I’m not prone to New Year’s resolutions, but I have decided that with the arbitrary designation of a new calendar year, I have a way to focus on new commitments, specifically in how I interact in the virtual world. So when I read a derogatory comment on one of my blog posts (describing my post with “stupidest” and then making a word choice error or typo), I resisted the urge to comment, but posted how painful it was not to do so on Facebook.
Many of my wonderful former students commented, leading to two threads and many comments that genuinely made my day and evening—justifying my decision not to interact with the person leaving the comment.
From that exchange, I wrote Classroom Teaching Experience and Whose Voice Matters because I began to think about my 18 years teaching high school English as well as how I both failed my students and served them well (by the way, my former students tend to be stunningly kind and recall our days and years together with a fondness that makes my heart enlarge like the final scene of How the Grinch Stole Christmas).
The reason my exchange with former students spurred a blog about teacher autonomy and classroom experience is that, upon reflection, I believe when I was at my best as a high school teacher, I was functioning at an autonomous level—doing what I knew to be best for what any one of my students needed (especially when that meant listening to them while they struggled under the weight of crying about a boyfriend or girlfriend)—and when I was at my worst, I was complying with mandates I felt were at least misguided.
So as I blogged about the need for listening to teachers’ voices, for honoring classroom experiences not solely but initially, I was making a case about the conditions of teaching—a case that I failed to connect to the conditions of learning and how teacher autonomy is inextricable from student autonomy.
While I remain, frankly, stunned at the antagonism expressed when I call for teacher autonomy and voice, I am equally dismayed that we tend to render both teachers and students essentially invisible and mute.
Two comments on pieces of mine, then, need to be highlighted.
On my teacher invisibility post included at The Answer Sheet, StudentsLast added: “If teachers are invisible to policy makers, what then are students? Non-existent?”
To which I must respond, yes.
And responding to Classroom Teaching Experience and Whose Voice Matters, Martha Kennedy highlighted:
Something I have never seen brought into this conversation is the fact that many people look at teachers through the lens of their own experience in school. I don’t think most people liked school. Judging from my university students, the teacher is viewed as an adversary, classes are obstacles, it’s all just “hoops to jump.” I think as long as this is true, teachers will have a hard time with “the public.” There’s also the fallacy that if a kid hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught. Judging from my students, many don’t even really understand WHAT the teacher is teaching. This is a larger problem since the advent of NCLB where students are taught to pass exams. Students are conditioned to find a discrete answer to every question. This pretty much steals from questions their intrinsic interest.
The first point above is extremely important: How often are the actions of teachers inculcating in students negative associations with not only school but also teachers? How often are those actions the result of misguided mandates imposed on those teachers? How might all teachers embrace their autonomy so as to avoid these conditions in the classroom?
So as I return to my blog post about honoring teacher voice and classroom experience, I must emphasize that calling for a reconsideration of how we view teachers, how we honor (or don’t) teacher autonomy, and whose voice matters, I must stress that the conditions of teaching are the conditions of learning.
And how teachers feel as well as how students feel about those conditions matters in ways that must not be ignored, must not be marginalized against a normalized rational view of the world.
As we become more and more entrenched in “an age of infinite examination” where teachers and students are “never finished with anything,” we must begin to ask new questions and then seek different answers. And as we seek ways in which teachers and workers can embrace a new solidarity, let’s not forget our solidarity with the students in our care.