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Sunday, December 25, 2011

Schooling Practice: ignoring power-nurture conflicts

“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing -- Thomas J. Peters
New teachers worry about professionalism. They worry whether their peers, their superiors and even their students and their students’ parents will take them seriously. It’s a worry about being accorded the respect they think they deserve.

Why do they worry about respect? Because it gives them the authority they need to bring their students into the paths specified by the school’s curriculum. So they bolster that authority by following and preaching policies, rules and methods. And, behold, it generally works. They are acknowledged to be “the teacher.” And the students do “school activities” as they are bidden.

But teachers face, every day, day-in-and-day out, young, needy, human beings. The teacher’s inclinations are to slip into the role of counselor, parent, older sibling, friend. But then they would have to loosen, to give up on emphasizing policies, rules and methods. This undermines their authority, little enough as they have, and distracts from the stern demands of curriculum.

There are just too many individuals in their classes. And they confront, perhaps for the first time clearly in their lives, that fact that the idea of an “average student” is less a reality than an abstraction. Abstractions don’t have needs. Real kids do. The amount of individual attention parents want for their individual children is just not a possibility given even a small group.

So, to avoid the appearance of favoritism, or neglect, teachers -- often with heavy heart -- learn to apportion their attentions among their many students, knowing that some will find the teacher’s help hardly -- if at all -- nurturing; and others, almost an imposition.

Complicating this basic tension are official importunities that professionalism requires that teachers concern themselves, simultaneously, for special needs, gender, bullying, ethnic, cultural and personal differences among students. Missing any of these issues might result, during a professional observation by administration, in a less than satisfactory evaluation.

And there is also, the inescapable, often deep, moral dilemma: How much of the individual student’s comfort, freedom and self-esteem should be sacrificed, when necessary, for the good of the group?

For references and to examine these issues further, see Power in Schooling Practice: 
The Educational Dilemmas

--- EGR