Friday, 4 May 2012

When the teacher is not the teacher

[DISCLAIMER: I make no reference to anyone specific. If you think it's you, don't blame me. It's all in your head.]

I'll begin with this: all of us seek approval or at least acknowledgement from a being of a certain status, whether it's from God, the divine, a father/mother figure, a guru, the peer, whatever. Even the uber hardcore monks who choose to completely dissolve everything related to them, they do what they do to get "there": samadhi, bliss, release, heaven, final freedom, which in itself is a form of acknowledgement. Or those triathlon nuts, covered in sweat and vomit, crawl to cross that finish line so that they can say "hey mom, I did it". So yes, we all seek approval from that someone or something of perceived authoritative status.

"The teacher" of course is someone of perceived authority... or is he/she?

The role of teacher is a peculiar one. Obviously, it's something that I have been contemplating with a lot these days, both me as a teacher, and others as my teacher. Your teacher can be your friend. Your teacher can be your student. People often forget that many students spend money on teachers, so really, the teacher can be our employee. Your teacher, sadly, can also be an asshole, and there are a lot of those out there. It's a dynamic role, and most certainly one that claims ownership of whatever power that may or may exist. Let me explain...

"Teaching", as a task in itself is simple. It's no more than the mere transfer of information. Its sole purpose is to deliver the knowledge, to educate, to show us the good stuff. “The teacher” is a job, not a status. Your grandson can be your teacher because he knows how to kill pigs in Angry Birds. The user manual of your dishwasher can be your teacher. I sort of like the analogy of withdrawing from a sperm bank to get a pregnant. This is it, you go in, order whatever height and eye colour you like, get the goody and leave. Then there is the "complicated" way to conceive: meeting someone, dating, getting married, getting pregnant, may or may not be in that order. We all know it's everything else, not the 0.001 second of the actual conception, that is complicated. In other words, it's also everything else, not the teaching task itself, that is complicated.

"The teacher" is often tasked with other roles: the regulator, the monitor, the babysitter, the policeman/woman, the editor, the puppeteer, the shri-monger, the Grand Magus... all of a sudden "the teacher" assumes to have all kinds of power, which is exactly my point. People say "knowledge is power", but it really should be "knowledge empowers you". "Power over yourself" and "power over others" are two very different things.

In a classroom, the power of authority comes from the teacher acting as a monitor, while conducting the task of "teaching" or conveying information to the students. Conveying information, which in essence is what "teaching" really is about, is separate from being the "authority" in the classroom. Hypothetically you can have a person in the classroom to just teach, and a policeman to keep things in order. We all wear many hats, often at the same time. It is important to set clear boundaries and recognize which hat you are wearing when you speak. When the lines blur, and "the teacher" acts inappropriately and abuses the power of authority, we have problems. When the students also act inappropriately, we have bigger problems.

People often assign an assumed "superiority" to the role of teacher. But it really is about the power residing in the role of the keeper of information, the shepherd, the moderator, the Grand Magus… a power over others. This illusion of superiority extends to the association with the role of teacher, which creates teacher’s pets, coven angels, Willsalmon, Willtuna… It has nothing to do with teaching, but the wish to have this self-imposed higher status, and perhaps enjoy some fringe benefits along the way. This sense of entitlement is toxic. Just because you are the teacher, or have a special relationship with the teacher, sexual or otherwise, it doesn’t mean you are entitled to extra gravy on your fries, or power over other students.

Again, it has nothing to do with teaching. Perceived authority is just that: a perception.

I respect many great teachers and have developed a friendship with some of them. But having respect for someone is not the same as allowing this person to have control over me. You might know a great deal about something, but it doesn't make you a teacher. And I’m not even talking about quality of teaching.

Once you see through the illusion of perceived authority, the non-existent superiority, that jar of pubes on the altar, you get back the power that you have always had. This is not about challenging anyone's puppeteering skills. Oh goodness gracious me no. This is just to remind everyone to give credits when they are due, and call out bullshit when it's right in front of you.

As always, just my two cents. I better get going. I have some trout to fry.

No comments:

Post a Comment