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  • Writer's pictureErin

Intuitive teaching: Too good to be true?

I saw a video on Instagram the other day of a young woman out at a club standing behind the DJ booth. The screen read "Me at 2am on Monday." The scene was wild and lively and it looked like she was having a great time. Then, the screen changed after a few seconds: "Me at 7:30am on Monday," we see the same woman behind a desk holding a large iced coffee. She looks tired, but content, as she sings "Goooooood morning class!" and her young students sing it back to her.

I thought this video was amusing - I often laugh with my friends about living a "Hannah Montana double life" as a high school teacher and a 20-something who loves to go to parties and concerts - but I also thought it was wholesome. I loved that she was able to show up for her students with a smile on her face, even though most of us would have called out sick. I loved that she was choosing to live her life despite an early morning clock-in.

The people in the comments saw something very different. They berated her, and took down the entire American educational system along the way. Hundreds of viewers called her an irresponsible whore, drinking and sleeping around and going to work the next day (I think it goes without saying that there was no evidence of either in the video). People were so appalled by her actions, they couldn't believe a teacher would act out so lackadaisically, let alone put evidence of it on the internet. What if a child's parent saw it? She should be embarrassed, so she had to be admonished.

A harmless, seven-second video shows our collective's true opinion of public school teachers: we're not doing the job correctly unless we are giving every cell of our body away to it. To be a commendable teacher, it seems you cannot have any semblance of a leisurely life outside the school doors. Many people would prefer that we keep up the façade of sleeping at the school, abstaining from alcohol or sex, and not having friends or hobbies. If we do any of the former, we'd damn well better keep quiet about it. This is how teachers are meant to be seen - kids are not meant to know that we have lives outside of the school. If we ask ourselves why this is the case, we don't have to look far. Most of the history of American education features single young women or widowed older women as primary school teachers; since it was never a well-paying or highly respected career path, this was a good fit for women without husbands to make a living for themselves. In that position, however, one was expected to live abstinently and adhere to a solid moral code. After all, part of public education has always been to socialize young people and help sew that moral code into the fabric of the nation.

This is, in large part, still what we are meant to do no matter the age of the student. Even as I teach kids who are nearing adulthood, they are beginning to see the end of their youth and the intimidating responsibilities that come with "the real world." Hopefully by the time they get to me, they have learned basic manners, how to dress and feed themselves, how to be polite and respectful - but now it's time for the real stuff. They partially learn from me and my colleagues how to recover when they fuck up in relationships, how to genuinely say sorry, how to move on from people and situations that aren't good to them, and how to balance life and responsibility. Just as I do, as their teacher and potential role model. Teaching English through good books and potent lessons (when we're allowed to do so) also helps greatly with these conversations.

A candle burning on a bookshelf

The most beneficial thing I've found that we can do as teachers, role models, or adults in the room is to show our kids that this kind of learning is life-long. I'm 26 and I'm still fucking up. I'm still learning to say sorry, let go, and be a better human. What I believe people are starting to forget is that this kind of learning - collaborative, discursive, full of trial and error - is just as much a part of a teacher's job as teaching their core content. And when we aren't encouraged to do this - when politicians and districts restrict the books we can read, the conversations we can have, the hard topics we can touch - a detrimental imbalance occurs. Not only are we not getting to the heart of learning to be a successful human, but the teacher-student relationship can't truly form. We teachers become a separate entity; our lives appear much further away from the realities that the kids experience. When we are not able to relate, true learning cannot happen. We lose our kids and a part of our collective future.

I've decided this year that I am done tending to this landscape of American education. I don't want any part of it. It hurts too much to stand by while students don't get a proper education because we, as their mentors, are scared of the consequences of having a tough talk, teaching a controversial book, or pushing them past their comfort zone. We play the game awfully safe, and there is no growth in that safety net - only apathy and disconnection. This is where intuitive teaching comes in. Intuitive teaching is establishing a relationship first, but taking it deeper. It's being aware of the room and the collective energy to the point we can detect what needs to be discussed, what pace we should take things, and even when individual students need a change or structured support. Overall, it's the ability to look around and take stock of what is working for the kids, and what isn't. It's knowing that so much of what we are pushing for in modern education is simply NOT IT.

In practicing "reading the room," and in many cases, going alongside the lesson or perhaps even pushing it off to a more appropriate time, we begin to recognize what the kids need more of. As a collective, it's clear they need more time to socialize face to face, they need more structured containers to practice socializing in, they need more presence and more authenticity. We also begin to understand what they need less of - namely, technology reliance, regulations on what to read, tests and curriculum that burn through their desire to read, repetition and rote memorization that ruin their passion for a get the picture. Intuitive teaching is assessing the "more" and the "less," then actually giving them what they need more of and avoiding what they need less of to the best of our ability as that adult in the room.

Of course, as stated, many things get in the way of a teacher's ability to do this in 2023. In our current educational climate, many teachers are not trusted. Many parents want complete control of their child's education. Popular news networks over-exaggerate and often flat out lie about things being taught, which incites even more fear. With so much judgment and manipulation over false claims coming down on public school teachers, with so little pay and so few abilities to actually use our skills and expertise, intuitive teaching feels like a shot in the dark. We are not encouraged to be ourselves, but rather to stand closer to that 19th century devout and celibate schoolteacher. In this climate, we barely have the time or resources to properly create student-teacher relationships in the first place, even though this is something we are asked to do. This relationship, this career, and our curricula cannot be surface level if they are to be effective. We must find a way to dive down and reach the important stuff, no matter how confined or limited our powers may be.

There is only one way to do this, and it's to become the teacher who will rebel. We may or may not have the support of our administration to not practice exactly what the mandates say we should, so we stay quiet - quiet enough to hear and know what the students' needs really are. What stage of life are they in? What are they trying to explore, and what are they intrinsically curious about at this point in time? Provide those lessons for them by any means necessary.

I believe another aspect of education that we have collectively lost sight of is the fact that teachers are meant to serve the kids in our classrooms. Of course we listen to the desires of others - we have rules to follow and expectations to uphold. But at the end of the day, the students are our priority. We do the job for them and no one else. We listen to them as much as they are asked to listen to us. This is how true growth and learning occurs.

Three students reading and studying on a park bench outdoors

This past Thursday was the last day of school in my district - the last day of my third year teaching. It was by far the hardest year yet. There were moments I considered leaving the profession - it wasn't worth all the hurdles and mandates and hatred from a distance, from people who will never know me or my students. When this is the climate teachers step into on the daily, it's no wonder so many leave after only a few years. It's no wonder we're seeing teachers quit in record numbers. It's no wonder the public eye sees our nation's education declining, because we're forcing out the most qualified people to do the job! I see it all, I feel it all, and some days I want to give up.

But other days, I want to be the teacher who stood through it. I love the feeling of a quiet rebellion, leading my students through massive (but subtle) change that they may one day thank me for. More importantly, they'll go out into the world as better humans - better communicators, collaborators, workers, and communal members of society. They'll be confident and humble, they'll be present and motivated. The present issues of the American public school are disheartening, but they don't have to be. We, as educators, have the power of putting our energy where it matters most: OUR classroom and students. Listen to them, and ignore what doesn't serve them as much as we possibly can. In practicing this, we'll begin to see the light again.


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