Total Pageviews

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Personal Teaching

This is a video I use to introduce myself to students at the beginning of the year. 

"I am From" 

I never thought that I would be a teacher. I wanted to be an actress, on a stage in New York - trying on other people's lives. Or I thought that I might be a psychologist - another empathetic profession. Or, for a while, I wanted to be a lawyer. I was the lawyer of my family, arguing every point, angling for a lighter sentence for the accused. I thought for a while I wanted to be president, however my dad kindly informed me (when I was a mere pup of 14 or so) that I had already done things that might preclude a run for president. Thanks, Dad.

I ended up as a teacher largely by accident, and like most of us I hated middle school. Now for nine months of every year I go to middle school five days a week. Crazy. Unexpected. I struggle with the ways that being a middle school teacher shapes me, maybe even changes me. Sometimes I feel like it makes me someone who isn't a lot of fun. Someone who is constantly saying things like, "Pull-up-your-pants. Nobody wants to see that." and, "What should you be doing right now?" I also am a confiscator of "I <3 Booby" bracelets. Wow! How did I get here?

I know teachers who find ways to integrate themselves and their teaching more fully than I seem to be able to. My husband, Joe, teaches college composition and does great job of bringing himself into the classroom. It allows his students the license to do the same, and to be as engaged as he is in the world of the heart and ideas. The Joe I know and the one that teaches those kids are the same person, excited and exciting - no holds barred. My brother-in-law Scott teaches high school. He and I had an engrossing conversation last summer during a car ride from Seattle to Salem (Scott - Please forgive me if I get some of the details wrong). He teaches at a school that is project based. I had asked him how he prepares for the upcoming year. He described his immersion in the culture of India for the upcoming year's theme. He checked out every book he could find and took out the desks so that students could sit on the floor on cushions. Class started every day with a quiet meditation time. The thing that struck me is that Scott's learning is integral to his teaching. His process makes him more Scott, not less.

It is summer now and I am reveling in the time I have. I read, I write, I am cooking gorgeous food. I have plenty of time for swimming with my friends, taking care of my physical person... Hell, I have plenty of time to sleep and no alarm clock! I know for those of you who don't have an academic schedule this sounds like an embarrassment of riches... It is and maybe I should just take my lumps; be less me for part of the year and then wallow in my freedom for a few months every summer. Somehow, I think that I am cheating myself and my students if I am content with half measures.

One career I did want when I was a child was to make a school; one that fosters students' innate curiosity and helps them grow to their best selves.  

Secret Spaces 2 Ordrup
School in Denmark with 'private spaces' for children
I went to a conference last week and one of the presentations gave me a bit of school envy. It was about the design of places of learning. My experience working in public schools in the U.S. reveals that it is difficult to change the paint color; imagine what superintendents would say to a hallway like the one below or to private spaces similar to the cubbies above. Our answer to school reform is testing and 'accountability'. Sigh... There  is a lot more that we could and should be doing to re-form our schools.
Big net play structure
Yuyu-no-mori Nursery School in Japan uses a giant net for their  3rd floor hallway
What would the school look like that would allow teachers and students to be their authentic selves? What can I do to make my classroom that place for me and my students?

...and a poem to close. Students who have disabilities struggle valiantly to fit into the mold of industrialized education. 

Dominic’s hair

looks sweaty. When I see him
in the hall He says Feel my head. We do not
touch students, his hair looks greasy
and damp, like the man in the rubber room
his eyes are mad and shift. I don’t want to
touch him
but I do. His hair is soft,
downy, dry. Carefully, my fingers
touch – There is a small bump, an egg.

Dominic was breaking pencils
on his head,
in Seventh Grade Life Science. Nobody
noticed, except his friends – who
thought it was funny.

in the morning before
school, three weeks ago
– the superglue
Dominic brought to affix the head of his bacteriophage
proved too enticing – again to his friends. They glued
together their thumbs and forefingers. In the end
Joel got it in the eye. I told the principal

Dominic has Tourette’s. He is a good kid.
He is just like the rest of the boys,

skittering toward lunch detention,
jail or an early grave.

Today I took Dominic
to meet the tech teacher. On his way out
Nice to meet you. He said,
shaking her hand.
Odd, from the mouth of a thirteen-
year-old. Stilted, formal. Just
like the rest of us.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Mothering my Boy

Parenting is not static. It is a trip you are taken on. From the moment I brought my boy home I knew I was in over my head, but I have never before or since been so happy to be out of my depth.

This first poem was written when my son was growing out of the toddler years. It was my attempt to claim our trials as triumph. It is also a rallying cry for parents, an ode to the important work we do.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

What am I doing?

I write poems, arguably the most esoteric form of the written word (though code might have poetry beat). Writing is communication. When you write in your journal you are communicating with your own soul - or whatever you call it. As soon as you leave that format writing is meant to communicate to the souls of others.

My fingers are crossed, I hope that this place will help me communicate.

I am a teacher. I teach middle school. I like middle school kids. They are funny and interested in the world. They also have poor impulse control. It makes for interesting days... I am a mother, I have learned and grown more from raising one child than I have from any other undertaking.

In every beginning there is a hope. I hope...