These reflections are a product of my being a classroom based teacher, now in a non-profit public charter school.
I got the news when my spouse forwarded a news alert about the story. We had a professional development day, with no students. I shared the news alert with my principal, and later with the larger community. To say we were shocked is an understatement. We inspect the bags of our students coming in, and all adults not part of our community have their bags xrayed and pass through a metal detector. We have security guards who are not armed, and a DC policeman in the building for most of the day.
In my previous school, Eleanor Roosevelt High School, we had an armed Greenbelt policeman on site, although the building had to be very open because we also had 20+ outside "temporary" buildings.
We knew that we were just as vulnerable at Eleanor Roosevelt, we know that we are still vulnerable at my current school.
We had our holiday party last night, and the subject came up again.
So as I reflect upon the week past in my new school, it is in the context and through the lens of the events of yesterday.
I invite you to keep reading.
This week was very much of a mixed bag. It is like climbing a sand dune, feeling oneself sliding back, making perhaps 1 step advance for every two to three steps taken, because of slippage.
I am seeing SOME progress with my students. I talked yesterday with the teacher to whom 3 of my four classes go directly from my class, and she said they are talking about how I am insistent upon certain things. That's a start, they understand what I want.
One day last week I had very productive days with three of my four classes. The next day, however, two of those three classes were very much off-task.
I am working to connect what we are studying to things in their lives. It is starting to work at least a little. If we look at the teachings of Buddhism, we can connect it with the advocacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
I now have kids who occasionally want to hug me. Remember, these are 7th graders.
They are starting to learn that I will affirm them with positive attention when they show improvement.
Our high school is formally classified as an alternative school, a place to which students who have not been able to succeed in regular school settings can go to complete their education. So far the DC Charter board had not been willing to consider allowing the classification for Middle School charters, but we found out this week they may now be willing to consider it. We probably should be so classified. I can think of one young lady, currently on suspension, who has been kicked out of two other schools in the past several years. We need to be able to try to meet her needs, and cannot do so without the flexibility that would come with being so classified.
Earlier this week I asked my principal if I could purchase some clothing with school logos/messages on it. I noted that were I to wear same it would be a non-verbal indication to my students that I am not about to disappear. His response was to walk into my classroom later that day and give me a t-shirt and a sweat-shirt, announcing to the assembled students how much an important member of the community I had become. This is something that matters - not just that the students see it, but that I experience how welcomed I am into this community.
I have had members of our staff come up to me and thank me, and when I am struggling with particular students or a particular class, that makes a real difference to me.
I am finding myself getting worn down, because the energy I have to expend working with my students is immense. I cannot lose my temper. I cannot lose control. In a sense, I cannot react as a normal human being might, because that would be destructive of the structure our students so desperately need. Today I am fighting the edge of bronchitis, because I was getting so worn down. It would be worse except after I got home from the party last night, around 11;15, I simply went to bed without setting an alarm. The cats must have understood how badly I needed rest, because they let me sleep until I awoke on my own more than 8 hours later.
Yesterday I shared last Saturday's post with my principal. He told me that what I am doing is giving voice to the voiceless. Perhaps. I do hope that my sharing helps others understand how critical the work I am doing is.
I learn more about my fellow staffers. The principal of the high school and his wife used to be in Albemarle County in Virginia. My principal was an assistant principal in Prince George's County where I taught before who began by volunteering at our school on Saturdays. The music teacher for our 7th graders might well have been my student at my first school, except she decided to go to a nearby school that focused on performing and creative arts.
Oh, and I found out on Thursday that one of the high school staffers is a former student from the middle school where I first taught.
I start with this proposition - all of the students I teach are or could be good kids. Many do not know how to behave, and we have to help them, even sometimes in cases where they do not get that at home.
All of my students are entitled to be challenged, to get the best education possible for them. That is going to require me to be far more creative. As I am getting control of classroom behavior, I have to begin to multitask - having different students doing different things, using some students to help others, giving some more direct attention from me.
Our team of four core teachers and our counselor had a serious discussion this week. We are going to move students from one class to another, in some cases because the student is not up to the level of the class, in others to challenge students more.
We are also moving the real knuckleheads into one class, my home room, which already has most of the ones in 7th grade. It will be my responsibility to begin to get them settled down some for the rest of the school day.
Each class has a name of a college/university. The others are Winston Salem (alma mater of our English Teacher), Hampton (Science teacher and team leader), and Penn (where our math teacher got her masters). My class is named Arizona State, for the alma mater of my predecessor.
They need a fresh start.
We are going to rename them.
But not to Haverford. It would be hard for most of them to connect.
We have decided on Johns Hopkins, from which I got my teacher training and certification.
We are going to give them the opportunity to prepare for a trip to visit the college, to raise their aspirations.
It is close enough to make a connection, and different enough to expand their perspectives, which is what we have to do.
Let me illustrate. In a recent DC test only 4% of our 6th graders got one English question correct. They could not understand that geese flying in formation represents social organization. That should not be surprising. Most have never seen or noticed geese flying in the V, honking, changing positions. Something many of us assume as part of the experience of growing up along the Atlantic Coast is not a part of the life experience of these inner city kids.
I don't want their lives to be limited because of the circumstances into which they were born, the conditions in which they live.
Our lives should not either be guaranteed nor circumscribed by the accident of our parentage.
I am a teacher.
Having no biological children of my own, my legacy in large part will be how I can help make a difference in the lives of these young people, even if only until the end of the current school year.