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You Are Truly Doing Enough

I really hate January. Between post-vacation blues, a germ-filled building, exhausted colleauges, flu-stricken students, midterms, data analysis, reports, grading, meetings and attempting to “gear up” for a new semester, I get really worn down. When I’m worn down, everything gets blown out of proportion and I take things way too personally.

I’m the queen of taking things personally, having spent most of that past five decades elevating it to an art. :o) I have had to work very hard to listen to the voice in my head that says..’Oh that’s a good idea.” and not the one that says, “well duh!! You know that. You should do that. Why didn’t you think of that? Kids would pay attention if you did things like that. Thirty years in the profession and you still don’t have it right. ”

I’ve taken large numbers of suggestions as face-slapping criticism and used to cry on a regular basis after post-observation conferences with my principal. It’s taken a long time, and a lot of practice, to just listen to people without a strong, emotional self-flagellation reflex kicking in.

The folks in this profession are very passionate people. That inner energy sometimes leads us to extremes….whether it’s extreme dedication, extreme worry, extreme committment or extreme self-evaluation.

When I’m swinging towards the extremes, I have to remind myself of the following:

“If you are doing the best you can today, and hoping to always do better when you can…..

You are truly doing enough.”

Regardless of what your administrator, colleagues, students, their parents, and that nagging little ugly voice in your head are saying to you.

“You are truly doing enough.”

(and yes…I’m saying this to myself as much as I am saying it to anyone reading this….)

Don’t let yourself hear anything different.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established

What do students need ME for anyway?

This post started as part of a response to my friend Skip….and then it grew from there. Thanks Skip for asking me the questions that make me think.

I never wanted to be a Spanish teacher. I wanted to teach kindergarten…or third grade. I wanted to sing songs, read stories, and introduce my students to history and heroes. Actually that is what I do, I am just lucky enough to do it via Spanish. But that is not what most of my colleagues were doing when I started thirty-plus years ago. I truly admired and respected those teachers, I just couldn’t be one of them. Maybe it was because I didn’t start out as a Spanish major (although I ended up with a Spanish and an Education degree), or maybe it was because I wasn’t very confident about my language abilities at the time….but my goals as a language teacher were a bit different.

Truthfully, I never thought that I would be able to convince teenagers to commit to memory the hundreds of rules and thousands of words necessary to master the language. I loved it, but I never thought all of my students would. And I wanted ALL of my students to love Spanish class the way 5 year olds love kindergarten (okay…think 30 year prior to Common Core!)

Thirty years ago (and more), we used to consider it our job to teach the understanding and appreciation of the beauty of the language…its history, structure, details. And we did that. Sadly, few students were able to draw on any of this knowledge after a few months….much less a few years.

We then made it our goal to teach the students the vocabulary, verb forms and highly irregular patterns so that they could also communicate with others. We created texts and materials that we thought would help our students to be able to put all of the pieces of the language in order to function while traveling, doing business etc.. But we still taught as if mastering the al to help students to communicate. It was a great deal of work, and yes.. fun, to create activities that allowed students to pretend that they could communicate in a real-life situation.

Sadly, once again, students failed to retain the language for any length of time.

It was the first reason I was so impressed with the results of TPRS and teaching with Comprehensible Input. The language stuck. For a long, long time. I was pretty excited about that!

Then along came technology.

I think that our job as language teachers has seriously shifted. And I am afraid we may not even know it.

Any knowledge about the language that students need can be found easily on the Internet. All of it. Communication can occur with a cell phone and an app. And almost instantly. And with about the same accuracy that our students used to have….probably more.

I had a great reason to switch from learning to acquisition in my classroom. But if my students can just use a machine to communicate…..why would it even matter if they acquire a language?

What IS our job now? Why would students need to be able to communicate…device-free…in a world quickly becoming overrun with devices? Why do they need us? Can’t they get all of the language they need via technology?

I think we need to be asking ourselves, and our profession, that question. What are we doing that students cannot now do for themselves…..without us?

For me (and you’ve heard me say this I think), I want my students to acquire Spanish in order to explore the hearts, minds and souls of people who speak Spanish. I want them to acquire Spanish so that they can think more deeply, express feelings to others, ask questions about the universe and SHARE that journey with people of other cultures…..and they can do that so much better in more than one language. AND WITH A PERSON…not a machine.

I believe that our job is less about teaching the language and more about using the language to teach the skill of making personal, social, historical, artistic and even political connections.

I believe that our job is about establishing relationships, nourishing relationships, growing as a result of relationships …..Relationships that are a)built via communicating so that we are understood in another language and b)built because we understand others in their language .

It’s about understanding….and being understood as a human being. It’s a job that no machine can do.

They need us for that.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Kindness: Start here

kindness 1

This is a wonderful time of year to be kind. The December holidays are over. The Valentine’s Day commercials have already begun (and not everyone is excited about that.) In some parts of the country (mine), it is cold (highs of 10-20 degrees last week) and dreary and even when the sun is out, it has set long before dinnertime. It is also a very popular time for giving exams. Gee….does it get any better than that?

The first person to be kind to is….yourself.

I know, I know…who does that?

I confess, I’m horrible at it. (But remember, I often write these posts for myself!) But I do know that it is wise. I have found out that it is necessary. If you don’t, nature will do it for you.

Look around you. The flu is everywhere. So are colds, infections, bronchitis, pneumonia and a number of other infectious little goodies.

This week will probably have its share of germy opportunities and stressful situations. More than its share probably!!

Try to do one kind thing for yourself every day. Just one. Any of these would do:

Go to bed early one night.
Drink a soothing hot drink that you love.
Or a cold one. ;o)
Use hand lotion.
Use Chapstick.
Drink a large glass of water.
Eat a piece of dark chocolate.
Bite into a beautiful piece of fruit.
Look at a favorite work of art for a few minutes.
Bring a favorite photo into work.
Take a deep, deep breath.
Cuddle under a blanket.
Leave the paperwork at school. Just once. It’s ok. I promise.
Smile at yourself EVERY TIME you see yourself in the mirror/window.
Hug someone who will hug you back.
Light a candle. (and don’t forget to put it out)
Bring a stuffed animal, or a real one, to bed with you.
Take a 5 minute walk. Anywhere.
Stretch.
Sing really loud to the radio/Cd/whatever.
Hold a hairbrush and use it as a microphone.
Watch a ridiculously stupid-funny video.
Call a friend.
Google “really awful puns”
Wear something you really, really, really love.

Not so hard, right?
I”ll do it if you will. :o)

with love,
Laurie

“Mildred”

“Mildred” is a “fictional” student in Ben Slavic’s book PQA in a Wink. She is representative of the students that disrupt class, challenge our authority and almost appear to work hard to NOT be successful. The Mildred in Ben’s book comes from an abusive home in a high poverty neighborhood. I’ve been thinking a great deal about Mildred this last week before the holiday break and….

…..Mildred had a rough week last week; I can promise you that. She is facing a two week “vacation” from school, which is the only place she gets a decent, consistent meal. In my district, it may be the only place she can take a shower. Or have heat. She knows that it will be hard to get out and get away from a caustic environment where she can’t do anything right and will hope just to stay out of everyone’s way and keep the possessions that she has out of everyone else’s hands.

Knowing what was ahead, Mildred was NOT in the best of moods and when some girl starting bragging about the gifts she already knew she was getting and the flight to Bermuda w/ Grammy and Grandpa, she muttered something under her breath. Another “Mildred” heard her, assumed it was about her and swore at her. It went downhill from there.

When the math teacher crammed in the last chapter so that she could give the unit test the Friday before vacation………

……. and the Economics teacher made the group project due so that she could correct them over the break………

…….and the English teacher assigned internet research that Mildred had to do in the library because she doesn’t have internet, (but Mildred spent three periods this week in the Dean’s office) Mildred only got 1/3 of the way through those assignments.

Her average now in those classes is failing and there will be a phone call and a letter home due to district policy, and the adults in Mildred’s life will be pissed as hell that they are being bothered by the school. Each of those teachers gave Mildred a lecture this week about getting her act together, telling her that she is failing, and pointing out how “little” it would take to be a “good” student.

It takes a lot of work and time to develop a relationship with Mildred that will allow her to be interested in any kind of “story’ that we might come up with in a TPRS class that can distract her from the reality of her everyday life. There isn’t a current event that compares with her tumultuous life. No matter how carefully crafted our lessons were last week, it’s pretty likely that we couldn’t engage Mildred.

But every hello, every patient response, every nugget of positive action can (I won’t say will, I can’t promise that) work towards creating a relationship where one person may create an atmosphere in a classroom that might be the only place in school where Mildred feels welcome…..where she doesn’t feel like an unwanted, unrequested, unneeded “guest.”

You see, school may be the place to feel fuller, warmer and safer, but it doesn’t feel like a place where Mildred belongs. Truth is, she is treated like an invader, an imposter, as someone who doesn’t deserve to be in the building. That began in kindergarten when she didn’t bring in school supplies or the required contribution of glue, crayons and Kleenex boxes for the class.

It continued through elementary school where she never brought in a permission slip, didn’t bring in a gift for the Christmas exchange, couldn’t be in chorus because she didn’t own dress shoes and a white shirt, never handed in one science or social studies project. In middle school she didn’t shower much and she got in some trouble because other kids made fun of the fact that she didn’t own a bra and wore the same shoes every day. Day by day the staff, mostly without realizing it, pointed out to her that she was different from the kids who were “good” at school

…and over the course of her ten years as a student she has learned to behave as she has been treated.

There are a lot of Mildreds in our schools. More than we can imagine. Some of them spent the week in the in school suspension room. Some stayed home for several days because the environment there was (believe it or not) less painful than the pre-holiday anticipation flying around the building. Some tried to fly under the radar…silent, not making eye contact, falling asleep during the movie whenever possible.

But, if they are lucky, there is a room or two in the building where Mildreds are welcomed. In my building I could see Mildred in the Ag Science room making centerpieces to distribute for the FFA fund raiser and selling t shirts during lunches for the Entrepreneurship Club. I saw Mildred watering plants in the Bio room. I watched another Mildred go from classroom to classroom making jokes…and scooping up uneaten Christmas goodies. There was a Mildred hanging out in the attendance office after coming in late, and several in the weight room after school. Two or three Mildreds purposely move slowly on art projects so that they can come in to work during study hall or after school. I caught one Mildred cutting paper snowflakes in there. There was also a Mildred reading in the corner of the library.

I’m blessed to teach in a district with a number of staff who have connected with at least one Mildred. It’s a good thing…we have more Mildreds than we find “homes” for. It can be overwhelming.

If you teach in a district with many Mildreds, don’t give up. One day Mildred may show up in your room asking for a pass to come down and cut out paper snowflakes. Or she may contact you on Facebook to let you know that she was grateful in high school that you let her know that she could, but she just never felt comfortable enough to do it.

WHAT YOU DO MAKES A DIFFERENCE THAT YOU MAY NOT EVER SEE.

If you teach in a district where it appears that there are few Mildreds, think again. In these districts, the Mildreds are simply more sophisticated. They come from families where the “differentness” is accompanied by an early-learned skill in “appearing normal.”

Your Mildreds may have money, a lovely home and an amazing wardrobe. Your Mildreds have perfect or nearly perfect GPAs. In fact, your Mildreds MUST maintain a façade of being the best in order to hide the atrocities that they deal with at home. They freeze US out with condescension, criticism, and by turning parents against US so that we turn a blind eye to what is really going on in their lives.

Some Mildreds are dealing with challenges within their own minds, hearts, bodies and souls that they have not yet shared with anyone. These Mildreds are the most lonely and in the most pain.

As you head home for a week or two, it can be a relief to be “Mildred-free.” I sometimes feel guilty about that. But we have our own challenges as human beings. Sometimes we need Mildred-free time to focus on our own world in order to survive. We can’t help anyone when we haven’t attended to any of our own needs.

If you have been trying to reach a Mildred, or two, or twenty….and it doesn’t seem to be working…Hang in there. Love wins. It truly, truly does. It may not win the battle that you see. It may not win the in the way that you want it to. But Love, because it gets noticed, in itself creates Hope. Hope is the enemy of fear. Hope is the enemy of complacency. Hope is the enemy of despair. Hope is the enemy of apathy.

Hope is frightening. In Mildred’s experience, Hope proceeds Disappointment. Hope has proceeded Pain. So a teacher who offers Hope is frightening, potentially disappointing, and painful. No wonder Mildred gives us trouble.

What Mildred doesn’t yet know is that Hope and Possibility together can create a new future. But you do know that….so don’t give up. Rest up. Then go back and keep offering Love and Hope. They are as valuable a gift as any this season.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established

Planning for A Structure Archived Post 12.27.10

Originally posted as For Chabe on 12/27/10

Chabe wrote and asked how to find ideas to teach a particular structure and here is my response:

Here are some things that you might be able to try….
The first thing that came to mind when I read “se siente sola” (feels alone) was the English phrase…feels alone in a crowd. Because teaching a language is really teaching kids to put meaning to sound, we want them to be able to visualize or feel what the meaning is. So I Google-imaged (new verb! ) “alone in a crowd” and found these:

Se Siente Sola

Se Siente Sola2

Se Siente Sola3

My guess is that you have several artistic kids who could, themselves, create incredible images for this.

Some questions that you could start with:

Where are people when they are not alone, but feel alone?
(a party, an airport, a train station, school, at home, the mall, the doctor’s office)

This is a good question to start with because they don’t have to talk about situations that they have been in personally…it is about places where, although there are lots of people, we might not know anyone, or we might not be understood. Which leads to the next question….

Do people feel alone in a ___________________ because they do not know anyone?

Next, offer them a series of reasons why people might feel alone…..
• They have a problem that no one knows about.
• They are missing someone special.
• They want to be somewhere else.
• They do not like what other people like.
• They do not usually go anywhere alone.
• No one is talking to them.
• They look different than other people.
• Everyone else has someone to talk to.
• They are treated badly.
• They learn something new and very surprising about themselves.

Next, give them a list of movies that they may have seen: (I Googled “movies in 2010”, thought about movies we have talked about, and used my own, very limited!!!!, knowledge to pick this list)

The Lovely Bones
Harry Potter
Dear John
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Twilight
Charlie St. Cloud

A great movie for this that many of them have seen (and if they haven’t it is easy to describe and imagine) is I Am Legend with Will Smith (2007) where he is the last human survivor in NYC.

I simply ask them to match the movie with the situation…or situations.

Take Harry Potter for example:

Harry has a problem that his human family doesn’t know about, he looks different because of his lightning-shaped scar, he is forced to live under a staircase at his uncle’s home, he is an orphan, he just found out that he is a wizard, he has to go to a new school…it goes on and on!

Another good connection would be books that students may be reading or may have read as part of the English curriculum….or historical figures This is a great way to connect curriculum.

Our students read Alas, Babylon, To Kill A Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Of Mice and Men and several others that have characters that lend themselves to this discussion.

How about Rosa Parks? Martin Luther King? Abraham Lincoln? Anne Frank? Helen Keller? Albert Einstein? That list could go on and on…..

Even “famous” people who have “fallen”: Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Ben Rothlisberger….folks who may have felt quite alone when they had moments in which the world no longer saw them as idols.

These activities or discussions do not have to take a long time. They could simply be the topic for a quick discussion….or a longer activity….whatever works best with your students and your program.

Once students are comfortable with the topic, it is easier to switch into a more personal mode with them. Brainstorm with the kids things that people do when they feel alone.

This is a list that they truly already have the vocabulary for:
Cry, sleep, read, listen to music, get on the computer, call someone, draw, write, run, make plans.

Some of them lead into good discussion:

Do you listen to sad music or happy music? Which singer/band is good when you feel alone? Why do some people read and other people run? Why do some people like to be alone? Who do some people hate it?

Create characters for students to identify with:

George would pay $200 to be alone for an entire day.

Let them create a life that would make George want to be alone. They will draw from their own experiences, I guarantee it!

Angus has to stay at his grandmother’s house and dog-sit on Halloween night. She lives in the woods, the weather is horrible, and the electricity often goes out. Who does he ask to hang out with him and how does he convince them to go?

Googling “se siente solo” and “me siento solo” I found these songs:

Me siento solo http://www.metrolyrics.com/me-siento-solo-lyrics-frankie-j.html

Hoy Me Siento Sola http://mis5sentidos.blogspot.com/2008/08/hoy-me-siento-sola-cancin-de-mariana-de.html

This one came with this: Una canción que describe como nos sentimos aveces cuando estamos tristes, realmente una linda canción que lo escuchabamos en la escena que Mariana se sentía trizte de la telenovela “Mariana”.
And a video…
And these comments as well:
me siento sola es verdad lo k aveces sucede en los adolecentes
ps la knción me identifik cuando sty deprimida..
esta muy linda…..
es lo sentimos muchos nos los adolescentes
esta canciòn esta super chida te puedes identificar con ella por que hay veces que nuestra vida se vuelve un tormento.
if you would like to mention how teens write on line in Spanish :o)

When I get into these conversations with kids I want them to understand the following:
• These feelings are universal. Every human, be they adult or child, male or female, rich or poor, from any kind of family will experience these emotions.
• There are positive outcomes from negative feelings. (learning to relate to others, having time to think/feel/process, trying new things, meeting new people, finding new strengths in ourselves..)
• We can take an active role in improving our situation.

I hope that this post helps a bit!

With love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Why We Teach Archived Post 1.22.12

Originally posted 1/22/12

Hello Profe! How are you? I hope you are well. I wanted to share a great story with you. I am in Potsdam finishing my masters in teaching. I start student teaching in Earth Science tomorrow!

Last night a few of my friends and I were out on the town and I ran into two Mexican immigrants at a local pizza shop. One was shivering and did not have a coat, and they were looking for a cab. It was 2 AM. Long story short their phone was not working. They had a cab card, but could not find someone who spoke Spanish. I was the only one in the whole place!

To be honest, I haven’t taken Spanish in three years. I took the required course in college and received an A. I also worked with a few Mexican gentlemen at Lakeview Landscape, Hansen Farms, and Fox Run. (in our local area-Laurie) But I was out of practice. I went off of clear memory, and eventually hailed them a cab in the freezing weather.

I had to figure out if they had problems with the police, where they worked, and how long they had been in the states. All in Spanish. All from memory! They had been here for only 2 months, but worked at a dairy farm. The one gentleman who was shivering has a wife and a family in Mexico, and my heart just felt for them. I am always amazed at how they come here so far from their families to support their lives.

My friends were amazed, but most importantly I looked back at the instruction we had in your classes. It was all still in my head! I will feel good about what I did for the rest of my life, because they were 20 minutes away from “home” and had their Wal-Mart bags and other items outside on the street curb when the cab came. They needed groceries but their boss must not have been able or didn’t want to take them into town.

I can’t explain their expressions when they hopped into their cab, but they kept saying “Gracias amigo” and “Buenas Noches” and I reminded them it made me feel good to help them out!

As teachers we never know how far our instruction and mentoring will go to help others, and yours reached very far last night! Have a wonderful week!

Adam

Yes…this is why we teach!!

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Our Changing Role Archived Post 10.4.11

Thoughts on our changing role…. (Originally posted 10/4/11)

Teachers are individuals and as individuals bring their own goals, experiences and perspectives to the profession. Around the nation, more and more of us are feeling compelled to discuss our profession, and our individual roles in it.

What troubles me is that these conversations are limited to rare faculty room exchanges and blogs. These conversations should be taking place in schools on a regular basis as part of professional development.

A school environment is frequently a reflection of the present administration. For a number of reasons, teachers often are asked to, and agree to, adopt programs and attitudes that the present administration puts forward…regardless of their own knowledge of the community, the students and pedagogy. If the new principal believes in an emotionally-distant ‘professional’ approach, then the teachers are required to “perform” under these guidelines. If the new administrator is a proponent of a particular character ed program then the staff is required, without discussion and often without sufficient education and training, to “perform” under this approach. Rarely does the administration choose his or her “pet project” based on his or her knowledge of the school and community.

Teachers complain, however, this can be EXACTLY what we do, or are required to do, in the classroom. Curriculum is written years before students enter the room. Lessons are planned so that all students are literally on the same page, not so that we can meet students where they are.

I realize that some folks are tired of these articles. They perceive that teachers are whining. The truth is that we are aching to be heard. The other truth is that our students are hurting even more than we are in this regard. Now that we finally have a bit of the media’s ear, we should be also listening very closely to the signals that our students give us about school.

Ten years ago, even if all else failed, we could count on the fact that we knew more about a subject than our students…and that they had to rely on us to get that information. That is no longer true. Any information at all is at the world’s fingertips. We cannot expect to be respected as fonts of information and knowledge. We no longer have that role and it’s time to realize that.

What students need are teachers that can and do help them to find, sort, understand, assimilate and apply the incredible amount of information that is out there….in ways that they cannot do themselves.

The only way to do that is to do everything appropriately possible to know our students. It is a new role for us. It can be an uncomfortable one. There are no clear “rules” yet. It requires communication between teachers, students, parents and administration….communication we haven’t developed the skills for yet.

Truth is, if we combine our life experience and knowledge of how the brain works, with our students’ youth and drive (yes…they are driven…just maybe not about our subject areas), parents’ desire for the best for their children and administration’s desire to create effective schools, we just might have a chance.

Thank you for the chance to share my thoughts,
with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Big Questions Archived Post 12.13.10

(Originally posted 12/13/10)

My brain has been churning all day. I heard several things in church/Sunday school that spoke so strongly to me of my students and I have been trying to piece them together. I’ll try writing and see if that helps…

First was the idea that all of our lives we will struggle with three things:

1. Who am I?
2. Where do I belong?
3. What should I do?

As we go through different stages and different ages the answers will change, but our need to seek the answers will not. From our youngest cognitive moments to our oldest, we will carry these questions in our hearts.

What does this mean in our classrooms?

First, my guess is that the majority of our actions come from whether we have the answers to these questions at any given moment, our feelings about our answers (or lack thereof), and how we got those answers (or why we don’t have them).
Can I help my students with those answers for the time that they are in my classroom? I hope so. If they are comfortable with who they are (or with not having to know while they are in my room…), if they feel that they belong in my room, and I have made it clear what they should do while they are in my room ( or created an environment where they can find out without fear of humiliation or punishment) I can seriously reduce the stress level for my students.

Second, I can remember that the behaviors that I might find annoying and inexplicable actually serve a purpose…for that student. I can use that knowledge to understand, to be patient, to open doors of communication.

Third, I can keep utilizing those themes in my stories, songs, and other lesson details. These questions are part of our hearts, minds and souls. We all can connect with these issues and the struggles, mistakes and victories that stem from seeking the answers.
With love,
Laurie
P.S. These questions came from a study, “Romans 12” by Chip Ingram.

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

I’m Losing Them Archived Post 1.13.13

(Originally posted 1/13/13)

Many of my colleagues, whom I love as a family (who doesn’t after 25+ years in the same building?) have a very traditional view of education. They may have brought some of the activities into the 21st century with technology,but the philosophy is the same:

a. Some people are smart and some aren’t.
b. Schools are for, and should reward, the smart people.
c. Teachers are the smartest people of all.
d. Students who agree with a,b, and c will be the best students.
e. Every one else is not going to be successful in life.

This is enhanced by the fact that I teach in a small community with a very distinct social hierarchy. A hierarchy that is repeated generation after generation, because most people stay in the area. It is not unusual for students to be living on the same land that was farmed by their great-grandparents.

They teach in a way , and assign work, that they like. They are so convinced that they know best, that they cannot be challenged, and will not engage in discussion about other options. Frankly, I myself was like that in many ways myself. I was always considered smart and a good student. I considered myself a good teacher. It was humbling, and difficult, when I began to realize that I was only a good teacher for certain students. It was a principal who pointed that out to me. Why? Because I was teaching his son, who was not a “good” students. I am grateful that he showed me how I was mistreating and mis-teaching his son….because at the time I really had no idea that I was.

My son, as many of you know, deals with anxiety and depression. In high school,when he was not in control of those challenges, he was considered disengaged, lazy, etc., etc. In reality, he was barely functional because it took all of the energy he had to simply be present. Even after his diagnosis was explained to his teachers (my colleagues), they continued not only to view him that way, but to ask him why he was so lazy, and discuss his “laziness” with other students on a regular basis. Since then, I have tried very hard to see my own students with more accurate eyes. What I have found over and over again, is that students who don’t work have reasons. Many times, as an adult, I wouldn’t see things the way that they do. However, the majority of the time, I am blown away by what they are dealing with.

As I have expended more time and energy into getting to know students, I have also come to see that my goals, and their goals are sometimes miles apart. THIS is what creates the greatest gap with my students.

In some ways, this gap is necessary. I’m an adult. I have knowledge and understanding and perspective that they do not yet have. I’m supposed to use that knowledge to help them to become adults themselves. My mistake, too often, is to forget that they are not yet adults.

They are adolescents and adolescents are wired to have a cynical view of adults. It is one way in which they separate themselves from the adults in their lives and begin to develop their own thoughts and views. We have to accept that if we work with teens. But this group of adolescents is coming of age in a world that is different from any world that mankind has ever known. I suppose that all generations have a unique quality that makes them different from the previous ones, but this group? This group has two distinct new realities:

1. They have all of the known knowledge, and emerging knowledge, of the world at their fingertips. In 5 seconds or less and getting faster every minute. Past generations (back to the beginning of mankind) have always relied on the older generation for knowledge. This generation doesn’t have to. They are teaching themselves and learning on their own all the time. It will change how the young perceive the old. It has to.

2. At the same time, they have knowledge and skills (in the realm of technology) that the previous generation does not. It is, in many ways, flipping our generational reality upside-down. This generation has a sense, if not a full-blown knowledge of this new reality. It changes how they relate to adults. I believe that it is going to change society. It has to.

So, instead of growing up on a society that revers and respects adults for their knowledge, they are growing up, with cynical adolescent minds, knowing that they have as much, IF NOT MORE, access to knowledge as the adults that are attempting to educate them.

In addition, they KNOW that they will be adults in a world that doesn’t need to look to anyone for knowledge and information. This changes our roles, as adults and and teachers, and we need to figure out what our new role is. Why? Because we cannot teach if we don’t have students….and bit by bit, our students do not see themselves as students. Or at least students of something that we have to offer.

At the same time that this is occurring, the educational world is requiring us to be even more “information-driven”!!! What we are supposed to be giving them is the one thing that they least want and need!!!!

So now we get to the dilemma. This kids have tuned out and what do we do?

Truthfully, all of my philosophical rambling may not be Kevin’s dilemma. They may just be under-rested, under-caffeinated and under-motivated.

Either way, getting to know them and their goals for the course and for life never hurts. At the very least, when we understand where kids are coming from we tend to take their disengagement less personally. We can say, quite honestly, “Well then, you are making a personal choice to not participate. The consequences of that will be ______________” If we know their goals, we can have conversation with them about the benefits of having different goals…and why we think that different goals are possible and worthwhile for them. Many students think that teachers care more about themselves than about their students. This era of grading teachers based on students’ results is not going to help that any. Honest conversation about our own goals in life and our goals for our students may appear to fall on deaf ears, but they will hear us. We just may never see the results of that.

I’m going to wind this up with something that you have heard me say before: Teaching is a prayer. We offer our lessons up to the greater good, hoping, because we have no other choice, that good will come of it….even if we never see it.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

Challenges of Poverty Archived Post 8.7.12

(Originally posted 8/7/12)

You are not an isolated example but you are a rare one. I’ve taught high school students for 30 years in a rural area. The students whose families are above the poverty line are the ones who, overwhelmingly, hear messages of hope and support for a financially stable future via education. Those whose families live at or below rarely see outside of their own reality. In many cases, in today’s world, they have more financial aid available to them..many could go to college for little or nothing…but they and their families see little value in education. They do not even consider future careers that require education. That is clear by the time they enter ninth grade.

First of all, school is a different world than it was. While wealth has always helped, my observation is that more and more, a family’s financial background comes into play. Because so much emphasis is put on the data, more and more rewards are given to students who do well, STARTING IN KINDERGARTEN. Students who do well often come from families who read to them from an early age, can afford a good preschool program, ate well and exercised well and slept well the first five years of life. Kindergarten teachers are remarkably accurate in their ability to predict who will graduate from high school and who will not. Some of that may be from experience. Some of that may be because, in kindergarten, we have already identified who will be successful, who will not, and treat them that way (whether we realize it or not). Families with means will encourage students to play sports, take music lessons, have art supplies at home, provide computers and computer access from an early age. They will travel. They will encourage behaviors that will be encouraged at school from infancy…whereas families from lower-income social groups will not…without even realizing it.

It is not just the availability of money that makes the difference (although I promise you that a third grader who uses a computer and can afford a trip to the nearest arts and crafts store for his Solar System project will receive a much higher grade than the kid who did his on the back of a letter from Social Services.) It is the MINDSET of possibility (my own term) that money brings that is the biggest difference.

I am sure that Pat Barrett could explain it far better than I, but what I see is that these families require each member (in the family and it also often includes people in their “community” to be HIGHLY interdependent. These students have emotional, financial and social commitments early on in life. They are EXPECTED to stay home from school whenever a baby sitter is needed, or some stressful situation arises and a family member needs support. They frequently have adult responsibilities by ninth grade: paying bills, child care, negotiating disagreements between adults, visiting family in jail, arranging doctor’s appointments etc. It is very very difficult for them to even imagine taking enough personal time away from their families to put homework first, give up work time for classes, or even worse, leave home to go to college.

The other issue is harder for some of us to understand, but I assure you that it is very real. There is a cultural understanding in these families, that going to school and doing better than one’s parents is an insult to them. That a student would think himself better than a parent, and to act on it, is in many cases, unforgivable and therefore, unthinkable. The family is not going to ‘move up” with the student. In order to do better, the student would, eventually, have to leave the social environment in which s/he lives. In this kind of “closed” community, that rarely crosses their mind. They simply would never think of it.

The third issue is that doing well academically routinely requires delayed gratification…and that is simply NOT part of their reality either. But that is a deeply rooted, psycho-social phenomenon that I;m sure is dissertation-worthy, so I’ll leave it at that.

There are students who do it. And we encourage every single child to become what God would have him or her become. But, teachers are one tiny OUTSIDE voice among many closer and louder voices that they hear every day.

For me, that is the attitude of the home and surrounding environment, and my experience is that it is closely tied to families without financial resources. Can addressing poverty help that? In the sense that students might then NOT have to take on so many adult responsibilities..yes.

In addition, I believe that it would surprise many to know how many students ONLY eat at school. 1. There isn’t food at home. Either there isn’t money or the money is used elsewhere and that is beyond the student’s control. 2. High school students from these families often work evenings and do not use their money to buy dinner. It goes for gas to get to work. 3. Believe it or not, many of these homes actually LOCK up their food. For some, it is a way of controlling their children. For others, it is a way of protecting the food, many of these folks live in “communal” family situations (3-4 “families” in a household) and this is simply how they protect their resources. Also, parents who are addicts often have paranoid behaviors that lead to this…as do many parents with untreated mental health issues. (two situations which are prevalent in my area in this income bracket)

The last piece that adds to the challenges that these children face is the fact that they rarely get a good night’s sleep. They may not know where they are sleeping. They may be avoiding sexual contact from someone in the house. They may have family members up all night playing loud video games, or drinking/using drugs, arguing, etc. They often have younger siblings to take care of at night if mom works overnights. They don’t get the medical attention and medications they need when they are ill and sleep very poorly due to a number of ongoing physical ailments. They often live in crowded houses/apartments with little personal sleeping space available.

One might think that given all that they face, that they would love to get the heck out of Dodge and take advantage of a good education to do it. Well…not if they have never seen that happen. Not if, from kindergarten on, only the “rich” kids do well in school. Not if they have been an integral part of a system that requires them to put today in front of tomorrow.

Exceptions exist, they truly do, but not as often as we’d like. All human beings have their challenges, each child, regardless of his/her background can become far more than his/her childhood has dictated. But before that can happen, the possibility of such a thing must exist in his/her mind. Your family may have given you that. Let’s hope that we can find the resources to help those who weren’t so blessed.

with love,
Laurie

All content of this website © Hearts For Teaching 2009-present and/or original authors. Unauthorized use or distribution of materials without express and written consent of the owners/authors is strictly prohibited. Examples and links may be used as long as clear and direct reference to the site and original authors is clearly established.

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