A week after presenting at a Pennsylvania Writing & Literature Project graduate course, Grammar Matters, I received an envelope chock-full of thank you notes from the participants in the mail. Among the cards, one teacher wrote, "Thank you for helping me confront my own bias about grading."
That statement, confronting my own bias, energizes me.
Not that the note in any way, shape, or form validates any sense of right and wrong or who has the answers and who does not. To the contrary, it reminds me that I am and will forever be in that place as well--confronting my own bias. In other words, growing.
In ten years I will be able to see through the lens of further experience and exposure to mentors--and that kind of growth is invigorating. I am not afraid of knowing that I can, will, and should grow--even though I am twenty years in to the profession--actually, especially since I am twenty years into the profession.
I was reluctant to confront my own bias for far too many years. I did not reflect, read, or write. I simply taught. And I believed I was doing a good job. I wanted to do a good job. My intentions were sincere and from a good place. However, in retrospect, how paralyzing (even just reconsidering) that former mindset feels now. I was paralyzed within my own bias and I could not recognize it.
Side note: that bias includes more than grading. I have carried biases in writing, grammar, assessment, classroom management, reading, et al. Much of my bias came from not only how I was taught but also how I came to cope and learn.
A team of mentors helped me confront my bias. Donald Graves, one of those important mentors, never met me. But I meet him again and again through his writing. After reading the thank you notes today, I pulled out Writing: Teachers & Children at Work to read from Graves's valuable insights again.
What strikes me today in Writing: Teachers & Children at Work is that Graves tells us children want to write--even on the first day of school:
"Children want to write. They want to write the first day they attend school. This is no accident. Before they went to school they marked up walls, pavements, newspapers with crayons, chalk, pens or pencils...anything that makes a mark. The child's marks say, 'I am.'" (3)
This is the beauty of Graves in my world. He writes so many lines--let alone passages--which serve as a flashpoint--an invitation--for me to confront my own bias.
"We have all heard the groan in the classrooms, 'Do I have to copy it over?' This is the popular understanding of revision. Put a good manicure on a corpse. (4)"
We could go on and discuss Graves--and I hope I spend the rest of my career (and life) doing just that with colleagues (new and familiar). But here, today, I just want to point out that when I read Graves I not only find compelling statements, but also I find an educator who displayed humility and curiosity. take that lesson to heart.
I try to practice humility just as much as I try to practice his concrete teaching points on writing and children. Humility is not always easy, but it is a conscious choice. Graves knew he wasn't perfect, and he embraced the energy of humility (scary! thrilling!) in his life's work. Writing and children invited him to confront his own biases and therein made him feel alive in his work.
When people or experiences or places make us feel alive, we fall in love.
And so I appreciate the teacher who took the time to write to me in a note, "Thank you for helping me confront my own bias about grading." I imagine that kind of challenge made him feel alive and energized for September.
I am right there with him. Thank you, Jim. Have a wonderful year!
I am wondering what other experiences teachers have had which helped them feel alive, confront their own bias, or even fall in love with the craft of teaching and/or writing...