Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Teachers are people, too.

An obvious fact, right?  No!
Not now in 2013---not ever.

Teachers have always been held to a higher standard --even back in Biblical days.

James 3:1 warns us :
Not many of you should become teachers... because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.
Teachers lives are devoted to meeting the needs of others.

Teachers lives are spent preparing young folks for the future, for our future-- and  trying to figure out what that future will look like. 

Teacher are mythical creatures, sometimes thought to live lives very different from everyone else.

Ask any teacher, particularly the elementary variety, and they will tell you that at least one student in their career, has been surprised to see them some outside the school building.
Oh! Mrs. Holland, you shop here too!
You are not in the school!  They let you leave?
You have kids?!
Look! Mom, it is my teacher! I don't believe she is at the (fill in whatever place)!
Teachers are under an enormous amount of pressure.

Our responsibilities and duties have increased exponentially in the past century.
(For more on this, see Jamie Vollmer's list, The Ever-Increasing Burden on America's  Public Schools  and my related post on this issue, The Joy (and Burden) of Teaching.)

Our families and friends expect us to know everything... but not to act like we do.

The public expects us to save their children and the world.

We put pressure on ourselves  to be everything to everybody at any given time.

And we sometimes pressure each other.
Pressure can push in two directions- forward and up or backward and down.

What does it look like when teachers push other teachers forward?
What does it look like when the pressure from other teachers pushes us back? 

Teachers who are interested in growing--those for whom teaching is an avocation, rather than a vocation, those for whom teaching is a calling are always striving to be better, to be more.

They are definitely and minimally reading professional literature,  engaging in professional development, and participating in professional groups-both locally and and nationally. 

In addition, they may also be writing, blogging, presenting at professional events, and/or  producing/publishing teaching materials, articles and books. 

In a recent article, entitled The Vulnerable Population of Teacher-Researchers; Or, “Why I Can’t Name my Co-Workers"  Brian White describes what pushing backward and down looks and feels like on the receiving end. You can read his article here or here.

Sadly, there are teachers who respond negatively when their colleagues engage in the above activities and begin to be both excited about and recognized for the same.

Julie Johnson, one of the teacher participants in our CAWP teacher inquiry group, was so moved by this notion of teacher vulnerability  as discussed in White's article, that she switched her research topic so she could investigate this concept more. 

 In a related survey  she conducted with 50 teachers, 74% of them reported feeling this ostracizing that he discusses. (unpublished research presented at NCTE 2012) 

In the context of  our inquiry group's consideration of White's article I wrote the following response:
I have always been a teacher –researcher.   I have not always considered myself such or formally labeled what I regularly did as research.  But, never the less, I have always intentionally studied my own practice, and sometimes as a coach, the practice of my colleagues, with the intention and expressed purpose of discovering what was working, what might work better and how to implement "the better" in my classroom and my school in the most effective ways.  I also believe simply by intentionally studying something, it improves because the attention brings to the forefront that which was hidden in routine, normality, automaticity, and familiarity.

I have always been lucky in that I fell into, sought, and found reflective, supportive teachers who were interested in what I was interested in--- improving teaching, learning more about teaching and learning, and the system of education.  I have not been ostracized or shut down in the educational setting or not much anyway..  

But....sadly.. although this has not been my experience, I know teachers for whom have this negative experience is real.

So what does it look like when we support each other and push teachers forward?

Geert Keltchermans in Teacher Vulnerability: Understanding its Moral Political Roots, (Cambridge Journal of Education, Vol.26, Issue 3, 1996,307-323) not only recognizes the existence of this vulnerability and  examines its nature, but  suggests taking political action to regain professional, social and workplace identities, as well as restoring a positive work environment  for all teachers. 

Keltchermans also recommends autobiographical reflection and storytelling to deal positively with this sense of vulnerability.  For more about this article click here.

What else can we do to support teachers and push them forward?

Where do you find your forward push?

Today's Deeper Writing Possibilities

Whether or not you are a teacher, reflect on your current position and role?

What are you currently doing to be the best you can be in whatever position/role you hold? 

Who is supporting you?
What affordances do you encounter? 
What hindrances obstruct your way?
What changes would you like to see in your current situation?
How can you work to implement these changes?

Write a letter to the person(s) supporting you thanking them for their role in your growth?
Write a narrative of your experience--positive or negative.

At a certain point during the time our CAWP teacher inquiry group met, I reread all of our notes for each session. Click here to read a poem, Haibun 11- 3-1-12, that I wrote attempting to capture our collective experience and the importance of our conversations.

Write a poem as an alternative way to reflect, report, or capture your experience.

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