Thursday, March 28, 2013

on bad teachers

Good teachers are emblems we strive to be. When I read a paean to someone's Good Teacher I am reminded how much influence bad teachers have. I am not talking about mediocre teachers - they do a good job, but students aren't standing on their desks chanting Captain my Captain. I'm talking about the teacher who is motivated by sadism. I've had a couple and they still irk me. I find myself asking myself why I still care. Perhaps it is I recognize how unnecessary it was that I was inflicted with them. One, a minister, I consider to have inflicted myself with. But the other, a band director, I feel someone could have done something about. What do you say about someone who runs out onto the practice field, grabs a students music, throws it to the ground, and sneers, "Mr [your name], You've dropped your music!" Or who barrels up into the ensemble, knocking over stands, to get in the face of someone. In the education courses I took, I've not found an endorsement of this method in any education philosophy. If you laughed at those two examples, I suggest to you that your own idea of education needs examination. I can only see how such methods do damage. Performance practice and musicianship can be taught in supportive and edifying ways. It is not a sign of weakness when a teacher maintains a calm demeanor and exhibits patience with students.

The minister I am responsible for. I had many opportunities to leave off (and eventually I did - I only wish I'd cut off from him sooner) and stayed too long. In the end his insults and passive aggressive behavior lost their effect. I began to understand that my own Christianity didn't need his approval. Describing some of his speech, the way he would speak to me, to my therapist some time ago, my therapist said, "perhaps if you'd asked him, at that time, how what he just said squared with his understanding of the gospel." And that was a real learning for me. Still, this minister took a pride in how much he didn't exemplify the gospel. Almost as if the orthodoxy of the theology he espoused exonerated him from scrutiny. I've seen a few others exhibit this behavior. They abuse and run roughshod over parishoners. They refer to people of other churches and faiths as fools, idiots or misguided.

What allows them to stay wielding the influence they do? The band director had some success - look at the excellent ratings and awards. The minister was surrounded by people who he didn't directly attack. It makes no sense to me how, even when the sadism or passive aggressiveness of such people is known, how much their behavior is laughed off. How people who leave are thought of as too sensitive or quitters or somehow not worthy. The ardent defense of bad teachers by good people who could help befuddles me. Perhaps they are cowed. Perhaps they too hope for some acknowledgement that they get the "drive to excellence" or "the integrity of orthodox defense of the gospel." Usually there is an ideal students and parishoners are being sacrificed for. 

I believe that teachers live out their subject. Not their words alone but their manner of life. They don't talk about the gospel of love - they live it. They don't talk muscianship, they live it. If the life is not there, all their talk is smokescreen for the life they live. 

I believe that as courage is the perfection of each virtue; so kindness is the perfection of each art. I seek kindness in my teachers. I seek kindness in myself. If, when I teach, I have not been kind, then I have not taught. I can think of times, when I was teaching, that in frustration, I have lashed out at my students. I know I've been unkind. I've indulged the privilege of orthodoxy or excellence or some ideal to demonstrate a student's short coming. Hence I am careful when I teach even a humble Sunday School class now. 

Does it seem the soul is being squeezed out of education today? I hope somehow it might be squeezed back in. But it is difficult: the soul doesn't show up on criterion reference tests. What rubric might be written for someone's soul. Does such a thing not exist? Perhaps if we spoke, as Lacan, of the gap in the subject. Could we even posit that? That no amount of positivism can eradicate unverifiability of what is a person's deep truth? 

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