Friday, March 23, 2012

Humbling Thought

                It’s hiring season in independent schools. This time is full of contradictory emotions as we think about the people leaving but also imagine the talents and energy any new employees might bring. Last spring I published a post titled “Hiring Mission on the complexity of the process and how, for me, in many ways it boils down to someone who embodies the mission of the school.
So I read with great interest John Spencer’s at TeachPaperless blog on the notion of hiring someone with humility as the key to finding a 21st century teacher. In particular, I love this passage:
I'm not suggesting that administrators should deliberately search for unqualified candidates. Often, the most humble teachers have already done amazing things. Still, humility is the gateway to innovation and growth and sustainability. Humility works paradoxically to bring about greatness. Humility enables empathy and communication and collaboration that goes beyond the structures implemented by a school.
He has prefaced this by explaining that a teacher doesn’t have to know how to use all the technology, but, instead, has to be willing to ask for help. A teacher also has to be open to new methodologies and paradigms.
                To me this notion also highlights how we have to re-think the role of the teacher within the classroom. No longer should we perceive a teacher simply as a subject expert, a repository of knowledge. And there is certain lack of humility inherent in that time-honored role. Besides, information is now pretty cheap, even free if you tap into the Internet at your public library. If education is just about running through simple right and wrong bits and bytes, then a teacher really could be replaced by a less expensive, more efficient processor.
Instead, the teacher must exhibit an insatiable curiosity—or at least fake it when necessary—about all that we don’t know. Because right now, the way just about everything in the world is swirling and reforming, we don’t know much. At least not for sure. And that’s really humbling.


Bill smsoot said...

I, too, found Mr. Spencer's post thought-provoking. Not to plug my own work, but a few years ago I set off on a kind of pilgrimage to find the best teachers in America, from first grade to the medical school, professional athletics and ballet schools to a culinary academy and a horseshoeing school. The interviews I did were published as Conversations with Great Teachers (Indiana University Press.)
I found that what these very diverse teachers had in common were deeper qualities of character, and one was indeed humility. Even the ones who had some ego going on (and there weren't many), left it behind when they taught. They looked at teaching as a calling, and they thought of themselves as living in service to that higher purpose. As one first grade teacher said when I asked how she chose teaching, "I think teaching chose me."
I perhaps have a slight disagreement with your views about subject expert. I did find that all of the teachers I interviewed were experts in their fields. Indeed, I began to wonder if teaching wasn't best thought of as not a separate art, but an aspect of being a subject expert. So one high achievement of being an expert historian or actor or horseshoer (which not all experts will achieve) is the ability to teach to others. But of course, being an expert includes--indeed, necessitates--having a humility about what what does not know.
A few weeks ago, I heard Anna Deavere Smith, currently artist in residence at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, give a performance on the theme of "grace," and thinking about the interviews I did, it occurred to me that the greatest teaching involves that ineffable term, regardless of one's religious beliefs, that we might call grace.

Mark Crotty said...

Thanks for your comment, Bill. We're not in disagreement about teachers needing to be experts in their subject areas, but I can see how I gave that impression. (It's one of the perils of a blog post versus a fuller essay.) My point is thta too often that is the first thought people have about a teacher, and that leads them to see the teacher as someone whose role is to provide answers. I want us to see the role as much richer than that. You've given me an idea for a future post.

Again, thanks for reading and commenting. I'm going to look for your book!