The Martyr

I am an English teacher.

I would surmise that most, if not all, English teachers all suffer from a debilitating disease known as the “martyr” syndrome. At any point throughout the year, housed within our fashionable Oxford leather tote bags, we lug around stacks and stacks of essays or papers or writing tasks that absolutely must be marked. We mark in the evenings. We mark on the weekends. I even used to bring my marking to the mechanic, and I would mark while waiting for my car.

And we all get it. We all get that marking is “part of the job” and we can clearly see the tangible results when we design a good assessment with timely feedback. But what are we really creating in the long run? We are creating a population of students that buy into the idea of societal meritocracy: we tell you what to do and how to do it, and then we somehow measure how well you did it. Strangely, though, we are also continually surprised when they are disengaged or simply waiting for their teacher to tell them what they “should” be thinking. We’re not creating free-thinkers who question and explore; we’re creating minions who have learned to comply, because that’s how the system works.

Better yet – we boil a student’s entire year of progress and learning own into a single number or a letter grade. Perfect. Education in a nutshell.

Today, however, we sit precariously on the cusp of greatness. What I can only describe as a technological revolution is putting an immense amount of pressure on the age-old traditions of the educational landscape. Industry norms are changing at lightning fast speed, to the point where even the concept of “work,” “job” and “career” are totally different than they were five years ago. Don’t get me wrong, technology has its limits and this new reality we are creating is relatively unknown – but that doesn’t change the nature of our function as educators: which is to get students from point A to point B.

A wiser man than me once said: “if you don’t look back at yourself a year or two ago and think ‘jeez, I can’t believe I used to think that way,’ then you’re not learning or improving.” And this holds true to our teaching practices as well. What our students need and how they interact with the readings we assign, the project based assignments we give them, or even how they interpret their reports is not longer the same as it was a year ago. Too often we get stuck in what George Couros calls That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It [or TTWWADI for short] because that’s how we are wired – it’s the simplicity of the routine that calls to us on a primal level. Even I’ve said similar words to myself, late at night like a silent prayer to great Gods of the almighty curriculum. Marking papers and writing reports is no different – they give us the comfort of measurement – because if it can measured and counted, then clearly we have control over the situation.

So what happens when we question the establishment? What happens when we step out of our comfort zone(s) and into the harsh light of something new and unforeseen? That which is uncertain scares us the most, not so much because

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