Paley White Teacher Chapters 22 - End Keeping the Passion

Paley, V. G. (2000). White teacher. Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.


Reflection on Chapters 22 – End:


Two instances stood out to me that seemed similar in my own beliefs and philosophy. The first was when Paley talked about the multiple ways in which she would have the children engage with the text The Three Billy Goats Gruff. For instance not only would they read the story, but one day they would act it out in mime and another day they would use choral reading. Paley commented that she did this in response to one student’s, Claire’s, needs and desires. It seemed as if it was Paley’s way of differentiating the experience to meet Claire’s needs and desires and yet it was also benefitting other children. As I was reading this scenario, I began reminiscing to my own K-12 teaching days. During that time, I primarily taught sixth graders science and one of the concepts that I had to teach was mitosis. In order to help them embody the concept, I created the mitosis square dance and together we re-enacted the process through movement, dance, and song. While it is possible that my science colleagues might cringe hearing me say this because the experience was not inquiry-oriented science, I remember that the children really enjoyed the experience and seemed to have a better sense of cell division than just reading out of the textbook, which is what we had at the time. I believe in creating experiences for children that allow them to enjoy school and realize that fun and joy of learning.


In the next chapter, Paley talks about her experiences with Kenny and how Kenny was very active. Yet, outside of school or in the block center at school, essentially in places where Kenny could express himself using his body or objects, he was able to focus. However, when Kenny was asked to sit, he rebelled at those requests. If Paley had not been able to see Kenny in a setting outside of school, I wonder if she would have come to the same conclusion about him. Would she have seen the strengths that he has, the discipline and focus that he has when asked to perform one kind of task over another or would he simply be labeled as a student who misbehaved? I am amazed at the amount of time we ask children to sit and focus. The interpretation of high stakes testing and this climate of accountability seem to have driven us away from these creative expressions of movement, as in the case with Claire, and caused more seat time, which would inhibit us from seeing some of the strengths that some children bring to school, as in the case with Kenny. We would never ask adults to sit still and focus for as long as we ask children to do in a day, yet we ask this of kids and we are surprised when they fidget, we question their “engagement,” and we label their actions as misbehavior. 


I know that the purpose of the text was to get us thinking about culture and race, but it also illuminated for me some of the deeply held beliefs I have about teaching and learning. It saddens me sometimes when I think about what we have done to teaching and learning – we have let the tests bulldoze us over. I constantly question – is this the kind of education environment I want for my children? If the answer is no, I ask myself – what is my responsibility and how do I not get overwhelmed by the enormity of it? What is in my control and where can I engage in conversations to effect change? I hope that when they get to be school-aged, that their teachers will help instill in them a love of learning. I hope that tests will not squash this passion both for teachers and for children.