I have now completed 6 days with my students, although realistically only 5 count, since the 1/2 day before Thanksgiving was really not focused on academics and a lot of students were out. We did have some competitions of boys against girls that day where they were given information about a teacher and asked to guess which member of the team it was. They were wrong more than they were right :-)
The school does a thorough job of orienting teachers - at the start of the year. I am having to catch up with things while I am teaching, with little lead time. I am supposed to start each week with two weeks of planned lessons already submitted. I actually was able to do that Monday, although it is clear that I will have to make changes to what I had intended as I learn more about the students. I also need to be consistent with other members of my team in certain aspects of what goes on because many of our students need a consistent structure since there is so little regular organization in their lives outside of school.
What has surprised me is how exhausted I have been at the end of each school day. I am used to 45 minute periods with time during the periods when I could let my high schoolers loose and just keep an eye on them while they did group work, or while students led a whole class discussion. That is realistically not possible, and our periods are significantly longer - except for a slightly shorter (30 minutes) day on Wednesday, our periods run more than 75 minutes each. Our students require pretty close to constant attention.
But there have been successes as well as struggles.
I discovered that some of my students had gone online to find out about me. As a result, they know I am well known online - although so far I do not think they have explored what I have written here (although that probably is not in the distant future). Seeing how much they found out about me, they decided I must be wealthy (!NOT!). I had to disabuse them of that notion, particularly since yesterday I was dressed in my best suit because I was attending a political fundraiser for a good friend in the early evening.
Some of my students are starting to tell other teachers that they like me - although so far they have not been willing to communicate that directly to me.
Yesterday in my most difficult class, one problematic young lady went back and forth between being confrontational with other students to telling them to be quiet and let me teach so that she could learn. I am told that represents a major improvement for her.
Then I have a young lady who will always say she will not do my work, but then goes ahead and does it. Yesterday I quietly told her that I knew she was going to do the work, I would appreciate it if she did not object quite so loudly to maintain her street cred that she really didn't care about school. At first she seemed surprised, but then gave me a half smile, and for the rest of the period was not quite so negatively vocal.
I have more students beginning to volunteer. They stay on task somewhat longer.
It helps that I am getting to know their names and their personalities.
We have several students who desperately need glasses.
We may have several who have hearing problems, although that is not as immediately obvious.
We have at least one who needs to be classified as special education in order to provide services, but so far the parent refuses to allow the child to be screened or tested.
I am getting to know some of the other teachers a bit better. Some are superb, others still learning, but all committed to the children. On my team one of the teachers did her undergraduate education at Penn. Several have advanced degrees in fields other than education.
The school is committed to making sure the teachers are supported. We have weekly professional development. We have two teachers who are dedicated to providing support and assistance to the rest of us, as does the academic dean.
Our classes are small - they have to be with our population - and we are given support from paraprofessionals, non-teachers who are in the building regularly who know the kids and who can assist with the most disruptive.
It is a very different world.
But they are still kids.
They are still young.
Already on occasion I can see some excitement.
Sometimes a few forget that it isn't cool to be smart and get so wrapped up in their work and learning that they really shine.
Some are now beginning to own their behavior in my classroom. When I gently remind them not to tell someone to shut up or to please stop calling out they apologize: "Sorry, Mr. B."
Some are desperate for attention and affirmation, and are beginning to learn that I will give it far more readily for positive things, so they begin to change how they act.
Yesterday during the professional training, with about 2/3 of the staff there (some were out of school and some were involved with coaching) I received some affirmations from the administration and other teachers who are noticing the difference. Like my students, when I am not sure what I am doing that means a lot to me.
I will be in school most of Saturday. We are embarking on a program of character education. Since I had served on the character education committee at my last school for more than half the time I was there, I volunteered to be trained as a trainer for the rest of the staff. Yes, I will be paid for the time, but that is not the reason why I volunteered. It is clear that we must be focused on educating the whole child, and character education is a crucial part of what our students will need to be successful, not merely academically but in life as well.
We are almost 90% free and reduced lunch. We feed the students breakfast as well as lunch. We already know that our task is far more than merely raising the test scores of our young people. Test scores are a very imprecise measure of what we are accomplishing with these young people, although we must acknowledge that they have a huge impact on our ability to continue our work.
I finish each day exhausted. Yet I am getting up each morning determined to give my all. Each of these young people is a precious resource. Each is entitled to her opportunity to thrive, to explore her potential.
If that means I blog less, participate less in some aspects of civic life, so be it. I think my contribution is just as valuable as anything else I could do.
Being in this school may be exhausting on one leve, but on another it is energizing me so that when I do participate it will be with a renewed passion to advocate on behalf of those whose true needs are so often not taken into account by our policy makers.
It is now just past 6 AM. I have been up for two hours. In about one hour my wife and I will leave, I will drop her off at her job and drive ten more minutes from Capitol Hill for another day with my young charges along with my fellow adults.
I am so lucky to have this opportunity.