How Can I Help?

You know that kid.

Maybe she is the quiet one who says very little in an attempt to hide the fact that she doesn’t understand most of what is going on in class.

Maybe he is a bully who picks on those who are much weaker than him in his attempt to hide the fact that he himself is bullied at home.

Maybe she is the promiscuous one who seeks love from anyone who will give it because she doesn’t get it from parents or family.

Maybe he is the angry one who lashes out at teachers and peers when things don’t go his way because at home he always gets his way.

How can I help these students?  How can I make a difference in their lives?  How can I change the outcome for these kids? Teach them that they matter? That they can overcome whatever negativity is affecting their lives?

I know what you are going to say: “Talk to them. Let them know that you care about them.  Ask them about their lives and let them vent when they need to. Build a relationship with them.”

I do those things.

Tonight, I find myself asking, “Is it enough? Am I doing enough?”

What happens when it is not enough for that child to know that I care about them? When the negativity far outweighs the positive influence that I try to infuse into their daily lives?

So there’s a Dropout.  A Suicide Attempt. A Teenage Pregnancy. An Arrest.  We all just shake our heads and say “Gee, that’s too bad.” We move on to the next group and try again. Tonight I am saddened by this thought and the thought that I could have done more to help.

At the beginning of the school year, I was greatly moved by this story that ran on the Ellen Degeneres Show:

While I do not think that every teacher/principal needs to go to this extent, I do think that more of us need to start thinking differently about our influence on the lives of the students and families at our schools.  Instead of sitting back and shaking our heads or pointing our fingers, we need to start coming up with ways to truly reach out, like the principal of Whitney Elementary did.

I’d love to hear any ideas or thoughts on what teachers and schools are already doing or could be doing that are above and beyond the basics of “building a relationship.”

Passion

Passion by neil conway
Passion, a photo by neil conway on Flickr.

In recent days I have found myself torn.

Torn between two passions.

Since I was in grade 8, I knew I wanted to be a PE teacher. I remember in grade 10 my PE teacher asked me to teach a dance unit to my class. When I received my report card for that term, there was a kind note inserted praising me for that dance unit. She knew that I had expressed interest in becoming a teacher and she encouraged me to continue on that path.

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. My parents never really censored my reading material and I was often reading many levels above grade. At one point, my grade 7 teacher called home to tell my parents that that book I brought for silent reading (Helter Skelter) was inappropriate. Writing too, has been an important outlet for me. Often therapeutic. I have long felt that I express myself far more effectively with the written word than with the spoken word.

When I started out teaching at Stony Plain Central School almost 10 years ago, I would not say I was a leader. I was a part of the supporting cast. Throughout the years many of our school leaders moved on to other projects and jobs in their lives. The baton of athletic leadership was passed on to me. This will be my third year as athletic rep for SPC. Planning tournaments, scheduling practices, fielding questions, ordering clothing and equipment are all parts of this position and some of the true rewards of my job have come from these experiences. I have found that I do have a real passion for this. I want to take even more of a leadership role in my school and in my division in the area of PE and athletic organization.

BUT…

Teaching grade 8 LA and Social Studies as well as Knowledge and Employability 9 are also huge parts of my job that take up h0urs. In the last few years while I have been learning the ropes of my athletic responsibilities, I have maintained the status quo with my LA and SS classes. I’ve been too overwhelmed with my family and coaching and organizing jobs to work on something new to teach in those classes. This summer I decided I could be stagnant no more. I have made a conscious effort to learn new things and to implement them in my classes. The moderate success I’ve had with that has only led to my becoming more passionate about continuing to learn.

And that is where my passions collide.

Is it possible for me, at this time in my life, to be a leader in both of these areas? Are there enough hours in a day to do it all? I’m not sure right now. I am struggling with the amount of time that these passions are consuming and the possible toll that takes on my family. The obvious answer is to give something up, say “no” to some of the things that are being asked of me. It is not that easy, though. The truth is, I don’t want to give something up. When I think about it, I can’t pick. Continuing to lead in the area I have been passionate about for so long is important to me. Learning new things and engaging with and learning with my students is something I can’t say “no” to.

So where do I go from here?

Worldview

The world through my eye by ms holmes
The world through my eye, a photo by ms holmes on Flickr.

“We are only in grade 8, we don’t have worldviews.”

This was an initial response to the question, “Tell me a time when your worldview about something has changed because of a new situation, group or person.”

We then had a laugh talking and reflecting on some of the ways their worldviews have changed in their 13 short years.

“I used to hate cats, then I got a cat and now I don’t hate them.”

“I used to think my parents knew everything, but now I think they are kind of dumb.”

“I was never scared of being in an accident, then my auntie was in one and now I am often frightened.”

“I used to believe that teachers lived at the school.”

I enjoyed watching them go from “I’m too young to know anything about anything” to “Hey, wait, I do have some views and beliefs about things.” I am looking forward to watching their confidence grow as we learn together. I have an amazing group of grade 8 and 9 students this year.

I feel more optimistic and envigorated by this school startup than I have in a long time. Some of it is the work I have done to “change my worldview,” “shift my paradigm,” “see the glass half full,” “turn that frown upside down,” but a lot of it has to do with my students as well.

We often hear stories of great teachers who have a huge impact on student’s lives and learning experiences. We don’t often hear about how the students change our lives or our worldviews. In a lot of ways, I think I have gotten more from my students than I have given them.

Its going to be a great year and I can’t wait.

Your Athletes Deserve More Than “The List”

Concentration by geyerba
Concentration, a photo by geyerba on Flickr.

One of my passions as a teacher has been coaching. I have been coaching volleyball since I started teaching and have had so many satisfying experiences with athletes and their parents during the volleyball season.

I coach grade 8 and 9 girls and have already had two tryouts and one set of cuts. I think any coach will tell you that the absolute worst part of coaching is telling a young person who desperately wants to be on the team that they just didn’t make it this year.

I remember the days of my own schooling when coaches would put up a list that contained the names of the athletes who made it. It was a traumatic experience for many. When I started coaching, I did that too. That’s how its done, right? Then I saw the devastation, the embarassment that kids endured because of the list.

I realized…our kids deserve more than that.

So coaches, this is my plea to you. If you are still using the list as a way to let your athletes know if they made the team, please stop.

One on one discussions are sometimes difficult for coaches but they are necessary. Athletes need to know the reasons why, what they can improve on for next year and they need to know that you care for them and support them.

Also they need to have time to digest the information before they face their peers.

Give them the respect they deserve and talk to them face to face.

My “New” Classroom

This summer I painted my whole classroom.  I didn’t really want to but when I went in to pick up some things from the school, I knew I could not enjoy teaching in that room, therefore, I could not expect students to enjoy learning in that room.  So “that” became this:

 

My mural and first day message to students

I got rid of my desk! On the left is my hex table covered in denim where my laptop sits.

The one thing I would like to add is some comfortable seating at the back of the room .  All in due time.