Teachers Have Dreams, Too

Many of the things I hear or read from teachers lead me to think they live in a fantasy world.

Today I participated in an hour-long chat via Twitter on the subject of how technology can help build community in the classroom.

The chat was one in the Edchat series of Tuesday chats. Usually upwards of 50 people participate in the chats and the tweets come fast and furious.

I usually just scan them as they roll by on my screen. I respond to a few, but usually just occasionally drop in necessarily terse (there’s a limit of 140 characters per Tweet) comments.

Today’s chat really irritated me and led me to post the comment I used as the first line here.

For an hour I read messages about the advantages of creating communities in classrooms and how tech may or may not help one do so.

For an hour I read idyllic comments about creating learning communities in which everyone teaches and everyone learns, and other ideal situations.

It was like watching the teacher version of a Disney movie in snippets of text.

Well, I am going to be the evil witch.

You cannot create communities in which all learn and teach in a classroom.

You can create a situation in which the students learn and teach, and the teacher learns while teaching, but they are not members of the same community.

As my friend and self-described “big goober” William Chamberlain pointed out, communities are created around similarities.

Let’s examine the similarities between teachers and students:

Teachers spend all day in a classroom.

Students spend all day in a classroom.

Teachers are paid to be in the classroom.

Students are required to be there.

Teachers have authority in the classroom

Students are subject to that authority.

Teachers determine the décor of the classroom.

Students’ completed work is part of the décor.

Teachers specify the procedures in classroom.

Students have to follow those procedures.

Teachers determine the activities of the class.

Students have to perform the activities.
There’s not much similarity or common interest, is there?

Instead of spending an hour dreaming, thake the time to think about the power dynamics in your classroom.
William Chamberlain again: “Forcing students to work together when they don’t want to is like hitting your head on the wall. It feels good when you stop.”

Think about the idea that your students are aware that the idea and demand for community is coming from the only person in the room with any power.

When that happens, community becomes a requirement.

Required community doesn’t sound very good, does it?

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8 Responses to Teachers Have Dreams, Too

  1. Matt says:

    I missed #edchat today, so I’ll have to read the archive later. I like the side-by-side comparison above. Community cannot be achieved via requirements. BUT, can we not promote and create community in our classroom, at least among our students. And I don’t mean one centered around hating school, the teacher, etc., but one where they actually enjoy being and learning together. Or is this just my idealism.

    On an unrelated note, like how I started each of those last three sentences with a different one of the big 3 conjunctions?

  2. Tomaz Lasic says:

    Felt the same Deven, turned off the sickly sweet.

    In the same series today, I asked about the curious, unexamined, ‘normal’ conversion of noun-to-verb’ as in teach-teaching and student-…?? what? ‘Studenting’? No, no, no… student does ‘the learning’, teacher does ‘the teaching’ (included decor selection & all :D ) and unless we ponder these with brutal honesty to see where, how, when and why they fit or not, it’s all edchat that does bugger all.

    Cheers

  3. Michael J says:

    Just have to say that you never disappoint me in taking the click from the email to the post. :-)

    My take is that we have to talk about teams, not communities. Communities are where we live. Kids smell the bullshit of a “required” community faster than anyone. Their detectors have been finely honed as they figure out sex, drugs, rock n roll.

    A team on the other hand is what they natively understand. Lots of teacher talk is kumbaya. Meanwhile kids luv Project Runway, American Idol. It’s the joy of victory and the agony of defeat. Yes, Virginia, there is competition and most everyone loves it.

    The opportunities of team is that they correspond to the realities in the classroom. The teacher is the manager. The best hitters are put in the clean up position. Everyone has to play by the rules.

    The other night I was watching Anthony Bourdain. Macho, competitive, empathic, looking at geography and history through the lens of food. But totally competitive, snarky, sometimes funny. That’s real life. Kumbaya? Every once in a while. But that’s for real friends and family. Not really suited for a classroom above 6th grade.

  4. Karren says:

    “Students are required to be there.”
    But their attendance suffers when they don’t feel safe, emotionally and physically.

    “There’s not much similarity or common interest, is there?”
    Do all people not have the same basic needs? All people, regardless of age, want to feel capable, contributing, and connected. Besides, I’ve been a part of many different groups (jobs, classes, etc.)where people had different opinions and beliefs. Later in life our students will need the skills of being respectful and trustworthy in a group, regardless of whether or not they agree or like all of the group members.

    You make quite a few generalizations about the dynamics between students and teachers. I have to contend that, in some cases, you’re right. However, this is not always the case. It’s not just a lofty ideal. I think it’s a difference in opinions on the definition of community.

    • Deven Black says:

      There is a huge difference between being a member of a group and being a member of a community. I am talking only about community.

      Of course all people want to feel capable, contributing and connected; but that alone does not make community.

      Communities can and do include people of different backgrounds, different beliefs, different opinions and a host of other differences, and it is essential that people interact with ease and honor, but that does not make community.

      Everything above is part of community, but community also requires the ability to participate in decisions at the same, or very similar, level of everyone else in the community. That is not the situation for students in a classroom, and also usually not the situation of teachers in a school, or of principals in a larger school system.

      Classrooms, schools and school districts are just that, system, in many ways analogous to our solar system, for example, as they all rotate around a central power source of some kind. Not even the most idyllic dreamer among us would call the solar system a community.

  5. Olaf says:

    What you said about students working together struck a chord with me. Groupwork didn’t really exist when I was at school. After a gap-decade I discovered that the only people who liked groupwork at university were those who were absolutely useless or bone idle.

    And now, if I really want to practice my negotiating skills, I give group projects to the kids in my class. Then I’m guaranteed stress over unjust marking, denunciation of team colleagues and class teacher demanding to know how I came up with my marks. Having said all that, I still do at least two groupwork projects each semester.

    You are right of course – kids much prefer to be judged on their own performance.

    I also have problems with this “let’s go on a learning adventure together” approach to teaching. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but I mostly see it being used by weaker teachers as a way of ducking their responsibilities.

    When it comes to using technology (social media) to promote learning, I see it more as a mass of individuals taking advantage of a service rather than any discernible group dynamics. I do believe, however, that it could be a really useful teaching aid and a way of adding value to the learning experience. I’m running a pilot scheme at the moment with Facebook and hope to be able to draw some conclusions before the summer.

    I believe there could be big benefits from social media, but I think it may not be in the way that proponents are currently claiming.

    Thanks for your usual stimulating post.

    Olaf
    (Btw. In Germany, it’s often the kids who set the decor for the classroom – result: a youth club with very little to do with a learning environment. For some reason the teachers here think the kids should feel at home. I’d prefer them to feel as if they are in a school.)

  6. Chris says:

    Regarding your first sentence: Yep, they do, especially if they’ve had little exposure to life outside the education system. For those of us with feet in both real and the fantastic, our task is to jar them up once in awhile, let them know that while their lofty ideals may play out well in isolated circumstances, as a rule it’s best to be able to take a more pedestrian approach. You do a terrific job with that here.

    For me one positive affirmation did arise from yesterday’s #edchat. Often teachers bring their students to the lab to “do computers.” Some come with very scripted activities and require students to work in virtual silence. Others come with a more loose approach and let the students make more choices within a given assignment. This second model allows for students to interact with each other and can sometimes get a bit noisy. I used to think noisy meant non-productive until one day last week when I actually listened what the students were saying. What I found was they were teaching and learning from each other in the ways being promoted in yesterday’s chat. It wasn’t the teacher who prescibed this communal learning, but the environment that fostered its formation.

  7. April says:

    As a parent, I have to agree with you. Also as a parent, I wish that more teachers made a point of thinking of parents as members of the community. I get turned off when I hear teachers go on and on about how they need our help, but whenever we start expressing our own ideas and opinions, we’re seen as problem parents.
    But I do like the idea of teachers creating a team-like atmosphere in the classroom, and have seen success in that.

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