Thursday, November 27, 2014

Day 16: If you could have one superpower to use in the classroom, what would it be and how would it help?

There are a lot of teacher sites that have articles about the superpowers that teachers do have: super hearing, titanium bladders, keen sense of lie detection, etc. These are cute articles that, to me, seem a bit condescending (despite the fact that their audience are teachers) and a bit of internet fluff. In a time when school violence is so common place that a school shooting may not even get national attention, the idea of teacher as hero isn't that far-fetched. From Columbine to Sandy Hook, the valor and strength that educators show when faced with a dangerous person is something that I worry we are starting to take for granted. When you read the narratives of the decisions that teachers in those incomprehensible situations make, I don't know what else you could define it as other than a superpower.

And then there are the sacrifices that teachers make day-to-day. From the time they dedicate, to the money they give, to the emotional and mental demands that are chalked up to "just being a teacher".   It is akin to a superhero who has to live part of their lives in service to others and while doing so, giving up a part of themselves. Just as Clark Kent can't turn off his concern for the greater good of the citizens of Metropolis, a teacher brings their work and their kids home with them. They live two lives, where one sometimes trumps the other because of the pledge that has been made to their students.

I don't know if there is another superpower I would want to have that could help me do my job. I at first imagined having the power to see into my students' lives a bit more. To see the heavy baggage they might be carrying with them each day. But in having a 110 students, my chest started to tighten about the toll that knowledge would take. It is hard enough to be privy to some of the information I already do know. If I had a full scope of insight into my kids, the times where I already feel overwhelmed by one student's struggles would be multiplied to such a degree that I don't know how I would manage the responsibility I would feel to help and support my students.

Looking outside my classroom, I thought that what teachers could use today would be a mega-super-sonic voice that could not be ignored. A voice that would cut through the political rhetoric of those that are seeking to reform our schools and yet have no real experience in education. A voice that was able to deflect the misuse of data, the greed of corporate education reform, standards that are assumed to be effective but have never been field tested, the notion that tenure equals a job for life, the politicians who use schools as a pawn in their effort to garner more support, the idea that teachers can be assigned points in order to determine their effectiveness, the movement to use standardized tests to determine funding and creating cookie-cutter classrooms where the test is a scare tactic for both kids and teachers, and lastly, I would want a voice that was able to empower teachers to be the professionals that they are and give them the confidence to speak without fear of retribution. Because when we don't, that affects what happens inside our classrooms. Educators become hesitant to buck the system in moments where they know the system isn't what is best for kids.

In teaching for the past 15 years, I can tell you that any voice we had has been strategically eroded. And along with that, so too, is the faith that all the sacrifices we make for our vocation are for that greater good. Teachers are leaving at a record rate. New teachers are not staying.  Veteran teachers are retiring early. As an educator who isn't going anywhere, I guess maybe we need a kind of shield for the kryptonite that is corporate education reform. A shield that, like a loud booming voice, would deflect the nonsense and illogical decisions that are being made today when it comes to schools. Decisions that equate a lack of support that is weighing down any kind of progress in public education. Because when it comes down to it, this shield would represent one very important and powerful element that is absent, which is respect. And until our culture in America shifts to revering teachers instead of demonizing them, any superpower we might have is muted.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Dodge

Anis Mojgani, Brendan Constantine, Sean Thomas Dougherty, and Dave Caserio

On Friday, Oct. 24, I had the pleasure of tagging along with GHS students and teachers on a field trip to The Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, NJ. The festival is held every two years and celebrates the written word over the course of four days. Friday is traditionally a free day for high school students to attend. We attended various workshops that focused on one poet or featured a panel of poets. Getting to listen to them read and speak about their craft was a powerful experience for all of us. As a teacher of writing, it was amazing to hear these esteemed poets reaffirm beliefs that I try to instill in my own student writers very fulfilling. I left with my confidence strengthened that for my students who may pursue a life of writing, my class might offer them a time where they felt supported in that endeavor.
Eavan Boland

As the trip approached, I not only looked forward to the festival but also to spending the day with some of my former 7th graders. Reading the list of participants made me a bit giddy as I saw that I would get an opportunity to reconnect with students in a way that I had never had before. Reconnecting through a common interest in writing. Some of these students were ones I had told when they were 12 that I felt they were destined to be writers. Seeing that they had been nominated and had accepted the invitation to attend this poetry festival just made me happy. And knowing that I would get to go on this day-long journey with them was truly joyful. Not to mention I got to meet new students who were so friendly and sweet. All 40 students were great.
Alex, Hannah, me, Tristin, Maddy, Taylor and Christine

My favorite part of the day was when I made an executive decision to skip our scheduled session and go to another one on Poetry and Performance that featured a favorite poet of mine, Anis Mojgani. It turned out to be the highlight of our day and the one that my group of nine students thought would be the one they would remember the most. Here is a clip from Anis' encore poem:

For our final workshop, we attended a session on Poetry and Music in this amazing theater. We all were in awe of the space as we entered the balcony. It was a wonderful way to end the day. I think we all sat there grateful for the experiences we had together.
It was a poetically exquisite day spent with some amazing individuals. I am so appreciative that field trips are still part of the education we offer to students in Guilderland. This is mostly thanks to our parents, who are able to fund their children to go on any trip. I know other districts are not so lucky. And I know, too, that when budgets are tight, funding field trips seems like a misallocation of already dwindling funds. This, to me, is sad. The times where we are able to take our students out of our classrooms to experience the world can be life changing for some. It can open their eyes to things they might never discover. It is, I believe, a critical part of any education. These experiences demonstrate to kids what the world has to offer and, in the process, they might discover what they have to offer the world.