Today I wore a dress to school. I was a little cold during my commute, but I didn’t think much of it as the day went on.
Then I had a student in horror, but in a grandmotherly way, say “Ms. Shanna WHAT are you wearing?! It is too cold for that. Aren’t you cold?! You are going to get sick. Shame on you.”
I immediately made the connection for her that I don’t have to wait for the bus or walk, so I really am ok and will not freeze to death. Her concern and care for me struck me in a different way than it usually does. Usually when the students ‘take care’ of me (by getting the door for me, helping me out around the classroom, grabbing me a spoon at breakfast), I thank them and move on. This time, however, it hit me: I need them just as much, or more, as they need me. It’s not in a basic way—I don’t need them for my physical survival, but for my emotional survival. They’re the reason I worked for almost twelve hours yesterday. I’m writing a unit about constitutional rights, particularly when being involved with the police (which happens all the time for my kids, unfortunately). I’ll talk about the unit in detail in a following post, but most importantly, I couldn’t freakin’ wait to teach them today. Three kids got pulled from my class for a bell for something, and I was bummed because I knew we were going to have some good discussions.
They need me, but I need them way more. They are entertaining, hilarious, and beautifully resilient.
It’s what keeps me going, even in the brutal February cold.
Sometimes I don’t believe I can be as entertaining as a cell phone, but today I did it.
As my creative writing class published its first blog post, the uproar of joy was pretty ridiculous. I certainly don’t jump off tables when I post. Maybe I should? Eh, I’m just going to guess it’s because they haven’t had school for two days.
snow days = cooped up kids
I’ve had some conversations over this break that have been revealing about the way I think the public views students in poverty in the classroom. People ask my about my job and what I do in it, and I respond about the challenges as well as good things that happen. I try to make my job sound hopeful. And it is hopeful, most of the time. I don’t let my doubts of my effectiveness show through during these conversations.
And then I hear, “well, if you can reach just one, you’ve done your job.”
All of these statements are well-meaning, coming from the heart of a cliché we’ve all probably said or heard. The challenges and struggles of those in poverty seem insurmountable. It’s something I used to believe—even when I became a real teacher. I used to be ecstatic if I had fifty percent of students on-task, declaring it a victory because I couldn’t make them want to learn. It’s true that you can’t force learning, but you can surely innovate in ways to increase your engagement. I was failing with this tenet of teaching. Fifty percent is failing. As I improved my skills and rapport with the students, this on-task engagement has risen dramatically. It’s not always 100 percent, but it’s up there. And I had to work at it (reading Teach Like a Pirate helped). The defeatist mentality isn’t helpful when you teach teenagers. They will eat you alive.
At some point what I had heard about “if they don’t care to learn, then you can’t teach them” instantly linked itself to “well, if you can reach just one…”
While reading Ilana Garon’s Why Do Only White People Get Abducted By Aliens? Teaching Lessons from the Bronx, I realized this—
“Damn you Hilary Swank!”
Of course I’m referring to her inspiring character in Freedom Writers, not the memorable The Office episode when the office spends a WHOLE workday answering the question: Is Hilary Swank hot or not?
I really don’t know. What do you think?