In the light of a burning flame

18 Nov

Really clinging to the animating view. And remembering that I knew this would be tough. After really reworking my biology lesson into bite size pieces with opportunities for student engagement and assessment of understanding, though it was still essentially teacher-led, it worked well in the first class, the one I teach on my own, with only a few officially special ed students. They got the concept of osmosis, were able to predict and come up with reasonable hypotheses, and I was feeling pretty good. I sent out the student who’s so sassy she irritates half the class, told her she was welcome back when she was ready to be respectful. She soon came back and we continued on to closing time. They had their nice, organized notes, their star stickers, which they like (taste has been warped, and who am I at this stage to try to help find their internal motivations), no complaints. Then came the second group. Same lesson, but I slogged through even slower, and was able to confirm reasonable comprehension in only three out of sixteen students. Four or five either quietly talking through most of the lesson or listening to other students talk, using cell phones or listening to music (our policy means nothing: no one touches those student phones). I brought my questions down to the level of simple logic, as in if a=b and b=c, then what’s the relationship between a and c? All I got was that classic deer in the headlights stare. Okay, so I need to find new ways to individualize instruction and adjust expectations. So should I play God and say, students 1,2, and 3 are only capable to coloring pictures of cells and copying down words, doing the labs but not understanding the theory behind, writing the quizzes but always open book, and for them that’s an A, while students 3,4, and 5 get homework, the lab write up and the full test?

Had a conversation with the principal and counselor about that yesterday, and got the best answers they had to give, just to do my best to teach to the test, and only modify expectations if the IEP’s specifically stated to. And they were all given A’s for first semester by the teacher, whom they really liked, who departed for personal reasons. What an act to follow. I’d need a year and a half to teach all this material adequately to many of these students.

I just had to share my feelings, wished the para educator was one from whom I felt I could seek support, but she seemed as mystified about osmosis as the rest, and as convinced that my methods were the problem. Break it down into steps, she’d told me, give SDI–specific direct instruction (I asked). I was literally doing all of that to the best of my ability.

It was helpful to tell all to the school secretary and master many other trades, who has been at the school for decades and listened sympathetically, had no annoying advice, just, yes, it’s hard ,and said she couldn’t do it (though she is certified also and works in the classroom as a para). She added that since that class was after lunch, several of the students might be stoned. It was also helpful that the previous day I’d had a chat with the art teacher, who was reeling from a tough class too. It just would be nice to have a little respect and gratitude. To be able to remind certain students that even though they had a screwed up family life and not many prospects (in their own minds at least), they could show a little gratitude that somebody chose to work with them and all the other kids who couldn’t hack the regular school, or whom the regular school couldn’t hack.

No, we don’t go there. Once again I will try to be extra thankful myself that I get to be challenged to grow, to be tested for patience, sincerity, love, strength of character and principle, and to work with leaders in this field who want to create a place where all these students have a chance to really thrive.

Like at High Tech High in San Diego. Saw the film, “Most Likely to Succeed” about that today after school, and though the focus was still on providing worker’s for tomorrow’s jobs (which haven’t yet been invented) just like in the Bavarian model of industrialized public education, i was inspired by the way they are doing it. teachers on one year contracts with complete freedom to teach how they want. Focus on authentic work, student choice, major, creative projects and learning whatever soft and technical skills enable them to collaboratively create something that wasn’t there before. Combined disciplines, such as physics and history, civics and drama. gave me shivers to see the segment of the teacher who greeted his new freshmen, picked by lottery and as diverse as any, with the task of setting up the tables according to a pattern on the board, then leaving them, alone to figure it out–this group of teenagers who were complete strangers to one another, while he went into his attached glass office. The looks on their faces reminded me of those turning to one another when my education prof said to us on our first day, “So what do you need to know?” and waited.

My environmental science class is completely open as far as how I can teach it, and I started dreaming: How about saying, class, your task is to write a book together, or create a feature length film, or both, or design, sew, and present a quilt illustrating your choice of a major theme of environmental science. Scary thought, right? I’d get that stare, maybe for the first week straight. maybe they’d get angry–with me, with each other. Do I have the wisdom, the gumption, to stick with a student led approach and let them work it out? Even if it had mediocre results, that could be seen as an improvement, still. And I doubt if we’d get many parents storming in demanding I get their kid ready for the SAT the usual way and quit messing around with projects. but would they come to the presentation night, celebrate what their kids had done, and could we find community members in the field to join us?

Sometimes I’ve thought of myself as one of the real potential greats–noticed for my unique approach, leadership in the field, a Teacher of the Year candidate, if only I could get the right job, have the right support, work with student sufficiently motivated . Then I feel that, no, I’ll never be a John Taylor Gatto or that teacher of the Freedom Writers, and I get discouraged and intimidated to try anything big and confirm my mediocrity. Now I’m moving to a place, I think, of more of a growth mindset, where I think, why not try? If only I could catch my breath and get a few quiet hours a day outside of athletic banquets and conversations with kids and home duties and tutoring and sleep. I hope to God I’m not just going to dream and write about it.

1 Comment

Posted by on November 18, 2015 in Education


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One response to “In the light of a burning flame

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    November 19, 2015 at 5:40 am

    Monumental and humbling—very much admire the thought pattern and the expressed reach in this piece. I bow to you and the work you’re setting out to accomplish. Wow.


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