He could steady a one-hundred-and-eighty pound man by himself, fold up and carry a wheelchair one-handed, but that didn’t count on the basketball court or in grammar or much of anywhere. – from Stand Tall by Joan Bauer
There are skills that are sometimes taught, sometimes caught, that often go unnoticed. I saw this last year in a fourth grade classroom. I was standing in the back of a room while another teacher was reading a story about Rosa Parks to the students. A chubby, red faced boy in the back was kind of sniffling and putting his head down. I wasn’t sure if he was ill or sad or if I should approach him. Before I could decide, a student just acted on his instinct. I watched a sharply dressed young black student walk all the way across the room, put his hand on the blubbering boy’s shoulder, and speak kindly to him. I was so touched. I thought how proud Rosa Parks would have been to see that moment. I finished up reading to the class for the other teacher. I read about Mrs. Parks, and her struggles and we had a wonderful discussion.
A short while later, I saw the boy smiling broadly who had before been so sad. Seems he thought he’d lost a watch and was going to get in a lot of trouble, but he found it way back in his desk.
I didn’t get a chance to speak to the kind boy, but I wish I had. I wish I had told him I noticed.
On the other hand he tried to point out her that she shouldn’t give money to the beggars in the street, as they’d only buy schnapps with it. But she kept doing it.
“They can do what they like with the money,” she said.
When Ove protested she just smiled and took his big hands in hers and kissed them, explaining that when a person gives to another person it’s not just the receiver who’s blessed. It’s the giver. – from A Man Called Ove
Earlier this year I gave a writing prompt to some fourth graders. They had been focused that day on the character trait of “caring”, so I told them to pretend I’d given them $100. But, the catch was they had to give it to someone in need or a charity. Some of the students shared what they had written, and one young boy reminded me of Ove, and of myself in days past. He told of giving to the homeless, but also went on to say some of them would not use the money for food like they should. I remember grappling with this same issue years ago. I now believe that if I give money, it’s between them and the Lord what they do with it. I am not to be the judge.
A few other responses touched my heart from those students. Like the girl who said she would give it to her mother so they could move out of her grandma’s house and get their own home.
The past few years I have learned to give anonymously. Though I long to see the joy on a child’s face on Christmas, I am happy knowing I made it possible for someone. And when I don’t know someone well enough to seek them out for a hug in times of grief or crisis, I can ask God to bless the little I can give, and to send comfort along with it.
“…but do you know, we never ask questions, or at least most don’t; they just run the answers at you, bing, bing, bing, and us sitting there for four more hours of film teacher. That’s not social to me at all. “ – Clarisse, Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Clarisse is the student we all wish to have in our classrooms. She is bright and curious. She wants to ask questions. She wants to be social in that she wants to talk of things of substance. How many students, like Clarisse, are stuck in classes where the teachers run facts and information by the students, but don’t explain or discuss the ideas? How many sit for hours under “film teachers”?
Sometimes being a sub is like being the fly on the wall. I see things that make me cringe. Yes, sometimes there are facts that just need to be memorized, like addition and multiplication facts. And, yes, films can be very enlightening and can add understanding to a lesson, but they should not replace the lesson. However, sitting for hours and having answers thrown out – bing-bing-bing- is an all too common occurrence in many classrooms.
I don’t know what the answer is. I was not a perfect teacher, but I can’t imagine the guilt I’d feel if all day every day I “ran the answers” at the students without explanation and guidance.. That’s not teaching.
I am in my fourth year of substitute teaching here in Alabama and I’ve come to look at it as more than just a job. When I was a full-time teacher, I had so much on my plate and so much on my mind that many days I was too exhausted to think much past the next set of papers I had to grade. Now I’m looking at things from a little different perspective.
Some days I just sit and don’t do much more than take roll and pass out an assignment. Other days might be jammed packed with instruction and discipline. The variety is usually enjoyable. I have learned to be an observer and I try to make connections with students when I can.
From time to time I’ll be sharing my thoughts, observances, and tidbits from the classroom.
“A circle was ugly without you.” -from Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
Being on the outside of a circle, looking in, is a lonely place to be. I’ve felt that way over the years, but fortunately not too often. It hurts, no matter how old you are. But, the middle school years are the hardest. If you aren’t in a circle, your outsideness really shows.
One day I saw a pretty young girl sitting all alone in a room full of kids who were talking to each other and laughing while they sat together. I didn’t know her or her story, but I wondered. Did she choose to sit alone? Did she just not have a friend in this particular class, but when the bell rang would she meet up with her BFF as she headed for her next class? I sure hoped so. That’s what I wished for. I wish everyone had a BFF waiting somewhere for them. A person who was interested, a person who cared. But, I know that isn’t always the case. So, all the more reason to be kind. And to remember how ugly that circle can be when you are on the outside.
“Childhood’s learning is made of moments. It isn’t steady. It’s a pulse.”
~ Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings
I can remember random moments from childhood and now wonder, were they learning moments?
I remember when I was five being frightened of the man next door, the father of an older girl I played with, who pushed his wife down as she was ironing. She already had a cast on her leg. He knelt down to try to comfort me, to tell me it was okay. I knew not to trust him.
When my older brother and I got in trouble and were banished to our separate bedrooms, we got our little brother to be a messenger, passing notes between us. These notes consisted of stick figures doing silly things. I learned my brothers would be my friends for life, though not without a few rough patches.
Fast forward to fourth grade and the learning didn’t feel like a pulse. Long division felt like a long, slow drip-drip-drip in a bucket. A bucket with a hole in it; for just when I thought I was finished with a problem, I’d discover my numbers weren’t lined up properly and I would have to start all over again. Recently I think some of my students have fely this as they have become friends with the seam-ripper in thier efforts to make pillowcases and aprons.
Many of my learning moments came through books. The horrors of the Holocaust came through the eyes and words of Anne Frank and Corrie Ten Boom; the horrors of child abuse from A Child Called It and Sybil. But before these books, there was Little Women, where I first got the idea that I’d like to write. I wanted to be Jo. That desire has waxed and waned over the years, as motherhood and making ends meet took precedence. I know many have been able to work, mother, and write concurrently, and I did to some extent, in pulses like my childhood learning.
But now the writing flame has been fanned and I need it more than ever. I don’t want it to go out.
In Season 5 of Wonder Years, Kevin is in 11th grade. One episode refers to “The No-Man’s Land of Public Education“. Sometimes this is where I find myself when I’m subbing. I’m a teacher, but not a teacher. Many days I feel like a glorified babysitter, and that’s not what I want to be. I try to be an authority figure as well as a friend to the students. I strive to be pleasant, knowing that for some kids school is their safe place. But, some days, I just see this broken system and feel helpless.
“Nothing seems to fit anymore” – this thought from the same episode is one I can relate to on many levels. Literally, as I am fighting my clothes these days. Figuratively, as I once more face a summer with no work. My drive to be a teacher may never go away, but I just can’t see my way to going back full-time. My drive to write will never go away, but I can’t find a way to steadily earn money with my writing. Even being a mom doesn’t fit the way it used to. But, to everything there is a season.
To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven – Ecclesiastes 3:1
Wonder Years Fun Fact: KEVIN AND WINNIE’S FIRST KISS WAS THE REAL THING.
“I’m a teacher, but they won’t let me teach – not the way I can. It’s just not worth it.” – Miss Shaw, the Wonder Years, Season 5
I recently binge watched the entire Wonder Years series. I’d say I teared up during about 80% of the episodes. But, I must reveal that Kevin, the main character, was just two years my senior. I’m talking the character, not the actor. So, all that 70s stuff, all those family issues, the clothes, the culture – that was my world.
Instead of my teen-self, one episode got to the heart of my teacher-self. Miss Shaw was an unconventional teacher. She loved what she was doing and it showed. The kids knew it and her fire lit them up. I’m not saying I agreed with all her methods. But, when she said, “…they won’t let me teach – not the way I can”, I felt like she was speaking for so many other teachers. I recently talked to a teacher who is certified and experienced in one thing and has a desire for it, but she is being forced to teach something else. That’s just sad.
I’ve been in four different school systems in the past few years as a substitute and I’ve seen the mindless test prep and the daily wasted hours in “study hall’ where maybe on a good day five kids were studying. I’ve been in middle schools where seventh graders can’t write a lucid paragraph; in high schools where students spent more time “googling” an answer on their phones than it would have taken to read the article in front of them to find the answer.
I’m not saying there is no good teaching. I have come across pockets of creativity and solid math lessons; I have met some very caring teachers. It’s not usually the teachers, but it’s the system, the “they” that Miss Shaw referred to, that is killing education in our country. And every June, there are teachers who decide, like Miss Shaw, “it’s just not worth it.”
“…So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way…” – from Both Sides Now by Judy Collins
I’ve seen teaching from both sides now; as a full-time teacher and as a substitute. I wish I knew how to make a change.