May 19, 2013 2 Comments
Nearly every morning I wake up with a sense of dread. The innumerable structural inadequacies that complicate my ability to teach overwhelm me to the point of despair. However, once I walk into the building and begin interacting with students, I feel a sense of belonging and peace. Then the adults show up and disturb that peace. Politics, bitterness, back stabbing, and gossip. Each day I begin with an earnest desire to provide my students with quality instruction, conversation, and relationship. Each day I am beaten down by the slew of bureaucratic inertia and toxicity that has infested the system at large. It has become clear to me at this tender point in my teaching career that authentic teaching rarely happens in the classroom—and is even less likely to happen during a formal observation.
This reflection is written from the confluence of fear (concerning formal observations), a new awareness of the social politics among teachers, and the deep sense of uncertainty about whether I should remain in my current position next fall—or within the profession itself. Although I am absolutely certain that I have made a tremendously positive impact on many students’ lives, very little—if any—of this is measurable by the instruments used to evaluate teachers. Is it possible to function in a system that is so broken, so malicious, and utterly inhumane? Each day I watch this archaic and mindless machine crush the souls of curious, creative, and intelligent young people. I see the talents and intellect of teachers overlooked, obstructed, and wasted. All of this destruction is in service of what? Indeed, at this point in my experience I do believe that Lauryn Hill’s voice captures the truth most succinctly and completely: This is the Department of Mis-education (D.O.M.).
Late in the school year I narrowly escaped the hostile grip of my first principal. Her irrational compulsion to destroy me was not dissolved by my departure. She made sure to follow me to my new school by going out of her way to contact the main office there and inform them that she would be sending my file, which was filled with her vitriol. It filled me with panic and I continued to feel as if I were on a sniper’s hit list. How can I learn? How can I grow when I am living in a shadow of fear while navigating a maze of structural violence?
This, I suppose, is precisely the danger that Parker Palmer warns against in the final chapter of The Courage to Teach. Palmer recommends that in order to not only survive the institutional dysfunction but also to actively promote change we must not make the institution our center. He writes that we must find a community of like-minded people who are devoted to creating motion that will promote change and ground ourselves in that community and within that spirit of change. What tears at my equilibrium is the seeming duplicitousness that is required to function within such a system—one that marginalizes the essence of its charges. I’m still processing my position in this institution—the D.O.M.—and how I can work within or against it—or if it is worthwhile to do either.
I wish I could write that I feel rejuvenated and that looking back I see that I have grown. Unfortunately this is not the case. Indeed, I feel deflated, defeated, and consumed by an existential doubt that creates an echoing voice that asks “Why am I here?” A backlog of hostile exchanges, baffling absurdities, and the debris from the tsunami of blind and brute force that swells up from the belly of a terrific beast—the D.O.M.—fighting viciously to preserve its own existence…all of this has left me shipwrecked and seeking cover. My only intention, at this point, is to spend the summer writing. As for my philosophy of education?—by definition, it is something that must happen outside the diseased walls of the D.O.M.