Sunday, August 14, 2011

End of Week One

Dear Friends,

I write to you at the end of week one. What a week it has been. There was the four hour long home room session, the ejection of a student from class and the desk shortage (still going, but I begged some chairs from the kind librarian). These challenges were counter balanced by the enthusiasm for the classroom library that exists because of your contributions.

The hurdles of the school district are great. On a strict facility level one is never sure what each day will bring. Midday on Tuesday my colleague across the hall had to go teach in another section of the building because there were too many leaks in his ceiling and floor (it’s been raining heavily this August). He created a new lesson on the fly and still managed to accomplish what he needed – well done Mr. Morris. That same morning a lighting storm ravaged the tress in both of our neighborhoods knocking at the power at 4:45am, which made the time before school its own adventure. I drove out of the gravel alleyway that morning to find a great oak fallen across the road. The electrical wires taken down by it were splayed around it like so discarded shoe laces.


On a student level: many are angry, apathetic and slow to trust (three qualities that are not unique to Mississippi teens). What compounds those typical teenage emotions are the achievement gap, a cycle of poverty and the lowered expectations of many of the people around them. When I sat next to my one ninth grade student as he struggled to read a book on a level for fifth graders, I felt compassion and sorrow. There is no understanding this problem, no great why to hang all the questions that arise when teaching only the repeated acknowledgement of what it is I’m here for: students.

***

My work humbles me. The enormity of my task is at times overwhelming. I can only teach the students in the room, which is to say that the other issues must be tabled during instructional time. The temptation is to run from problem to problem in attempt to address, console or combat the causes and symptoms therein. What is needed is an effective, organized and driven teacher – that is what I am striving to become. The road is rocky, the yoke hard and the burden heavy, but there are light moments too. I went to a basketball practice after school (our coach played for the Pistons in ’93! He had a ten year NBA career and played overseas). I had the opportunity to see the students perform without the constraints of assignments, notebooks and deadlines – the immediacy of the game dictated their focus to them. The sneakers screeched on the polished gym floor and they moved in elaborate patterns, falling back into diamond shapes, anticipating rebounds, and dunking. They lived for the ball and it glorified them. While my students glided around the court coach told me about their lives, their struggles and backgrounds. He pointed at one student, “He has two kids and another on the way.” That boy was a junior in one my classes. I went out and shook their hands before I left, they took a drink of water at the same spot where, in the morning, the students come in for the day and I check back-packs for cellphones and weapons in the morning. I drove home planned, went for a run and managed to get to bed by 11:30. My alarm rang quickly after that.

***

One of the week’s more energizing moments was contacting parents. They all were excited to be contacted by me and pledged their support to me as their child’s teacher. Despite my novice level at certain teacher tasks I can still take pride in my people skills. It felt good to go home knowing that I had accomplished something positive, though intangible. My years in the EMU admission’s phone center prepared me well for that aspect of the job.

***

I am grateful for all support I’ve gotten from strangers (now friends), my peers, colleagues, family, advisers, old teachers, professors, friends, EMU faculty and citizens of Ypsilanti. You all make it so much easier to wake up and do the work I’ve come to do. This week I’ll take some pictures of my classroom (and its awesome library!) and post them here. I look forward to writing again with more anecdotes as they come.

Sincerely,

Andrew

4 comments:

  1. Andy,
    BRAVO! Glad to see you've survived with your optimism, yet realistic about the challenges ahead of you. We are all rooting for you!

    Just wanted to commend you on calling the parents-excellent first step. Besides creating a good rapport, it's so important for the students. My advice would be to keep that up. Call home when a student has a great day, shows a great improvement, displays kindness to a classmate, or shows some initiative and real effort. I swear this makes a significant difference. You would not believe how many parents never hear from the teachers about a positive events from their kids-they tend to be shocked that you aren't calling about a problem. This in turn leads to kids feeling a little pride and acknowledged. This may take some time and effort, but every three weeks-call 3 student's families. I dare ya...

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  2. Zhara,

    I appreciate the rooting, it really does help!

    I've been making a real effort to make positive calls. Dare accepted - I'm trying to call three a every other day because I have so many students. Thankfully in a small town you run into them all over the place so that work gets done when you were least expecting it.

    Thank you so much for the two books you sent. I didn't bring the Lucy Grealy book, but am glad I have it now - plus the "Curios Incident..." looks like a great read without too much complex diction. A great find!

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  3. Are you making good use of your dorky dry-erase board for organizational heaven?

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  4. I have one in class (shower board really) and a legit whiteboard for my house.

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