The Story (Part 3)
Later conversations continue to deal with students' unexamined values. We discuss individual students' examples of their acceptance of particular values and the conflicts they cause when confronted by people who hold different values. I start by sharing a personal example of my own. I do this for two reasons. First, I believe that these ideas will become real for students only when they connect them with experiences they have had. Second, I can bring home the problematic character of school socialization--that it acts to erase the individual--by creating a space for students to recognize their own personal frustrations with being treated as a member of an imposed category.
Margery: Okay, are there any other ways in school that you are taught to be part of the group rather than an individual?
Kate: Well, we were talking [in small group] about how you forget your heritage and conform to social norms. Another thing was that...on report cards you had little sections for citizenship and conduct. You were never taught those things. You were just expected to know how to behave and to know what they were.
Margery: Like my little daughter, her report card comes home...reading excellent, math excellent, getting along with the group terrible. So grades work two ways, positively and negatively, as punishment.
Kate: I think definitely they do. I guess I believe that if your grades are overemphasized...If you give the child a grade that is poor and suppose that child has really tried hard? What does it mean? Then the kid looks at all the hard work that he has done, and it doesn't help, according to him. So then his attitude is probably going to be, "Why should I try hard? It doesn't matter anyway." My boyfriend just applied for an internship and he had an interview, and the guy, the only negative thing he had to say about him was his grades. And he's kind of had to make himself look better because of his grades, you know. He's a residence hall assistant and there's a lot of other things that he does. He says, "I probably get more valuable an education from that than I do from the classes that I have." People are so used to placing an importance on grades.
Margery: Isn't that working both ways, as far as teaching you to conform? Doesn't it also ask you to compete, to be better but not different? It makes you conform and sets you apart.
Tracy: I tells you how you are individually as well as compared to the group.
Kate: So in other words its on their grading scale. And not only that, everything that you do when you are in school is a group activity. Think about it. The classroom that you are in is based on a group. usually to begin with your age group, and then if you fall behind, its based on the group's learning abilities. You go to lunch as a group. You go to recess as a group. You see what I'm saying? And then at times, the girls are separated from the boys as groups. And if you fall out of that anywhere, it's looked down upon. I guess that kind of goes with the crowd part.
Margery: So everything you do is done as a group...and you've got to identify with those groups.
Kate: Yes, you have a place within each group, and if you step out of that place, then...
Margery: So you generate an identification with that group, within that group, and when you start to separate from the group, you feel out of place. It's not just that other people are discouraging you...you, yourself also feel bad about not being part of that group?
Kate: Does your little girl feel bad because she doesn't get along with that group?
Kate: Its important to kids at that age to fit in, so I think when they're not...I think that it bothers them. Unless you have a child that's withdrawn, or whatever, and does not want to.
Margery: Yeah, when you go to the school, when you visit schools and what not, you see kids playing on the playground...and you see one little kid playing off by herself. How do you feel?
Kate: I feel bad for them.
Margery: ...or you wonder what's the matter with them.
Kate: Right. So see, look at that right there. The fact that you automatically feel bad for someone that is alone. Not taking into consideration that they may want to be or they like that. It's just that you're taught that that's bad to be alone. You should be with a group.
Susan: I think you need to teach kids just to have a level head and really think through their actions and take responsibility for their actions. When I was in huge school, I didn't drink and my whole high school was centered around drinking. And I wasn't in the "in" group. I was a cheerleader. I was in every activity and everything, but I wasn't...If somebody said, "name somebody popular who's in a lot of activities at school, they wouldn't name me first because I wasn't in the "in" group because I didn't drink. And that was just a personal thing that I didn't like. My mom used to be an alcoholic and I just never did.
This discussion continued to examine the conflicts between students' beliefs and the values they adopted without reflection. Susan's anecdote about her high school experiences was beginning to others telling personal stories about formative events in their lives. Each story focused on an experience focal to "coming to know" or recognize previously unexamined values and mores. In each of these tales, recognition was triggered by a confrontation of values. The stories ranged from a student telling of unplanned pregnancies to family membership in the Ku Klux Klan to a deaf student's story of her mothers reaction to her marrying into the deaf community. The conversation climaxed as students shared their opinions and personal experiences of interracial relationships.
There are obvious problematic qualities to this which I am choosing to not transcribe. The student talking about family membership in the Klan was saying "so what" as much as saying she wished to transcend that. In her narrative she was excusing that way of being by contextualizing it historically and culturally. The woman talking of the deaf community was constructing a counter argument of separatism and apartheid. The women talking of unwanted pregnancies were talking of pro-life conversion experiences. This is where the pedagogy I am describing and the pedagogy I am advocating becomes dangerous. We have gone along in our talk building a community of people constructing a vision of tolerance and understanding and what do we do when people say things that are just unacceptable or that are unacceptable to some but not others or that lead to unacceptable conclusions? This vision of a humanizing pedagogy which stems from the person and enables the person is inherently connected to a core dilemma of our (democratic) society--one in which we engage in duel processes of tolerance to enable intolerance and intolerance to enable freedom. Such a libertarian vision of conservative “uncaring” is the reverse of the pedagogy of humanness I am trying to engender.
Naming a pedagogical stance and concomitantly acknowledging pedagogy as constitutive of power relations (Gore, 1993), does not diminish the complexity of engaging in teaching that is geared towards providing opportunities for teacher candidates to construct their own practices. This complexity is evident in many of our class discussions. Building upon Margery's discussion of the conflicts of a humanizing pedagogy in teacher preparation,
below I illustrate the contradictory nature of the process of constructing such pedagogies through considering the experiences of one teacher candidate in an action research class I teach (Price, 1999). Irene, a middle-class white woman learning to teach high school mathematics, seemed to question little about her own practice or her beliefs, and often alienated herself from the other 10 teacher education students in the classroom. Irene was extremely outspoken in the class and believed that she was a "good" teacher. In contrast, the other teacher candidates embraced the idea that they were in the process of forming their identity as a teacher. In the main, they embraced a commitment to developing their own pedagogy in ways that fostered and ushered them into new arenas of action and thought as they held commitments to children and gave attention to institutional inequalities that are manifest in schooling.
Irene: Fostering individual commitments
During the semester, in the teacher education classroom, there was much friction and tension between Irene and the rest of the class. One teacher candidate complained that the problem in part was Irene's "negativity or insistence that she had all the answers." And while teacher candidates tried to nudge and challenge Irene, she often defended her position with much vigor. Irene actively participated in all class discussions and took important risks as she presented perspectives that often ran counter to other's ideas. The goal of reflection and inquiry was central to the experience of the course helping to support teacher candidates develop particular "habits of mind" through looking retrospectively on their teaching--reconstructing, reenacting, recapturing events and critically analyzing their students' and their own actions with explanations supported by evidence. This involves for example, using knowledge to understand oneself, understand the complexity, uncertainly and risky nature of teaching, as well as understand the political and social dimensions of teaching and learning processes and consequences for children. Irene was a "reflective" novice teacher who thought primarily about practical matters in teaching. In the class discussions many of the other teacher candidates' questions and inquiries focused on students' intellectual and social life in the classroom, or on the complexity of crafting pedagogical content knowledge. The issues that seemed important to Irene were less important to many of the others students, and vice versa.
Irene's perspective of the relationship between reflection and inquiry and learning to teach was evidenced in her approach to action research. For instance, in her action research paper, she described her views of self and teaching at the beginning of her student teaching experience:
At the beginning I couldn’t think of any “question” I wanted answered, or wrong I had to right. I just wanted to learn how to teach well. . . People close to me have often noted that, when it comes to teaching, I am more of a content person than a 'save the world' person. I tend to agree with them. I was always happy doing math problems without any regard to why I was doing them. I never particularly liked applying my knowledge to the real world. I feel that these views have strongly influenced how I teach mathematics.
Irene's sense of learning to teach well centered on her ideas that communicating with students was a skill that was very important in teaching. But what might such communication look like? How does communication and learning about mathematics manifest in the lives of all the students in Irene's high school classroom? At the beginning of the semester, during a conversation between Irene and myself, I asked her to think about what might be her vision of a "good" mathematics teacher. She later wrote to me in an e-mail message that:
I believe a good mathematics teacher should have a strong knowledge of mathematics and be able to explain the same concept in a number of different ways so that students can understand it. A good mathematics teacher should be able to follow students' lines of thinking in order to understand and then answer students' questions. A good mathematics teacher should be able to look at the material through the eyes of the students, to figure out which concepts will be harder to understand.
She also added that she didn't think she was "having a problem with any of these things." Irene was confident about her mathematics teaching. In this way, she found many of the conversations in our classroom unhelpful in her quest to learn about teaching. In fact, at one point, Irene complained during a class discussion that the focus on democracy in the teacher education classroom was not helping her to become a better teacher. While issues of democratizing the classroom were certainly central to our conversations, this focus was one of the strands that was highlighted. Yet for Irene, this focus was less important. I note this because many of the teacher candidates linked their commitment to democracy in their classrooms to the process and content of participation. Entwined with this view was considering students' ways of being and ways of knowing in the classroom -- allowing space for students to interact and learn with one another in multiple ways. Hence, we spent much time exploring student discourse. This examination involved considering the factors that shape discourse, such as the role of the teacher in shaping and influencing student discourse in the classroom or the ways in which race, class, and gender privilege and power manifest in classroom discussions.
Within this context, below, I present a segment of discussion about a video-taped excerpt of Irene's teaching that she shared with her cohort members. The piece she shared was a presentation of probability in her math class using a deck of cards and asked students to predict the probability of pulling out one 'heart,' two, or three 'hearts.' During the excerpt, Irene's role was primarily one of asking students for their answers and their explanations for their answers. After sharing the excerpt, Irene said that she wanted the students to used a binomial theorem learned the previous week.
Our discussion about Irene's teaching centered on her relationship with her students. In an effort to encourage Irene's reflexive thinking during the class discussion, I began the conversation by asking her how she might describe her role during the lesson. Irene said that although she mainly "lectures," she wants students to discover the mathematics on their own. The following exchange illustrates both Irene's and the other teacher candidates' emerging conceptions of pedagogy. Of interest here are the ways in which the teacher candidates tried to encourage Irene to consider her construction of relationships with her students:
Jeremy: I found as I was watching the tape, it was really hard to keep up. I know you have a wonderful mathematical mind, as I was watching this, I was wondering whether everyone was with you.
Irene: I am sure not everyone was with me, but that is not necessarily because I was going fast. I teach very slowly. The students think so much slower and I have to allow for that.
Liz: The pace struck me too. And also the consistency of language. Like at one point, you said "squared," and at another point you said "to the second power," and I was wondering if that was the same thing. And then you said "to the third power," and is that the same as "cubed." So I was wondering if that was a problem.
Irene: At this level it shouldn't be a problem.
Gretchen: I wanted to ask you a question about participation of students. What is your sense of who is participating. It seemed to be the people at the front of the class.
Irene: Generally the same people participate. But I try to call on people. I know a lot of people can do the work and are keeping up, they are just not saying anything.
Jeremy: So how do you deal with that?
Irene: Well, sometimes if I ask a certain student a question and they are thinking about it, someone else will try to jump in and I will be like, "I asked so and so," and I will wait for them, or help them through it.
Jeremy: Do you have the students' work on the board sometimes?
Irene: No, not.
Jeremy: Is there any reason?
Irene: No, I never really thought about it. When we went over a test, I had them all put up there answers. I picked out people who did a good job on each problem, and I told them to put them up on the board so we could just do it quicker.
Jeremy: Some people may say it is a way to model ways of thinking and responding, so students become the producers of knowledge instead of you. You are still controlling things, and if there is a problem, we can collectively think about how to move forward. There are different ways of approaching this ...
Marisa: One time a student in my class said "I don't understand it," and I said "why don't you come up and if you get stuck we will help you" . . . I always give them a chance to call someone else to help them, because in that way it takes the pressure off. But I had a question, you said that sometimes you call on students. Do your purposefully call on the ones who aren't raising their hand, or do call on those who don't have their hands raised? How do you decide whom to call on?
Irene: Sometimes it is random. Sometimes I call on someone who I know is drifting this way, to get them back. I try call on everyone at least once during period. And obviously those who have their hands raised will be called on more often.
Jeremy: How do you attend to patterns of participation in the classroom? Sometime there are those people who are able and willing want to participate. This mightn't be the forum to do it, because there are different ways of participating. In traditional classroom structures, we expect student to participate in one particular way . . . so we might want to think about others ways of creating opportunities for students to develop their knowledge and ideas. What do other people think?
This discussion wended its ways from the particularities of Irene's teaching to the group's attention to students' participation, knowledge production, and to their teacher in the classroom. The questions and examples that the teacher education students raised became strands of our conversation that represented the essence of developing a humanizing pedagogy -- this involved learning together in ways that are respectful and caring of voice and simultaneously situating the interests -- political, social, and cultural -- of p-12 students at the heart of the pedagogical constructions. In this extract, my own role in the discussion was one of encouraging Irene to consider possibilities in her classroom and to do so in a way that allowed her to consider these questions at her pace.
The interaction with Irene is fraught with contradictions. On the one hand I wanted to support Irene in her quest and commitments. On the other, I was troubled with the ways she seemed to ignore certain students in her classroom. Should I point this out to her? How do I know that she was ignoring the students? What would my public comments about Irene teaching mean for others other teacher candidates who would share excerpts of their teaching? Another question is the ways in which my own gendered interactions, through my questions and responses to Irene, may silence or diminish the power of Irene's voice.
Fostering individual and institutional commitments: Emerging contradictions Irene's representation and the subsequent discussion raises questions about the complexity of following through with a commitment to teacher candidates' developing their voice. Central to the action research course is for teacher candidates to craft their own pedagogies in ways that they can follow through with their own commitments. Engaging in a process that entails learning to own and craft a pedagogy stands in stark contrast to the idea that teacher candidates are blank slates that needs to acquire a set of procedures and strategies (constructed through some controlled experimentation) in order to teach. Authority for knowing, building upon sources of knowledge and legitimating knowledge, shifts, in part, to the teacher candidates.
In the teacher education course, essential to becoming a teacher is developing relationships with students in ways that attend to the cultural, intellectual, and social dimensions of their lives. This involves more than understanding students' ways of being and knowing, or forging nurturing and connected relationships with others in and out of the classroom.
Examining meanings of student discourse or experience cannot be separated from the social or cultural dimensions of their lives. Studying and understanding students as thinkers through examining their written work or discourse in classrooms, may involve examining students' work so as to understand children as thinkers and as knowers of subject matters, it also involves exploring social, cultural, and intellectual dimensions of students' lives. Entwined with these goals is an attention to democratizing life in classrooms, and connecting experience in classrooms to the larger society in ways that challenge social inequality. However, that is my vision; a vision that I would like my teacher education students to grapple with as they construct their own purposes for pedagogy and schooling. This leads me to an important question about my own version of a humanizing pedagogy -- how do I follow through with my commitment to Irene and also preparing novice teachers to be teachers of all children? How might our visions of what it means to be a teacher of all children differ? I have always made explicit my perspective and being respectful of the teacher candidates perspectives is in the making. And we often differ.
My task as a teacher educator, then, seems to becomes one of ushering teacher candidates into arenas that seem morally and ethically responsible to children in p-12 contexts and to the novice teachers as learners and as teachers. This journey, however, is fraught with contradictions, for in naming my commitments I am using my institutional power to shape an agenda. But by not naming my commitments, it seems that I am still using my institutional power to suggest that any agenda is worthwhile. I share with my students my perspectives and argue that my perspective is but one in the work of pedagogy; I also problematize my perspective with students in ways that reveal the slippery and complex nature of ideas, commitment, and goals. In naming my perspectives I want students to be able to develop and pursue their own agendas for themselves and for their students, all the while keeping an eye of the institutional and cultural context of schooling that privileges some voices, perspectives, and experiences and marginalizes others -- having powerful consequences for the lives of children in school and beyond.
The teacher candidates and myself worked hard to develop a community, a critical community where ideas could be interrogated, in large and small groups, within a context that seemed safe, supportive, and nurturing. I viewed my role during these discussions as one of provoking their thinking, of asking probing questions and of helping them make connections between theory and practice, making connections among one another, and to encourage them to relate ideas and practices to their own histories as learners of teaching, and their goals and visions as teachers.
The process of engaging in construction of pedagogy is also a story about the construction of self in relation to others; in relation to students in p-12 classrooms, others teachers (both novice and experienced) and teacher educators. Amidst these relationships are dynamics of power and privilege that influence not only who these teachers become, but also influence what they do as teachers. How do I as a teacher educator guide them in ways that on the one hand, enhances their understanding of the potential to create pedagogy, and on the other, probes their understanding of pedagogy as a social construction that is filled with meanings about power and privilege in relation to knowledge production and the lives of social actors in and out the school? This dual challenge of creating pedagogy, and recognizing that pedagogy is situated within a nexus of race, class, and gender relations of power produces tensions and contradictions that are inherent to my own teaching. As a teacher I am a white middle class male with much institutional authority challenging 11 students, most of whom were female, to consider who they are and who they are becoming. These encounter as Freire (1998) notes centers on "respect for the autonomy and dignity of every person." Yet nurturing and developing this respect is complicated:
the authoritarian teacher who suffocates the natural curiosity and freedom of the student as well as the teacher who imposes no standards are all equally disrespectful of an essential characteristic of our humanness, namely, our radical (and assumed) unfinishedness, out of which emerges the possibility of being ethical (Freire, 1998, p. 59).
The question arises as to what kind of standards do I want to foster. Do I foster these so-called standards a priori of meeting the students, or develop such standards with the students? While these questions may seem innocuous or irrelevant, they are critical; for my goal as a teacher educator is not only for teacher candidates to consider the ideas, goals, and commitments that shape their praxis as teachers but also to connect what they think and do with cultural and social dynamics of power and privilege that manifest in their lives and the larger society. Interconnected with these goals is one of providing experiences that are generative and educative (Dewey , 1938). In other words, my goals include not only generating ideas, but considering the process of developing ideas -- recognizing that the production of knowledge by teachers is a cultural activity that is infused with social, cultural, and political meanings.
In part, the response to the dilemma of both supporting Irene and following through with a commitment to addressing institutional inequalities in schools is to embrace both these goals -- in spite of the contradictions and the tensions. For the tension is never quite resolved, yet to propose that one goal supersede the other would seem problematic. Hence, I have come to think about humanizing pedagogy as attending to supporting novice teachers to develop and pursue their own agendas for themselves and for their students, all the while keeping an eye of the institutional and cultural context of schooling.