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Friday, May 01, 2009

Tuning in to the Blind Spots of this Generation



It is so much fun to work with teenagers, but really, you have to have that love.  I found a diary entry from the first week of when I started teaching school.  It says:

"Boy, I love teaching.  I could do this for the rest of my life!"

So true.  In 3 weeks, my seventh year of teaching at the middle/ high school level will be up.  It takes a while to get to the point where your room runs smoothly and you have a reputation that will handle 90% of discipline problems before they happen.  My room isn't perfect, but all but the most stalwart student with jaw set and determined to do as little as possible get along with me just fine.

Really, I'm pretty easy because the students don't have to guess how they will be graded.  When there is an assignment, they are handed a rubric up front.  To turn in the assignment (like today's efolio), they actually grade themselves -- I give them 10 points bonus for coming within 10 points of my score.  (when I say 10 points, I grade on a 300 or 400 scale, so that is closer to 1-2 points on a 100% scale.)  That helps me, because I don't have to go looking for anything and they are rewarded for honesty.  There is also no debate on the score as well over half the students do grade themselves pretty closely to the grade I give them as well.

The students are pushed -- extremely so, sometimes.  This week, the computer lab has been open until 7:30 and actually, I had a teacher whose child was in my 9th grade class come by and pick up the key to work until about 9:30 pm tonight.  They have projects in my class and their other classes and had time to do it in class - the problem was spring sports and the athletes are held accountable for their work here.

On Tuesday, I was in my room helping the seniors with their movie and I had on a new headset which looks sort of like one of those jet fighter sort of headphones -- complete ear coverage.  I looked like I couldn't hear them a speck.  The microphone was up above my head since I wasn't using it.  What they didn't know is that for some reason on that particular computer, the microphone was basically turning my headset into a wonder hearing aid.

I could hear the boy across the room and what he was listening to on his iPod (he was in study hall and if they are working on a project, I let them listen to their music - my room is actually quieter that way and most (not all) students get more done that way -- music is their quiet.)

I could also hear the student in front of me telling a coarse joke and those behind me responding.  Some were whispering in another corner.

I just kept working - smiling to myself all the while.  I enjoy the teachable moments like this-- I knew it was coming.  So, I waited and finally decided to say something when the cute blonde girl who always blushes ear to ear started to say something I knew would mortify her if I heard.

I put my fighter pilot headphones around my neck and said:

"Man, it is amazing how these headphones magnify the sound in this room - I can hear EVERYTHING!"

The blonde girl blushed - and everyone turned and looked except the iPod wonder sitting in the corner.

"Really?  You can hear everything?  Let me hear!"

Sure enough, they each had to try it out.   This spread through the school and others had to come try it out later.  I mentioned to each of them that with technology - you never know who is listening.

It came full circle as I pondered the major criticism that Don Tapscott, author of Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital, had of this generation -- they do not appreciate nor understand their privacy!  He's right.

When it comes to eavesdroppers and privacy - this generation really has a blind spot.  To be so incredibly technically savvy - they were shocked I'd use technology "against" them to eavesdrop, albeit uninentionally.

I never add my students as friends on facebook unless they ask to add me.  If they add me, I do let their parents know, just so they know.  The other day I saw a message like this:

"Jane Doe has a new cell phone number +123-456-7891"

Except it had my students number and her real name in my status updates!  I didn't respond back there, but the next day I said:

"Hey, Jane - so you got a new cell phone number!"

She said,

"Yes, Mrs. Vicki, how did you know?"
I said:

"Did you know you put your phone number out on facebook and all of your friends saw it?"

She blanched white and said she had modified the number in her profile and had no idea that change would send it through the Facebook updates.  She went home that night and took her phone number off Facebook.

I know that there are schools who tell their teachers that they cannot have a Facebook.  But I get parents all of the time who stop me and appreciate these teachable moments that seem to happen all of the time!  This student is now safer and is more private than she was three weeks a go.  that means something.

Can we police every Facebook?  Can we teach every student to make wise choices?

The day we can do that is the day we can teach every student to read and write - we know that there are some who still do not despite our best efforts.

But, the lines are blurring between home and school -- private and public -- personal and professional.  So many of us struggle with it, but it is there.  And in my mind, many teachers are playing a redefined role that the current mores of education are not ready to grapple with.

24/7 teaching is a fact of life.  I want to be private and be home sometimes - but by interacting with my students, there are many moments that wouldn't happen any other way.

Did it start off this way?  No.  But as I get older (and they seem to get younger) and get more comfortable in my skin as a teacher, this just seems to be the natural progression of how things go in my own classroom.

I watched the Dougherty County Teacher of the Year on the news talk about his students - he used to be a police officer and did after school tutoring to get to know the kids and became a teacher.  Now, all of his kids - 100% pass the math test at the end of the year.  He said on tv:

"The thing is I love my students.  I want them to learn and I enjoy them."

Well said.  I love my students too!  I tell my classes that I love them.  And if I have a kid who is giving me fits, I pray about it and wrestle with it so that I can forgive and honestly look at that child with no malice in my heart and know that somehow- albeit sometimes with supernatural intervention, I love that child too.

Every child needs to be loved.  Every child needs to be valued and know that someone wants to find something that they are very good at.  It is my dream to find the talents of as many students as possible before I leave this classroom and so many talents emerge in my class that no other teacher would be able to see:  photography, video editing, acting, speaking, writing impassioned first person pieces, and networking with others as well as virtual worlds.

When a child discovers their talent it makes all the difference because we all want to find something we're good at.  I believe that every person on this planet has something that they were made to do - that they can do better than anyone else.  It is a matter of finding that thing.

And a great deal of love is returned from my students.  They need to know that I hold them accountable - that I am fair and treat each person equally - and yes, that I love them.

They have their blind spots - and oh my goodness, the biggest one is protecting their own privacy.  They are so clueless on this one.

They need teachers who love them and will interact with them.  Our news media so enjoys the sensational story of the young teacher who runs off with their 15 year old student that huge barriers have been erected between students and teachers that prevent the miniscule, deviant behavior but also prevent the natural relationship that happens between teacher and student.

These students are great.  Oh, to be able to teach them the rest of my life and perhaps get out just a little to mix and mingle with some of you inspirations out there who give me ideas and keep me going -- just enough for encouragement and to share a little of myself.  But then, it is back to my classroom. My domain.

There are 13 class days left.  As ready as I am for summer, I also hate to see it end.  For me, I am never more in my element than when working with students.  It was what I loved most about the Flat Classroom Conference and what I love most about my days at Westwood.

Those of you who love teaching -- you'll understand and relate to these thoughts.  But remember, do not let the politics nor sometimes the magnetic pull of money keep you from remembering why you got into teaching in the first place.  Keep that love of students.  Keep that passion for teaching.  Enjoy the moments because they slip by so quickly.

My former students are now having babies and sending them to Westwood.  I see them with sticky fingers toddling to the sinks in the lunchroom stalls to wash their hands, looking like their Moms and Dads and growing up so fast I cannot believe it!  I teach my own son this year who is in 8th grade and as tall as a tree. 

One of the biggest regrets of my life are the things I said to my mother when she was teaching at Westwood and I was in business.  Until one is a teacher, one cannot understand the world of teaching.  I told her that I thought she was wasting herself and that teaching was what people did who couldn't do anything else.

I am embarrassed and ashamed and hope you'll forgive me for admitting that because I was wrong.  Teaching is a gift and people who don't love kids shouldn't be teaching.  People who love teaching won't really be esctatically happy doing anything else - even if they are successful at it.  I'd give up the 6 figure general manager job all over again to do what I'm doing.  Sure, it would be nice to write some books to support the teaching habit I have -- but still - there is more to life than just a job.  There is legacy.  There is love.  There is the fun and spontenaeity that comes from teaching and the teachable moments that come from knowing your students.

You don't have to be in the classroom to be a teacher.  There are many great parent volunteers at our school who coach and work with the kids in many different ways.  So, don't think I'm only including educators.  There are many who have a passion for teaching kids and may work in business - although their heart and mind focuses on the classroom.

That being said -- Teaching is a noble calling and not for the faint at heart.  It saddens me to see so many schools misunderstand the evolution of what teachers can and could be to make them fit into the industrial age heirarchical model of their own youth.  My students teach me and I teach them, because see, I have some blind spots too.  We're good for each other.

So, I guess this rambling post needs to come to an end but I do have several points here -- that there are benefits from professional interactions between students and teachers when done in the right way through the Internet, that students do have blind spots when it comes to privacy and it helps to have adults who care in that network to coach them to make wise choices, and just that teaching is GREAT - particularly for those who love the kids.  If you don't love the kids, why are you teaching?  Maybe you're tired.  Maybe your admin has stopped that love out of you.

When the politics get to me, I retreat to my room -- my room is MY domain and the domain of my students. It is the one place I can truly be me and push those students to learn and be more.

I'm so thankful that the good Lord has called me to teach and I hope that He'll allow me to continue to share with and learn from you as well for many years to come!

Remember your noble calling teacher and enjoy and savor these last few days of crazy, insane work and fun as we close out another school year in the northern hemisphere!
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