Well I’ve “moved up” to high school this year as a data leader, which means I help staff members use classroom and assessment data to drive instruction (that’s the hope anyway.) I have always worked in middle school so I’ve never been able to see “the end product” with my students. Until this year that is. I am at the high school right next door to the middle school where I had my first teaching job and this year’s seniors are my last group of sixth graders from “across the lot.” It has been very exciting for me to see so many of my former students these last few days and sad to see many of them not here because they have already decided school isn’t “the way to go.” When I taught “across the lot” I had all of the ESOL students as soon as they left the Newcomers’ program. I have been impressed and awed by the development of so many of my former students’ language skills – they ROCK! I’ve been really surprised and flattered by the number of students that not only remember my name but also have memories from my class that they’ve been wanting to tell me. These are SENIORS people and that was six years ago, which in “teen-aged years” is practically a lifetime!
Caution: It’s about to get real candid up in here!
I serve many roles at my school in addition to technology teacher. I am also a mentor, after school tutor and lunch recess supervisor. I get to know my students on a completely different level in these roles than I do as a classroom teacher and make connections I would not otherwise probably be able to make. At recess I am able to be a little more goofy than normal with the kids, in my tutoring group I serve as a reading teacher and with my mentoring group I get to help kids learn who they are as people. At the exact same time though, I “get” to learn more about my students’ lives than many people do.
Now, let’s preface all of this by saying I was certainly no angel growing up and saw some things in my home that I have made sure as an adult that my own personal children will NEVER see. The fact that I had my oldest daughter my senior year in high school is a testament to that. Nevertheless, I have used all of that life experience in my career as an educator in order to connect with my students. But, my heart is broken nearly on a daily basis by the lives that I see my students living outside of the walls of our school.
On the playground I hear some of the most foul language possible to hear, as well as some extremely sexually explicit comments. Yes, some of this comes from media in our culture, but the graphic nature of the conversation indicates that not only are they being allowed to take in media that is completely inappropriate, but also that they are hearing that type of talk in casual conversations at home. Never mind the types of clothing that my students are wearing to school…it’s quite disturbing at times.
I tutor 6-8 grades students and have three students that are at or below my 1st grade daughter’s reading level. The heart-wrenching part is that they are completely oblivious to the fact that they should be able to read much more difficult texts. It pains me to think that “my kids” weren’t read to as small children. No one sat with them at bed time and read Green Eggs and Ham or the The Napping House. In conversation with them, I learn that for most of them they didn’t even HAVE books in their homes when they were little – nor did they have crayons, markers, scissors and paper to use for crafts.
In making phone calls home to my mentoring students I call just as many grandmas and “aunties” as I do moms and dads. I see kids with pants that are far too small, shoes that have been worn way past their end of life and children taking home bags of food from the Communities in Schools programs because there just any food at home. I have homeless students, students who travel from one parent “home” to the other having to be the adult in both homes and so many students who don’t even know both of their parents that it makes me want to cry.
I’m just so incredibly baffled by how this can possibly be. I messed up my life big time as a teenager when I got pregnant but I have spent every day since trying to make a good life for my daughter and be a positive and strong role model for her. I understand that life happens, circumstances aren’t always what they want them to be, but how can anyone just GIVE UP on their kids? How can I have students with all of their brothers and sisters being gang members? How do I have a student hand me a picture of a family member and the student says “This is my nephew and his daddy – he looks really high huh?” In what kind of home does a child have to live that they find it perfectly normal to come to school and call their peers and teachers every cuss word imaginable?
There are days that all I can do is sit with a student and let her cry in my room, or let a boy sleep instead of complete the classwork because he didn’t have a bed to sleep in the night before. Some days I just sit in my classroom after they’ve all gone and cry myself because I know I can just never do enough in the small amount of time I have with them. All I can do is take solace in the fact that I know I can provide a safe, caring and stimulating environment for them to grow and learn.
I’ve had a crazy semester (thus the non-posting by Ms. M) but as it comes to a close I inevitably reflect on my experiences, both with others and on my own. This is just a random collection of thoughts I’ve had in the last week or two.
- I still truly believe that teaching is the most important career (aside from being a parent) that anyone could choose to pursue. I love kids and am amazed on a daily basis by their perspectives on life – positive or otherwise. I tell my students that I change the world every day, as everything that happens in my classroom impacts them in some way and they will take that with them when they leave me. Thus, it is my goal to change the world in a positive way as much as I possibly can. Every day has to be a fresh start for every child that walks into my room, no matter what has happened in the past.
- I have to realize that I have no control over what happens in classrooms that aren’t mine and that the best way to help students overcome adversity is to be a positive role model and support them even when they don’t think they want or need it. Dwelling on negativity not only doesn’t help anyone, it becomes a disease that will infect my classroom if I allow it. Not only do I need to give my students a fresh start every day, I need to allow myself that same privilege. Every morning I need to start over, forgetting whatever slip-ups I may have had. No one is perfect, so I should not expect perfection from myself. To be human is a beautiful thing – imperfections and all.
- It’s time I start being an advocate again for technology integration and Project-based Learning. With changing schools and jobs this year I have let that slide, and it is unacceptable. I will start blogging again, I will start posting student projects to my class website and I will start offering to host PLCs in these areas. They are things which I truly believe will impact positive change in education (and face it, our education system is seriously damaged right now) and if I want it to change I’ve got to do my part to change it. Someone’s got to be an impetus for change, why can’t it be me?
I am incredibly grateful for my small collection of friends that have helped me through this incredibly challenging semester and am going to try from this point forward to be the positive influence in the lives of both students and teachers that I know is needed. I can not control what others do, but I can control what I do and hope that it impacts others in a beneficial way.
Events of late have left me thinking and reflecting about heroes and their roles in our lives. When I was growing up my mother was my hero. She is a strong, intelligent, motivated woman that is always there for her family. She was also a full-time nurse in an intensive care unit, highly admired by her co-workers and supervisors, and even won bedside nurse of the year. (I say was because she completed her master’s degree a few years ago an is now a nurse anesthetist.) With all of these fantastic atributes, how could she not be my hero, right?
When I was classroom teacher, we always did an activity at the beginning of the year in which, among other things, I asked my students who their heroes were and what they wanted to be when they grow up. An overwhelming number of students would say that their hero was some kind of sports figure and that they wanted to be a professional athlete. Now, I’m not one to crush a child’s dreams and aspirations, so I always tried to work at the angle that the students needed to be successful in school in order to get a scholarship into a D1 school and get drafted/selected for their desired professional sport. But this is also when I started really thinking about how professional athletes size-up as role models and heroes.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of pros out there that lead admirable lives. In fact, I used to work with an amazing teacher that had been a professional soccer player and now as a coach requires his students have passing grades to continue to play. But by and large, the athletes that make it into the news are also those that are being arrested or are in some other kind of trouble. It is this that I find troubling for children, not only my own but for all children. I feel like that if children see professional athletes making massive amounts of money and getting deals from Nike at the same time that those athletes are in the news about DUIs and being arrested on gun/drug charges it sends a terrible message to children. It says that breaking the law and immorality are excusable if you happen to know how to throw or catch a ball really well. It says that people will look the other way if do bad things to yourself and your family if you are also talented enough to help a professional sports team win championships. The same issues arise when we look to t.v. and movie stars as role models.
So, what can we do as educators and parents? Try to be the best possible role models ourselves. Let our children know that we are human and are flawed but show that we learn from our mistakes, that we are life-long learners and continue to grow every day. We need to continue to support our children and encourage them in their education and outside interests. We need to let them be OUR heroes, as they are already our future.