Monday, June 28, 2010
My Teachers, My Students. This is about half of them.
What a ride!!
Sometimes I was the driver, other times the passenger, at no time was it a smooth and easy glide over freshly laid blacktop.
The kids took me for a ride, as did grad school, and the admin, and TFA, and even I.
Here are some things I learned:
The principal is right. Always. Regardless of sense, logic, justice or reality; the principal is right and I am wrong. Even when I am right, the principal is the one who is actually right, and I, I am still wrong (to have thought I was right).
Students today are not the students who were my classmates, neither is the world into which they are headed the same as it was for us– this means that what was true for me, or for the generation before, is not true for them. In fact, all things considered, we don’t want it to be true for them; the truth has perpetuated an unjust society, and to change and grow as a people, so must our truth change and grow.
People need second, and third, and forth chances. It doesn’t matter how many times they screw up, we, as teachers, must be patient and must keep offering ourselves and the world to the student. Because as long as they are in our hands we must do everything, everything, to keep them on or get them on track. And even if they continue to make mistakes for years to come – there will come a day when they will open their eyes, and see our faces and hear our voices, their teachers, and things will suddenly come together. But if we say that the fifth chance is the last straw and screw them and they are on their own, then we undermine our own future as much as our students.
Time is to be managed, otherwise it will manage you (not unlike soviet Russia).
Holding expectations across cultures, races, generations and socio-economic status is ridiculous. I don’t give a damn what TFA or anyone else says. I would never propose that we hold lower expectations for minorities or the poor or disenfranchised, but we can not, not if we want actual results, approach everyone as if they were white middle-class folks from Michigan. It doesn’t make sense – for anybody. This goes back to truth. This goes back to genes, and history, and social infrastructure. If we expect a people who have been controlled their entire lives, denied basic human rights and forcefully marginalized to behave and react the same as those who for hundreds and hundreds of years have had the path of educations and entitlement drilled into them, then we shall continue to spin our tires aimlessly in the mud, and the achievement gap will deepen, inadvertently, but it will deepen. The language of power, the behavior of power, the dress of power, the thinking of power in this country is no less narrow than it was 400 years ago – we just mask it much better – we got better PR for it. If the life path of a protestant, middle-class male is full of more ease, opportunity and choice than it is for anyone who does not fit even one of the aforementioned traits, then we are the same slave holding, religiously intolerant, oppressive and oppressed, single minded, reactionary, entitled, self righteous fucks who annihilated the Natives, who enslaved a people, who exploited the land and the human as easily as the beast. And I don’t give a damn how many hybrid cars we drive and how many black presidents we have.
The new world starts and ends in the classroom; with the teacher; with the decisions we make about how we teach our kids to see, criticize and build the world; and with the opportunities we provide them for applying what they learned.
Finally, I learned – more so I was reaffirmed – that I know so very little. As well as I can speak on the hundreds of topics about which I am somewhat informed, or recall the lessons of the books I have read, or synthesize learned knowledge with experience and intuition: it amounts to nothing at all because it seems for every bit I know, I don’t know a hundred other bits, and the more I see what must be considered, I realize how I am not capable of considering even half, especially not as fast as one must consider things when dealing with people – specifically adolescent students. But I love what I do, and damn-it I’m just going to do the best I can.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
sometimes it feels like this - the weight of the world on my shoulders - the life of every student to some degree dependent on my actions and frame of mind. self centered, delusion of grandeur and significance? maybe, but better that than feeling and acting as though nothing i do matters.
When things go wrong we find everyone to blame but ourselves. This of course is human nature and we are as prone to it as we are to exhaling after inhaling. For the most part this is not so relevant that humans need to address it above all else in order to improve their quality of life, however, if they have any desire to improve the quality of society at large it should be their foremost pursuit. For a teacher, improving the quality of society is a daily task – our negligence of this duty manifests itself tenfold over the course of years. Though marginally recognized by popular culture and academia, the classroom teacher is in fact on the forefront of social (societal) change. Our misconceptions, premonitions and predispositions, as well as our stubbornness, closed-mindedness and righteousness influence the decisions, actions and dreams of dozens of citizens every day. This is not to say that we exhibit all, nor are guided by, all the aforementioned traits every day, but if or when they become patterns of behavior we run the risk of inflicting permanent damage on the very society upon which we will rely to sustain us and propel us into a more meaningful and positive future.
This reflection is a result of my recognition and abrupt and forced tet-a-tet with my own shortcomings as a teacher; my own inability to recognize what my students need to succeed – not only in the form of curriculum but also the in manner in which I manage my classroom – has led to an academic year full of only marginal academic and personal gains for my students. Though this is my first year as a teacher, I cannot help but recoil in horror at the blatant errors I made, over and over again.
I completely misread what my students needed by way of motivation and support, as well as what and how they need to learn. I have fostered some great relationships and have mentored a few students, I think the number of both could have been three times greater had my head not been duly lodged in my ass. I often remembered but promptly forgot what was important and what a good teacher must do for his students in order to ensure their success and growth.
Here is what I learned and what I hope to implement next year – as a matter of daily habit as opposed to momentary and fleeting glimpses of effectiveness:
Students who come from a background of poverty, drugs or violence will not be motivated by threats and reminders that a lack of proper action on their part in school will result in meaningless jobs, continued poverty, few options in life and a predisposition to drug and alcohol abuse. Their self-esteem and sense of self-worth are already extremely low – coming from a rocky middle school and probably elementary education; a lack of parental guidance, familial rifts, incarceration, death and abuse. They do not need to be reminded that if they don’t focus and do their homework they will be stuck working in the carwash. It is hard: it takes patience and fortitude, creativity and resourcefulness to focus on their ABILITIES and STRENGTHS and DREAMS, but doing so will in turn produce such results of brilliant performance and altered life paths that it must certainly be worth the effort and time – if not, why the hell am I in the classroom?
The students with whom I did manage to build good relationships saw past my bullshit façade of the guy who tells it like it is and life is tough and you better shape up or else… they clung to the moments when I embodied my mentors and became if only briefly the teacher I want to be, will be, must be; when I was kind and honest, supportive, flexible, relatable, patient and positive. In spite of my mistakes and shortcomings they came to me for advice, for a talk, to join my club, to write me an email, to cheer me up, to ask me what’s going on with me, to ask about college and what they need… they could have just as easily dismissed me as another mislead, foolish and worthless teacher – and then I would have done the same to myself – but they didn’t, they did not give up on me and that helped me not give up on myself.
I am not worth my weight in cow dung if I cannot apply what I learned come next September. If I am to be worthy of Mr. Ames and Mr. Fenn and Ms. Melby I must take these lessons and bring them to fruition in my classes next year – I must and I WILL.