A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.
My parents once told me that when you turn eighteen you know everything and that every day after that birthday, you realize how little you actually do know. It’s like all of that self-confidence and wisdom slowly leaks out of your brain somehow for the rest of your life. I find this to be very, very true – especially in regards to teaching. As a first year teacher, I feel like while I am well prepared, I’m trying to simultaneously negotiate world peace, bring up the Titanic from the bottom of the sea, build an airplane while flying it, and teach a hamster how to use an immersion blender.
I know that I came into my classroom in August full of great, new ideas and a vision to shape and change the whole world. My students are movers and shakers. They are the geniuses of the next generation. With me at the helm, we were sure to succeed at whatever our goals were and feel empowered and important doing it. I was to be the guide that merely helped them read the compass of their own desires and point them down the right path. You are probably not surprised to know that this is not how that went.
Instead of getting to create my own general language arts curriculum, I am using a fairly scripted program. It’s not terrible; it’s just that sometimes I’m a bit disenchanted with it. It certainly makes my job easier. We work through the workbook at the suggested pacing and do the suggested discussions and activities. Together, my students and I slog through one graphic organizer after another. Sometimes we sleepily stare at each other, me waiting for an answer, my students waiting for another question as boredom fogs our brains. I keep telling myself that I’m going to take the time to back up and reevaluate how I can tart up this curriculum I’m given, and I think I honestly won’t have the time or the space to do this until this summer.
Yet, I love the puzzle and challenge this presents me with. All I can think about is how I can engage them tomorrow. The only thing I can really change in my classroom is me. I can change how I approach what I have to teach my students. I can change how I approach their boredom. I can change how we have conversations with each other. We can call them mini-rebellions against mediocrity.
My students do freewrites every day when they come in to class. They are given ten minutes of uninterrupted writing time and they are given the option to share afterward. I’m still struggling with using this time to do my own writing, but I love the conversations these freewrites spark. Sometimes I will even let these conversations take 20 to 30 minutes of our 55 minute class period because I can see the students learning and engaging with each other in a debate or a question sparked by the rhetoric of one student’s writing. My students are burning up with a desire for knowledge. They live in the information age and every answer rests at their fingertips, but they are not being included in the conversation. In response to this, we started something I call genius hour. Students wrote down topics and questions that they want to learn more about. They have written down everything from longboarding to the fourth dimension, from Islam to how bologna is made, from the history of shoes to the Mexican Revolution and these are students who haven’t even been introduced to the Civil War or WWII yet. So every Friday, when we only have a 40 minute class period, we answer a question. We explore our wonderings. We dive into a moment of unbridled passion for learning. We geek out on the awesomeness of the world we live in and it’s fantastic.
While everything is not easy and rewarding, I take stock in these little victories, these small moments of unabashedly learning with some truly wonderful people. It’s because of these conversations and these unanswered whys, hows, and whats that I know I’ll be back next year, maybe even with bigger dreams for what my students and I can achieve than this year.
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No One Here But a Writer Who Gets Up and Try
Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller
Psychological, thriller, mystery, secrets, betrayal, adoption, romance, poetry, art
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Stefan Falke photographs artists who live and work along the 2000 miles long U.S.- Mexico border to document the vibrant culture of the region on both sides. All photos © Stefan Falke (use with written permission by the author only)