English Teachers = POWER

[Response to Chapter 22 in Burke’s “The English Teacher’s Companion”]

I have to admit, this chapter really touched upon many of the things I know, but have not necessarily really thought about. Burke’s initial lines, “It is a courageous act to teach middle and high school English,” and “People often fear English teachers because we have so much power,” really resonated for me (440). At this point in my “teaching” career, I think I’m more caught up in the immediate how-to’s versus actually thinking about what I’m really doing (in the underlying, yet big picture scheme of things). I think Burke’s points are very valid:  helping students take ownership of their understanding of the world they live in is a powerful position, yet a courageous one because we are delving into realms of standards, stereotypes, and diversity and real-world issues. Thus, we really are creating the next generation of critical thinkers, analyzers, workers, etc.

As Burke talked about his mentor, Pat Hanlon, I have to admit his example really made me think of Dr. Kajder. [“She was willing to learn in the presence of her students, to invite them along on her own journey and, by modeling for them, to invite them to strike out on their own. She was willing to make mistakes in front of her students and me” (442).] I’m not just saying this to say it either. Especially after listening to her speech at VATE and hearing/seeing others’ reactions to what we have gone over in class…well, it just sort of hit me. We may feel like we are on overload right now, but the skills/tools/digified thingys she is teaching us really and truly CAN help in the classroom. And yes, I know new technology will come out and we will always have to change (or so we should!), BUT what we are learning right now is providing us with the foundation to build upon and feel more comfortable with experimenting down the road. Again, as Burke noted about his mentor, “Because she always pushed herself to do better, to learn more, to try it from a different angle, her students and I were willing to do the same” (442)…we really are so fortunate to have the mentor we have.

The other key points from this chapter that hit home for me included the parts where Burke talked about reflecting who we were as a student and taking some “me” time. Probably the most improtant “discovery” I have had this semester would be the realization that my students are not like me. I was that gasping teacher when they didn’t do their reading. However, I think it has motivated me to try to figure out the why’s. For example, channeling into different ways to think about how I could get that resistant student to be more engaged [think, active researcher here]. Also, one of my biggest struggles is to make sure that I give myself “me” time! Burke points out that this is critical to the success of the teacher and the students. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t expect to fully give our all to our students. We need that down time of reading something of our choice, of exercising, or of just sitting and watching the sunset — we can’t forget to push our understanding and critical thinking skills of the world around us if we want to truly help our students learn how to understand and think as well!


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