What I am not giving

I’m working on a book project about my teaching life (past, present and future). Most of my processing for this is happening in a green notebook and on my story blog. Occasionally, like right now, I’m posting about it here.

What does a book about my teaching life in which I attempt to offer up some of my ideas about teaching and learning and living an undisciplined life look like? How do I structure it in ways that avoid offering “advice” as an “Expert”? How do I share insight and knowledge without being arrogant or didactic?

These questions haunt me as I reflect on what sort of teaching book I want to write–what can I offer? who am I writing it for? who cares? Lately I’ve found that constructing pithy lists is helpful for sorting out my ideas and engaging in conversations with the ghosts that haunt me. So I decided to make a list of what I’m NOT giving (or least trying not to give) when I’m offering up my ideas about teaching and being undisciplined.

I am NOT Giving…

  • Advice
  • Permission
  • a Lecture
  • a Sales Pitch

ASIDE: In addition to engaging with persistent questions about authority, expertise and being the Teacher, this list is also a direct response to a recent suggestion by Elizabeth Gilbert that she was the hall monitor, giving out permission slips to women who needed them to be creative (she’s said this in many different interviews. Here’s one source).

I meet people who want to be doing interesting and creative things and they’re stuck,” she says. “Women especially seem to feel they need a permission slip from the principal’s office before they’re allowed to do anything, and I’m so happy to just be constantly writing those permission slips for everybody.

I’m the hall monitor: You have a pass and you have a pass and you have a pass,” she says, handing out imaginary passes. I’m very happy to have that be my job, or one of my jobs.

Yuck. As a teacher/guide/mentor, I’m not interested in granting permission. Why reinforce the power structure of an Authority figure who must say it’s okay? Why have a hall monitor? I’m probably not being entirely fair (or generous) to Gilbert here. In my defense, I did listen to a lengthy interview with her and I tried really, really hard to be open to her ideas. Repeatedly I found that her arrogance creeped in to her comments even (or especially) when she was attempting to be humble.

If the above list indicates what I am NOT giving, what is it that I AM giving? Here are some preliminary thoughts:

I AM Giving…

  • an Account of a teacher/person/thinker/troublemaker who is passionate about education
  • Proof that other ways of being/engaging/teaching are possible (not always successful or recommended, but possible)
  • an Invitation to engage, experiment, resist and unlearn unhealthy habits