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It's all about the narrative

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Becoming Odysseus

Ulysses 3

I love the poem Ulysses,* the driving rhythm of the poetry, the solitary courage of the speaker — even the arrogance speaks to me at a certain level.  I hear its lines in my head many times throughout my day.  I guess in a way, we all want to be Ulysses.ulysses 2

But it wasn’t always like this.  When we were learning the poem in high school English class, the teacher asked us whom we identified more with, Tennyson’s hero or The Lotos Eaters.(She was the cool teacher.)**  Full disclosure here, I hadn’t actually read the latter poem; I was going totally on my memory of that section of Little Town on the Prairie where Laura finds the Tennyson book hidden away in her mother’s sewing.

tennyson book

Even so, I was firmly in the camp of The Lotus Eaters, even if it was a little tl;dr. Now it was the 70s, so slacker culture was in full swing, but it was more than that — I actively hated Ulysses.

When I was younger, the question had been easy:  “Where are the girl characters in this book?” Now, my cool girl persona didn’t permit me to ask the question out loud, but I had an awkward feeling when I read the third line, the only mention of any woman in the poem.  “Matched with an aged wife I mete and dole” –I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable when I heard these words, but there was no accessible way to articulate or even make sense to myself of what I felt.

It’s like when I studied Anglo Saxon in second year university.  Again I wanted to ask, “Where are the girl characters?” but nobody was asking that question at U of T in the early 80s.* ** I dealt with my anger by avoidance, and getting an extremely poor grade in my Old English course.

In those days, I didn’t consider myself a feminist:  I was a cool girl and I didn’t need women’s rights.  I could keep pace with the boys around me. I would rather get a C in an English course than admit what was bothering me.

All this changed when I had my first child.  Suddenly equality was not a given: it became something I had to fight for.  And I realized that feminism was simply that.

So there’s a whole chunk of the story that deserves its own blogpost, or even its own blog, but here I am, 47/50 on the Buzzfeed Feminist Scale. **** It’s been a journey through feminism, and also through reading, and I’m not sure how it happened, but  now I love Ulysses.  It’s become part of the fabric of my life as I age. *****

As for Anglo Saxon, I haven’t quite reconciled  myself to it completely.  But that year when two Beowulf   movies came out, I saw both of them.  I hope that counts.

beowulf_movie_image__3_

 

 

*Tennyson here as opposed to Joyce. The latter work is the source of its own dysfunctional relationship, but I’ll save that for another post.

**for which I hated her.

*** and yes I know now that  the Angelina Jolie monster does actually play quite a large role in Beowulf.  In university, though, I never made it far enough through the thorns and swords to find out.

**** Well who can honestly say that she has never criticized another woman’s clothes or makeup?

***** (I just had to squeeze this in because it makes me so happy.) For my parents’ 50 th anniversary, my father wrote this poem, which recuperates and reclaims the original Ulysses in a true love song.

Ulysses plain

 

 

Exorcism: a sequel

Spinello_Aretino_Exorcism_of_St_Benedict

I started this piece at the beginning of the summer but abandoned it because I didn’t want to jinx things.  Now summer is over, and things did become more challenging than they were when I first started this post, but the strength and resilience have remained.

So I finally finished my post about summer school , and now it’s summer again.

Well, you might be asking, how’s it going?  Are you students still triggering bizarre introspective journeys while you are supposed to be managing a debate on greenspace in Toronto?

And the answer is no.  Summer school is summer school — this pastiche of charming moments and, yes, sullen disregard.  The latter is still a challenge to me and I occasionally ask myself if I have exactly the right kind of personality  for teaching teenagers.  However, it doesn’t feel as personal any more.  At the moment, the dominant reaction is irritation rather than paralysis.

On another level too, I feel that something has been exorcised.  That idea:  I would hate to be a student in this class* — it’s not a comforting one.  It had been lingering at the edges of my consciousness throughout my teaching career.  I thought I could suppress it by refusing to confront it, but things don’t work that way.  This wraith generated a vague sense of guilt that undermined my confidence as a teacher.

Well, there was a point this term where I thought to myself, “I actually don’t care if you don’t like this class, because I know that what we are doing right now is exactly what I would have loved at your age.”

The feeling was short-lived, which is a good thing because a) I like anchovies and tapenade and garter snakes and maybe you don’t and b) you know, you really should care if the students don’t like the class.

Still, it was a moment of strength and pride.

So something happened to cauterize this psychic injury. Was it indeed a Jungian moment? Did I face the full embodiment of my greatest fear and in the act of confronting it vanquish it?

Or was it perhaps in the writing that the Jungian journey became real?  As I wrote that post over the intervening months, I found the story shaping itself in my mind.  Perhaps the actual classroom moment was just the seed of the experience.  Perhaps the true catharsis came later. Was it in articulating the emotions, in mapping the journey, that I truly came to understand and manage the conflicts going on inside me?

It’s getting a little chicken-or-the-egg here.  Short answer: things are better; evil teenage-self seems to have receded; summer school is done and part of me can’t wait for next July.

*serendipitously, I happened upon this piece by Hana Ticha while I was writing this post.

 

Thirst

eager

There’s a thirst to starting to learn a new language, a glee when one deciphers  a new word independently.  It reminds me of the way my children laughed when they first made that letter-sound-meaning connection.

I’m learning Arabic  — my first new language since my teens.  And yes, the language brain is not what it was, but “tho’ much is taken much abides” as the wise poet said. * What I didn’t expect was to be having so much fun.

But what is most important about this thirst is that it’s contagious.  A group of learners will spread the excitement amongst themselves, and beyond that, to the instructors and school staff.  I missed out on the big waves of refugee immigration — from Vietnam and Somalia — but I do remember when  the last big group of Colombian immigrants crossed the border and how our halls were alive with the buzz of Spanish and the energy of people for whom learning English was a true survival mechanism.  Every week they could see quantifiable progress in their English; what’s more, this progress translated into greater ease that they felt as they settled into their new homes.

In recent years, immigration has been restricted to more proficient speakers.  The tone has changed.  English classes for most have been a choice rather than a necessity.  While this has its advantages — students with more specific ideas of what they want from a class –there is something lacking.  We can spend weeks discussing the use of infinitive versus gerund forms, but even if that information stays with them, knowing  the difference between “I had trouble doing that.”  I got into trouble for doing that” and “I went to a lot of trouble to do that”  will not necessarily make it appreciably easier for them to make small talk on the bus.

But now…

Surely you’ve seen the news photos of Our Handsome Prime Minister hugging parka-clad children. ** Canada has welcomed tens of thousands of refugees over the past 7 months.  Many of them have settled in Toronto, and a great deal of them are at a basic English level.  Again, we have an influx of people for whom English is literally a survival need, and who are clearly aware of its importance. I have met members of this community in different settings and in each case I have been struck by the intensity of their motivation to learn.

This could be our opportunity, a chance to infuse new energy into the ESL system, on the level of funding (1 student = x government $), but also on the level of morale.  A flood of new  students, especially at the beginner level, could bring that contagious thirst that would give all involved a new sense of purpose.

And yet…

I’m not hearing about that.  I think the students are coming.  When I talk to colleagues at the Board, some of them tell me that they have seen their numbers leap.  But I hear no official pronouncement from the Board welcoming these new learners, no billboards promising broad educational vistas to beaming newcomers. What’s more, I’m bombarded with frustratingly ill-informed messages from the media, stories of newcomers on 6-month waiting lists for English classes, or even one organization dismissing other sources of ESL education as “inadequate” for refugees.*** Even worse, I’m not hearing these claims refuted by the school boards.  I have first hand knowledge that classrooms are sitting half-empty.  We do have space for those students and we do have first-rate programs for helping them.  Why is nobody screaming this from the rooftops?

Community language organizations need to step up, to promote themselves as the best and most accessible option for the refugee community. This makes good business sense, but it’s also common courtesy: we need to let our New Canadians know that they are welcome here.  Management also has to improve internal communications.  Present this to your employees as an exciting new development, a challenge and an opportunity to learn more about another culture, a real chance to make a difference.  Make them see that the work they do is of vital importance — to each individual learner, but also to the country as a whole.

Before you yell at me

Yes I know.  I’m essentially an outsider at this point.  You may bristle at my easy criticisms. You may argue that in fact you are taking many steps to accommodate these new learners.  That’s as may be, but I’m not hearing it from where I am, and I’m pretty close to the ESL world.  You  should be making a noise that I can hear across the city.  Wake up, guys!  This is the work that we were born to do.

*this quote set off a chain of memories and associations that evolved into its own blogpost 

** at least he managed to keep his shirt on this time, as opposed to this one and this one; there’s also this.

***not linking or naming the parties involved, but it definitely did happen

Crawl Inside your Skin — Empathy Again

So I’ve been talking about teachers and empathy and about the fact that despite all the blather from the cute cartoon figures at the bottom of the well, empathy is not always the best quality for teachers.  In the subtly named post Empathy Sucks, I talk about how feeling your students’ sadness can limit your effectiveness by weakening you at the moment when they most need you to be strong.

In this post, though, I’d like to look at it from a different angle:  how much do you really want to know about what your students are feeling?  I’m happy this idea came along because I was looking for a way to talk about a little epiphany I had when working with visiting teenagers this past summer.

The summer program is where we go to atone for our 8 months of 12 weekly contact teaching hours at full time pay rates.  It’s where we go to remind ourselves that there are worse classroom offences than a misplaced citation.  Summer teaching is epic — in the rigour it demands, but also in the satisfaction it provides if things actually do go well.

The greatest difference, though is the balance of power. With my regular students, things are simple: they complete the tasks we give them, and they go on to U of T; they don’t, and they go home.

In the summer, on the other hand, the causal connections are a bit more tenuous. There are possible consequences for the summer students: if their behaviour is particularly egregious, they might conceivably not get a certificate, and a certain kind of parent might be displeased by this. However, we all know about teenage brains and their pre-frontal lobes*. All these things seem very far away when there’s wheelie chair jousting to be done.

In other words, there is no clear and consistent extrinsic motivation to meet classroom expectations.  This can generate warm collaborative classrooms, where everyone — teacher and students alike –feels privileged to be present ,

summer school project

but it can also lead to bad behaviour when students realize the consequences will be less severe than they would be in their regular schools. This can manifest itself in many ways: hyperactivity, open defiance, and perhaps the most deadly, sullen disregard.  This last is less physically exhausting than the others, but it can be the most dispiriting.  In fact on one occasion it triggered in me a kind of out of body experience.

I chose this picture for its Lord of the Flies resonance. Actually, the subject of the photo was one of the sweetest guys ever/.

Face to face with a particularly unimpressed young person, I felt my world tip slightly, and it was as if I were 15 again.   As I saw her lip curve upward into a sneer,  I became the young misfit, facing the  careless disdain of a member of the cool kids’ group.  I felt that for all my knowledge and experience, I had failed to learn the one thing that was most important, the secret signal that would earn me admission to the clubhouse (which back in the day had been a grubby university cafeteria across from the school — the socially elite drank coffee there when  we mere mortals went to gym class).

tartu

But it wasn’t just that. After all, I might have been a nerd as a teenager, but I was never a happy nerd.

 Nope, definitely not interested in your team-building activity.
Nope, definitely not interested in your team-building activity.

 

Think Winona Ryder at the beginning of Beetlejuice. I sat in class actively resisting knowledge.  Any whimsical attempts to draw me out or make a lesson “fun” merely served to redouble my resentment.

No thank you, I would not like to share my feelings with the group right now (or ever).
No thank you, I would not like to share my feelings with the group right now (or ever).

I was cruelly derisive of any attempt on the part of the teachers to relate to us or seem young and current. The sneer appeared on my face as frequently as it did on my tormentors’.

Nope.
Nope.

So at that moment I was simultaneously the young victim of my supercilious adversary, and the adversary herself.

I knew that I would never endear myself to her, because I had been her.

There was a moment of horror.  I felt trapped in knowledge that I could not gainsay, because it was hard wired into my own memories.  I saw my teaching through my younger self’s eyes, and it was not pretty.  I would have been an atrocious student in one of my classes.   Somehow, through a mixture of genetics and happenstance,  this awful student morphed into a reasonably good (no fishing expedition here) teacher,** but traces of the sullen teenager are still active within me — active enough to remind me of the times when teachers were the enemy, with no quarter given.  I suppose there’s a lesson there about karma.

And then… it was ok.  Somehow the tensions loosened.  My Jungian*** journey had reached its goal, and we moved on.  There was no heart-warming meeting of minds, but I found a kind of peace.  In a way, I had slain the dragon:  I had come face to face ( almost literally) with the conflict teaching stirred up within me.

After all, the dragon was something I had sensed all along.  I guess that teaching often does involve a kind of suspension of disbelief, the ability to not notice the rolled eyes and fidgets, the kind of heedless pep that enables one to persuade a class of foreign-trained surgeons to engage in the cutting of jack-o-lanterns.****

.pumpkins

It was only now that I was strong enough to acknowledge this hostility and face it head on.

And how did this inform my teaching practice?  Did it make me more hesitant to employ creative teaching methods,  now that I remembered how much I had resisted them?  Actually, not really.  My teaching persona had evolved in response to the feedback I was getting, even when I seemed oblivious. This was my way of being me in the classroom — and one incident was not going to change it.

It did make me more aware, though. I became aware of the degree of courage that this kind of teaching demanded of me.  And I guess that’s a huge part of creativity *****

944334_10156764454215054_4072101517551283580_n— being willing to make something  you love — and show it to  the world — when you know that it will be judged by others, and that not everyone will find it to their liking.

At the same time,  I also found it easier to make my peace with those resistant students;  to  find space for them in the interactive classroom.  I realized that it was not really about me — even if the students thought it was.

After that, though, I’m a little more cautious in my deployment of empathy.  The student mind can be a fetid swamp of nightmares and monsters, and that’s on a good day.  I will be a little bit more careful not to venture there uninvited.

*though whatever we do know is probably vastly oversimplified
** an interesting piece on that here
*** full disclosure:  I find actual Jung a little tl;dr, so this is based on knowledge derived from the movies and the predigested interpretations I found in feminist theory texts of the 1990s, and also this.
****Well, to be fair, they did a damn fine job of it.
***** thanks, Rusa Jeremic!

Voices

voices 2
So I’m looking for a good junk food book to burn off the stress generated by end of term and all the other activities I seem to find myself caught up in, and I end up reaching for Voices  from Chernobyl. ( I know , eh?  Usually it would be totally the other way around.)

I’m reading it with this soundtrack of THIS IS A NOBEL PRIZE WINNING AUTHOR blaring in the background, which makes it a little hard to focus on the actual literary text.  Anyway, there will be a Goodreads review about that sooner or later* — probably fairly soon, as the book is short and surprisingly readable given the subject matter.

But the Chernobyl stories have their own special resonances for me because I was pregnant with Em in 1986.  I was here in Toronto.  My parents were in Greece.  They were phoning me:  be careful; don’t go outside.  We were just waiting to see whether the wind from Eastern Europe would blow upwards and over the North Pole.

Later, I would have chance to meet mothers who had also had children in 1986 — and  weren’t as lucky in their location. But their stories aren’t mine to tell, and anyway I can’t tell them without crying.

Part of the book is about the workers who were sent in to clean up after the explosion. The speakers are quite specific about the heroism of these young men: they knew that there was a strong chance that they would die from the radiation, but they also knew that without their actions, the deathtoll would be orders of magnitude greater.  They went willingly because they knew their country needed them.

I had a student who had worked clean-up in Chernobyl.  I asked whether they were given any protective equipment, and he laughed a little (because he was a funny guy) and said, “There was no point.” I don’t remember laughing.

He was around Overland for quite a while because it took him a really long time to find a job in his field:  Canadian employers are somewhat wary of applicants who know a little too  much about certain topics.  However, last thing I heard he had a career-related job, and I assume he is still healthy.

When I think about this, I feel so fortunate.  In the obvious kind of way, to have had the luck to be able to raise my children in Canada.  But there’s also a more personal  reaction: I’m grateful to Overland for giving me the chance to hear these stories. Sometimes there were so many stories that I felt my head would burst. They were shocking, heart-breaking, but in their own way they were beautiful.  The dignity of the speakers gave human meaning to what had been incomprehensible newspaper headlines. It was an immeasurable privilege to be allowed to bear witness to them.

* and here it is

update:  this came up; it seems relevant somehow — US vs. Soviet heroism perhaps?

But seriously, Where Are My Pants?

cropped-pants.jpeg

let go of all that no longer serves you– says the wise yoga teacher

So,  as I explained in the previous post, I’m doing my blog audit.  I’ve got rid of all the nasty harsh visuals and it’s looking nice.  Then I get to the header, the strip of pant ankles.  I don’t hate it — it’s got a nice flow.  It’s distinctive*, but not gimmicky.  But still “let go of all that….”

Let’s backtrack a little.  Teacherpants started as a name rather than an image.  There was a lot going on there — an extended Facebook conversation about pants,  the epithet “smartypants” that may or may not have been slung at me in my youth, and of course the epoch-making   Bossypants , but I didn’t really have a clear image in my mind.  When I was putting the visual parts of the blog together, I googleimaged Teacher pants, and got a sea of extremely unflattering garments, the business casual equivalent of Mom jeans.

Well fair enough, I’m sure we all have a pair of those,  a pair of pants that we can throw on with just about anything, reasonably comfortable, nothing too tight or too trendy, probably black, probably some kind of capris.  They are the sartorial analogue of the go-to-lesson  that supply teachers have ready-photocopied and filed in their schoolbags**, there  waiting for those days when you have to be in a classroom at a minute’s notice.

But still

These teacher pants seemed to confirm a certain preconceived notion of teaching as a kind of default profession, a safe, suburban, uneventful job that smart people did if they couldn’t think of anything else to do.

Well I didn’t see teaching that way, and I certainly didn’t want the blog to contribute to that view.

To me teaching was about performance, showmanship, even.  Teaching was about taking risks and breaking ground.  My heroes were teachers, and in my mind, teachers could be true heroes***.

So …. not those pants, then.

So there was a new Google image search for pants.  I found a shot  from the catwalk of a fashion show, cropped it so that it fit into the header dimensions, thereby also removing the part of the pants that revealed the bodies underneath.  So the pants were presented purely as garments, the most impractical, luxurious examples I could find.  It was ironic, and I hoped a little subversive. ⇒ What you mean when you say Teacherpants, is not the same as what I mean.****

And it has served me well, but I think it’s time to move on. Teacherpants isn’t really about that any more.  Or maybe it still is about taking risks and heroism, but I no longer see that as something I need to prove. I feel that the Teacherpants voice has developed a degree of autonomy: through my writing, I have defined my pants.

header

The header on my  current page came with the WordPress theme  I know it’s a bit of a Robert Frost-y cliche, but it’s a pretty shot and it does capture a little of the spirit of the blog, the introspective journey, the moodiness.  I’ll leave it up for a while.  Probably something more apropos will come along eventually, but I’m not going to force it.

I’ll let go when it no longer serves me.

 

*although perhaps a little too much like this

**well ideally — I don’t know whether I personally was ever that conscientious

*** and also

**** probably if you were really clever, you could do something with Roland Barthes here, but all I remember about him right now is that he was run over by a car because he was reading while crossing the road

Meeting with Teacherpants 1.0

 

interview 1994

(a bit of a riff on  this  and  this )

1994 Me:  So sorry I’m late.  One of the kids was throwing up and the other one just realized she had a science project due this morning.

Future Me:  No problem, but you might want to check your shoes.  Is that part of the science experiment, or…?

1994: Grossss! (1994speak for Ewww!)  Sorry.

F:  Don’t worry about it.  Let me tell you one thing, this part does get better.  You will eventually actually have free time to prepare your lessons.  And by free time I don’t mean the hour between 2 and 3 am.

1994:  Great!  When will that happen?

F:  In about 10 years.

1994:  (a little deflated) oh

F: The trade-off is that you will be expected to prepare, not just walk into the classroom with a vague idea.  You will also have to start showing up more or less on time…

1994: Sorry!

F: … and not give the students a crossword puzzle so that you can hide in the staffroom and make a phone call.

1994:  But isn’t that kind of…. fascist?

F:  under breath (Aren’t you adorable!)  No.  It’s considerate and professional.

1994:  Oh sorry!

F: And about the compulsive apologizing, you’re eventually going to get that under control.

1994:  Oh sorry!  I didn’t realize it was a bad thing.  I thought it made me sound nice and humble and Canadian.

F:  Maybe, but it also makes people anxious.  They think  you don’t know what you are doing.  So are those your handouts?

1994:  Yes.  We just got a computer, and one of those inkjet printers.  I’m learning a lot about fonts and formatting.

F: Indeed. I like the way you right justified this section for absolutely no reason.  Very contemporary.  Anyway, you just wait.  You’re going to have a portable computer.  You will be able to hook it up to the wall and project its image onto a screen.

1994:  Kind of like in Star Trek?

F:  Kind of.  You will also be able to use the computer to communicate with others, even with your students.  You will write extended messages on your computer to share with others.

1994:  That sounds a little nerdy…

F:  Excuse me,  but which one of  us just made an allusion to Star Trek?

1994:  But I’m not that kind of person.

F: You will figure it out.  You will not really love the screen thing, but I can promise you that you will enjoy the communication aspect.

1994:  Ok.  I have a question.

F: under breath  (That won’t change.)

1994:  A student started to cry in my class.  I didn’t know what to so.  Will that get easier?

F:  Hahahaha yes.  In the present, you are the one making them cry.

1994:  Nooo!  What has happened to the warm safe inclusive classroom space?

F:  Oh, it’s still a warm safe inclusive classroom space, but then you tell students that they will fail if they don’t improve their work, and they start to cry.  It’s a tad awkward, actually.

1994:  So what can you tell me about the big picture?  How’s the teaching going to be?

F:  It’s going to get tougher.  You don’t realize how much of your teaching clout comes from the fact that you have a huge class with a constant waiting list.  This will change.  Demographics will shift.  Classes will become smaller; the students will become more demanding.  For a while, you will have to fight harder to do what you d0.  Eventually things will work out for you, but it’s going to be a different world by the time you get there.

1994:  Do you have any advice for me?

F:  You know, I really don’t.  I could tell you to keep a piece of yourself back, rather than throwing it all into your work, but you wouldn’t listen anyway.  I could tell you to make a plan rather than rushing into things headlong, but I doubt a plan would have made a difference, and it was probably that headlong energy that got you through.

1994:  Um ok.

F:  You know I feel  kind of bad doing this, but I’m looking at you so bright-eyed and springy and, well, radiant.   There’s nothing to be gained by burdening you with all this.  Although….maybe I could just leave the bit about the compulsive apologizing. Please  have a look into this device.

1994:  Sure (MIB not released until 1997)

 

 

So meta it hurts — Teacherpants and unreflective practice Part III

teacherpants tougher I’ve been following this reflective practice prompt.  I’m exploring one event I describe (kinda) here, and how it relates to a concept I’ve called muscular teaching.  In my previous post I talk about how emotionally vulnerable I was as a new teacher.  So what happened, and how does that relate?

Well a few years ago, I was at a temporary summer teaching post.  It was just not a good fit for me.  The level was one that I was comfortable teaching, but the demographics, the curriculum, the expectations of the students — all were quite different from what I was used to.  Add to that a cold dreary summer, and a toxic staffroom (I’m pretty conscientious about not student-shaming these days, about program officer-shaming, not so much) — well there were other places I’d rather have been.

So I spent my days in dumb misery, as I had in other teaching situations that just hadn’t clicked,  but this time something different happened.  I was standing in front of the class  and it was is if an inner voice said to me, “You’re a teacher, aren’t you?  So go and teach them something.”

And I did — I moved forward into the classroom and willed myself to engage the students more fully.  Whereas my normal teaching pattern was largely spontaneous, this was a deliberate action, almost as if I had to force my muscles to perform the actions.  It seemed at first that this was, well just going through the motions, but as I continued, it turned into teaching.  The class continued and learning took place.  The rest of the term was still a challenge, but we got through it and by the end of the session had achieved a certain degree of  mutual respect.

Whereas  teaching had always been a very natural action (I actually spouted, and believed, those obnoxious slogans like ” Do your job well and you’ll never work a day in your life.”), this was hard work.  That feeling one gets on Friday afternoon — “I could really use a break from teaching right now”?  I was getting that at 11 am on Monday.  Still, I was getting the work done.  What was more important though was that I had a way to exert control over my situation and that this was a skill I would be able to use in other situations.  With each new challenge, the muscular teaching came more easily, until it became part of my teaching practice.  Whereas it had originally been a response to a classroom crisis, I became able to employ it more proactively.

This muscular teaching was not totally distinct from what I had done before.  I was using the same skills and knowledge that I had built up as an intuitive teacher.  The difference was that I had found a way to harness this energy so that it could be used even when my first instinct would have been to panic or withdraw.

I still live for those moments of flow, when I can just be in the classroom and generate learning.  The magic is still there.   However, relying on that magic exclusively had been holding me back personally and professionally.  Muscular teaching has bridged gaps, has got me over difficult patches, so that I have been able to move on to new challenges.

narcissus

 

*Writing this post took a  long time.  I had mapped it out quite a while before Jake  wrote his post on pride.  What I’m saying is, I think there are similarities between his pride and my muscular teaching, but they are completely serendipitous.  Besides, Jake writes it more powerfully and with quite a few more swear words.

**I also think this connects to some of the things Malcolm Gladwell is rabbiting on about in Blink and Outliers, but I’m not going to link to him because I think maybe you have already heard of him.

 

So meta it hurts — Teacherpants and unreflective practice Part I I

narcissus

So I was talking about reflective practice and dealing with conflict situations in class, as a way of following this set of prompts, and I got to the phrase” muscular teaching.”  I have adapted this from an expression that’s always intrigued me, “muscular Christianity.”  Now I’m sure that I’m totally misinterpreting these words, but I’m assuming the right (along with Humpty Dumpty and certain authors we have assigned this term) to redefine my terms as I see fit.

Before I do that, however, I’d like to backtrack a little to my early teaching days.  As I explained in an earlier post, my decision to embark on a teaching career was a purely emotional one.  Although I’m a fairly logical person most of the time, this was a situation when I jumped in headfirst.  I acted on instinct, and, in my early days as a teacher, this totally worked for me. I was surprised and delighted to find that most people found my classroom persona likeable.   When I walked into a classroom people were happy to see me and receptive to what I had to say.  Even my methodology was  emotion-based.  I would just go into the classroom, equipped solely with my love of the language, and the lesson would evolve naturally.  I was Dogme before it was cool.*

The downside to this group hug was that it was dependent on a certain context.  Teaching at Overland, I felt, well not quite like a rockstar, more like Sally Field winning for Places in the Heart (Google it! — it happened before most of you were born.)  Outside of Overland, I was hopeless.  I was just sending out my happy messages waiting to receive their happy replies, but some places just aren’t that happy.  I was like a little Smartphone in a subway tunnel.  I had no way of being in the classroom that didn’t depend on this kumbaya atmosphere.

Because I was so entranced with the magic of teaching, I had made no provisions for the times the magic didn’t work.  I had  few lesson salvaging strategies, and none that took into account a generally hostile environment.  What’s more, I had no emotional reserves.  My teaching practice involved offering my whole self up, and rejection devastated me.

For many years, my teaching career followed a cyclical pattern.  Overland offered me a home base, somewhere I could evolve as a teacher, but I was curious about what was going on in the outside world.   So I worked at Overland during the school year, and took positions at other schools in the summer.  Although the experience I gained at these summer jobs was valuable,  I often felt lost and disempowered** when I was actually working there.  Returning to Overland in September felt like relaxing into a warm bath.  Over the school year, the emotional bruises healed as my faith in myself was regenerated.  By June, I was again ready to venture beyond my comfort zone.

*Before all you Dogme enthusiasts fire off your angry emails decrying my total ignorance…. Of forget it!  It’s all publicity.  Fire away!

** ok ok, Spellcheck!  I know it’s a jargon word, and a particularly overused one at that.  However, it is right here, right now, exactly the thing I want to say.

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