Dialectic Pedagogy and Teacher Appreciation

Dialectic Pedagogy and Teacher Appreciation

I was fortunate to serve a public-school district as a school administrator for 17 years.  Before that I worked as a high school English teacher, and I have continued to teach in some mode ever since.  As an administrator, I and my administrative colleagues tried to find ways to honor and reward our teachers, always bound by tight budgets and frantic schedules. The treats we offered included ink pens, planners, leave early passes, free lunches, and so on.  I don’t know that we ever paused to reflect or share stories, which I think is the essential theme of the concept and event we call Teacher Appreciation Week.  These thoughts come during a time when I think teachers and the hard, excellent work they do are often criticized or, at least, UN-Appreciated – but that’s another discussion.  I am pleased to be able now to pause and share reflections of my own recent experiences on the topic. 

It seems to me that the process of teacher appreciation emanates from two parallel phenomena.  The first is characterized by dialectic interactions between teachers and students in which we learn techniques to better serve them and our future students.   I’m calling this dialectic pedagogy.  The second is the more traditional process in which students express their appreciation to us for our service to them.  I offer personal examples of each below.

I recently finished teaching two on-ground freshman English courses over 16 weeks to road deputies and prison guards in a class that met weekly in a classroom at the county jail. The course is part of a program offered by the county sheriff to deputies and other law enforcement employees to earn an undergraduate degree.  The course curriculum focuses on the basic elements of writing, including grammar, punctuation, logic, organization, etc.  In addition, we read various pieces of fiction and non-fiction representing a variety of genres and diversity of authors and topics.   

I saw quickly that they were pretty good writers.  They constantly talked about how their sergeant grills them about demanding punctuation accuracy and logical precision when they write official reports of investigations and arrests.   When I began using their police reports as examples of these elements and told them of my interest in that application, they became even more eager to share, redacting identifying information, of course. In an example of pedagogical discovery, I learned that I could use police reports to teach various key elements of writing, including point of view, tense, punctuation, parallel structure, and organization.  I think this discovery presents an example of my appreciation for them and for dialectic pedagogy, symbiosis, and synergy.

Another example of teacher appreciation connected to the same group of students illustrates the more traditional concept of teacher appreciation.  At the end of the final class, a student pulled me aside to talk.  He is a burly, grizzled, middle age road cop, probably 6’3.’’  He told me that before he took my class, he didn't like poetry.  He said, "As a person who has never been a big fan of reading and frankly never took the time to comprehend what I was reading, this class enlightened me. I never was interested in reading because it did not keep my attention, but when you slow down and try to understand what is being said, it becomes more interesting." 

He said he liked Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall" so much, in fact, that he wrote his required research paper on the poem.  In the paper he discussed Frost’s theme of human self-constructed isolation. He reflected, "People use fences to keep people away and to protect them from unwanted contact which may put them in an uncomfortable position. I was a very private person for a long time and the guy who would build the fence and avoid people unless I wanted to talk to them. I was not like a hermit or anything; I just did not talk to people I did not know, unless they spoke to me first. My career now affords, and in some cases makes, me engage in conversation with people I do not know and in most cases do not want to talk to me."  

This is not the kind of guy one would think would be especially reflective or would warm to traditional poetry.  It seems to me, however, that this incident is an excellent example of the practical application of academic knowledge, a key focus of our work at UOP.  Frost observes in his poem, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” (l. 1).  As teachers, we strive to tear down walls and build relationships.  That mission captures the meaning and purpose of Teacher Appreciation Week.