I recently read Gregory Michie’s book, ‘Holler if you can hear me’. It’s a powerful text that deals with his experiences as a beginning teacher in the Chicago Public School system. It’s confronting for the honesty that Michie brings to the text – both about the lives of the students that he attempting to teach, but also because of the way he lays bare the struggles that he faces on a day to day basis. As a teacher, I found myself empathising with Michie as he described the regularity of confrontation in his classroom, the crippling sense of loneliness, and the challenges he faces in terms of pedagogy.
Perhaps the part of the text that I was most drawn to was Michie’s description of his pedagogy. He is constantly challenged by other teachers as being ‘too soft’ or ‘too gentle’ with the students. Even his students tell him that he must be like the other teachers – that he must show that he is in charge. Michie however wants to allow students to explore topics of their own interest. He wants to teach in the Socratic fashion. He wants students to be able to ask questions, rather than laboriously copy down glossaries and definitions. But the students themselves seem to resist this approach: unused to such freedom, they rebel. They go wild. They shout each other down and refuse to listen.
But there are moments where Michie has breakthroughs – in one memorable example, the faculty is put on trial for treating the students unfairly. In another, a group of students find an author to whom they can relate. And perhaps, in those fractured moments, more real learning takes place than in all those other bubble-filling exercises. I don’t know.
I called this blog post ‘I can hear you’ because, as I read the text, I really felt a sense of kinship with Gregory Michie. As a teacher, I too am often told that i am too soft. I don’t think I am. I believe children learn a lot more than mathematics at school: the way relationships are formed is very important, and what kind of relationship is based on fear? Yet that’s often the primary mechanism for interaction with children.
Of course, it’s not so simple. But texts like ‘Holler if you can hear me’ are important because they suggest that not only are there more important things than NAPLAN, but also that there are better ways to teach.