlestar Galactica: I went to one of the several BSG cast panels during the weekend. They were all amazing (I watched many of them when they were re-broadcast on the Con TV station), and the one I attended was just exceptional. There were brilliant questions about gender, politics, and religion, and the cast was intelligent and fun. One of the most interesting moments, though, was when someone brought up a moment in Season 4 when Chief kills Tori. Aaron Douglas, who plays Chief, commented on how everyone always flips out about that and he gets criticized for celebrating violence against women. First off, I don’t feel that’s accurate–the motivation behind the murder is revenge for Tori having killed his wife. The violent act was performed against a woman, but it wasn’t motivated by her being a woman; it was motivated by his desire to get revenge for his wife’s murder. It was irrelevant whether Tori was male or female. There were several instances of gendered violence, however, and those were almost always portrayed in a very negative light. I’m actually a huge fan of how Galactica portrays gender and gender relations. It’s far from perfect, but I also think that was part of the point; they make the point over and over throughout the series how flawed humanity is and how much we need to improve, and I often see evidence that issues of gender is one of those improvements they want us to look at. I’m hugely biased in all this, though, as I’m such as BSG fangirl and I hope to someday write a dissertation on the show. Anyways, after Aaron Douglas brought that up, Edward James Olmos, aka Admiral Adama, mentioned that any time we portray any violence on TV, we are in effect elevating and glamorizing/celebrating it, and that’s something we should always keep in mind. Brilliant. Such a fantastic panel!
Plus there was an adorable public proposal that was just too cute.
Anyways, this year’s Con was just huge. There was also a college football game going on in Atlanta and tons of football fans decided to crash the D*C party. So this year there was an exceptionally high rate of women having problems with unwanted attentions, and some women even had to resort to physical retaliation to get men off of them. I myself had some experiences that really surprised me, as D*C is generally very much a safe space–we’re one big family of geeks and we’re good to each other. For the most part, the “problem people” were not wearing con badges.
So, the really cool thing that’s happening because of this is some grassroots activism. On assorted D*C related forums, people are talking about it. Someone printed up a ton of ribbons to attach to con badges that are brightly colored and say “back up!” so that next year, women can attach those to their badges to indicate to other people that if they’re having problems with inappropriate behavior, they can signal a back up badge person and they’ll come over to help. People have been writing (very polite, considerate) letters to Dragon*Con staff and the host hotels, and people have been writing back. There’s been a huge push of awareness, support within the community, and responsiveness on the part of the “powers that be.”
It’s really inspiring. I’m so happy to be part of a community that is so caring and active. This year’s Con was great, and I know next year’s will be even better. I can’t wait to wear my ribbon with pride and hopefully present at the Dragon*Con Academics track. Power to the geeky people!
Ed. Note: I’ll probably post a lot more about D*C in the coming weeks as I recover from being sick, so please accept my apologies for this poorly written post, but sometimes you just gotta go with what you’ve got!