Postman and Weingartner in Teaching as a subversive activity talk of subversion being even a tiny act, even as tiny an act as thinking about who you are as a teacher. Subversion begins there, in that kernel of self truth.

They asked teachers,

Why do you teach?

I can control people.
I can tyrannize people.
I have captive audiences.
I have my summers off.
I love seventeenth-century non-dramatic Elizabethan literature.
I don’t know.
The pay is good, considering the amount of work I actually do.


Obviously, none of these answers is very promising for the future of our children. But each in its way is a small act of positive subversion because it represents a teacher’s honest attempt to know himself. The teacher who recognizes that he is interested, say, in exercising tyrannical control over others is taking a first step toward subverting that interest. But the question – ‘Why am I a teacher, anyway?’ also produces answers that are encouraging: for example, that one can participate in the making of intelligence and, thereby, in the development of a decent society. As soon as a teacher recognizes that this is, in fact, the rearm he became a teacher, then the subversion of our existing educational system strikes him as a necessity. As we have been vying to say: we agree.

I think teachers, especially those in any leadership capacity, have to start thinking about “subversion” differently. It is the small steps that count in reforming education, not the grand pronouncements and sweeping reforms. It is our own acts before and among our students and colleagues that matter.

How do you subvert the system, in your own little way? How do you keep “sane” and keep “counting” despite a system that stamps approval and keeps the emphasis on product and not process?

Let me list the ways I do….

1) I always ask probing, challenging questions when I can. Each and every opportunity, even forsaking the “lesson” and the “book”. Who cares about Unit 2, exercise 3 – “The Family”. It can wait. Let’s ask why there aren’t any colored people in the book or let me relate how I was adopted and how complicated my own family roots are….

2) Every student gets an A. I follow the Benjamin Zander (see video below) school of assessment. If admin asks me to tweek, I will, but ever so slightly and softly.

3) Standards? My standard is the twinkle in student’s eyes and that they “know that they are knowing”. It isn’t how high but HOW, plain and simple.

4) I talk to colleagues and share information and resources. I make my teaching transparent and my classroom door is always open. I even run out and drag in people from time to time….

5) Paperwork gets done, no more and no less. I refuse to package it or throw a ribbon around it. Let nothing be cosmetic and let my desk be a mess. Paperwork comes last, my time in the classroom comes first.

6) Student choice. I always give choice. If the curriculum says talk about shopping and students are talking about P.Diddy – I don’t give a diddy. They are practicing their English.

7) Taking detours…..see most of the above comments. The learning happens on the off beaten tracks and as we get lost and rediscover our own path through the woods to grandmother’s house.

8. I don’t get concerned if students are off task (so long as they aren’t bothering others). Of course, I try to motivate them and urge them on and get them engaged. But if that fails, I don’t give a damn if they just chill out. It is their life – they are responsible for it. That’s a big lesson I try to season my lessons with constantly.

What about you? Any ways you subvert the system, big or small. Any ways you break out of the matrix?


Find more videos like this on EFL CLASSROOM 2.0

If you liked this post – you may enjoy “Are you a Subversive Teacher” (get pdfs of Postman and Illych’s seminal books/readings)