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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

37. This Teaching Life (7) : Something happened - revisited again

The dialogue over the 'Something Happened' lesson continues. Dean commented on my most recent posting, and I responded to him in the form of a letter.

In your comment on my blog entry, Dean, you wrote:

As I sit here and finish marking work and get stuck into writing reports. I take a moment to step back and read the comments and feedback that I received from year nine.

I smile at some of their comments they are innocent and truthful. Obviously they are also being nice... I can't help but think how much more I need to do. Yes I may be cool, but that wears off. When it wears off that leaves me cold and naked. Hopefully they see more than novelty they see me for who I am and what I offer.

I know I have to be more firm, but how do I achieve that without being a dictator?

Dear Dean,

It's 7.15 pm on Tuesday. Today you asked me to reflect on his teaching over the past 5 weeks. At that stage I hadn't read your comment on the blog. One phrase stood out for me in particular:

I know I have to be more firm, but how do I achieve that without being a dictator?

There's a few observations I'd like to make:

1. On being 'cool' or 'cold and naked'

My son's girlfriend, Michelle had a dream on Sunday night. Like us, she's an English teacher. Her dream went like this:

'I was teaching a cross-curriculum unit, and it had a Science component. The Science aide had brought a box into the classroom where I was teaching. In the box were 25 young kittens. I checked the kittens out - they were important to the next part of the lesson. They were all there, all cute and cuddly. I put the lid on the box and went on with the first part of the lesson.
When finished that section, I went over to the box and lifted the lid. And all the kittens were dead! I'd assumed that the Science Aide would have punched holes in the lid of the box - but she hadn't, and all of the kittens had died.
I felt terrible. I thought, 'Nobody will ever let me teach in this school again.'

Dreams like this are very common among teachers. In our dreams, we teachers often dream of being 'exposed'. Some teachers dream of literally being naked in front of a class. In this dream, Michelle is 'exposed' as being incompetent: 25 tiny, helpless creatures whose very lives depended on her being competent, and they end up dead! As she observes at the end, she fears that 'Nobody will ever let me teach in this school again.'

Your self image - of being 'cold and naked' is an expression of the same fear: you feel as though you don't have what it takes, that ehind the mask of the 'cool' guy, there is a cold, naked, vulnerable person who has nothing to offer.

2. On being a dictator

You observe:
I know I have to be more firm, but how do I achieve that without being a dictator?

Who said you have to be firm?
I want to go back to "the lesson"; there are a few conclusions/hypotheses to draw from what happened.

Observation 1: You used the 'duster' as a symbol of shifting control. 'Whoever is holding the duster is the only one allowed to speak.' That was the rule, and the class accepted that. One interpretation is that you 'devolved' authority - you passed it over to them, symbolically.

Hypothesis 1: Maybe we need to find more ways of 'devolving authority' - ways of 'escaping' from the dictator role that seems so much part and parcel of being a teacher.

Observation 2: You deliberately became 'cold and naked'. You took a risk, and exposed a vulnerable part of yourself.

Hypothesis 2: Maybe the 'good teacher' is NOT the dictator; maybe the 'good teacher' is the teacher who takes the risk of self exposure - of speaking about vulnerability in an honest and straight forward way.

Observation 3: After you spoke openly about something that had affected you deeply, the students were also willing to speak openly/honestly/personally.

I think holistic education is about being 'authentic' in the classroom. This implies, however, that we can know who we are. Or maybe, that we can know the who[s] that we are.

My guiding principles/ key ideas on this are as follows:

(1) We live our lives in moments, in tiny crevices in time.
(2) Much of the time, we are not 'wholly present' - we are wherever we are, but our mind is elsewhere. We are day dreaming, or re-playing a scene, or trotting out a script. Charles Tart argues that we are sleeping much of the time, we are 'on autommatic pilot'.
(3) Each of us is a 'multiple'. William James described humans as 'tenements of clay', inhabited by any number of persons. One formulation of this multiplicity is Berne's notion of the child-parent-adult in each of us. Jung proposed the persona (the ME I want others to see), and a multiplicity of archetypes - clusters of personalities. Pearson, borrowing from Jung, suggested 6 key archetypes:

The Innocent

The Victim / Orphan / Wounded Child

The Warrior / Achiever / Dominator / Controller

The Care Giver / Martyr

The Wanderer

The Wise One / Trickster

In another formulation, she adds other archetypes: the Watcher/Observer; the Lover; the Creator; The Destroyer; the Male; the Female... and so on.

(4) The 'authentic' self / 'selves'

Maybe there is no authentic self - just a number of more or less dominant 'clusters' [archetypes] living within the tenement of clay, and each demanding to be heard from time to time.

(5) 'Authenticity' in this way of seeing things is 'knowing who is speaking, who is wanting to call the shots'.

3. Hopefully they see more than novelty they see me for who I am and what I offer.

This comment takes on a more layered meaning. What they saw that Wednesday was a different aspect of you. You had been, at times, the warrior - taking control, exercising authority, being the teacher-warrior. What they saw were two, maybe five other you(s):

Wounded Child - you told the story of the threat of a death of someone close to you, and you were exposed for what you really are - a vulnerable human being. You - like every one of them, like every one of us - had suffered what Billy caled life pain. [What a great expression that is.]

Caregiver - the feminine opposite of the warrior. The warrior takes control, the caregiver gives love. Did you notice how Tom continually said the word love in a scornful way? Would-be warriors don't like the idea of loving and caring; they are embarrassed by it, and so must riducule and demean it. And yet, the warrior archetype emerges out of the anger of the wounded child - being a warrior is a way of demanding love.

Wise One - you spoke of pain, of coming to terms with death and loss, of the impact of your cousin's confrontation with death. These are all matters of soul, they have to do with deep wisdom.

Wanderer - you showed, too, that you are not uni-dimensional. You, like all of us, share the wanderer's uncertainty, the wanderer's hankering after 'truth' and 'authenticity'.

Innocent - finally, you displayed graet trust. You entrusted them with something that was clearly of great significance to you.

So - in that Wednesday moment, they met a multi-dimensional person. They met the innocent/victim/warrior/caregiver/wanderer/wise Dean. An authentic bunch of tenants from a 'tenement of clay' named Mr D. And for that brief moment, THAT encounter allowed them to examine and 'expose' some of their own innocence, and victim-hood, some of their deep caring for each other, some of their wanderer's doubts, and - yes - much wisdom.

Look at Billy's wisdom - life pain. And Lauren's. And Cam's declaration of what pain his father's death had caused. And Jess's surprise: 'I've never seen our class so serious about something before'.

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