I write this post immediately upon coming home from seeing the newest movie in the Star Wars franchise: The Last Jedi. It likely comes as a shock to nobody who knows me even modestly well that I’m a giant nerd, especially when it comes to things like fantasy/sci-fi movies, books, religion, and technology. Star Wars encompasses essentially all of that.
But beyond all of that, I’m also an educator, and I’m nearly always thinking of students as they go through their lives as developing humans. And I’m a sucker for a good metaphor.
So as I was watching The Last Jedi, I was thinking about teaching. I’ll keep this spoiler-free, but as is common in these sorts of movies, nearly the entire movie is based around battles. And those battles are often framed for us as good versus evil. Right versus wrong. Light versus dark.
I was getting inspired. I was getting pumped up and thinking of how important it is to be a part of the battle in education. That our students are worth fighting for. That we should be the resistance to oppressive practices and political moves that hurt our students. There was even a thought about battling against students who are tough to teach, but that we can reach them all. Etc., etc., etc.
Then it hit me. The thing that was so inherently wrong with my metaphor and therefore my whole line of thinking.
Teaching is not a battle.
Teaching is not about going toe-to-toe with our students who present us with the most difficulty. It’s not about fighting against those who use practices we believe are incorrect or even harmful. It’s not about fighting for our students. We’re not “on the front lines” or “in the trenches” when we enter into our classrooms.
If that is the case, if we are soldiers in a battle, then who are we fighting against? Are we fighting parents? Students? Administrators? An intangible, general ignorance and passivity?
I can’t reach a student if I view them as an adversary. In my first draft of this post, that was one sentence and then I went on to the next, but I want to pause here for a second to state that again. WE CANNOT REACH OUR STUDENTS IF WE VIEW THEM AS ADVERSARIES. I can name a few students who I have viewed that way, and guess what? I didn’t do a great job of teaching them. The students lost out because of my views.
I do a disservice to the home life of my students if I view their parents as the enemy. Maybe I think their parents are wrong. Maybe they’re overstepping their bounds as parents and telling me what to do as an educator. I have met plenty of parents who I felt were out of line when it came to the education of their child. Who I felt were making poor choices on behalf of their child. I have never met a single parent who makes decisions on behalf of their child that they believe will be detrimental to their child. That being said, I bet parents like that exist. And if you teach their child, then you have to know that that student of yours goes home to those parents. You are with them for a year, or maybe a couple years. They are likely with their parents for decades. We can’t lose sight of that perspective and start painting a picture of the parents as enemies, even if we just think that to ourselves. It’ll inform what we do and how we treat both the parents and the students, and the students will lose out because of our views.
I bring down the entire culture of my building if my administrators are my foes. And I will own that last one: I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I regret the toxicity I fed into. The adults in the building were fighting, and the students lost out because of our views.
We have to focus on ways to keep it positive. We have to make sure the students succeed and have gains because of our views, not lose out. The “battles” I mention in this post are not bad things to “fight” for. We should be looking for the best for our students. We should promote best practices and be up on the current research. We should be advocates for our students in the political sphere. If parents or administrators are coming to us with things that we think are wrong, we should find ways to address that and be better as a team. It’s not about the things that we might say are worth fighting for. The problem is we shouldn’t be fighting at all. We cannot lift up those in our care if we have to tear someone else down in order to make that happen. We must always be bridge-builders and connectors.
Teaching is about empowering every young person who comes through our doors to be the most well-informed and best person they can be. And there are plenty of metaphors that can help us with understanding the work we do.
Let’s leave the fights and the battles out of it.