There is a certain obstinacy in a refusal to change in the face of the facts. Pride gets in the way; a reaffirmation of the the way you’ve always done things takes over. The realisation that perhaps your strongly held beliefs about something which you’ve argued for for years are not so right after all leaves you feeling uneasy. So you emphasise them all the more, louder, drowning out any other possibility, closing your ears. Continuing with those wrongly held views eats away at you until you become bitter and cynical.
The first staff room I ever sat in was filled with experience and cynicism in equal measure. Sure, there were young upstarts like myself who were filled with the hope of a new career but, for the most part, the loud and certain finger waggers sneered their opinions as facts, spilling vinegar and scorn on anyone who dared to oppose them. It is an intimidating bear pit for a young teacher to be thrown into; and one which can deflate an ability to stay enthusiastic and idealistic. I never lost my ability to adapt and change when necessary but it was hard back then.
I recently started a creative writing course. It was with the ludicrous idea that perhaps I’d be quite good at it. I’m not. Go figure. However, those two hours on a Tuesday night for the last two months have given me more than I could have ever expected. I have learned how to be a better teacher of writing. I always thought I was good at it, certainly enjoyed it. Alarm bells started ringing over the last year or two when my senior classes’ Creative Writing was being marked well below my estimation of them. I can’t lie. It was my fault, of course. After fourteen years it was becoming clear that I wasn’t as good as I thought.
It would great if I could write that I took the brave and noble decision to admit my faults and ask for help, resulting in a creative writing course, but it wasn’t like that at all. Purely coincidental, but there is something humbling about facing up to the truth that I could have been better which I have, subsequently, found life-affirming. I now model my teaching of writing on the workshop format of the classes and get stuck into the words my students write, more than the essays. It has rekindled my love of language.
I would never have been able to admit those flaws in that staffroom of old; I would have been laughed out of the room. I found my place in blogging, Pedagoo and Twitter and in the last two and a half years I’ve been able to share success and failure equally. Recently though, I’ve felt a change. When once Twitter was full of optimism and idealism, mixed with energy and a supportive peer group it seems to be turning into that staffroom I experienced all those years ago.
New bloggers are often derided and mocked; openness and honesty criticised; optimism stamped out. Those who once were new bloggers develop an air of the staffroom cynic and sneer with their own certainty and superiority. Looking around the blogosphere (Is it still called that?) I’m not sure if I would have the courage to start now; things have changed.
The opening line of this post certainly applies to me in everything I do in the classroom. But how much does it apply to us all? How can we be certain that everything we do is correct and how much damage could we be doing if we refuse to change?
Two years ago, I wrote a post about what I wanted to achieve in the summer. I became very good at only one of the three things I decided to try. I finish for summer on Wednesday and want to make another vow. This one I’ll keep to myself, but I will return as a better teacher. I have realised that if you don’t change you don’t stay still; you fall behind. I am not as certain of my teaching abilities as I once was and I think that’s what makes me a good teacher.