A Wandering, Disjointed Post on Professionalism and Some Other Stuff

I am discovering that my definition of professionalism might not be the same one used by other people I work with.

To wit:

Professional = Soulless and Objectifying

See?

Don’t get me wrong – I understand where the perception of a need for professionalism, professional behavior, professional ethics, etc., comes from, and by and large I don’t disagree. Certainly there needs to be some set of standards loosely governing student-teacher interactions.

However, I am also of the opinion that the best teaching requires the formation of genuine, honest personal relationships between individuals. For me, that means taking students seriously as people, and not blowing them off. [See Martin Buber’s ideas regarding I-Thou and I-It for more of what this means coming from me; I think it’s particularly fitting in a high school setting, as many students are just discovering how to consistently use the I-It mode.]

Do I see students get blown off that often? Not in such a direct way, but I do see what happens when they are taken seriously, how their eyes light up and how they don’t want to stop talking, how they can’t stop talking, how I can’t get them to stop talking – and sometimes, how I don’t want them to stop talking, because the things they say are incredibly interesting and insightful and intelligent, and for the moment, who cares if it’s not about the geopolitical history of Europe or graphing inequalities or the narrative of Animal Farm? They are engaged (the back of my mind, of course, is wondering how to change the focus of that engagement into something that will help the student generate knowledge about something other than, say, YouTube or Dragonforce).

From this I have concluded that they don’t have many opportunities to talk about things that matter to them with someone who will listen, take them seriously, and provide good feedback – ideally, a teacher or other adult. Instead, I see evidence that students are, by and large, learning about a whole host of major life concepts – love (romantic or otherwise), equality/fairness, justice – from their peers and the media (and their peers are learning from the media, so…)

Frankly, I don’t think that’s a good idea, though I do understand the value of peer-to-peer teaching. I understand that all those big, scary, supposedly non-academic concepts used to be the purview of parents, or at least that’s how it was understood, and I don’t want to imply that parents are failing; rather, I think the power of the media can be overwhelming.

Regardless, I think that taking students seriously means answering questions that are generally considered to inappropriate for school – which means creating space to have those conversations with students. I attempt to do that as best I can, but my interactions with students are fleeting and transitory at best, as is my job status. Even so, I consider it evidence of some kind of success when I enter a room and watch the faces of a dozen or more students collapse when they realize I’m not there in place of their teacher (note: I still abide by the rules of punitive discipline provided by the school, so that’s not it).

Thoughts?

Feedback on this mess post would be appreciated.

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5 Comments on “A Wandering, Disjointed Post on Professionalism and Some Other Stuff”

  1. Cassie Says:

    Dennis,

    I think it is great that you want to have more meaningful interactions with your students. Thinking back to the not so distant past when I was still in high school (even though it seems like a lifetime ago), I can still remember feeling so insignificant, and how rarely I felt like my ideas and thoughts on things were actually worth something.

    How are kids suppose to become contributing members of society if all they are encouraged to do is regurgitate information that has just been spoon fed to them by their teachers?

    I think the high schools needs more teachers that are willing to engage in meaningful conversations with students, or, even not so meaningful conversations, anything to get them talking. Maybe it will help them to realize that they have something worthwhile to say.

    So, to some extent, screw “professionalism.” It sounds like you are doing a great job and are exactly what those kids need.

  2. Jen Says:

    If you are advocating losing the attitude of professionalism around the students, then yes, I agree completely. In the classroom, I am the facilitator, and I can’t be “The Teacher” in this role and still be successful. And I hate playing that part anyway.

  3. Dennis Says:

    I think my post touches on a whole of larger issues, including the question of the role of the teacher in the first place – how do they transmit knowledge? Do they lecture? Do students learn from the teacher, the book, each other, etc?

  4. Dennis Says:

    Cassie, you do realize that you were the poster child for conformity in HS, right?

  5. Cassie Says:

    🙂 Yeah, maybe I was, but looking back I really do wish that I was encouraged to think for myself a lot more. It’s hard to break out of that mold sometimes, and I didn’t learn until college that pleasing other people was generally a waste of time. I wish that I would have been challenged a little more.

    Thanks for that little dig though. It’s good thing that we don’t all stay the exact same people we were in high school, isn’t it? 🙂


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