The title of this blog post comes from Margaret Atwood’s novel, The Handmaids Tale. Yes, it is a rather confronting title for a blog post, but there is a story behind how I came to write this post and title it “don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
There is a very talented young teacher who I think epitomises the qualities that teachers generally want others to see in them. Firstly, we want to be seen as excellent practitioners who are successful in providing wonderful, enriching opportunities for learning in the classroom. Secondly, we want to be respected for our time, our efforts and our skills and knowledge.
As a profession, we pride ourselves on our altruistic nature, on being generous and wanting to help others. We work very, very hard and often under very, very trying and difficult circumstances, however, the one thing that seems to bring a lot of our goodness unstuck, is the way in which we relate to those members of staff who are the innovators or early adopters of technologies, or new ideas, or new ways of thinking.
Now, don’t for a moment think that this blog post is going to become a litany of the difficulties faced by teachers who do lead the way in using technology in the classroom, because for every point I add to that list, someone can with just as much passion, give me a counter argument.
This teacher, in her blog post, was essentially questioning her worth and value as a teacher. Her self reflection documented the ways in which she utilises technology and problem based learning in her classroom, and while she is very excited to share these ideas with her PLN, she actually feels the opposite when presenting to her peers at staff development days. This triggered something in me. I have presented at a few staff days and I know exactly how she feels. I am not making a comment on the staff, or my presentation technique, but rather, already knowing the mindset of many of the people in the room and how this ‘new way’ was only going to add to their already long to do lists. You see, as teachers, we will complain about the increase in administrivia that we have to complete. Yes, I made this complaint only yesterday on twitter.
We are also weighed down with this notion that a new idea or a different way of doing something will in some way diminish my autonomy as a teacher. Collectively, as a profession, we don’t really like being shown a different way of doing things. We don’t like the idea that we don’t hold the keys to the knowledge kingdom. We don’t like the idea that the technology or different learning space configuration infront of us is (a) not what I wanted or (b) changes so rapidly.
Teachers are intrinsically good and generous people. We are willing to put up with so much – poor policies, ridiculous standardised tests, MySchools website, etc etc, but when one of our colleagues stands before us and shares their passion for teaching and learning, shares their pedagogy and wears their values on their sleeve, we don’t just ‘put up’, rather we can become quite defensive.
Now, back to the title of the blog post. This wonderful teacher posted her blog, outlining her concerns and her PLN from across the globe, immediately responded. I was impressed with the responses, but in particular one response. A 45 year old male teacher from the USA. After all of the ‘educational reforms’ in the USA, the standardised testing, the lack of autonomy teachers have in the classroom and the lack of currency in innovative pedagogies used in the classroom, he pasted that quote and one other on his computer monitor. Every time he feels as though it is all getting too much, he reads the quotes, reads past letters from students and parents and thinks about the child with whom he will help to write an essay before school or the child who is having trouble at home.
Noli te des bastardes carborundorum or Don’t let the bastards grind you down, is a pointed way of saying, remember why you are here. Remember why you do, what you do. Essentially, early adopters and innovators are there to show us the possibilities of what teaching and learning can look like in our classrooms.
The advice I offered, for what it’s worth to passionate teachers, is that we will always experience the dizzying highs and lows of what the profession holds. Those who don’t have the passion and vivacity for teaching, experience neither the highs or lows. I know I would much rather experience the former.
We rarely have that ‘meh’ moment. It is a blessing and a curse. Don’t ever feel that the little successes you have don’t mean much in the big scheme of things. Remember the starfish analogy. All the starfish, millions of them washed onto a beach. A person is there throwing them back into the ocean. What seems like an exercise in futility, the companion of the person says that it won’t make a difference. As the person sends another starfish back into the ocean, she says – it made a difference to that one.
So, if you are an innovator, an early adopter, a passionate teacher who feels the despair at times. Don’t give up. Noli te des bastardes carborundorum.