Those Who Can, Teach; And Those Who Can, Must
I remember during my adolescence, my attention started to get more fixated on how higher learning institutions operated. While learning about college, I found it strange that teachers in college had other professional endeavors that aligned with what they taught in a classroom. Along with teaching a course/content to students, they were authors, performers, researchers, travelers, artists, politicians, and business owners in manners that reflected what they taught. Doing, exploring, and teaching content are inseparable elements of their professionalism. With that being said, it is a little scary that such a professional principle was not only new to me, but it straight up didn’t compute in my mind when cross-referenced to my experiences with my grade school teachers.
For K-12 education in this country, we have almost totally detached the practitioner paradigm from the educator’s framework. Many K-12 educators have left the doing and exploring of their contents alone and have solely committed to the planning, grading, and teaching of their content. Consequently, many ELA teachers aren’t authors, many history teachers aren’t historians, and many science teachers aren’t scientists. I believe this norm exists for a few reasons. First, in this country there is a lack of appreciation for the intellectual capital of K-12 teachers. Second, there is a population of teachers try to apply a “punch in-punch out” mind frame and would argue against any other sensibility. The third reason, which I believe is the most pervasive reason, is time restraints. I became Exhibit A for this reason. I got into education and teaching English because I understood how literacy unlocked a flow of evolving creativity expressed through rap, poetry, journalism, philosophy, critical thought, and activism. I knew that other young people could benefit from what I found value in, and I began to exercise these values without being required of me in a class. In college I wrote for and lead two newsletters. I was always reading, and was consistently emceeing. After graduation I kept with these activities somewhat, but when I started teaching, many of those pastimes and pursuits collapsed. The writer, the emcee, and the reader in my dimmed as becoming a teacher and an adult flooded the mental agenda and the daily schedule. In my attempts to re-surge as a consummate educator, I have noticed 3 levels that exist in this journey of becoming a complete professional educator.
#1) Participating in the learning community of respective content (i.e. reading journals, articles, blogs, books; watching documentaries, attending conferences, etc.)
#2) Fusing practice with pedagogy and content (i.e. ELA: writing short stories for children to dissect; Math: asking students to generate a math problem for the educator to solve; Science: Modeling labs completed at home or with other scientists; History: Showing personal pictures of travel to historically important locations)
#3) Independent practice that produces tangible work relevant to respective content (publishing journals, articles, books, videos, art; starting community initiatives, teaching other places, etc.)
It is important for educators to find priority in at least striving for step two. Carving out time and re-utilizing down time for this initiative is important because it is through the exposure of students to teachers doing and exploring their content that teachers will gain enough credibility for students to be authentically engaged with their content. Consciously, sub-consciously, or semi-consciously many students float through their K-12 experience like it’s a system that encourages them to mindlessly pay dues, and many of them don’t remain tolerant of that feeling long enough to graduate. Consistent exposure to relevant application of content breaks that spell. Furthermore, students get the opportunity to become aware of other careers that revolve around the teacher’s content, breaking in new ideas for vocation exploration and democratizing content that may have otherwise seemed too niche or abstract. Lastly, including doing and exploring in the K-12 educator’s framework reminds the educator of the challenges that can exist in learning about the content. This in turn, expands their tank of patience when instructing students who have trouble with the content. It also expands understanding of content knowledge, building the potential to shatter narrow-narrative curricula, and build exploratory learning. All in all, you become a better classroom teacher when you immerse yourself in your content outside the classroom. So I’ll continue blogging, rhyming, reading, and making music.
I have to make a special note for my black and brown educators out there. This process of becoming a consummate educator is more than important for us and more than urgent for us. For most of America, this process of being a consummate educator is about appropriately cultivating seeds. For us, it is about appropriately cultivating seeds and stopping the crows from making concerted efforts to destroy the crop. People of color- the more we do and explore the content we teach, the more we see our children benefit from that, and in turn we understand our roles as liberators. Once that understanding is complete, we end up not only being consummate educators, but immaculate ones.
Thanks for reading, and thank you in advance for evolving.