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The passionate teacher

So how do I proceed, as a teacher, if what I am is meaningless within the public discourse on schooling, if what I do in that discourse is only understood as noise? The thing is that no discourse is total forever, not even the current neoliberal discourse on schooling.

If Derrida (1982) teaches us anything, it is that all orders deconstruct. That is, whatever is kept in place within an order of truth breaks as soon as something is added that cannot be contained easily within it. When the excess is added, an imbalance has occurred and an overflow of meaning is created. Passion, at least in the way that I understand, is such an excess. Passion is exactly that which cannot be contained by the order of public discourse of schooling, since such excess overflows any order trying to keep everything and everyone in their proper place.

It is the passion talked about, for example, by teachers who after a lifetime of teaching were given a gold watch as proof of long service from the representative of the municipality, and were asked what made them stay teachers their whole working life. They all answered that it was for the love of teaching, for the love of engaging in the well-being of students: for the love of that which cannot be reduced to planning the lesson, which cannot be reduced to delivering the facts, which cannot be reduced to testing the results. It was the love in the ver)' act of teaching, in building caring relationships, which was their motivation. That was the answer given by all of those who had stayed in their profession for over 25 years. It was the answer given by what I call passionate teachers. Those who are passionate about their teaching.

Even so, and strangely enough, few if any seemed to talk about the love of and for teaching in teacher education classes over the 25 years I have been involved in teacher education. In teacher education, it is common to talk about learning, planning and testing following the dominance of educational psychology (Biesta 2015), but not the love and passion for teaching, or love of children.

For instance, one of my colleagues from a major Swedish university told me he was actively forbidden by his head of department to have a course called teaching in teacher education (at a time when all courses and programmes from now on were to have the word “learning” in them). At the same time, it was because of this ver)' love of teaching that those teacher educators I interviewed across 16 teacher education programmes in Sweden (Safstrom, 1996) said they stayed in their profession, although their love of teaching, which made them remain in education so many years, was not itself part of what was taught at their teacher education institution.

When asked to describe what they loved about teaching, which I did with a group of experienced teacher educators at Uppsala University in a small research project (Safstrom 1999), they said things like “teaching is like music!”; “When teaching is all right it connects everyone, it constructs wholeness in and through shared insights.” They seemed to recognize that teaching happens — or not! It is not all in place just because there is someone called a teacher, students, knowledge and curricula, all collected under the roof of a building called a school. Even though all agreed that there are teaching techniques to the trade, they also agreed that teaching could not be reduced to those techniques (Safstrom & Svedner, 2000). Teaching is rather understood to take place through the overflow of meaning, and as such meaning is shared by a community for whom the very act of teaching itself brings excess and therefore ambiguity and the potentiality of freedom. Teaching thus understood happens through the very passion of teaching.

Passion signals something more than what can be defined by rules or regulations, and it disturbs the relation between time and place within the order of truth, which is in the order of discourse. Passion takes the form of a teacher who loves what he or she does in spite of the destructive discourses on teaching, of one who sees teaching as a form of art, and therefore as contributing to the redistribution of the sensible through which we make sense of the world in the first place. It is the teacher who, for example, in the night, alone at her desk over long hours, plans her teaching as an act of poetry, and organizes her subject as poetry of knowledge. It is the teacher who brings knowledge back to the uncertainty on which all knowledge borders, to the very questions that give rise to it in the first place. It is teachers who make words resound in their concrete place and time of enunciation, instead of generalizations of historical discourse” (Ranciére, 2009, p. 282).

Passionate teaching not only blurs the distinctions between so-called higher and lower truths, but also frees words from a given relation between signs and bodies. That is, by making signs contingent in the classroom, bodies are disconnected from their given positions and meanings within the madness of discourse on schooling, freed from stultifying truths of their positions within that discourse, and in that classroom.

The thing is that this is exactly what passionate teaching does. It unleashes the powers of dis-identification by blurring the distinction between a given place in the order of discourse and a particular body filling that space, and by so doing teachers not only emancipate themselves from their place in that discourse, but establish a form in which anyone can emancipate themselves. By dis-identification from the hierarchical order of truths in the madness of public discourse, a certain embodied freedom is in place from which it is possible to claim equality with anyone else, where emancipation takes concrete form by withdrawing one’s intelligence from the stultifying procedures of schooling. I will develop this further in the next section, where I will call “anyone else” the community of poets - that is, that teachers and students in the moment of equality make new meanings possible.

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