One thing that I have come to embrace about myself, personally as well as professionally, is my passion for learning and seeing others excited and empowered within educational contexts. I often forget that the passion that I have is unique to me as other things are unique to others.
“We Teach Who We Are.”
The more that I write, the more that I reveal…
This statement is how I also think about teaching. The more I teach the more that I reveal about myself and sometimes discover about my students. After teaching for as long as I have now, whether it was as a first grade teaching in Houston or as a graduate student in Colorado, I have been one that gets a reaction out of my students. Sometimes that reaction is hostilely posted on faculty teaching evaluation sites (I still have not really reviewed them), university student evaluations and/or the responses of my students after they are no longer bound to my class and its rules.
The funny thing that I have found out about this process is that I am what I like to call, “An acquired taste.” Yes, this statement, as the previous journal entry laid out, positions itself as a dualistic perspective. But the data so far confirms it. My passion is one that propels me to want my students to excel and I push them to the point of discomfort. I challenge them even when I agree with what they may have said. I am and can be relentless in this regard, as many who have taken my course(s) might say. However, I know in my heart of hearts that I do all that I do for what I hope they will see in themselves one day–a promising teacher. Most teachers that I know have at some point in time referenced this saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” I struggled with this phenomenon so much as an instructor here in Florida, as I did while I was a graduate student in Colorado. I wanted all of my student to be nourished by the educational process that I so love in its non-conventional forms. I teach who I am and I push them to learn who they are, so that they can teach from those meaningful parts of who they are when engaging their students.
Food For Thought
I had a very interesting conversation with my graduate assistant today and much was revealed to me, both directly and indirectly, regarding how “Teaching Who [I am]” was/is my greatest strength. Yet, it is also the most challenging aspect of my role as an educator. My passion and perceived intellect can be too much for others even while I know that I have so much more to learn; because, as I have shared with my students today, “The more I learned, the more I realized how much I really didn’t know.” I teach from my mind and heart each and every time I step into a learning environment. I don’t know any other way to be an educator. And as a result of this way of being and knowing myself, whomever acquires an understanding of me and my pedagogy developed palates that allow she/he to engage in varied perspectives on a host of topics. They attain the ability to engage an eclectic personality and mind who only wishes to better himself and the community in which he is obligated to serve–our future generations of learners.
My graduate student, after a lengthy conversation about the course and our preparation for future course objectives, reiterated a perspective on my way of teaching and it humbled me. In the midst of all the chaos of our conversation, key elements of my and my teaching philosophy were articulated–the allure in learning. This phrase is something that has stuck with me since my graduate days. It written and introduced to me by one of my graduate school professors–Dr. Daniel P. Liston. It, in essence, is one of the staples of what I begin each semester with, challenging my students to connect with their internal capacities for becoming the best teachers that they can be by confronting, engaging and/or understanding themselves in more critical ways.
Engaging the Toxic Word “Race” in a Diversity Course
An example of this occurred today as my morning sections began to discuss chapter 5 of our text. I asked my students to answer our “Clicker Questions”– Clicker is an interactive assessment tool that always for me ask students questions and get instant feedback– for the day. This question was a short essay that they were to answer about, “Is ‘race’ still in important part of U.S. society, yes or no?” As an introduction to this topic, I decided to not run from this feared word like many others do not only in our classrooms but in almost every other place in our society. This question also required that they expound on why they chose either yes or no. And I enjoyed hearing those who said “yes” explain their answers but I also enjoyed those who said “no” explain theirs. If you’ve read my previous post, there appeared to be a lot of Jekylls and Hydes in attendance during this topic. But I pushed and pushed the conversation and many of them took the risks of sharing their perspectives and why. I truly loved it! Because it was them engaging the tough topic wherever they were in their understandings within my classroom. These moments mean so much to me. To hear a student who has been positioned as a Jekyll turn out to be more of a Hyde.
Students gave ranges of responses that said, in a sense, while they didn’t want to use race they recognized that it was still impacting their lives. Others offered positions that promote ideas of humanism. I found all of the examples to be of significance and usable in this learning opportunity. So I took a few chances with them, I did an up down activity that I’ve done before with other classes. I had all of my students stand up and asked a series of questions (paraphrased and may not be out of sequence of how I did it in class, FYI): 1) If you are not male, please take your seat, 2) if you are not Protestant, please take your seat (ironically, after the completion of my lesson it later dawned on me that I misspoke), 3)If you do not own property (land), please take a seat, and 4) (what I would have concluded with had I needed it to) If you are not white, please take a seat. But in this case, there was no need to ask #4 because all of my 50+ students were already seated. In having my students participate in this kinesthetic exercise, I wanted them to think about how we, over time, have forgotten the sacrifices and injustices that have resulted from the application of race within this society.
Now we credit “the founding fathers” of this nation without holding their actions accountable to not only communities of color, but also non-land/property owners and women who lived during the era. WE, through our contemporary gaze at history, forget that women and people of color only within a short period of time have (re)gained the right to vote and other important aspects of citizenship in the United States of America. And more importantly, if our students have forgotten or have not been exposed to this valuable information during their own schooling process; what makes us think that the students who they will some day teach will have such opportunities to critically engage these such historical moments that shaped and continue to shape this nation?
Through this activity, my point was to get them to think about race and, more importantly, history within context. Instead of viewing historical moments through contemporary lenses. As many educators may now know, this is becoming a greater challenge with each passing year as history is becoming harder and harder to get students to engage in many instances. So I try to use these moments to provoke students’ thinking any way that I can if it aids them in developing their critical thinking skills as well as their, what I like to call, “their teacher identities.”
I have often told my students that education is a “social experiment” and all involved are a part of this dynamic process. Much of what I do within my classes requires that I take some level or risk. Yet, as what those who have taught me proved only a few years earlier, that the risks we take both as educators and learners have immense power to help redirect and inspire others to keep learning. I am reminded of the many teachers–Mrs. Boone, Ms. Sullivan, Mrs. Terry, Ms. Carson, Mrs. Gobert, Ms. May, Ms. Defibaugh, Mr. Lavergne, Dr. Sigren, Mr. Haynes, Mr. Knowles and the list could continue–who shaped a path for me that I could never have imagined, yet am proud to now travel….
As I conclude this entry, I am drawn to a quote from Palmer (1997),
Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge–and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject (p. 15)
So the question becomes for any other educator and/or learner who took the time to read this, “What does your mirror show?
Until the next time…
Parker J. Palmer (1997): The Heart of a Teacher Identity and Integrity in Teaching, Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 29:6, 14-21.