I haven’t been well for two weeks now. I generally don’t get sick and so it’s a shock to my system. I haven’t been able to think clearly, to expend much energy on normal, everyday, regular things. My breathing is short, my chest is tight, and my cough is just plain annoying. And not just to me! I’ve thought about writing a blog post but haven’t had anything to say … I keep searching my mind, but it’s a blank. There is no inspiration.
Until I read this: “Probably the most violent and aggressive act that any person can do to other persons is to invade their minds with ideas and twists of meaning which disturb the comforting security of things known and faith kept. Yet this is what I, as a teacher, am required to do.”
— R. W. Packer, “Breaking the Sound Barrier: A Dramatic Presentation” inTeaching in the Universities: No One Way, McGill-Queens University Press, 1974.
At Orientation in February I talked about the leap from unconscious incompetence to unconscious competence (through a few stages) and how that process – the process of learning – is not straight-forward and is not painless. There are bumps along the way, and periods of time described as “ouch” where learning bites. But I hadn’t quite considered it in this light – in the light of a violent and aggressive act. Of invading minds; of disturbing comforting securities.
A student enrolled in Curriculum and Pedagogy is frustrated with my lectures: “Sharon just asks so many questions! Why can’t she just tell us stuff?” is the cry (and I know there are other students who feel the same way – even tutors ask that question: why can’t you just tell us stuff?). My questions disturb comforting securities, invade students’ minds, force them to think. My questions are painful. They suggest that there are no certainties, that students must create their own responses, must deal with not being completely sure, must live in the land of I’m not sure if this is right – the land of ambiguity. Wendy remembers this land and the frustration of being there; of being forced to go there through question after question.
It’s not always a pleasant place to be.
It stretches us.
When you’ve spent the day in the garden, you wake up the next morning feeling a bit stiff (particularly if it’s been a while since you gardened). You stretch your leg out and there’s a twinge. You twist your body and feel the tug in your back. Lifting your arm above your head brings another source of discomfort. Just slight, but you can feel it in ways you couldn’t the day before. You stand up, and realise your whole body aches. Reaching for the kettle, climbing the stairs, bending over to empty the dishwasher … ouch.
But you look out into the garden and it looks fantastic. The roses are tidy, the weeds are gone, the pebbles are all back where they should be, the edges are neat again. Your effort, your pain, has produced this. It feels good.
Trudi (not her real name) reminds me of this on the weekend. I first met Trudi in 2008. She was ‘just a …’ and couldn’t imagine being anything else. I’m just a mother; just an SSO … I don’t think I could be a teacher. (Trudi couldn’t imagine being a university student either.) Trudi has a core of resilience and tenacity and strength but wasn’t fully aware of that back then. She enrolled in the BEd course, fearful, uncertain, not confident. She started studying, at home, alone, surrounded by her family who didn’t know what it was like to study at home, alone.
Trudi’s mind was invaded, her way of seeing the world was challenged, her taken-for-granted assumptions were drawn to the surface and she had to examine them. It was painful. There were tears, and feelings of I can’t do this, and late nights, and other students (friends now) to support her. And there was pain.
Most of all though, there was learning.
Trudi started studying in 2008; she was timid and not sure that she could do it. Now, in August 2012 Trudi is a teacher. She glows with it. It shines from her, and despite her thinking that any minute now someone’s going to come into my classroom and tell me thanks, but I’ll take over now, she’s the teacher. Her students love her. The parents of her students love her. Her principal comes into her classroom to tell her that she’s doing a wonderful job. She kept going through the pain; she stretched herself, she grew, she learnt … she achieved.
And I feel a sense of achievement too; a small sense of pride because I know I had a part to play in Trudi’s journey – even if that part was painful.
I might be causing pain, but I know the rewards are worth it.