"Education is not a product: mark, diploma, job, money; It is a process, a never-ending one."
Wednesday, March 31, 2004
creating change, envoking thought
it feels pretty good to have successfully accomplished a goal while failing to even notice the accomplishment until later.
i spend many afternoons sitting and talking with a student of mine after school. she usually asks for help on her homework, but the conversation so often drifts to this and that, leading us on great adventures talking about human issues and not limiting ourselves to the typical teacher-student roles. last week i expressed to her my frustrations with the students’ immaturity regarding sexism: most students have deeply seated beliefs in specific gender roles and have no inhibitions discussing sex in a derogatory way. they don’t really care about my opinion, either, so it always feels like i have no influence in steering them towards more respectful attitudes. now this student that i converse with after school--i can tell that in class she is also bothered by the immaturity, and so i told her last week that this issue frustrates me. i said that i don’t know how to approach the issue other than to speak up and point out that sexist comments are disrespectful to me and to other students.
i also talk to her quite a bit about the concepts i am trying to teach in my classes, and i feel like she helps me understand whether or not i am truly accomplishing my goals at all. she is honest and constructive. and she is also unintentionally subjective (of course we all are subjective) and through her i can tell when i am being one-sided during a classroom discussion and not including other members of the class. for instance, during the past two weeks we spent a good deal of time listening to rap music, categorizing its many styles, and analyzing the lyrics for meaning regarding culture and society. i can’t express how happy i was to see the uninterested students, the ones who hate school with a passion, finally become animated and jump up out of their seats to explain how Jay-Z cracked the code on how to make the perfect rap album, going platinum every time. this classroom energy was great, of course, but one-sided. while stimulating one-half of the class, i had lost the other half because the gansta rap industry was not quite their cup of tea. with this in mind, i admitted to my after-school conversation partner that i could tell she was bored with the rap thing. and i admitted that i did want to include everyone, but i just didn’t know how. i needed to find common ground among all issues covered in the books the students have been reading.
and i unintentionally found it.
last thursday, i photocopied an article i found on Znet entitled, “Health and Poverty in the US.”
I was nervous about the length (13 pages) and the density of the article itself, but the lesson succeeded and a beautiful discussion was born. that was a stressful day, too, and i had begun the period with a headache, but ended with a smile and the confidence that i had engaged nearly the entire class -- together.
this week we have watched most of the movie, “Angela’s Ashes,” and the class appears to be enjoying the film. thursday i will discover how beneficial the film will be towards our discussion on poverty and class distinction, but i am still confident that the class will remain together and inspired to discuss.
Monday, March 29, 2004
on the dusk of another difficult day
on so many fronts, i am going through a period of identity crisis, although i feel the word crisis is a bit strong. identity query, perhaps.
with school, my situation lies in the fact that i am becoming more strict in my classroom. i used to be relaxed in policy because i felt it was what these students deserved — if i trust them to do the right thing, they will return my trust with the willingness to follow the rules and, most importantly, to simply listen to me. i see most students as zombies in the classes they dread, because they don’t have any respect for a teacher who yells and enforces superficial rules like no hoodies, no hats, no cd players. and i honestly belive that i succeded, because many students that the school considers "problems" are open with me and will listen when i ask for their attention. but lately i’ve been changing my policies and reprimanding students for having cell phones, eating food, and talking about anything other then the class lesson. i have my reasons, of course, but i wonder if i am slightly changing into the teachers that i despised before.
am i beginning to understand why classroom discipline is so important? why anarchy among teenagers is a dangerous thing?
or am i losing the youthful energy i had when i began teaching just a few months ago? i was bursting with ideas and theories on how to make the classroom a open and productive place without a power struggle; now i see myself frustrated and struggling with power because i am unable to effect and stimulate uninterested students. am i incapable in reaching them? i do understand that am missing vital skills and resources as an untrained teacher. but i am also going through an “identity query” where i am questioning my role as a teacher. i want that feeling back: the one where i was indestructible... where i was going to be the best teacher these students had ever met.
i also need to keep in perspective that i am working in a school that is on probation and has lacked a committed principal for two years. even i, the 23 year-old, naïve, wannabe teacher, can create a page long letter on how to create a better learning atmosphere for this school. yes, i know i am doing the near-impossible here. i have to keep that in perspective. but i also want to keep pushing myself to be the best teacher my students have ever met.
Thursday, March 25, 2004
i found something i had lost...
i aplogize. i think i have been ignoring all of my support, the words of encouragement being offered to me from all of my friends and relatives. these past couple of weeks have been overbearing, and falling behind has only made me doubt my abilities as a teacher. in reality though, i have only lost sight of my potential. i forgot some of the reasons why i am doing this...i lost sight of what i have to offer.
+ i will give my students the perspectives and stories they may have never seen and heard before.
+ i will tell them about my life and i will not alter who i am just to make them think i am more like them. we will compare our lives and open our minds. we will find our commonalties.
+ i will read to them and find what captures their attention, then use their interests to teach them what they need to know in order to survive in this world.
+ i will listen to them and let them teach me what i need to know to survive in this world.
+ i will be honest.
+ i will give them the truth, as best as i can explain it.
+ i will get frustrated.
+ my worst days will push me up into my best days.
+ i will still smile at them after giving them detention.
+ i will reveal myself when i don't know something (which happens often).
+ i will help them find the answers.
+ i will offer them only compassion in all that i do and nothing else.
Sunday, March 21, 2004
one of the most common thoughts i return to each week is how i am still so young, and i feel like i am losing something, losing possible moments in time. while sitting on the marble floor of federal plaza yesterday, leaning up against a post office window and chatting with a new acquaintance, i was reminded of my loss of free time. i listened to her and imagined her working her simple job and coming home with time to spare, not having to worry about falling behind in responsibilities. to be a free and unrestrained youth. this teaching gig is my life with no room for anything else really, nothing significant and time consuming, that is. i wish i had time to stay up late with friends and time to change my plans sporadically and time to sit on couches for days at a time. i miss a lack of routine.
but i think about the possibilities, how if i were presented with the opportunity to run away and return to the wandering, rebellious life i would refuse the offer. i would refuse only because i made the choice to teach high school. no one pushed me into this. and i am still doing it, almost 100 days strong now. i've questioned quitting. running away to adventures unplanned and spontaneous. i question leaving my job all the time, but i know that if i put in a few years to teach and earn a masters degree, i will come out of this with experience and with purpose. and most of all, i know that in the end i will be the same person, no matter what. i will most definitely still have my desire to wander and be rebellious. and i will still desire a lack of routine. i will still up and run off on a whim to follow my day dreams. but in a few years, after sticking with this routine, i will have done something i had always thought nearly impossible for me. in the end, i will have the experiences and the memories. that's what i want out of this life.
Friday, March 12, 2004
milemarker: falling behind
distractions have proven themselves to be poisonous to my progress as a teacher. i struggle, even more so now, in keeping up with the basic responsibilities of a professional educator. lesson plans, record keeping, and class preparation. i have told myself before that if i can prepare a week's worth of class work ahead of time, i will have much more time for resting each night after work--instead of working till midnight (or longer) on the next days lessons and paperwork. but i still procrastinate each weekend and put my school tasks on hold. i take my naps and spend my time on mindless relaxation. i have to. some days, i put in up to 10 hours of work at school, then come home with more to do. this week i have been putting my homework off to the side to relax, sleep, and forget about responsibilities.
unfortunately, my procrastination has only resulted in frustration, a build up of serious tension which results in disappointment in myself. today was by far the worst day. this evening, i hid under my covers after spending too much time in bed during the afternoon. i was angry at how i have not been practicing basic self-discipline. angry at my failings. and worried that i am getting too close to giving up. tonight, i would not come out from under the covers. i was warm and comfortable there. everything outside the bed was daunting. i had lost my momentum and felt so close to stopping completely.
i am up again, though. i climbed out of bed, put some clothes on, ate some food, and am now back on the path again. i'm about a week behind schedule and it will take some time to catch up, but i feel like i can do it. i have to. i want to. i am not giving up.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004
i'm fighting back tears at this moment, it's getting harder to hold them in. no, it's not fear. i personally do not feel threatened. i feel scared for my students and the bullets threatening each one of them, threatening the darkness of their skin and the colors of the clothes they wear.
one of my students was shot today in his right calf just below the knee.
11:50am. i heard yelling and looked out the window. nothing unusual, i said to myself. i saw a few students run past the window. when i saw this student of mine raise his arms up and bang on the van next to him, i saw anger and not humor. then i saw him limping and i was running out the door. i couldn't think straight and he couldn't hear me telling him to come my way. i tried to get him to sit down, only listening to my outdated first aid training telling me to take the weight off his leg and administer pressure on the wound to clot the blood. i wasn't thinking about gangs and weapons and territory. all i could see or hear was this student of mine, and another boy on a cell phone yelling to the police operator on the other end. and the boy with the bullet in his leg, he could only hear himself and the pain in his leg telling him he has enemies... how he now has more buisness to take care of. his jeans had spots of blood soaked through the fabric. i couldn't tell where the bullet had entered. it still didn't seem real to me. maybe there was no bullet. i didn't hear the gunshot. i looked up towards the school and saw the principal, frantically mouthing words in the distance (everything had gone silent) and motioning for us to come back to the building, to get inside. danger? oh god, this is no place for him to be, limping on the curb, still out on the street. we are in danger--everyone on this scene is in danger.
nothing more, just cops and questions, and me standing the the background fighting off tears that i feel are coming from my student, not me. cause i can't identify what this pain is. it is the danger that i don't face. it is the fear my students hide behind their egos. this pain is knowing they can't run away from the only life they know.
Tuesday, March 02, 2004
passing moments in time and space
it could be said that teaching is like balancing yourself on a tight rope while simultaneously holding a plate of marbles in each hand. and, just for kicks, every now and then someone comes by and shakes the rope to see what you can handle. or puts even more marbles on your plate.
i have many stories to write, hopeful stories and difficult stories. stories that shake me up every time i think about them. but i have to move on and sometimes i don't have the time to write. i miss that free time.
things are changing, oh how things are changing. i see so many changes in myself: i feel like a more skillful teacher, but sometimes i don't feel as connected with the students because i'm pushing them to do assignments instead of chatting with them about something off topic. i also worry that i am getting comfortable and not pushing myself like i used to. i don't want to stick with textbook work, but i also have to make sure i put in all the preperation time needed when giving project-based assigments. and sometimes i worry when i don't connect with an entire class and we accomplish very little; i wonder why it is i cannot engage some students, no matter how hard i try.
i see changes in the school, great changes, profound changes! i am working on a letter to our new principal, fresh from a middle-school teaching position, but with over a decade experience working in chicago public schools. she knows how to get things done, but most importantly, she knows how to fight fair and how to treat our students with respect. i look up to her. in my letter, i plan to thank her for all she has brought to this school and to tell her more about myself, my strengths and weaknesses, my hopes and fears.
i see changes in the students. they are more focused on themselves and not so much on the failings of this school because, i think, the school is showing signs of improvement. we take things one step at a time. even though each day is a struggle and some days drag on with painful progression, we still are taking those steps forward. when a week passes, we feel changed somehow, like we're moving with a purpose and not running aimlessly in circles.
thank you to everyone, for your continuous support and encouragement. you know who you are. on the love. keep in touch.