farmers and teachers

From Dea Conrad-Curry at Notions and Potions in Thinking deeply about the seeds we plant:

…I was thinking of how farmers and teachers are alike. They both are responsible to nurture valuable commodities. Their work is both science and art. They both possess intrinsic passion, returning day in and day out to work over which they have limited control, facing the vicissitudes of nature: mother nature and human nature. And they are both being moved to change by the combined forces of technology and science.

Planting corn along a river in northeastern Tennessee (LOC)

Telramen op de bank in de klas / Counting-frames in classroom

I quoted this yesterday in a short post about recent blog discoveries and I find myself going back to read that quote over and over again. There is definitely something about it that strikes a chord within me. There is a notion of stability, of consistency, of basic humanity in both farming and teaching. Yet, within these stable qualities, there is a necessity for change, for constant, continual change.

I think it is the tension between those states – stability and change – that makes these passionate professions. You need passion to nurture and to live what Dea writes about.

As I wrote in the comment box on Dea’s blog – she helped me to see why I feel so right living out here in farm country.

Why do the very best teachers ignore/subvert curriculum?

Yesterday I posted a tweet. Today I’m going to comment on it. Sometimes it takes me a while to process my thoughts.

The very best teachers spend every day of their lives ignoring or subverting the curriculum

Now, why is this? Why would people, including myself, think that the best teachers are the ones who ignore what many consider to be the main ‘stuff’ of teaching? My memories of my BEd program are filled with courses on curriculum. Maybe one on Quebec education law. One on learning disabilities. But the rest were courses on curriculum. How to create lesson plans based on curriculum, how to manage your time to make sure the curriculum gets covered – that sort of thing.

Curriculum can not be the main stuff of teaching. It can’t. Do you hear me? It. Can’t.

The main stuff of my job. Wait. I’m getting sick of using the word stuff. Let me be more specific. The main point, the essence, the reason for my teaching is the students I teach. I wouldn’t say I ignore curriculum. I know it’s there. And I use it as a starting point, at the beginning of the year when I don’t really know my students yet. And throughout the year as a background for our work together. But really, I do my best to fit what my students get excited about, what they ask to learn, into the curricular competencies. When it doesn’t work, well, students trump curriculum each time. Luckily I work in Quebec, which has a very student-centered education program with a multitude of competencies in many different areas. It makes it easier to subvert. Really. It also makes it easier to ignore at times. There is just too much to cover that we can focus on what is essential to student learning. As decided by us (our last PED day was around determining the essential features of the courses we teach).

You know what? I think that by staying 100% true to curriculum we are actually ignoring our students.So subvert, ignore that which is on paper. But never those who are in front of you.

holding emotion

I’ve written about this before. Yesterday I felt stressed – nervous, anxious, slightly on edge – and not because of me. We are starting an exam period (what a lovely way to come back from a 2 week vacation…not) and yesterday was the first of them. The exam began with some argument about what to do, how it didn’t make sense, how there was no way that they could finish in 2 hours.

It is especially during these kinds of situations that I realize part of my job is to manage emotion and in doing so, hold it.

I could have snapped back but I kept my voice low and calm. I moved from student to student, tried to connect with them individually, to let them know I see their stress, their frustration – the exam was a French one, a compulsory course that many students have a huge brick wall up about – and that they needed to plow on despite that.

Slowly, the room became still, with just a spattering of complaint toward the end of the period, when students became worried about finishing on time.

I was in bed by 7:30 last night though!

rant

I’ve made the decision to do something I have never done before and that is to remove a post. Well, actually, to replace it with this one. I have not been asked to do this by anyone, it is something I have decided to do on my own because, regardless of its intention, its results clash with what I feel is the right thing to do. I never intended to cause harm, to hurt anyone in its posting. It has and I’m truly sorry.

The post was an in-the-moment response to some of the frustrations of teaching. Frustrations that I know others experience, as was evidenced by the number of, “I know where you’re coming from,” comments to the post here and in other forums.

From the get-go, Michael felt I should ‘quietly delete’ the post, while others said no. Susan said that strong emotion teaches strong lessons. Others, that we (teachers) are expected to be devoid of emotion and that reminders of our humanity are needed from time to time. Others, that I should suck it up or leave teaching, that there are certain things I should not reflect on in my blog.

So the intention of the post was to capture my emotion in the moment. I use this blog to record the successes and challenges of teaching for the purpose of reflection and feedback. I strive to be a reflective practitioner. I strive.

I need to step back and look at the context of reflection. Since I began this blog about 3 years ago my audience has changed. It began as an audience of 1 (me) and slowly grew to an audience of a few (me and a few other teachers from other cities and countries), and more recently to a much larger (though still relatively small) audience of readers (teachers and non-teachers, including students, parents, and colleagues).

Does this mean I will stop writing about difficult issues? No. Not at all. But I will do so with a sensitivity for a shifting audience. There are times when my readers won’t agree with what I say but my delivery needs to reflect the values that are dear to me – kindness, compassion, and doing no harm. Indeed, love.

So, I haven’t been asked to remove this post or replace it in any way. But when I reflect on it and the reactions it received within the shifting readership contexts that widening social networks provide blog writers, it is the right thing to do. When I reflect on it and my mission to do no harm, it is the right thing to do.

Tracy
The great thing about learning is that it never, never stops.

I demand achievement!

Yesterday afternoon was gorgeous – a perfect afternoon for a shopping spree in Montreal, which I hadn’t done in a long while. It’s as if I were a tourist in my own city, since I no longer live in Montreal but lived there for so long.

In the very first store I visited (after stopping in at the Korean grocery on Ste Catherine street for kim bap to eat as I strolled in the sun) I couldn’t help but purchase this bag. I was going to get it even after only seeing this side:

teacher

and then I turned it around – priceless! – I ran to the cashier.

student

I feel like this is all I write about.

Sure, I demand achievement from my students. But they are always reminding me to ‘get a grip’. How do we balance high standards for achievement with getting a grip, with staying real?

When it comes down to it, if I only demanded achievement from my students I wouldn’t get it. Some might try to give it, those ones who are lucky enough to know how to get it through traditional means. But what about those who have other needs that must be met first, before they can even fathom academic achievement?

The teacher on the bag demands achievement – from who? Her students? Herself? Her school? In order for authentic achievement to happen on any level it ideally needs to happen on all of them. We need to listen to each other’s stories, really listen, to develop a relationship with each other that makes us want to achieve together. In that way we can expect achievement, expect success, happiness, accountability, change, love.

Really, I feel like this is all I write about. All I talk about. We can’t expect achievement (academic, social, professional development…) if that is all we demand. Real achievement is collaborative, it is relative, it is caring.

I almost didn’t post this because I feel it is all I write about, that it is the same old story. But then I remembered that there is a reason for stories. The stories we tell and listen to and choose to believe are the ones that tie us together and keep us alive.

So I’ll keep telling this story. I think it’s a good one to tell.