Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Privileged Mind

Inspired by Nidia Davenport
Dedicated to all IS and MVP Arts Students 
It is mid-August… the time in which most dedicated teachers begin to reflect and dream.  I have been an educator since 1987, have had minimal problems with classroom management since my first day of teaching, and yet I occasionally have the typical anxiety dreams… students out of control in my classroom.  It always strikes me as odd when I awaken, because discipline is not an area in which I ever plan for or concern myself with.  And yet, being that Honors Chemistry and IB Biology tend to be courses that many students fear taking, I know subconsciously that unknown challenges await me… challenges primarily focused upon building student confidence that anyone can indeed tackle the rigor of my science classes, regardless of their previous educational and/or social experiences.
Today as I was driving home from a Big Bear retreat, I reflected upon a question that had been posed to me by a bright young lady of the same age as my upcoming students:  “I have thought about being a teacher,” she had said, “but I wouldn’t want to have to teach me.  How do you handle the kids with an attitude?” 
“I don’t have students with an attitude,” I initially responded.  “I shut them down before they get to that point.”  But then I took a moment to think back to last year, to the brief altercations that could have escalated between specific students and me.  “Well, you know, H,” I told her, “you don’t get an attitude unless something is really bothering you.  The trick, as a teacher, is to get to the root of the problem.  It’s all about showing the student a little respect.”
I then told her about R, and how she had started to talk back to me last fall.  I explained how I carefully guided her into my hallway without drawing the students’ attention to the situation, and then cut to the chase.  It quickly became apparent to me that R didn’t feel respected nor intelligent in my Honors Chemistry class, and wasn’t sure how she was going to grasp the overwhelming amount of material being presented in the course.  Previous experiences freshman year (and probably prior to that year) had tainted her feelings about education, and more important, about herself.  I scheduled a lunchtime tutorial with R for the following day, in which she made huge strides during a short period of time.  Reassurance.  So little effort made such a huge impact, and from that day forward R worked toward becoming a stellar Chemistry student.  It was easy for R academically because she had a privileged mind and comprehending the difficult material came more naturally than she had expected.  Comprehending her feelings about herself, the course, and me were not so simple to attain. 
So when I am asked if students “give me an attitude,” I would have to say no.  I work at being proactive and recognizing that self-expression exists for a reason.  It is not necessarily a bad thing.  It is rarely personal and, even if it is, my job is to disseminate information, which sometimes requires cutting through some barriers.  And thus my anxiety dreams may also be a reflection of the students who have their own feelings to deal with at this time of the school year.  My future students are now facing the fact that the easy-going days of summer are about to come to a close.  Homework will be starting up again, as will projects and exams.  Some students may be feeling uneasy or a bit out of control as they don’t know exactly what to expect from each of their future teachers.
The reality, however, is that all of my students come to me with privileged minds, they just have to learn how to best work with them.  With clearcut expectations and the amazingly dedicated Science Scholars at IS, all students have the ability to succeed in my classes.  Thus, the true challenge is not in the teaching, nor in the disciplining of unruly students, it is in convincing the struggling students that they are worthy of learning.  And that daunting task as an educator is justification for anxiety dreams, even for the most seasoned of teachers.  For it is the most driven of teachers who know just what is up ahead and how important it will be to access all of the privileged minds that will be brought before him/her.

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