After what seems like an entire year spent pondering my own path to happiness, I think I’ve finally come to an understanding that is helpful … at least for me. It happened while I was compiling a list of “quotes to live by,” which in turn was prompted by a quote from the film Little Miss Sunshine. (The quote, “do what you love, and f#@k the rest,” is worthy of a separate discussion because I only agree with it in part.)
For a while, I’ve been feeling an almost desperate need to leave the world of education, that I needed to make a choice between teaching and some other thing. I’ve also been feeling a bit like a phony, because I haven’t been pursuing my own dreams. This made my words ring hollow in my ears as I helped students to pursue theirs. Along with the usual litany of educational problems, these concerns were driving me from teaching (and even had me considering taking some corporate desk job just to get away … despair!)
But I wasn’t happy with the choices that resulted from that line of thinking, either. I truly love teaching and working with students, and I believe I’m good at it–that I have a genuine talent for it. Still, the voice of discontent would not be silenced.
The moment of revelation relates to a meme I’ve seen in a few places in the edublogosphere lately about the changing nature of education and teaching. (Here’s one example). The best way to sum up my conclusion is through the title of this post: teaching is consequential.
The Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines “consequential” as:
1. following as an effect, result, or outcome; resultant; consequent.
2. following as a logical conclusion or inference; logically consistent.
3. of consequence or importance: a consequential man in his field.
4. self-important; pompous
Here’s what I mean:
1: Teaching should follow whatever it is that we (as teachers) do. In other words, teachers should teach what they do, and do what they teach. All teachers should be learners who are busy doing the work of learning. Our teaching should flow as a result of that learning. Teachers should also be, to some extent and in some capacity, writers, and therefore should teach as a result of their own writing. Other teachers are also artists, and should teach as a result of their art. Others love to study and understand how the past affects our present and future, and should teach as a result of this study. And so on. But in no case is teaching what we do … it is the result of what we do. Said differently: teachers must be more than teachers … they must be people who do and are willing/able to help others do the same … teaching is secondary to the doing, the living, the learning.
2. Teaching should be logically consistent with what we do. I find that many teachers ask their students to do things that they themselves would never want to do or would never have any need to do. The system drives us to this level of stupidity, I think. If we are writers, then our teaching about writing should follow from that, and our methods of instruction should be logically consistent with how we write … or how we learn, how we art, how we do whatever it is we do.
3. Teaching should be about that which is important. This shouldn’t need to be said, but unfortunately must be said. We spend far too much time in the classroom “stressing out” both ourselves and our students over things that don’t really matter, so much so that everyone loses sight of the things that do matter. As a result, students walk away having no real understanding of the larger picture, of the major concerns of each discipline, of the connections and influences among the disciplines, or how these things fit into life and its living.
4. Teaching runs the great risk of being self-important, of being an end in itself. And it’s not. As I’ve said, teachers do and then help others to do … the teaching is secondary. The act of doing (and trying to do) should keep teachers humble, or at the very least keep the work at the center and not the teacher. This removes all sorts of stress and barriers and opens education up to a means of moving forward, of working cooperatively, and of doing things that are important and worth doing.
So, what will I be doing (and thus, what am I qualified to teach)? Learning from a wide range of sources, reflecting and writing to understand my reflections, reading and trying to understand some of the great works, great minds, and great movements in literature, philosophy, and the arts. Becoming a more helpful member of my community (local and global) through my involvement in politics (as a citizen in a democracy) and through volunteer work. Attempting to create art through stories, poetry, and film. Coming to understand my world through images in photography. Wrestling with emerging technologies and their impact on how we live. And of course, the myriad skills that underlie those pursuits.
From all that doing, I hope some worthwhile teaching will result.