Bad Teacherist [Reading Roxane Gay]

Jose Vilson Education, Jose

I’m not the perfect teacher.

At my best, I have a meticulously thought-out lesson plan with activities that access multiple pathways, and I can get an active discussion going even with the least engaged students in class. At my worst, I can barely put my thoughts together, and little that I set out to do translates to the students in class. I’ve been told I’m a great teacher by my former and current students, and in many cases, their parents, but I’m also not cocky enough to think that I got it together.

If I can achieve good teacher-ness 90% of the time, I’m happy, but I recognize that I haven’t even reached that peak yet. Or so I think.The education debate we’re having right now, complete with frameworks for either compliance or resistance, don’t take into account the humanity of the subjects left in its wake. I do believe that most teachers are doing their best given the circumstances they’re given, but I also believe we need adults from top to bottom, including myself, willing to rethink the ways they approach teaching all of our children, especially those most disenfranchised by this country. I vehemently oppose the use of test scores for assessing teachers as it’s mostly invalid for individual teachers in the short and long-term, and I am in favor of subjectifying (yes, I made that word) teacher evaluations so we can get it as right as possible.

I don’t like or appreciate the framework that our current set of reformers have for fixing our nation’s education system and would dump it in a heartbeat if I could. However, it also means that I ought to adhere to a framework that allows for a truly inclusive, democratic, and empowering public school system. Critique is not enough, and going back is not an option.

In Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay writes a good bit that I found rather analogous to this discussion:

Feminism is flawed, but it offers, at its best, a way to navigate this shifting cultural climate. Feminism has certainly helped me find my voice. Feminism has helped me believe my voice matters, even in this world where there are so many voices demanding to be heard.

How do we reconcile the imperfections of feminism with all the good it can do? In truth, feminism is flawed because it is a movement powered by people and people are inherently flawed. For whatever reason, we hold feminism to an unreasonable standard where the movement must be everything we want and must always make the best choices. When feminism falls short of our expectations, we decide the problem is with feminism rather than with the flawed people who act in the name of the movement. [Emphasis mine]

In the book, she also talks about her own higher ed teaching, so it’s worth picking up for that alone. But this intro spoke to me for two reasons. First, we can replace feminism with teaching in the above excerpt and still get a similar effect. Secondly, the emphasized line speaks to the inherent issues with being crowned the leader of a movement without critique of the underlying power structures that allows the crowns to be distributed as they are.

Unlike Gay, the current climate for teaching would never allow for me to embrace the label “bad teacher,” but I’ve proudly proclaimed that I might have been for one student, or multiple students at a time, or bad on certain days, or bad by folks who have different instructional priorities than I do. Unlike the feminist ideal, I can be fired from teaching. Also, I’m not in the “once a teacher, always a teacher” meme.

Some of my thoughts feel contradictory, asking us to do better when the majority of us are doing our best. I also know that our students deserve this ideal, and we strive towards it henceforth. If we’re not actively reaching towards the ideal, it won’t do us any good.

photo c/o