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yesterday was the final day of 2nd quarter.  The students were there for only half a day, as the afternoon was reserved for teachers to do grades and catch up on things.  Most of us had completed our grading.  I had, although I will head to school this morning to give some students a chance to raise their grades so that either they will not fail or they can achieve a higher letter grade.  

I have been with my students for almost all of the last quarter.  I have gotten to know them within the context of the school and increasingly in the context of their families and the larger community.   Some can walk to school.  Others take a bus, or Metro, or both.  A few are transported in family cars.  

By now I know their personalities, their strengths and weaknesses, in some cases their hopes and fears.

I wish I had more than three days to reflect.  I was off yesterday because i had a tooth pulled early in the morning.  I reflected some about the weeks as l recovered from the procedure, and have continued that process this morning, before I head to school.

I am not paid for this.  Were I to volunteer to assist for the regular 1/2-day Saturday school, I would receive extra compensation.  But that focuses on math and reading and there are those better qualified for that than am I, and there are teachers who need that compensation more than I do.  

I will be in my room for at least 30 minutes before Saturday school begins at 9 and will stay after it ends at noon for any of my students who may come for the regular extra help but still want help with me.  If few or none show up, I can work on my plans and make notes on my students.

But for now let me offer these thoughts . . .

I know I am making a difference for at least some students.  I stayed after school late on Thursday to provide another opportunity to make up work and give me an excuse for raising grades.

I have high standards for what I expect.

Many of my students had failed 1st quarter with my predecessor, some unfairly.

Were they to fail again this quarter, some would give up, even though they could still pass for the year.

I want to challenge them to grow, but I also need to encourage them.

When they come for extra help like on Thursday or possibly today, I can work more closely with them than I can during the regular class period, even though our classes are relatively small (my largest currently 18) because our students need so much attention.

I am still trying to teach them how to do things I think are basic\

-  how to take notes that are other than word for word copying

- how to read and restate things into one's own words

- how to use the support features in the textbook to help make sense of material that is often several grades ahead of their own reading level

- how to write basic answers to question other than beginning with 'because" and copying something word for word

- how to connect one piece of learning with previous learning and with their own experience

those are basic academic skills.   But there are things just as important:

- how to handle conflict with another student

- how to own one's own behavior

- how to learn not to let other people push on's hot buttons

- how get rid of excess energy without being out of control and/or disruptive

- how to wait, not to interrupt just because one is impatient

- how to trust that they can do some things on their own, and even if they make mistakes learn how to correct them individually

One would think many of my students are ADD or ADHD watching their behavior. And yet part of the problem is the emphasis on test scores (the school is currently in some jeopardy) has meant that they have neither gym nor music so they are often so full of energy they have problems focusing.  One of my most difficult behavior problems admitted to me this week that he flips his pencil across the room to have an excuse to get out of his seat.  Others deliberately break their pencil points so they an justify getting up and going to the pencil sharpener.    And I wonder if not only behavior problems but also ironically test scores might not improve were we to better address the issue of the energy our students have.

I have also begun thinking about next year.  Yesterday we were supposed to turn in our intentions for the next school year.  I honestly do not know.  My inclination is not to return, even without something else in hand.  It is not that I am not being productive, but if I am to teach I know I am better suited for high school.   And yet I also know that I have little time left to make a difference in other ways.  I know i can be a teacher without being in a classroom - after all, at least some of my writing is a form of teaching, and I only have a few more years where I can run at the level of intensity at which I have operated for the past two decades.  Even now I am often too exhausted at the end of my school responsibilities to do other things that matter to me, including continuing my own learning through reading.

I have filed applications for possible high school positions in several jurisdiction - I hold valid certificates in MD, DC and Virginia.  Nothing may come of any of that, and I am unlikely to receive offers before the summer, although one never knows.  I have let a few friends in politics and government know that I might be interested come mid-June in exploring other options.  And we are re-arranging our finances in a way that will give me even more flexibility.  We are cutting some expenses, paying down some high-interest or higher payment obligations, and building up some capital reserves.  

I am glad I came to this school just before Thanksgiving.

I look forward to doing what I can to make a difference, which is why within the next thirty minutes of writing this sentence I will be in my car heading to school for the morning, even should no children show up.

I have grown as a person and as a teacher because of how they challenge me.

But I wonder yet again if I need more time and energy to try to change educational policy to help more children?

There are possibilities of change I had not previously expected.

There are school boards in Texas, principals in NY, teachers in Seattle, student groups in New Orleans and elsewhere, parent groups across the country, and educational supporters everywhere now pushing back against what had been the conventional wisdom on educational change, a pattern of changes that has been destructive.

Perhaps the greatest contribution I can make is to use whatever talents I might possess to assist in that pushback.

And yet I remain torn.  Even though in some ways I am unsuited for my current teaching position, I know that I serve my students well, perhaps better than anyone they can get to replace me.

I am respected by my superiors and by my colleagues.

But I am also required to shape how I teach in ways which which I have some strong disagreement. I cannot be significantly different than what the other teachers on my team do, or it confuses some of the children.

I truly love them.

I want to help.

Which is why I have not flatly said I will not return for another year, even as I realize I probably should do something different.

In the meantime, I will give whatever I can to make a difference.

Which is why I now need to pack up, get in my car, and head to school.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (18+ / 0-)

    "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

    by teacherken on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 04:27:50 AM PST

  •  If they learn to think at all (4+ / 0-)

    there's hope for them.

    We mostly don't set them a very good example. But we try.

  •  Lack of exercise is a key point. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, a2nite, tardis10, Eowyn9, Ckntfld

    They are being penned up like domestic animals, something we try to alleviate, even for chickens, dogs, pigs and cattle.

    You have a long list of non-academic goals.  The arts and physical education have always been an important way to encourage cooperation and teamwork, creative and personal expression, proper channeling of energy and frustration, the value of practice and patience and so on.  Academic learning cannot take place when students have not mastered or learned how to channel and control their own energy and feelings.  

    I believe Denver city schools is trying a new program of lengthening the school day, made possible by grants, to include more of the arts and physical education and to give children something constructive to do later in the day.  My understanding is that teachers will be present in relays, for lack of a better word. First shift and late shift.  Early results suggest it makes for a more productive school experience, which is hardly surprising, but it's expensive.

  •  How is Leaves doing? n/t (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, tardis10
    •  thanks for asking (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Heart of the Rockies

      marginally better, but she is not improving as fast as the doctor expected, so tomorrow evening we stop by the radiology department at the nearby hospital for her to get an MRI of part of her back.  Th doctor is hoping to rule out certain things.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 07:07:08 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I thought of you when reading this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tardis10, Ckntfld

    Your students are fortunate to have you.   It must be discouraging to work on teaching the basics of how to actually be a student which takes away time from teaching the material.   I've had to teach this at a one-on-one level and it often left me wishing for alternatives for the student- a world with more movement, more hands on activities, rather than sitting still with the frustration of the task at hand manifested by grubby erasures on a worksheet so intense that holes appeared in the paper.

    I find your posts important- because your students need the time and attention and guidance few are willing to give them.

    Reason, observation, and experience; the holy trinity of science. Robert Green Ingersoll

    by offred on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 07:11:08 AM PST

  •  No gym class?!? (0+ / 0-)

    No wonder the students are going nuts. I HATED gym in school but I'll be the first to admit that kids desperately need exercise. Boys, especially, find it hard to sit still for long periods of time.

    It sounds like you're doing admirably well, given the circumstances.

    "We are stardust, we are golden, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden." (Joni Mitchell) Join the Forward on Climate Rally on February 17!

    by Eowyn9 on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 08:27:52 AM PST

  •  You didn't ask for opinions, but here's one anyway (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ckntfld, Laurel in CA

    Teacherken, you speak so eloquently and with such deep understanding about educational issues that I think you should seriously consider stepping up to an educational policy-type role.

    I understand the deep satisfaction of knowing that you have affected someone's life personally and positively.  I also know that, to be honest, there are a lot of people for whom that is the be-all and end-all of their goals.  They want that one-on-one, or one-to-some interaction, the ability to see understanding light up someone's eyes, up close and personal.

    The people who can take that passion and expand it into a broader vision, who can still see what these words on some dusty document or endless PDF mean to real schools, real teachers, real children -- those people are more rare.  And they are desperately needed, to balance out the armchair philosophers and those with more mercenary motives, who see schools and teachers and children as game pieces on a board with little price tags attached to them.

    Like teachers all across the nation, you have seen the waste and destruction of current education policies.  Unlike most of them, you have the ability and the connections to take that message to a wider audience, to step from the personal and local to the broader policy level.

    I would strongly encourage you that, should such an opportunity manifest to you, that you take it.  Because you speak to us, and you would speak for us -- the parents who want better for their children, the children who could do so much more, the teachers who wear three or four hats in over-crowded classrooms and the teachers like you, who struggle to save the ones that much of society has already given up on.  The administrators who find their hands tied by stupid rules and tests that are designed to be failed.  The school districts trying to do more with an ever-shrinking less.

    I hope such an opportunity is or becomes available to you.  I think you could do so much good for so many if you took it.

    History should teach humility and prudence, but America doesn't seem to learn. I've never seen a virgin who loses her innocence so often. -- Gordon Wood

    by stormicats on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 09:12:17 AM PST

    •  I have explored the possibilities in the past (0+ / 0-)

      and I can do this more effectively from outside than from the inside, at least so far.

      "We didn't set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people's hearts." - Pema Chodron

      by teacherken on Sat Jan 26, 2013 at 02:33:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Welcome to middle school. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I deal with many of the same issues on a daily basis and, too, have had kids admit that they break their pencils on purpose.  I'm about ready to bring in hand sharpeners as they often break pencils during lecture periods and using the electric sharpener blocks out my voice (can't seem to keep the crank sharpeners sharp).

    It's a different frame of mind, for sure.  And these kids do have gym class.  But the schedule is such that they eat lunch very late in the day, and that just isn't optimal.

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