Wednesday, May 25, 2011

And so it begins

I've never been one for much of an active social presence </sarcasm>, and with every other aspect of my life going crazy, I thought it would be cool to document some of my thoughts and feelings as I enter summer mode and prepare for student teaching in the fall. I guess I would think of this as something akin to a diary, but with the ability for others to read, advise, comment, discuss, disagree, and so on and so forth. Cool, right? Sure.

Anyway, as school came to a close several weeks back, and I'm looking forward to the end of the school year with my CPS kiddos, it's also occurred to me that I should 1. find another job, and 2. get myself onto a schedule. During the school year, I was fastidious about keeping an up to date schedule, but in the past one-two weeks of summer, I've fallen off the wagon and on to the "let me enjoy the dog days" type of routine. While this may be great for some, it's caused several difficulties in my life and I'm looking forward to getting back on track.

Every now and again, though, that "dog days of summer" attitude allows something wonderful to happen. For example, today I read a book. Yes, you read correctly, I read an entire book from beginning to end. I can't tell you the last time that I've been 'allowed' (used loosely) to do that in only one day. Usually I have to set aside time to read, and not allow it to interfere with what I'm actually doing that day. (By actually, I mean, following the premade, color-coded schedule--I know, I know). So, here, I'd like to take a moment to reflect on what I've read.

The book of the day was "Educating Esme" by Esme Raji Codell. A Chicago-native, Codell wrote candidly about her experience as a first year teacher in CPS. This was especially appealing to me as I'll be student teaching in the fall in CPS and hopefully sticking around in or around the city (providing I find a position teaching) for some time to come. Codell, or Madame Esme, as her students called her, wrote this tale diary style, from a first person point of view, making it all the more easy to fall right in line with what she was saying and doing. Although the book was published about 10 years ago, the pedagogical methods she references are still being taught in elementary education classrooms today.

Several things really stood out to me from the book, and I'm going to quote (excerpt?) them here, and then comment briefly (ha, ok, take out the briefly and you'll probably have more of an accurate description of what I'll be doing).

On why students weren't being held to high standards: (Codell, 151)

"Isn't it part of your job to see that teachers aren't subjected to such behavior? Is it my job to spend all day disciplining so the children who want to learn can have a fighting chance?"
"You don't understand. They're black."
I blinked. "So, I shouldn't expect them to learn?"
"It's just the way black people are. The black child is different. They deal with so much. Drugs, gangs..."
"I grew up with black people. They didn't all act like this."
"That was a long time ago." He shook his head.
What, eight, ten years ago? "It's not about being black," I argued. "It's about being poor, and from people expecting nothing from you, and from nothing happening when you say 'Fuck you' to your teacher. children rise to meet our expectations, good or bad." I felt myself talking a lot, mostly to block out what he was saying. I don't want to think the way he thinks. He can't be right. If he's right, it's not even worth trying. But I couldn't believe that he, a black man, was saying it. If I said that kind of trash, I'd expect to be strung up by my thumbs by members of my own ethnicity. I thought, You wouldn't dare talk this way to me if I were black. You're telling me the ugliest part of you because you think because I'm white, I'll buy it. Fuck you, I thought. Fuck you!
Hmph. CPS, eh? Sound about right? Oh, I don't know, you could take black and insert Hispanic, Asian, whatever ethnicity you want, realistically. Even 10+ years ago, someone was able to see this problem: where most problems between student and teachers/administration stem. Today, in the classroom, we learn that one of the biggest problems in education is that the majority of new teachers are white females, and that this is not representative of the population of which they are teaching. I, however, disagree, and say that instead of blaming the problems of education on the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of white teachers, let's get to the root of the problem and see this: that minority students are often-times stereotyped and held to lower standards than white students are. This has less to do with the race or ethnicity of the teacher, and more to do with the attitude of the teacher and administration backing him/her up. I don't set different standards for my students based on race or ethnicity. No, I set standards based on potential and student engagement.

From the page introducing the Epilogue:

You have the right to work, but 
for work's sake only. 
You have no rights to the fruits 
of work. Desire for the fruits 
of work must never be your motive
in working. Never give way to 
laziness, either...Work done with 
anxiety about results is far 
inferior to work done without 
such anxiety, in the calm of 
self-surrender...They who work 
selfishly for results are miserable. 
--from the Bhagavad Gita

Well now. Being in education, I certainly realize that I did NOT go into this for the "fruits" of my work--at least, not monetary work. The only fruits I will ever truly reap are the successes of my students, supported 100% by me. That must be the absolute most I can ask for, at least in my opinion. I don't want fame, recognition, psh. Pish posh, I say. Rather, I would work not in vain, nor towards fruits, but only to include the success of my students at the end of the day. Ghandi said, "Be the change you wish to see in the world," and it's often hard to be that change if you see yourself as one person. I, however, don't see myself quite like that. I am one but I am many, if I am able to support hundreds, or even thousands, in my lifetime, then I am each of them, and any support I may provide them that leads them to the greater good may be considered the change I am being in the world. 

Esme sums that idea up with an ending I'll likely not top, at least not in this particular blog, so I'll quote her here, to give you the full experience of what I'm trying to say: 

People snicker, "Those who can't do, teach." But, oh, how right they are. I could never, ever do all I dream of doing. I could never, ever be an opera star, a baseball umpire, an earth scientist, an astronaut, a great lover, a great liar, a trapeze artist, a dancer, a baker, a buddha, or a thousand other aspirations I have had, while having only been given one thin ticket in this lottery of life! In the recessional, as I watch them, mine, the ones I loved, I overflow with the joyous greed of a rich man counting coins. Wrongly I have thought teaching has lessened me at times, but now I experience a teacher's great euphoria, the knowledge like a drug that will keep me: Thirty-one children. Thirty-one chances. Thirty-one futures, our futures. It's an almost psychotic feeling, believing that part of their lives belongs to me. Everything they become, I also become. And everything about me, they helped to create. 
And that, my friends, is what education is really about. It's about living, loving, learning, changing, adapting, growing, maturing, taking chances and risks, and becoming someone.