Power and Authority in Teaching and Learning

I absolutely loved reading this article and recommend all to read! It is a personal narrative of Nicole E. Green, with some notable quotes from Paulo Freire and Ira Shor!

Green, Nicole. (November 2010). Teaching (Dis)Abled: Reflections on Teaching, Learning, Power and Classroom Community. Retrieved September 26, 2015 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/25790040.pdf?acceptTC=true

Summary (short and sweet):
“Teaching (Dis)Abled: Reflections on Teaching, Learning, Power, and Classroom Community” is a first-person narrative by Nicole E. Green, that recounts what she learned from her life experience as a student with visual impairment to ensure her own students are empowered.
As a student, her teachers saw her disability and suggest she close doors for herself, instead of adapting courses so she is also able to participate (p. 87). Fortunately she also had teachers who used their position of power to provide her with adaptations that allowed her a more accessible education, and ultimately, empowerment (p. 88). She could not read texts without squinting considerably (therefore taking a lot of extra time), and so one of her professors “arrived in class with six cassette tapes filled with recordings of himself at home reading the texts aloud” (p. 88).
During her time as an intern, Green met Erin, a student who was spoken “about” instead of “to”. Her cooperating teacher and special education teacher were trying to help Erin, but ironically they were also oppressing her by not including her as an equal part in the conversation about herself, let alone letting her know she was doing things well (she didn’t just have things to work on)!
Green sees her vision impairment as an asset, instead of a liability, in her journey as a teacher, because it helps “foster a classroom community” (p. 92). She sees merit in collaboration, versus independent work. Quite powerfully, she reflects: “We build walls of authority and expertise on the other side of which our students sit. Because of my vision, though, I was unable to see that wall and was incapable of staying on the “right” side of it. I need my students as much as they need me” (p. 91).

Summary (TL;DR version):
“Teaching (Dis)Abled: Reflections on Teaching, Learning, Power, and Classroom Community” is a first-person narrative by Nicole E. Green, that recounts what she learned from her life experience as a student with visual impairment to ensure her own students are empowered. Because she has written her article so eloquently, I feel as though I must share some direct quotes along with my paraphrasing to adequately summarize this article.
As a student, her teachers see her disability and suggest she close doors for herself, instead of adapting courses so she is also able to participate. A university professor of hers was using his position of authority to make her feel as though she could not fit into her university and get a decent education. On page 87 she recalls: “When I asked my instructor if we could get a digital scale that I could read, he suggested if I could not read the scale, perhaps I should not be in that class.”
Fortunately she also had teachers who used their position of power to provide her with adaptations that allowed her a more accessible education, and ultimately, empowerment (p. 88). She could not read texts without squinting considerably (therefore taking a lot of extra time), and so one of her professors “arrived in class with six cassette tapes filled with recordings of himself at home reading the texts aloud” (p. 88). From a teacher’s perspective, this is an amazing idea, because these texts could also help any visually impaired individual who enters class after her!
Green brings up an interesting situation of power when she mentions that the “district” wanted her students (during her internship) to excel in expository and persuasive writing in order to be given a high school diploma, but were not concerned about creative writing, which is something one of her students, Erin, could do amazingly well (p. 89).
She further explores her internship year with Erin, commenting on how she was spoken “about” instead of “to”. In the middle of a meeting discussing Erin’s IEP, Green broke the flow of adults speaking above her by talking directly to her and saying: “You are doing well. We’ve talked about your writing, do you have any questions?” Her cooperating teacher and special education teacher were trying to help Erin, but ironically they were also oppressing her by not including her as an equal part in the conversation about herself, let alone letting her know she was doing things well (she didn’t just have things to work on)!
Green sees her vision impairment as an asset, instead of a liability, in her journey as a teacher, because it helps “foster a classroom community” (p. 92). Her difference, she says, “rendered [her] often incapable of fully standing on the traditional authoritative pedestal of teacher” and she seems grateful for that. She explained that there really isn’t as much of a need to be independent workers in school, as many are taught in the American culture. She argues that both able-bodied and disabled people rely on each other everywhere in daily life, like for example in families, and so why should the human experience be so contrasted within the walls of a school? Quite powerfully, she reflects: “We build walls of authority and expertise on the other side of which our students sit. Because of my vision, though, I was unable to see that wall and was incapable of staying on the “right” side of it. I need my students as much as they need me” (p. 91).

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One thought on “Power and Authority in Teaching and Learning

  1. This is a great article and I enjoyed how it encompassed power with learning disabilities in the classroom. Its important that teachers learn to make adaptions for their students in a positive way so they feel included. This teacher has an incredible story and a great perspective to share on pedagogy in the classroom.

    Like

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