Friday, January 27, 2017

If They Can Do It...or "Why I Love My Job"

My media feeds are inundated with vitriol from both sides of the spectrum. Maybe this is what we have been taught. The leaders of our country have been modeling just such behavior for years, and it seems that the disgust shown to one another has trickled down in a way economics never did to offer us more than we can possibly use. It is staggering in its negative message, and yes I will use the appropriate buzz word here divisive at its core. There is no way a people who look upon one another with such disdain can hope to move forward in a positive way.

And that is simply unacceptable to me - as a parent, a teacher, a citizen, and a human I cannot sit by twiddling my thumbs while the virus of us versus them continues to spread. What is more, I cannot stand to sit by as this behavior is taught to my students, by means of the examples being set on every platform of social media, certainly not without fighting back.

I leave my politics firmly outside my classroom door. It is no educator's task to indoctrinate the young minds he is charged with teaching - the calling lies in giving them the tools to step up and form their own hopefully valid & reliable (preferably peer reviewed) researched answers, opinions, and ideas - regardless of the subject. While teaching the fundamentals of research and argument is a standard practice, it dawned on me that perhaps I have, albeit inadvertently, been fueling this us vs them mentality. My students are so focused on refuting the arguments posed by other students, and waiting to share their take on Okonkwo's deeply seated fear of becoming his father that they have forgotten how to listen to each other.

Yes, it's a standard. Yes, we practice listening: to reports; to speeches; to stories.

But, we don't truly practice listening to each other, allowing the ideas of other students to truly get into our thoughts and to germinate. We don't allow the idea that the same piece of text, in context can lead to different opinions to grow. Until yesterday.

Yesterday I changed my lesson plan - 15 minutes before my first period. Without boring you to tears with the schematics of my lesson, I will share the basics. My students took a position on a harmless topic (relating to Things Fall Apart) and spent a few minutes bullet pointing their support to prep for a discussion. Run-of-the-mill English stuff. Until the discussion.

They were explicitly instructed to listen with open minds to their peers. To understand that though they may have said nay, there are likely elements of yea that they will see as valid. Yes, they could discuss, yes, they could debate one side - but the focus was not to "win" support for one side. Instead, the focus was to understand each other.

They discussed. I watched and prodded here and there, played a bit of devil's advocate facilitated.

Then it was time for reflection. Instead of reflecting on the conversation, they were instructed to reflect on opposing views that were valid or with which they could understand or agree given the support. Then they shared.

I was blown away.

Students who were staunch supporters of one view or another were sharing with the class their original position and what they felt was valid or what they hadn't even considered about the other position. They were listening and truly hearing one another - here was the evidence. A couple even changed their opinion - though I had made clear that this was not the goal - and far more was heard than when they typically argue their own side and feel the need to dig in further to support their own positions.

In the scheme of the world, it matters not one lick if my students believe the Ibo people were or were not a civilized culture - but this listening and sharing of ideas is the groundwork of a civilization that works. Who can ask for more?

So I say to you, grown-ups of the world, if my 9th graders can listen to understand one another - why can't you? You might be surprised at what you learn.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Last, First Day

I got a phone call from Oldest today. While I miss her in the house and our everyday lives, and think about her a hundred times a day, hearing the ring tone designated for my kids was not bringing a smile to my face - mostly because my face was sleeping trying to anyway - but I roused myself from my flu-induced nap to connect before she went to voicemail. If that isn't mother love, I don't know what is

Once I made myself heard after hacking up a lung and was able to ask what she was doing, she explained she was running home before heading to the library on campus. She was full to brimming with the excitement that comes with the first day of new classes - what to expect, which professors she had classes with previously and was happy to be with again, how she would balance 6 classes, her internship, and working. Ah, the energy of youth It stirred within me all the feelings of new beginnings that I know and love so well - truly worth giving up my nap.

Then she said something.

She said, "It's my last first day of school."

Now I am sitting here thinking of her first, first day of school. Little-girl bangs and eyes alight behind her glasses, she was so excited in her pooh bear overalls. I walked her through the neighborhood to the school, pushing chickenpox covered Boy in the stroller. She was chattering the whole way, asking about homework and lunch, reassuring herself that it would be a good class because, "You know my teacher right, Mom? You worked in her classroom." (which I had as an intern class in college)

The memories hit me - coming around the corner to the classroom and peeking through the windows for a glimpse of the brand-new students already at their seats and curiously exploring the space with their eyes. Seeing the child unwilling to let go, and then Oldest saying, "Okay, bye Mom!" as though she had done this so many times before. This day, this memory is far too vivid and fresh to belong to this young woman embarking upon her last semester of college. 

But she is. It is her last, first day.

I feel proud and nervous and excited to watch her as she takes these steps toward graduation. But I would be lying if I said there wasn't a teary part of me that looks on in astonishment wondering how it happened that my strong, independent little girl became this fiercely determined young lady in just the blink of an eye.