Don’t fence me in

26 Nov

Do you know why I love this job? Because I’m stretched every day, yet I don’t seem to break or snap as often. I guess I’m made of tougher sinew now, comparing myself to the twenty-eight-year old who carried so much strain and stress and insecurity that first year of teaching, took everything personally, always felt inadequate. The other part is the creativity that I have to draw on, and how essential it is to connect with each student and do some pretty serious (long term) mentoring in life skills. Sort of why I was drawn to working in a middle school rather than a regular high school. This is a good combination of the two, in a way.

Though I was concerned about my energy level, working every day, I’m so mentally and emotionally charged up in class and have so much to think about outside of work that my body seems to be learning to draw on new channels of ATP. A brisk half hour swim before work, when I can fit it in, does wonders for slow release energy.

Right after the last student leaves, I sure need a bit of quiet, and my mind sort of lets go of any threads of organized plans I’d had for getting things done. If anyone breezed in and said “What did you do today,” (or “What do you have planned for tomorrow?”) I wouldn’t be able to say. But the drive home wakes me up again, and I just want to get back at the papers and plans and books I’m trying to get ahead in so I can extract readings for the next units. I’m tickled that, for now, this is my reality, feeling glad I am where I am. Fully expect it won’t always feel that way. Only cloud on the horizon is the fact that I can’t seem to connect in the way I want with the para educator who works in one of my classes. I think it’s just personality differences–something girlish, in a grown up form, she has, that I never did have. Most other girls mystified me, I never felt like one of them, though I adopted some of the accouterments up to my freshman year of college. Most of my buddies, the ones I could really talk to then, being male (including my dad), and the rest, women with no frills and a strong intellect, even an edge of some kind. The para is not girly in a fluffy way–runs every marathon she can, has a straightforward, no-nonsense manner, is very organized and confident, but I feel that same sense of not being of quite the same variety. And the sense of fun and lightheartedness I saw in her during my interview hasn’t shown up since. Oh well. She sure is a big help in my class with eight or more kids who have IEPs.

It was an extra short day today, each period only a half hour long, and about a third of the students didn’t show. After the quiz I’d promised, I shared my idea of doing the big class project, the one with some kind of physical interpretation of biology/environmental science principles, on the chain link fence outside the classroom. We did some low key brainstorming about what techniques could work–weaving, attaching painted work, pages in plastic protectors, stained glass, ribbons. One boy suggested we dig a pond, another plant flowers. Then time was up and there were wishes of Happy Thanksgiving as they went out into the sun and wind.

I shared the concept with the principal, asked about the fence possibility, which he said could work as long as it looked nice, that being the side where people walk and bike by to other destinations. Another reason for choosing it in my mind, besides being able to admire the work from inside the classroom. Fence at the back also a possibility, facing a warehouse, or the one around the picnic tables.

I perceived that I had partially been trying to impress, with my eagerness to apply what I’d been learning about Project Based Learning (PBL). I was glad to have the response, though. On the way out i ran the idea by the art teacher–a kindred spirit, though she is only around on a very part time basis. She said she looked forward to hearing more. I think I need to get at this while the “Most Likely to Succeed” film is fresh in my mind, but I sense that there are a lot of ways this idea could fizzle, or just get choked out by the traditional resources I’m drawing on as I sink or swim in this first year with the courses. Still, I now know that there are as many ideas as would fill the entire fence around the whole school. As for looking nice, my daughter commented that it looks like a prison camp now, so anything would be an improvement. And since the whole place will be torn down next summer to make way for the new campus, permanence need not be a goal.

Hung with the family for a few hours, discussed with my husband again whether we are serious about the house with 4.5 acres, a pretty heavy conversation for some reason that sort of thing always turns out to be—I’d want the garden here; no, he wants that to be a lawn. We’d need a rec/overflow room, but where? Would we actually get around to building it anyway? What about finishing this one off–what did that seem to drag on so long? A reminder not to get stuck in the “this is my dream” mentality and stay flexible about how our place would be set up, to be thankful to have the option and opportunity. Saw the girls off to their walk down to the historic district, did some chores with my son, then I headed off to buy sweet potatoes and afterwards to do some writing at the coffee shop by the sea–violet water, sky greenish and melting into blue space and the beginnings of stars. Waves lapping, and a bright, friendly space inside where I could be alone.

The WiFi being too loaded to use, I opened my project ideas notebook and started sketching fence panels. The ideas just kept pouring out—energy flow, patterns and order, change, adaptation, cycling of materials, diversity, feedback, interrelationships, communities, biomes, epigenetics. Panels with images, scan codes leading to a student blog, interviews, the story of the project. A panel with a giant feed/energy flow web, another mounted and hung with things that showed wind patterns or captured weather data. A solar panel. All slowly decaying, being bleached by the power of the sun, and in some places, growing up, out, and around. Places for the contributions of passersby. How could they not get excited about the possibilities? I know the idea of doing something different appeals to many, and though it’s meant to be a group project, no one will be obliged to work in a groupish way, just to make their own contribution, whatever that would be. This was an assurance I gave to my “I only work alone” student, who wants to do the writing part.

Also in my notebook I made a list of roles that different students could play–director, scheduler/manager, writer/editor, photographer, craftspeople, community/school liaison. Wondering what roles will be picked up by whom.

I’m getting really curious whether this process is similar to that of others who do these things, and I’m wanting more training. Including training in how to drive this to happen within our constraints and with our potential resources, but keep out of exactly how. Also, how much time will this take, and will it have to expand into after school?



Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Education, Places & Experiences


Tags: , , , , , ,

2 responses to “Don’t fence me in

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    November 26, 2015 at 6:37 am

    very inspiring—amazing work you’re doing–i like you daughter’s comment–funny! ….anyways, this definitely feels like a heroic journey–keep chronicling it…know that it’s appreciated by us readers out there.


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