Reading the following post sent shivers down my spine. It is from a current, but still relatively new math teacher, Shawn, who’s self-description is that of a passionate, caring teacher; while I like what I read about him and his ideals, I panicked a bit since the text below struck so close to home.
I began thinking about how I would do it [teaching] differently. How I would reach my students with compassion and ground-breaking pedagogy. How I would empathize, lift-up, and otherwise be as genuine as possible with young people.
Two years and a Master’s degree later, I got my own classroom. I tried compassion, and was met with indifference by students. I tried ground-breaking pedagogy and was met with a lukewarm reception. I tried to empathize, lift-up, and being genuine, only to be really really tired on Friday.
from a posting on Standards-Based Grading on the blog site ThinkThankThunk: Dealing with the Fear of Being a Boring Teacher, February 15th, 2010.
Concerned that his posting might apply to me when I become a math teacher, should I worry if it exposed a potential flaw in my vision for teaching? That empathy, encouragement, and being real with students while employing the latest, proven pedagogical practice coupled with 25+ years of life experience in high-tech engineering, business and finance serving as a source of near-infinite answers to the ever-present “why do I need to know this?” question may not be enough to yield results.
Does my vision overlook, or perhaps discount, the potential that students might be so disenfranchised with school from their past, poor experiences that they would be staunchly resistant to a caring teacher regardless of how I tried to connect with them? Pink Floyd’s infamous line, “Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!” * leaps front and center into my brain as I write this posting. An affirmative answer is my worst nightmare so I hope it does not come anywhere near true.
And for now, I do not believe it will come true, even though it did for Shawn, for a variety of reasons beyond his control. What I know will be in my control is my attitude, behavior, effort, and hopefully, ability to be insightful leveraging wisdom accrued from living nearly one-half century. I say this since I’ve seen the power of it already as a student teacher. I see immediately, and cumulatively, how my behavior towards students, even the toughest of the tough, breaks through their wall somehow, or perhaps more precisely, they lower it while with me since they sense my sincerity, and trust that I truly care for them. I sure hope this is the case.
I also have hope since I am neither planning on “thought control and dark sarcasm” as Another Brick in the Wall cries out below:
We don’t need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
nor will I act like the teachers depicted in the beginning of the song:
When we grew up and went to school, there were certain teachers who would hurt the children anyway they could
by pouring their derision upon anything we did
exposing every weakness however carefully hidden by the kids.
I do not think Shawn exhibited any of that behavior either, but perhaps his relative youth compared to my more aged state is a key difference? I do not think so necessarily. But I hope I’m right, for some reason, for my sake, for my family’s sake, and ultimately, for my future students’ sake.
* from the song Another Brick in the Wall from Pink Floyd’s The Wall album
BTW, Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall are two of my favorite albums of all time. An awesome band with amazing music and lyrics.