Will or Skill?

I’m coming to the tail end of my second doctoral semester. Based on credits, I’ll be 20% done, though I assume and know it will get much harder. Hunter wants us to take four years to finish, and I plan to do so if at all possible, as much as I love studying. I honestly wish I could enter a bubble of rich educational discussion for a few hours every day, but that’s now how this works (that’s not how any of this works).

An interesting discussion occurred last night in my ELT/MLL class, wherein we were talking about something interesting called “Dynamic Language Learning Progressions,” which you can read more about here. It’s potentially very useful, and it breaks down language proficiency in a way that I hadn’t seen before (more descriptivist than many other tools, though not perfectly so), but of course it could be used poorly and simply serve as a way to categorize and other people, like all such tools can be. I’m sure the BEST Plus seemed like a good idea at the time, too. (I hate that test.)

But anyway, it got us talking about how, useful though it might be, it would genuinely take a lot of work to implement, even if supported by one’s administration and institution, an exceptionally large “if.” DLLP cannot simply be taken off the shelf and used, at least not effectively.

A classmate suggested, speaking more broadly about teaching skill but applying it to the specific conversation, that some simply can’t hack it in the classroom and wouldn’t be able to implement DLLP, or any complex change. Another person said it was a question of willingness to make the massive internal changes that are probably required for effective and empathetic instruction.

I’m not sure where I stand on all this.

I think that just about anyone can stand in front of a classroom and count the hours, days, years until they retire. That? That’s the people dragging the entire profession down. They can go. It’s really, really easy to be a mediocre teacher.

But is there anyone who is eager to learn and improve, year over year, questioning themselves and their methods but not to such an extent that they are paralyzed by fear, who still can’t teach effectively? And what does it even mean to teach effectively?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, and if people did, I think it would be common knowledge by now.

With that said, I think the will matters much more than the skill. I think it’s very hard to force someone to want something they don’t actually truly care about, but that if someone is intrinsically motivated, they can absolutely improve their skill, be it as subject matter experts or at anti-racist praxis. When you consider that my own interest lies in figuring out how to get people to identify and then lower their altruistic shield, I am clearly someone who believes improvement follows internal changes moreso than it does external impositions, though people do sometimes need a sharp nudge.

The reason I get so annoyed at obliviously racist educators (here come the “#notallteachers” people) is that, perhaps unwisely, I believe in most of us. If I didn’t believe in teachers on the whole, I think it would be pointless to try and make us better. That doesn’t mean I believe in our systems or our country, but I’m still trying to improve those, anyway. Might be stupid.

So I suppose I believe, at least for majoritized educators, that supporting our learners, truly seeing their humanity and lifting it up instead of consigning it to shame and silence, is a choice we must all make, and continue to make, day after day. I myself had to make this choice, and I continue to have to make it each time I’m challenged in the classroom.

After all, with the way technology is going, the only thing that’s going to keep us in the room is the connections we can make with our students, if we choose to care about such things.

We’re all capable if we want to be. But maybe I’m just being silly. It wouldn’t be the first time.