I spent this evening at a local university speaking with graduate students in education on the topic of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) at Gowanda. I had the privilege of joining Marvin L. Henchbarger, Executive Director of the Gay & Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York.
Readers may remember earlier posts on G-Town Talks about the evolution of this group, and more specifically, the evolution of my thoughts on the subject. Some might say it’s curious that I spoke with any authority on this topic when a few short months ago I was saying “I’m not sure what we’re going to do, but here’s a way that our students say they need us.” Marvin and I presented our ideas, we answered a few questions, and we talked to students at the end of the session.
What struck me tonight was the importance of the subject versus the relevance to the audience. I’m remembering Will Richardson’s recent post,The Next Generation of Teachers, that generated a terrific comment conversation concerning graduate students and the hope that they’ll take the lead with technology. As Marvin and I shared our experiences and thoughts on the GSA, I kept looking at our audience and thinking “they just want to get jobs, they’re not worried about the GSA or the use of technology or taking any risks. These kids just want to get hired somewhere and earn a living and they don’t want to do anything to screw that up.”
Again, I go back to the model of a teacher that we all have in our minds. I’m more convinced than ever that teaching requires risk takers, people with passion about something outside of the classroom, like their hockey team, the band they’ve been playing in for years, or fish. Teachers who want to challenge thinking in their students, who want them to think deeply. Teachers who ask hard questions and better yet, help students find the answers to questions none in the room can answer.
I just heard a collective gasp. What’s she thinking? Risk takers, challenging thinking? What if these new hires push kids to think differently than we do? What if they disagree? What if they find an answer that differs from mine? What if they’re inappropriate? And for my friends to the very near north, what if they do something just plain wrong? What if they lead kids astray, in the wrong direction?
Who decided what the right direction was anyway?
A few questions came, more out of kindness to the speakers than anything else. One young man, an English teacher in the making, asked what to do as the student teacher, in the cooperating teacher’s classroom, to stop “hurt comments”. I told him to step up, take the initiative, develop a presence, tell them you won’t have them talking like that on your watch. Others suggested he play it safe, don’t make waves. I understand why this was suggested, I truly do, but I still hate it. I just heard the collective gasp give way to the sound of those new teachers falling into line.
So there I stood in a room full of potential hires, waiting for the questions, the curiosity, the initiative, the spark. Those who didn’t have it need not apply in G-Town, because that’s what I’m hiring. Those who only want to play it safe, to keep their heads down, to do things the same way we’ve done them for the past 100 years, apply elsewhere. The teachers I have in G-Town are as willing as I’ve ever seen to at least “give it a go”, I can’t afford to hire new teachers who say “leave me in the status quo”.