On the Learn in Too Many Ways.

It's been a long, frustrating week. Many realities have begun to sink in. I've cried for the first time since I've started, so I guess that's an ok record, but I was hoping to go a little longer before having to take it there. . .

To begin with, I've had to admit to myself that bringing my beliefs about writing/reading workshop into this school culture that doesn't embrace it is way more of an uphill battle than I imagined. And, believe it or not, the battle is mostly with trying to get my students to care about their own writing, to own it and to produce authentic work--a battle ultimately rooted in the inadequacies of the design of the curriculum. Simple, really: when no one makes you give a shit about your writing for 7 years, you don't. And when someone comes along who tries to help you towards the goal of caring, it's hard. It's hard to take ownership when all that's been expected of you is the deliverance of writing on some terribly dull schemed up topic described as "relevant" by the lazy slobs who drummed it up, or some canned response to reading which does not require your actual reaction--but rather the reaction your teacher told you you should have had all along, silly--or some "persuasive" piece planned, written and typed in one day. I'm assuming that my students would want to pick their own topics and that they're capable of it. I'm assuming that my aims for their writing are transparent. I'm wrong. They have gone through 7 years of having others tell them when to write, about what to write, exactly how much to write down to the number of sentences and paragraphs, and when to write it. And they were ok with that, because it's simply all they knew. I'm turning their world upside down and they're frustrated and a little daunted by the challenge. I'm doing my best to assure them that I will support them. And I'm hoping that what I envision for them can become a reality.

In other news, I've had to face the truth that my students aren't who I thought they were--my assumptions were naive at best. To begin with, they are still 7th graders in many ways and I think I forgot that. They're dealing with a major transition--a huge shift in expectations, in workload, in social arrangement, in social pressures (keep reading). We spent a few minutes today talking about what they're overwhelmed or frustrated by, what they're finding challenging. One of my kids--one I'm rooting for and have been working hard with--bravely announced that he was pissed off about everyone assuming he was the same kid he was in 6th and 7th grade. I think our talk in lunch detention today had an impact. I hope.

Now the tough stuff: tonight many of my kids are attending a party at which they will be doing things I can't imagine having done at their age. Among other things, it sounds as though this party will include a mom who doesn't care about what they do and "open access to bedrooms," as one of my little informants put it. I'm cringing for their poor little brains and bodies, much too young to accommodate any of these activities. The school knows, but can't do much about it. I don't get it. But I guess I do. I'm sad. I didn't know it was like that. I reminded them all to make good choices and use their best judgment this weekend. I sure hope they listened, though my intuition tells me they don't give a shit--as I didn't, when people told me that in high school. But that's the point--in high school. Not eighth grade.

I'm lost right now. I guess it's ok to be lost, to be frustrated, to be pissed off and sad and disappointed. I just keep hoping it's all going to teach me something I need to know, to bring me to some new place I need to be--for my kids and for me. Boy, friends, I sure am on the learn this week.


Anonymous said...

Hey K - step away from the ledge for a minute and take one of those cleansing breaths they talk about in lamaaze classes ! It is overwhelming no doubt and only a pinhead or a seriously shallow soul wouldn't be where you are. The only way through these woods is through them really as I am sure you know. One of the best English teachers I have ever met is a young lady in her mid 20s whose supervisor shredded her yesterday because she was actually teaching and had a plan that wasn't sufficiently aligned with the district's t.v. dinner version of ELA. They are so careful to avoid making it a literature experience and keep it some retarded dog on a short leash that needs to be constantly stoked with dummy biscuits and 4 square writing kind of dummy exercises. I know what drives people like this underqualified supervisor who is a rubber stamp for the Superintendent and it's not what drives us to stand in front of kids every day because we think we have something worth sharing. I just yesterday gave my friend your blog addy and encouraged her to look it up, the similar interests in Lit, fashion and progressive politics are amazing. Email my rastamick61 @ yahoo if u don't hear from her and I'll send it along. This shit is everywhere and it can be handled. Hang in there. Illegitimus non carborundum as they say.

teach people not books said...

i don't mean to suggest that i'm on the whole disliking my position. i am happy with where i am in many ways. i don't resent them for not knowing about freed slaves or for having all the silver spoons in their mouths, but i do feel a responsibility to help them see what they cannot see. and part of become more open-minded is having ownership of your work. and i suppose i'm just angry at a community that has raised their children to not know how to think critically. it's daunting for me to come up against so much of their apathy because i know it can be different, and i've seen it be done differently and work beautifully in district comprised of families with just as much wealth and influence. now that i'm looking back at the choice i made to work in this district instead of the one that explicitly practices reading/writing workshop/Columbia TC, i still do feel confident that i can built it from the ground up. i just wish there were more teachers with whom to align in common purpose.

thank you for recommending the blog to your friend. i would love to hear things from her perspective. it sounds as though she's up against some major NCLB bull. who would have thought that we would need to defend our kids and protect them from the harm of a program drummed up by their very govt?

Anonymous said...

the program in place was pretty much put there by a pal of the sup who came here with him from Cal which is where the company who produces all this crap comes from Lotsa Children Left Behind has to go and faaaast !

Ms. X said...

I cried this week too! I cried, I drunk-dialed my supervisor in a hysterical state, and I called out. Twice.

I just keep telling myself if I can get this worked up about something, I must be doing it for a reason.

I know exactly what you mean about the expectations. I just had to scrap all my plans and start a unit on "thinking." I'm depressingly serious. I've been asking my kids to make opinionated statements--not even in writing, just VERBALLY--and they're completely incapable. One of them actually said to me: "If you haven't told us the answer before, how are we supposed to just KNOW????"

Why should America tremble?

Mrs. V said...

I think teaching has a lot of ups and downs emotionally. Sometimes it is pretty emotionally draining when we have such high hopes and then realize that in reality it does not go as smoothly. At least with persistence we can eventually get to our goals. I am still trying to work out all the kinks with my reading and writing formats.

On another note, I tagged you for a 7 random things meme in case you would like to post about it. Here is my post: http://enbuscadeequilibrio.blogspot.com/2008/10/7-random-things.html

enc said...

I'm late to this party, I'm sorry.

What I really like here is your ideas and ideals. You want to help kids along, teach something new: whether it's writing, or thinking for themselves. That's very, very valuable.


You might never, ever see the payoff. Your words may stick with these kids, and only manifest when they're 30 or 40. Certain teachers' words had an effect on me beginning in 6th and 7th grades, but I didn't even realize it until years later.

I guarantee you're affecting students in ways you are unaware of. You're a lighthouse. Think about that. You're a lighthouse, and you're keeping SOMEONE from crashing on the rocks by caring.

Please don't stop.

But do it to the degree that you can without sacrificing yourself. Know that kids will make stupid decisions AND smart ones, and that there's nothing you can do to control it.

Janette said...

Remember, you are showing them life, not teaching them how to put a period at the end of a sentence. Your influence is far reaching- sometimes 50 or 60 years!
Twenty six years later, I am still changing the world one child at a time. Is it easy? No! You have to look at the entire picture. The women in the copy room are just trying to figure out how to stay in their profession and survive on such little pay, while their little sisters are auto mechanics making $80,000 a year!Is it good- no- is it understandable for the pay- a bit.
I quite teaching for three years and worked for a publishing company. Big Bucks. What I found was that I could not touch another's soul by doing in services. It takes time and effort.There is something about the one or two contacts I make with students each year when I can tell them, "Yes, you will be the first in your family to go to college and not prison!" It keeps me going. Searching for new ways to present informationa dn change the copy machine queens into new teachers.
BTW- I love No Child Left Behind. Before there were many schools that believed they could leave behind the majority of students! Sad- but true.


teach people not books said...

x-i miss you! i think you're right. i'm reading that parker palmer book, the courage to teach, from terry's library and that's exactly what it talks about--when we are invested in our work, we care when it doesn't go as we want it to.
i'm glad you called out. you probably needed it. it's scary and unacceptable that students have been made to think that we are the sole deliverers of answers, and that any issue has a singular acceptable answer. we need to caucus. PRONTO. i'll email you.

v-thanks for your words. the idea of admitting to oneself that there will be kinks and it's ok to be emotional about them--to a point--is an important one.

hi enc-fashionably late, though :] i think what worries me so about the decision-making thing is, i realize there is a need for healthy experimentation. but. when it comes to the sex stuff, i know there's nothing healthy going on there. it's just rehearsal for the sexual role expectations of our culture, whereby there is of course no pleasure whatsoever for the women, only pressure to please the man no matter what that definition might entail. and with the drugs, smoking weed is definitely not going to be the ruination of their lives. it wasn't the ruination of mine. but i worry about where they're headed, with their pockets full of cash, as they move into h.s. and get tired of marijuana. i love what you are saying about the idea that others' words can resonate with us long after they speak them. i will carry that thought with me.

janette-welcome! thank you for stopping by. your insistence that teaching, despite or perhaps because of all its warts, is a worthwhile profession that allows one to constantly reaffirm the belief that people can and do change one another's lives. we agree on one important thing about nclb--the idea of wanting to not leave anyone behind. you're absolutely correct that it is revolutionary for the idea to be addressed at all by the federal gov't. the approach they've taken, however, isn't one that i can say i stand behind nor one that will fulfill, ultimately, the objective of not leaving anyone behind. what's happening in california right now stands to support that position. here's an article that may be of interest from the NYT, last week: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/13/education/13child.html?_r=1&o

Meg said...

Teaching is underappreciated. I break out in a sweat when I have to do a teaching presentation in my class once a semester, so I have the utmost respect for people who can get up every morning to stand infront of such a young, impressionable group of people and persevere even when can give off such bad attitudes. You can't always win, but when you do I guess it's worth it?