Saturday, October 2, 2010

Just relax...and be spontaneous

Some of the least helpful advice I've ever been given is in the subject line.  It's well-intentioned and may, in fact, be quite sound.  But the exhortation to "be spontaneous" strikes me as something of a Catch-22.  For me, thinking about spontaneity pretty well guarantees its absence...and it's already far too easy for me to forget (in the midst of what we'll just call Life) that being the best version of who and what I am makes me the best teacher I can be. 

Education is a landscape rife with landmines, a reality we (the educators) can't ignore and can't escape.  Why we do the political equivalent of circling the wagons and shooting in, I can't answer.  But Bud the Teacher (in his recent comparison of teachers to Superman) offers this perspective:
I’m interested in those of us who are not invincible, who can only take so much, and who bleed, suffer and break when the rocks get tossed.  I want human beings in our schools.  I want kind and compassionate mortals working with our children, people who know what it means to hurt and fail and to rise up and succeed in spite of the foolish words from high places. 
I've been spending some time lately discovering how many educators (elementary, secondary, higher education, college, and beyond) write and/or read blogs.  The sharing of ideas, the call to courage, the support of radical creativity are a goldmine for me, but I am wondering why so many of my peers don't seem to find that support from the colleagues next door or down the hall.  Or from the parents of our students. 

As I begin my preparations for a 9-hour teaching load next semester, I am faced with a new Blackboard system, a class I've not taught before, a not-insignificant revision of a course where I had (finally) felt comfortable, and new departmental alignments.  Though I am fortunate to have supportive colleagues and administration, there are inherent risks when I bring my genuine, spontaneous (and, yes, well-prepared) self into the classroom.  It's much harder some days than others.


  1. I agree. I find it both fascinating and frustrating in uneven parts given the day that while several of us ride the same bus(es), we don't converse there, in the halls or across them, or God forbid in our offices. If we did, what a dialog could transpire. Then again, perhaps that is what we fear, face to face interactions which might hold us each accountable, providing the impetus to change, to actually put our actions where our words are. And extinguishing the excuses for not doing so. Guilty, I'm guilty.

    And with technology comes an anonymity which seems to nurture a unique kind of honesty and camaraderie. Perhaps we feel safer somehow, less likely to be shot at or run over.

    To quote Anita Roddick, "If you ever think you're too small to be effective, you've never been in bed with a mosquito."

    Not of course that I"m comparing you to a mosquito....then again on second thought....

    My question for you this go round is simply this: Do we confuse a need for authenticity in the classroom with a desire for spontaneity? Okay, that one begs admittedly a second question. Or are the two so bound together that without one you cannot have the other? Can anyone, in or out of the classroom, be authentic if they are not willing to drop their plan, unglue their veneer, and go off script, be spontaneous? Can anyone be spontaneous if they are not willing to be authentic? How can we teach it if we haven't learned it? All rhetorical I suppose.

    Fine, that's more that two questions. And what you get for making me think. Keep writing. While thinking is a painful process for me and especially for those around me, I do enjoy reading your writing. Good luck with meshing the new and the old.

  2. Michael, you're a writer, too, and I appreciate the comment. There was a time when I believed that authenticity required spontaneity, or at least the willingness to be spontaneous. But I've encountered some fine people, some of whom teach, who are authentic in lives that seem very structured. Then, I think, authenticity becomes an honest recognition of their lack of spontaneity and a refusal to impose an unnecessary structure on others.

    For me, though, authenticity and that willingness to go off script are entwined. Which means I will have a tendency to measure learning "success" in terms of sponteneous engagement or expression, sometimes missing other ways of learning. I've walked away from a class assuming it didn't go well, simply because the students weren't engaged in the way that I would have preferred...and I've been wrong about as often as I've been right. I'm still new at this and suspect I always will be.

    I'm glad you dropped by and hope you will again. I'm just down the hall.

  3. It's a bit like whitewater rafting it seems to me, trips on which without preparation one may drown and without spontaneity one cannot navigate. There is a difference it would seem between having a script for the trip and an agenda for it.


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