02 November 2007

Paradigm Plasticity

I've been thinking a lot about how things are going in the classroom this year, especially in terms of my grading policy. I feel like it much better reflects my values as an educator. As nice as that may be, it's made me also think a bit more deeply about just what it is I really believe as a classroom teacher. If this manner of student evaluation "fits" the paradigm, can I articulate the rest of it? What other things might I be able to do to make my work in the classroom more congruent with these beliefs?

I read somewhere (and on the internet...so you know it has to be true) that teachers firm up their classroom patterns by about 6 months into their career. At that point, we've had a chance to test out our philosophies in the cold real world of the classroom. The pieces that survive are the ones we carry with us the longest. Should this be true, I think it a bit sad. I see so many beginning teachers with great idealism about what they're doing. I remember my own sense of wanting to make a difference in the world. The crushing rite of passage that is the first year of teaching made me focus more on the day-to-day management of things. I lost sight of The Big Picture and that hunger to make real change happen. I would think that this sense of disillusionment is what drives any number of teachers out of the profession before five years have past.

The thing is, I'm a very different teacher now than I was 6 months into my career---as one might hope. I'm wondering if paradigms are more plastic than the 6 month mark. Does that sense of idealism lie in wait for us to return and rediscover it? As we accumulate experience, do we become the teachers we originally wanted and intended to be? While I think that this may well be the true for me, I can also think of any number of teachers do not grow and change. By now, they show up to get their paychecks and seem to have lost complete sight of what moved them to the profession at the beginning. There is no motivation to return to that more idealistic philosophy.

This lack of both self-reflection and examination of any cognitive dissonance frustrates me and some other teachers I know. It's disheartening to hear them talk about looking for other work because of the overbearing inertia they encounter at their buildings. No matter how outstanding you are in the classroom with kids, it isn't enough for them. They need an environment of nurturing peers and professionals. You can't bloom where you're planted when the soil is sterile.

I hope that I continue to be malleable enough in my learning and thoughts about education throughout my career. It seems to be a continual search to find and refine those practices which suit the Platonic ideal of the classroom. It may be folly to think that we will ever find our Utopian ideal of a teaching life, but I also don't think it does our students any good service when we become casualties of a concrete philosophy.


Clix said...

When you're a veteran teacher and brilliant and stuff, do you still get wigginsed when you try new things? Not just, "Oh, please, I hope this works," but also, "I think this is working. They seem to be learning. Then again, maybe this bunch of kids just happens to be better at picking up on things. Maybe I'm not challenging them enough. Then again AGAIN, I don't want to push them too hard..."

I think that's my least favorite part of attempting to remain malleable. It's pretty easy for me to tell when things are working for ME. But it's a bit harder to get inside their heads, even when I know I've done my best to create reliable assessments.

There's this little knot of uncertainty that asks, "What if this is a fluke, or wishful thinking, and I'm really making things WORSE?"

The Science Goddess said...

I think there will always be that uncertainty. There are always surprises. (I asked my high school kids to do some coloring this week...they were the happiest, most-engaged learners you've ever seen. Who'd a thunk it?)

It's not a bad thing to know what works for you---that's part of how the craft is honed. It only becomes a problem if you use it as an excuse not to grow and attempt new things. "That'll never work for MY kids." As long as there are still some kids in our classes who aren't getting what we're teaching (and who are wanting to learn it), I think we owe it to them to keep trying to reach them in new ways and seeking answers.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Professional growth seems reflect constructivist theory -- we lurch forward at different rates at different times, but the forces that affect our lurching are much different and less controllable (except for our attitudes) than the forces that influence the learning of our students (except for their home scene).

To wind up a "master teacher," you gotta wanna. Dabblers won't cut it.

Hugh aka Repairman

Clix said...

Well, yes, but, but... I want all MY surprises to be GOOD ones!


Oh, and I want 28 hours in my day.

I haven't thought of the third one yet, though. ;)

The Science Goddess said...

Clix, I'm a Goddess, not a Genie. LOL

You will likely have more good surprises than ugly ones in your career.