Thursday, August 30, 2007

What it Takes...

After a week and a half of engaging kenesthetic activities. I changed directions with my students today. We talked. That was it. We talked. They wrote, they thought and we talked.
The opening question - their bellwork, what got the ball rolling - was a simple query, "Is diversity a good thing?"
Underneath, on the board, read the parenthetical note, "If you do not know the definition of 'diversity,' look in your dictionary."
Let me say this before moving on - they actually looked in the dictionary. Even better, at tables where both students were stymied as to the denotative meaning of the word, I watched as one table partner waited patiently (not getting off task) for the other person to finish with their Webster's work so they could have a full understanding. It really is an amazing thing to see such dedication to getting it right.
As is oft my role, when they had written their initial thoughts, I played devil's advocate depending on the majority's opinion. It really was some fantastic discussion.
At the end of 7th period, Jamie announced to the class, "This class made me think some things that I didn't think before." Any educator knows it's not often that you get a child to realize, let alone pronounce, a paradigm shift.
One of the places a few of the discussions wound around to was shoes. I polled the class on an acceptable maximum amount for an 8th grader to spend on a pair of shoes. We had been talking footwear as an example of following the crowd rather than one's one drum. Jordan's were the favorite though none of my students was alive to see MJ play live. The mean acceptable price was around $110.
We talked about why brand names were "important" and whether or not acquiring one's clothing from Wal-Mart was a mark of shame. The whole thing set me to thinking about where to take the discussion next. Not with every class, just the ones who showed interest. After a little reflection, here's what I've got:

  1. Each student picks a country (most likely a Third World counry).
  2. They use the CIA World Factbook to find: children per capita, average annual income per capita, possibly mortality rate per capita
  3. Each student then finds the retail price for each item it took to prepare him/her for school that day. (This would include hygeine products, et al.)
  4. The student finds the total cost of being him/her and multiplies it x7 to get the cost per week.
  5. The student then compares the findings.
The question is - what do they do with this info.? I'm sure it will be eye-opening, but what real purpose can they put it to? Where do they go after they realize "what it takes to be them?"
Anxious for thoughts and suggestions. Anyone have a class they'd like to have compare themselves to mine?
More later.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The First Week

It's only been five days and my room smells like stale coffee again. I'm not certain I can't say the same for the inside of my body as well.

I'm finally keeping up with my feeds again, and reading some great stuff. For whatever reason, I can't access twitter via G-chat. Luckily, I've got twitbin to keep me connected.

My kids this year are tremendous. I've almost 120 students and they have each impressed me in some way already. I'm trying to make at least two calls home each night - positive calls.

Two nights ago, I called and spoke to a mother to tell her how impressed I was that her son didn't miss a beat after being out sick for a day on the first week. She told me she had already seen an improvement in self-confidence after three days and that her son had begged to go to school with a fever the day he was out. I thanked her for saving us from and endemic before I hung up the phone.

I feel like we're all on our game even more than last year. We started with a non-traditional open house. I'm teaching Grades 8 and 10 this year. Rather than rotating parents and students through each classroom and having them listen to teacher presentations that were remarkably similar, we set up paperwork in the literacy center and all of the teachers were available to talk in the common area. Here's the key, we made it a potluck dinner.

Some people on campus felt slight trepidation over whether or not our parents would show, let alone bring a dish to share. Their concerns were not without reason; our first year, about 7 familes showed up for our Open House. This year, we were only missing 7 families out of the 8th grade! It was tremendous. I got to shake each student's hand, find out a little about them and eat brownies. It's not a perfect world, but it's close to it.

This first week has been dedicated to class/family building and policies and procedures. Today, we wrap up the Coat of Arms project procured from Erin Gruwell. The first day, they were quiet and not too engaged. It was a slow start. Today, as the deadline hung in front of them, students who were already finished sat next to students who were a little behind and helped search for and cut out images that symbolized their goals, achievements and things/people of value.

I have been operating at 11 for the entire week. I had also forgotten how exhausting teaching is when you do it right. I haven't had the energy to go for a run after the marathon that is the school day. But, I wouldn't have it any other way. This weekend's agenda? Sleep. Maybe a little response to some entry and exit tickets.

Lesson plans? I've got the next two weeks planned out. It's a weird feeling.

More later.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Grrr and Argh

I sent a package to a friend of mine yesterday. He's heading into his first year of teaching and I want to give him all of the support I can. It wasn't until I jumped online and read a column from the paper back home that I realized the package I sent was intellectually racy.
Inside, it held a copy of The Essential 55 by and Life's Greatest Lessons by Hal Urban. Both are books that saw me through my first years of teaching and to which I continue to turn. According to the column, though, one of the leaders of my district worries that The Essential 55 could be taken as condescending. Ron Clark is white, his students when he taught in Harlem were mainly African American and Latino.
Apparently, Clark was on the shortlist of keynote speakers at our back-to-school meeting. Last year's speaker was Willard Daggett and the year before that was Erin Gruwell.
According to the column, and I'm not taking any of it as gospel, the district administrator had reservations about Clark speaking because he thought it could be taken as condescending to listen to stories of how Clark took his students from Harlem on horizon-expanding field trips. Clark's efforts to teach etiquette in preparation for a trip to a formal restaurant reportedly found a particular sticking place in the administrator's craw. Lyons implies the administrator believes Clark's speech is condescending because he is a white teacher who was working mainly with students who didn't look like him. I'm not sure what to make of it or how those beliefs would reflect on my own teaching.
Two things are happening here that have me frustrated.
One, I'm none-too-impressed with Lyons' reporting. The column could have been held for next week in order to include the asst. superintendent's side of the story. As it reads now, the column is another in a growing collection of pieces that makes teachers and the school district feel as though they are at odds with the press.
The other element of contention is with the idea that the central office wasn't immediately forthcoming with the details.
Again, all we have to go on is what Lyons saw fit to print, but the idea that the district's spokesman tried to sidestep the issue at fist blush isn't exactly going to make any inroads toward a strong relationship between the district and the press. This is to say nothing of the fact that the column was going to run with or without the administrator's quote, so it makes more sense to be open on the front end than to have to clean up after the parade has passed by.
From both sides, we (community members and district employees) need sincerity over spin.
More later.