Teaching As a Way of Seeing (Mike Rose)

Mike Rose (born 1944) is an American education scholar. He has studied literacy and the struggles of working-class America. Rose is currently a Research Professor of Social Research Methodology in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University (B.A.), the University of Southern California (M.S.), and the University of California, Los Angeles (M.A. and Ph.D. “

“The thing I love about Ms. Marovich,” says Hazel of her automotive technology instructor, “is that when she looks at you, she sees the finished product.” What a remarkable kind of seeing Hazel describes: An act of perception that envisions growth and that helps make that growth possible.

Over the past several years, I have been interviewing a wide range of people, from students in high school and community college to professionals in their fifties and sixties, about experiences in or out of school that had a transformative effect on their education, that changed the way they thought about school and what school could enable them to do with their lives. A number of the people I talked to used some variation of Hazel’s statement about seeing, some visual metaphor of validation.

A student in a Licensed Practical Nursing Program praises an instructor she would go to when she felt overwhelmed. The instructor told her that “she could see it in me that I was meant to do this,” and encouraged her to not only complete the LPN program but to continue toward a Registered Nurse’s degree, which she did.

“I was a strange kid,” a high school English teacher says reflecting back on his time in twelfth grade, “but not to [his English teacher] Mrs. Howard. She saw me the way I wanted to be seen. It changed my life. Every day I work to see kids the way they want to be seen.”

A middle school teacher starts talking to a boy serving detention and senses a “hunger” that leads her to invite him onto the school’s fledgling debate team. When I ask how she senses that hunger, she says, “by talking to someone and answering their questions. You can see it in their eyes.”

A high school Spanish teacher raises the issue of college to a junior whose energies are more invested in soccer than academics, but who has a way with people and exhibits a certain savvy as he navigates eleventh grade. The teacher follows his instincts and connects the young man to a college bridge program. Looking back on it, our soccer player, now a graduate student, says of that teacher, “He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

These teachers seem to operate with an expansive sense of human ability and are particularly alert to signs of that ability, signs that might be faint or blurred by societal biases or by a student’s reticence or distracting behavior—or that the student him or herself might barely comprehend. Through the way they teach, through mentoring, or through some other intervention, these teachers help develop the abilities they perceive. We don’t hear a lot about this powerfully humane element of teaching, for so much current discussion of teacher education and development is focused elsewhere: from creating measures of effectiveness to mastering district or state curriculum frameworks. These are important issues to be sure, but they have crowded out so much else that makes teaching a richly humanistic intellectual pursuit….

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8 Comments

Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach

8 responses to “Teaching As a Way of Seeing (Mike Rose)

  1. Laura H. Chapman

    MIke Rose has a gift for noticing what others do not. I have an example.
    An architect working on planning projects with indigeounous populations in Washington State was looking for his fifth grade teacher who had selected him to serve as the judge in a class jury trial. The trial was an occassion to teach about some of the basic features of a trial and also to address a very thorny issue we would now label as “bullying” by one student. The whole lesson was complicated by the fact that this was a Department of Defense School in France, and all of the childen were subject to the prevailing military ethic. The bully was the son of the base commander. The student selected as the judge was near retirement. He wanted to thank his grade five teacher for the understanding of “multiple viewpoints” and “fairness” that he had learned from that experience. He included a class picture in his letter to refresh her memory. I have the letter and the picture. It arrived a year after his beloved teacher died. He was not the only student she had inspired in a long and amazing career.

  2. Ann Staley

    I became a teacher because my 2nd grade teacher saw something special in me, and I wanted to do exactly the same for my students. Because I taught English I read lots and lots of journals, essays, projects. These contained long conversations with each student, and I kept a year long portfolio of these dialogues. Students could take home their folders at the close of the year. Many kept them for years and sent messages to me about “being seen” by me for their particularly strong traits. All of this “seeing” made teaching a great pleasure.

  3. “These are important issues to be sure, but they have crowded out so much else that makes teaching a richly humanistic intellectual pursuit….” Can I just have an “Amen!” Not every time and not with every child have I been fortunate to see into the student, but when I get thankyou cards that say things like, “I think you really got me” or “I think you believed in me” my life has been enriched. Where’s the VAM for that?!

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