COMING TO A CLASSROOM NEAR YOU: The Castle Called the Classroom
In Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, the European Kurtz establishes himself as a demigod among the African natives. Among these natives, Kurtz assumes absolute power. He reigns supreme. He lavishes in the worship until he recognizes that something has gone horribly wrong—“the horror…the horror.”
In classrooms all across America, teachers establish themselves as figures of authority among the students they teach. To many students, the teacher sometimes assumes a sense of power unparalleled to other authority figures in students’ lives—guardians, coaches, doctors or other professionals perhaps far more credentialed than the teacher in question. In short, there is an enormous amount of a power a teacher wields in his or her classroom and depending upon how the teacher manages that power, the learning experience for the student can be a benefit or a situation that has gone…horribly wrong.
Of course, the responsible, 1% more conscious teacher wields power with respect. S/he realizes on multiple levels how a teacher’s instruction, personality, and professionalism impact the degree to which students perform. When the door closes to the classroom, this kind of teacher takes the job seriously by adhering to the curriculum, by doing what is expected, and by making sure students learn. Unfortunately when the door to many classrooms close, these things don’t happen and this is primarily because of WHO the teacher is in that classroom.
The Kurtz teacher, a description I like to use, simply does what s/he wants. This type of teacher doesn’t wield power with respect and thus envisions the classroom—on some level—as a castle for a master of his/her domain—Seinfeld pun intended. Teachers fall into this category by either completely or partially ignoring the curriculum; by either giving the appearance of doing what is expected or simply disregarding what is expected; and/or by either barely caring about whether or not students learn—or the worst, not caring at all whether or not students learn—“the horror…the horror.”
Few people know that in education there is little accountability; once that classroom door closes, anything can happen. Teachers, even the new, untenured ones, are directly observed maybe 3-5 times during a 180-day school year. The tenured ones—another entry for another day—are observed less than that. And the sad truth of the matter is that in a school organization there’s no efficient, effective way to monitor teachers on a consistent, regular basis.
Without question, there are many excellent teachers out there who make student learning—rather than themselves, their egos and/or their agenda—come alive. However, it’s also important to note—and to make you aware—that there are far too many Kurtzs in classrooms either consciously or unconsciously abusing the power bestowed upon them in their domain.