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.
Textbooks are a staple in most classrooms and can be a great resource for teachers. The problem I find (not that I am even close to the first person to realize this) is that a large number of teachers use their textbook and accompanying teacher’s guide as the ONLY resource for teaching. This is prominent from kindergarten all the way to post-secondary education. The problem with this is that teaching from the textbook shuts the door in the faces of students and locks them into their classrooms. Our world holds so many resources for educators – all we have to do is open our eyes and minds and look for them.
Students today are collaborative, communicate with their peers on a highly frequent basis, create, explore, adapt, and design – except when they are in school. Often times when students enter school they are asked to “power down” their phones, computers, and themselves. On their own, students use technology to explore their world and communicate with others. But in their classrooms, many times the option to use those tools is not available to them. In a large portion of these classrooms, the reason isn’t a lack of access, but rather teachers simply aren’t allowing the students to use the tools available to them. This lack of use is usually born out of one thing – fear. A fear that the technology may not work properly, a fear that things may not “go as planned,” a fear that the students might abuse the technology, and probably mostly a fear of not being the expert in front of students. While it is okay to be afraid, it is not acceptable to allow that fear to prevent you from creating a more appropriate learning environment for students. Even if nothing works they way you plan and the students end up having to show you how to use the tools, the learning that will occur in that time will be completely worth it. The experience may even allow you to see strengths in your students that you may have never before seen.
If you are reading this post you are probably not tied to your textbook, but I’m willing to bet that you know someone that is. So why not offer up a few ideas to that person that will help them expand a learning environment beyond their classroom walls, or at least beyond the covers of the textbook? Introduce someone to the power of the internet for not only creating more engaging learning environment, but also as a way to extend their own learning network. If you’re just starting to explore your options outside of your textbook, seek out another person to either explore with you or someone who could act as a mentor and guide in your journey. Trust me, whether you enter the partnership as a guide or “student” you will find yourself learning from the experience and eager to do more learning and exploring.
A couple of days ago someone on Twitter posted a link to David Warlick’s article If you can’t use technology get out of teaching! which inspired this post, so thanks to my PLN in Twitter (and David Warlick of course.)