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What I Remember

I read Chris Lehman’s post on “What we should remember” about why we teach. It’s all about our kids. That’s it! Thank you Chris for a thought-provoking post! I am in awe of what your students are able to do at the Science Leadership Academy and hope more people get involved in Educon 2.3 end of January.

I work mostly with middle school students. Remember what it was like to be in middle school or junior high. This was my toughest time in school. I remember falling in love with a boy who didn’t even know my name. I remember loving Paul McCartney because I knew he would see me in the audience and want to date me. I remember almost everything but my teachers’ names or even what happened in the classrooms. I remember embarrassing times and scary times. It was an awkward time where friendships meant more than my own family. I remember not feeling smart because I don’t remember anyone telling me I was smart.

What I wore, how I looked meant more than what I learned. So are middle school students different today than I was then? Most of the schools I work with are Title I schools with high percentages of free and reduced lunches. This was the target for NCLB. I’m sorry to say there are more poor children left behind now than ever before. I grew up in a safe environment where we didn’t have to worry about life and death decisions. I love Glee and believe all children are smart and talented. I grew up in a house with artists who never new there was a box to be in or lines to color in. However, Glee represents a middle class school. I’m white and grew up in middle class neighborhoods. I had no idea what children from high poverty schools go through. Yesterday I read “I am” poems and autobiographies from some of the children from one of the middle schools I work with. I cried. I really cried. I was sitting in the faculty room of one school and couldn’t even imagine what many of these students endure.

I don’t want to share their personal stories here but imagine most children in this school had a family member shot; knew someone in prison probably a father or brother; come from a broken home; do not have enough money for breakfast; don’t have a warm coat; may lose their home; some are homeless. When you realize that some of these students sleep in their bathtubs because that is the only safe place from bullets, you wonder if they’ll stay in school. I read about 12 year old girls who believe their only goal is to get pregnant. That way they have someone who will love them. Oh my! I heard this before, when I started with the Technology Challenge Grant in Oakland in 1998. We were working with 4th-8th grade students. I just thought it was getting better. It seems much much worse now.

The dropout rate is higher than being reported because we lose kids in middle school. The numbers reported are only high school dropout rates. Middle school is where we need to focus our energy. If we really want to make a difference, we need to change middle schools around the country.  Teachers only know what they were taught or how they have been teaching or what is asked of them by the administration. Teachers cannot do this without the support of their administration and the district office. My next post will be some ideas for them. Chris writes some great questions in his post for teachers and principals. So here’s my ideas for middle school teachers to reach their students:

  • greet your children when they arrive to your classroom by name and shake their hands.
  • have compassion and empathy for your students perception and positions.
  • realize that all children are smart — find out how they are smart and celebrate it.
  • create opportunities for success in every classroom.
  • design engaging learning environments where students own their learning.
  • be an advisor to several children if there is no counseling program.
  • get to know your students’ families and invite them to your classroom or visit their home.
  • have students keep a journal for their eyes only — unless they want to share it with you and others.
  • bring in content experts either to your classroom or virtually.
  • connect your classroom to other classrooms around the world.
  • connect your curriculum to real-world applications that make sense to your students and their lives.
  • create replacement units that engage your students of some content areas in the pacing guide.
  • ask students to ask three other students before asking you.
  • encourage questions – lots of questions and post them around the room.
  • be more of a co-learner and facilitator of learning.
  • take some risks and be okay about failing some of the time.
  • if you cannot take risks, then rethink your job there. Go where your core beliefs are the same.
  • and if there are no other jobs and you feel lucky to have this job, then use some of the ideas here with your students.

Learning in middle schools of the past for today’s children is an oxymoron. 11-13 year olds have different perspectives on life and what they need to know than adults no matter their situation. Add poverty and crime and hopelessnes and it is an almost impossible thing to ask of these students and teachers. Our current school system is broken especially for these kids at these ages. I am only one person and realize the challenge to make this kind of change is enormous. We cannot lose any more children. They are all precious and special and gifted and smart. They are our future. I will do whatever I can to support teachers as they do what they can to help students reach their fullest potential.

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