The words “teacher” and “educator” bother me. The imagery that they both conjure – of a person providing knowledge in order for a bunch of people to receive it – has often frustrated me because it runs entirely counter to how I view education and learning. They are words that, honestly, fail to highlight the inherent collaboration involved in people truly learning and the ways in which we actually should be engaging with each other.
They are labels that are still imbued with hierarchy, control, and power. They are labels that still, for many people, denote authority over them and the ability to make arbitrary decisions over both their present and future. They are labels that can instil fear and anxiety in others, especially those who have felt abused or neglected by the system for simply existing.
Honestly, they are terms that feel completely separate from how I view both my role in and the purpose of educational and learning spaces.
When discussing elements of the school system that frustrate me, I often return to Paulo Freire. This time is no different, though he is by no means the first or only person to describe the phenomenon of ‘banking’ education. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he outlined the impacts of the defined roles of teachers and students in this model, stating:
Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the “banking” concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only as far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system.
Anyone who has participated in any level of compulsory schooling will most certainly remember encountering this method of “learning” in many, if not most, of their classroom experiences. Teachers will most certainly recognise this behaviour as an expectation in many of their schools, particularly with the recent focus on nonsensical concepts like the “achievement gap” and the excessive amount of content that many state curricula expect them to get through in a given year. This all occurs without the people who are supposedly “responsible for” creating the national guidelines determining what is and isn’t important without ever really deeming it necessary to talk with anyone involved, including the students.
They do, however, discuss all the ways in which students will “be behind” if they don’t participate in certain topics or subjects; they discuss all the ways in which not doing a specific class could impact their ability to access career paths many years in the future, even before many students have really had a chance to think about what they want to do in their life. And they love discussing all the ways that we need to discourage certain subjects and interests because they’re “not profitable” under our capitalist system. It doesn’t matter whether that student is interested in it or not; these requirements exist because someone says it should.
For the students, they are stuck in a system where they must memorise the information learned in those so-called “learning spaces” and regurgitate it as best they can, hoping that it’s enough for a teacher – a person who can make decisions that impact their futures using arbitrary and subjective criteria – to pass them.
In most cases, they aren’t actually learning.
There are far too many teachers who see their role in the classroom as an all-knowing “guide.” These people are difficult to escape; I have worked with far too many who saw themselves as the perfect expert on their subject, often refusing to acknowledge new information brought to them by their students or integrate a new way of thinking that was supplied to them by their colleagues. They often complain about how lazy students are, and they frequently refuse to acknowledge that the way they are “imparting knowledge” isn’t useful for everyone (and sometimes isn’t useful for anyone).
They see themselves as having all the knowledge on a subject, believing that they will pass it down to their students. This is probably why people mistakenly believe that our current education system is built around a single generational track. They think that one generation will teach another in order for it to continue on down the line for as long as we exist.
But that’s not how it works.
This overlooks the fact that education is so frequently intergenerational, which requires that our learning be collaborative and capable of encompassing multiple points of view. It ignores that we need to have nuance about what we learn because there will likely be more than two sides or possibilities and that we should refuse to believe that everything fits so snugly into some kind of enforced binary (like good and bad).
This “banking” method of education actively refuses to include and pushes back against including the much needed processes of deconstruction, analysis, and creativity. Instead, it opts for assuming that every problem has a “correct” answer, that the answer has already been found by another “perfect” expert, and rarely considers how that supposedly correct answer could potentially perpetuate harm against whole demographics of people.
It allows teachers to continue “teaching” even when students aren’t learning because they are “depositing” the information that students will later have to memorise in order to pass a range of tests.
However, it does not facilitate learning.
Calling myself a facilitator has definitely reshaped how I see my role in a classroom and in other educational spaces. I am not there to impart perfect knowledge because I do not have it. I’m not there to be a super-human encyclopedia who is capable of every skill because I cannot know everything.
I am there to facilitate learning by working with others to create an environment where everyone can be curious and is encouraged to explore their interests. I’m there because I believe people should have access to genuine educational and learning spaces that support them in their journey and accommodate their needs. I am there because I also want to learn and deeply respect the lessons that I have learned from other people, regardless of their age.
My role shouldn’t be to simply “deposit” specific knowledge according to a curriculum and assume that I know more than the people around me. It’s to model what it means to be curious, collaborative, and to recognise that learning is forever.
And I believe that facilitators do exactly that.
Yet there are a few reasons that I do like using the term ‘teacher’ (other than for clarity on a resumé that I’m forced to keep up-to-date whenever I need to apply for work): I like using it to highlight that it is possible to work within a system that you inherently disagree with and can actively or passively resist it at the same time (but that doesn’t mean the system is useful or that we should keep it). It is a helpful way to point out all the different ways in which you can work against aspects of the systems you disagree with, especially if you’re finding ways to combine the work you’re doing outside of it with elements of what you’re doing on the inside (including trying to expropriate resources from the inside to people on the outside).
And I especially like it because the apparently baffling contradiction of a “teacher who wants to abolish schools” is often a cause for curiosity and discussion, even if people often bristle at the idea of school abolition. The contradiction creates a space for people to stop and ask: “If you’re a teacher, how can you want to abolish where you work?” and “What would you replace schools with?”
But still, I don’t really want to be called a teacher because I want to work on facilitating learning and creating spaces where everyone can take turns sharing their knowledge and learning from others. I want to work with people to build a community space that understands that education and learning is far more than what we’re taught in schools.