27 October 2006 


I'm constantly told I have the good students. What a label. I find myself wanting to desperately fight that, and then I feel bad because my students are wonderful. In the end, when I stutter some sort of response to my accusers, they end up saying that I have it easy. Small classes, mostly motivated students, yeah - you know - paradise.

If all students were in classes of 10-15, with experiential learning at the core, we'd all have good students. The reality is they don't, I do.

So let's take the small number of students I have, around 33. Let's imagine the intense speed in which one would get to know her students compared to other teachers who are trying to learn their massive amounts of students. I've simply had more opportunity to bond with my kids.

Let's add into the mix the very real conversations we've had. My students' lives are no different than those of my coworkers. They are in gangs, interested in gangs, abused emotionally, living in poverty, and some are living a comfortable life filled with love.

This all brings me to this exhausting week. I didn't exactly know how to plan for production week, given the setup of my journalism program is so much different than RL*HS's.

On the verge of hitting the end of the week, we really had hardly anything in place. Last night we went through with our layout meeting despite massive numbers of students not showing up to help. The kids worked their butts off. We are so far from anything I consider intelligently well-crafted (that's half my fault for not envisioning this process better and planning for it). Amid the adrenaline of our first issue, comes the young lady who is hysterical in the hallway. I sit with her. She's threatening suicide. Reveals agonizing family history, the culmination of suppression is surfacing. Her family treats her like dirt.

The next morning, my fast favorite student - little bit of a born-into gang banger - rushes into my room with the most innocent expression. He was shot at several times last night. He smiles nervously. I can tell he's actually shaken. I try to shut up and listen to what he isn't saying, because that's how we communicate. It's why he gets along with me, I think. I can't help but to lose my stomach to nerves, as I wonder what the morning could've been like. How angry I would've been that his existence was destroyed.

Last, but not least, one of my most stand-up young men, finally came clean with me and just outwardly admitted his gang involvement. I had pointed out the scribbles on the back of his notebook to him here and there the last couple of weeks. I would just point at it and say things like, oh no, or you aren't doing anything stupid are you, or XX I'm always worried about you. He finally just came clean. He's one of the most fucking intelligent, with-it kids, I've ever met. He works hard in school, lives a drug free and healthy life. He treats everyone with respect. He has one of the most dynamic approaches to the complicated and difficult questions I ask in class. He has it all. This kid is going places.

I'm not sure what's going to happen next.

22 October 2006 

Ever heard of this...

Yesterday was our homecoming. My young men were broadcasting the game this time. While our clock on the scoreboard wasn't right for most of the game, they sounded good when they called out the plays.

And really, after working an extra day, being outside and a little too chilled for comfort, everything went well and was fun. Except for one thing. The referees ejected our star wide receiver for saying, get this, "Damn coach. I really messed up." WHAT!? You kicked out my little third hour receiver for saying damn, which was attached to an apology?

We lost by one point. If only they saw the taunting Digital Harbor's players were doing, maybe we would've won.

17 October 2006 

What does caring look like?

I'm fearful of my inability to be scared passionate about working long, feverish nights. Who am I to belong in this group of relentless pursuers in education when I refuse to work another five hours when I get home? After two years of hardship, emotional staleness and crisp moments of joy, I don't want it. I want me. I want my own life.

All of this is said with immense and painful care for my current students.

Then I check my email. Filled with several former students writing about their hardships. They are the same hardships of the past two years. Friends overdosing on drugs, a former student killing someone, gangs, depression, hopelessness. Same cycle. Nothing new. Except that I love these students and miss them. Me sacrificing all of my time for them, hasn't impacted much directly.

Let me clarify. I can look back and pinpoint meaningful interactions with students that have set up our current relationships. I can recall most of the moments that developed rapport. It wasn't a lesson plan. It wasn't coming home to grade and go to bed.

My instruction only bettered itself through reflection, perhaps during a drive home, a journal entry before bed, a blog entry. I improve through grad classes. I improve by jumping into professional development opportunities. I improve by watching others teach. Not manipulating Microsoft Word to make my ideas look better. Not going to lie. I sometimes create lesson plans before school for that current day, not the ideal. But not that big of a deal. At least not to me. I feel comfortable that I can figure out my day in enough of a structure that makes sense for learning. Sometimes this fails me, but I almost think I'd fail more in other ways by being a perfectionist and workaholic.

These past students and their emails have taught me better. I cannot carry other people's weight. Tonight I come home knowing the horrible stories of my current students. I call them my darlings, babies, sweethearts, and hons all day long. At night, I think of them in flashes. I wonder if Kevin went to bed or if he spent his night out on the street being tempted by things so outside of his Eagle Scout character. I constantly pick on him during class (clearly in the most ridiculously, silly way that it cannot be miscommunicated as cruelty) just to keep him awake and checked in. I wonder if the depth of the gang symbol found on a notebook of another particular student. I wonder all kinds of things. Yet I don't carry these thoughts for long.

I don't grade. I hardly lesson plan...at night.

And I don't feel like I care less or teach less skillfully because I choose to not stress myself out. I'm watching all of these new friends give everything to a profession, a job. I don't want that.

Yet I feel this guilty nag saying, look - your roommate has worked the entire time she's been home! Why aren't you doing anything? Don't you care?

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