There is no passion without the other’s passion

Two co-authors and I have recently had a submitted article (called Doubt and disillusion as a stage in becoming a teacher) sent back to us for ‘extensive rewriting’ because ‘the implications for teacher education are not drawn out strongly enough’. Though it was hard to take when I first read the feedback, it has, as usual, been a good challenge.

To help me think about these implications, I’ve just read a difficult and provocative article by Britzman (Teacher education as uneven development: toward a psychology of uncertainty.” International Journal of Leadership in Education, 2007, 10 (1): 1-12) and want to get some thoughts down before they disappear.

Teacher education, Britzman says, is a process full of uncertainty, an experience which is necessarily distressing and usually resisted.

… teacher education is a hated field; no teacher really loves her or his own teacher education. They may soften this rage without a thought by saying, ‘They didn’t prepare me for the uncertainty’. (8)

Drawing on the work of Maxine Greene, Donald Winnicott, William James, Hannah Arendt and Wilfred Bion, Britzman suggests that the reasons for this are psychological, social and sociological.

From Donald Winnicott, she borrows the notion that from the moment of birth until we die, we are never complete, that we’re always dependent on others, and that this inevitably creates vulnerability, uncertainty and anxiety.

Winnicott (1960/1996) proposed ‘there is no such thing as an infant’ (p. 39). He did so to remind his colleagues the infant comes with caregivers, then toys and the objects that make an infant. Our infancy is made as a relation to others. … There is no such thing as development unless we can begin thinking with, what Winnicott (1970) called in another context, ‘the fact of dependence’ (2).

From William James she cites his ‘big idea’ that it is not in the nature of the mind to be either empty (ready to be filled with knowledge) or stable (developing steadily according to predictable developmental patterns). Instead,

The mind works through the stream of consciousness, through association, and so it is always in motion. The mind will not hold still. This complexity, he said, will be an obstacle to education. For if attention is always fleeting attention, awareness of this psychology makes the teacher’s work difficult. (5)

The experienced teacher, then, plays a vital role in drawing the reluctant and distracted student into the business of learning.

He was not afraid to suggest the need for the teacher’s authority…. The mind that knows, he warns, resists being known…. The mind, after all, is an inter-subjective relation, not an ideal or a thing to fill with knowledge. Good night Descartes: even as we need our own mind to know this, there is no mind without the other’s mind. There is no passion without the other’s passion. (6 )

From Maxine Greene, Britzman uses the idea of the preservice teacher is always in an uncertain state of becoming, having to think him or herself into the unfinished work of attempting to be.

She proposed the teacher as an incomplete project, as unfinished, as in the process of becoming a teacher with others. If the teacher chooses to become a critical subject, she supposed, what is critical only emerges when the teacher understands herself or himself as subject to uncertainty. Uncertainty resides within the acts of a self-committed to becoming. (3)

Britzman uses Hannah Arendt to shift the focus from the nature of the mind or the self to the nature of the world. The teacher, says, Arendt, knows the world, knows that the world is flawed and transient, but also takes responsibility for inducting the student into this imperfect and uncertain world.

Arendt turns to literature and quotes Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet complained about existence as such when he said: ‘The time is out of joint. O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right’ (p. 192). Arendt’s conclusion still stuns: ‘Basically we are always educating for a world that is or is becoming out of joint, for this is the basic human situation, in which the world is created by mortal hands to serve mortals for a limited time as home. Because the world is made by mortals it wears out and because it continually changes its inhabitants it runs the risk of becoming as mortal as they. (7)

And finally Deborah Britzman turns to Wilfed Bion, the psychoanalyst and philosopher, who suggested that life brings us face to face with our painful emotional experience of helplessness, dependency and frustration (9), from which we instinctively recoil. We then either resist learning by denying feelings of being undermined  …

The insecurity is expelled and returns in the form of bad students, bad grades, bad theory, bad university, and bad methods.(9)

… or we accept that

thinking is a way to render valuable one’s emotional experience. (9)

She quotes Bion’s words as follows:

Learning depends on the capacity for the container [by which he means the capacity to hold doubt and not knowing without evacuating the bad feelings this involves] to remain integrated and yet lose rigidity. This is the foundation of the state of mind of the individual who can retain his knowledge and experience and yet be prepared to reconstrue past experiences in a manner that enables him to be receptive of a new idea. (quoted p9)


Learning is tough, then, and necessarily involves coming to terms with uncertainty and doubt. Not learning is often the preferred option. Britzman finishes the article with a brief summary of the postmodern university, the place where ‘the idea of knowledge as capable of training minds and as bringing up of culture (bildung) is now obsolete’ and where ‘meta-narratives have worn out’ (10).

With this new instrumentalism comes a new definition of the high speed student. Learners must become adept, flexible, and able to judge knowledge in terms of its use value, its applicability to real life concerns, and its prestige. But this means that skills supplant ideas, technique is confused with authority and responsibility, and know-how short circuits the existential question of indeterminacy.

The expansions of multinational and now global corporations into every corner of our lives have terrific force in the university. Students, too, are consumers; they judge the competency of their education rather than their own efforts. (10)

It’s a bleak picture she paints. How can we think our way into some accomodations with the facts of uncertainty and doubt in such a climate?

I’m left with a supplementary question. If, as Britzman and her cluster of quoted thinkers have suggested, students need teachers to help them cross difficult thresholds (an idea closely connected to Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, around which so much of our present understanding of good pedagogy revolves), where is the movement in teacher education to increase the quality time teacher educators have with their students, both during their courses as doubts and uncertainties surface, and in their first years in the classroom? Or is the trend in the other direction, with an increase in distance and online education, and a growing list of roles and responsibilities for teacher educators if they’re to meet their Professional Development Review outcomes?

There is no passion without the other’s passion. But it seems that present realities mean that the other’s passion is not fully available.


3 thoughts on “There is no passion without the other’s passion

  1. I’m glad that you include that final paragraph asking how to increase time with students, including into their first years in the classroom. I count myself incredibly lucky that I have such good support, but I don’t know what people are doing who don’t have someone/an assortment of people that they can draw on in this way. I suppose I just hope that everyone finds it somewhere, though I fear they do not. I think perhaps there is some truth in the suggestion from Britzman of “they didn’t prepare me for the uncertainty”…but I think this is why I am so interested in that final bit about into first year of teaching. I’m not sure that I fully understood what on earth I was being prepared for until this year. I mean, I had a concept of what my life as a teacher would be like, and it certainly wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t a complete vision, because prac cannot possibly provide it. While I am glad to be “on the job” (today, at least) I suspect that there is a very good argument to be made for increasing training time in order to allow for a more graduated experience of prac. Whilst I am sure I would have grumbled through it, I can’t help feeling that an internship term, a term where I lived the full teaching and administrative life of a teacher. Both my mentors shielded me from it, quite extensively. An experience of all that might have been helpful. I know its the bureacracy side of things, and not the heart and soul of teaching, which is what fundamentally interests you, and really me too, but we know that you can’t teach heart and soul if youre preoccupied with administrative things, which love or hate, have to be done. I also know, that a lot of that is a course structure issue, but it seems to me that course structure is a part of teacher education. This might also represent the final, latent frustration I have towards aspects of last year (or, as Britzman might say, I’m just going through a phase of hating on my own teacher education. Only you know full well I don’t hate it, just feel (now) like nothing was ever going to be enough). So i suppose we’re back at the place of teaching us to cope and to respond and survive.

    I find myself wondering if you’re noticing any difference in the cohort from the change of having a voluntarily arranged prac time. Have students chosen a more integrated approach, or do they still tend to plump for the block time during the teaching break? My suspicion that an opportunity to test the theory with concurrent practice might be invaluable. Sometimes, I feel that together – my friends, the rest of the cohort, you, the Strike Team – together we dreamed this lovely little dream of a world that we idealised and believed in, and then we got into reality and it was much, much harder to live (again the bloody pragma!) I dont, even now think the dream is irrelevant, and I have just spent much of my afternoon trying to help a colleague in a factual discipline to be a bit creative, but when you live in the dream world, and you don’t get to test the vision against reality, when the two do finally collide it is traumatic, and I think that that is so much a part of the uncertainty that new teachers experience. Whatever ground base you actually had for your sense of self as a teacher, is very vigourously shaken by The Real World. I’m romantic enough to think we should fight the good fight, but practical enough, too, to realise that it would be foolish not to accept there are constraints and that they must be overcome incrementally. Only the rational part of my brain that gets me here (12 weeks and 4 days into the job) is about 12 weeks and 4 days behind the emotional centre, which as we know, can be hard to manage. Which is probably a digression from where this paragraph began, but oh well.

    Sometimes, all the lessons I learn daily in “becoming” a teacher, I feel are really just life lessons. In Shadowlands, that film about CS Lewis that I adore, someone tells Jack (after the death of his wife) that “life must go on,” to which he replies “I don’t know that it must, but it certainly does”. Sometimes learning to be a teacher feels like this to me. It just goes on, even when I really want it to stop, even just for a little while.

  2. Pingback: the mind will not hold still | ilovenewbies

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