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Friday, March 27, 2009

Devolution - becoming what I hate.

You'd expect that when someone opposed to schooling becomes a teacher, the classroom gets turned upside down and strange and wonderful things happen. I do it for three years and then write a book. Hollywood makes one of those annoying school movies.

Didn't happen. At first, I had no idea I was going to stay, so I just did my job in a simple way and observed. I quickly became so fond of working with teenagers that I could see myself staying, however, and then strange things did begin happening in the classroom. I got lots of fantastic feedback from the kids, who (interestingly enough) often refused to consider me a teacher. Not that they didn't learn anything. They said they learned more in my classes. I was weird, I was funny, I was engaged. I knew lots of strange things. They did things in my class they hadn't done before. I took them seriously.

Now a few more years have gone by and I don't get much positive feedback, just the bored looks and low-level conflict that are so typical in school. When I look at myself, it's not hard to understand why. I've become one of those self-important, disorganised, unimaginative, impersonal, discipline-obsessed teachers that made me hate school so much in the first place. How did this happen?

Research shows that pedagogical education and teacher training have little effect on praxis. I have interviewed a few teachers (and talked to several hundred) and what amazes me is what a clear idea so many of them have of what it is they are supposed to do. I have had teachers admit to me that they haven't had time to read the curriculum for their course, or that they find the Education Act or other parts of the regulations a hindrance that they may actually ignore. So this must mean that they have a clear idea from somewhere else of what it is that they are supposed to be doing. Huh? Come again?

Well, we've all been to school and learned what school is. That script we've learned seems to be stronger than any kind of educational theory or law or curriculum. Even in my case, where I do not remember a single good teacher from my many years at school and where I have no desire to recreate the idiocy that wasted so much of my childhood, this script seems to be stronger than my own idiology.

How did I let this happen? Well, I've got three small kids and never get enough sleep. My wife works more than I do. I'm always behind and when I no longer have a burningly clear idea of what I want to acheive - whamo - I become what I hate.


  1. "Well, we've all been to school and learned what school is. That script we've learned seems to be stronger than any kind of educational theory or law or curriculum."Wow. Wish I had something encouraging or comforting to say, but I am so worried about the exact same thing - even before the loss of sleep and time from having kids. Can collegial conversations keep the goals in focus? I just hope so.

  2. I don't know, but I'm starting to hope so. (Getting to old to re-educate myself, and if a revolution starts, I want to be there...)

    I find that these conversations are difficult at my workplace. The distance I have to other teachers online helps out, and lately I've begun to think that the blogsphere can help. Help me, at least.

  3. Recognizing our own faults is the first step to doing something about them. I'm not an old teacher by any stretch, but I did have teacher fatigue while I was teaching ESL abroad.
    I started as the keener and teaching ESL with games and energy, but when I became an administrator, I taught less and when I did, I was grumpy and frustrated that I didn't command as much respect as I used to, and why these students wouldn't do the work assigned. It didn't dawn on me at the time that I was putting in less effort, but thinking I was putting more in.
    I left Korea after 3 years and returned to Canada to refuel and have at it again. The more I reflect and think about teaching, the more spark I have for it now.
    Thanks for your post. It reminded me that we all go through tough times as teachers. We often make excuses, but if we don't reflect and try to change something, we too may end up becoming what we never thought we would.

  4. "...I was putting in less effort, but thinking I was putting more in." Indeed. Thanks for your post.