I’d be the first to acknowledge how cruddy working conditions can eat away at one’s will to do their work well. But I don’t care to play the blaming game here! He did, she did, they did…. That game already makes one of two assumptions central. Since you’re playing the game you already acknowledge that you and/or others are not doing their job well and either in blaming the system adopt a causal understanding of your behaviour, or an evaluative stance which says because the system has failed teachers – which basically means that certain politicians who manage educational affairs have “unfairly treated” teachers, we are justified in not doing our jobs well.
Unless the argument from causality is also deterministic, it does little more than offer insights into the whys and hows of events. And though this can be helpful in developing policies to amend unhappy events and circumstance, it can sometimes scapegoat educators into the belief that they are not to blame for the dismal state of things. They too are just a cog in a machine, spinning in causal unison with everything else. But things could go another way. You may be politically motivated, and work for a cause instead. The cause may be social justice. Moved by your conviction that governments won’t be moved to address the ills that have befallen the educational system amongst an amicable and malleable faculty however, you refuse in principle to adopt creative methods to bypass obvious hindrances. You refuse to step down and you acquiesce. I won’t speak to the obvious paradox here, instead I will appeal to something Barry Schwart argued in his TedTalk Using Our Practical Wisdom dating back to Aristotle. Teaching is not simply something one does, nor is it just a job, it is who you are. Aristotle developed a system of ethics referred to as virtue ethics. This system stands and falls in the understanding that the chief and ultimate end of all human activity is happiness or what is better translated wellbeing or flourishing. “Happiness”, Aristotle says, “is the activity of the soul in accordance with virtue”. Happiness is about actualizing one’s potentialities in a manner geared towards acquiring a socio-professional functionary role to accommodate the needs of fellow citizens. The skills one acquires are, in fact, the virtues to which Aristotle refers. These are the skills or activities one would cultivate in oneself which together make you worthy of bearing the name, teacher, doctor, and care-taker. Being happy involves being moral; and being moral involves being happy. Actually Socrates argued that the pursuit of money and honours is not good but that a life of virtue makes money and all such things good for you. His point was not that money and honours are intrinsically bad nor still that a life of pleasure must be shunned in principle. However, desires, money and honours are all potentially corruptive and threaten to coerce one’s (moral) autonomy when not guided by virtue. My point?
Okay Elly you’ve really lost the thread this time. Pierson doesn’t mention Socrates, Aristotle, virtues or any of these other things you’ve gone off on. True. (Did I just speak of myself in the third person and…um…err….answer? Oh God!) Yet, what has always struck me in my understanding of virtue ethics is the relational implication or condition for all human activity as it is understood by both Plato and Aristotle. All professional activities are born out of human needs, whether natural and basic or luxurious and nonbasic. The farmer, cook and nutritionist satisfy the human need for nourishment, construction workers, architects, designers the need for shelter, doctors, pharmacists, and nurses the need for health. So here’s the thread. (See I’m still on the ball!) Teachers, Principals, Deans and Provosts attend to the need for knowledge and practical wisdom. All the crafts are contingent upon servicing, if you will, those individuals who are deficient in the respective service – ill health or ignorance. Doctors, teachers, farmers, nurses, architects and others assume their socio-professional functionary roles through the cultivation of their most prominent virtues or excellences which together constitute requisite skills for the optimal performance of said craft. Performing one’s craft is an extension of self, and acting for those in need is an opportunity to embody one’s virtues in action. The teacher-student relation is integral to living a happy or fulfilling human life as a teacher. Implementing your craft virtues is relationally determined which is to say that they are realized in practise, sensitive to the specificity of needs. Students are not just inanimate objects that teachers blindly and impersonally impose their skills on. Together teaching is brought to life, and the teacher fully optimizes her potentiality through creatively attending to the needs of her student.
So despite circumstances short of ideal, we teach anyway!