Over the past few years, I’ve thought a lot about the power of modeling. More specifically, I’ve chewed on the idea of ethical choices teachers make to model behaviors and beliefs they feel committed to sharing with youth. We know from our own childhood experience, and the response of children in our classrooms, how powerful role models and environment can be. In my teaching practice, I’ve made deliberate choices to model ethical behaviors connected to a strong sense of responsibility to not only share who I am, but to support personal and interpersonal actions I feel might adjust perceived imbalances in society. Most teachers make this commitment in one form or another. Some take this up through a collective engagement in a school mission and vision, framing the justice mission of the school, while others work against the stream to counter the very climate of the school with converse representations.
Theoretically, there is much debate as to the choices one makes when influencing or inspiring children. Often times, we know these decisions to be quite political. We hold the job of teacher and schooling as a coveted obligation, in which those inside and outside of the actual daily instances of classroom life debate as to how the educational purveyor should act and what they should demonstrate. We ask question as to whose knowledge is favored and on whose authority curriculum decisions are made. We hypothesize and shape the performance of teacher in an ongoing Mobius strip of verdicts. Meanwhile, the struggle for who and what we should say and do in the presence of children remains the most precious resource and viable space we contend for. We do this because we know the influential capacity of seeds planted.
There are few altruistic examples that stand out in my memory from a childhood that grabbed me with as much bite as those that were seared in trauma. For whatever reason, the troubling moments are often those I remember most. But looking past those sensational and urgent memories are very substantial and transformative moments that cut through to disrupt the strained ones. In many ways these came from watching adults do something against the grain. There were moments when these folks specifically named the act as unexpected or noteworthy as they brought me with them side by side. I recall specifically, many examples set by my father; the time he took my hand at his brother’s funeral to bring me to the front of the church- away from the censorship of babysitters- and let me see him cry, the Saturdays when he took me for grinders and soda and said don’t tell mom, the moment he told me he was getting clean, and the coffee commitments that followed when he attended twelve step meetings. I became aware of the way this new space in my Dad’s life so heavily contrasted the family spaces and dispositions we had occupied before. When adults do this, when they make a commitment to model and disrupt the normalized realm in which a child lives, it is certain that the impressions will endure. It wasn’t until years later, after rolling under waves of my own, that I would draw upon these memories to serve as possible examples of what I could choose to counter my own limitations.
Drawing this line of thought back to teaching, I think of the remarkably potent possibility that comes in everyday moments with children. I don’t believe these necessarily take place within the containment of school or the formality of curriculum. More importantly, it may be those experiences outside of formality, those modeled and appointed disruptions, that have worked as a kind of transformative pedagogy to uncover new ways of being and serve to surpass the weight of difficult memories and instances lived. That being said, I feel the teacher is living in a precarious, poetic, and political moment. They act as a purveyor of moments, some seemingly magical to the child, or perhaps even as a curator of impact. This is not to claim the child receives and learns only from transmission of the adult, but certainly to play with the theoretical possibilities further as we consider compelling examples of disruption in our own lives.