What does teacher authenticity and the culture of fear hinder student learning?


When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my own unexamined life—and when I cannot see them clearly, I cannot teach them well. ~ Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach

The dictionary defines authenticity as: “accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable…. Palmer in his notable book the Courage to Teach expresses it this way: “We teach who we are.” I can hear you arguing with me, well Gladys, what are you saying that teachers are not authentic in their dealings with students, furthermore, are you telling me, and that there is something wrong with me, that I should not be a teacher?

Well, now that I have your attention let me state my case using Palmer’s quote:” We teach who we are”

First question that comes to mind is Do you know who you are, really? Have you explored and reflected on the reasons that motivate you to become a teacher?

Many of us come to teaching for diverse reasons and the love of learning and teaching is not always it. Let’s be honest. Were you raised in a family where subtle messages were imprinted about what’s proper and what’s not in terms of race, social status, religion, education? “But of course Gladys”, you are responding through your clenched teeth.

The bottom line here is that our thoughts are influenced by what we learn and I know I have not told anything earth shattering yet, but if you do not reflect and have a solid conviction that your vocation is to teach; I have an urgent message for you. Run away from the classroom as fast as you can and find another modus vivendi. Why? Because being an authentic person is important in all aspects of our life, but as a teacher is indispensable. To substantiate my claim let me giving some food for thought from The Courage to Teach:

“Teaching holds a mirror to the soul”. ~

I think I have posited my case with clarity in terms of authenticity. Now let’s talk about the culture of fear.

The culture of fear

The culture of fear has been with us for a long time, but it was intensified as a result of the events of 9/11/2001. Since then, we have turned paranoid, judging by how many pills we consume daily. (Not a scientific opinion). Let me illustrate this point with an anecdote from the school system. Just three decades ago, students showed respect for their teachers, parents supported their children’s teachers when their children misbehaved in class. But today, ask teachers what they fear most by returning to school this fall: Students misbehavior and parents attitudes towards them.     There is open season on teachers!!!!!

Teachers are vulnerable to the most insidious attacks by members and non-members of a particular community. No wonder our best and brightest leave before year reaching their five-year tenure to find something less dangerous.

Dr. Palmer in his book The Courage to Teach describes the culture of fear as: “We fear encounters in which the other is free to be itself, to speak its own truth, to tell us what we may not wish to hear. We want those encounters on our own terms, so that we can control their outcomes, so that they will not threaten our view of world and self. ~ He also describes one of the devastating consequences of this fear: “To avoid a live encounter with teachers, students can hide behind their notebooks and their silence. To avoid a live encounter with students, teachers can hide behind their podiums, their credentials, and their power. ~

Do you understand where this fear is taking us?

The third leg of this post will explore how this culture of fear and lack of self-knowledge and authenticity by the classroom teacher hinders student achievement. But today, I am going to act like a great teacher and let you come up with your own conclusions. I eagerly wait to read your thoughts.

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About drcorretjer

Doctorate in Administrator Leadership for Teaching and Learning. Vast experience working with English language Learners and their families. Has successfully implemented programs that increased parental involvement in schools and professional collaboration among teachers. Has presented at local, state, and national levels on the topics of curriculum and best teaching practices for English Language Learners. Specialized in alternative assessments for English Language Learners to include portfolios. My goal at this time is to mentor,and nurture new teachers or prospective teachers. I'd like to create a bridge between their college education and the realities of a public school classroom. I believe we can attract and retain the best and the brightest if we provide them with a real foundation and help them be successful. Our children deserve that. Publications: Listen to me: Exploring students' voices regarding homework Lambert Academic Publishing |May 11, 2011 Most of the research conducted about homework is based on adults’ perspectives. This case study explored the perspectives of 5th and 6th grade students in comparison with 10 teachers’ perceptions regarding homework completion. The author administered questionnaires and conducted in depth interviews using a stratified purposive sample and extreme case sampling; which educed the participants’ perceptions and practices about homework. The students’ represented 4 distinct groups: English Language Learners, general education, gifted and talented and special education. The teachers’ instruct 5th and 6th grade. The results of the study indicate that students do not complete their homework because they find it too hard, boring, or they do not understand it. Interestingly, students think that worksheets are hard and boring. However, they are not against homework! This book should benefit teachers, parents, school administrators and staff developers. It would also help develop homework practices that would increase homework completion and student learning. This book brings out the voices of the students to the forefront. After all, they are the ones doing the homework. Listen to them!
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