I was sitting in the staffroom at lunchtime last week, chewing the fat both literally and figuratively, when I got the “student at the door for you” call. Usually it’s someone handing in work, or offering excuses for not doing so, but this time it was a sixth-form student that I’d taught in Year 9, but not since.
Exactly what prompted his visit, I don’t know, but it seemed he just wanted a general ‘picking my brains’ kind of chat. He was asking me how I got such a wide vocabulary (I recall when he was in my class he would always ask me the meaning if I used a word he didn’t know); what kind of things did I read; he’d heard I wrote some poetry (something of an exaggeration) and could he see some; what made me want to be a teacher. Over the course of just fifteen minutes or so we touched on theology, the new physics, politics and economics.
It was a conversation that was both a little flattering, but also challenging and somewhat humbling. I think one of my colleagues had pointed him my way to avoid having such a conversation himself. The young man was very apologetic about taking all my time when the bell went for afternoon classes, and was surprised when I told him that such conversations are one of the things that makes doing my job seem worthwhile. He obviously looked up to me as some kind of paragon of knowledge, but as I was talking I was acutely aware of how little I really know of many the topics he wanted to know about.
Engagement of that type: the building of relationship through sharing exciting and challenging ideas, and being challenged to substantiate and develop your own position, is at the core of what I think education should be be. Yet, as on that lunchtime, it seems to me that most of the formal structures and processes of education marginalise such engagement to the periphery. I don’t have conversations like that as often as I’d like in timetabled lessons, that for sure.
Feeling, as I often do, frustrated by my inability either to make myself work as effectively as possible within the system, or to bend it in the direction I believe it should go, has me thinking a lot about how others think and work (hence my voracious trawling around the edublogosphere of late) and about what I could do to make my strengths work for me and the people I live and work with, rather than continuing to feel and think like a parenthetical clause that remains open-ended, stacking further sub-clause within embedded clause, drifting further from the main text from which the bracket was opened.
Serendipitously I was thinking about the degree to which our personality type is fixed or malleable, and whether I’m just doomed to be the sort of person who reads and thinks a lot without doing much when one of the most inspirational edubloggers I’ve come across – Doug Belshaw – posted about the Myers-Briggs personality type profiles. I’ve done similar tests before and always come out as INFP – the ‘idealist’ or ‘dreamer’. I wonder, though, to what extent such tests are something of a self-fulfilling prophecy: whether I avoid the challenge of changing myself by answering the questions in such a way that my sense of self is simply reinforced. When I fail yet again to do the simple practical stuff that most people seem to find easy, I can just say – “Ah well; can’t be helped: I’m a dreamer, an idealist, a visionary.”
There does seem to be something in the personality type profiles, though. Unlike star-sign profiles, for example, I can’t read any of the other type profiles and uniformly go ‘yes – that’s me’ in the way that I do with descriptions of IFNP traits. The passage that most struck a chord with me from one of the type descriptions I read was:
The INFP needs to work on balancing their high ideals with the requirements of every day living. Without resolving this conflict, they will never be happy with themselves, and they may become confused and paralyzed about what to do with their lives.
I guess this blog is yet another attempt at finding a way of working through that sense of confusion and paralysis.
(An attempt at closing the parentheses…