0039: Bullying, Helplessness, and a Cycle of Crushing Pain
Teaching, being a humanist profession if attended to correctly, puts you in direct and often harsh contact with the gamut of human emotions. It can get a little heavy. Kids, teachers, people are up and down. There are moments that are wonderful and rich, and others that scrape the edges of darkness. There is no moment more painful and confusing than watching someone wretch and cry over something that is so out of their control. Bullying is a bad word and a buzz word. It’s easy to become numb to it. We sit through professional developments about the subject, most of them vaguely tell us that bullying is bad, and then they spout of some suicide statistics. We are to “deal with bullies”, but how? They bully, we talk to them. We send them to the office. They get suspended, punished, or let go. They enter the cogs of punitive discipline while keeping up with their chronic victimization of others. We punish the bullies without dealing with the genesis of their behavior. And, then the group-think. A kid sparks a fire and the next thing you know you have a class of kids or an entire school against one person, or so it seems.
Finally, the victim. Today the victim has a clear and tearful face. She’s been harassed since she got to this school about being “poor”. The majority of the kids here receive free lunch. The school is a Title I school. The area is poor. But, there’s that one kid who stands out. They don’t have the nice clothes and the shoes. The family has other pressing priorities. She’s had enough. One comment about her shoes resulted in a desperate scream of “leave me alone” and out the door to violently breakdown on the sidewalk. The class laughed, and she was alone. I walked out behind her and listened through mumbles and tears— about lost it myself. I was helpless except to listen to her and share with her my delight in who she is. But, that does not change the fact that she feels entirely alone. She says she has no one except her mom. She was the victim of the day on the wheel of outcasts that are defined in classrooms. I’m baffled today. I’m baffled every time it has happened to anyone.
What to do? Listen?
0025: How Social Media (namely Twitter) is Making Me a Better Educator
I would like to see teachers, myself included, become more aware that they are a part of a global community. Within our own schools and classrooms we become myopic. The education system becomes a weight bearing down so heavily on us that we are forced into submission and silence. I started researching various technologies as literacy tools a few years ago, and was blown away by their effects on teachers. We’ll get to the students later. I looked specifically at social media sites like twitter. What I was surprised to find was a worldwide community of educators who are all connecting to and supporting one another with advice, research, and professional development tools. I’m slowly becoming a better user of social media to benefit my own practice. Almost every PD tool I uncover on twitter is more valuable than any staff development I’ve been subjected to. And, they were free of charge. Districts pay $1000 or more for professional developers. I’ve gotten to do some myself. I like making the money, but districts could save millions a year by using free resources at their fingertips. They could start by treating their own teachers as professionals, but I digress. Teachers working in communities of teachers are more effective, hands down. Beyond professional development and networking their are, of course, myriad classroom resources available.
I’m learning to communicate globally by experimenting. I’ve grown up with technology, but social media is relatively new for everyone. If your new to it, experiment. Go to your search area and type in #edchat, #ctchat, #sschat, or #____________ anything else like literacy or whatever and you’ll be linked to a worldwide conversation on your topic. Creating this blog has given me an outlet for reflection, and a bit of feedback. As I learn these skills I’m learning to convince administration to allow these skillsets to be integrated into the classroom. Our school has a few iPads that are minimally used by administrators. I try to get them to play with new apps. The learning and convincing is slow. As I progress I’ll share more.
My point is try to expand your education experience to the global community. Engage educators. The worst thing any of us can do is stand silent or alone.
0023: Burnout or Crossroads? Where am I and where do I go?
I am concerned that I’ve become better at talking about teaching than being a teacher. I am plagued with constant doubt of my practice, and my motivation. I do not see myself as the same teacher I was when I started. When I started I taught in a districts “worst school”. The students were violent, the gang problem was out of control, and the kids were the greatest challenge to reach. I managed and thrived there. I felt like I was an amazing teacher and all I was doing was holding on for dear life. Those kids impacted my life greatly. They’ll be graduating this year.
I barely knew anything then. I wasn’t cynical, I was eager. I had a fight for the kids mentality. We were fighting an unfair system together. We engaged in amazing conversation about community and fear and hope. There were times was terrified. A kid brought a sawed-off shotgun in the first week. No one was harmed, but it scared me. Scared my wife too. Kids couldn’t read, they had been put in that school as a dumping ground. But, the teachers there were dedicated. The principal was die-hard. I was bound and determined to succeed.
The kids I teach now face the same problems the kids I taught then did. I just feel half as effective. Half as motivated. I sometimes feel I’m going through the motions. I know tons more about the theory behind teaching. I have more experience. I’m more educated. I’ve done consulting work and written quite a bit. I’ve had myriad opportunities to help other teachers, and blah blah blah. I’m only applying what I know half the time I think. I’m barely here the other half. I have moments when I’m an amazing teacher. I have amazing moments when I’m working with other teachers and the find themselves awakening to new thoughts and ideas in their own practice. I help them reach the genesis of new ideas. I enjoy that. I feel like the teacher I was when that happens. And those moments happen in my classroom, I’m just barely aware of them I think.
I understand that I’m evolving, but I don’t know how. Where do I go from here?
0016: Administrators and Professional Developers Define Your Terms, and Empower your Teachers
Clearly defined expectations are tantamount to classroom performance. If a teacher wants a student to perform a task in a certain way, that task must be explained and discussed in such a way that the student can perform said task in such a way as to meet the teachers expectations. That means terms must be defined, rubrics should be clear, and for best results, dialogue between teacher and student should be free and frequent. The above is generally expected and necessary for a teacher to be effective.
Often, teachers are left in the dark by nebulous instructions from administrators and staff developers. The jargon in education is constantly changing. Expectations are constantly changing. With all this transition many education professionals are left in the dust, that means teachers, principals, and whoever else are struggling just to keep up with the change of lexicon. Which means communication is a constant struggle. Principals you must work to ensure that you are understood. You must teach your faculty to understand you. When kids understand, they function better. Teachers are the same way. Make sure faculty meetings are interactive. Walk around the room, and divide teachers into groups. Talk with groups individually to monitor for understanding. Best practices in teaching apply to leadership as well. If you want your schools to succeed, then help your teachers feel successful. Give them the tools to please you. And then tell them that they’re meeting your expectations. Build knowledge and power incrementally among your staff. And, this most certainly applies to district administrators too. Work to plug information gaps in bureaucracy.
0012: First, do no harm— right?
I’m struggling as a teacher, and we all struggle, but I think I’m dealing with a dulled motivation. I don’t know if I’m approaching burnout, or if it’s time to make a move from the classroom. I am heavily critical of the schooling takes place, and for good reason. I’m concerned that being a part of a system that equates children with a number and not as human beings is somehow unethical. Equally, I know it’s important to be in the trenches and try to be a humanizing wrench in the cogs of this machine. The kids seem so dull sometime. They’re not boring people, they just lack the vivacity that has been apparent to me only in glimpses when we are able to connect beyond the curriculum. And, I’m in a new area with new kids. Some exhibit a hopelessness that has been crushed into them over their educational careers. Others are rightly obstinate and untrusting. Many have not been treated well by teachers. And, I understand, to an extent, why things are the way they are. My concern is that I have lost my spark. I am deeply committed to the cause of education. I like working with the teachers at my school to solve problems of curriculum and other things. I like providing examples of ways to teach things in a more effective and meaningful manner. I just don’t feel that way in my own classroom. And, this is the first time I’ve felt like this I think. I feel like it’s time, maybe, to change my role in education. I don’t know what to think or exactly what to do. I know I need to approach my work with enthusiasm. If I’m not, then I’m doing harm. I entered this field to help. I want to reach my goal. We must be reflective if we intend to help more than we hurt.