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Archive for October, 2010

I had a rare opportunity today to teach a life lesson.  Just before Fall Break, my last hour class had left the computer lab a complete mess, so I decided they would not be allowed to use it the next day.  They had projects they were supposed to finish, so I knew this would be an inconvenience for them, but I wanted to teach them to respect property and follow directions.  So, I opted to have them write a 2 page paper on appropriate behavior in the lab.  Needless to say, that went over like a lead balloon–heightened by the fact that a number of students had missed the announcement informing them that they would have to make up their project on their own time, and their class is 8th hour.  They were on the verge of mass revolt.  By the time the dust settled, I had sent two kids to the office for refusing compliance and attitudes, and two more had only managed to remain in class when they found out the office made them do the same assignment I did.  Lots of grumbling ensued (Albeit mostly silently after 2 referrals), and then we left for fall break.

Which brings us to today.  I opened their hour today asking them what their options are when they feel like they are being treated unjustly.  “Get mad.” said the girl whose attitude got her a free pass to the office.  “How’d that work for you?”  I asked, and she smiled.  I proceeded to explain that we are not often treated the way we deserve.  For example, I am held accountable for my students ISTEP scores, when many of them refuse to try.  This is unfair.  Like them, I am penalized for something I didn’t do.  What ensued was a great life lesson where we were able to discuss their options when they disagree with an authority.  I explained how to ask a teacher to speak to you in the hallway (which takes the teacher off the defensive), how to offer solutions to a problem (Like cleaning the lab or silence while working), how to weigh when a situation is worth fighting about and when you need to just suck it up and do it, and finally, I discussed the fact that I don’t see having a bad attitude one day as indicative of a bad person.  What had been a negative situation which frustrated all of us turned into an opportunity to learn how to handle conflict in a respectful way.  The class completely turned around after that.     Often, all that is required is a bit of dialogue and any situation can be turned to your advantage.

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This time of year, it is always a struggle to press on.  We’ve been in school for 8 weeks.  I have 40 students with F’s (Which is about 1/3 of the 8th grade), despite offers of help of all kinds, allowing each student 4 late assignments with no docking of points, calling parents, and assigning lunch detentions for each week they are below a 59.5%.  Nothing has worked.  Not inspiration, threats, encouragement, big picture, or extra help.  It’s the proverbial, “You can lead a horse to water…” syndrome.  

Despite these grim facts, I know that my students last year improved their ISTEP scores on each standard between 7 and 13%.  I KNOW they’re learning, and I know they’re improving.  Yet, it’s still hard to see apathy day after day.  So, it is at times like this, I need to reflect on why I do what I do. 

About a week ago, one of my students was sharing her answer to the journal question:  “History is filled with those who gave their lives for a cause.  Is there a cause you believe in strongly enough that you’d give your life for it.”  This student replied, “I don’t care about anything.  You can only rely on yourself.  I mean, yeah, I love my family, but I’m not going to die for them.”   This sparked a series of conversations with this student.  I initially told her it broke my heart that she didn’t care about anything.  She asked me why I cared so much–hadn’t anything ever hurt me?  I responded lots of things had, but shutting yourself off from life is the worst possible thing one can do.  The opposite of love is not hate but indifference.  She shared about everyone thinking she’s beautiful but she cuts to deal with the pain.  Each conversation was about a page long.  At the conclusion, she gave me the following letter:

“Thank you.  I really appreciate the fact that you’re here for me.   But, I gave up putting my guards up!  Getting hurt is a part of life, I guess? It’s going to happen regardless of what I do.  Things can only get better.  I’m going to have to deal with the way things are going for now.  I’ll be 18 soon and I won’t have to live in that “hell house!”  Being down and depressed doesn’t suit me well.  I don’t care what people think or say about me!  It is what it is.  I have no clue why you’re the one who made me think about things and made me open my eyes, but Thanks.   And cutting myself does nothing but leave scars.  Thanks!”

And that’s why I do what I do…Maybe other kids will learn to care about themselves and their futures as well.

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