Friday, October 31, 2008

names are important

a quick story about names:

there is a girl whose name is p. every pronounces it as if it were the illegal payoffs that radios used to do (and maybe still do? corporations? anyone?), payola. she's most certainly latina, and so i wonder why she doesn't correct teachers or anyone, really, when they pronounce it strangely (in my head, i always think it's a gringo pronunciation).

i saw her in advisory (i believe i've explained what advisory is before), and asked her to come over for a second.

"P.," i said to her, "how do you pronounce your name? Like P. or P. [latin sounding]?"

she looked at me, her eyes lighting up just a bit and a small smile on her face, and said, "Both."

"Which do you prefer?" i asked. she shrugged.

i said ok and went about my business checking this blog, checking my other one, editing some poetry, looking other poems and whatever until the end of the block. suddenly she comes up to me and says, "Which one do you like?" and i told her P. she ran back, almost skipping, and i think i saw a smile.

interesting how important a name is. i hate to say it, but my methods teacher was absolutely correct about names--we had to write a "where I'm from" poem and before that speak about our own names, where they come from, how we feel about them, etc. like it or dislike it, you have a name and it's important for teachers to know it, and know it right. judging by the way she smiled and ran off, i think i just took an important step toward something, who knows what, with this girl just by pronouncing her name correctly. it must've meant something.

the teacher's out of the room blues

i've started to feel much more comfortable as a teacher in this room (i'm at school as i write this), and i announced which classes i'll be taking over to the kids. i did it through a powerpoint presentation, really, of what school i graduated from (GW, naturally), how i taught in santiago, chile (the kids were extremely impressed with the spanish, at least in one class--the other collapsed on me out of hyperidity and utter lack of self-control), and where i've traveled, and that now i'm at Duggan Middle!

today the teacher is out of the room, and i'm certainly not alone. i'm with a competent sub, and i really don't need to be here. she's wicked nice, and knows how to handle the kids to the T. anyways, the teacher is out and i don't have much to do but observe. which might actually be a good idea now that i think about it.

still this laziness in some of the students. still this apparent disregard for the apologies that they say not two minutes before they start acting up again. what seems like sincere apologies. it's pretty insane. you just don't know what the hell they're thinking, sometimes. really strange.

Friday, October 24, 2008

mtel english subject test

i passed it, baby!!! one down, one to go!

ups and downs once more

from one day to the other is like new england weather: it's never constant. how is it that group work can be so efficient one day, and the next is a train wreck? maybe there are other strategies? how do you figure this stuff out?

i took a leadership position away from a girl who was supposedly "facilitator" of a group--because, quite frankly, she wasn't going to do the work. she shut down completely. another kid wouldn't do his work because he was tired and hungry. how do you counter-act something like that?

maybe more insight will come as the day rolls by.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

los caminos de la vida (life's paths) or, ups and downs

yesterday was a terrible day. as my teacher was debriefing me of the different challenges that i am facing in choosing which classes i will inevitably take over, my vision started to get edgy. no hyperventilating, but i was not focusing. i was overwhelmed.

the problem was, i had a class collapse on me. a very difficult class, and one whose scores on their interim assessments (progress tests we give every five weeks that don't count towards their grades, but give us an indication on where they are according to our standards, etc) were terrible. most, if not all, were feeling quite dumb. the class collapsed: loud, disruptive, inattentive, and above all, just all over the place with not following directions and other things. one of the kids left the classroom so upset, she cried. that class in general just won't have it some days, and others are far more balanced and easy to get together. the class collapsed.

all this, piled on top of a day of "is this the class i really want to tackle?" angst and indecision. i felt myself becoming more and more uncomfortable with the lesson i was teaching--modeled by the teacher for a block, and then taken over by me. overwhelming. i didn't have a plan, and barely time to adjust. i swallowed hard, and then came the next class.

is this the life of a teacher? venting session upon session came to me at any opportunity i clamored for: during grad class, to a friend (who i must call) (a classmate), to another friend, and advice given by my big sister. i organized myself a bit, and made a small pro and con list of things (since when am i so organized? i'll never know) that i know to be true about one class. i lay in my bed under the sheets, warm, except for a slight draft (my nose'd be cold in the morning, for sure). i rationalized to myself a few things, sighed, felt a little more resolved and slept.

today, i decided to take on a new tactic. i'm still experimenting, after all. i didn't raise my voice in the least. i didn't panic. i stayed at a low, steady decibal, and didn't dare raise it another notch. i told my first class (by the way, i haven't mentioned this, but my mentor teacher was out at a workshop in the library all day, and a sub was there. officially, i was told not to do anything, maybe, at most, set the sub up. i didn't do that. i don't know if that's good or bad. in fact, i held back the last block just to let the poor guy do his job. this is something i have to hold back on, for sure, next time. it ain't my job to take over like i did. but it just happened) that i had decided that i wasn't going to raise my voice at all, and i kept saying things like, "i'm just going to keep talking until i have eyes on me, until q. [one of the students] stops hitting himself with his folder, until i have silence." and it worked!!!! how? i haven't a clue. but with every class it worked. maybe it won't another time, but damn. anyways, the idea behind today was group work. i've never seen them work so well with each other. their groups were settled and working, reading aloud to each other in group voices, and working on every question needed. my toughest kids were the hardest workers. i'd like to repeat that: my toughest kids were the hardest workers.

it hit me: what these kids need is structure. they need clear directions, and an environment where they can work together. otherwise, everything just begins to fall apart. the lesson must engage them both as individuals, but also as groups. i think, if i can balance them between individual work and group work, that this thing will be more of a cakewalk than diving into the batter before it's mixed, like i thought yesterday. whatever that metaphor means. maybe it's not as easy as it seemed. it most definitely isn't. but what worked well was group work and structure--they picked team leaders who kept everyone in check and focused, and everything worked fantastically. i'm going to experiment soon with this. let's see if this can be replicated!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

i'm not black and i'll never be, epilogue

looking over at what i had written yesterday, and having told the story again to my urban education teacher and feeling a few tears coming to my eyes, and real worry beat my forehead, i'd like to comment a bit further on this whole subject.

as i spoke to my urban education teacher about this today, i started to choke up a bit. i really won't relate to them like that, ever, i told her. no, she said, you will in some way. but you're noticing the differences; and i can see it on your face.

my face: furrowed, heavy, sudden, unhappy.

i don't feel great about this; it worries me a lot that, makes me wonder if i will relate to them at all about certain things. it felt like loss, i wrote last night. that's a very abstract thing, loss. but you know how it feels, don't you? how your chest feels punched, not by a fist, but by the bottom end of a metal bucket; and gutless, not in the sense that you're a chicken or scared, just gutless. you feel not so great. for moment, my head sunk down into this, and then i was out of it. i'm over-blowing it, perhaps, but it certainly felt like a sinking moment.

i'm trying to think how i can develop relationships with these kids. maybe i'm a little too eager. one step at a time, after all. next week i have to plan something about the children's rights packet they've been reading for the past two weeks or so. it's a craft project, but i want to make it interesting and personalized. why should they want to do this, is really the question that i want to ask myself when i plan this lesson? what the hell is so special about this, or maybe: how can i make this special enough that they'll be interested in it.

tomorrow i study for the MTEL, the teacher's exam. saturday, i take it. let's hope i can define what a participle is!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

i'm not black and i never will be

is what, after a little while, has sunk into my eyes and gut after a long day at school today. i taught. i taught four classes non-stop, with some help from the sub here and there, and with help from the paraprofessional (just so we know, a para is an aide to kids with disabilities--this one is very personable, seems to know a lot of the kids, and is pretty old school in terms of disciplining in a tough-but-fair way, i suppose...i'm not quite sure of all this stuff quite yet, but let's move on to the story) during one class.

the idea was simple: have the class read two pages and have them make 10 multiple choice questions if there's time. i kinda thought to myself...10 multiple choice questions is going to take a long, long time--let's bag it, and do a discussion. much easier. and more of my strong point, i think, although it's certainly something i need to hone in on.

the real boom moment--when my own sense of self was completely tipped--something clicked--i'm not quite sure how describe it--a sinking feeling, a deep sinking, a terrible sense, almost like loss. the para, the aide, took over my class once he entered the room. it was fine. i didn't mind; he's a nice guy, and absolutely good enough to take over a discussion such as this, talking about children's rights, and what that all means to them, women and men's differences (wonderful discussion bout that), and hiring situations. i pulled it all together to get back into the whole "rights" thing, and then, as we were talking about adults and interskate 91 (a roller rink) and gunshots on boston road, boom it hit me how absolutely alienated i was and am from their experiences. they could want to go to rollerskate, and suddenly hear gunshots. i do not live in springfield, i thought. i'm totally sheltered. that was one.

soon, the conversation turned back to rights, and the para---like i said, a black guy, really nice, funny, serious, too---turned his language completely around, and stopped talking to them like an adult in school and started speaking like a black man, a peer, like how now it were suddenly real, like he had said when he started to speak as if he were speakin to you on the street. and then boom again: i'm not black. i'll never be black. and i won't ever be able to relate to the kids just like this para did.

i said it felt like loss. only now it does. really, i just felt alienated for a second, and strange. i'll never relate to them on that level. that's what race is about, i guess. maybe i'm starting to get it.