Sunday, March 3, 2013

Head or Heart? Why Must I Choose?

Recent events, John Thompson's recent blog, and my own reflections about the end of my teaching career have all combined to make me think about this dichotomy...head or heart? Which rules our teaching?

"No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship." I've heard this attributed to Ruby Payne and others, but it's actually James Comer who said it.The moment I read this quote, I instantly recognized its importance in my own life, both as a learner and a teacher. There it is -- the single most important element of my own academic life. I thought about my own schooling, and the teachers who touched me, inspired me, challenged me. They were the teachers who invested in me...who got to know me. That's what I strove for in my own teaching.

This is the way I've tried to conduct my career: build relationships. Give every student universal positive regard. Respect students first; earn their respect day-by-day with my actions and attitudes. Grade and respond to student work with honor. Find ways to encourage a little more. And then a little more. Support every attempt toward independent learning. Celebrate achievements. I hope my students see this in our work together.

That's the heart of my teaching -- but I am comfortable assessing, grading, holding students accountable for their learning. I enjoy writing test questions that will allow students to look at their own learning and articulate their strengths. I've used standardized tests to pinpoint areas of growth and areas of weakness. I track student growth and can diagnose concerns.

But, that's not what reformers mean by 'head' -- they want nothing but standardized tests, evaluation of teachers based on student tests, grading schools by tests. They want to throw out relationships and educator judgments. They want to make data king. This has begun to poison everything that happens in schools, and is stretching teachers' values to the utmost.

I have heard a school administrator chide teacher education programs for teaching preservice teachers all 'that developmental nonsense.' The administrator said, out loud, 'we have to get them to pass tests, we can't worry about development.' This leads to schools that cut recess for elementary students so they can do more test prep.

I know high schools are now telling parents that their children should take every AP class the schools offer, no matter what students' interests, passions, or aptitudes are. I've had a friend lament that if she doesn't push her child into all these classes, she'll be doing her child a disservice. This push isn't for the benefit of students. The more students enroll in AP and advanced classes, the better schools will 'look' in school evaluations.

School administrators are desperate to 'earn' high grades from the Oklahoma State Department of Education. They are saying things and doing things diametrically opposed to what they know about education, learning and teaching. Yet, they say them and they do them. They pressure teachers, who are forced to pressure students, to say and do that which we know is wrong. But we all feel trapped by those 'reformers' who value the head and not the heart...they even ignore educational research if it doesn't fit their scheme.

How do teachers and educators hold onto the bedrock values that have inspired and led us throughout our careers? How do we adjust to new times, and still hold onto these values? A friend said it best: "How do I weave my moral imperative with my will to survive?" How indeed.  How do we respond to the demands of the 'reformers' who pretend to care? How do we keep the climate in our classrooms and schools safe for learning?

I read the original piece linked to John's blog. I saw no evidence that Roterham gives a rip about kids...that he even KNOWS students. His 'heart' conflicts are abstract, amorphous. They're bogus. He doesn't look into the eyes of struggling students who are giving us their all. He doesn't listen to a mother doubt her own parenting. He doesn't sit with a teacher who struggles to do the right thing. He's comfortably ensconced in his ivory tower think tank...lamenting heart vs. head education. He has no idea what's it like to build a relationship with a young person, to watch her grow, to celebrate with her the small steps toward success. He'll never experience the joy of truly knowing a student, of being allowed into HIS heart. He'll never experience the deep satisfaction of knowing you've ended the day giving your students your best...your heart and your head.

Polonius was a blow-hard for sure in Hamlet. But he accidentally stumbled upon one of the most important truths for a life of honor: "To thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not be false to any man." That will be my touchstone. I will hold true.

So, for the last weeks of my career, I will let my head be ruled by my heart...I trust both. They, together, will lead me to the right decisions for thirty-eight years. They'll lead me to decisions that will allow me to sleep comfortably every night, knowing I did the best I could for every student and parent.


  1. Claudia,

    Thank you. And thank you for your service.

    You nailed it. So-called "reformers" will "never know the joy of truly knowing a student, of being allowed into HIS heart. He'll never know the deep satisfaction of knowing you've ended the day giving your students your best...your heart and your head."

    The kids know who is "for real" and what is bogus. Corporate funders can fool some adults about the humiliation on bubble-in "accountability." The students and we teachers know the real bond that comes from "the Heart."

  2. It was James Comer who said that, I believe. And it's the most important thing for teachers, principals, superintendents, board members, and policy-makers to remember every day when the bell rings. We can't let testing, rules, poor governance, apathy...anything deny us the relationships that are critical to impacting student learning.

  3. John AND Oked -- you both have helped me strengthen this piece. I'll do some revisions. Thank you for making me recognize my deep discontent, John...and Oked -- I've seen this quote attributed to several different people, but now I know!!

  4. You are a true hero. Great piece, and know that I admire what you've done for the kids you cared for. Congratulations on a fantastic career!

  5. Kris, thank you for your words. I'm going to savor every moment with my students.