Fans of Valerie Roth’s dystopian narrative Divergent may appreciate and perhaps forgive the focus of this article—especially if they also happen to be educators.
Recently, while captivated by the novel and then again the movie version of the story, I found myself connecting with the lead characters, Tris and Tobias, who voiced my life goals very simply, “I want to be selfless, smart, and strong.” This tri-fecta, as defined in the novel, is divergence; and those who exhibit these traits pose a threat to the status quo.
In real life, I believe this is also true about teachers.
While my purpose here is not to provide a summary of the story, I believe some information may prove helpful at this point.
In the novel, a fictitious community is made up of five factions or sub-groups, each represents a dominant character trait: Abnegation (selflessness, humility); Amity (peace-loving, inclusive); Candor (honest, outspoken); Dauntless (courageous, strong); and Erudite (intelligent, innovative). The trait that defines each faction and its members also serves as the focus of their contribution to the whole, broader community.
The nature of teaching, the significance of what we do, as well as the very heart of why we do what we do—our students—makes us selfless, smart, and strong, or a combination of all the traits above.
Therefore, teachers are divergent.
Permit me to explain as well as prove my point with five reasons why I believe teachers are divergent.
Teachers are divergent because, they are:
1. Selfless. “Thinking of what our students need is the first thing on our minds”, says colleague Shirley Brohner who provides guidance and positive behavior support to junior high students and their families on three campuses. Shirley, like many other teachers is not only selfless, but also smart and strong as evidenced in her analysis of young adolescent behavior and keen observation of the motivation behind their choices.
First and foremost the purpose for all we do as teachers, is just as Shirley says, for the benefit of our students and what serves their learning needs best.
2. Erudite. Most educators I know work nearly year-round, and without additional compensation outside of their contract. It is a common misperception that educators have the summer off. Well, what is a more accurate statement is that many educators do not work directly with students for 6-8 weeks of the summer because they are in pursuit of another certification, another degree, or a learning experience that will provide a deeper understanding of content or the context in which they practice.
Often in the pursuit of knowledge, as Sabrina Davitt describes it, teachers become “a jack-of-all-trades…we do it all” which stems from a selfless desire to create cognitively rich learning experiences for students, so that they can learn, grow, and achieve. She goes on to say that “teachers don’t fit a mold;” we are each uniquely gifted.
3. Dauntless. The day in the life of a teacher brings fresh opportunities. It takes a very special kind of professional to bravely face the unknown with a keen sense of expectation because teachers know that, “we teach the divergent and can not use just one method…we have to reach out to all the basic learning styles as well as those who do not fit into any mold,” says math colleague, NBCT Crystal Francom.
Teachers like Crystal also understand that along with learning styles, language acquisition, multiple intelligences, student engagement and digital literacies also impact student learning and growth. This is why so many teachers today are exploring and finding ways to implement technology as a lever for student engagement, to overcome language barriers, and adapt to student styles and intelligences.
4. Honest and Inclusive. For most teachers that I know—like Shirley, Sabrina, Crystal, and other colleagues at Highland Junior High in Gilbert, AZ—teaching is more than just a profession. It is a calling. We are called to advocate for our students and motivate them to reach their highest potential. Because of this, the voice of the teacher, if listened to, can be trusted to bring clarity and focus back to the communities where polarization due to political allegiances or competing socio-economic values has become the dominant themes.
Honesty, strength of character and bridge-building are hallmarks of effective teachers.
5. A threat. It goes without saying that if teachers represent 1through 4 above, then we pose a threat to the status quo, just like the divergents in the Roth’s novel, and for the same reasons. People, who are divergent, think for themselves, and cannot be controlled by mass suggestion. They are willing to resist what they know is not right, no matter who supports it, even against the establishment.
Teachers are selflessly compelled to use their expertise, their knowledge and experience to advocate for the best interest of others. Even when it may cost them their livelihood.
Selfless, smart and strong. Honest, bridge-builder. A threat.
Teachers are more powerful than we realize. We are fueled by our divergence. Yet, we are like a slumbering giant who needs to be awakened. I live for the day that we awaken to our possibilities and embrace our destiny and create student-centered systemic and sustainable change that transforms teaching and learning in our country.
I not only live for it, I am divergent about it!