I’ve been away from the online spaceless space for a few days. I’ve read up on the Occupy Education tumblr, tweets and Facebook page. At first, it felt inspiring. It still does. However, when I read these posts again, I feel like a fraud.
See, I’m not a “real” teacher this year. I’m a bizarre role of teaching pull-out groups, doing co-teaching, coaching teachers who are integrating tech-integrated project-based learning and helping shift the math and reading in our district toward a more constructivist role.
I don’t have my own classroom (though I’m starting to see the danger in using a possessive pronoun for a space that students should own). I’m not the “main” teacher on most days. Instead, I work with five classrooms, typically a half-day a piece twice a week.
So, I pulled out a sheet of paper and began the question of “what can I occupy?”
I still don’t have an answer.
I’m still not sure that “occupation” is the right approach.
But here is what I am doing this year to help shift education toward a more authentic approach:
- Guiding a group of fifth-graders toward a mural on social justice.
- Helping a sixth-grade teacher work democratically with her class on planning and implementing a documentary project.
- Engaging teachers in hard dialogues about why social studies matters, why so much of what they taught were lies and how to get beyond the “white noise” of the textbook and into controversial subjects. I watched a group of fourth graders analyze the reality of Columbus and indigenous genocide. A girl cried as she wrote about her family and their story and the feeling that she is participating in genocide when she left the reservation and has no access to the language.
- Helping both students and teachers see that math isn’t neutral and that there are many ways to arrive at the same solution.
- Encouraging students to use mobile devices to own their own voice in blogging, videos and podcasts.
- Modeling critical thinking questioning at a grade when teachers are often doubtful of whether or not students can think that deeply.
- I have encouraged teachers to abandon the textbooks and bring in authentic resources that will lead to meaningful learning.
- Learning to ask teachers questions and find their own voice instead of looking to me as the self-proclaimed expert. I’m learning from them. I’m learning what it means to allow movement, to slow down and to approach a customized classroom at a younger age.
I glance at the list again and realize that it’s geared toward readers and not for myself. It’s an attempt to feel less like a fraud. It’s self-righteous, because it doesn’t tell the other side of the story. It doesn’t mention selling out last year and giving five weeks worth of mandated tests. It doesn’t mention complying with the rules of walking kids in straight lines. It doesn’t mention that I left the classroom in fear and frustration. I fled. And as much as I’d like to justify my new position, the truth is that I am making far less of a difference than I did before.
So, I pull out a new sheet of paper. What can I occupy? I can own my own mental space:
- I can listen more than I speak
- I can fight for nuance and paradox in a world of polarity
- I can remember that power comes through humility
- I can build bridges with teachers, principals and parents
- I can tell my story with honesty
So, I still feel like a fraud. I still feel like I had a bigger impact when I worked with twenty-seven kids all day. I’m already recognizing that I need to be “just a teacher” next year and that it needs to be in an un-tested subject (back to social studies, perhaps?).
It strikes me that the fear that I cannot do enough, that my contribution is too small or that I am too much of a hypocrite is what so often allows me to let others own my voice. My own inadequacy is the impetus toward inaction.
I look at the two lists. They’re small actions, but they’re the seeds of a grassroots movement. Wild seeds of small-a anarchy growing under the thick industrial pavement of factory schools. I might be crazy, but I believe that a humble seeds can birth a wild, organic, sustainable change.
I’m convinced that we need people at all levels who are willing to occupy education. We need teachers and principals, specialists and superintendents, parents and students. We need public schoolers, home-schoolers, un-schoolers, private-schoolers and charter-schoolers to stand up and say, “I will not sell a child’s mind to the textbook-testing-corporate conglomerate.”