9.6.05

Personal Growth (and responsibility)

Earlier this week, one of my students brought me a book. This is a student that introduced me to a fantasy series earlier this year (much to the detriment of my wallet), and one that I introduced to Terry Prachett's Discworld (much to the detriment of his mother's wallet). So when he brought me this book, I was more than willing to read it. He handed it over with the words, "It really helped change my life." (Always amusing to hear that from a 9th grader!)

The Alchemist is vaguely in the magic realism/personal quest genre. I didn't find it life-changing, but I could see where someone younger might. It wasn't a bad read, just somewhat derivative. Oh well.

I'm not upset or concerned that the student thought I needed to have my life changed, either. I'm flattered when students want to share things that mean a lot to them, as long as they don't expect me to return the "favor" or to unreservedly accept these things into my life. This particular student didn't, and when we spoke about the book yesterday he was just happy I'd enjoyed the read.

However, I have colleagues that don't draw the distinction between personal and public revelation. I blog somewhat anonymously because I don't want to appear to speak for my school: the opinions here are in no way officially sanctioned. A blog that appears to be linked to the school would limit some of what I write, because of my responsibility to the school's name and ethos.

Similarly, when I speak with students, I'm constantly aware of the divide between an "official" opinion and a "personal" one. Here's an example. One of my students asked about the Bible, did we have any at the school? I said yes, and showed him where on the shelves they were (along with Korans, the Tao Te Ching, Dianetics, etc.). I also pointed out the different versions, how the annotated King James differs from The Good News and how both differ from the New Oxford Annotated. We then drifted into a discussion about the truth of the Bible. I said something to the effect that there are people that believe that the words are direct from God, while others believe they were divinely inspired but written by fallible men, still others believe that they're myths that illustrate truths about life, and so on. The challenge, I said, was to decide for yourself which you believe. Another student, listening, complimented me on presenting different views without giving away what I personally believe.

And that's critical: what I believe about religion, abortion, Terri Schiavo, the Curse of the Bambino are all personal beliefs and should not be shared with students. If and when I feel the need to shout those beliefs from the rooftops (as it were), I have this blog.

Other colleagues share information about their artificial insemination, the personal events going on in their lives, that Jesus is their best friend, that their experience with Landmark Forum allowed them to self-actualize and empowered them, among other topics. That's just wrong. Our job is to allow students to grow and widen their horizons, but when we talk about our personal beliefs, we cross that line into "official speak". Several students have told me how uncomfortable they feel in classes where Jesus or "right living" becomes a topic because they worry that their grade will suffer if they don't follow the teacher's lead.

The teacher that was changed by the Landmark Forum (EST for the 90s and 00s, for those of you old enough to remember EST) has even convinced two rather impressionable girls to spend three days in June at then next Forum session. I learned about this when they asked me to come with them (luckily, I have other commitments!). My immediate thought was "How very Jean Brodie", which was quickly followed by "nooooooooo". My feelings about the Forum aside, this is just wrong.

Schools are places for personal growth, and not only for the students entrusted to our care. But abusing our positions by giving them opinion dressed up as fact is just wrong. Much as blogging as a representative of the school while sharing personal feelings/experiences is wrong.

Sorry for the length of this rant, but it's one of the things I will not miss about this school and hope I don't find at the next.

1 comment:

Sherri said...

Don't apologize! You could have written more and still had plenty to say.

I've heard stories about this particular line being crossed before. There are teachers who, with the best of intentions, use their power of "authority" to put forth a personal agenda, one that may not necessarily be in a student's best interest. And there is always the fear that students who don't agree or at least pretend to agree with the teacher will suffer.

I have friends who are teachers and each of them (as far as I know, and with two I know pretty well) keep their personal livess OUT of the classroom. They take care not to be judges of things outside their classroom, or to be sure students know that their opinions are not on the final exam.

It is a fine thing to feel strongly about something in your life. However, I believe it is better to live as an example that students wish to emulate -- so that, perhaps, they seek you out and ask questions -- than to prosletyze them to mold them in your own image.