Thursday, March 29, 2012

Today was Class Picture Day

In my previous post I remarked that during my interview it was the first time that I had worked with a different group of students in a formal teaching setting. I said that as I turned around from the white board "I saw a group of students that were very different from the ones that I interact with every day." I would like to explain what I meant by this. What I really meant is that kids are really all just the same.

When I tell people that I have work in the morning, people are often like "Oh right, I forgot, what's it like? It must be crazy right?" Seeing how many of my friends are still attending undergrad and don't have to wake up before nine or ten, I get this a lot. I always say no its great, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, my kids are fun and it is always an adventure. However, reassuring and excited I am when I talk about school and my students, some of my friends still do not understand. And it is in this confusion that I am reminded of the many tensions that are still very much alive in our society. I work in a school, in a hallway, in a classroom where the majority of the students are black and the majority of the teachers are white. People always ask me what the students think about being taught by a "blonde white girl" and how that feels for me. What I have learned over the last several months is that they don't care, it does not matter to them, and it isn't about that. The students just want someone who is nice and cares about them. I truly believe that the color of my skin is not even something that they notice any more, it certainly is not something that I notice any more. At least not until I turned around in the front of that classroom during my interview.

I was not nervous until the second I turned around and the starkness hit me, it was not anything about the kids, but it was instant, like a reaction long ingrained in my mind, and it took me a minute or two to shake myself out of it. I think I became afraid that the students were looking down on me and were judging me because of where I have come from, where my teaching had come from. I was racked with fear and hesitation as I doubted my lesson plan, how I doubted that they would like it , how I doubted that they would learn anything from it. I turned back to the board and cleared my mind. I knew that they would, I knew that it was good, I knew that I had to remind myself of this. I said to myself, you made this because it was fun for kids, because it was empowering, because it is about giving a voice to those who maybe don't or aren't confident enough in themselves to share that voice and about giving the kids who are confident a chance to share with others and help them grow. I calmed down. I turned back and got back my own voice as I remembered that they are all just kids, kids with stories and lives and things they want to be. The lesson was a success, the students felt like they had been treated like adults, and they created some beautiful and though provoking similes, just as I had planned.

Now that I think back to this experience, I have come to realise several things. Because of where I teach, I feel as though I have taken on much of the identity of my students. I was afraid that the way I talk to kids or the way I joke with them would be wrong or inappropriate, but it isn't. I talk to them all the same. I work with smart kids, I treat them like adults, I have expectations for them, and I want them to have fun. This is something that never changes. And the kids don't change. They all have different experiences that make them who they are as individuals, but as a group they are all the same, just kids, trying to make a living in a world they don't understand.

The other question that I have been asked a lot lately is if "Do you feel that I am prepared to teach next year in a private/public school setting?" depending on who is asking the question. My answer is earnestly yes. Because every time this question is asked I know what the asker really means is "Do you feel prepared to teach kids next year?" they just might not always know that is what they mean. Kids are kids, race, social, economic, gender, ability all aside. When you are there with them, none of those things matter, yes they have an impact, but inside that room is a place where they can just be kids and can explore and share all those other things together. That is the place I want to be, be the same, learn the same, change the same, all in their own way.

Today was class picture day. I don't think there are many things that could ever have made me as happy as that moment of a few quick shutter clicks. It meant everything in a way. My first class, my first kids, and me, all together, a group that will impact me every day for the rest of my teaching experience, that has shared so much, and taught me to always remember that kids are kids, all the same.

Friday, March 23, 2012

A First Interview

As I am coming to the close of my internship with only a short 62 days until the graduation ceremonies I have begun applying to different jobs in the area. I by nature am the kind of person who needs to know what is going on in my impending future and have thus decided to apply to different private schools rather than waiting for the middle of the summer for when Baltimore City begins hiring for the next school year. I have applied to four or five different schools through the Association for Independent Maryland Schools and had my first full day interview this past week. I would like to relate that experience for my future self.

After having a forty five minute phone interview with the headmistress of the school, I was notified of a four to five hour interview the following week. I was given a set of different options for a sample lesson and a series of individuals that I would be interviewing with throughout the day. I choose to do my sample lesson on the writing of similes by having a series of instruction cards and a form sheet where students follow the directions from the cards that correspond with the sheet. Students then choose words and constructed sentences from a box of 150 words to choose from.

The interview process went very well. I spoke with the headmistress for forty five minutes, then did my sample lesson for forty minutes, then spoke with the curriculum coordinator, other middle school teachers, the other middle school English teacher, and then the headmistress again for about forty five minutes with each person.

The most important thing that I learned was just to stay confident and to remember that I would not have already been there unless they really had an interest in me. While starting my lesson with the students I got very nervous at the beginning because it was the first time I had ever turned around from a whiteboard and seen a group of students that was not already my own. I saw a group of students that were very different from the ones that I interact with every day, but were really just the same. This note I will expand on later.

I have to say that it was a very good experience for me and that I enjoyed it. A few friends asked me before and after if I was nervous. I had to admit that I was not. Because, just like with nearly everything else, there is only so much you can do. The school is looking for a person who will fit them just as much as you are looking for a school that will fit and support you. And with that all I can do is keep myself knowing that I will wind up where I am supposed to be!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Meaning/Representation/Execution of a Deepened Commitment

I had a conversation with my advisor this past Friday. It was really just a check in type how-are-you-feeling-at-this-moment kind of meeting. I would like to say that I felt better than I did, and then I do, but I guess that it is all about being honest, because that is the only way we can get to a point of change. Anyway, a great amount of my irritation and frustrations and despondence with they system and where I am at right now shone through. And thus, I received the following e-mail.

"I’m finishing up your letter of recommendation and have come to a little problem. Generally I close my letters for students in our program with a statement regarding the individual’s commitment to urban education and public schooling. After our conversation on Friday, I’m not sure how to close your letter. If you were to construct a sentence summarising your area of deepened commitment as you complete the program, what would you say?"

In this meeting I expressed that I do not want to work somewhere where my social life is expected to be aligned with my professional life. I do not want to work somewhere where teachers are always yelling at students. I do not want to work somewhere where students do not have the discipline to learn. I do not want to work somewhere where misbehaviour is a major issue. I also do not want to work somewhere where I feel like I am wasting my time. I live on a series of principles focused on the value of time. Not just my personal time, but time in general. I am not saying that all of these things are true of where I am not, however they are observations and conclusions I have drawn based on my experiences over the past year.

I expressed interest in working at a private school because I do not want to deal with a perceived set of problems based on my limited experience, since I have only worked at one school. Let me think about this. I can not say that I am exclusively committed to a public education. I support it and believe that everyone has a right to become educated as long as that is what the person wants and that is what they work toward. I do not believe that everyone should have the same education after a certain point in their life, like post-elementary school, because not everyone is destined for or desires the same educational endpoint in their lives. Many people do not want to go to college, they would prefer to be mechanics, or servicemen, or farmers, thus they do not need the same type of education that someone who would like to be a surgeon, an engineer, an architect, or a teacher need. Thus, we should not waste their time, their teachers' time, or the system's time on providing an education that is rejected and thus wasted. All education should be differentiated, not just the education of a single classroom. Not everyone is the same, not everyone needs the same things, not everyone wants the same things, so we shouldn't be giving everyone the same things. I support public education because everyone should have a chance to make choices for themselves regardless of where they come from. I do not agree with the system as it stands today because I believe that it is hurting more people than it is helping.

In regards to my commitment to urban education, I love living in an urban setting. I believe that living and working and growing up in an urban setting is good for kids because it is real. I grew up in a place and had experiences that were real because I made some less than excellent choices that got me into those situations. However, if I had made other choices I could have grown up in a pintucked primrose dreamland, and probably never learned anything that made me a real person at all. I love working and teaching in an urban setting because there are so many resources that are within reach. There are so many things to see and so many things to do. Students are minutes away from touching the things they are learning about, they just need a guide to get them there. I have no intention of returning to dreamland, or any other glossy version of suburbia. Well not until I am old and move back to Florida to sit on the beach. At this point I fully intend to spend my teaching career in urban education settings. I plan to stay in Baltimore for a minimum of the next five years and then maybe someday teach in the City. However, that is too far away for me to plan at this moment, besides I fully expect life to happen while I am busy making other plans.

While, I did not come to a single sentence defining my current commitment and my current belief system, I think that I made some support from which to draw a single statement. I may not agree with everything about public education as it stands now, I believe in what it stands for, and I want to be a part of aligning meaning with representation with execution during my teaching career in an urban setting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Good Fairies and Bad Fairies

I think that this is the part where we are tired. Where we are not sure this is what we want to be doing any more. Where we stop and ask ourselves what our alternative was. And then we can't remember.

I feel like everyone in my program right now is completely exhausted. Operating somewhere between insomnia and assignment due dates, I find myself questioning whether or not this is what I really want to be doing. A friend and I have been joking a lot about working at private schools and how that must be the answer, and in all honesty we have both applied to several and are anxiously waiting to hear back from them. We joke a lot about finding a "hippie learning school" and pleading for them to let us in. While we both "love" working with our students, I could not say that I love everything about being here. I guess I have finally learned that just like there are good fairies and bad fairies there are good students and bad students.

I think that this is why people are attracted to working in the young elementary grades, I think that all the kids are still good fairies then, for the most part. The students actively care that you are there, they actively care that you exist, and they are active participants in what you have to say. At least this is what my delusions lead me to believe as I see the tiny creatures bouncing along in the hallway with one hand in the air and the other over their mouths. So with this I would like to explore two questions. Why do some kids turn into such evil monsters? Why is it right now that I have finally reached this point of exhaustion and I think that private school is the answer?

I want to understand why kids turn into monsters sometimes in the middle school, because at this point I do not feel like teaching or working because I do not believe that people who don't want to learn deserve to learn. If you can't put in the time, you don't deserve a dime. If you can't make the time, don't waste mine. I feel as if these are things that I have heard throughout my life that these kids have not. That there is an element of respect and discipline that these kids lack. It might be the way I was raised, which of course you could go off on that I led a privileged life with a great family which is true and that many of these kids do not have that, but that is not an excuse for their behaviour. And right now I do not feel that I can work with that. And this feeling isn't just stemming from my personal experience but from my observations of my co-teacher and the teachers around us. I think this is why I think that private school is the answer.

Many of the values that I grew up with came from the fact that I attended a private elementary school, basically a private high school, and a private university. So that is what I know. I feel guilty that these kids are not growing up in an environment that values education in the same way that I did. And I am struggling with how as a teacher I can affect my students in a way that they come to value education. Especially when it feels like fighting tooth and nail every moment sometimes.

I have another friend who told me the other day, as I was expressing my anxieties in a more colourful fashion, that he thinks that my problem right now is that I need to work with older students, that high school would be much more my scene, and that my brain is just working too fast to do this whole middle school thing. I did not agree with him.I believe that I would like high school students in a different way and for different reasons that I like middle school students. I would like high school students because of their potential abilities for higher order conceptualisation of literature and maybe their maturity level. I like middle school students because they live at a turning point and everything just seems more urgent with them. I like middle school students because they want to be social, and they want to talk, and they want to act up. It is just a matter of figuring out how to channel that energy.

And this brings me back to the good fairies and the bad fairies. For the most part, a class is made up of good fairies, kids who want to make magic happen and who want to be creative and who are positive. But every class has it's bad fairy. The kids who can destroy the motivation and happiness of the entire rest of the class. The kid who is a rotten egg, a bad seed, a negatively spinning black hole sucking the happiness out of the room and the hallway and the whole building. How do you stop this?

YOU BECOME THE ALL POWERFUL FAIRY AND DEFEAT THEM WITH YOUR MAGIC! TRY EVERY SPELL YOU HAVE GOT AND KEEP GOING! I guess why this teaching program is a year long. So, that we have enough spells to make it happen for ourselves and our students.

I guess I didn't answer either of my questions, but I sure do feel better.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Firsts and Lasts

About six years ago my friends and I had a little ritual, a little ceremony if you will. We got on the bus and shared our favourite memories from our bus rides over the previous two years. It was the last day of tenth grade and it was, so we thought, the last time we would ride on a school bus. I don't always remember last days of school but I do tend to remember firsts of different things. I have a very hard time remembering what my last day of regular high school was like, which is sad for me. I think I was too wrapped up in my science fair project and preparing to leave for international science fair that I wasn't sure when that last day really was. I got back on a plane the day before graduation and went straight to school for the practice ceremony from the airport if I remember correctly. Anyways, the point is that today I chaperoned my first field trip as a teacher, and a few funny things happened.

First, we were going to a career field trip at Johns Hopkins and I was the only person who knew where we were supposed to go because it was my school. On the bus I learned that kids don't change. They still write stupid things in the window fog, they still argue about who said what and when when, and they still call "Same seats, same seats!" on the way back, and there still is without fail an argument about who gets to sit in the last row and in that silly awkward chair on the left side.

I think that it was really important for me to remember this lack of change because it reminded me to look at my students objectively and remember that they are the same as I was, they really aren't any different at all than I was. However, there was a fun new thing that happened. There were a few kids who were throwing little paper balls out of the windows of the back of the bus.

One memory we shared and I still remember to this day, is this. We were riding home after school on a Friday. I always sat next to my friend Matt in the fourth seat from the back on the left side. We were listening to music on his headphones. All the sudden the bus screetches to a halt from going about 55. The driver pulls over, stands up, and yells GET OFF! NOW! GET OFF! YOU HAVE A CELL PHONE! YOU BETTER CALL SOMEBODY TO GET YOU! THIS IS A PRIVILEGE! GET OFF! A boy named Adam, ran off of the bus with all of his stuff and cried. His mom had to come pick him up on the side of the road because he was throwing bottles of soda out of the window and watching them explode. The bus driver continued driving.

Instead of getting away with it, or the driver pulling over, a student texted the other teacher who was chaperoning from the back of the bus to report who was throwing things out of the windows. The teacher simply said in a clearly audible voice for those students to stop or they would have detention. Talk about having eyes in the back of your head. The students were quite surprised and got themselves together. It was hilarious. The following text from the spy student was "Nice. Ms. S." This is just another one of the many ways technology has changed us and the way we work. While this may be insignificant in the long run, what it symbolizes is extremely significant. Technology has perpetrated our environment to the insignificant. We can't go back from there.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Miles to go.

It is an interesting place to be sitting at this moment. Tomorrow is the first day of student's coming back to school for the new semester. I just got back to Baltimore from spending a lovely two weeks in sunny Florida enjoying a 75 degree Christmas with my family. At this point I can not tell if it is the nerves setting in, or the reminder that this should not be so different this time around either. But, somehow I feel like this too is a first day of school again. Maybe it is just because I have not done this before, but really I think I am afraid of asking kids how their Christmas break (Winter break) was. I know that I am extremely blessed and I got many things for the holiday - new boots, a new camera, a gore-tex dry top, a lovely week with my boyfriend visiting my parents for the first time, but most importantly my entire family was together for two large scale home cooked meals, one at my aunt's in south Florida, and one at my own house in central Florida. I had an enormous amount of time to spend with my family, my support group, my sounding board, and my best friend.

I know that I am blessed to have had all of these things happen to me over the past two weeks. I hope that my students had something to feel blessed and happy about over their own holidays. I know that they did, I just hope that they realize it. I hope that it involved family and friends, and whatever that special something was that they really wanted for Christmas.

It is for these things that I am thankful to have in this new year. I am also thankful for my cohort peers and professors that I have yet to see this year, but I can't wait until tomorrow, because regardless of how I feel at this moment, the wheels keep turning and there are still miles to go before this long and winding road reaches its deep end.