Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Opening Windows

I've been thinking about the way that teachers define what it means to be a 'teacher'.

I said my goodbyes to my principal today, who is leaving the school, and he said, 'good luck with everything, nb, whatever you do, whether it's writing or teaching or academia. But I do hope you stay with teaching.'

Someone else was saying to me recently that he thought that teaching was a 'craft' and that he was glad that I was doing an MA and not an MEd for that reason. 'Teaching isn't a science or about theory,' he said, 'teachers are teachers because they either like kids or they like their subject.'

I think it's interesting when those within the teaching profession help to perpetuate, or at least believe in, incredibly narrow definitions what it is to be a 'dedicated classroom teacher'. Perhaps these definitions are remnants of a bygone era when teachers were supposed to be solitary creatures who entered a classroom, conjured mysterious learning spells in front of kiddies, and then returned to partitioned desks for more lonely lesson planning. I don't know- probably such a time never existed. I am beginning to notice however, that if you are the kind of teacher who likes to throw open your classroom windows occasionally and stick your head out to see beyond the 'immediacies' of teaching, you can make people nervous. Especially if you're a young teacher. Other teachers (esp. those in leadership positions) start shooting suspicious, sidelong glances at you, as though you're secretly plotting an escape route from the teaching profession, just because you show an interest in how your little piece of the teaching puzzle fits into the 1,000 piece jigsaw. As though they're just waiting for you to leave the classroom and go off to a university and read 'intellectual' books with those other 'academics' who simply have no idea about 'schooling'. It's the same sort of binary-thinking that underscores that tired cliche often spouted to (and sometimes spouted by) pre-service teachers: 'you don't learn anything about teaching in uni. Just wait until you get out into a school and all that stuff you heard at uni will go out the window'.

It's very strange. I don't understand it at all. But it is vital to think about and talk about what teachers mean by the label 'classroom teacher', especially when our profession is in the midst of developing standards for professional practice and putting in place processes to encourage ongoing professional renewal.

I used to 'play' with the phrase 'my professional identity' all the time, especially during my first year of teaching. It doesn't appear in my writing quite so often these days, perhaps because it doesn't seem quite as tentative and provisional to me now. I don't need to write the words so often, because my professional identity colours every word. In fact, after all this writing and thinking, 'my professional identity' has become precious to me. It feels like something that I need to protect, fiercely, in case other people try to define it for me, or even take it away from me. It has many facets, many shades, many sides, many layers, but somewhere close to the centre of this luminiscent, shimmering identity is the belief that I have a responsibility to continue to shape it and feed it. It's a responsibility that I take very seriously, and to do it right means looking beyond where I am right now.

So, next time you spot a young teacher sticking her head out the classroom window, don't ask her to shut it and get back in front of the whiteboard, where the 'real' teaching happens. Hand her a telescope, so that she can see even further.

Don't worry. She's not going anywhere.


SoulCradler said...
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SoulCradler said...

Wow, your blog is amazing! I need some time to sit and fully 'digest' it.

I am a young English teacher in Victoria too, so I thought I would point you in the direction of my blog - just click through on my name. I am just starting out, so go easy, but I am looking forward to starting out some conversations.

I will definitely be spending a bit of time here, where things are a bit more familiar than in the international edublogosphere...Catherine Beavis (who you mentioned in oen of your posts), lectured me at university. So there you go!