Monthly Archives: May 2012

Grief

I know there has to be a lot of fear in the teacher when someone close to a student dies, or a student dies. What can they say or do?

Back in high school, a student died in the middle of the day. He had severe health problems that very few – even friends – knew about. One day, during lunch, he collapsed. He was rushed to the hospital. We found out the next morning by announcement what had happened. I had him in my first period English class. The teacher didn’t even pause for a moment. She took attendance and proceeded as if she hadn’t heard a single thing. Several students became outraged and stormed out of the classroom. A student – a friend – someone wasn’t even being acknowledged.

I sat there. I was still in shock over learning the news, and maybe the teacher was too, but she never mentioned the boy once. Perhaps she assumed that we were in high school, and we could deal with something like this. I don’t think that’s true. The teacher had a chance to really bring the class together, but we ended up apart.

I haven’t forgotten that day or that student. He wasn’t someone close, but I had talked to him in passing, joked around. He was part of the classroom in way, and in another way, he was not. I think it’s absolutely vital – even before a tragedy occurs, to create a community within the classroom, to have the teacher know the students so that we can grow from terrible moments as a group, not alone.

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Dream Classroom

In my fifth grade classroom we had a Super Nintendo in the back of the classroom to be used at lunch (or on certain days when you finished your assignments early). At that point I started becoming aware of what I’d like to have in my classroom. My ten year old self would have liked a moat (and accompanying waterslide for easy access to the outside) but the more and more I think about it, as I’m on the path to becoming a teacher, there’s so much more than fun and games.

 

I love writing, and my setup at home (sort of in transition right now, as I don’t have space for a desk anymore) has to be conducive to writing. I like having my window open and the blinds drawn so I can ponder off into the streets and nature at the same time (sky and trees). I like playing classical music (sometimes movie scores to get me in certain moods, my favorite is from Last of the Mohicans) that can really get my fingers moving. I’m listening to it as I write this – I have been out of writing for it seems like weeks, and now I need to ramp it up. If I have the right feel, the creative juices can flow. I spoke with my cousin who is in the Masters program of Information Technology at UW and he had worked on a project on environments (or settings) for creative outlets. Everyone had different environments. Some wanted to be in a busy coffee shop, others in tranquil nature. Some had desks complete with everything they’ll need. Some needed silence. Some needed music.

 

Thinking now, about my classroom of the future, my students will have different needs and wants, and most certainly different environments they will excel in. I know I work great with classical music blasting as get in the zone, but not everyone is me. I’d like a classroom where students can move about and choose where they want to work – depending on what they’re doing. If they need to work alone or in groups, there needs to be space for that. My ideal room will be asymmetrical. It will have the tools they need, the space they need. The windows will be open, but there will also be a corner for focus. Music could be playing quietly somewhere.

 

There could also be a Super Nintendo in the corner. It will be an artifact by then, but it may find some use.

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Faux Multicultarism

Faux multiculturalism harkens me back to television shows and their ‘token’ characters. Using Star Trek as an example, and its supposed futuristic society, but it’s still just ‘one of everything with a white man in charge,’ though, to be fair, there’s television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine where the captain, Sisko, is a black man. Still, for the majority of media, television and film, white characters dominate. It seems to be getting better (though I can’t back this up with evidence) that television shows frequent nonwhite characters and other gender and sexual identities. Though I digress, it’s something valid to look at because our future students will be exposed to these characters and relationships (whether power, partner or otherwise) from an early age, they will bring it in to the classroom.

It’s not just media, because as teachers, we can control (to an extent) what we can teach. The histories of each student’s culture must be as important as the curriculum’s western viewpoint. If the students’ can connect to their history, what’s in their blood, they can bring a level of engagement which wouldn’t otherwise be possible.

I went to school in an affluent neighborhood. While my classroom wasn’t very diverse, I still believe we received a decent multicultural education despite the demographics. I think that’s also really important. Not always will classrooms be as diverse as some schools, but there should still be an opportunity to introduce new cultures into classroom even if there aren’t students from that culture.

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Building a Community

Community, I think, can be achieved by having a close rapport with the students and amongst themselves. I know this to be a huge challenge. I remember substitute teachers who never were able to get students to do anything, let alone learn something. I had other substitutes who could get us laugh and get talking, but I don’t think we were ever engaged to learn, but we definitely had a rapport. But a classroom community isn’t just about learning, it’s about a safe environment for students to trust each other, to resolve conflicts, to be encouraged, to try new things, and soon learning will come.

Everyone must be involved in a community for it to be functioning. If someone is left out or if it diminishes the moment they leave the classroom it has failed. Because of that, community building is an ongoing process. There has to be give and take. Students have to give compliments – and also be able to receive them.

There are always ways to build communities. It can be through ice breaker games where students have to learn about each other, especially someone different from themselves or the friends that they already have. With overcrowded classrooms, the idea of the ‘student of the week’ would have to spread out over the entire year, and I’m not even sure if every student would be able to participate. Perhaps students of the week might be more apt or other more creative ways that either my students or I can come up with. When students can turn to each other in times of need I believe that is one sign of success.

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Dreams in Poverty

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with the golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams…

– William Butler Yeats

I start with a poem that made me think about my upbringing. I don’t usually reference poetry, it’s not my forte, but this piece has grown on me over the years. I first heard the poem in a movie (Equilibrium) and ever since it hasn’t left my mind. I had mentioned to a group of people, behind tapping feet and shaking hands, the shame of growing up poor. It shouldn’t be shameful. I had a lot of support in those days even though the support came from people who hadn’t graduated from college, even high school. That I became the first in my family to graduate college wasn’t a coincidence, I am sure of that. I know now that I had full support of my parents, teachers, friends and more to go to college (even with its costs) and graduate.

I had this notion that if you are poor, you can get out of it through education. I still think that’s the truth, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. There are so many hurdles when you’re poor. And I’m not just talking about food stamps, it’s true hunger, it’s no power, it’s no home. There’s no support because it’s always a struggle for basic survival. If you’re hungry, cold, sick, there are needs to be met. I never went hungry and we always had a home. Granted, I was ashamed of our home (it has been since torn down and the homes around it to put up condos), my clothes were a mix of hand-me-downs, and the support that I had was great – but it wasn’t a substitute for experience. I’m blessed, and I have to understand that not everyone will have such a situation. I just hope that I can show some empathy with my future students who’s home may be in a state of disarray, whose family may be constantly in transition, who may not know where they will sleep that night, or had none the night before. It will be a struggle, but understanding is a start.

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