Friday, January 30, 2015

He looks incredibly great, actually...I'm not kidding.

An op-ed piece     By   

"As extensive research shows, just one year with a gifted teacher in middle school makes it far less likely that a student will get pregnant in high school, and much more likely that she will go to college, earn a decent salary, live in a good neighborhood and save for retirement."

                               .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .  .

The other day my father went the Natural History Museum. After looking up his last name to give him a ticket, the young docent, K., asked, "Do you have a sister named Lola? She was my favorite teacher all through school..."

[Ed.: OK, I could either frame this as "My dad looks good for his 77 years," "I look awful for my half century," or "Students have absolutely no idea that 13 years isn't really that long." (Personally, I think my daddy looks fantastic.)]

"...yes, she made me love history so that I even got a history degree--lots of my friends did, too."

Teachers don't get to revisit students and distill and analyze their positive and negative influence on their students and their lives' outcomes.  That "extensive research" can't really show causality.  Could I measure my efficacy by counting who got pregnant in high school, who graduated from college, who saves for retirement? Is it my personal fault if a kid drops out? There is NO WAY to find out one's influence without asking the students, is there? 

And self -reporting is, as they say, less than reliable.

How can "They" know what would have happened if a kid had this type of teacher, or that kind? How could they know that maybe K. would have become a ROCKET SCIENTIST or a BRAIN SURGEON if she hadn't gotten derailed by the thrills of 8th grade history class where we sang some cheesy songs, took Cornell notes throughout the year, and reenacted the Battle of Gettysburg in twenty minutes? 

Maybe I RUINED HER. Maybe K. was going to find the cure for cancer. Maybe she would have been an engineer and be making all kinds of money, rather than handing my extremely youthful-looking dad a ticket in a local non-profit museum.

But maybe I saved her life. Maybe she was thinking about finding the cure for cancer, but now she will live a beautiful, fulfilling life helping others connect with the past, present, and future. Maybe she would have been miserable in any other field.

I reread that NYT paragraph and find it overwhelming. That much responsibility...that's crazy, people. We place these middle schoolers into cinderblock classrooms (which I find absolutely horrifying--the cinderblock classrooms, not the placing of the kids) and for 55 minutes, five days a week, one middle school teacher can have that great of an impact??? How can anyone be calm about this??? How can we not be more serious, wise and intentional about teacher recruitment, training, and retention??? how? how? HOW???

When I was in middle and high school, taking those career aptitude tests, one of the questions was about how important it was for me to influence people. For me, the answer was super duper important. I really wanted to (and still hope to) make a positive difference in this world--but I didn't think I could actually influence someone's sex life or retirement savings.

That's like, dude, more influence than Oprah

I've always felt the responsibility to be a heavy one, an honorable one. But dear Lord, this little paragraph means I want to make sure that YOU love them through me. Help me to be Your arms. Help me to speak Your words. Help me to love them the way You do. Amen.

*from "Can Students have too much TECH, JAN. 30, 2015

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Gone with the Wind? Wind out of His Sails? Caution to the Wind?

Eighth grade boys....

Though George Washington's official inauguration was on April 30th, 1789, it happened today in B-5. I was teaching the students the difference between the two key words "president" and "precedent," and explained that as the first president ever in the history of the known universe, every time Washington did anything, he was setting a presidential precedent.

O. chirped out, "I wish I could be the first president to fart!" I returned, "I'm afraid you are far too late for that, my friend." O. shook his fist and stage whispered, "Curse you, George Washington..."

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Day I Discovered Motherhood Would Have Killed Me

"Miss M,
(smiley face) I know this paper may not be exactly what this essay contest was about. It's just that as I began to write, my feelings started unraveling. I was about to go w/some cheesy generic story, but I thought this was more meaningful. Just thought I'd let you know.
~H. (heart)"

This hot pink sticky on her paper didn't really prepare me for what I was about to read.

We were participating in the Jackie Robinson Breaking Barriers essay contest and my students were writing about obstacles they had overcome. (I really wanted one of them to win a trip to the All Star game!) I fully expected to read about students facing their fear of heights....of trying out for cheer... of maybe trying to make friends at a new school.

I was not prepared for the baring of wounds, some deep and ugly, many still raw.

R. was born with a chronic condition that leaves him in pain when he eats certain foods.
N., who is Asian, faces stereotypes and racism on the baseball field.
M. has gay parents and deals with slurs and mean jokes regularly.
D. struggles with anorexia--and he is a male athlete.
A. is on anti-anxiety medication at age thirteen.
B. tries to make sense of his parents' divorce and his being "caught between."
S.'s best friend died.
A's dad has been fighting cancer for years.

On and on it went. In the stable middle class neighborhood, my babies were facing all kinds of struggles that they never shared aloud. All kinds of troubles, and all kinds of courage--courage I felt they really were too young to ever have to exercise. Thirty-six kids, thirty-six trials.

H? Her story was about being shunned for being, they said, fat. I could hardly believe it. This healthy, beautiful girl who in no way had any extra poundage was believing she was heavy. I was enraged. Who dares to scar this wonderful lovely beautiful girl? WHO?? I wanted to find them and, er, set the record straight.

I had to walk away from the papers because my soul couldn't take it.

I don't know if I want to participate in the contest this year.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Haiku for a Beginning Teacher

At each day's ending, 

write down these TWO THINGS: what worked

and what made you smile.