Sometimes we teachers may grow cynical about the ‘career and college’ ready mission statement. It’s not hard to see why: when our nation voted gave corporations the same voting rights as human beings we knew we were in deep trouble. To avoid that rabbit hole, I’ll just say this: we still work, and one of our jobs as teachers is to show students the opportunities and pathways so they can make the work-life decisions for themselves with the best and rigorous information.
And a secret to all this is — not all work is bad. Far from it. Modeling passion and personal engagement in our work lives is part of the mix of building relationships with students: when we point to the purpose of learning, the foundational piece comes from us. Establish our own engagement, purpose and love of our time in the workplace.
We were the nation of innovators and dream makers. We were envied the world over for our ability to create, for ingenuity and puppy-like enthusiasm. I am not sure we are that now, with a few exceptions (looking at you, Elon Musk). And I pin my hopes on the next generation of thinkers, inventors, writers, artists, and designers on helping students communicate and build the skills necessary to work together in order to solve problems.
The work I’m doing in the WABS/STEM Fellowship program and the PLU ELL Endorsement is guiding my thinking: I wanted to share some ideas from STEM group in terms of project/collaboration/employability rubrics:
Months ago I ordered a ceramic unicorn — “thing.” It’s a decorative object, and I don’t remember why I liked it. I’m not normally a unicorn person. Perhaps in that moment of questionable online purchasing decisions, it looked cute and majestic. I can’t justify or rationalize why I bought it, and truth be known I completely forgot about it until a big box from some Scandinavian country showed up on my doorstep. This magical unicorn traveled a long way to get to me.
Carefully opening the box, it was obvious the shipping and packaging design meant to ensure the protection of this delicate creature: insulted with custom blown styrofoam edges, taped for miles and bubble-wrapped ad infinitum, and multiple layers. There was a box within a box, and then a cylindrical custom-made cardboard insert where the unicorn nested, protected. Or at least that was the idea.
However, with all that protection, planning and packaging, the unicorn arrived broken.
(Yes, this is a metaphor.)
Summation of events: my classroom management efficacy is in question. I work at a tough school, and overall there are systems in place to support students and teachers. But no matter how I packaged, bubble-wrapped, insulated and insured, some unicorn legs (aka student behavior) broke. And I will defend my practice and be wary of when others label it as defensive. But I will also do what it takes, polish my practice and carry on.
When asked to litigate and document one’s process in classroom community building, routines, procedures, protocols, and processes the one thing that can’t be answered is when those practices don’t do everything to insulate a child from making a rash decision. We work with adolescents, after all, and no matter how many times we tell them ‘Don’t eat the daisies’ some daisies might be eaten.* Students flirt, badly. They touch things that don’t belong to them. (Body parts, computer parts, cell phones, Takis, whatever.) They act in the moment, all id and amygdala**. Staying calm, waiting it out, finding the peaceful moment to reflect, converse and regroup is tantamount for long-term success and relationship building. That is the only trend worth noting: “Does the teacher find time and space for behavior concerns?”
The answer for me and my students has always been a resounding yes.
So cleaning up my classroom environment is one thing I consistently do. Transitioning from being an ELA teacher to the Computer classes can’t happen overnight. My evaluator prefers clean walls and simple, elementary-school level instructions.
There are always things to learn about being a better teacher and improving our practices, there is no doubt about that. At my core, I am a learner and thinker: anyone who is creative and imaginative holds these qualities. But what doesn’t help is being demoralized: I haven’t heard one positive thing this year about my curriculum, student engagement or practices. And I may not ever hear that. But I can fix my own unicorn, and make my own magic.
Some related information:
This article is about a local district’s challenges with discipline, but it could be most districts around the country:
“39. We must learn that when our art reveals a secret of the human soul, those watching it may try to shame us for making it. (p. 70). The Artist’s Way: Morning Pages Journal, Julia Cameron.”
Notice the moments.
Notice the tiny moments that may seem insignificant, but are what we look for: make the invisible visible.
Young sweet student passing who loved the adults in the building loved with his whole heart, and loved belonging to my Minecraft Club*
Group of students working yesterday, talking to each other about the assignment, holding each other accountable, without ANY reminders or redirection from me.
Young man asking respectfully how he can play sports, get his work done, and walk again with grace. For listening to his grandmother, me, and his coaches.
All students in my toughest class working. Engaged. Happy. Relaxed. Many of them even saying they wanted to keep working on the project at home.
Surprising someone with insight (sometimes the most terrifying thing is when someone says “yes” — no more obstacles or excuses).
Telling a student that her love of K-Pop was nothing to be ashamed of: “Millions of people around the world love K-Pop, and the opinion of one 7th grade boy doesn’t mean spit if you love it, too.” And she smiled.
Though some have described my classroom as ‘controlled chaos’ – most of the time it’s actually calm creativity.
Making a point to intentionally name and label when things work, and reflect in a balanced way. Hold steady and true.
*It changed because of the new after-school program that doesn’t allow students to attend a club unless they have no missing work or Fs. I couldn’t fit it in with my schedule of having it directly after school.
Skills–strategies –the future will depend on our ability to solve problems–and that ability relies heavily on strategies–
Actually, legitimately taught and learned?
Two things crossed my view recently. Using my mental ‘crazy wall’ yarn and thumbtack skills, I’m going to play and mold how they may be related:
Reading scores are stagnant for U.S. children: reading, and loving to read, has become a source of shame for many students. In a recent Hechinger Report, “Third Indication U.S. Education is Deteriorating” by Jill Barshay discusses the conundrum that parents and educators face. This does not surprise me. Consider the vitriol and desperation of many of us educators to help students read we’ve managed to kill the love of reading altogether.
The carpenter parent believes in raising children with blueprints: with planning and preparation, they can craft their child into the proper structure. The gardener parent encourages growth and happy surprises. Of course, there should be a balance between the carpenter and the gardener, but we’ve swung our hammer far too wide to the carpenter side with prescriptive reading programs, reading logs, and all sorts of canned curriculum, and haven’t dug deep enough into many of the wonderful and innovative ideas out there. It would appear, nothing is being done very well.
Piaget stresses how important learning the rules of the game is in the process of socialization; a child must become able to control himself in order to do so, controlling most of all his tendency to act aggressively to reach his goals. Only then can he enjoy the continuous interaction with others that is involved in playing games with partners who are also opponents. But obeying the rules and controlling one’s selfish and aggressive tendencies is not something that can be learned overnight; it is the end result of long development. When he begins playing games, a child tries to behave as he could in his earlier play. He changes the rules to suit himself, but then the game breaks down. In a later stage he comes to believe that the rules are unalterable. He treats them as if they were laws handed down from time immemorial, which cannot be transgressed under any circumstances, and he views disobeying the rules as a serious crime. Only at a still later stage—often not until he has become a teenager and some even later than that—can he comprehend that rules are voluntarily agreed upon for the sake of playing the game and have no other validity, and that they can be freely altered as long as all participants agree to such changes. Democracy, based on a freely negotiated consensus that is binding only after it has been formulated and accepted, is a very late achievement in human development, even in game-playing.
So let me see if I understand this:
Some students have a difficult time just being in class–understanding and cooperating with the community, the guidelines, protocols, and the rules–the simple rules–of how to function in a classroom.
Some students did not get enough time to play–to interact, socialize, and learn basic forms of human interactions…(and they still don’t)
Some students are in the classroom challenging and disrupting every aspect of those protocols*: the teacher’s instructional practices, the expectations for himself or the instructor, and constantly surveying and monitoring the pressures and praises of their peers…
If we miss out on “…it is the end result of long development” and come to the place in secondary education where a student struggles to function from hallway behavior to classroom cooperation it is our obligation and responsibility to ensure secondary students understand this and offer solutions to why they’re acting out, and what impact that has in the present and long-term.
It’s time to return to helping students see themselves for who they are, and who they can be. The grand potential is over time, not in a single moment.
*When the status quo is oppressive and racist there is a demand for disruption and protest. This is not a call for blind obedience–the opposite–this is a call for reflection and nuance, and most of all empowerment.
I really miss my friend and colleague who worked at our building until this year. She single-handedly brought back safety and community to our building and helped students find their integrity and honor, and consistently built bridges between teachers and struggling students. She’s doing good and important work elsewhere, but she’s left a vacuum. One of my strengths is building relationships: I did it before she came to our building, and I’ll do it again. But I’ll take the gardener approach, thank you.
Back to my original question: can we teach what we need to, and can students learn it?
We need to ask this question first: What do we want them to learn? — Answer: We want them to learn how to be in the world andcooperativelyy solve problems.
That has always been the answer, and they learn this by playing.
Oh: and the Digital Dogs blog is going very well. I still have a few students who need help finding their voice, but it’s a work in progress.