Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Making Sense

I had the nice experience of working after school with a girl in my class that is pretty learning disabled. She is sweet and is not a behavior issue at all. Working one-on-one with her was great. I think she really started to understand the concepts of weight and mass more. I think she also appreciated the attention since I think she gets little at home. She is so quiet I confess I also lose her in class without realizing it.

Upon reflection I started wondering if it would be possible to get her to stay after more often and give her the extra help she needs. I had a moment of excitement at the thought of her actually passing science! Then reality hit me. Who cares if she passes even the next two term of science. She still failed the first two and will still fail everything else and still most likely be put into life skills next year in the high school and still not go to college and still not get a job and still be on disability most likely and still not live a "normal life." Her skills are limited and that will always affect her. So what's the point of her passing or spending time after school? I truly believe that the system has set her up to fail and that if she had been loved, nurtured, assisted, and given a enriching environment she would not have such a harsh future ahead of her. But the problem is systemic, so there is little I can do. There is a saying around my school that in middle school we hold a lot of kids together and provide the support they need to deal with their s***** lives, but when they go to the high school they fall apart. Why be a part of the cycle that sets them up to fail in high school where there is less support and nurturing?

Then another thought hit me. It sounds cliche, but the time I spend with her will impact her for life and nurture her emotionally, which could help her in the long run even if she falls between the cracks in high school. This sounds like the natural philanthropic conclusion, but it makes sense in her bleak future.

Unfortunately I often have these "epiphanies" but lack the energy to follow through with them. Especially being in grad school. Any yet this is what teaching is about for me...being different and valuing the small things that give me and my students hope for the future.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Interests and The Here And Now

So I was thinking more about this vague thing I call my future plans and research interests. I want to pursue a PhD and so I was doing more research into schools, which turned out to be great because it got me thinking more about what I am interested in on a larger scale (larger than surviving the next time C+I decide to start a mutiny). Every time my ideas get a little clearer and a little more focused I get more excited, because most of the time my ideas are a swarm of buzzing words and phrases or sometimes only an array of feelings and emotions from experiences. So this is what I came up with.

I am interested in developing and researching how schools can be learning communities that lead to greater moral, social, and emotional development in teens (evident by a sense of purpose, responsibility, motivation, compassion) through teacher-student mentor relationships, service learning, experiential learning, community, internships, longer school days, technology, equity education, social justice, exploration, student interests, unique opportunities, student involvement, and so much more. I don't want to construct a model. I think there are too many models that go in and out of style. It is more of a philosophy, an ideal, a vision that many models or schools can fit into and embrace. It is an idea that I want to research. I want to research schools that do these kinds of things and see success or not, models that emphasize this development, geographical areas that have particular trends, etc. I believe there is a trend between the type of development I am talking about and the type of structures, policies, and activities that I listed above.

Most often my ideas are vague, hazy things floating in front of me but not tangible. Every time I put my finger on specific actions or beliefs I get excited. I had an interesting experience before vacation when I sat down with a boy that has been driving me nuts in class. The meeting had been put off for a long time so there was a lot I had to talk about, including swearing, walking away from me when I was talking to him, calling me names, yelling out answers in class, and other disruptive behavior. I wish I could remember everything I said. The words came without me really thinking about what my approach was. I asked him a lot of questions, like "What did you say to me in class today" "Why do you have this detention" "What would be a better way of handling that situation." I explained to him why I did things I did along the way. I tried to show him why the things he was doing were not helping him succeed. He told me some helpful things, like he has a temper problem and he walks away because he is mad. I asked him to tell me if he wants to talk about something later and then follow through too. Then I asked him if he had any ideas to help his behavior in class. He asked me to remind him to think before he speaks when he comes in the classroom. I also showed him a card I made that says "Focus" that will be his reminder and warning before he is sent out of class. It was a really good meeting. I haven't had to use the card yet.

An interventionist sat in on the meeting and he made an interesting comment to me afterwards. He said "That meeting was good. He he is the type of kid that if you show him respect he will show you respect."

This whole experience was so interesting for me because I didn't go in there with a specific plan, but the philosophies that are rooted in me and that I have a hard time pulling out really just controlled what I said and how I structured our conversation. Something inside me clicked and told me not to talk, but to ask him questions, make him take responsibility for this problem and the solutions. I am glad I have internalized this idea. And I know where it came from...Four Rivers most recently, but also my own parents. Seeds of Solidarity and People's Market play into a lot of how I think. And of course, my own educational experience. Glen and youth group are a huge influence. So were the reading I did in Citizen Scholars courses. It's all coming together in the realm of teaching (and, wow, I've been writing for 40 minutes).