Saturday, September 13, 2014

My Thoughts on Vulnerability and Knowing Everything

Vulnerability Just Ahead 

Here's a question: How comfortable are you with the term "vulnerability"? Does this word make you cringe? Does it excite you? I am beginning to realize that I absolutely despise feeling vulnerable. I want to know the most, to be the best, to have it all together. I have worked hard to make sure that I am never in a situation where I feel that I don't have some sense of control. I tell my husband how to drive.  I bag my own groceries at the grocery store, because I know how I want them arranged. Everything in my house (and in my classroom) has a spot. I write lists of things to get done. I enjoy crossing items off those lists. I don't like people telling me what to do, or how to do it. I am in control.

And I wonder where this has all come from....

When I was a kid, I was incredibly disorganized and scatterbrained. I didn't do well in school. I didn't feel that I had any control over my own circumstances. I often stayed quiet in order to avoid seeming like an idiot. I never felt like I had everything together. I always looked forward to the day when I could do things my way. I looked forward to being an adult. As an adult, I will tell you that I enjoy my day to day life infinitely more than I enjoyed life as an adolescent (which is probably the case for 99.9% of adults). I am finally able to do things my way, to feel like I have things together

Upon entry into the teacher education program at RIC, I told myself that I needed to make sure to do whatever was necessary so that I'd "have it together," because, after all...teachers have it all together, right? When it comes to teaching, my desire to eliminate any sense of vulnerability has been a driving force.I stay up late trying to find ways to make lessons more interesting, and making sure that I know as much about the following day's topic of study as possible. Additionally, I stay up late attempting to micromanage each moment of class time for the following day. I always have a plan for those five minutes of down time. Again, I am in control. 

I will say that my desire to avoid vulnerability has been beneficial in some ways. It feels good to have a well run, orderly classroom. It feels good to know that students respect me. I've had a number of old students from last school year stopping by my classroom to say hello. We say hello in the hallways. I have not made myself so robotic that I am completely impersonal. However, I feel that I do run the risk of becoming more impersonal with students as the years continue. I think I'm at a point where I need to take a step back and be OK with some vulnerability in teaching and in life in general. 

The reason I chose to write about this topic this week is because I feel that Ayers' overall message is about becoming vulnerable. On pg. 115 he says "...if we already know everything, we are terrible students and bad teachers." My goal should not be to make sure I know everything, I need to be reminded of this again and again. My goal should be to reach students, to connect with them, to be on their level, to be vulnerable with them.

I once heard an older teacher say "the day that I say I know everything is the day I should retire." This is a good reminder, a good mantra as the school year begins. The one question I'm left with is how I go about doing this? How can I become more vulnerable? 



  1. Hey Brittany,

    You and I could not be more different in terms of vulnerability (I think). I will admit that there are times when I am truly confounded by any number of things that leave me in vulnerable positions as a teacher. On those days crawling into a hole and taking a long nap would be a fine activity. However, on many other days I look out at my students and with all the confidence that I have - make myself appear foolish in any number of ways including but not limited to singing, dancing, and admitting repeatedly that I have no idea what I might be doing, but that we are going to figure it out together. For me showing vulnerability is not the same as being vulnerable.

    Certainly, I maintain boundaries and put on the daddy pants when its time to be stern. However, for me it is important to be vulnerable ... believe it or not, even with my silliness I still get reports from other teachers that some of my students are "scared" of me. I fret to imagine how their learning would be affected if I was wicked rigid. Next time your students have a birthday make them a paper hat and in your best or worst possible voice sing them the birthday song.


  2. Hi Brittany,
    I can certainly relate to your feelings of wanting to have every minute of class time planned...I used to be like that when I first started teaching. It may be a little different for me because I teach older kids, but now, I look forward to that last five minutes if we finish early, because that's the time that I can go chat with some students about their game after school, or whats going on in their life. I have a chair next to my desk that many students just come and sit in throughout the day to have a quick chat. I know I have an administrator that would like us to teach bell to bell, but the reality is, at least in my eyes, teaching happens in simple conversations too. Do you think that you would be able to walk into class one day without brushing up on a topic, and refresh it in your mind alongside your students? I'm not sure if this would work for you, but if it would, I think it would be an interesting way to think about your learning versus their learning....together and not separate.

  3. Thanks Allie and Gabe for your constructive feedback. I think you guys have great suggestions. I also think that high school and middle school are very different and I'm not sure how these couple of suggestions would work at this age level. I really feel that middle school students need structure, so I think that piece of my classroom works well. Students understand the routine and it makes them feel safe and comfortable. I guess what I'm getting at is that I need to make my teaching more vulnerable and open, along with maintaining some sense of order. I think that my relationships with students are appropriate and as open as they can be when it comes to working with twelve year olds. I'm not sure that having students come and sit next to me would work at the middle school level, as most of the students might feel uncomfortable or awkward. I really try to remember student interests and hobbies and connect with them in the two minutes of down time here and there.

    Gabe, I'd also like to add that I don't know that the silly/goofy, "I don't know what I'm doing" character works much better for men. When men act this way they are seen as fun and playful. However, women who are silly/goofy and don't know what's going on are seen as out of touch and ditzy. I think this is a double standard in our society. How many female teachers have you ever had that behaved this way and were able to maintain the respect of their students?

    I think if we stick with the goal of this class (to become learner focused), my question would need to change to something along the lines of: "How can I make my teaching more flexible and open (vulnerable) in order to create an environment that supports all learners?"