Tuesday, August 16, 2011

We teach who we are

I am glad I dragged myself out of bed early this morning to attend the lecture at 8:00am. Since I told Clare that I would be there, I told myself not to create excuses. And so there I was at the lecture theatre with the other tutors and some fifty-odd students.

This morning, the lecture was presented by a guest lecturer, Dr. William De Jean. And it was one heck of a lecture! If every lecture was as interactive and hyped up as his was, I would attend every single one of them!
The lecture reminded me of some of the lectures that were conducted last year for the same unit. The first questions he asked us to answer were why we were going into teaching and our intentions for doing so. My reply was a slightly selfish one. I am going into teaching (I am teaching) because these is a special feeling of achievement and pride when someone I have taught comes back to say ‘thank you’. I find that such appreciation actually motivates me to be better. So, indirectly, teaching helps me better myself because like what Dr. De Jean kept emphasising throughout his lecture, we teach who we are.

He asked us to read aloud the following questions, which he took out of The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life by Parker J. Palmer, an author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change:
The question we most commonly as is the “what” question – what subjects shall we teach?
When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question – what methods and techniques are required to teach well?
Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question – for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?
But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question – who is the self that teaches?
He related that back to how we are educated (as opposed to trained) as teachers. We almost always justify our teaching with what is in the best interest of the children. It always is for the children. We almost always not talk about ourselves. What about us? We teach who we are so how can we not place some amount of significance on ourselves?

I liked how he metaphorically referred to our teaching as roadmaps. We have all these directions to follow. We use compasses because we are going places we do not even know. How do we know where we are going with our teaching? Do we know what the creative superminds we are teaching today will create for tomorrow? I think we can only assume that we are laying a foundation for the younger generation. What kind of a foundation will depend on who we are.

Like it or not, our identity is made up not only of who we think we are but also who we think we are not. Dr. De Jean likened it to a beach ball that is being held forcefully underwater. Yes, the beach ball is our shadow and what we suppress will always surface when we are unable to take the pressure any longer. So, what do we truly believe about difference? Do we really treat everyone equally? Do we really know what it feels like to be wearing glasses or to walk with a plastered foot?

What do we truly believe about success? If people work hard, will they really succeed? Does that mean that people who do not succeed are people who are not trying?

What do we truly believe about intelligence? Who do we believe is “smart” and who do we think is not? Who do we believe seems “motivated and who is not? Who do we believe should and should not go to university?
What do we believe about language? What do we laugh at? Why do we say “Hey, guys” when half the crowd is made up of females?

What do we truly believe about gender? How do we believe boys should act? How do we believe girls should act? We get concerned when they do not act the way we think they should.

What do we truly believe or feel when we hear an accent? What are our emotional responses? How is it different if it is French, American, Aboriginal or Spanish? Why do we think that when someone speaks English in a French or Scottish accent sounds beautiful or sexy while a person who speaks English in an Asian accent needs to attend an English speaking course?

How often do we think about our race, gender, sexual orientation, “accent”, nationality, class and language?
How well do we know our selves? Our light, brilliance, gifts, talents, compassion, intuition and healthy boundaries. Our fears, shadows, judgements, hidden belief systems, agendas and grief.

What do we think? What do we feel? To me, I think that there are many challenges in being the teacher we think we can be and I feel that there is a heavy sense of responsibility that comes with it.

Quoting Margaret J. Wheatley (commonly known as Meg Wheatley), a writer and management consultant who studies organisational behaviour with approaches including systems thinking, theories of change, chaos theory, leadership and the learning organisation (particularly its capacity to self-organise),
“The leaders we need are already here.”
If they are already here, our jobs as teachers are to make sure that we make them absolutely fantabulous leaders. Get out our compasses (GPSes?)!

*Unless otherwise hyperlinked, much detail included here were from the lecture slides provided this morning.

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