Autobiography

 

  1. Helping my brother, Alex, enjoy reading. In grade 5, my brother’s teacher told my parents that Alex wasn’t showing interest in reading and recommended reading to him more at home. Because I loved reading, my parents asked me to take a stab at it. So we started by reading Peter Pan out loud and had fun acting out scenes and doing voices. He became interested in reading after that and I started to think of myself as someone who could help others.
  2. During my Master’s program, I had the opportunity to be a TA. It was my first time in front of a class and I loved it. Sharing my passion and seeing a few students take a real interest was exhilarating – and seeing the students who had struggled at the start of the term make progress was very rewarding. I loved getting to know my students and helping them meet their own goals.
  3. My son, Liam, has given me a new perspective on teaching children and adolescents. I want to make sure that I’m the kind of teacher that I would want for Liam – someone who sees the potential in their students and encourages their development.
  4. My grandmother debated issues with me and encouraged me to read books – she taught me that it’s the pursuit of knowledge that’s important.
  5. The film Miss Representation inspired me to help young people improve their media literacy. We are all bombarded with messages and images everyday – it’s important to me that I do what I can to give children the critical thinking skills to question the messages they receive.

 

I consider myself an expert in my field – I have an advanced degree in English Literature and I’ve worked in a related field for several years. But if there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s that I will never know it all. My certainty on this one point goes all the way back to childhood debates with my abuela, grandmother.

You have to understand one thing about her – her father was an intellectual, a poet laureate of Ecuador in fact, but because she was a woman her considerable intellect was no more than an adornment to the people around her. Not to me, though – I thought she was brilliant. No matter the esoteric topic we talked about, whether it was poverty, the pros and cons of religion, power in politics, or racism, she would always tell me that I hadn’t read enough. She would send me off to read Dante, or Joyce, or Dostoyevsky before she’d consider continuing the debate. And when I’d return having read my latest assignment and ready for a debate, she would tell me I still didn’t know enough and send me away with some other book. It wasn’t so much that she got me to read wonderful books that made her brilliant, it was that she showed me that no matter how much you think you know – there’s always more to learn.

As a teacher, this works for me in several ways: First, it humbles me. I know many things and have had many experiences, but so have each of my students – no matter how young. Secondly, I see education as a personal, life-long progression. My goal for students is for them to also learn this lesson, to spark a desire to learn as much as they can anyway, and to give them the skills to do so.

This experience with my grandmother was about process, more so than content. Her view was that opinions and outlooks could change based on your exposure to other ideas and she continually sought to expose me to those varied perspectives. She did not present herself as a fountain of knowledge, she simply reminded me that there was no one point a person can reach and say that they know all there is to know. My grandmother’s curriculum was about a continual striving because learning is not a place of repose.

In retrospect, and in light of what we’ve covered in class, I can clearly see how my abuela’s context influenced the curriculum she created; but I see even more clearly how my context shaped the way I experienced the curriculum. I learned so much about how to learn on my own, how to form my own opinions, and how to share those opinions with others through this curriculum. I recall that by the time I was in university, the debates changed because I had started to bring in my own evidence and began giving my grandmother books to read.

Part of the reason this curriculum worked for me was that I trusted her and knew that she respected me – so when she would tell me that I still didn’t know enough, I took it as a challenge. The other reason it worked was that she went with it when I began bringing books to her – there was no resistance. I think in some way my grandmother understood that curriculum is like a prism refracting light, that the teacher’s intention goes through the curriculum and is refracted into a variety of different experiences based on their individual contexts.

Common sense, uncommonly flawed

According to Kumashiro, the operative word in the phrase “common sense” is the word common. It’s a widely held belief or practice that has gone unquestioned long enough to be considered tradition.

I’ve always been suspicious of “tradition.” (I think that’s why I’ve never liked Fiddler on the Roof.)

Here’s an example of my problem with tradition: once upon a time, I worked as a Protocol Officer for the province. This is the job where you plan big events for VIPs  – it’s a combination of being a historian and a PR person. Each time I was tasked with overseeing an event I would also be handed a file folder as thick as an Easter ham with the plans for previous iterations of the event. The expectation was that I recreate the event with as little deviation as possible. But why?

Because that’s the way we’ve always done it. This is a favorite phrase of government employees (FYI: as a long time bureaucrat from a family of bureaucrats, I don’t say “government” or “bureaucrat” with a sneer).

I found myself constantly trying to deviate from “the plan” because most of the time, the plan didn’t make sense to me. And if pressed, I found that the long time protocol officers couldn’t give me a good explanation of why things were done in such a way…they simply were. There was tacit acceptance of tradition.

And what was the response to my continual prodding to try something new? Discomfort. People were afraid – they didn’t know what the change would mean to their entire world view. (Yes, they were a dramatic bunch, I’m not entirely exaggerating.)

And if this is the reaction in a setting with relatively low real world stakes (after all, what harm could come of seating people differently or not having a string quartet at the XYZ event?) – how uncomfortable and frightening is it for people in a setting like education that has profound real world repercussions?

Very.

That being said, we should all be able to think of a million examples in which a prevailing thought or idea in any subject has been shown to be wrong or incomplete. Take Galileo Galilei – his contemporaries were absolutely certain that the sun revolved around the Earth. It was common sense – we can see with our own eyes that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. Clearly it is revolving around US. But they were wrong, quite wrong.

That’s the danger of tacit acceptance of common sense. Many things may seem logical and plain if taken at face value, but further examination almost always reveals complexity.

And there’s no need to be afraid. It’s wonderful to be wrong – I think that there’s nothing better as a learner than that moment when you realize that you’ve been going about something the wrong way or that you hadn’t considered a major factor. Being wrong gives you the aha! moment.

My wish, and what I will endeavor to pass on to my students, is that we accept that we might be wrong most of the time simply because it’s better than feeling that we’re always right.