25 in the collection
The Hole of Discouragement
I never figured this student for design either. I thought he would be a lawyer. I developed a model economy in the room for him. We ran "Starville", even had courts and a stock-market. He was so entrepreneurial and wanted to understand how the world worked. It helps fight discouragement these kinds of letters because he had the potentials and I tried to give him a year with future. One to last a lifetime. I so enjoy this. It is not something I can defend with assessments like state tests though this student did well…it was something else. It was ….a value additive experience. Evidentially that year mattered to his peers as so many have contacted me over the years too. The year I taught a 6th grade how to build a model economy from a Harvard Ed article that inspired our vision for constructing another layer over top of what we were doing already. Value additive.
In part you teach through commitment.
It's not a factory production of a new car. It's not a superior design factory for a technologically sound engine. It is a work to produce happier people. Effective people, people who have the legs to go that mile and a half.
I may be perceived or framed or occasionally unable within the limits of my writing to talk to teaching as it exists in my real world.... there is so much I read in these blogs which is not sounding like actual classrooms.That worries me.
So I write my broccoli story about seeing the end of a man's life on the highway. I don't "know" the meaning completely. One might read it in a million ways, ecstatic, as a sign of God, as a spirit, as the nothingness of an inconsequential moment in the middle of nowhere, the meaning meant to be contextualized by the one experiencing the moment and then using it to construct their meanings. But just the same as I listen and hear.....I do not find this belabored "why" of schools a really great way to go....it's as if one answer is desired .Again it's too far away from school "as it is". It's as if there is a perception that we are able to believe there is a Star Trek place where school and learning is a perfect construct of everyone in their role, accountable, efficient, operating with all the tools and the systems all go ready for the galactic journey. Warp speed. A possession of stream-lined efficiency and expertise turning work with children into scientific study and laser vision. I find this discouraging.
A school teacher at my level in 1st grade is many things, nose wiper, arranger of lessons, listener, care giver, caring nurturing has been, also a significant and valued part of the work. Wanting to explain that and using words to do so carrying emotional impact is not a lesser form of discussion, nor is it less Trek....it's a way of seeing the things inherent in helping children mature in a classroom context. It is a very human and humane activity. It is about the nature of human interaction. It is not digitized nor Standardized. Not really and not fair enough to the work to see it this way.
Because I do place construction of meaning at the individual level, in a person, because I see the need for each child to become personally engaged in their learning, I gravitated towards looking at each child, each day, each situation, each teachable moment. As anecdote. Working on a still life or a drawing say of a flower or a portrait is somewhat comparable. What is here in this moment, in this particular piece, what has impact, what conveys meaning, what is superfluous, how can this be more valid and child driven? How can excellence evolve from this? And this led me in teaching decisions to looking at how much in a day was taught to a child not yet ready to learn that, not able to connect to your vehicles or already able to do something, looking how to elevate the situation into one where the child had context and ability to then...go beyond the transmission into higher order work. Themes help children do this. Integration helps them. When a teacher is empowered she is teaching empowerment. I can't answer "because they told me to", I need to answer because the square root has value ….or let's see if we can find time to answer that.
I suppose as I taught reading in smaller groups, trained with skills to diagnose what that particular child needed next, as I watched the child do better in that context, or do better in contexts where we did in fact make the subject more relevant through themes and setting up classroom situations aimed at meaning, I saw and gained personal teaching power.
Maybe that's a poor written articulation of moves I made in my personal growth instructing. I know it was always all about ways to better assist students in finding abilities, talents, in learning something they were struggling to get. I looked at my data (and I kept more than anyone I ever met....)and I organized around thinking of what in the days of school they would need. Where are they going, why are they going there...what matters. Student doing poorly traditionally do not get the concepts of higher performing peers introduced to them a ridiculous barrier for them, this was a key issue for me and why I want that literature piece so firmly in place. It is about bringing Shakespeare to the hood. You need to be able to visualize, you need a very high standard for yourself, you need to work very hard to get especially what you don't find easy, you need math conceptual thinking, you need to read for meaning, you need to be able to compensate, you need to feel your individual strengths and I guess learn to operate as a good person. Your teacher has to help get you there. The teacher has to believe. I think actually that preoccupied some of my work as I taught in gang areas and found forces working against children very difficult to off-set.....
....and I began to think the last year or so having faced personal issues in cancer and living perhaps what often helped me was other older teachers, self reflection, reading, reaching out to understand, standing up when it mattered, the arts, trying to say something through one's inadequacy because in the end as I was in art I'm so very far from the best me, or the perfect artist or the Star Trek being...but just the same it might be better to talk about the situations.
This all said I am discouraged. Discouraged by watching things in the job now devolving, discouraged by people in their competitive ownerships, discouraged by the cultural situations I'm seeing...some tell me this is middle age, it is a cycle of something very much a part of the facts at 47. I see the truth in this. At 47 you do switch from mother running the house for the little ones in to someone finding yourself again. A self needing personal meaning making....but just the same...I find it discouraging to hear so little joy in the world of teaching. It is so joyful a place potentially. It should be the Nell Noddings vision. . So little happiness I hear in the doing with kids. I find it discouraging, this might seem second place or in the way of achieving to some. I think it's the all of it . And that I find odd frankly to think joy and excellence are not hand holding partners. I hear so much leading me to wonder.
My daughter Sylvia is a Merit Finalist, probably was a better writer at 9 than I am at 47. She is deft, hard working. Perfect, perfect in scores in all the ways our economy, schools, world deem "proven", maybe partially a product of my work as teacher, of my schools, of my orientations. Product of the contributions of others, but actually her own product. And yet right now accepted by so many school, receiving so many offers she is so upset, worried unhappy. Unhappy in hours of homework, controlling directed instruction, teachers with negative attitudes and tons of confidences that they know education...her relief in several teachers that inspired and were actually in love with their subjects and able to relate to her, challenge her, create context. Take the subject and make it zing.
I have to answer to her for the why of those assigning her 8 hours of homework a night. It's not that she needs it...whether or not she has the concepts often beside the point. The issue so often one of doing more to prove we are doing something of value. Testing and testing and testing and testing eliminating so many of her peers from opportunities to get to the schools she gets to go to...it has been an experience of watching sorting...I'm discouraged because the tenor of all of it is in my view skewed. And for so many complicated reasons...reasons too much for a single time to try to address...discouraged I could not make this a world with less of this and more of that...this morning she and I discussed the coming of a "silent age" generation. Surely I see this...compliant, needing to produce, oriented toward money, production. Its the most interesting thing for me to watch her unable to act out, go out with friends and blow off a test, unable to not spend a thousand hours outlining a book she comprehended in 8th grade because Mrs. So and So took trainings and built her career on the idea outlining with various markers and making text notations and endless underlining and marking somehow gets you to the meaning of Lord of the Flies....it's discouraging to watch details replace rules and testing and rigidity replace something Mrs. So and So can address because she can't do deep meaning or create herself. She is a person who lacking content creates compliance. I think that'll be the issue of the coming age. Enormous sophisticated ways to say….what? Because creating meaning is not a rigid, controlled test based process.. . In a very real sense this is what I think is happening in schools so much assuring of our doing it right that we are forgetting to do it.
This of course will be called intellectual shallow water.
But anyway long time until we got out of the valley. It's the part of Lord of the Rings as I read when I thought...oh my this is getting to be so long and tedious and so tiring. I maybe will quit reading. And because I know humans are involved that humans have capacities, surprises, righting or as Jung write about these forces that shift and reorient, I know that I can't take this discouragement as a real thing…. It's a place of wandering into darkness.
I have to recall that to the unborn sheep the spring is unfathomable .
I'm very discouraged in the ways teaching, improvement, accounting, what is going on is sounding....but I know these words form my life spring.
And as a teacher I 'm ever called to believe in spring .
Lambs that learn to walk in snow
When their bleating clouds the air
Meet a vast unwelcome, know
Nothing but a sunless glare.
Newly stumbling to and fro
All they find, outside the fold
Is a wretched width of cold.
As they wait beside the ewe,
Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
Hidden round them, waiting too,
Earth's immeasurable surprise.
They could not grasp it if they knew,
What so soon will wake and grow
Utterly unlike the snow.
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