Saturday, March 26, 2016

The raw emotion of teaching praxis

The other day in my classroom, I messed up. My year 10's were being collective twats and I told one kid he was a dick.  
This proclamation of course was instantly followed by a resounding "ooooohhhhhhhh Miss you are NOT allowed to call him a dick", to which I quickly replied "It is a man's name and a shortened version of Richard" (sorry all you Richard's out there).  None-the-less, "Dick" was no where near the words I FELT like using with this particular loud, hormonal, smart-arse 14 year-old pimply-faced twat of a kid ... someone's little darling.
I ended up in front of senior management having to explain my "slip of the tongue'.  Interestingly - the punishment for swearing at a teacher is not as severe.

Senior management decided that clearly my teaching practice needed scrutiny - otherwise I never would have used such a derogatory term. 

As a student teacher the word "pedagogy" was used liberally by  "Professional Practice" tutors. Attempting to say the word in a sentence without sounding as if I had Tourettes syndrome, let alone trying to understand its vague and obviously highly academic meaning, was more than enough for this little brain. Bugger the pedagogy - just teach me how to teach.  

Well ... the academics would argue; pedagogy IS after all the method and practice of teaching - in theory - so why then can the theory and applied practice feel so disjointed?

I would prefer to use a term often used in health care for reflective practice as one is engaged in the practice itself - praxis - a term first coined by the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire
Praxis invites us to seek unity between theory and practice rather than doing the teaching then reflecting on it later.  It positions the learning as a conversation between the kids and the teacher, rather than as the teacher implementing plans which were hewed in the indeterminate context of  being "good in theory".

I would also argue that the "Teaching Philosophy" we were told to craft as student teachers to inform our teaching, has a place amongst praxis as it underpins our moral and intellectual purpose in teaching, however it must be fluid and dynamic, as well as being open to scrutiny. It is after all a theoretical framework which should reflect one's world view.  This in turn should influence the how in the classroom by shaping thinking, decision-making and day-to-day classroom management - although it is not something we would be turning to on a daily basis to ensure the "right track" is being taken.

This brings me back to Mr Dick. It was too late - the words tumbled from my mouth like a trophic cascade.  Here's the thing - students LEAP on any hint of a chink in your armour.  Furthermore we as teachers miss the point in all this and so does the teaching profession in general (to my thinking anyway). Teaching from your heart is an emotional roller-coaster if it is done with true authenticity. My outburst to Mr Dick was an example of just that. There is no theoretical dogma which can inform about the feel of teaching, the rawness of teaching and the way in which teachers attempt to hide behind laptops, white boards and traditional classroom power-mongering.  Kids want connection.
We forget, kids spend the better part of twelve years in school soaking up "education" for their futures and we expect them to sit down, shut up and learn something.  They want connection. They want to know we are human, that we feel and so they will push us, prod us, test us ... until they are satisfied that we DO feel.  More often than not this prodding, pushing and testing results in an outburst by both teacher and kids, or in kids being in some way being reprimanded via the school discipline system, and a teacher being branded by students as something I cannot repeat on this page. There will always be one shining star in every class who leads the rest towards this state of unrest but it is a perfect example of the tension that exists between theory and practice - well in theory this stuff should work but does it, and how do we know until we try it, and how do we try it without it looking like a classroom science experiment? 
My point exactly.  We can spout sonnets about pedagogy, but the true learning comes in the doing and being responsive in the moment - this is praxis.
If as teachers, we can lean away - momentarily - from our rigid idea of how a lesson should be; to opening ourselves up towards allowing connection with the kids, I argue the classroom could be very different.  But we don't mention this stuff in the staff rooms of most schools around the country - sure we moan about this or that kid but do we actually stop to think about emotion behind it all? I doubt it. We go home for respite and refuge, only to return the next day with our armour on once again - ready to do battle - walls up and around lest any kid seeks out or notices a weak spot.  The point is - let them in.  Let them know you are human.  Let them know what makes you tick; what excites you - your passions.  Kids will define you by the subject you teach, so you have to show then you are NOT that subject (unless of course it IS your life ....!); you need to connect with the kids throughout the duration of a lesson, in the myriad of ways that is open to us during our teaching, rather than shutting down every opportunity for connection for fear of the lesson plan not running as it should and we then are "off-script".  We must stop this constant over-thinking that now defines the teaching profession, which in my mind serves to further alienate us from the kids even more.  How can we expect these young folk to be resilient problem-solvers and creative thinkers, when anytime they express that desire in their natural haphazard hormonal teenage way, we stamp it out? We suppress ANY hint of deviation from "normal" and we do it to ourselves also as teachers!!
Teaching is not a screen-play for heavens sake, but it can be a damned good chance to play a crucial role in some pimply 14 year-old smart arse DICK'S life!

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