Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Student (and Teacher) Development

I'm teaching full-time in a new environment again this year, so you've probably noticed that my updates are non-existent.

It's always this way--when I have the most interesting stuff going on in my life, I write the least and my experiences are lost to the page. When I'm navel gazing too much, I write a bunch of self-absorbed crap.

So I'm going to try to break through and do a few updates. I'll start with an artificial framework in the hopes it will help me write. Most of all, please respond and chip in you perspective if you can--it will help make me write and even if it fails to do so, I'll certainly learn a lot from it.

Today: Tuesday, only four classes period, eighth was cancelled.

I missed my eighth period kids, but I'm kind of exhausted from that class--it's the one that was twelve students and the kids were blasting through the material and then they dropped 20 extra students into the class with 3 hours notice eleven weeks into the semester.

I'm not really sure how they were supposed to pass, but I've been pretty flexible and there are a small handful that are doing completely awesome. A lot of the students are understandably bitter about the forced add of a foreign language at such a late date, so it's taken some work to get them moving in the right directions.

We had a Student Development team meeting today. I got the memo during my division (homeroom) period, twenty minutes before I had to attend. That kind of threw my planning into disarray, but I'm excited to be on this team.

A couple people from the downtown office came to visit us and solicit grant proposals. It's a good program--for a portion of the grant, teacher proposals are not accepted--the activities must be student written, led and executed. Unfortunately, we don't seem to have students on our student development team, so I was kind of irritated by that. I mean, no matter how many times a bunch of well-meaning teachers meet with each other and chat, there's a point of diminishing returns.

I mean, I feel a strong bond with our students--during division time today, we had an extra half-hour so we watched "Head of State" together, Chris Rock's first film about himself running for president. It has a strong understanding of politics and campaigning, and the kids had a lot of questions about how presidential debates and other aspects of the campaign work. They cheered loudly when Rock's character won, but I didn't point out that Rock had said that he was torn over the ending. Finally, he decided that there might not be another chance to have an African American win a presidential election--real or fictional--for a long time, so he couldn't pass up the chance.

I see that in my kids often--the realization that they are not welcome in the political process and sometimes a "well fuck them if they don't want us!" response that I try my best to explain to them "the best way to mess them up is to get REALLY involved."

So following the meeting, I had a very chaotic hectic day in which the kids were loud and rambunctious, but did seem to get some work done on their projects. I've got them writing fake grant proposals (weird coincidence) in English and then transferring them into Japanese. So I announced about the need for student grants, but there was little interest in trying to import their classwork into the other projects.

During sixth, one of the other teachers came to ask for help on some disciplinary issues. She a great person and a good teacher, but she happens to be caucasian and very sensitive and the kids sometimes just eat her alive. It's kind of hard sometimes to watch someone who cares so much about the kids have to choose between getting a little bit more cynical or bursting into tears or occasionally both. It's been a rough week in general--we had a ton of fights last week and at least two gun incidents, so security has been very tight and I think the kids are a little on edge, doubly so with the break coming up. I've seen a lot more teachers taking kids into the hall to try to deal with them. Technically we can't really send kids out, so there are extreme situations where it's hard to know what to do--a kid has had it rough outside of school and comes to class determined to mess up the entire process. The teachers who don't seem to be stressed out are more "survivors" than experts. There are the great teachers, but it seems like we are mostly judged from the outside just on our classroom discipline, which to be honest, I don't think is really that important. I mean, how many brilliant people do you know who can't sit in their chairs and shut up?

During my "planning periods", I let the students into my room, so they have a safe place to study and avoid the general atmosphere of violence that permeates the school. At first they were concerned that the fighting might spread to my room, but I just explained to them repeatedly that I would step in the way of anyone fighting and if they continued, they would end up punching me in the head.

They tested that promise on a couple of occasions by starting a fake fight and my head was barely spared, but it seemed to satisfy them, so there have been no outbreaks of violence in my classroom.

It does get a little loud sometimes.

Today, I really needed to get some high concentration work done, and I'd heard, "We'll try to be quiet if you don't make us leave" several times to no avail, so I set a limit at 3pm (I was actually done with work at 1:30), and said no talking past that point.

They actually decided to stay and not talk--did some reading and then started to chat a little, but in extremely hushed tones.

I got a ton of work done and at 4:15, I realized that they had stuck to their promise well over an hour, and I had almost finished my grading, so I eavesdropped a little.

They were discussing the upcoming presidential race. "Clinton or Obama, both would be good--the first of their uh, group".

I was a little surprised. Then they proceeded to discuss things that needed to change in the school and how they wished there was something to do.

I smiled, finished my grading, complimented them on their conversation and then tried to sell the grant-writing assignment. They got excited and said they'd have me several ideas for a proposal tomorrow.

I drove my hour commute home, ate my first meal of the day and am now contently rummaging through the day in this space.

Hope someone gets something interesting out of this.


Blogger powerpolitics said...

That's really cool that they quieted down and started having good political discussions. I will have to pass on the Head of State tip to my friends who do youth organizing.

How do you deal with being in a classroom all day long? I feel like I would and have run out of patience far before the schoolday is done? Or is this a matter of "you just have to love kids?"

9:14 PM  
Blogger xian said...

I think the biggest thing, especially in a difficult environment is to be able to focus on the beauty in any situation. In the case of kids, there's plenty there.

It's hard when something big and bad happens to not focus on that. Many of the students have a lot going on in their lives outside of school, and just one can really disrupt the flow of class. It's vital in those moments that there's 30+ other kids there who need you attention too, so you just respond as positively as you can, offer to talk more outside of class and then refocus.

If you are able to observe and learn from all of the kids as individuals, you'll really get a ton out of it.

Finally, in terms of patience, I just remember that I'm who I want to be (plenty of room for growth, but I'm secure) and where I want to be. People aren't going to act how you want them to. You just advise them the best you can, and know that good modeling and empathetic love lead to better results in the long term.

9:39 PM  

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