Commenting on: ‘The Skillful Teacher’ Chapter 16 Understanding Student’s Resistance to Learning

‘The Skillful Teacher’ is written by Stephen Brookfield, and is the text used for PIDP 3260.

I am becoming more and more fascinated by culture and tradition and how it relates to the classroom. This has always been intriguing for me, but the more I learn from other instructor’s perspectives, the more I realize my observations are not unique, nor am I alone in my thinking.

The first time I wrote about culture in the classroom, I chose the quote myself and wrote a reflective essay about it. I felt I was going out on a limb, and was very afraid of presenting myself as ignorant, uneducated or racist. You can read that assignment here.

I find myself repeatedly infusing the topic of culture and the classroom into my writing and my reflection on the learning experience. For myself, and my students.

Last week, I was asked to complete a written assignment for a potential employer. There is a competition for the desired role, and I have made it into the secondary phase of screening. The expectation of the written assignment was to outline how I would tailor the existing curriculum created by the potential employer for a specific demographic; considering specific cultural differences and backing up my choices with explanations and rationale.

This was a tough assignment, but one I absolutely enjoyed. I also know I wouldn’t have had the confidence in what I created, or the ability to execute it the way I did if I hadn’t already been thinking and reflecting on similar ideas previous. It was like I was creating my own foreshadowing, and working up towards this particular interaction without even knowing it.

Part of what I have experienced when it comes to adapting curriculum and the classroom for students of differing cultures is that this key component is often overlooked. By very educated, seemingly socially aware instructors and professionals, I might add! I truly believe in self awareness and as an instructor, it is our job to practice this awareness. We MUST make sure we are neutral enough to be an advocate for all parties. That we are not pressuring adult students to believe in our ideals and force them to ‘experience’ things the way we have, just because it worked for us once, or twice. We need to cautiously be on the leading edge of current events, changing views and perceptions of local history, and do our own research about our students’ cultures.

I am not implying that we must become sociological and cultural analysts in order to do our jobs. And I am sure there are some gifted instructors who could probably get through years of effective instruction without scratching much of the ‘cultural’ surface of their students. But, in my experience, the awareness, research and simple act of asking questions of my students, education coordinators in the areas I am working, and any teacher’s assistants I have had, has brought me a wealth of information that I believe has made me a more effective teacher.

In Chapter 16, Brookfield is commenting on students’ resistance to learning. There can be many reasons students may develop resistance. He warns against becoming ‘obsessed’ with trying to engage students who are working daily on their indifference to the learning environment. I agree with him. But I think that no matter how discouraged, fearful and frustrated we become, it is important to always create that safe environment for the students. Having an awareness about where they are coming from is required to create that safe environment that encourages learning.

I like this component of Brookfield’s text, in Chapter 16, as I think it encompasses what I’ve attempted to say in this post:

‘Asian students who are asked to challenge the teacher’s authority as evidence of their ability to think critically, aboriginal students who are asked to speak only of their own independent opinions and judgments as if these had no cultural formation, African-American students who are told to speak one at a time in contradiction to the layered and simultaneous speech patterns of the West Niger delta— all these are being asked to learn in ways that go against their own cultural traditions. This is an impossible contradiction for students. To succeed they need to do something that denies practices constitutive of their identity.’

Brookfield, S. (2015). The skillful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom.

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