Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Memory and A Predicament

"We recognize our own mortality, and we are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this Earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved -- and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better." -President Barack Obama

"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." -Bill Clinton

Something wasn’t quite right. I could not simply enjoy this performance, a boys choir visiting our school. It wasn’t their voices—they were lovely. As my eyes panned to the audience, checking to make sure my students were being the respectful audience they had been taught to be, I realized what unsettled me. And when the director invited my students to think about joining the choir, I knew full well that the likelihood of any of my students joining was slim. It wasn’t for the reason the director brought up—that a year-round school schedule wouldn’t fit with the choir’s schedule. It was socioeconomic status, and in an interconnected way, race.

What had made me stop and think was that seeing an all-white group of boys perform to my much more diverse school brought to mind the inequalities prevalent in our society today. Even if one of my students had the means to pay for the expenses of this elite boys choir, would they feel welcome? Watching this homogeneous group, would they think joining was even an option? This may be a small example, but people tend to internalize what they see, and so on some levels, children may not realize the wealth of opportunities available to them if there’s no one like them currently occupying those roles. We can trace this issue back to the disparities in education where children get their first ideas about what is expected of them and what they have the potential to accomplish.

On a related note, there is one thing I feel conflicted about in becoming a teacher. As a white female, I am just like just about every other elementary teacher out there. And I see that there is a need for strong male role models in the lives of my students. I'm not helping the ratio. What makes me qualified for really any sort of advocacy, when I don't fall into most of the disadvantaged groups? Except for being female, so of course I go into the profession where we're most well represented. I want to make a difference, but I know that some criticism of hollywood's portrayal of successful teacher stories is that it's always some "white savior" who swoops in and rescues these kids from gangs, death, jail or what have you. How can I advocate for my students without coming across as condescending, or racist? How can I make a difference in the places that most need good teachers, but who also need role models who represent the students, both in gender and race?

I don't really want to work in some upper middle class (mostly white) neighborhood where the teaching is "easy". Okay, teaching is never easy, but those kids don't need my help, they're going to be fine and successful, and I feel like I have a lot to offer, and that can be best placed in a high need area. I can't really say why this is where I want to teach; it certainly isn't the easy way out. Maybe it's the incredibly positive experience I've had the past two years. Maybe it's that, while I have not encountered huge injustices that impact me personally, I have now seen the results of the inequalities in America in the touching stories of my students. That on some basic level, I believe in America's ability to follow through on its ideals of equality. And I believe in the power of education to right some of America's current predicaments. I suppose it comes down to my moral compass. I'm basing this on my principles versus experience. Otherwise I'm just perpetuating the status quo, and that's not going to be good for anyone in any class.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Count Your Blessings

Always jump in the puddles!  Always skip alongside the flowers.  The only fights worth fighting are the pillow and food varieties.  -Terri Guillemets

Maybe we should develop a Crayola bomb as our next secret weapon.  A happiness weapon.  A beauty bomb.  And every time a crisis developed, we would launch one.  It would explode high in the air - explode softly - and send thousands, millions, of little parachutes into the air.  Floating down to earth - boxes of Crayolas.  And we wouldn't go cheap, either - not little boxes of eight.  Boxes of sixty-four, with the sharpener built right in.  With silver and gold and copper, magenta and peach and lime, amber and umber and all the rest.  And people would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination.  -Robert Fulghum

More often than not, this blog is where I can rant, and ranting is usually critical or negative. Now, I consider myself to be a very optimistic person, but think that perhaps my outlook seems dire on the state of education in America, or even my students. I love my job, yet does that come across in my writing? I hope so, but if it doesn't, I'm going to make a more conscious effort to share the positive side of my job.

I'm on the Communications Committee with Reading Corps, and we're doing a lot of recruitment efforts. Part of that is writing articles for college newspapers to spread the word. Naturally, I wrote one for my alma mater. I added the link to the article to our Committee's Google doc., and the next thing I knew, all of my bosses/program coordinators I didn't even know had read it, and loved it. My supervisor must have sent it to my principal, because the next thing I know, I had teachers telling me they really liked the article. I was glad--I initially felt insincere, putting together this op-ed, because I wanted it to be my voice, that even though I was promoting Reading Corps, it was also my experience that I was sharing with Carleton. I wanted it to be worthy both of my amazing Carleton experience, and my experience with my current school.

From this experience, I learned that I don't know how to take praise, or at least am a little uncomfortable with it. I don't know what to say. It was a good ego boost to know that something I wrote could impact so many people who weren't necessarily the intended audience. I suppose it was good that it went out to the staff at my school--I'm not always the most talkative and outgoing at work, so while the article doesn't express anything that would be a surprise to you, dear reader, it's something that a lot of my co-workers don't know. I also never consider writing to be one of my strengths, but a lot of the commenters on my article mentioned my good writing. So much of what I do--as is characteristic of many jobs in which you're serving others--goes uncommented on. It's good to know that something you're doing does actually make a difference in the here and now.

The brightly colored "no sweets" signs at school last year

In related news, today was Valentine's Day, which is just a happy day in an elementary school. Plus, you always have a Valentine (or 20) when you work with kids. It's a good reason to say screw the "no sweets in SPPS public school" rule, and give out cards and candy and love. Really though, had we tried to enforce the "no sweets" rule, it would have been like trying to put out a fire using paper. At any rate, I gave my students Valentines, and got some in return. All my students were in good moods, no one was absent (so rare!), and no one had a bad day. It was one of those days that made me remember why I do what I do. (Lucky for me, I have moments like that everyday...but rarely can I say that about the entire day.)

My third grader, the one who made me cry, was in a very good mood. Today she asked me why there had never been a woman president. She also stated that she wanted to be president one day. Naturally, I turned the conversation to "what do you need to do to become president?" And like the clever student she is, she starts with "confidence," and then added "needs to be a good reader." Bingo!