Context: This past week, I was invited to be part of a panel discussion on a TVOntario public affairs program—The Agenda with Steven Paikin. The plan for the show was to discuss the job of teacher against the backdrop of recent tension with many of Ontario’s teachers around a legislated/imposed set of contracts. The response of unions was to pull back from extracurricular activities, a part of the job that is considered by many to be voluntary. This has led to some appeals to the Ontario Labour Board that extracurricular activity is, in fact, part of the life of the school and, by extension, part of the life of a teacher. The issue, and the TV program has me thinking more deeply about the difference between role and job. I began thinking out loud about it here. The entry below is a continuation of that thinking.
I was laying in bed with my two boys last night; storytime was over and I was in the mood for a song. The first one that came to mind was Harry Chapin’s Circle. I sang it quietly and unaccompanied. As the song finished I noticed that my six year old son, Luke, had turned toward the wall and was holding Bear, the largest stuffie in his collection. Thinking that I had been successful in putting him to sleep, I softly called his name before making my exit. It was then that I realized that he wasn’t asleep at all; he was, in fact, crying.
“What’s the matter, Luke?” No answer. “Luke, why are you crying?”
“It’s the song,” he sobbed.
“The song? Was it that bad?” I asked, thinking that I had pretty much stayed on key.
“No, it’s a sad song.”
“Oh, and you don’t like sad songs?”
“I like the song. It just made me feel sad inside.”
“I get that, Luke,” I assured him. “Daddy reacts that way to music as well.”
Just a few moments ago, Luke came down from his afternoon nap-that-wasn’t-really-a-nap and I asked him to sit down.
“I have a song to play for you, Luke.”
“A sad song?”
“I just want you to listen.”
I put on the live version of Harry Chapin singing Circle and turned up the volume so he could get the full experience. Halfway through the song he declared, “That’s better Daddy.”
“What do you mean,” I asked.
“Last night, there weren’t any instruments and I couldn’t hear the rhythm. I don’t like songs that are just words. I need to hear the rhythm.”
In my last post, I began to explore the difference between role and job and, in particular, how the role of teacher might be different than the job(s) associated with that role.
Picking up on Luke’s insights, perhaps there is a sense in which role can be seen as the context that allows us to understand, make sense of and appreciate the jobs that are assigned to us as part of that role. Perhaps the role is like the musical elements that embrace the words, giving them greater meaning and value. Perhaps a deep awareness of how our job as teacher fits into the overall role of teacher allows us to hear the rhythm more clearly.
The discrete skills and activities associated with being a teacher can easily—perhaps too easily—be disaggregated and removed from the larger role into which instruction, assessment and reporting fit. And I think that, in a very real way, we’re starting to go down that road. The result is questions like the one posed in this week’s episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin: Should extracurricular activities be part of a teacher’s job?
This is where I’m struggling. As the spotlight continues to be focused on test scores, graduation rates and international standings as proxies for both student and system success, I’m concerned that we’re losing sight of the larger professional context in which we work.
And that makes me a little sad. By distilling the complex dynamic in which educators live and breathe to a required set of skills and practices that define the job of teaching, we run the risk of further de-professionalizing a role that has, traditionally, been characterized by depth and a sense of richness.
We run the risk of not hearing the rhythm that both grounds and inspires.
I continue to ponder and work through this stuff. Your insights and input are very much appreciated.