Coming up to three years out of the classroom and not being based in a school, I am often left thinking about what this means for my identify as a teacher. Although I still work within education, my current title of ‘subject matter expert‘ seems a long way from the classroom. This is something that I have been pondering for a while. Here then are some thoughts focused on three questions: legitimacy, context and relevance.
A Question of Legitimacy
A colleague recently put out the request for schools to invite them into their school as the experience of being in the classroom apparently provides ‘legitimacy’. For me, this is always the dilemma with working in a central organisation across a number of schools. Although you may have up-to-date content knowledge, this is not always based on lived experience. As I have contended elsewhere, I am doing ‘real’ work, however the question that remains is whether this work is ‘legitimate’ to be called ‘a teacher’?
The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘legitimacy’ as “reasonable and acceptable.” Therefore, is the work my colleagues and I do reasonable and acceptable to be called a ‘teacher’? I have heard some use the word ‘transactional’ to derogatorily describe the tasks that we complete. This is based on the observation that many of the processes are seemingly repetitious and methodical. I have lived this label before when I was report report coordinator, timetabler and all-round data guy within a school. The problem I have with this is that simply labelling such actions as transactional is that although the outcome maybe set, there are often variables at play when it comes to the process. This variables demand a sense of perspective and empathy to the lived experience.
A Question of Context
An example of such a transaction is my recent work supporting schools with the loading of literacy data into the central repository. One of my many hats. We had created a guide that walked people through the process. However, as more and more schools made contact it became apparent that there were many assumptions at play. Whether it be user access within the system, expectations based on past habits or working through various data errors, each of these issues needed to be contended with patiently, especially as the problem was not always evident to the user at the other end. Although it is easy to step back now and breakdown some of the difficulties faced, how to improve such transactions in the future is not always clear.
In some ways the recording of data needs to be covered in training. The problem with this though is that currently such workshops are mash together of different focuses and needs. Added to the mix is the reality that every school context is different. In the case of literacy data, for some schools it is the responsibility of someone in administration who enters the results, for others it is the learning and teaching leader, or even the literacy coordinator. This all depends on the school and the outcome desired. However, the training workshops are usually aimed at those working in administration, because they are usually in-charge of ‘transactional’ matters.
In an ideal world, school users would be able to call on their prior knowledge to debug any issues. However, the templated nature of the technology neither allows nor encourages any notion of heutagogy and self-learning. Rather than working things out, people often fall back on guides, only then to scream out in frustration (usually on the phone) when nothing makes sense.
A Question of Relevance
Coming at the question of identify from a different perspective, Brendan Jones reflects on the world of conferences and professional development specialists wondering about the relevance of those outside of the classroom?
Where is the line that determines when “being out of the classroom” makes someone’s work with educators irrelevant? 6 months out? 1 year? 5 years? Never in?
— Brendan Jones 🚴 (@jonesytheteachr) July 7, 2019
I think this is an interesting question. In part, it makes me think about teaching VCE English. I have not taught it for a few years, having worked in a P-9 college for much of my career. However, I feel that I could easily step back into that environment. I assume that there would be changes in the curriculum that I would need to grapple with, but I do not feel that my experience is irrelevant.
In regards to conferences, questioning the relevance of presenters speaks as much to our expectations from such situations. Even if a facilitator is currently practicing within a classroom, they will not be the one to deliver the outcomes within the school so relevancy does not always seem the prime concern. In addition to this, there are some areas where no amount of knowledge and experience is going to achieve anything as the topic or technique in question has never been tackled before.
There are also times when I think classroom experience and content knowledge is itself something of a distraction. I think that this can be the case with coaching, where the focus is on the questions, coachees and a culture of curiousity. I think that Tomaz Lasic captures this in response to Jones’ tweet.
As someone asking the same question… You can never determine how people see you but IMO if you can show genuine empathy and curiosity for teachers’ work together with assertive acknowledgement of your own experiences (and limitations)…you’ll be right in most teachers’ eyes
— Tomaz Lasic (@lasic) July 8, 2019
I am not sure if I am still a ‘teacher’? However, one thing that has not changed is that I care. As Dave Cormier suggests:
Once we jointly answer questions like “why would people care about this” and “how does this support people starting to care about this for the first time” and “will this stop people who care now from caring”, we have a place to work from.
This means having empathy for whoever it is that I am working with, being mindful of their context and identifying how I may support. This was how I approached teaching and it does not differ now.
As always, any thoughts and questions are welcome.
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