To Teach With Power, Tranquility, and Grace
Kottler, Zehm, Kottler assert in On Being a Teacher: The Human Dimension that “teachers who appear in charge of their own lives, who radiate power, tranquility, and grace in their actions, are going to command attention and respect. Their students will follow them anywhere” (Kottler, et. al, 2005, p. 22). This power, tranquility, and grace are the markers of self-efficacy and professionalism, and I strive to develop them through on-going reflective practice, continual renewal both personally and professionally, and in teaching from a deep-seated conviction that all students deserve my best no matter what looms on the political/environmental horizon.
Reflective practice may occur on the first day of school, after the first activity, when I pause and look out on the class and muse, “Yes, this is what it’s all about” or wonder “How can I involve more of the students” or the on the first day of summer break when I ask myself “what worked and what didn’t work this year and what do I want to create, develop, learn during this summer to improve next year?” Reflective practice takes place continuously within and beyond the classroom, as I reflect on what is being taught, why it is being taught, and most importantly, who is being taught. In fact, when I reflect on these questions, the focus becomes what do I “believe children should receive as a result of their educational experiences” and in turn, what do I want to give to enrich my students’ educational experiences (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 13). When I focus on what my students need, I reflect on what I am giving in terms of content-area skills, in terms of life skills and experiences, and in terms of my students’ confidence in their own abilities and potential. Reflection leads to the development of expertise in my subject area, and leads to self-efficacy – the belief that I can contribute to changing lives. One may teach for many years, and may indeed be considered a competent teacher, but truly experience alone proves “hollow without reflection” (Nieto, 2003, p. 9). I think of musicians. When I listen to Yo Yo Ma play the cello, I am drawn into not only the music, but also the passion of the musician himself. This differs greatly from listening to the amateur who practices the cello, mastering the technique of bow and finger-placement, but who does not feel the music flowing through every part of him as he plays. When an artist with passion plays, every movement from head to toe exudes life; I not only desire to develop pedagogical techniques, but also passion for those I teach – then I will exude life – power, tranquility, and grace.
Reflective practice naturally leads to continual renewal of my personal and professional self. With regard to my personal identity, reflective practice motivates me to examine my own experiences when seeking vital connections with students. If my job is “not only to teach children, but first to interest them in learning” then I must be an interesting person with interesting experiences to share (Kottler, et al, 2005, p.17). Kottler, Zehm, and Kottler note that Parker Palmer state “We teach who we are” (Kottler, et al, 2005, p. 19); I must develop my own identity in order to have anything worth giving to my students that will help them form their own identities. When I read for pleasure, attend cultural or sporting events, or spend time with friends on the weekend, I want to bring those joys into the classroom on Monday morning; then I will enliven whatever content is to be explored that day for I am clearly alive to the students.
Professionally, as I engage in ongoing reflective practice, I need to then seek out professional development opportunities both formally and informally. The reflective teacher sees student achievement and his/her methods as inter-related. The professional practitioner will hone his/her pedagogical skills; consequently, when I see areas of need in my students, I need to develop my own understanding of possible approaches by reading professional journals and attending conferences such as those provided by the California Association of Teachers of English or the Association of Supervision of Curriculum Development. In addition, I want to improve in taking the initiative in sharing observations with colleagues, problem-solving and creating with the informal group of colleagues with whom I teach. Phelps writes of this collegiality as a key aspect of professionalism when he notes “Conversations that are focused on improving situations and concerned with helping students are respectful and caring. Professionalism is thus mirrored in teacher talk that seeks solutions” (Phelps, 2006) Reflective practitioners motivate reflection in both their students and their colleagues, leading to continual growth both personally and professionally, and thus evoking respect from both groups, as well. This is my goal.
Finally, during the process of reflection and renewal, I reaffirm why I teach. The current political arena in which educators find themselves can seem much like a bull-fighting ring. I, goaded by policies and red-tape, may charge again and again, only to be struck repeatedly to the point of exhaustion. I will not only survive this fight, but I will stay on my feet; I will be resilient. I, as Bell Hooks encourages will be the one who is able “to teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students” providing “the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin” (Nieto, 2003, p. 37). This means that even if I do not have much influence on the number or types of state, district, and school-mandated assessments to be given, I can create an atmosphere of “team-spirit” among my students as we anticipate and prepare for these assessments. Curriculum may be determined by others, but I will present that curriculum in a way that specifically considers the learning needs, academic abilities, and personal interests of my students; and likewise, I will know clearly my own teaching style, personality strengths, and interests that will enable me to connect the curriculum with the students.
To teach with power, tranquility, and grace – to know myself so intimately that I can freely share with all, both students and colleagues – that is true professionalism – that is my desire.
Kottler, J. A., Zehm, S. J., & Kottler, E. (2005). On being a teacher: The human dimension (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Nieto, S. (2003). What keeps teachers going? New York: Teachers College Press.
Phelps, P. H. (2006). The three Rs of professionalism. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(2), 69–71.