Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hey Man, Slow Down

To begin, a lyrically related song from the 90s to set the mood:

More than ever, the feeling I’ve been fighting this year has been the nagging voice that urges me to “go faster! Teach faster!" Sometimes I can't seem to shake that feeling: "We’re running of out time! We’re not going to finish!”

I’ve heard that voice probably my entire life (yes, speaking figuratively; this is not an exposé on the voices I hear in my head)- or at least the message, likely from the actions of my own teachers as I made my way through school, and sure enough, their instructions to me gradually became my instructions to myself.  That voice really took over once I started teaching, and along with it came those familiar feelings of frenzy, panic, flailing, and finally, drowning.

A familiar metaphor, right? Treading water, drowning in marking, wading through whatever. But this year I’ve gotten into the incredibly annoying habit of questioning everything, and the question I’m asking now is “Drowning in what”? Learning? Wow, what a tragedy. Teaching? That doesn’t make any sense. And after thinking about it for a while I realised I was like a character in a classic movie gag: flailing and panicking, yelling “Save me! I don’t know how to swim!” when I’m actually thrashing around in a foot of water.

So, back to the voices. This semester I had the pleasure of reading Rosenblatt’s Making Meaning with texts, (pdf of Chapter 5 available here) and a line that’s stuck with me was “we need to resist the pressures from without and from within ourselves that lead to such empty results." What a pleasure to have such a reasonable and erudite voice in there with the others.

Perhaps I'm fortunate that I don't feel a lot of outside pressure to push through or past or over the subject I'm teaching. Fortunate, or numb. Either way, I don't feel it as strongly from the outside as I ever have from the inside. That's where this pressure is coming from- for whatever reason, I'd adopted the stance that no matter what or how I was teaching, I could be doing it faster.

What is that? Is it the year plans I make for myself, invariably tying a major work to a season or month, annually pretending that school isn't full of planned and unplanned changes in schedule? Is it the curriculum that I've misread, interpreting every single student experience or ability as something I need to program ahead of time? (There it is again- ahead of time- maybe time is what I think I'm drowning in. How Doctor Who of me). Maybe there's a more general phenomenon to blame: microwaves, or instant coffee, or .34222 second Google searches. 

The thing is, I'm only interested in the cause if it helps me to figure out a solution, and blame is not the way to do it. Looking at my students, and looking at the experiences I’ve had teaching for the last 8 years, I’m finally making peace with my inner ‘go faster’. I don't want to get faster, I want to get better. And no, they aren't automatically exclusive. But neither are they the same.

 I'm not drowning. I'm fine. Finally, after teaching under this self imposed bogeyman pressure I’m finally asking why. And the silence that follows is telling.

This wasn't the clip I was looking for at first, but in a way, it's exactly the clip I was looking for.