Wise Women – Reflections of Teachers of Midlife – FREEMAN; SCHMIDT (CSS)

FREEMAN, Phyllis R.; SCHMIDT, Jan Zlotnik (eds). Wise Women – Reflections of Teachers of Midlife. New York: Routledge, 2000. 274p. Resenha de: SENGER, Elizbeth. Canadian Social Studies, v.36, n.2, 2002.

This book is a collection of reflective essays by long term post-secondary instructors, all female, who have now reached midlife. They offer an insightful variety of perspectives some positive, some rather bitter on the challenges and rewards of teaching careers. For the most part, these educators speak in clear language, full of emotion and heartfelt sentiment, about how the educational process has changed them both professionally and personally. One theme which remains constant throughout is that these women freely chose the education profession and clearly understand the importance of this lifelong work.

Wise Women will appeal to anyone, male or female, who has an interest in the educational experience from the instructor’s perspective and should be in any educator’s professional development library. Although some of the reflections are personal, they all evaluate the personal and professional lives of the writers’, sharing what they have learned to do and not do; sharing the greatest rewards and greatest heartbreaks of their careers, and in some cases, of their personal lives. After reading this book the reader will take away a very clear message about education: that teaching and learning, for all of the parties involved, is an ongoing process in which understandings of strategies, techniques, students and selves is continuously evolving and that it is not a process confined to classrooms or hallowed halls. The impact of educational experiences overflows into all aspects of the lives of those involved.

An interesting element of Wise Women is that very few of the contributors focused on the curriculum they teach, but rather discussed at length the process, the gaining of patience, the deepening understanding of themselves and their students. This truly is a book about living, learning and growing as human beings which the profession of teaching and learning encompasses in a most meaningful way.

The editors asked the writers to reflect upon their teaching careers. This is a valuable, perhaps even necessary process for educators to go through. Each year I teach, I find myself continually evaluating the students in my class (each group may be totally different, as some of the writers pointed out) and how I need to adapt my classroom environment and techniques to help them learn. Given the plethora of new ideas and techniques with which educators are bombarded, it is essential to continually examine what we do, how and why we do it, and to be open to the possibilities of adapting and/or adopting new methods, techniques and strategies, as well as retaining the good processes we have already developed. Personal reflection can certainly be a rewarding, and at times, painful experience and it speaks to the courage of these women that they rose to the challenge set before them. It is clear from their reminiscences that these educators went through many phases of growth in their long and distinguished careers. There is some bitterness and resentment in these contributions, as women still, in the twentieth (now twenty first) century, experience the small mindedness of discrimination on campuses across North America. Clearly, as progressive as the field of education may be, we still have a great deal of work to do in opening peoples’ minds to the value of integrating the talents and abilities of fully half the population. This is one of the important actions we, as educators, need to take and reading this book makes that even more clear.

I believe the significance of this book in focusing on midlife teachers is, in part, to provide assistance for those of us who come after these women; to continue learning how to cope with the vast and varied challenges that education presents. The contributors managed to deal effectively with internal and external changes, but often the struggle has taken its toll. In other cases, some of the writers make the point that while the world around them, and their external appearances may have changed, their inside selves have remained dynamic, young, energetic, and enthusiastic things which all teachers need to do their jobs with joy and love, and I believe, to be truly effective. Teaching at any level is not for the faint of heart!

Teaching and learning is as much about learning how to cope with constant change as it is presenting an established curriculum. While very few of these women focused on, or even mentioned, what curriculum they teach, they all had a great deal to say about the physical and psychological environments in which they work. Human interactions; increasing understanding of self and others; adapting teaching techniques to changing students and changing times; learning to balance personal and professional needs; these are the things which this book deals with so effectively, and it is an essential read for anyone who is, has been, or desires to become that much maligned, but very essential professional a teacher.

Elizabeth Senger – Henry Wise Wood High School. Calgary Alberta.

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