Pajak, E. F. (2012). Willard Waller’s sociology of teaching reconsidered: “What does teaching do to teachers?”

Pajak, E. F. (2012). Willard Waller’s sociology of teaching reconsidered: “What does teaching do to teachers?” American Educational Research Journal, 49(6), 1182-1213.

*** LOVE THIS QUOTE *** “The truth is that the teacher is but another learner struggling to make meaning out of uncertainty” (p. 1204).

Summary: In this article, Pajak applies structural analysis and psychoanalytic interpretation to Willard Waller’s (1932/1976) depiction of teachers to offer a critique on current educational policy. He contends that Waller’s grim depictions of what schools and society do to teachers are still applicable today as policy makers adhere and prioritize their narcissism on teachers through current educational policy and reform. In conclusion, Pajak proposes that we need to reclaim the view that teacher/student relationships are the core of teaching and therefore, schools are “ living social organisms whose energy, spontaneity, and joy spring naturally from the vitality of students” (p. 1208). Current policy is literally killing our teachers and zapping creativity and spontaneity from their teaching. His wish –  “Instead of centralized policy mandates or imported programs that serve only to impose a deadening institutional formalism, schools need to become emotionally alive and responsive places that engage the human beings who inhabit them along multiple dimensions of experience” (p. 1208).

Important Quotes and Thoughts:

  • “According to anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1963), cultural institutions and myths often exhibit thematic patterns, which result from unconscious processes that provide an underlying structure for both. These patterns are referred to as a grammar or deep structure, terms that several researchers (e.g., Tyack & Tobin, 1994; Tye, 2000) have drawn upon to explain the exceptionally strong resistance to change exhibited by both educational practitioners and schools as organizations” (p. 1183).
  • “Theory and research related to narcissistic disturbances is used to interpret themes in Waller’s (1932/1976) narrative as demonstrating that social and occupational constraints imposed on teachers in the 1930s elicited narcissistic psychological processes that distorted teachers’ identities by reinforcing a ‘false self’ preoccupied with perfection and incapable of authentic human interaction. These forces generated an institutional formalism in schools, which placed the interest of adults before those of children, thereby stifling spontaneity, creativity, and vitality in the classroom. Alleviation of the most egregious constraints on teachers in recent decades is shown to have made scant difference, because social restrictions have been replaced by prescriptive institutional policies that result in similar outcomes” (p. 1183).
  • “A central question guiding Waller’s (1932/1976) study was: What does teaching do to teachers? He believed that the behaviors required by an occupation could affect and shape the inner lives of individuals and that the situational context of the teacher role in the 1930s resulted in a constellation of character traits that manifested in a specific personality configuration related to prevailing stereotypes. An important role that is played repeatedly, he suggested, may be supplemented by behavioral patterns that reinforce it and eventually come to drive the entire personality. The behavioral responses that teachers developed as a result of interacting with students, for example, became traits or components of the teacher’s personality that were internalized at an unconscious level and represented a major influence shaping it” (p. 1185). MY THOUGHTS – Ask the parallel questions related to teacher education and supervision – What does supervision do to teachers? And likewise, What does supervision do to supervisors?
  • Waller believed that teaching could only be learned through teaching and not by observing others or from a textbook.
  • “Lending meaning to these fictional depictions, Hess (2003) recently introduced the term narcissistic pedagogy to describe teaching that is centered ‘disproportionately on the needs of the teachers – especially the need for admiration’ (p. 127). She observes as well that the myth of Narcissus ‘at times, uncannily, reflects the dynamics of narcissistic pedagogy’ (p. 129), which occurs when a teacher experiences students as an extension or part of himself or herself, rather than as independent centers of motivation and activity, and ‘reflects teaching processes and classroom dynamics that consistently and pervasively reflect narcissistic patterns’ (p. 130)” (p. 1189). MY THOUGHTS – connect narcissistic pedagogy to supervision.
  • “As with Ovid’s hint of possible redemption for Narcissus through transformation and consistent with Tiresia’s prophecy, Hess (2003) suggests ‘that the death of narcissistic pedagogy comes from self-knowledge’ (p. 136)” (p. 1189).
  • “Communities that employed teachers in the 1930s isolated them ritualistically by making them carriers of time-worn values and by ‘imposing humbling restrictions’ on their personal lives (Waller, 1932/1976, p. 49). Thus, becoming a teacher involved more than simply joining the ranks of an occupation. Being a teacher implied holding a special position or status in society with symbolic meaning attached. The community never really got to now the person because it insisted on regarding the teacher ‘as something more than a god and something less than a man’ (Waller, 1932/1976, p. 49). Teachers, likewise, never understood what others in the community were really like because everyone remained on guard when the teacher was present and behaved differently when they knew the teacher was watching. It might be said that teachers were thereby denied the chance to ever fully know themselves” (p. 1190). MY THOUGHTS – What rigidity are we prescribing on PSTs’ personalities in our teacher preparation curriculum? Do they ever get to know themselves?
  • “The deferential respect heaped upon teachers by the community contributed to an exaggerated sense of pride that was both fragile and false, but which teachers always stood ready to defend. The energy spent on maintaining their poise eventually paralyzed the spontaneity and cut off teachers from normal communication with others” (p. 1191).
  • “The necessity of such rapid adaptation while simultaneously maintaining authority, along with an excessive devotion to perfection and absence of empathy, resulted in an eventual hardening of the teacher’s temperament, demeanor, and facial expression” (p. 1193). MY THOUGHTS – I can see parallels to parenting as well.
  • “Waller went so far as to suggest that the happiest and most successful teachers may be those who had not entirely left their own adolescence behind” (p. 1195). MY THOUGHTS – Again, I can see parallels to parenting as well.
  • “Waller (1932/1976) alluded to a ‘peculiar blight’ that gradually crept over the teacher mind, devouring its capacity for creativity and destroying adaptability (p. 391). A major source of this inflexibility, he suggested, was the authority role of teacher, which over the long run ‘eats up the friendly role, or absorbs so much of the personality that nothing is left for friendliness to fatten upon’ (Waller, 1932/1976, p. 386). In the end, teachers had to gain and hold ‘personal ascendancy’ and force the students to adapt to their will (Waller, 1932/1976, p. 383). The result for the teacher, as with Narcissus, was dissolution of vitality and the essential self” (p. 1196).
  • Scholars have sought to identify a “true” teaching personality but have continuously failed in the attempt. “Lortie (1975) cites [Getzels and Jackson’s (1963) Handbook of Research on Teaching] review to establish that no research ‘justifies the concept of a single personality type among teachers’ (p. 27) and later, ‘that efforts to find a single teacher personality have not been successful’ (p. 53). Despite the protestations, Lortie does seem to hedge a bit by acknowledging that the processes of teacher ‘recruitment, socialization, and the system of rewards’ that characterize the teaching role tend to foster particular common ‘outlooks’ (p. 207) or ‘orientations’ among teachers, namely, ‘conservatism, individualism, and presentism’ (p. 208), a conclusion that is consistent with Waller’s findings” (p. 1197).
  • “Freud (1911/1975) described narcissism as a naturally occurring stage in human development, a ‘half-way phase between auto-eroticism and object-love’ (p. 61), during which time an infant experiences itself and external reality as a perfect whole. The infant exists suspended in this unified world with everything in harmony and itself at the very center. This illusion does not necessarily end with infancy, according to Freud: ‘It appears that many people linger unusually long in this condition, and that many of its features are carried over by them into the later stages of their development’ (p. 61)” (p. 1198). MY THOUGHTS – Does narcissism exist as a naturally occurring stage in teacher development and in teacher educator development?
  • “Although the origins of narcissistic disturbances are traditionally assumed to be rooted in experiences associated with early infancy, professor of psychiatry, Robert Millman, recently coined the term acquired situational narcissism to describe a pattern of behavior that is triggered by the social context in which an individual functions (Sherrill, 2001). Those who attain celebrity status, he proposes, may begin to behave narcissistically as a result of fame, public attention, and adulation of fans. The special status accorded them elicits symptoms such as self-absorption, grandiose fantasies, rage, feelings of invulnerability, and lack of empathy” (p. 1198).
  • “Lowen (1985) describes pathological narcissism as including a spectrum of behaviors that resemble those mentioned by Waller (1932/1976), including displays of exaggerated pride, insistence on perfection, difficulty relating to other people, alternative experiences of grandiosity and worthlessness, a conviction that others are watching and talking about one because of one’s importance, and consideration of oneself as superior to others or special’ (pp. 1198-1199). “Pathologically narcissistic individuals become preoccupied with external appearances at the expense of their inner being, which is neglected, and become as insensitive to their own real needs as they are to the needs of others” (p. 1199).
  • “Because the false self is necessarily infallible, narcissists cannot accept views that differ from their own and may take refuge in vocabulary, ideas, and theories, both to prove their superiority and to distance themselves from others (Lowen, 1985). Yet, because they rely on others as members of an admiring audience to bolster their fragile self-image and provide constant confirmation of their perfection, narcissists strive at all tiems to be the center of attention. According to Golomb (1993), they also keep their self-images inflated by finding flaws in everyone else around them, especially children. Children are considered inherently flawed because they lack the qualities of adults and are therefore viewed as needing correction and are subjected to forms of teaching aimed at bringing them into line with the narcissist’s ideal of perfection (Golomb, 1993)” (pp. 1199 – 1200).
  • “Not only was this institutional formalism detrimental to children, Waller (1932/1976) notes, the attitude required for constantly judging and grading other people’s work further inhibited the teacher’s growth. Rating another’s performance requires having in mind ‘a very definite idea of the perfect performance’ against which to measure (p. 393). The intellectual rigidity required for rating performance in this manner is less beneficial to teacher’s mental health than trying to sincerely appreciate another person’s ‘groping’ progress as they strive to achieve personal definitions of success (p. 393). This absence of empathy for learners and their struggles as people also undermined the teacher’s own creative powers (p. 394)” (p. 1200).
  • “While it is true that teachers today are less susceptible to the pernicious social sanctions of local communities, Pinar (2004) observes hat their identities still do not belong to them. Rather, teacher identities are not influenced and partly shaped by the conscious and unconscious expectations, preconceptions, and fantasies of students, parents, administrators, politicians, corporate CEOs, and policymakers. Moreover, Pinar links a prevailing cultural narcissism in the United States with reform-minded politicians who project blame for society’s ills onto teachers and schools, allowing them to forget their own culpability for student failure as well as the historic culpability of the institutions they represent” (p. 1201).
  • “Learning does not proceed ‘through linear progression, but through breakthroughs, leaps, discontinuities, regressions, and deferred action,’ according to Lacan, a fat that directly challenges ‘the traditional pedagogical belief in intellectual perfectibility. . . the view of learning as a simple one way road from ignorance to knowledge’ (Felman, 1982, p. 27). Rather than, the transmission of ready-made knowledge,’ teaching actually involves ‘the creation of an original’ disposition to learn (Felman, 1982, p. 31). Instead of a ‘substance’ that is passed from one who knows to another who does not, knowledge arises from a conversation ‘between two partially unconscious speeches which both say more than they know’ (Felman, 1982, p. 33)” (p. 1203).
  • “The individual then pursues this misrecognized illusion of completeness, trying to recreate the sense of unified wholeness throughout his or her life, while struggling to maintain and protect this false-but-perfect self-image by desperately seeking to control the discourse at all times” (p. 1204).
  • “In the master discourse of this school system, the desire to be right about any phenomenon – to close out doubt – makes labeling more important than paying heed to the effects produced on a child named ‘disabled’ put under the weight of this signified and this gaze. The master discourse might be seen as a contemporary version of the evil eye, because it carves permanent wounds on young lives (Ragland, 1996, p. 140)” (p. 1204).
  • “Because the unconscious establishes that psychoanalysis and teaching are always tentative and can never be certain, Lacan (2008) advises that we accept the inevitable fact that every lesson ‘is an experiment’ (p. 48). By extension, this implies that every lesson plan is a hypothesis that the teacher as researcher tests, refines, and retests in the laboratory of the classroom every day. Successful teachers, working as true scientists, make adjustments along the way for what they learn about the students, about the learning process, and about themselves, in pursuit of an ephemeral truth that can change as often as one moment to the next” (p. 1205). MY THOUGHTS – This reminds me of Jim Nolan’s portrayal of lesson planning as inquiry.
  • “The recurring fluidity and rigidity that characterize the discourse between teachers and students in the classroom may then be understood as a reciprocal fragmentation and cohesion of self and of the classroom group as the teacher alternately mirrors students’ grandiosity and serves as an idealized figure of perfection (Pajak, 1981a). Such mutual mirroring and idealization, it should e noted, honors and nurtures the healthy narcissism of the teacher and students without exalting the dysfunctional narcissistic illusions of either” (p. 1206). MY THOUGHTS – I think this is true in supervision as well.
  • “By validating the key role played by emotions in the transference relationship between teachers and students, and recognizing the unconscious as a source of creativity, these recent discoveries offer an opportunity to reclaim the view of schools as living social organisms whose energy, spontaneity, and joy spring naturally from the vitality of students. Instead of centralized policy mandates or imported programs that serve only to impose a deadening institutional formalism, schools need to become emotionally alive and responsive places that engage the human beings who inhabit them along multiple dimensions of experience” (p. 1208).