Saturday, October 4, 2014

No Man is an Island

What a strange profession teaching is!  Though we pass our coworkers in the hall, eat with them at lunch, sit beside them at meetings and share supplies, joys and fears, our labor itself is solitary.  In five years of teaching at Yavapai, I’ve had only two colleagues in my classroom.  We’re accustomed to this                      
independence, some of us even celebrate it, but it’s certainly not the norm.  The bricklayer can view his buddy’s growing wall, the lawyer her opponent, the doctor his office partner –their techniques, feats, and foibles are all quite public to the profession. This is not the case with teaching.  Students filter in and out, but our peers do not.  At work, perhaps only the author is more isolated in her practice. 

The result of this is a sort of Galapagos evolution: over the years we adapt and improve but only within a very narrowly defined, self-determined ecosystem.  Yes, occasionally diversity washes up on our shores in the form of conferences, Academe articles, and 9x9x25 Challenges, but, for the most part, our pedagogy plays out in isolation.  This can create didactic dodos –creatures perfectly suited for their own environment but incapable of adapting to new challenges.  In a century thus far defined by ever-evolving technology, increased governmental attention, and administrative pressures, an inability to react and alter course may ultimately prove a genetic dead-end.   

So what’s the answer?  In a career that lends itself to professional sequestration, how do we promote  sustainable adaptation?  Easy.  We just need to introduce a little hybrid vigor.  Now, before you get all hot and bothered, realize that, for us, this means watching other teachers at work.  We need to get into their classrooms, attend their lectures, take their quizzes, complete their assignments, and then shamelessly incorporate anything of value into our own instruction. 

At some colleges this method of career development is institutionalized, but more often teachers have to seek it out on their own.  So let’s do more of that here at Yavapai.  Open your classroom to a colleague.  Take a course from a friend.  Join a MOOC.  Do anything collaborative –just don’t be a didactic dodo.

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