[Cross-posted on Edutopia]
Recently the Center for Teaching Quality launched a #Teachingis campaign for teachers to tweet different visions and realities of teaching. The responses were varied and poignant. As we know, teaching is ever changing and virtually indescribable in its complexity.
Reading the tweets of “what #Teachingis” helped me think more deeply about the multilayered identities that we have as teachers. These many roles and identities change from moment to moment, and shift throughout the course of a school year.
Below are my thoughts on some of the most important identities and roles juggled by teachers.
Having a Thoughtful Voice
I believe that teaching is maintaining a fear of the power of one’s own voice in the classroom. This fear, or self-doubt, helps me maintain a critical awareness of my role as classroom leader. Spirit in Action‘s Guide to Working in Diverse Groups describes the need “to move from relationships based on power over other people to relationships based on shared power.” Teaching is developing multiple voices and knowing when each voice needs to be used.
During our class discussions, I regularly remind students to speak to each other and not to me. I will intentionally walk away from a student who is speaking in order to include to rest of the room in the conversation. When I have done my job well, my students facilitate their own discussions by quoting sources, calling on each other, and questioning each other deeply. Teaching is finding multiple pathways for students to take charge of their own learning.
The other day, class ended and I began organizing my papers in preparation for the next group of students. Instead of the normal sounds of joking and packing, I heard yelling. Two students were tearfully screaming at each other about an earlier interaction I had not witnessed. I knew nothing, yet it was my responsibility to act. I guided one student to the hallway and asked him to explain what had happened before I went into the classroom to talk to the other irate, offended student. Although my next class began late, the time I spent with the two individuals made it possible for them to speak directly to each other and reach a place of understanding in the midst of their hurt. Teaching is dealing with a crisis whenever it arises.
Mentoring and Modeling
Teaching is mentoring others as they pursue inquiry. Deep, meaningful learning happens when people have the experience of discovery, not when they are told what to think. Often, students will ask me for my opinion or my personal analysis of an issue. It is tempting to immediately respond with my own passionate analysis of issues. Instead, I try to restrain myself and respond with questions that push the thinking of my students toward new places. At other times, it is clear that a student needs a model or a starting point in order to proceed on his or her own. I wrote about modeling and this tension between structure and choice in an earlier post.
Some of my students have been planning and teaching lessons for a class in a nearby elementary school. They have a lesson-planning template and resources that I’ve curated for them. Many of them are excited to teach and eager to do it well. A crucial part of the process, once a group has developed a lesson, is when I sit down and they talk me through the specifics of their plan. These consultations have a huge impact on the overall quality of the lessons and success of the project.
Being a Scholar
The excitement of students is tangible when learning is structured around topics that matter. In order to successfully frame inquiry, I need to be a scholar. My information comes from research, exploration, my different networks, and the knowledge of experts in various fields. This access to information, sources, and ideas allows me to strategically design lessons and units around deep, meaningful questions.
There are times when my most important role is as a classroom observer. When I step back and take time to observe, I notice things about engagement, group dynamics, and individuals that are easy to miss when I am actively leading class. Teaching is developing insights in order to plan future lessons and talk with students about their work and learning.
No one teaches because it is easy. (It’s not!) As teachers, we can embrace the challenges we face by recognizing the skills, identities, and roles necessary to do our jobs well. In the midst of exhaustion, struggle, and success, we can celebrate the incredible work that teaching is.