This class has covered a huge assortment of information. Our content ranged from the huge questions, such as “Where does knowledge come from?” and “What is your vision for education?” to smaller and more practical questions like “What does OSPI stand for?” and “What should I wear to work?”
Why such an outrageous range of topics? Not surprisingly, effective educators are expected to know lots and lots of things. That’s probably part of the common misconception that every great teacher is a Renaissance type. Teachers are supposedto be exceptionally knowledgeable as well as exceptionally patient, interesting, diligent – the list goes on. No wonder
friends and family give me a glossy-eyed look when they learn about my professional aspirations. People believe that all teachers are just like Mary Poppins. I have mostly believed that in order to be a great teacher, I’ll have to be “practically perfect in every way.” So I had planned on pretending; I would just pretend to know and be everything.
I was relieved to find the following quotation, from Parker J. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach, projected in enormous letters on our first day of class: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” Parker goes on to explain that, “Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.”
Parker Palmer and the work of this course recommend the opposite of pretending; this quarter, we have practiced a two-fold method for improvement: humble self-assessment and collaboration.
One assignment through which we were able to humbly confront what Palmer has called our “shadows and limits” was the Disposition Self-Assessment paper. We rated ourselves on teacherly dispositions, such as compassion, attentiveness, and professionalism. And then we had to write a paper about it. Parker Palmer loves this stuff, but it’s hard for me. I have never thought of myself as “professional.” As far as I know, no friend or colleague has ever described me as such. This section of the disposition self-assessment, as well as our eighth program standard, gave me a bit of a rash.
8. Professional Practice – The teacher participates collaboratively in the educational community to improve instruction, advance the knowledge and practice of teaching as a profession, and ultimately impact student learning.
Developing proficiency in this standard requires Parker Palmer’s notion of integrity, not Mary Poppins’ measurement of perfection. In order to engage the educational community in a meaningful and collaborative way, I can’t pretend. My contribution is only as good as what I actually know, and a humble awareness of the gifts I bring to my community. In other words, professional collaboration begins with honest self-assessment.
Unfortunately, my first stab (and I do mean “stab”) at reflection on my dispositions yielded more fretful self-consciousness than productive self-awareness. I stayed up far too late writing what was more or less an apology to myself, and submitted this about a 80 seconds after it was due. That’s when the a slightly more authentic reflective thought occurred to me – what have I just turned in? Was all that navel-gazing what my professors had in mind when they designed this assignment? Do I reflect in a way that will make me a better teacher? Or do I mostly scrutinize myself, stew about the fact that I’m not Mary Poppins?
During the next class session, we had an opportunity to talk through our strengths and weaknesses with our classmates. While it seems like the added social factor would make this experience much more unnerving than the process of writing a paper alone at my desk, I found that the opposite was true. It was only after I spoke with my peers about our self-assessments, that I able to accurately evaluate my own dispositions. In the context of academic community, my self-conscious inner monologue became a focused and profitable self-awareness.
The Disposition Self-Assessment, and this course, has effectively replaced my most troubling misconception about becoming a teacher – that it’d require me to feign perfection in order to be professional. As it turns out, professional practice isn’t about perfection. Professional practice is developed by taking humble and well-informed steps, in the context of educational community, toward the goal of positively impacting students.