Monday, March 7, 2016

Dismantle the Pedestals

It may appear from my blog posts that I never attend school on Fridays. This isn't true ... exactly. It just so happens that there was another fabulous learning opportunity that I had to participate in - the 2016 TDSB Beginning Teacher and Mentor Spring Conference. As a Mentor AQ alumni, my task was to act as room host to the fantastic presenters, including:
  • Janice Chisholm, Erika Lloyd, and Michael Mohammed, sharing "Digital Technologies"
  • Dr. Nicole West-Burns, and her session on "Race and Other Aspects of Social Identity"
  • Shevaun Ang and Nandanee Sawh, presenting "STEM in Action"
  • Alex Stamp, with his workshop "Drama and Oral Communication in French Class"
  • Mary Jane Huh, supporting learners with "Transforming Classroom Management" 
The hallways were also filled with marvelous educators working alongside the conference coordinators Jennifer Watt and Karen Murray. On Saturday, I was delighted to meet Zelia Capitao-Tavares, otherwise known as @ZeliaMCT. We had never met face to face before and it was electric to see how we enthusiastically exchanged current projects and events. Zelia's students were at a Student Mentor event also held at OISE the same day as the TDSB conference. There was only one "problem" with our interaction: Zelia said I was a superstar. When I tried to include Zelia in that category, she denied it, saying she just found ideas in different places and tried new things out. She then told me all about the businesses her Grade 6 students are creating, as well as the school-wide technology conference that the students (including kindergarteners!) will lead for the community. 

Zelia is inspirational and I was very surprised that she downplayed the things she does in her school. Maybe it's humility. Maybe it's a challenge to judge our own actions in comparison to others. Whatever the cause, Zelia indirectly encouraged me to tackle a secret agenda based on a pet peeve of mine - deconstructing the Superstar Teacher Mythos.
 It is okay to admire fellow educators, but placing certain individuals in an exalted category is unhealthy, in my opinion. After all, can rock stars interact with the general public? At the TDSB Beginning Teacher and Mentor Spring Conference, I shared learning spaces with some pretty impressive people - university professors and board program coordinators. I admired their accomplishments but if I placed them in a position too high above me, I would have felt unable to interact with them. If I applied the "super star" label to them, I might have become "star struck" - for who am I, just a lowly teacher-librarian, to speak to these highly educated individuals with degrees and book titles to their names? They talked with me like an equal, making conversation comfortable and possible. A few weeks ago, Dr. Dianne Oberg quibbled when using the term "mentor" and "protegee" in her address to the Treasure Mountain Canada attendees,because the words fail to demonstrate the reciprocal nature of this sort of learning relationship.

On Twitter, I'd often see #cuerockstar. CUE stands for Computer Using Educators (thank you Doug Robertson for explaining this to me), and they are learning camps for "rock star educators". I apologize if I am unjustly dismissing the work this organization does, but I want to problematize their use of the word "rock star". The definition is:

rock star

a rock-'n'-roll star or celebrity.
a star or celebrity in any field or profession, or anyone who is highly admired:
 TV chefs are the new rock stars.
My mom is a rock star! Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
rock star. (n.d.). Unabridged. Retrieved March 06, 2016 from website

This is just my amateur psychologist talking, based on my observations, but in my opinion, those who could be considered "rock stars" would not and do not use this word to describe themselves. If we use the rock star analogy, then who is on stage alongside the star, and who is in the audience? I remember hearing the term "EduRockStar" during a planning session for an event in the past and it really irritated me. For every well-known name, there are other educators that are doing similarly phenomenal work but with less fanfare. Getting an award or public recognition is nice but does not mean someone is a better teacher than someone else. Maybe he or she networks more? There certainly is a place for celebrating the achievements of educators and admiring their work, but is it possible to do it without labeling them a "rock star" or "super star"? This is not about being unable to accept compliments. People, especially educators, are gracious and kind. If you say something nice to me or about me, I will thank you. Just do me a favour - don't call me a rock star.

Let me give the last word on this to Zelia herself, who succinctly gets to the heart of the issue.

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