This post is different from all the others in my Trainer Conversations series. First of all, my guest (G) is an anonymous teacher educator. The second difference is having the second guest in the same post (‘T’ will stand for ‘Teacher’). The last difference is the overall mood of the post: it is neither full of optimism, nor does it offer concrete ideas and solutions. You can see it our a way to ‘rant’ about the realities of 2020.
Z: What has been on your mind recently or in the past few months?
G: Teaching. Teachers. To say that teachers within communities, within cultures are under-appreciated, under-valued, and under-supported is an obvious statement. To be able to explain why with clarity would be a finely nuanced statement. To explore how this can be changed to the benefit of humanity, we need to fire everyone and start over. My analogy is health insurance. Insurance is a bet. It says we are willing to pay ‘this much’ to bet against ourselves getting sick and needing care at a certain level. It is predicated on the broken idea that we should gamble with our health.
I believe that education is also operating on a broken paradigm. Current educational goals and curriculums are often a Hydra of policies, a mashup of conflicting ideas held together by political and/or funding band aids. The range of expertise that we expect teachers to have is unconscionable and in my experience unsupported and/or misunderstood by administrations. The amount of work we expect teachers to do is an entirely other conversation.
Z: One of the questions I ask everyone is ‘How do you define ‘Teaching’?
G: Teaching is seeing the student. Seeing the student in the world, as a whole, being with connections and in circumstances that can not be trivialized or ignored. Teaching is being a bridge between what others want and expect of this student that you see and what that student can and will do. Teaching is filtering out the noise of policies, curriculums, administrations, and impersonal assessments; and honing in on the crux of the learning matter for that student that you see while being a psychiatrist, occupational therapist, project manager, and leader; and being versed in current and relevant content. Teaching is standing up for yourself and for others in systems that, regardless of their pedagogical leanings, wealth of technology, teaching and learning beliefs, demand more than a single individual is capable of doing well without sacrificing their own well being. Teaching is learning to see yourself.
Z: I love this: ‘Teaching is standing up for yourself and for others’. Can you say more about this idea please?
G: I see that the amount of things teachers are required to do is growing. I see teachers in the space between stakeholders, or education as a business, and standardized testing, and students. Teachers are so crammed in this space. Everyone has high expectations for them. But they have not been given any additional support. I really see that as an issue. Not just for teachers themselves, their emotional well-being, but for education in general. I think Education will suffer, even though we think we are doing all of these new great things, because teachers simply don’t have the time. It is a matter of physics. It’s just not enough time to accomplish all the things they expect teachers to do. I see it everywhere. It’s huge in lots of countries. I imagine you have seen it in different countries as well… It’s not just one-off (place), e.g. happening in a specific country. I have friends who work in K-12 system in the U.S. They are just being pushed to the limits: trying to do Zoom courses for the students, plus trying to help their own kids, plus preparing, plus learning something new, plus doing everything they normally do (cook, grocery shop, do a laundry, take care of people in their family). It isn’t any wonder to me that it is such an ‘explosive’ time for anyone who is teaching.
Z: Teachers are probably handling that better than others…
G: They are used to that. But I don’t think it is a rationale for continuing to torture them in the way. (laughing sadly)
Z: I think that even if we don’t consider the situation (the pandemic teaching/Zoom classes), it is still a lot of pressure from all the stakeholders (students, their parents, and society in general). In some countries it is about attitude or lack of respect to the teaching profession overall.
G: We say ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach’
Z: Exactly! This reminds me of one post from a participant in my recent online course. He teaches in a vocational school in the Eastern European country, and most of his students believe they are going to have ‘working class jobs’, so they don’t see the need for learning English. They can’t see the purpose for taking (international) English exams, or the point in learning a foreign language in general. He published this post on the final week of our course, and it was supported by other teachers in the group. Many wrote that they felt the same about their contexts. I have his kind permission to share it with my readers:
T: […] I am a little bit concerned over one opinion which is getting more and more traction and somehow entered academia. It says that whenever the attention and will to learn of the pupil/student is not captured, it is only a teacher’s fault because he failed at making his lessons captivating and entertaining. Argumentation for this approach comes up with examples of successful popular lecturers at Universities, life coaches, exercising instructors. I see the great fallacy here, because for the most part people entering universities or paying instructors and coaches have goals in life and want to learn voluntarily. Children at elementary school do not [have such learning goals], because their intellect and personality are still developing and teachers are there to insert structure into their activities as well as provide them with basics of work ethics. High schools expand on that by teaching students to work independently and sparking basic professional interests in young minds. However, most of the time no matter how captivating our lessons are, we are teaching people against their will and we are bargaining with them a lot in order to be able to teach them something, especially at elementary school.
In my opinion most of these unapologetic critics of schools and curriculum utterly fail at critical thinking […]. They fail to understand that an adult paying a yoga instructor is not an 8th grader who attends school because his parents told him so. They fail to understand that adults may perceive further education and study effort as a form of leisure. Most children and teenagers, however, see school as something that carves out their free time and they will still think like that no matter how popular the teacher is, and how much his math classes are considered entertaining. The very same people speak of schools in terms of “indoctrination camps” and “useless” like if, for example, the ability to read, count, or learn chemistry and physics basics was useless…’
G: This post is a great juxtaposition. I can see that. I heard pieces of this just today. I had about 12 elementary school teachers from an Asian country in a Zoom session, and they talked about motivation. Children don’t see the point [in learning Math, for example]. I understand that: they don’t have the cognitive ability to conceptualize that far. They don’t understand the concept of time well enough to think about the point they turn 20 and are going to need this. It means nothing to them, right? (laughing)
Z: Ok, English can be literally seen as a tool for (global) communication. Do teachers themselves believe it is a language, not subject? Sometimes, if you only teach a course book, you are ‘covering’ the material, going through the tasks and quizzes/tests, etc….
T: … then it is a subject.
Z: Teachers may not be excited themselves, their ‘eyes are not shining’. And if they are not sparkling enthusiasm about learning, how can they ‘motivate’ students? Or should/can they ‘be motivated’? Finally, what role can teacher trainers play in [changing or helping to change] this?
T: A big question! One foot in front of the other.
Z: The starfish tale…
This post really wanted to be shared. Thank you for reading us!