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.