The Metamorphosis of a Teacher

This week’s guest post is penned by none other than THE Jorge Rodriguez. 1.jpgJorge is the captain and creator of the Voxcast, a part of the Physedagogy Team, and a Spark superhero. More importantly, I consider Jorge to be a friend and mentor. He pushes my thinking and is constantly challenging my thought process. I read this and was amazed at how clearly there is a parallel between philosophy and our teaching journeys. I hope this encourages you to reflect as it did me. Enjoy.

Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” To me, the implication of this statement is we should embrace challenge in our life in order to become better.  We should seek to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to find truth. If the chaos of challenge doesn’t kill us, it will make us stronger individuals; mentally, physically and spiritually. This is a profound idea.  More than what I bargained for when I started learning more about his work. However, as I reflect on my 13 years as a physical education teacher, I think about my journey and it reminds me of the “metamorphosis of man” that Nietzsche talks about in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Nietzsche suggests that evolution does not happen by accident, we must aspire to be more than what we are. This metamorphosis has three stages, the spirit to the camel, the camel to the lion and the lion to the child.  I believe that many teachers go through a similar change.

The spirit is the individual whose purpose is simply to get by. This could be the new teacher who struggles to deal with the complexities of the profession and seeks out a comfort zone.  This could also be the seasoned teacher that has found that comfort zone and has lived in it for years. The spirit represents the passive individual that takes little risk and generally tries to stay out of the spotlight. This teacher might do just enough to get by, reluctant to ruffle any feathers because of the fear of discomfort.  If we are to grow out of this stage as teachers, we must have the courage to rise to the challenges of our profession. We must equip ourselves with the power of knowledge by understanding the system we work in and embracing the challenges it offers.

The first transformation is from the spirit to the camel. The camel is a beast of burden. This teacher is happy to take on the weight of responsibility placed upon them by the system.  This teacher embraces the challenge and is willing to work within the confines of the school system. This teacher has a strong sense of duty and is eager to show his/her worth by working hard.  I see this teacher as someone that is married to the standards and grade level outcomes. In a traditional school system, this teacher can be a highly effective teacher. He/she works hard, teaches the content and does not challenge the system.  In many ways, this is highly desirable in a traditional setting.

The second transformation is from a camel to a lion.  This transformation requires self-reflection and questioning of the status quo.  Where the camel is comfortable working within the system, the lion seeks freedom above all things.  This teacher knows the standards well but rejects the idea of being limited by them. This teacher seeks liberation from external influences that are designed to bring value or worth.  This teacher seeks intrinsic motivation for themselves and their students. Teacher appraisal systems and student grades are not enough. Although the lion seeks liberation, the system is all this teacher knows and will tend to revert back to what is known. The challenge for the lion is creating from emptiness.  

The last transformation is from the lion to the child.  The child enters into a new beginning absent of the past.  A traditional school system may not allow for this type of transformation.  The child approaches the world uninterested in external answers or approval.  This teacher would primarily focus on play and the joy of learning for the sake of learning.  Although the child may not be easily attained, it can be something to aspire to.

In contrast, Zarathustra warns us of the last man.  The last man is seeking safety above all and lives to consume rather than create.  Zarathustra says, “One must still have chaos in oneself in order to give birth to a dancing star.”  The last man believes that order is the only way and therefore seeks standardization. In education, this is the unbalanced relationship with standardized testing.  This is the insistence in measuring all students in the same way and measuring success with compliance. This is hierarchical control under the guise of safety, where teachers and students learn not to take risks. This potential lives in all of us.  To counter this, we should live in a way that promotes self transformation through challenge.

Nietzsche suggests that evolution is not guided by accident or time, it is guided by aspiration and a will to become better.  We will not evolve as individuals if we do not aspire to be better. Time alone does not make us wise. Instead, we should aspire to be more.  We should aspire to see the world as a child, new and full of hope.

Response to this blog:

The stage of the spirit reminds me a lot of when I first started teaching and when my children were very young. ‘The spirit is the individual whose purpose is simply to get by.” Sometimes getting by is all we can muster. We battle family concerns, personal issues, economic forces, political winds and a variety of other influential occurrences.

For me, the change from the Spirit to the Camel is learning how the system works.” This teacher is happy to take on the weight of responsibility placed upon them by the system.”  I volunteered for various committees, starting holding pd, and ventured outside of Physical Education.

I turned from the Camel to the Lion once I realized the system was broken. “This transformation requires self-reflection and questioning of the status quo.” Our students were only valued as test scores and school was not enjoyable for them. My classes were run top down. My students were not finding the joy in movement because I was the only one creating the scenarios for them to move.

My last metamorphosis is the one that is occurring for me right now. I am currently moving from the Lion to the Child. “The child approaches the world uninterested in external answers or approval.” I am not looking for approval from anyone outside of my students. My evaluations carry little weight other than job security. The real feedback comes from my students. They are enjoying class more. This has created much better learning situations where everyone’s voice is valued.

I personally feel that SHAPE America is the Last Man in this philosophical identification. “The last man believes that order is the only way and therefore seeks standardization.” Our national organization is moving towards more standards, more testing, and a more nationalistic approach to teaching. It is our job to remind our state and national organizations that you work for us. We need more individual resources that will impact our lessons not more standardization of content. Create units for us that are outside of the traditional North American Eurocentric sports garbage we have been doing for years. Incorporate biking standards, skiiing standards, and swimming standards. No one is under the illusion that our students will master all of the standards that are out there. Create a boatload so we can a la carte them and create a personalized Quality Physical Education program.

The end.

Questions via Jorge Rodriguez:

  1. Nietzsche suggest that we should aspire to become more.  What should education aspire to do?
  2. What role does a HPE teacher have this evolution?
  3. Where do you see yourself as a teacher in the stages of metamorphosis?
  4. What is needed to help you evolve to the next stage?
  5. What would have to change in order to teach full of hope and joy, as a child?
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5 thoughts on “The Metamorphosis of a Teacher

  1. Joey Feith

    First of all, Justin thank you for sharing this!

    Jorge, your post was lovely and elegant. You managed to provoke real reflection (I actually stepped back after each paragraph to think on what you said) in as few words as necessary (something you don’t see a lot of these days… I’m terrible at it… exhibit A). I loved how you tied teaching and philosophy together in a way that wasn’t intimidating to me as the reader.

    Justin, you’re always willing to share this passion of yours in ways that are raw and unfiltered. That takes guts and – as someone who tends to let their own passion run wild at times – I really appreciate it.

    “The last man is seeking safety above all and lives to consume rather than create.” I noticed you’re asking a third party (SHAPE America) to create unit plans for you to consume. This builds on your similar request from a few weeks ago on Twitter. How many units do you teach in a year? I teach about 10-12 for each grade that I’m responsible for (four total). I’ve been at my current school for just under 4 years. I’d say I’m really confident/proud of about half of the units I teach. The other half still need work (I don’t find them as effective or as meaningful as I would like them to be). The process of creating these units, along with the success and failures of experimenting with them, has been the most monumental aspect of my own professional development. “[…], we should live in a way that promotes self transformation through challenge.” The creative process has pushed me to explore content, pedagogical models, good teaching practices, and my own teaching philosophy. It’s a lot of work, but it is work worth doing and I view it as my contribution to society (I sure as hell don’t teach for the pay!) “The challenge for the lion is creating from emptiness.”

    You’d like to see biking, skiing, swimming units in your program. Although there might not be standards or outcomes that are explicitly linked to those activities, that doesn’t mean that you cannot/should not include those activities in a standards-based program (look at outcomes related to challenge, enjoyment, health, self-expression, participation in physical activity, etc). Every teacher approaches their teaching with a different perspective and set of experiences. That’s a good thing: if every teacher is being creative in how they approach physical education, then we avoid creating (as a profession) a standard, uniform experience for our students.

    Over the years, I’ve come to view the standards/GLOs as a framework to help us plan and teach, not as a checklist that we NEED to cover (which you alluded to in your response “No one is under the illusion that our students will master all of the standards that are out there”). I use them to help me make sure that the scope of my program is hitting as many aspects of physical literacy as possible, not just the ones I’m comfortable with. I actually turned away from my own provincial competencies/outcomes as I felt that they were not broad enough. What is stopping you from looking outside of the SHAPE American Standards/GLOs box if you feel that they do not best serve your planning/students? I’m not from New Jersey, so I’m not sure what the requirements are in regards for teacher evaluation and grades. Are those contributing factors? You mentioned how your grades are just about job security, could that be changed? Is there a way to make final reporting more valuable to your students? Really, they should serve as feedback on where a student is in their learning… although I’m not going to pretend that that is how the education system is set up.

    I’ll say this flat out: I have not transformed from lion to child. I still have too much to learn before I think I’ll be able to. I’m fine with it: there are just aspects of being a master teacher that I have not internalized yet. Earlier in my career, I tried to rush the process. I’ve realized that understanding what it means to be excellent as a teacher first requires understanding yourself, fully and truly. I’m working on it.

    “It is our job to remind our state and national organizations that you work for us.” Do they really? The way I see it, our professional associations work for the betterment of the profession which we ALSO serve. Although we work at different levels, it is on us – as teachers – to help raise the bar for physical education by pursuing excellence in what we do. We ALL must do our part. If we pass the buck to someone else, that is a missed opportunity for self-responsibility, growth, and transformation.

    Thanks again for sharing!

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    1. slowchatpe Post author

      Joey,

      Thanks for reading and responding.
      Here are my answers for you.

      “What is stopping you from looking outside of the SHAPE American Standards/GLOs box if you feel that they do not best serve your planning/students?” Nothing is stopping me. That doesn’t mean that SHAPE can’t do better and create these GLO’s.

      “Is there a way to make final reporting more valuable to your students?” I am more process oriented than product oriented. I usee Seesaw to track their journey. The grade is nothing more than an extrinsic value pushed on them. They don’t care about the grade nor should they.

      “The way I see it, our professional associations work for the betterment of the profession which we ALSO serve. Although we work at different levels, it is on us – as teachers – to help raise the bar for physical education by pursuing excellence in what we do. ” We are the professional organizations. Too often we allow them to veer off controlled by those outside of the classroom. It’s not about passing the buck but understanding that our organizations are looked at as being the end all and be all in our field. It is incumbent on them to hear the voices of their constituents and adjust their course before they become obselete and OPEN, Physedagogy, and others fill in where there are large gaps.

      Again thanks for the response and the thought provoking questions.

      Justin

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      Reply
  2. Sarah Heidel

    I really love the transition from lion to child. It seems backwards, but completely makes sense, especially when looking through a physical education lens. Watching my 1.5 year old interact with the world aligns completely with the “focus on play and joy of learning”. She doesn’t care about what I tell her sha can or should do, she simply wants to do them and learn through movement. I have to remind myself to step back and serve only as a guide (and often a safety net – I have a little daredevil with no fear!). I long to bring that same joy and play to my teaching, and in the magical moments I actually do, my students flourish. The analogy of the child is the epitome of physical literacy in action. Thanks for the thought provoking post Jorge and Justin!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  3. Pingback: The PE Playbook – March 2018 Edition – drowningintheshallow

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