Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life Writing: Making Sense of My Teaching Practice

By Stephanie Bartlett
I very much believe in connections... keeping my eyes open for possibilities leads to an enjoyment of both the micro and the macro moments of gratitude and realization, both in my personal and professional life. These quotes jumped off the page at me in Wanda Hurren’s essay Kissing Lessons:
Currere: to run the course...the method of currere is a strategy devised to disclose experience so that we may see more of it and see more clearly. With such seeing can come deeper understanding of the running, and with this, can come deepened agency.
-William Pinar and Madeleine Grumet, Toward A Poor Curriculum
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” Rumi, “Spring Giddiness” (as cited in Hurren, p. 43)
I have always loved Rumi’s poetry and have a growing appreciation for the root meaning of words, so I immediately recognized that spark of interest offered from these two quotes.  Here was the connection and the hook I needed to read on. Teaching lives in a space between tension and exhilaration, gratitude and doubt. The profession is not, as many would believe, merely a job: it is a vocation that draws upon our deepest stores of energy, compassion, drive, ambition and passion, and keeps educators in a constant search of self-improvement. Are we running from stress and the demands of the profession as we work to create the best practice, the best techniques, the best lessons?  Wanda Hurren writes “teaching runs in my family. Run seems a fitting verb choice. Throughout my life I have been living in a space between running to and running from teaching” (Hurren, p. 44).  Staying put and linking our lives and family experiences with our teaching practice as a means to discover our pedagogical beliefs is an exercise that I am learning to embrace as part of the fabric of the teaching profession.
My reasons for going into teaching almost twenty years ago were very simple. I loved children and, quite frankly, I didn’t have a better idea of what I wanted to do with my life. I am the only teacher in my family and until recent years have had the somewhat misguided sense that I had to justify my choice of careers.  The practice of teaching did not come naturally to me but my relationship with my students did. Sadly, studies during my Bachelor of Education did not involve a rigorous pedagogy that I would expect new teachers to experience. I mistakenly thought that I would graduate from Teachers College with a handbook, a how-to manual, telling me everything that I needed to know to set up a classroom and be a “good” teacher. Instead, bereft of my imagined handbook, I had to make my own way, drawing on instinct and the help of colleagues. And so, my career began with one foot in the door of the classroom with all the passion and determination that is part of my makeup, and the other out in the world, promising myself that I would leave teaching if I ever found anything “better” or the moment that I realized I was just “putting in time.”
Somewhere in about my fourth or fifth year, I found a spark and a colleague to share it with. We discovered a literacy resource that inspired us to evolve our practices and share with our colleagues. This was my first pivotal moment as I discovered the world of pedagogical research and began to design my classroom as a lab where I could play and discover as a means to develop my best practice. Consciously, I still thought that once I put the work in and fine tuned this practice, I would be set for the rest of my career. Subconsciously, I was running from that cornerstone of traditional teaching, always in search of teaching methods that were more natural, more real, more organic, more...fun?
Fast forward another five years to a very challenging year with my grade one class. Emotions ran high as I tried one technique after another to help my students and help myself have an “easier” year. As teachers, we worry about our students’ home lives, their learning difficulties, their social interactions. We search and search in our very beings for ways to help them, to help ourselves survive the experience. Is it possible to maintain distance in order to maintain our emotional wellbeing? I don’t know. My solution was to leap back into research and go with my gut. This was my moment of truth as I changed directions and truly began running towards teaching with all the energy, compassion, drive, ambition and passion that I have to offer. I flipped my practice, allowing students the time and space to create with their hands, and a chance to offer their voice to the direction and scope of our learning.
Another five years has passed and during that span of time, I have continued running towards my best practice with a deeper understanding. My work in post graduate studies has provided me with the confidence to design a program based on achieving long term creative development of the student, with a deep understanding of curriculum and the discovery of the roots of my pedagogical beliefs. Returning to the quote at the top of the article that drew me in,  I am running the course. My deeper understanding of the running and the deepened agency comes from a better understanding of myself and what I bring to my profession (as cited in Hurren, p. 43). My quest to better understand and make sense of teaching has led me towards a joining together of my personal and professional life. This makes teaching an extension of me and who I am.
As for the space in which the practice of teaching dwells, “it’s actually not a bad space. There’s lots of room in it; thankfully, plenty enough room to kneel and kiss the ground...” (p. 50). Looking at the moments of gratitude and self-realization that teaching has brought to me over the years and how it continues to enhance my life, how could I run from this? I think of all the special moments we share with students, giving us insight into their development, and indeed my own. What I learn from teaching blends into my life lessons. What I learn from life, I weave into my teaching practice, making what was just a career choice into an integral piece of my very being.


References:
Hurren, W. (2012). Kissing Lessons. In  Chambers, C.M., Hasebe-Ludt, E., Leggo, C., and Sinner, A (Eds.), A Heart of WIsdom: Life Writing as Empathetic Inquiry (p. 43-50). New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.
Pinar, WF & Grumet, M. (1976) Toward a poor curriculum. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt
Rumi, J. (1995). Spring Giddiness. In C. Barks, with J. Moyne (Trans.), The essential Rumi (p. 36). New York, NY: Harper Collins.
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