Saturday, January 20, 2007

Something to Mull Over

Classroom Distinctions - New York Times

A friend and fellow teacher sent me the above link to a Times op-ed piece on the relationship between movie teachers and real world teachers. Seems they are two different animals.

Tom Moore, the writer of the piece, is a teacher in the Bronx. He writes:

Films like “Freedom Writers” portray teachers more as missionaries than professionals, eager to give up their lives and comfort for the benefit of others, without need of compensation. Ms. Gruwell sacrifices money, time and even her marriage for her job.

Her behavior is not represented as obsessive or self-destructive, but driven — necessary, even. She is forced into making these sacrifices by the aggressive neglect of the school’s administrators, who won’t even let her take books from the bookroom. The film applauds Ms. Gruwell’s dedication, but also implies that she has no other choice. In order to be a good teacher, she has to be a hero.

It's difficult for me to read this piece objectively. I know Erin and the Freedom Writers. I have seen the effects of their work and the effects Gruwell's methods can have when implements in the classroom.

I smirked when reading, "Many of the students I’ve known won’t sit down unless they’re repeatedly asked to (maybe not even then), and they don’t listen just because the teacher is speaking; even 'good teachers' are occasionally drowned out by the din of 30 students simultaneously using language that would easily earn a movie an NC-17 rating."

These things are true in my own school, in every school I've ever scene since joining the profession.

Admitting Moore's understanding and knowledge of the subject, I disagree with his premise. Yes, educators need more support, trust and pay. We need hope too. While I do not expect my teaching to have the same effects or results as Gruwell's, I need movies like Freedom Writers, Blackboard Jungle, Stand and Deliver, etc. to remind me of what education has the possibility of becoming.

I've sat through enough parent-teacher conferences to know that is the true business to which we've dedicated our lives - realizing potential.

To succeed in a system where much of the old guard wishes to maintain the status quo and the new recruits are focused on keeping their heads above water, sacrifice is often the best way to accomplish what is most important - getting through.

Perhaps movies like Dangerous Minds are dangerous to the profession, planting false expectations in new teachers and a critical public. I acknowledge they could lead to an attitude of "see, a real teacher will forsake love and personal happiness to save the students she teaches."

When we reach the precipice of this mindset, though, the same key is necessary as I use when calming a hot-blooded student - perspective.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

These Kids Will Break Your Heart

Since my kids began journaling earlier this year, I would inevitably have a few kids throughout each day ask me to read what they wrote. I would gladly agree to the chance to gain a glimpse into their lives. Unfortunately, by the end of the day, I would have a full head and empty hands. The journals would go forgotten until the next day.

"Mr. Chase, did you read my journal?"

Sheepish look. "No, I forgot."

One thing I hate is the feeling of letting one of my kids down. I do everything I can to keep it from happening, but the journals were my downfall.

After viewing Freedom Writers, I decided to change things around and implement a new system. If a student wants me to read what he or she wrote that day, they put the journal in the top drawer of my filing cabinet. If not, they put the journal back on the shelf. I've had no problems with people looking at other people's journals. They get that it's a personal space. It's one of the few places where The Golden Rule truly works.

At the end of the day, I now empty the drawer, sit at my desk and read. If a student wants a comment or reply, they've been told to write, "respond," on the entry.

So, I sit at the end of the each day and wait for my heart to break and be repaired.

Yesterday's highlight was a student who wrote about plans to go home, bake a cake, make coffee and watch a movie. She wrote that I could have a piece if I wanted one - all I had to do was e-mail her. I did. One smiling student delivered one piece of cake to my room bright and early this morning. I saved it for the end of the day while I was reading. Something to brighten the spirits.

Unfortunately, the offer of baked goods is the rarity. My students are struggling with things I'm yet to encounter. Suicide, drug addiction, neglect. I think I'm still amazed at how much they are willing to share. Much like Erin in the movie, I head to the drawer at the end of each day and expect a lighter load, but it's always full.

Interesting, I've got some repeat customers, but the daily selection is usually on rotation. Today these kids want to share, but tomorrow it will be an almost entirely different group. I love these kids. You have to. You absolutely have to.

More later.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

Flipchart Fun

So, I had this whole post written about my plans for bucking the FCAT review scheduled for tomorrow. Then, the browser crashed. As such, here's a link to the ActivBoard Flipchart I made.


More later.


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So Much Has Happened

Let me say some things about my final exam. Given the two days before school let out, exams are rarely an exciting thing for me. At Phoenix, all students, 8 and 9, take exams so as not to disrupt the schedule and to help prepare our advancing 8th graders should they decide to go to a traditional school next year.

My final was simple. I gave the students 10 different writing prompts and told them to pick the one they thought they could write the most interesting essay about. From there, they had to brainstorm, plan, write a rough draft, revise and write a final draft.

Now, at this point last year, I gave the same final and realized I had a lot of work to do. This year, the results were amazing. One student turned in planning, a rough draft and a final draft. This is amazing because the student has a serious learning disability. At the beginning of the year, he gave me four lines in response to a prompt. This was after he wrote his name on his planning sheet - that was all, his name, nothing else.

The essay he turned in took the whole page. Not only that, it contained three similes. THREE.

While none of them is ready to be published, each essay showed tremendous progress. They're writing. More often than not, they're writing things that are interesting and important to them. They're good kids.

I need to get to the next level. Our state writing assessment, the test I was hired for, is Feb. 7. I need to get them excited. I need to get them focused.

I don't know how many times this year, I've told the kids, "You will get a boring prompt, that does not give you permission to write a boring essay."

Other important phrases include, "Write the good sandwich," "Write your truth," and "So far as I know, no one has ever died of a writing related accident."

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