Sara wanted me to write about change – I guessed also that she kind of wanted me to write about adaptation: not simply how teachers evolve and develop in response to changing circumstances, but also what necessitates change in response to a kind of pedagogical comfort zone more akin to torpor.
Because I’d taught in a million, sometimes strange places on Earth, I tried to piece together the fragments of my teaching career into a vaguely intelligible piece of writing that would encapsulate my thoughts on what I’d learned about change – what I’d learned from change and what I’d learned to appreciate about change.
When I write my writing, I often think I have made sense… and then I read it back… and everything has changed yet again.
Oh well. I give you…
Ten years necessarily changes one, not least a teacher. But there is something seasonal about teaching that is dangerously comforting and tending towards the inert. Minds are formed by the avenues their thoughts plough. Routine breeds coagulation; coagulation clots the mind.
I would venture to suggest that it is rare for one to fully consider the shape of one’s mind. There are certain acts that might effect such consideration: not least looking into a mirror. But a good long stare into the nebulae of your irises will yield only what you think to be there in the first place.
No. To know the shape of your mind is to change. It is painful, but it is the only hope you have of finding what is actually reflected. It is the only way to find out what you believe and what you trust to be true.
Common sense (but not truth) is a moveable feast. As a teacher, the best way quickly to come to know this, is to transplant yourself into an entirely new pedagogical setting. If you are a traditionalist teacher, go and teach in a Montessori setting. If you are a progressive teacher, go and work in an exam factory. Read what you think to be untrue. Find friends amongst those in whom you do not believe.
These are strange, and again I say painful recommendations. We abstract, we nominalise our teaching practice. We come to believe that what, and the ways in which we teach are true only because they are the most tried.
I am not a relativist. But I am, in change, finding unity across a range of pedagogical endeavours. At the boundaries of my teaching experience, across three continents, I have found my limits.
I have taught in classrooms daubed with pornography. I have taught in classrooms to which children have brought penknives branded with the school’s logo. I have taught in schools that celebrate having no behaviour management policies or procedures. Conversely, I have taught in schools that mercilessly rank-order their students academically (and make that rankest of rank orders available to a parental community baying for data). I have taught in schools whose websites cry out a subtext that privileges data over children.
In such a broad spectrum of institutions what is a mind to do, but bend? Having experienced such a bizarre set of scholastic circumstances, what is a mind to do, but come out of shape and frantically seek some semblance of prior order?
But only in having found my limits, have I found my soul. I know who I am as a teacher: my bones have spoken. Bones only speak when there are no words. There are no words when there is no way of expressing what compels one’s bones to speak.
Do not do what I have done, but understand what I have written.
Mostly, I believe that in having found my limits, I can articulate them thusly: it is plain to me when I see a school that privileges data over children; it is plain to me when I see a school that privileges ideology over children; it is plain to me when I see systems that either subjugate or offer empty freedoms.
Most of all, I have found in change the core of the joy of my profession. It is my daily transaction with children, wherever in the world I am.
And, unlike the shape of my mind, that has never changed.