Tag Archives: teaching

Partner, Instead of Master

I have been training a puppy for the past two years.It’s no small feat considering the

dozer2

“Dozer”

handful of personality and energy that he encapsulates: he’s a combination of two parts lab, one part st. bernard, one part border collie.  We’ve had our ups and downs; he’s wont to make his own decisions at times but he’s done well overall, and, like most dogs he only wants to please. In the past three or four months, just after his second birthday, he’s gone through a bit of a maturity spurt and has earned my confidence in areas where before there was conflict between my desire for his behavior and his own independent impulses.  As a result I’ve shifted my position a bit with him in terms of our relational dynamic.  I’ve stepped off from the role of Master position and stepped beside him in a role as a Partner.

Its a feeling of accomplishment to be able to do so.  It means there’s a deeper level of trust between us:  he understands that I trust him to behave a certain way and have given him considerable freedom because of it. He trusts me to treat him more as a team mate, on somewhat more equal footing and his wont to please rises to the occasion – if I am his Partner, then he’s going to put his heart and soul into doing right.

The dynamic of shifting from Master to Partner was never so clear to me as it was in this instance and it got me thinking about other relationships and where it might apply as well.

Work?  Yes, this applies to my work life directly!  I am privileged to work with teenagers, and this year my colleagues and I find ourselves interacting with a more high maintenance, high energy group of kids.    As usual at the beginning of the year, I set very clear, immovable boundaries and at first will err on the side of being more harsh than soft when it comes to enforcing their validity (a lesson I learned from my own jr. high school teachers and seems to be fairly effective).  This year I am taking a slightly different approach and utilizing my newfound epiphany: I’ve made the boundaries clear, but I find that if I take a moment to consider the one on one relationship with each student and conceive of some way to Partner with them instead of try to Master them, I get a much better response and they seem be settling in with more ease.  The element of conflict that can inherently exist between a Master and Student is replaced with a mutual trust and common goal; sure I am still the authority figure but my willingness to engage from the side instead of from the front assures them that, on some level, they have a certain amount of respect and trust from me at the outset.  They seem to be responding by rising to the same level of respect.

Partnerships seem to work better than Mastery on the creative level too, I’ve observed.  I’m sewing a quilt for my niece at the moment, she’s beginning her freshman year in college, away from home and family.   If I employ my newfound nugget of wisdom and work with the machine and fabric on a Partner level, as a team mate instead of a Master, I notice a difference in the process.  There is a sense of enjoyment in the mix.  It’s holistic in a way; it’s not just my energy but the way I work with the energy of the machine as well that effects a kind of harmony, instead of subjectivity, and together something new and meaningful is created.

On an intrapersonal level, the idea of trading a Master for a Partner has, for me, been one of the most important adjustments I’ve made in my life.   I don’t know about you, but I am much harsher with myself than I am with others and I’ve definitely had a Master approach when it comes to self-discipline and correction. If I step aside though, work WITH myself instead of against myself in my head and heart, I find a peace I hadn’t experienced before, and whatever issue I am wrestling becomes manageable instead of a kind of drudgery. Furthermore, I find I have more trust in myself to do the right thing where before I might have contradicted the ideal simply for the sake of outdoing my harsh ‘Master’.

I understand this idea doesn’t work in all relationships and I also concede that there are some instances where we must always be “Master.”  But whenever possible, from now on, I will look for ways to Partner instead.   The benefits are mutual and more vibrant, and much more satisfactory to the soul.

Here’s to Partnerships instead of Mastery.   May we find ways to morph some of the latter into more of the former…

Yours, Frankie


Cheating Teachers: Ain’t No Surprise To Me

In a big mess of a deal, several Atlanta teachers and school administrators were sentenced (too harshly in my opinion) to jail time because they cheated on the State Standardized Tests.

We shouldn’t be surprised.  At. All.

Several years ago I went back to college after having all my babies with the lifelong goal of teaching in my sight.  There is always something about academia that excites me and I couldn’t wait to get into a classroom and passionately share my enthusiasm for….History!  I was so looking forward to igniting at least a handful of bright minds about the subject, I was so looking forward to making History at least ‘not boring’ for the rest of them.

Then something happened that caused me to seriously reconsider my career choice:  No Child Left Behind.  My observations of classroom transformations, witnessing my own children navigate through them, and long talks with teachers who were stuck implementing the legislation convinced me that I would never make it as a successful teacher within the new parameters set down.

You see, successful teaching is largely a creative venture.  There is really no right way to go about it except to hold high expectations and be observant of one’s students at all times.  That way we are aware when an “A-ha” moment is about to occur and can help the pupil to it.  Lev Vygotsky, a renown child development psychologist, keenly observed the teacher’s role as providing a bridge for the learner to be able to ‘connect the dots’ as it were. Writing sage Kahlil Gibran echoed the sentiment in his work “The Prophet” when he says “No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.”    It’s work to make those connections happen.  It’s bleeding, investing, time-consuming creative work to set down the kinds of paths needed so that our students can learn. Those paths were blocked, blown up, and utterly demolished with the advent of NCLB.

Tests are everything now, thanks to No Child Left Behind. They determine whether or not a school gets funded.  They determine whether or not a teacher is successful. They make lots of money for the test makers who have a close ally in DC. They remove any sort of creativity from the teaching experience and put our educators in positions to cheat in a system based on monetary values.  They have robbed our children of the value of learning to think.   They have eroded our schools so that they are nothing more than faceless information factories.

nclb

This group of Atlanta educators have a fair slice of my personal empathy. I’ve not been surprised at all that cheating of this kind has occurred.   Not one of us should be.  The confining, restrictive, and narrow paths of standardized testing necessarily invites criminal activity.

Teaching is a creative process and should have wide spaces to work with.  Anything less is detrimental to learning. Hopefully – Maybe – Fingers Crossed – one day this stain on our national education system will be removed, hopefully, maybe, fingers crossed, without too much residual damage.

Here’s to all those teachers out there who managed to stay in the classrooms after NCLB was implemented.  You are braver than I am and you have my utmost respect.  And to the group in Atlanta, I understand.

Frankie


The Value of a Dreamer

Jacob sat crying, exasperated and exhausted because he couldn’t figure out the math problem.
His mom came over to the table, gave him a hug and suggested he take the rest of the night off. “That assignment isn’t due until Thursday anyway, honey, give yourself, and your brain a rest.” She gave a tousle to his coarse, sandy hair and a peck on top of his head to finish. Jacob slowed his crying and his panicked breathing, closed his book and got up from the table to get ready for bed.

As a twelve year old his bedtime routine was fairly quick and ten minutes later his mom went to his room to tuck him in. She noted that his demeanor was still deflated so she implemented her ‘go to’ strategy of offering to tell him a story of one of his favorite heroes. “Which one do you want to hear?”

“Ummmm, I dunno.” He replied, his big blue eyes were nearly full of tears again so his mom, in an attempt to quell another breakdown, dived right in to one of his favorites.

“Remember the guys who dreamed about the teeny tiny particles that would hold all of everything together, hmm? Small, invisible bits of energy that act like glue and if found, would change how we see the world.”

Jacob blinked back the tears forming in his eyes, mostly for his mother’s sake, and nodded in approval at her attempt. “Peter, Robert, and Francois,” he said, “they were big dreamers.”

“Yes they were, and just like you I am sure they struggled over their maths as well. I bet they still do. So how did these dreamers find their dream,” she asked her son, coaxing him out of his misery.
“Lots of people helped.” Jacob replied.

“That’s right, it always takes more than one to make a dream come true. In fact, so many people believed in this dream that they built some pretty amazing things to make it happen, like…..”

“Like the world wide web!” Jacob interrupted, “That’s my favorite part of the story, hundreds of scientists all over the world working on one single problem. They had to have a way to talk to each other, right? So they hooked up their computers to each other so they could talk any time of the day or night!”

His mom laughed. “That’s right sweetie, and now we can Skype grandma because of their desire to fulfill a dream. Who knows what your dreams will create, yeah? What else?”

“The ell – eightch – seeeeeee…..” Jacob shouted out and let the ‘seeeee’ trail off into infinity. “The big
circle tunnel they built underground in…., where did they build that again?”

“Europe son, it’s so big it exists in two countries, France and Switzerland.”

“That’s right, in two countries!” Jacob mused, “That’s a big circle.”

“It is a big circle, but it had to be in order to make Peter, Robert, and Francois’s dream come true. Do you remember why it had to be so big?” Jacob’s mom moved a piece of hair out of his eyes and tucked it behind his ear.

“Cause the atoms hafta get really, really, really, really super-fast for them to crash into each other.” Jacob was sitting up on one elbow now, engaged and enthused.

“Exactly,” said Mom “They have to spin around and around in that big wide tunnel until they build up enough speed to collide. One group of scientists built a camera to take pictures of the crashes so other scientists could study the pictures to see if Peter, Robert, and Francois were right about their dream. But why would it matter so much for them to be right?”

“Because it would answer some questions about our universe,” Jacob chirped back, “or if they weren’t right, they might at least get a clue about what was right. Right?” he smiled coyly at his mom.

“Yup,” she smiled back at his witty use of words, “but what did they find out about the dream of an invisible force that held everything together?”

“They were right! Their dream came true, they discovered the Higgs boson and the math worked out too. Now we have an answer. But we have more questions too.” Jacob rolled over on his side and put his head on his mom’s lap, she rubbed his back.

“Yes,” said his mother, there will always be more questions, but dreamers like yourself… and Peter, Robert, and Francois, and all the other hundreds of scientists and people who work so hard will always find answers to those questions. Now sleep, I bet you’ll get that math problem right off tomorrow morning. And dream your own dreams my dear, who knows what might happen?”

“I’m gonna solve the mystery of black holes.” Jacob announced as his mom turned off the light and closed his door.
“No doubt you will son, no doubt you will.”

author’s note: This story inspired by the Documentary “Particle Fever” and dedicated to the hundreds and thousands of scientists the world over whose diligence and dreams answer questions we all have. Thank you.