The Unmaking of a Teacher

I was sitting in a teacher’s room yesterday when a young teacher came in. He just had a lesson for his teacher’s training in which his supervisor observed him. The way this works is that you plan a lesson, meticulously, then you give the lesson and afterwards there is a discussion if you did well. The trainee teacher was optimistic at the beginning of this talk, obviously satisfied with the lesson. At the end of the talk, after about fifteen minutes where I partially eavesdropped on it in the teacher’s room, he had his head in his hands, slumped in his chair, defeated by the criticism he had to hear. Granted, I didn’t see his lesson and I don’t know him very well. Maybe he sucks as a teacher, maybe his plan was awful, maybe he is really delusional about his teaching abilities. But something about that progress from enthusiasm to slump stayed with me.

Of course, part of it is my own traumatic experience as a trainee teacher, that I will recount at some other time. Maybe I saw myself in that teacher because I’ve been through that humiliation and that deterioration many times in my two years of teachers training. But there was also something that showed me again what a terrible process this whole teacher training is and how much it fails to actually train teachers. You are told what to do by your supervisors and either you follow through with that or you fail. It’s not really about whether you’re a good teacher or not, or if you connect with your students or if you actually teach them something. It’s about making a good plan, following your instructions and having something on the blackboard, which students can copy in their exercise books. It’s about putting on a show, showing your tricks and impressing everyone. Not about actual teaching, not about your daily job. Seeing how that trainee teacher was deconstructed in front of my eyes, I couldn’t help but wonder again why we are doing this. It’s not to generate good teachers, that’s for sure. It’s, like everything else in our culture, about following authorities, about having control, about putting you into place.

Whenever I pass the table of trainee teachers (because they are all cobbled together there, so everyone sees they aren’t real teachers yet), I hear them talking about what is expected of them, which tasks they have to fulfill, which criticism they get. They are both destined to never follow their own vision (least of all develop one) and to become another frustrated teacher once they’re done, because they’re just happy to not having anyone looking over their shoulders. Which mostly leads to them becoming lazy and uninspired. If they ever had any spirit for teaching, it was very likely pressed out of them with each consecutive slump.

If I were in class, I would ask you to remind to tell you how I avoided that in my training and which battles I had to fight.