Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Two Kinds #SOL16

Join other slicers each Tuesday for the Slice of Life story challenge sponsored by the team at Two Writing Teachers. Thank you, ladies, for your hard work and commitment to authentic PD and writing opportunities. 
As I prepared a discussion on Amy Tan's "Two Kinds" from THE JOY LUCK CLUB, I thought about teaching and the kind of teacher I am, the kind of teacher I have been, and the kind of teacher I want to be. 

In Tan's story a Chinese mother embraces the idea of the American Dream and its promise that we can all grow up to be a Yankee without pause or question

After rejecting the idea her daughter could grow up to be a prodigy, a Chinese Shirley Temple, a restaurateur, etc., she settles on her daughter becoming a piano virtuoso and hires a deaf, visually impaired instructor to teach the child, our narrator.

Only when she must play at a recital does the reality of the girl's playing become apparent to all but the teacher, Mr. Chong. 

The idea of reducing teaching to a binary by asking which kind of teacher someone is the way the mother in TWO KINDS does with daughters, seems a bit reductive. 

"Only two kinds of daughters," she shouted in Chinese. 'Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!"

Can there only be two kinds of teachers? 

Throughout my career I've said that I want to be the kind of teacher I want for my own children. That has always framed my idea of the right kind of teacher. 

These days, indeed for many years now, I sense myself standing on one side of an invisible line that delineates one kind of teacher from the other. To illustrate, I think about the moment I was hired for my current job back in 1989. A VP at the time told my principal, "That's who you should hire if you want a winning debate team, but you need to know that she'll say what she thinks and do what she wants." 

I've spent my career fulfilling my former boss's prophecy. 

When a mandate seems illogical or unproductive or damaging to students, I look for ways to circumvent it. Nothing testifies to this as much as my rejection of test prep and canned curriculum. Yet in teaching AP Lit and Comp I must deal with a standardized test that I've come to consider vastly different from the state mandated bubbles and the accompanying materials that take the joy out of teaching and learning. 

The beginning of a new school year offers a clean slate, an opportunity to define and redefine our professional persona both in our classrooms and online. It's a time for taking stock of past mistakes, those moments that cacophony has replaced harmony in our lesson plans and units. To do that I can't be tone deaf to the contexts in which I teach. 

Today I thought about ways the political context has changed from that of last spring as my speech students learned about the nature of factual information. Although I've taught speech for many years, I realized I need to include a section of fact-checkers as it relates to political discourse. To omit this would mean I'm tone-deaf to at least one context in which I work and learn. 

As does the narrator in TWO KINDS, I'm looking back and thinking about the kinds of teacher I've been. I'm dusting off some unpolished lessons and tuning them up for a new audience, a new group of kids. I'm looking for the companion pieces that round out and complete the courses I teach. At times my students will play to "Pleading Child" repertoire and I'll try to match that with "Perfectly Contended" and we clank the keys through another school year. 


  1. Wow! Your honesty is a breath of fresh air. Thank you for sharing. You are the type of teacher that I hope to be one day. You voice your opinions and fight for your students when it is needed. This is the type of teacher I hope to be one day. I love you say that each year is a clean slate to define and redefine...These are such strong words. You seem to know that lesson plans have to be adapted to work for each new class that you are going to be getting. Is that through years of experience of gut instinct? Thank you so much for sharing!