Sunday, August 12, 2007

Daylight 04

I've spent more than a decade at my current workplace. It's a somewhat more permanent temporary home than most. Much of that is due to the people – colleagues, adjunct staff, other adults; most of all, the students who pass through the millrace. Some people treat the job as just a job; this is to be expected, because to some people, it really is. Some people draw a solid line between professional and personal lives, which is ethically ideal to them.

I think that's not possible. It is unethical to have teacher-student relationships which do not partake of the personal. There. I've said it. This is because the profession and calling of the teacher are inextricable from the ministry of caring. Teaching, the art of shaping a contrary mind, is by nature intensely personal. It isn't like engineering, in which no person-person interface needs to be deployed, and in which humans need not communicate directly.

That's not to say that a teacher cannot keep a professional distance or make professional decisions. But it is true, by the nature of things, that these actions must be explained in professional terms with full awareness of the personal considerations which might develop from them or which are intrinsic to them. And so I have to say that I cannot be a friend to my students until they graduate, while being friendly and encouraging and knowing that I have invested emotionally in them. I am de facto a friend, but I cannot advertise it or even demonstrate it at times. That will have to wait.

It is sad to be unable to return what I have so often been granted by the grace of my students. But I try to compensate for it, and I hope that sometimes it comes close.


Here is my fourth decade, which has just passed on.

I became a head very much against my own will at the end of 1996. 1997 then, for me, was traumatic and vastly irritating. I attempted to climb down at the end of the year and was told that I shouldn't, as I was doing a good job. It is interesting to see what that translates to in the minds of men. It was in that year that I was told to keep a professional distance from my colleagues, to spend time with the 'right people', and to increase my exposure in the 'right ways'. I felt that these were some sort of pseudo-Confucian-Buddhist instructions and ignored them.

My personal ethics, of course, made things awkward. I never took any of the staff I appraised out for a meal, whether singly or in groups. I gave them all presents, each and every one, every year. I pushed for bonuses and rewards whenever they deserved it. I ran the largest department in the country, doing all the paperwork and writing endless position papers. And I hated every minute of it. It was all about administration, you see, and that's not my gift. And so, a quick digression.

The gift of administration is the talent for instinctively seeking and finding the best possible way to simplify the job for other people. An excellent administrator makes life easier while achieving or surpassing the required objectives. An effective administrator achieves or surpasses the objectives, but might not make life easier. An exacting administrator makes life hard enough so that the objectives will be achieved at the very least. And an egregious administrator makes the work harder than it has to be and is unclear about exactly what the objectives are. I was effective, but not better than that. I don't have much of the gift, if at all.

I earned my Master's degree in 1999 and did lots of amazing and wonderful things (well, looking back , I can see how they weren't really that great, but they seemed that way to me) for the next five years. At the end of 2004, my time was up. I returned to the ranks of the teachers, no longer a head of the game. 2005 was the happiest year of my life in the school.

For two years now, I have been largely policy-free, largely administration-free. I have worked with true gems of colleagues, brilliant diamonds and resilient sapphires, tough jades and lustrous pearls. I caught up with my professional life, while (I hope) remaining an asset to the place in which I live and work and have my being.

Most importantly, I continue to find more time for students. My brain is at their service while it still contains enough connections to be of use. Of course, I will continue to infuriate people. I cannot help it; we are enjoined not to conform to the pattern of this world. And perhaps, those of you who read this will see me with kinder eyes, understanding that the pattern can indeed be broken, and I have done that in at least one way through the gifts I've been given.

You who have your own gifts, your vast and unexplored worlds of talent, break the pattern in your own way. And someday if you should be in a tavern in Marrakesh or Dublin, lift a glass to my memory – if that memory was kind to you.

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Anonymous Jiesheng said...

Ah, the ideal Teacher-student relationship (TSR). I place my own thought on this over here for the benefit of your students and other readers:
(Do not that it is not an attack on any individual or system, but wishful thinking)

Coming back, I will just say that this form of TSR wasn't exactly evident in my days in the present "home" as described above. Perhaps culture has changed over time, perhaps relationships were shaped differently.

Still, I'm curious. Do you think that TSRs then bend towards the personal can exist in all cases?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 12:50:00 am  

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