Summer already, and in a state of drought [This is a post started back in May]. Already I’ve been watering–not enough rain to keep the seedlings alive until they send roots deep enough, or to bring up the worms to chew up that compost on the top. How to convince my sweetheart that now is the time to divert the gray water from our showers and kitchen sink into the vegetable garden my current challenge. He can do it, no problem, he says, but he’s a busy man, and we have so many other projects on the go. I don’t want to pester, or to be shrill, as I feIt was sounding, a little, talking to the pool manager about how I wanted my kids to get summer jobs that didn’t involve fuel consumption–yes, it’s normal, but we have to make a new normal, or we’ll all be in trouble, I proclaimed.
The other day I suggested to another teacher that it might be a good idea for school districts to trade staff around to minimize commuting distance and hence fuel combustion. And add good staff showers to the next renovation plan, so it would be easier to bike in. I asked around before Bike to School and Work Day about showers, and no one seemed to know. It would have to be one not used by students after early morning weights–too awkward.
I load the clothesline each day–sometimes I go out at night and hang as I listen to the coal trains rattle by; sometimes I’m out early in the morning hearing the birds–a pileated woodpecker knocking on the cottonwoods, robins, crows, chickadees and sparrows, and the faint rush of freeway commuters. Aromas of roses, apple blossoms with the occasional touch of sea air permeate the blankets and undershirts, puffing back out as I gather them together in my arms to place in the basket the next day.
Today was my last day subbing for a traveling high school teacher. I had all four classes, three of which require a lot of effort to keep them working. Or to clarify that it is completely their choice not to do any work, knowing they have been offered support and options. I had three sign notes to that effect. All very professional, and they seemed to appreciate being released–catch and release? I would have liked to have sent them home to work on a better plan. These are young adults, and while I recognize that the years have given me wisdom and can justify me being in a position of authority to set requirements and standards, as well as some ways of trying to help them develop a vision, a purpose for all this study, I want to honor their capacity and right to make their own choices.
One student said she had been away for several weeks because she couldn’t be bothered coming to school. I asked her why she decided to come in, and she explained that it was due to the departure of a welcome visitor at her home, a relative. I guess she felt lonesome and came for the social life. Her table mate, before this having been on the edge between marginal effort and none toward the class work, decided she was going to play cards. Did they expect this to result in an escalation, and that they would have to exert their right to self governance? I’m not into that, at their age, with my limited understanding of them personally.
This morning the instructional assistant that’s been helping with some of the students in one class came in specially to tell me that one of the students–one I had urged repeatedly to try to do the work, and who kept making excuses and evasions and claiming I was picking on him, was “special ed.” She seemed like she had been sent to tell me, after, probably, having a conversation with someone downstairs about how my interaction with that student had not gone very well the previous day. It was humbling, though I was glad to have more information–if only a label. At the end of the previous day I was aware that I’d need to be more gentle and creative with this student. Ironically, I felt that this boy’s social skills were on par or above those of the I.A. in some ways, who said almost nothing to me the whole four days, not even looking at me or answering when I said hello as she walked by me on her way in on the second day. No introduction, no sense of us being a team, in fact, a cold avoidance from the beginning. Her interaction with students she was working with (she stayed at one table the whole time, not to my knowledge offering much to the “special ed” student I had had the minor conflict with, involved a kind of “coming down to their level” which included whining, sarcasm, complaining, and bickering. It was strange, and made me wonder about her, as I assume she had skills and training, and an interest in being there. As the trainer said, kids can learn from all kinds of educators’ styles, as long as they’re consistent. So I’ll try not to judge.
The other I.A. was completely different–a tall, kind, bearded man who used a combination of goofiness and simple explanations as he circulated around helping struggling or off track students with their lab work. He kept an open line of communication with me, showed respect, and was a real sunshiny presence.
Today I finally confiscated some cell phones from students–should have earlier, maybe, but that’s a touchy thing to do as a sub. I didn’t want to physically touch the hones, so had each student wrap theirs up in scrap paper and put it in the drawer of the teacher’s desk, One had been repeatedly told over the course of the week to put her phone away, and was drawn like a magnet back to her screen again and again, oblivious to all else. She looked forlorn when it was gone–it was a case of withdrawal, I said, as I shared with her the science behind those feelings, loss of dopamine rush, as of an addict from a drug. She looked a little startled. Is no one teaching these kids the science of addiction, or that it doesn’t have to be about drugs present externally? I suppose we’re all scrambling to develop a philosophy, a policy, about something so powerful, ubiquitous, and sort out the elements of our ambivalence.
It might be a good idea to turn it over to the students themselves, this question of appropriate use of digital and/or web-based technology–let them research it, discover what the scientists have concluded, what’s being looked at, examine their own biases, teacher biases, parent biases, try to be objective after all. I haven’t seen very much work on this, and it’s pretty important–at least as important as bullying. Maybe it’s not being addressed because it’s such a can of worms. Questions might arise such as, How does business influence students’ use of technology in the classroom? What student data is gathered by student use of district-adopted software and apps, and how is it used? How are web-based tests affecting students, and what do they measure well and not so well? Why is Microsoft eager to supply low or no-cost hardware and software to schools? And so on.
Flood ’em with information, theories, and opportunities to research and test. Put themselves in the place of an educator, a parent, a person trying to interact with them at dinner as they hold that thing in their hands. If the internet is really making them smarter, then they have to be responsible with that additional brain power, and use it to work it out on their own.
Meanwhile, I would like to use my students (among others) as subjects in an experiment of my own. I’d like to know whether there is a relationship between screen exposure and one’s ability to sit still without any direct stimulus, just to be still with one’s own thought and feelings. Somehow I feel this is an important question, and might provoke some valuable conversation about the brain. Maybe also the soul.