Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ISAmbassadors: Initiators of Change

An IS parent approached me at Open House and remarked that this is the worst he has ever seen the state of public education.  As I was about to readily agree, I looked over at my students gathered by the IS tree.  Many were just hanging out with their friends, but a few were waiting for me to collect their proceeds from the Pancake Breakfast ticket sales.  "No," I responded, to the surprise of both of us.  "This is the best that it has ever been.  "In the case of my students," I elaborated, "large class sizes, limited supplies, and the economic strife in their personal lives has led them to take action.  This has all manifested in a program called IS Ambassadors."
I have been reflecting upon this conversation for a week now, and decided to share it with my students at our club meeting today.  "Look at the number of people in this room!" I exclaimed.  "And the wait list is growing daily.  Everyone wants to be a part of this experience.  Our current budget stands at $5,643.17.  That will afford our students the opportunity to do things they never thought possible, such as going on a college tour.  This is all due to your hard work; you made it happen."  The students broke out into applause. 
The School of International Studies is a microcosm of society at large.  When a group of people become dissatisfied and/or frustrated about something that really matters to them, they can become discouraged and apathetic or they can be the initiators of change.  One reason ISA has evolved at a logarithmic pace is because students are yearning for outlets for dealing with the multiple forms of deprivation and inequities they witness on a daily basis.  Although most students are not looking at the big picture right now, I can see it.  Gen Y-Not? will be better off for having experienced these tumultuous times and attempting to drive these social changes within our club, our school, and our community.  These students will not be complacent in their future careers and endeavors.  They will know how to advocate for themselves.  They will know how to define their goals, mobilize quickly and work as a team to achieve arduous tasks.  They will be comfortable with spontaneity, adversity, and diversity. 
As I am writing this, I glance at the bookcase in my office and notice a binder entitled "Life Skills Training: High School Teacher's Manual."  I can't envision a program in the country that empowers students to identity their needs and collectively meet them in a more positive manner than this student-designed program called ISA.  Therefore, I view this time as the height of my career as an educator, witnessing major shifts in public education which are catalyzing  students to take ownership over their present and future.  Indeed, in many ways, things have never been better.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Roles We Play

Written by Ms. Berman
Rules.  They are a valuable component of any society.  They help us define our roles, keep us safe, and set boundaries.  Roles can be useful when one is in need of a purpose.  But what happens when the roles defined for us don't coincide with the person whom we really are?  Should we "fake" the role in which people expect us to play, to make them feel more comfortable with us, or should we be ourselves (within reason) and allow people to learn that it is okay to be atypical?
This is a question in which I grapple with every year at this time in the semester.  Teachers are told to "never smile before Thanksgiving."  Allowing students to see our more personable side will diminish their respect for us, and potentially erode our class control.  This theory of classroom management has been engrained in me for over twenty years of teaching.  The reality, however, is that my greatest success stories, my "little miracles" as one student has coined them, have never arisen through intimidation, but through encouragement via the teacher-student connection.  Creating an environment in which students feel comfortable taking risks, asking questions, and seeking help is not in alignment with the role of the foreboding teacher.  It is not only unnatural, but it is dishonest, as it is not me, and the students will soon come to realize this.
Open House was difficult tonight, as I could see parental apprehension when I stated that I don't believe in loading on the homework.  The look of concern was clear, as parents want assurance that their children will receive a top notch education.  I am sensitive to their concerns, but teaching my students how to create balance in their lives is a priority for me.  I am continually striving to create meaningful work, and focusing upon quality over quantity.  As long as I see my students thrive in the learning process, I will continue to limit the amount of homework that I assign.  Yet again, I am not playing the role in which I am expected to play, and I know that it makes some people uncomfortable.  If I weren't a teacher with whom students share some of their innermost feelings, I may have a different approach or teaching style.
This school year I have decided to start off the semester playing the role of myself.  My students will see that I have a sense of humor and that I believe in the importance of having fun.  I don't think that I am better than they are, and won't pretend that I am.  I love my career, and the students are the driving force of my enthusiasm.  My classes are based upon mutual respect.  My Science Scholars are the anchor of my success as an educator, and I give them credit for all that they do.  I sometimes make mistakes, and it is okay if my students do, too.  This year I will break the teacher covenant and will be smiling long before Thanksgiving.