Thursday, September 14, 2006

Salad days

I started doing writing conferences with my freshmen the first week of school. Those first one on one, face to face conversations were a lot like speed dating. I was trying to get to as many as I could in a short period of time, get to know something about them, leave them with something to think about, and move on to the next prospect. And I knew, after ten years of teaching, that these were the salad days, the honeymoon phase, but…I have to admit, that I fell in love with most of them.

This week, during the writing conferences, I felt more like a doctor doing rounds than like a speed dater. Get in there, diagnose the problem, prescribe something, and visit the next patient. But what do I prescribe to Tehan, who has written “I am a Chinese gay” instead of what he wanted to write, “I am a Chinese guy”? And what do I say to Ayanna who can’t focus her attention long enough to put a sentence on the page? And what do I say to Geneva who has written a page long sentence with no punctuation at all?

When I first interviewed for teaching positions, I remember that every interviewer asked the same question: “How do you plan to deal with so many different ability levels in the same classroom?” I always thought they were asking that question, not to see what I thought, but because they genuinely wanted that answer for themselves. It’s a tricky business.

This one on one teaching is one of the few ways to give everybody a little of what they need. But with thirty students in a classroom, it’s difficult to give everybody enough of what they need. And, oh, they are needy. In ways that go way beyond writing issues.

This year I’m fortunate enough to be working with a grade level team of teachers—we each teach our own content areas—English, History, Math, Science, Spanish, and Art, with the help of a teacher trained in Special Education issues, to the same 3 groups of students. And I have never worked with such dedicated people in my life. Our school day starts at 9:30 and ends at 4:30; most of us are in by 7:30, some of us don’t leave until 7:30 at night. When we aren’t in school, we are emailing, text messaging, and calling each other’s cell phones to discuss what happened in school: “How was John in your class today? He couldn’t sit still in mine.”
“Do you know what Bessie was so upset about?’
“Has Jaylynn turned in ANY homework?”
These are other people’s children. And we treat them the way we want our own children to be treated by their teachers. Even when we come in with our own issues.

It feels like an incredibly overwhelming responsibility…to kids like Tehan and Ayanna and Geneva and John and Bessie and Jaylynn, and also to their peers who are writing beautifully already and need only a subtle push to the next level. It also feels like an incredibly overwhelming privilege…to be able to affect so many children that walk through the classroom door, each day, every year.

I know teachers get a bum rap. I think it’s just sour grapes about those summers off. We need those summers off. It takes a lot of energy to do what we do every September.


W Brown said...

Ok I am really excited to be working on this team. The dedication team is something we have to keep fostering. I only hope that when conflict arises we quickly adapt and overcome.

Excellent Post MAYO!!!! Thanks for sharing

Anonymous said...

There are many teachers in many schools worried about many of their students and reflect greatly on their practice but we are able to go one step further. We are very lucky to be able to share our concerns, fears, joys and successes with a set of colleagues that have the same cohort of students and who are equally dedicated or fast becoming so. We are even luckier that we can also share ideas, lessons and best practice with these same colleagues.
Conflict is almost impossible to completely avoid and at times difficult overcome. Harmony is best achieved when all voices are heard and respected. It is vital for the stronger voices of a team to remember to listen and allow others to express views that might not be shared by all and to still be part of the decision making process when determining what is best for their students and themselves.
I loved your reflection Mayo and am envious of the rapport that your team has achieved in such a short time. Let's hope the year is a smooth ride with just a few of those bumps that lifts you from your seat, the kind that keeps you awake and excited, and never becomes one where you feel as if you will be thrown over.

Anonymous said...

Excellent piece. Only suggestion - I think the real names of students shouldn't be posted on the internet.

Superfly said...

I love all of you!!! Can I just skip college and start teaching at QHST on Monday???