Five Questions

I was recently tagged by another wonderful educator to take part in a semi-viral blogging assignment (check out her own post here). The task is relatively simple: write a post answering five general questions about your teaching practice. As often happens, it’s the most innocuous questions that cut through the weary cynicism to get at the heart of the heart of our pedagogy.

  1. What has been your one biggest struggle this school year?

That this has been a difficult year has most likely been fairly obvious to anyone I work with. I’ve been struggling to rebuild my teaching after watching my inchoate understanding of critical pedagogy raze my previous ‘best practices’ to the ground. I no longer agree with many of the practices of my employer or district. This is weird for me. Because I’ve always been a company man. My punctilious nature is what endeared me to the No Excuses schools I used to work for.  Back at one of my old schools, part of teacher training involved role-playing as noncompliant and disrespectful students while another teacher attempted to put us in our place. No matter what I would play the kid as really friendly and polite. There was no way I could willingly be disobedient. I enjoy showing up early, following directions, and pleasing my superiors.

But it’s not like that anymore. I’ve become truculent, looking more for division than compromise. While this obviously isn’t a great thing, it’s been interesting. I’m actively and aggressively questioning what’s going on around me. I feel like a petulant teenager shouting about how I won’t do what someone wants me to. It’s embarrassing how crude my development is. But it also feels somewhat comforting to synch up my actions with my beliefs.

I’m just not experienced enough yet. I fumble through these difficult conversations, redfaced and dry mouthed. I just need to keep talking and reading and writing. I’ll get there.

But teaching has always been a struggle. And I expect it to remain so. The constant challenges and daily conundrums are part of what makes this job so appealing to me. Nothing beats the classroom. That feeling of rapid fire decision making where your nerve endings positively sing with activity. I live for moments when the class seems to inhale and exhale as one rambunctious collective. A sentient being stretching out into previously unexplored areas of subjectivity.

I’m not a religious person, but the classroom is a holy place. A space to exorcise demons and come face to face with what it means to connect, to struggle, to take part in the gift of existence. And inside the classroom I’m free. Free to shed the dead weight of my limitations and leave the orbit of my own flawed gravity. 

  1. Share two accomplishments that you are proud of this school year.

This is a horrible question for a perfectionist. Any potential answer has to survive a ruthless gauntlet of self-criticism that turns even the most positive appraisal into a damning condemnation. Therefore this answer will be the least detailed. I have to just close my eyes and type it out, letting it escape out into the aether and onto the page before my demon mind can pervert it.

My first accomplishment is this blog. I started it last summer to chronicle my experience as an assistant director for the Northern Virginia Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute. The end of the institute brought the question of ok, now what? What could I possibly have to say of any value to anyone? Teaching feels like a drawn out experience of imposter syndrome. I’m constantly afraid of anyone puncturing the hermetic seal I place over my classroom lest they uncover me as a fraud. But this blog is helping me star to change that feeling. Although I’m still unsure about the future of it, I’m pleased with what I’ve published. And now it turns out that ideas aren’t the problem, making time is.

My second accomplishment has to be how I’ve grown as a thinker. I’ve thrown myself at education scholarship, reading and rereading almost everything I can get my hands on. Now, while the actual results of my endeavor might not be as impressive (I’m still an extreme neophyte when it comes to understanding the beautiful complexity that is American education), I can still look back on my studies and feel proud about how far I’ve come.

  1. What are three things you wish to accomplish before the end of the school year?

The first thing I want to accomplish is a student protest. Let me provide some quick back story. My district provides English teachers with a set of thematic units to cover throughout the school year. These units center around interesting concepts such as belonging, relationships, and rebellion. For last year’s rebellion unit, I helped the students identify causes that they wanted to raise a stink about. For an example, a group of girls got together and created tee-shirts with slogans protesting the district’s unfair and sexist dress code policy. I didn’t have the conviction to encourage more students to purposefully disrupt the school.

But this year I’m going to try. Afterall, a protest isn’t much of a protest if it’s politically sanctioned and accommodated by the dominant power structures of school. While I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to accomplish this, I know that it’s time to put my money where my mouth is. 

The second goal I’m looking to accomplishing is to narrow my pedagogical lens and come back down to Earth. I’ve spent the past 12 glorious months engaged with ed theory and ed history. The analogy I used to describe my journey comes from gardening. I’ve been trying different soils, testing pH levels, and mulching. It’s time to return to reading up on teacher practices, the methods and philosophies of teaching writing, for instance. For these methods are the seeds. It’s time to marry the soil with the seeds, to embark upon some righteous plant husbandry.

This leads me to my final goal: figure out and articulate my vision of education’s purpose. While I know that this is a discursive process characterized by constant iteration, I’m ready to take everything I’ve learned and write it into existence as a cohesive and powerful framework for democratic education.

  1. Give four reasons why you remain in education despite today’s rough culture.

For me, Education is neither a cause nor a calling. It is a mode of existence. It is a way of being-in-the-world that roots me in what it means to be alive. It is struggle and contested meaning and counter-hegemonic power. It is the most important thing in the universe. The acts of teaching, of learning, of engaging in dialogue cut through the noise of contemporary life and force us to put down roots. To connect across vast categories of difference and reconfigure the world to mirror our myriad images.

There are no quantifiable answers to this question. Education is the alpha and the omega. It is everything.

  1. Which five people do you hope will take this challenge by answering these questions?

This is the fun part. I feel like I’m back in middle school (working with adolescents provides many opportunities to ‘regress’ back to whisper campaigns and in group/out group politics) writing out a list of my crushes and best friends.

Mrs. Bennett: One of the best teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. A great reader, writer, and educator.

Mr. Carter: My team’s excellent math teacher who also happens to be a Teacher Consultant through the Northern Virginia Writing Project. That fact alone speaks to his commitment to education.

Tavish Bell / Elizabeth Drake: Two wonderful Twitter acquaintances whose voices I’m beyond eager to read.

Ms. Rotchford: Another killer math teacher at my school. Being around her gets me feeling all giddy inside.

Michelle Haseltine: Another Teacher Consultant. You leave a conversation with Michelle feeling valued, enlightened, and heard.

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