Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"I Pray for these Students Every Day"

My co-teacher will tell you that in the 30+ years she has been in the classroom, the vulgarity and disrespect demonstrated between and among her students has exacerbated every year. Even though I have only been teaching for five years, I could not agree more.

Each spring, our 8th graders love to push our buttons and stretch the boundaries to see how much they can get away with, especially our boys. Believing they are ready high school and have outgrown middle school, our boys begin showing egregious behaviors toward us, themselves, and one another. Unfortunately,  this year, it has most frequently presented itself in the forms of physical violence, sexual harassment, and profane language. Many of the girls are just as guilty too.

Take, for example, two very difficult and tough African American girls we taught last year (I had the opportunity to teach them for two years). One of them has two supportive parents, though they are going through a nasty divorce and the father continues to struggle with drug addiction. The other girl has gone home to find that her family has moved and locked the door, not informing the girl where their new home was. This "family" threatens to give the girl up for adoption every day. We did the best we could with both of these students in middle school and knew in our hearts that the latter student was not at all ready for high school. Still, on they went, and within a few months, each had been suspended multiple times.

Last week, these two students were both serving out-of-school suspensions and decided to "meet up" at a local business. In this particularly parking lot, one of these girls beat the other up, and yes, there were other students on hand who videotaped the whole incident. In fact, when one of my colleagues discussed the tragic incident with a student, the student said, "Oh yeah, I was there. Do you want to see [the fight]?" This mere question brought my colleague to tears and moved her to tell me, "I don't know what's happening with these kids. It's tragic. I have to pray for them everyday."

Pray for them we can, but how do we, as educators, instill in students a sense of civic responsibility, respect towards others, and human decency? These are lessons many of them do not receive at home, and let's face it -- we only see students for a fraction out of their entire day. The technological world we live in has made students "plugged in" all the time and capable of destroying other students' lives, reputations, and confidence with the stroke of a mouse or the flash of a camera. Too many stories inundate the news of students sending pornographic images of one another to an entire school or, in a very recent story I heard, "scooping" girls in the hallway (when male students will reach around a girl's neck and touch their chest or reach under their skirt to touch their privates as a "game"). There is absolutely no sense of self/peer respect or dignity here.

I am a firm believer of teaching by example and regularly modeling to students what respect, good citizenship, and self worth look like every day. In fact, my eighth graders are in the middle of a unit on responsibility ad recently finished performing and analyzing the play, Twelve Angry Men. In our review for their Formative Assessment next week, I am going to ask students, "What makes you want to do something to make this country a better place?" We will also extend the conversation to a more local and classroom level.

Each day, it is heartbreaking to see the vulgarity and rudeness many of my students display towards one another, both in the classroom and during unstructured time. I refuse to give up hope, though, that it is not too late for my students to recognize the harmful impact of their cruel words and actions -- and see that there is a better way to treat others and themselves. Even if I cannot control what happens in their lives outside of my school building, the least I can offer them is a safe, supportive, and respectful environment to learn in.

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