Eliza Kingsley-Ma: The Joie de Vivre of Teaching

When this week’s guest, Director of Secondary Teacher Education at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Barbara Madeloni began her lecture with terms such as corporatization of the commons, accountability discourse, andtechnocracy, I was worried that we had fallen into a contrived, convoluted discussion that would get us no where. However, Madeloni managed to be one of the clearest communicators and educators that we have had speak thus far. While her story engaged in the conflict of teacher accountability and assessments, Madeloni spoke more of the philosophy of education and teaching then focusing on the logistics of how to regulate, structure and reform teacher accountability. In fact, I walked away without any answers on how to reform the way we judge teachers, rather I walked away with a greater sense on why I want to be a teacher in the first place.

Professor Madeloni is best known for taking a stance against a new form of Teacher Training assessments that have been introduced by Pearson Inc. and required the majority of teacher training programs across the country to participate. The test, along with another licensing program being pitched at UMass would cause a shift from hiring teachers based on a 6 month period of in classroom teaching to a 40 paged take home test and two 10-minute videos. In Madeloni’s Teacher Training classroom, 67 out of 68 students chose not to take the Pearson assessment in solidarity against multiple factors. Opposing the test meant standing against the privatization of the system as Pearson is a private, For-profit company as well as opposing the dependence of technology and standardized testing to measure success and capability. Due to her actions, UMass did not renew Professor Madeloni’s contract, which Madeloni pointed out that this was not the first time she had gotten in trouble for standing up and speaking out.

While she spoke in many radical terms, what was fascinating about Professor Madeloni’s presentation was, for lack of a better word, how real she was. She did not speak to us with the scripted, yet sneaky rhetoric of a lobbyist or the overly intellectualized, dehumanized monotone of an academic. She spoke to us as an activist, passionate and yet unsure of the future of her fight. She was very honest that many of her beliefs did not lend themselves to a practical application into our current education system, however she guided the conversation with the confidence that she knew what it meant for her to be a good educator. Borrowing from Paolo Freire and Bell Hooks she described why we gather in the classroom as teachers and students. In his Fourth Letter, Letter to Teachers as Cultural Workers, Freire draws attention to the relationship of life and death and education. Madeloni restated Paolo’s thoughts, that by devoting oneself to fully teaching, they are devoting oneself fully to life. She repeated this theme that teaching is an expression of freedom in contrast to the constraints that are being placed on teachers daily. Teachers are becoming smaller forces in the classroom, and this diminishes the freedom that can be gained through education. As our education system becomes defined by the words “accountability, standards, effectiveness, data” etc. we step further away from what John Taubman quotes is the core of education:

What if the aim of education is not learning? What if there is no aim to education except for the brief coming together of teachers and students to question, explore, study, compose, create and experience a kind of life that most will rarely experience again in our market-driven world?” (Taubman, 2009).

After hearing Professor Madeloni’s talk, I believe that a teacher’s purpose is to give students the problem solving skills to analyze, critique and construct for themselves their own perspectives on our world. It is far more important for students to have the freedom to judge the way our society works, then for us to judge and construct the roles of our students. It is no doubt that through learning one gains freedom, but I did not realize the freedom one could gain from teaching as well.

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