Teacher as Character: A close reading

When I find myself the sympathetic ear for friends who are still teaching, or retired ex teachers, I am reminded of a saying I heard from some very engaged teachers I worked with as Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, “We are like crabs in bucket. It’s too bad.” I know this is not a unique image, unfortunately. More than anything else, I ask “What about our participation drives the kind of community that often seems designed to keep itself from succeeding at most or at least talking?” While beginning the marketing background work for my book, a teacher memoir, I searched for teacher journals to which I could submit excerpts. Only one of my friends who are teachers could give me a list, and she has recently completed a Ph. D. When I explored her journals, often I found that an author who writes rigorous research is afforded thousands of words, while a teacher who seeks to share a classroom narrative 500-1000. While I think we should be reading, and a recommended list of online teacher websites is listed at the end of this post, we’re not reading because most of us are limited in our opportunities to talk. This blog is certainly the first time I ever attempted it, and not so much due to lack of time, but lack of perceived value in my individual teacher voice.

I don’t want anyone else to define “teacher” for me, but I cannot seem to find an acceptable synonym: 'savior,' 'guardian,' 'nurturer', ‘parent’, ‘babysitter’. . . Leader? Mostly, I don’t want to be seen as a quitter, which is why the multiple context definition of teacher is so important for me. I sit in my closet, broken and ripped plastic binders splayed open with so many other papers in my hands from teacher education. I try to sift the words. Like the mother who puts the child before her own needs, and the missionary who prioritizes his parishioners, I did none of what I asked myself to do here, long before I stepped into any of my classrooms of record. I am in one moment incredibly impressed with my insights and on the other, disheartened, that all those words seemed to serve only excel(lence) and I cannot trace much act(ion) in them. It is as if every tenant that sings its high clear note, was abandoned through inexperience, uncertainty and anxiety as marked in the spaces between bells Monday through Friday. These artifacts tell me that once upon a time, I knew I was supposed to choose characters, to interview them, to know them. I’m telling you now, I didn’t do it. I didn’t build my own character’s backstory before I started writing. I didn’t really know her, until now. Once upon a time I wrote, “Knowledge is not something that you simply know; it is something that you feel.” My biggest regret as I remember university rooms during my undergraduate and graduate education courses, not once but on multiple occasions, is that these ideas were barely notes for myself. More than anything, they were a means to an end, to get an A, to graduate, to get a job. They were for everything that I claimed was not enough, and the seeds of an inner conflict not only with the quotes I selected to deconstruct but within myself.

I am a student. I am twenty one years old. I am female. I am. . . I am. . . I could complete a myriad of phrases that begin in this manner, but do they represent me? Do they acknowledge all that I am? Do I know who I am at every level? In order for the vast resource of teachers to be tapped most effectively, they must become more aware of themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, their fears and bouts, and each piece of their life that makes them who they are. Teachers must know themselves if they hope to understand their student and subject. . . When teachers are able and allowed to acknowledge this fact, education will be transformed.

Response Paper to A Courage to Teach

February 14, 2001

Women of similar history are set to be divided against themselves as they break accepted character roles as defined by and over time. They are also separated from others with whom they may have more in common as cultural standards stand to divide through the relativity of less as more and more as less desirable traits in each. You have to break away from all of it, into your own words, your own text your own rhythm. More than a new narrative, I need a new pair of eyes. With this third set, I will reread the text that we need to listen to us. I will ask it questions that sometimes we are afraid to acknowledge in ourselves. I will model our inner narrative through questions for a close reading directed toward teacher as character, as a writer would interrogate his own creation as it intertwines with the text. I encourage you to use one or all of the following the next time you read a book or article about teachers or for teachers, especially if you consider yourself a teacher in any context.

CLOSE READING QUESTIONS:

  • What does the text say about you?Or assume about you?

  • Who stands out to you?Which character?Why?

  • Does the text make you feel shamed or empowered?

  • Is the narrative balanced between “what”, “how” and “why”, especially when discussing teaching strategies or curriculum?

  • Is there a sense of shared organizational and individual responsibility?

  • Does the text offer solutions in the present, not the past?Steps that would allow an infill of experiences, not lament inherent characteristics?

  • Does the text provide a structure with room for your own interpretation?

  • Does the text forge connections?Or does it present educational constructs that serve more to divide than include?

JOURNALS AND WEBSITES, A SHORT LIST

Admittedly it was difficult to create this list. I surveyed teacher colleagues both teaching in public school classrooms and university settings. My analysis leads me to believe that generally teacher leadership and university professors subscribe more regularly to magazines and journals. This is part of the gap that exists between writing for and by teachers that I am targeting. However, publications in which excerpts from the manuscript could appear are listed below:

Teaching Tolerance http://www.tolerance.org/about

Rethinking Schools http://www.rethinkingschools.org

Networks http://journals.library.wisc.edu/index.php/networks

Edutopia www.edutopia.org

Language Arts Journal http://www.ncte.org/journals/la

Teachers College Reading and Writing Project http://readingandwritingproject.org/

the cult of pedagogy http://www.cultofpedagogy.com

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