School made sense to me growing up. It had rules for everything. I knew that if I followed the expectations I would excel. I bent the rules where I could…Okay, I bent a lot of them. At the same time, I was compliant with what the teachers wanted. It was more that I completed the assignments without really doing them. Overall, school “worked” for me. However, I followed the rules to a fault and consequently molded myself into what they wanted me to be. It was easier to comply and nod along then do what I wanted to do. Then I went off to college and became a teacher.
Once I had my own classroom, I maintained the status quo by asking my students to follow the same path as I did; follow my rules. It worked for me, it would work for them. In doing that, I saw many students remain silent or simply regurgitate my opinions or facts back to me; just as I had done as a student. For the kids who the system “worked” for, they traded a piece of their identify in the process as they became who I wanted them to be. For those that didn’t color inside the lines, I saw first hand how the system doesn’t “work” for everyone.
This blog is for the students; everyone of them.
“Students are marginalized people in our society. The silence that we face in the classroom is the silence that has been adopted by people on the margin — people who have reason to fear those in power and have learned that there is safety in not speaking…Behind their fearful silence, our students want to find their voices, speak their voice, have the voices heard.” — Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach 45-47
As I stated before, I marginalized students in the past. If I’m being honest, I still do. It’s near impossible not to with the power I have as a teacher. In marginalizing them I’ve seen their fear first hand; I’ve heard their silence. They fear what they might lose if they speak their voice. It’s different for each of them. Some fear not making the grade, doing well on a test, or having a wrong answer. Others fear being seen as an other by either their peers or me. It’s safer and easier to stay within the rules the teacher, that I, sets out.
That’s not creating conditions that people learn best in. That’s not getting rid of their fear. That’s maintaining their silence.
My first major attempt to hear students and dispel their fear happened a few years ago. I set out to document an entire school year through a weekly post. At first, I was a little scared, but a few people pushed me to continue. From blogging each week, my voice was heard. I benefited immensely from my weekly reflection and changed my classroom practices. But…after a while it was self-indulgent. Everything was from my perspective; the classroom center around ME. Conscious of the decision to or not, I didn’t feel like writing about something if I didn’t. The post could be safe. I didn’t have to check my beliefs or attitudes about my students. Even though the reflection was meant to benefit them, I forgot their perspectives and didn’t get their feedback. Their voices remained silent.
It didn’t take me long to notice something was missing. To change, I started shifting the weekly posts to minimize my voice. I gave the forum to the marginalized- the students. As the year unfolded, the kids wrote most of the posts. I only contributed a response to what they said, but ultimately, it was their voice that was heard.
That was years ago.
This blog will once again feature their voice. I can’t just ask them their opinions and not act on it. As Will Richardson posted that “if we ask them what they want…we’d actually have to make some of that happen.” To ensure I do just that, I will respond to it publicly. This blog will serve as a check on me to actually make as much of their requests as I can happen. After all, the school is here for them, right? But, when they speak, it will check my beliefs and attitudes about them. Hopefully, they will tell me if I am living up to meeting all of their needs and allow me to examine my own bias.
Through this blog I want to show that I struggle. I struggle with how to live my values. I don’t want to be the all powerful authority figure at the front of the room with the “right” answers. I want to learn how to change that. I want to break down the traditional hierarchy of the school system to raise every student up. I want school to give each student what they need.
While I am a professional, I didn’t go to school and get “trained” with the necessary skills for the rest of my life. I don’t have all the answers, nor should I. Actually, I have more questions than answers, and writing helps me work through those questions. This blog is for my students to see me as a learner. I tell them I’m a life-long learner but fail to show how that’s true. I want this to be a place to curate my learning. In doing so, I hope they can see what I do to continue to grow and learn to find the answers I need to serve them.
With the students’ contributions, this blog will be a forum for their voice to help me answer those questions; to tell me what I am and am not doing. The blog is not only to help me, but for them to know their voice carries a power. I hope that in creating this blog, that not only do I listen but I respect, honor, and adapt because of it to co-construct the learning environment together.
I am a teacher and this blog is for my students.
A special thanks to my wife and also, Kim Miklusak for reading this beforehand and guiding me through this journey.