"Education is not a product: mark, diploma, job, money; It is a process, a never-ending one."
Thursday, November 18, 2004
this one goes out to my man mike genovese
i stood by the door, anxious and nervous for michael's arrival. i spent seventh period setting up the digital projector and trying to spread the word. "you staying after school, right?" i'd ask an unsuspecting student. "michael genovese is gonna be here. he's a chicago artist." "oh really?" they'd reply, either somewhat interested or just totally not paying attention to what i had said.
mike finally showed up just before the bell rang. school was out and most people left, some forgetting about the event, some going out to chill in front of the school till everyone was gone, then sneaking back into school to check out this chicago artist. we had coke and cookies and a nice tablecloth on the tables in the back of the room. someone set down a bag of ice in the corner and forgot about it. a student found it over an hour later with a river of melted ice flowing across the floor.
michael tore it up on stage, so to speak. he really worked to make a connection with the kids, speaking from the heart and giving some history of his life in chicago and elsewhere. it wasn't until he let some of his artwork do the talking, especially when he passed around some of his actual work, did most of the students open up. the questions took some time to begin flowing, but once the artists in the room (and everyone there is an artist in some way) made a connection--that aha! moment, that moment when they start to nod their heads in understanding--did the room become fully energized. i saw that michael himself had made a connection with the kids--he was receiving much of that energy. he had just the right stories, or just the right advice to inspire and interest the students.
i wish i could tell more here, but i also know that this is just a beginning. a beginning for the students and their creativity, a beginning with mike and me, and hopefully the sprout of something great between all of us to collaborate and make something great happen. it's there. for sure, it's there.
Monday, November 15, 2004
with all this free time, i should be writing more, yes? well, not exactly. i usually neglect my creative impluses when i gain more leasure time. i usually go off living and wandering. but i should record some moments here, especially since there is some unexpected news...
on wednesday, i attended my final day of classes. i was not so much the teacher to my students on this day, but more of a friend enjoying the moment. grades didn't matter to them or to me. when i talked to students, i felt a sense of compassion between us. they expressed how they would miss me and how i shouldn't leave just yet. i kept reminding them that my departure can only be something good because when i return, i will have more stories and experiences to share. some of the students got excited at the thought of traveling. i hope they travel soon, as well.
on thursday, i submitted the final grades. on friday, one last seminar with the faculty & ASN
. the teachers finally had a chance to act like our students... a little too well, i might add. i wanted to take a photograph of all of us together, but the moment passed and before i knew it everyone was gone, off to their cars to drive away. no worries, i will be returning next week to substitute.
to substitute? yes. to substitute. for myself. the school has found a qualified replacement for my position (journalism & photography teacher), but she can not start for another two weeks until she clears her calendar--she has been doing freelance photography work according to my principal. so i am now planning two weeks of projects for my students and i, something to complete our year and finish off those final ideas... my journalism classes still have two issues of our magazine to publish: an election issue & a thanksgiving issue, some articles already complete. my hope is to eventually get their magazine online, at least for historical purposes. so much amazing work has been produced.
i also hope to publish a tangible copy of this journal, plus more stories and rambling on teaching, sometime in the next few months. i have read many worthwhile books on teaching from publishers like Rethinking Schools, the New Press, Teachers College Press, etc. i feel i can contribute something at the underground level. look for "Teacher" in your favorite zine shop around the country in 2005.
more to come...
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
after hearing the news of my hiatus from teaching, my friend and mentor, mark, told me tonight:
"my favorite memory of our trip to mexico was you and i sitting by ourselves one night at the table in jose's aunt and uncle's house -- and you said (something like), 'you know, mark, i think i'll stay here and not return to chicago.' you said it with such calm and serenity that i believed you and i had no intention of dissuading you."
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
Letter to the faculty and staff of Aspira
This letter serves a few purposes, all related to my experience and perspective on teaching.
Let me get the biggest news out of the way: i am leaving Antonia Pantoja High School at the end of the quarter. This was one of the most difficult decisions i have had to make, one that i have been struggling with for many months. I will take with me not only the best experience working and learning, but the memories of a school working tirelessly towards changing things for the better. I hope that i have helped leave a mark in this school. I hope my efforts have made a difference in our students.
I have known some of you for almost one year, some of you for just over one month. My relationships to the faculty and staff members of Aspira vary from close friends to minor acquaintances. Each and every person has helped me at one time or another, and for this i can only hope that i have also helped to make some small difference in your experience working at Antonia Pantoja. (If i haven't, give me a call—i'm available for odd jobs, grading papers, raking leaves, vacuuming your car, etc.)
Irregardless of how small or large of an impact i have made on this school, i hope to continue to make a difference by encouraging you to work towards doing the best you can teaching, inspiring, and struggling with each one of our students no matter how hard they prove to be to teach. We work under some of the most difficult conditions; however, do not forget that we work with some of the most creative yet misunderstood students out there. I urge you—do not overlook the possibilities and potential in our kids. They have exceeded some of my most challenging expectations.
I wish to provide you with a glimpse of my personal perspective on teaching and living while working at Antonia Pantoja. I kept a journal during the length of my stay here, all of which can be read online at www.okcancel.org/teacher. Below is one of my journal entries from April 11th of this year:
don't get me wrong. every person on this earth has the capability to be a teacher. it takes no training, no formal education, no certificate, and no prior experience in teaching. it only takes a heart and a mind. (to all reading: remember this when you question whether or not you can be a teacher.)
from april 3rd to 11th, i spent eight days away from school and traveled Mexico. i paused once or twice questioning the job i would be returning to on monday, april 12th. it's true, the responsibility scares me. today i finally put pen to paper:
i am coming to the realization that i cannot yet act the role of a professional school teacher. and i am very close to forfeiting my position as English teacher at Antonia Pantoja High School. i have been a teacher here for just over three months -- a professional teacher with no prior experience. how did i get the job? i was recommended to substitute teach, then recommended to teach full-time based on my dedication and my immediate connection with the students. but i have made many mistakes and i have doubted myself countless times. how have i made it this far? i have had tremendous support from my fellow teachers at APHS and inspiration from our current principal, Daisy Lopez. in addition to support and inspiration, i have had the most amazing experiences with my students. they are the reason i rise each morning at 5:30, and they are the fuel for my body and spirit throughout the day. i recognize that i am the type of person who needs motivation and a push every day in order to press on in difficult situations. the faces and voices and laughter of my students are my motivation.
i will continue on in my position as professional teacher for now, believing in those who have told me that i am a great teacher no matter what. i give myself many reasons (excuses) to quit. i have so many other dreams to fulfill. but i will teach for my students and for everyone who told me not to give up.
And so i continued on teaching after April 11th. I took some time off over the summer to travel. I returned with new ideas and ready to teach again.
The difficulties of being an untrained, unqualified teacher have not left me, though. I struggle with these feelings everyday. I encounter countless situations with students and with lessons where i do not have the experience or the training in order to resolve a problem. Teaching has given me great experience in using my intuition and improving my skills, but it is no excuse for those times i wish i could have provided more for the students.
Everywhere in public and alternative schools, we can find a crisis of qualification. Unfortunately, i am another example of this. Of course we would all love to find Antonia Pantoja well stocked with highly qualified teachers. But only until recently has the school had more than one or two certified teachers. Still, there exists a deficit of teachers with lengthy teaching experience and a shortage of teachers of color. Our school suffers, but worst of all, our students suffer. This much is obvious. Some statistics: during the 1999-2000 school year, roughly 50 percent of the nation's middle and high school teachers would not have been considered "highly qualified" by the Department of Education's standards. It cannot be argued that the students who need the most resources and the best teaching possible to be successful are often being taught by teachers with little or no experience. More stats: the New York Times found that 50 percent of the teachers in urban schools leave teaching within their first five years. Lastly, students in schools that have a population of 90 percent or more African-American and Latino students are twice as likely to have teachers without certification at all.
I find myself in these statistics.
I am not discouraged. I am, however, greatly disappointed, even enraged at the state of our educational system today. So why am i leaving? Am i running away? No. I am leaving for a variety of reasons, primarily to reset myself and spend some time with my family. I will return to school to get a masters degree in education. I will become certified. And most importantly, i hope to live a life where i follow my many various dreams. I hope to experience many things and return to teaching with valuable stories and lessons with which to teach.
For those of you teaching and counseling now: you are the hope and the strength for our students. Please do not give up. You have been my inspiration and my support.
Someday we will meet again and we will have some amazing stories to share.
thank you for everything,
P.S. by the way, the statistics above are from the magazine Rethinking Schools, Vol.19, Issue 1.