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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

On exemplary work

I’ve been paying close attention to the comments Kirsten, Sabrina, and others have shared about the gendering of teaching. When I read them, I think of videos like this one:

The administrator is the strongman. The teachers are silent in the presence of the administrator. The students prop up the adults’ work.

I am struck by this line in particular:

“I love to see how many students are still hands folded, silent, eyes on me. That is exemplary work.”

I feel like I get that exact same message, directly and indirectly, when I deliver rising test scores. I get other messages, too – wonderful, heartening ones that are not about standardized testing – from the people who know our kids and our school, but it seems like the only short-hand we have with which to interact with some stakeholders (dare I call them establishment-huggers?) is, “pass, fail, percent, rate”.

I’m amazed at the number of people in my system who know our scores already despite their relative absence from our daily work over the past three years. To be fair, perhaps they have been watching our school in anticipation of success. However, I still don’t know what to do with their congratulations. I don’t know that I am expected to say anything in response. I don’t know that I was expected to say anything when the scores weren’t so good.

However, there is a lot to say in response to the automization and atomization of teaching.

So today I’ll say this: my test scores are not exemplary work. If I have done anything worthy of my students and school, I have accomplished it in the loud and quiet moments of connection between teaching, learning, and people in my classroom. I have pursued it by listening. I have apprehended it by letting go. I have felt it in helping some students outrace their circumstances into futures of their own making.

Within public education, I am at a disadvantage to those with higher pass rates and more dramatic gains because do not to measure the accomplishments that I consider to be exemplary. And that is the point of the system. We are different, we should be punished for it, we should remain silent, and we should do what we’re told. We must be made to understand. There are standards held by others against which we must be judged.

No one of any gender deserves to hear that message or to be coerced to live according to it, and that is why we must change what we do in our classrooms, schools, and society. It’s an individual decision to act, and we are free to make it and to accept and share the burden of consequences that come from it. We are capable defining, defending, and demonstrating our own successes so long as we strive to be excellent because excellence of all sorts is self-evident. If only the standard-bearers would bear some of that work, as well, we’d have a radically different school system strengthened by an embraced diversity of processes, products, and people.

The Coöp is a refuge for your advocacy. Share your stand with us in 2011, anonymously or not. Join us in holding up examples of truly exceptional authentic, democratic, and humane education.

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About Chad Sansing

I teach for the users. Opinions are mine; content is ours.

Discussion

2 thoughts on “On exemplary work

  1. Simply KIPPnotizing. “It’s hard being good,” says the teacher. Who’s in charge here? What’s the student’s sense of agency around “goodness?”

    The video suggests that the faster you comply, the more you comply, the less you question, the better a KIPPster you’ll be. “Teaching” is getting kids to comply as rapidly, entertainingly, and unquestioningly as possible. No one is to ask questions about the plan, especially and perhaps most tellingly, not even the teachers.

    This is a fine post Chad, and suggests the era we’re in in terms of “exemplary” performance and how we judge it. It is brave to say:

    “my test scores are not exemplary work. If I have done anything worthy of my students and school, I have accomplished it in the loud and quiet moments of connection between teaching, learning, and people in my classroom. I have pursued it by listening. I have apprehended it by letting go. I have felt it in helping some students outrace their circumstances into futures of their own making.”

    On the parallels between a beaten and passive teaching force, who have been subsumed in this KIPPnotizing discourse–and gender, here is Jane Fonda in a recent profile, reflecting on the rise of second-wave feminism:

    “When she was young, Fonda says, ‘being a woman meant being a victim, being the loser, being the one that’ll be destroyed.'” http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/09/110509fa_fact_als

    Thank you for organizing our work and standing up. I think the Coop helps folks move about of being the victim, the loser, the one that’ll be destroyed.

    Posted by Kirsten | June 20, 2011, 2:26 pm
    • I think moving out of the victim’s role is a crucial step for any classroom teacher to take – how exactly to describe the next step is difficult. I think we have to go about being resistors who help along wonderful learning in a system full of coerced digestion. It’s both a battle and not at all a battle – a simultaneous engagement with the system and a willing disbelief of it – that somehow does more for kids and learning than saying, “Nanny nanny boo boo” to adults on the other side of the aisle. It’s “teaching,” in fairly true and potent sense of the word, without regard for systemic consequences – high scores included.

      Does that make sense? I think that’s what we have to do.

      Best,
      C

      Posted by Chad Sansing | June 20, 2011, 4:24 pm

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