Author’s Note: A teacher in our NeWP institute mentioned an idea of having students write an essay about an argument they embody as a way to teach persuasive writing (there are so many great teachers in this course; it's both humbling and inspiring!). It intrigued me, so I tried it. When I sat down to actually write it, I found the task incredibly difficult! Here’s what came out in an attempt to write about an argument I embody. It’s not perfect---but it did help me to articulate how I teach and why I teach that way.
I've always wanted to be critical. I think that's why I wrote essays in high school comparing and contrasting Christianity with Buddhism, or persuading people to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle. Every now and then in my undergraduate degree program, I challenged my education professors who seemed to have all the answers for teaching K-12 but no experience actually teaching in this setting. I don't think I truly learned what it meant to be critical and intentional, though, until I became a teacher.
Suddenly I was tasked with educating students only three to four years younger than me. During my first few years of teaching, I lost sleep as I contemplated the consequences I could have on students. After year one I was exhausted, and I wanted to simply open the book and start with page one working our way to page 407 by the end of the year. I thought back to some of my own high school experiences, and few classes stood out to me. The ones that do/did were alive with discussion, allowed me to make connections with other subjects, encouraged freedom of exploration, and gave me hands on experiences. The unremarkable classes lie buried deep in the cobwebs of memory. These were the classes where the teacher remained rigid in the curricula---relying mainly on the textbook and his or her own knowledge as the method of delivery expecting the rest of us to simply soak it up. I wanted my class to come alive for my students--even those who hated English. I wanted my students to feel energy in the classroom that was irresistible--that drove them to write and speak because they simply had to. I wanted them to think because they wanted to, not because I told them. So though I wanted to, I simply couldn't rely on the textbook to teach the course for me.
I came to learn that I must be intentional, open, and teach out of love. I learned to research, revise, and talk to the kids about what worked and what failed. My students must be the center of my classroom. I had to learn to set my ego aside and let them drive their own learning. I had to convert lectures into student-driven discussion. I had to learn to listen instead of talk. I soon made a habit of taking classes myself so I could experience learning alongside them. I wanted to learn from other teachers how to teach with fire.
When I became critical about teaching, my classroom transformed. Discipline issues minimized, and students seemed to be truly learning and not simply memorizing concepts for a test that would determine their knowledge. They began asking questions and then came to synthesize information to formulate their own critical utterances.
As liberating as this method is, it's equally exhausting. It's not always successful, and sometimes I grow so tired that out of necessity I give a worksheet. I usually feel terrible after grading the worksheets knowing I could have done better by them.
In and out of the classroom, I try to embody the argument that to teach with love is to be critical and deliberate. I wonder if I will be able to sustain this argument year after year and teach despite oppressive curricular mandates and apathetic teachers and students.