Actors? Seriously?

The other day I came across this on social media:

… teachers were born to perform. We are actors without stages. …. I have learned that my purpose is to pause the lives of my students for long enough that a line of poetry is the loudest sound they encounter during the day. … My master is not a test; it is the belief that minutes reading beautiful language will stir souls. I want my students to see that words are sacraments … It is possible to be cold-hearted and teach, but why do so? Students experience enough private pain some days to fill a lifetime. Literature can be the salve for a weary heart… Most literature we read will pass from their memory. Some works will stick. One poem might change them. It is a beautiful possibility that such an epiphany can occur in as mundane a place as a classroom. That same hope keeps me from burning out in a profession that is as exhausting as it is exhaustive. I hate how teachers are portrayed by politicians and education reformers; I hate how we are reduced to caricatures. By NICK RIPATRAZONE

Underneath it were comments about how this is what we teachers all strive for and what a wonderful piece of writing it is and how true and wonderful. Now, I’m not pugnacious by nature, so I just let it go. But here in the private space of my blog, where only a handful of people will read it, here is my response:

What twaddle.

I’m tempted to leave this post there, because I think that would be funny. But I won’t because that would be doing Nick Ripatrazone a disservice. I’ve since read his entire piece The Last English Teacher and I realise that what I read was an unfair representation of all that he’s saying. It’s a lovely piece and I’m sure that he’s exactly the sort of teacher that I would have wanted for myself and I do want for my children. In terms of our teaching I’m sure we are more alike than different. However, that first line “teachers were born to perform… We are actors without stages” troubles me greatly. Here’s my hot tip. If you want to be an actor, be an actor. If you want to be a teacher, stop inflicting your thespian fantasies on your students and start focusing on how they learn. Seeing yourself as an actor is putting yourself at the centre of the classroom. You’re saying “Watch me, kiddies. It’s all about me.” Now I often actually say this to my students ironically in the hope that they realise that I know I’m dominating the conversation and that we all know that’s wrong.

If I were capable of being the sort of teacher I think is perfect, my students would hardly know I was there. They wouldn’t look back on their schooling and think of the teacher at the front of the room performing for them. They’d look back and think about the great things they did. If there’s going to be an actor in my classroom, I want it to be one of my students. If we’re to continue with the drama metaphor, I think teachers should be producers. Producers make everything possible, but they shouldn’t be getting involved in the directing or acting unless something’s going wrong. Basically, my students’ performances should be the important things, not mine. And as a place full of people producing things that they have put their hearts into, I certainly don’t think the classroom should, or even could,  be described as mundane.

Since starting this post, two days ago, Aaron Davis has posted this wonderful piece in which he reminds me that I once wrote:

“I think the important thing is remembering that we’re all in this to help our students. So we’re all on the same team even when we disagree about the strategies we’re using to achieve what we want. So everything I read, whether it’s a tweet or a blog, I remember that the writer is coming from the same place as me.”

And I suspect I’ve been a bit harsh. I still think that what I wrote about my own classroom is right, however, I know that a school is a place where students come to learn from a variety of people and in a variety of ways, and if everyone was like me the world would be a very dull place indeed. So thank goodness for those teachers who perform for their classes. The world is a richer place for their presence. Thank goodness for Nick Ripatrazone.



3 thoughts on “Actors? Seriously?

    1. Thanks, Aaron. I think it’s all too complex to be summed up by a metaphor. We’re all working at what it means to be a teacher, and it changes every minute. Sometimes I’m lead learner, sometimes I’m just a learner, sometimes I’m the one who knows it all, and on some occasions I’m the disciplinarian. I think I need to be all these things on and off, but I hope that the students’ development is always at the centre. I’ll have a read of Jackie Gernstein when I have got my head around the International Criminal Court.

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