I want to change lives. I want to make each young person that I come into contact with feel valuable, worthy and accomplished. Today, I had to make a mandatory report to DHS due to some confidential information written in a student journal. DHS reporting is not something that makes me nervous, as I have had the opportunity to work with young people for a long time. In my professional role as a life coach at a local non-profit I have been trusted with information like this before. However, no matter how many times I have listened while a young person tells me about something that should have never happened to him or her, the nausea never goes away and the tears still flood my eyes (although I have gotten better at never letting them show until after the student has gone). Since beginning this teaching experience in January, and starting to work through a novel that has very heavy content, I have found some of my biggest fears are very closely tied with some of my biggest goals. I am very concerned with the moral of each and every student that I come into contact with. I want students to trust me, to feel that they have the ability to learn and grow in the safety of the learning community that has been and will be created in my classroom. I want students to be able to jump knowing that when they land there will be some cushion for them to fall onto. While these goals continue showing themselves, the fear of their comfort, their safety and well as the learning community’s growth as a whole keeps me from diving deeper into issues that I feel are important to discuss. It is extremely difficult to walk into a classroom and hold both care and concern as well as absolute authority. This is a balance I haven’t found yet. I want to smile at each of them, create a special bond with each of them but that is hard to do when I am also the one to send them to detention or give them a failing grade on something they did not put their best effort forward on. Today, after I made the call to DHS and talked with another teacher, I realized that although making reports to DHS is not the most fun part of being a teacher, it is a big part of the responsibility. When the student wrote, “Mrs. Pierce Only” on her journal entry, she was deciding to trust me with a precious secret. She felt safe enough to let me know. So, as I held back the tears and filled out paper work, I knew that while I’m still working on becoming a better teacher, the battle between my biggest goals and biggest fears is worth fighting, even if she is the only one whose life is changed by it.
I have to remember that I am my worst critic, with the exception of my CT of course, whose thought provoking questions have really helped me grow. I spent a few hours last night perfecting a lesson plan in which I would put students in groups of four. Each student would have a task: to find a quote that shows either thought/feeling, action, appearance or dialogue of Melinda. I had planned on placing students with varying abilities within groups and felt that letting students interact with the text in a group setting would be a great change of pace for them. I want them to enjoy what we are reading and I feel that if I spend too much more time on guided reading activities, that they will loose their interest in what is going on with the novel and also in the class in general.
Upon my arrival at the school, I asked my CT a few questions and after we got to talking, ended up throwing out the original plan entirely and going more toward a more traditional approach. I spent my prep. period typing up the procedure portion of the new lesson plan and perfected some things that he and I had discussed in an earlier meeting about an observation he did on me yesterday. We discussed that my transitions are taking a considerable amount of time during class and because of that, I am not using the time allotted to have students learn the maximum amount of time possible. We also discussed classroom management. We discussed that I have no problems getting students to be quiet but that he is not always convinced that they are engaged. I took this news to heart and immediately started thinking about how I could engage all 33 students in my class. A weakness that I have discussed with my CT previously is that I am used to being able to have one on one interactions with students and there just is not time for this during class. I really just need to take a deep breath and know that I will not have all students engaged at all times. However, I’m not really a fan of this. I think about things like class size and wonder if I would be able to keep 20 students engaged or 10. I wonder if I had been at the school since September if my presence would be more powerful and the learning community that I had built would enforce a better learning community. Because I value personal relationships I have a hard time not knowing how each student is doing at every moment during class. This causes me to be easily distracted because I go student by student asking if they understand and how they are doing. I also get caught up in trying to herd 33 students through an activity and I’m unable to read their facial expressions or stop and feel their energy. I want my students to get a balance of both academic success and personal growth within my classroom. It’s hard when I don’t feel like I am giving them this opportunity.
I have this thing where I make connections with kids fairly easily. When I was a senior in high school, I only went to school for half of the day. Every afternoon/evening, I worked at an after school program at the elementary school. I spent anywhere from two to four hours with the same group of kids over the course of the academic year. I would help them with homework, my collegues and I would play gym games with them as well as board games and other activities. There were a few of the students that I connect with on a deeper level than that of simply supervising and it just so happens that returning to the same school district six years later, I recognize many of them sitting in the desks of my classroom. One student in particular sparked my attention. During the first few weeks of my placement he sat, his posture resembling a limp lazy toad, at the back table of my classroom next to one of the smartest, most attentive student in the school. Limp lazy toad student was practically swimming in his Carhart jacket and his blond sandy hair matched the jackets color. He kept his head up by perching it on the palm of his left and and kept awake (most of the time) by blinking slowly and every so often, liking his lips. When I would check on his progress through an assigned activity there would be nothing written on his paper and his responses to my questions stayed generally the same, “I don’t know how to do this,” “Wait…I’m confused.” I checked this students grades and was saddened when I saw a 37.2% in Language Arts. I began to ask Mr. CT-man an annoying number of questions and when I felt like he was beyond annoyed I journeyed to the Special Education department to annoy the pants off of someone else who might help me understand the student who seemed to “not-understand” anything in class. I learned quickly that the student hadn’t made much progress in reading since I’d left him in this small town almost 6 years ago. My heart sank when I heard that he probably never will learn how to read and because of how big our classes are and how small our budget is in comparison, this student doesn’t get the one on one explanation or attention he needs most of the time. I walked away from the meeting with a set of goals. (1) Make him smile: in my opinion a lot of the limp lazy toad attitude could be quickly changed given the opportunity for a fresh start in the class everyday and that could be shown through a smile. (2) Make him feel like he has the opportunity and ability to succeed: for the next few weeks I sat next to him during down time and gave him incremental goals. I would say something along the lines of, “Put your name and date on the paper and when I come back I will check on you.” I would give him a few minutes to do so and then would reward him with a high-five or nice comment and then say, “Okay, now three sentences. I will go check on everyone else and when I come back I need to see three sentences.” His limp lazy frog posture changed and he was completing assignments. My third goal was to get his grade up. This student was used to “failing” but the problem was that the standard he was being measured with was not accurate or fair in comparison with his abilities. I began to modify assignments based on his ability and at one point offered him the ability to make up his missing assignments now that he knew he was capable. Today, this student walked into my class smiling. He had a pencil, his journal was filled out and he made jokes with me before the bell rang. His grade in my class is an 89%.
Middle School Winter Placement: Day #2 January, 4th, 2011
“This is Miss Pierce,” Mr. Dimmel announces to a room full of teachers. Okay, so there were seven of us, but that is a full room of teachers at this middle school. “Kalin, you can call me Scott, which I know is weird for you since for your entire high school career, you referred to me as, ‘Mr. Dimmel’.” It was true. He was Mr. Dimmel to me, and I had spent the four years of high school dodging his recruits to the girls basketball team and the government assignments in his Sophomore US history class. Now, we are colleagues. Sitting next to him is Mr. Cots, who taught me sixth grade math, another one of my poorest subjects. But, sitting next to me, is a kind face whose warm hand touches my arm and offers some comfort, “I’m Emily, hun, it’s so good to have you here,” she says, and I’m okay. We talk about six students in today’s SST meeting. The students are struggling with a range of difficulties from being caught smoking marijuana in the girls bathroom last trimester to possibly suffering from spectrum disorder. I don’t say a word for the 45 minutes, I just listen. I jot down some notes, hoping to do some google searches later on ‘Spectrum Disorder’ and ‘Oppositional Defiance Disorder’ and I know that I would really like to check on these statistics that are being recited (something like, “10% of our middle schoolers are using drugs right now which is up from last year,” and things of the like). Today I was also able to put some words to the emotions associated with my placement so far. I’ve coined the term “culture shock.” I didn’t coin it for middle school, but more for the classroom I’ve been placed in and that I’m unsure what my roles and responsibilities are. It’s much like arriving in another country and not knowing whether or not you’re supposed to throw your toilet paper in the toilet or the garbage can…I also am surprised at how comfortable I am with the students and uncomfortable with being unsure how my CT will like my comfort level with the students. If that makes sense. I want my CT to leave the room and let me do my thing. Today I told him that I wasn’t ready to teach a little blurb of the lesson. I think he might think it’s because I am nervous about teaching. Really, it’s that I’m nervous that he is nervous about my teaching and I would rather not make a single person in the room feel uncomfortable. That’s no good for anyone. I found somethings that I enjoy about my placement already. I like how my CT and the other 7th/8th language art teacher collaborate and lesson plan together so that all of the 7th and 8th graders are getting the same curriculum. I like that my CT has a large vocabulary that he uses with the kids. I like that he has control in his classroom (although I’m not sure I like the method he uses to gain that control just yet).
I wonder if it is normal to not want to be here. I really mean it. I mean, I would rather be anywhere than standing on this off-white-brownish carpet in my kitten heels. These black slacks make me want to vomit and paired with this button up shirt and lacy cami? Oh heck no, this is not what I want to be doing. My low ponytail is better suited for someone who knows what they are doing and, the fact of the matter is, that person is clearly not who I am. I know my CT is trying to be nice, but the fact is, middle school is not my thing. It was my thing at one point though. In fact, this middle school was exactly my thing…when I went here, almost 11 years ago. Gross. On any other day, I would want to be here. I would run through my mind picking ideas like flowers, wondering how I could inspire the students, how I can make them feel better about themselves and the world around them. Lately, however, motivation is nowhere to be found and in his place is desire. Desire has a lot of family but the one who has befriended me is desire to sleep. Or maybe desire to lay in bed? Anyway, they resemble each other and I think I met them both through my lack of ability to say no to my boss and others around me. Either that or social anxiety introduced us, I can’t remember which. I stand quietly in the hall next to Mr. CTman and he rambles on about the culture of the school. As bodies fill the hall way, I wish myself into my bedroom but alas, I am still here, on this godforsaken carpet. As bodies pass I can feel the awkward stage that each is in. One passes with more facial hair than my older brother can grow at age 27 and another scurries past as if he just left the womb instead of a school bus. I know this would be easier if I weren’t feeling as awkward as they are but as the last body passes my CT and I with an oversize sweatshirt and her hood like an umbrella over her head, I can’t help but wish I was her. I smile and say good morning. An hour or so later, I receive a small scolding due to saying, “Hey” and “You guys,” in my introduction speech where I should have said, “Hello” and “students.” Again, I wish for my bed. An hour or so after the small scolding, we make our way into the computer lab. I remember it being a lot larger when I was at the middle school but the basement hasn’t changed a bit and apparently, neither have the computers. My CT walks the students through an assignment on google docs and I wander around the room helping the students. Every time a student moves, I catch a whiff of B.O and I look around wondering if my CT or any other adults in the room can recognize the smell. Apparently, I am the only one who notices. When I take my seat, it takes me a while to catch on to what Mr. CTman is instructing the students to do so, I listen intently, pushing thoughts of a warm, fluffy comfortable bed, out of my mind. Mr. CTman speaks in a language I can only recognize a few words in. At least, this is what I feel for the first two minutes I listen. Finally, I understand the language. Mr. CTman explains, “You want to-James-go to the icon-Jasmine- on the bottom of the-Greg-page,” pause, “Thank you Nathan for not talking, now-Jesse- scroll the page…” Mr. CTman continues while I decipher each name he fits perfectly into his sentence. When the class period is over he tells them to put their keyboards “Where keyboards belong,” and says things like, “It would be a good idea to quit talking,” and, “I love that you guys are all sitting so quietly,” (when in fact they weren’t at all). I don’t want to be here…in this foreign place where I don’t know how to relate to kids or their teachers. I don’t enjoy not understanding what my roles and responsibilities are. I don’t know about this whole middle school thing. I just don’t. And while I know I will rise to the challenge, I also know that middle schoolers are: challenging. I want to have intellectual conversations, not see how many of their names I can fit into a sentence while I give them instructions. Maybe I’ll organize a deodorant drive…
Throughout my journey in the classroom, the interactions I have had with young people, teachers and faculty members have shown me what I value. What matters to me is what makes me who I am. It is what defines me as a teacher and is the well that I will continually be dipping my bucket into in hopes to give water to the young people I come into contact with in the classroom every day. Over the last few months, this is what I have discovered, what has been reinforced and what continues to surprise me:
I value relevance in curriculum. I value direct interaction with youth in such a way that the lessons that I teach will be relevant to their lives and to situations they are encountering every day. I value passion. I value opinions and those who have taken stances on difficult decisions.
I value active listening. The least I will be for someone is a set of ears… the least. I have found that for many young people, troubles come because there has been a lack of validation. There has been a lack of some one in their lives to truly listen to what is coming from their hearts. There is a lack of an open space in which it is okay to say something simply to taste it’s words on your tongue or to ask a question in order to be prompted to ask another. It is in this facet that I value vulnerability, openness and honesty in both myself and my students. I do not enjoy unhealthy conflict and in it’s place I would like to create healthy community within my classroom. I value community where every one is heard and their voice is acknowledged. It is in this community that I care about comfort- mine as well as my students. Also, I value a willingness to become uncomfortable if it means that we are all learning and growing.
More than almost any other core quality, I would say that I possess the core quality of deep care. I would say this because what I value over almost anything else is value itself. I want to bring value to the students I teach, value to their existence, to their inclusion in my class, in their community and the world as a whole. In order to present value to my students, I need to be heard, felt and understood by them. I need this form of respect from my students in order to offer the same respect to my students. I value the students who have slipped between the cracks. I want to care about the ones who haven’t been cared about before. I want to provide visibility to those who have been deemed: the invisible.
I want to be real with my students. I want to teach them that dreams and goal are real as are the struggles they will face when they decide to not settle for the life others have told them they have to live. I want them to see that they can implement change, that they can make the world a better place and that the true definition of success is being defined by them everyday. There will always be things happening in the political realm of teaching. I will not become hard hearted or bitter because of it. I will model this for my students and show them that there will always be something happening that you disagree with or that makes your life more difficult but, you always have the ability to overcome those things and continue striving toward the goals you have set before yourself.
I will be love for my students. On occasion, I will have the opportunity to be the type of love that rewards them for a job well done. I will be the kind smile that greets them everyday, the one that tells them that I will see them tomorrow. Sometimes I will be the tough love. I will be the one who doesn’t accept minimal effort. I will be the one that tells them to try again. I will be the kind of love that tells them that they are great but that they can be even greater. I will find what I am needed to be for my students and I will be it.
Something that I have also discovered over the past few months is that I will always be a work in progress. In my endorsement area, in the teaching profession, in a world with youth who are constantly changing, in a world that is always demanding new things and presenting new challenges. With that being said, I have a great list to beginning working on.
With all of the large scale of things that I value, comes opportunity for students to take the small steps to achieve great things. Often times I find myself so lost in the great abyss of what could be in the future, that I rarely give my students the designated time or space to complete the baby steps across the abyss I just set before them. I am constantly reminding myself to slow down and to be patient but I, much like the middle schoolers I am learning from, need to be reminded of various things over and over again. I need to draw a line between friend, teacher, mentor and whatever other roles I have played in my life and decide what it is I want to be in the classroom and what my expectations are for myself as well as my students.
I am working on consistency. I feel that this is my biggest challenge. Different days determine what amount of chatter within the classroom I will tolerate and what the first warning is…or if there even is a first warning. I am working on what I believe to be accurate disciplinary actions and slowing down enough to think about what punishments fit what crime.
I am confident that there will be a day when I am able to solidify the values I posses, compact them with the things I struggle with and make a beautiful community of learners out of the experiences I’ve had. Like a great professor once told me, “We are all a work in progress. Be gentle with yourself.”
May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.
To study is to uncover; it is to gain a more exact comprehension of an object; it is to realize its relationships to other objects. This implies a requirement for risk taking and venturing on the part of the student, the subject of learning, for without that they do not create or re-create.
My 7th/8th grade language arts class is analyzing the lyrics to this song and has been working on various activities over the last few days in relation to advice. I’ve heard the song before, in fact, my father played it at my grandfather’s funeral when I was in the fourth grade. I remember…