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Monthly Archives: June 2017

Dig it, if you know how

There’s no shame in asking how to use a shovel, or, especially, its less known but much more useful cousin, the spading fork. But the young person didn’t know what she didn’t know, so I showed her. Still, she tended to stick to scraping away at the top inch (not knowing much about roots or worms either, apparently), and needed another tutorial. I hope I get the chance. Not likely, though, as she’s part of a youth team volunteering to help out in the community, including at our school, and although I went in today to help get them started on cleaning a space for a garden (a garden!), a have boundaries, and probably won’t commute the hour round trip on my vacation again.

We were allowed a small plot, not quite, but almost, the worst soil around. That’s okay, I thought, we can experiment–it can be the “before” condition–hard packed, dry, leached of nutrients. We’ll see how many wild plants can grow there anyway–which ones, and how adapted they are (and how they exemplify “grit”). Then we’ll lay down the compost, add some fish meal, and see what happens.

The plot is about 16′ by 20′, if I stretch the boundaries as much as I can without having my knuckles rapped (again). We have to border it so the mowers will steer around it, but no permanent structures, please. They were expecting a garden fanatic like me would want to build foot-high raised beds, I guess, not knowing anything (but who does nowadays?) about what raised beds are for.

The principal had his knuckled rapped too, by me, for suggesting I’d probably want to cut down the elderberry bush at the side of the site. I said I didn’t think so, since it was the only tree for a mile (I was exaggerating), and had miraculously escaped mowing by these blade-happy Dutch Reform descendants. He was humble, and accepted the jibe with good grace, although he’s of the same lineage. Even unused fields aren’t allowed to turn to meadows in their fallow years, and evolution strongly favored short, fast-reproducing plants, animals, and fungi here. Just a theory, of course.

 
 

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Go ahead and teach grit, but not by dishing out gravel.

I haven’t read the book yet, and I’m sure it’ll be well written, full of insight, and helpful in my practice, just like Mindset, the other contender for the staff’s summer book choice. But as I confessed to the principal when I picked up my copy of Grit by Angela Duckworth, I don’t like the language. Grit is what gets in your teeth from poorly washed salad greens, or in your pants after visit to the beach.

I feel that same distaste for with that other trendy word, “rigor.” The dictionary and I associate it with mortis and other highly unpleasant experiences.  Rigor is now to be seen as something we should purposely provide in our classroom experiences. In order to foster grit, I suppose.

Yes, I know the value of perseverance, and the need, now more than ever, in an age of instant gratification, to help students push through difficulties, work patiently over the long term, face as much boredom as necessary to discover their creativity. But what I object to is emphasizing only the negatives–life is hard, school isn’t always fun, what doesn’t kill you, etc. To less skilled, less all-in, less creative and hardworking educators, it might justify expecting students to put up with crappy classes in the name of growth, and give the impression that enjoyable experiences are to be, if not entirely avoided, then minimized as a necessary evil. I can hear them now: “Students, you don’t have to like me; you don’t have to like math; you might just hate this class; but you have to show GRIT, ’cause that’s what its’ all about!” I expect to hear about the opening of a new school with “Boot Camp” in its name any day now. It will attract a certain type of person.

What ever happened to delight-directed learning? Okay, so that wasn’t ever much used in public education circles, but I sure heard about it a lot as a homeschooler, thought about it, and tried for it. I tried to have a basic “table time,” for math and handwriting, and sometimes things I as an adult thought were important, such as memorizing poetry, but then it was, “Run along and find something interesting to do until chore time (and if you can’t come up with anything, chore time starts now).”  Some of the most meaningful experiences my kids had were while pursuing their own passions and interests, because they wanted to persevere trough the difficulties they encountered (The rest came through chores, some of which can also have their satisfactions).

I hope I can still make a place for delight in the way I work with students in public school. The rigor, challenges will always be available–I don’t believe in avoiding those, and students will often need to grow in grit, perseverance, but let’s start with delight, enticement, wonder, enthusiasm, and confidence that what we have to teach is worth learning, is inherently interesting. Whenever possible, let’s kindle fascination, vision, desire—the drives that will create the momentum to drive through those challenges and not give up. And along the way, the more happy memories associated with learning math, science, art, whatever, the more likely students are to continue learning when no one’s giving a report card.

More on annoyingly trendy lingo: Rigor, Grit, Collaboration

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Education

 

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Something’s not right – this is too easy.

It’s not about the hours in preparing lessons for ten different subjects, crafting new interactive assignments on paper and in my mind. Not about grading piles of papers, or the challenge of appropriately customizing assignments for those that need that. Not about calling parents or attending meetings, dealing with a down WiFi network or stuffy, windowless classroom with too few electrical outlets. That sort of thing would be a given no matter where I’d teach.

What’s not quite right is that these students make me feel like I’m good at this, when really, it’s just that they are extraordinarily non-diverse and conformist, unusually trusting, loved, and supported by their families and community. So all I have to do is be reasonably creative, cheerful, energetic and organized, and things come off pretty much without a hitch. What a good teacher I am. They even give me birthday cards and presents, and a giant teacher appreciation poster at the end of the year. At the close of each class, at least two students say thank you. The principal leaves little treats in our mailboxes and brings muffins and fruit to staff meetings, and parents believe what I tell them about their kids and thank me for all my efforts.

It’s not natural.

After my year at the alternative school (having survived to want to fight on), I was exhausted, but also fired up to get out there and use what I’d learned. I wanted to get out there and make a difference, share the incredible burden teachers take on of trying to meet the educational needs of a diverse, broken culture whose youth are experiencing loss, racism, abuse, the reverberations of childhood trauma, culture shock, mental health issues, and family dysfunction. AN in addition to all that, the worst thing of all, a sense of not being visible or valued. I

All the staff and most of the parents at my school are nice Christian people. Even the guy who I would say isn’t part of that culture must have mentioned God eight times in the graduation speech, because he knew that was how to relate best to these grads and their families. There was also a giant “Jesus” sign behind him only partially hidden by green and gold balloons. A prop of the congregation whose building we rent, but at any other school, it would have been covered up in case anyone complained that one religion was being emphasized in a school event. In this town, it’s covering it up that would cause problems.

Other than three Latino kids, who are adopted, one or two of slight Asian lineage, and a good number of (white, Christian) Russian families, the students are pretty much Dutch Reform Evangelical stock. Two of the female staff do have husbands of color, most likely they got aquainted out of town. Which just goes to show, one can’t make a lot of assumptions about viewpoints, only about demographics and related cultural norms.

I like an easy job as much as the next person, don’t long to be in an uphill battle all the time, but I want to have the wind in my face sometimes, to have someone to stick up for, and against, to feel useful in a bigger way. I gravitate toward the students who struggle, who irritate others, who resist, don’t fit in, need something more.

I told myself, and my family, I’d give it three years. By that time I’ll have set down some good routines and organizational strategies, become more efficient with my time and energy, and accumulated some good lesson and project plans in three levels of math and at least three sciences, as well as teaching experience from elementary up to twelfth grade. Then we’ll see. I’ll probably run out of room for the cute little presents that will come my way all that time. I just hope I haven’t got stuck in my groove, and forgotten why I’m in this profession.

 

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2017 in Education, Places & Experiences

 

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