Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ch. 6: Fire and Water

In this chapter the author reminisces about his own experience teaching in urban classrooms. While some teachers are "on fire" in the classroom, others are drowning or barely treading water. As a teacher, sometime in your career you too will feel yourself somewhere along that range of fire and water. Not every class of every day will be worthy of the next feel-good Hollywood screenplay. Don't worry, it's not you. But, after you get some experience under your belt, you'll also find that not every day is a just-getting-by day, either.

Great quote, from page 54:
"The point, for me, is that a teacher's work must be at once grounded in the challenges of the present moment and directed toward the hope of a better future, of what might be. In that respect, the saving grace, always, is the kids themselves."

'Nuff said.

Ch. 5: Seeing, Hearing, and Talking Race

"Lessons for White Teachers from Teachers of Color"

First, let me just say this:

This is probably one of the eye-opening chapters in the book, in my opinion. On page 38, Michie quotes Jacqueline Jordan Irvine: "...avoidance is all too common among White teachers, many of whom...continue to cling to a "color-blind" approach in their thinking and classroom practice."

Guilty as charged, Your Honor.

To those of us raised in a certain age and in certain geographical regions, this was a common theme in undergraduate teacher-ed coursework. Michie and others challenge that sentiment's appropriateness during the modern era, though. The author has interviewed a number of teachers from a variety of backgrounds and offers the following advice:
1. Listen to Teachers of Color. Are you communicating in ways that each child understands and can identify with? How do you know? Have you asked? Michie suggests talking with teachers of color, and listening - REALLY LISTENING - to what they have to say. You may be surprised.
2. Examine Privilege and "Whiteness". If you share my rural vanilla working-middle-class background, you may be surprised by the way students of poverty and students of color perceive you. One of Michie's inerviewees (is that a word?) suggest, "To teach Black kids well, a White teacher has to be able to say, 'I know I'm White and this can get really complicated, so let's talk about why that could be.'" Frankly, I think that sentiment could be extended to students of any ethnic or socioeconomic group.
3. Be Honest About Gaps of Knowledge and Commit to Learning More. Once again, the best teachers are those who believe they are never done learning. Especially about kids. Be honest with your students. Let them know that your background may be different from theirs. Look for ways to share these backgrounds appropriately and integrate these experiences into your lessons and activities. This helps make every student feel like a valued and contributing member of your learning community.
4. Clarify Purposes for Teaching. Okay, gang. Journal entry time! Perfect opportunity. Why do you teach? Why did you get started in the first place? This is your journal, folks. I'm not going to read it - you won't be graded or judged. But I challenge each of you to sit down and put into words exactly what goes through your head when you think of those questions. Be honest. Don't give "The Perfect Interview Answer." Be real to yourself. If you can't, how can you be real for your kids?
5. Challenge Students - Don't Pity Them. Yes, some may say they want you to feel sorry for them - they think you'll give less homework that way. But there's a difference between showing true and legitimate empathy and caving. Know your students. Acknowledge both their strengths and their challenges. Then, give them something that's just a little bit outside their comfort zone. Help them see for themselves that they can break whatever boundaries and barriers life tries to place upon them.
6. Be Resilient. Teaching kids is hard. Teaching kids in an era when education is absurdly controlled and restricted by politicians who don't know the first thing about teaching is ludicrous. But, it is what it is. Venting about these things in front of kids is a disservice. Giving up in front of kids shows them that it's okay to give up. Don't do it. Be strong, and teach your kids to be strong. Support them and celebrate their successes, no matter how small, and you'll find that you have more support and more successes each and every day. "Never, never, NEVER give up." - Sir Winston Churchill

Ch.4 - From the Trading Floor to the Classroom

Seems I've been away for quite a while - shirking my blogging duties for a number of other priorities - apologies to those who are following. Oddly, I'm picking this up with what I believe to be an oddly appropriate passage, from page 32:

"Once inside classrooms, some though that the "big picture" questions seemed unimportant when compared with more pressing concerns: How do you get a class of 2nd graders to the washroom and back in less than 15 minutes"... etc.

True - one gets sidetracked from time-to-time and needs to focus on the trees now and then rather than the forrest. Many days, especially during your first year or so, you find yourself quite overwhelmed with the daily and not-so-mundane challenges of managing a classroom full of students. You feel good if you're at least one day ahead of where your kids are supposed to be. Somedays, because there are so many other demands on your time, you just wing it and hope for the best.

And you know what? Sometimes that's okay. It happens to each and every one of us. Happened to me last time we met.


We've all been there. And, more likely than not, you'll be there again somewhere down the road. We hope you don't move away or anything like that - we want to keep you as long as you're happy here! However, you might choose to move to another building, or you might get asked to teach that subject that somehow oddly showed up as an endorsement on your teaching certificate.

Or maybe you're planning a Teachers' Institute while starting up a book club. Whatever.

Regardless, the takeaway from Ch. 4 is this, in my opinion: The best teachers are those who are prepared to look at every day through the eyes of a student. There's going to be a new and unexpected challenge each and every day, no matter how much experience you have under your belt. Deal with it, and do the best you can with it. Experience - and the occasional failure - are the best teacher's teacher.