“Teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life. … As we try to connect ourselves and our subjects with our students, we make ourselves, as well as our subjects, vulnerable to indifference, judgment, ridicule. To reduce vulnerability [many of us] disconnect from students, from subjects, and even from ourselves.” – Parker Palmer. “The Courage to Teach”
Our teaching practice and our personal investment in it are on display daily. We make ourselves vulnerable to scrutiny from students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and more frequently these days in public and semi-public forums.
I have been reading “The Courage to Teach” for the first time recently. Palmer’s discussion of teaching as a practice at the intersection of the public and private has had a particular resonance for me.
However, I find it especially interesting when the above quote is reworded into a learning perspective.
“LEARNING is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life. … As STUDENTS try to connect THEMSELVES to our subjects, THEY make THEMSELVES vulnerable to indifference, judgment, ridicule. To reduce vulnerability [many STUDENTS] disconnect from the CLASSROOM, from subjects, and even from THEMSELVES.”
Students, like us, walk a thin line between the public and personal, especially as information about their success with learning has moved beyond the classroom and is increasingly made available for public scrutiny through:
School report cards:
School rankings based on state assessments: http://www.boston.com/news/education/
And News reports:
Board approves takeover of Lawrence schools
Is it any wonder that so many of our students “reduce vulnerability by disconnecting from the classroom, from subjects, and even from themselves?”
How do we establish an environment in our schools where kids are willing to take risks in their learning, and not feel vulnerable to outside scrutiny? How do we establish an environment where trying and not succeeding is a regular part of building academic resilience, confidence, and a willingness to try again?
I do believe that part of the answer is in making public school truly public on a regular basis and not just at annual testing time. But we also need a greater discussion in the public sphere about what is required for good learning to take place.
The path to good learning, just like good teaching, can be a long and messy process that takes place both within us and in our interaction with others. Recognizing and supporting this “messiness” is critical to maintaining engagement and growth.
In part II of this two part post I am going to look at what progress means for a student who has disconnected and has struggled to progress through “regular measures” of achievement.