Progress Reports are done. My first set of North American progress reports are finished. It is true that I covered a class last term for a few months, but this is my first group of students that have been my own from start to uh, halfway. It did take more effort than I thought, and I questioned my work ethic and priorities as I struggled to get these reports in on time. I’ve known about the deadline for a while, and I’ve bugged my wife over the past few years about not prioritizing her time when report cards came around, so I figured that I should have known better when my turn came. Alas, I was not any better than her. I bumped into a fellow colleague and asked about our inability to get comments done in a timely manner. Her response helped me feel a bit better because she said that it wasn’t that my prioritizing was flawed, but because we spend most of our time worrying and planning for our classes that we focus our energy on the now to make sure the classes go smoothly. Maybe it’s a bit like an avid movie watcher who never watches the reviews and channels their energy into the two hours traffic on the screen.
I did feel a bit better after talking to her about the progress reports, but I also know in my heart that I’ve always been a procrastinator. While I was managing an English Language School in Korea, I had to harp on my staff to make sure they were getting the comments in on time, so I could go over them before they went out to parents. I would try to get my staff to get the comments in at least a week or two early. Not because I wanted to promote good work practices, but because I needed the extra time to get my own comments for the couple of advanced classes I taught finished. I would be lazily/feverishly working on them at the Starbucks in Dunsan, at my buddy’s restaurant, at either branch of the school, at my apartment or anywhere that I could try to focus. Even before the invention of WiFi everywhere, I would find a way to distract myself, so I definitely know how some of my students feel about keeping deadlines.
However, I am getting older, and one day I will be ahead of the game, but for now, I’ll try to remind myself that next time I’ll be ready. Next time…
Apathy and a lack of valuing each other could drive a person crazy if he/she focused solely on the negative folks in this world. I took a deep breath after a few moments and chose to not let those kind of people ruin my day. Instead, I reminded myself about the great parts of my day like the echo of screams I heard for close to an hour.
I wanted to be more active in school this year, so I chose to help out with Student Council this year. A few weeks ago the suggestion of running a haunted house for Halloween popped up. No one really knew what to expect, and to be frank, I doubted that it was going to happen. However, one of the students made it her focus to make it happen. We enlisted the help of the drama teacher, and this idea became reality. We collected set pieces, actors, lights and fog. For a free show with volunteers and limited budget, I was quite impressed. There were different sections of strangeness like crazy doll-lady, ravenous cannibals, operations going wrong, intensive shock therapy, and cookie indulging siblings. I was impressed with the group of students that all came together in their free time to do something for the school. Not for fame or recognition, but because they wanted to do something fun for everyone.
As we were cleaning up the aftermath of doll parts, cookies, fluff, severed limbs, and blood soaked rags, I wanted to thank the drama teacher for his zaniness and dedication to help make this a reality. I told him he went above and beyond the call of duty for these kids. He simply responded, “When I see these kids care and put in all their effort, I can’t help but do everything I can for them.” It is easy to forget how inspiring some students can be. I guess my challenge isn’t just about focusing my attention on the kids that get it already, but finding a way to reach everyone, so they can eventually be that source of inspiration for someone else.
I decided to challenge my 11’s more by pushing them to see the Internet as more than just YouTube clips of Matt Damon and random scrolling violent stick-figure games. I tweaked my earlier blogging lesson plans from my 10’s and made what I thought was a more accessible lesson for this class. I showed them the random sandwich blog and some travel blogs. A few students were confused as to why they needed to read other strangers thoughts. Some asked why didn’t these people just keep a diary or a journal, why did they need to post their thoughts for the world?
I offered that when you have a casual conversation with someone, you never truly get a sense of their thoughts, attitudes or beliefs. When you read their blog, you end up reading into what they really think, and that may lead to a deeper conversation. That’s when we started to look at the comment stream. I likened it back to what we did last week with our personal responses on Google docs. Some students started to understand where I was going, but others still saw no reason to talk to random people about their thoughts. I showed them my Twitter feed then clicked on a blog post about digital natives and digital immigrants. We looked over the different cartoons and came up with a few thoughts to add to a comment as a class.
The goal was to start a conversation. It’s one thing to say we can have a conversation, but if the students can see that a conversation does happen and is possible, I think they may get more invested. I let them loose on WordPress to search for topics that interested them. They double checked with me if the blog was appropriate for school, and I let them compose a polite comment for that blog. Their comments ranged from “What type of snowmobile do you like most?” to weightier questions about gay & lesbian attitudes. I really hope that when we pick this up next week that they will get some feedback from the blog writers. I really believe that learning happens when you are curious, and collaboration creates curiosity because you never know exactly what the other party is thinking.
With days running out in Breast Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to make sure that I had at least one class make an effort to wear some pink. And with a day’s notice, I had a bunch of students don some pink on Thursday. Some were more decked out than others, but at least they had given more than a passing thought to my craziness. I feel like I’ve been a bit pushy with the social agenda lately, but I really don’t see why we can’t use some of our abundant resources to help others.
My wife and I have had more than a few personal connections to losses from cancer, so it mattered a great deal to me. On Wednesday when I asked the class to wear pink the next day, one student blurted out that there was no point to wearing colours for any cause because no one really pays attention or cares. Maybe that was why I left school a little deflated that night and I wasn’t sure if anything would come of my request. Even before I got to school in the afternoon a student tweeted me to let me know that she was wearing pink, so I smiled. I’ve learned that small moments are the ones worth savouring. I didn’t get the sea of pink that I had hoped for, but a few waves were good enough for me. I know it wasn’t a lot, but I did personally donate $2 for each of my students wearing pink that day to cancer research. I just hope that the ripples reach a few of them, and they won’t feel like no one is paying attention.
When I have a rough day, I try to remind myself that I’m not a horrible or inept person. At times I forget that what I do is rewarding and can be challenging at the same time. If I didn’t have trying days, I wouldn’t have amazing days. If life were even keel and plain, it’d just be one boring ride on a train. I wish I had more insight, but I’m still new at this and need to remember what I do matters, and that teaching is definitely not about me, but the act of learning. I have to remember that all students have the right to learn, and that choices I make in a classroom should be about the class’ learning. Even when I need to make tougher choices, they need to focus on how will this benefit the learning of an entire class.
Just before I started blogging yesterday morning, I saw an incredible clip of Sam Fox’s “Run While You Can” campaign for Parkinson’s. I am always amazed by people who challenge themselves to do more. I could not imagine being able to run 50 miles a day from Canada to Mexico every day for two months. I was sure that my students would be keen into his message and why he did the run for his mom. I’ve been trying to find a way to get my kids inspired to have a voice in this world for those who don’t or bring awareness to an important issue. I thought a great baby-step would be to focus on the last half of Sam’s message: “…while you can.”
I’ve always been epicurean in a sense that I really believe that we should “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you shall die.” His philosophy sounds grim, but it is all about not taking life for granted and living it the best you can. I had a million ideas running through my head about how the students could focus on “while you can.” We could build a sort of viral campaign that spread small messages about enjoying whatever you love most while you can. Maybe by hashtagging “whileyoucan” and compose short Twitter messages that discuss the activity that they can’t live without. I imagined reams and pages of tweets like dance while you can, skating down the ice while you can, and so on. I figured that if I could be this inspired by Sam’s message, the conversation in class would go on and on and we’d map out brilliant strategies for getting out our ideas to the world.
I walked into both classes this afternoon energized and ready to be dazzled by all their ideas. I started by talking about guardians and what we’ve done for them and what we would do for them if we had the opportunity. We watched the video clip and discussed what it meant to not take for granted the things we do. I talked about how we have a chance to be a voice, how we can make a difference. I suggested the Twitter idea, and how that could be a start of something we could do together. After the brief introduction and ten or so minutes into the class, I passed it off to them to see if there were any sparks.
I relaxed my energy and took their silence as the cue to move back to ELA. I told them if anyone had any ideas or wanted to discuss things, I’d be more than happy to listen later too.
My fourth block did surprise me by having a chorus of readers. Some days it is like pulling teeth to get reading volunteers, but today, they had a zany energy and were reading non-stop. Literally, they weren’t stopping because when one student finished a paragraph another would jump in. Soon they started jumping in half way through paragraphs then they started exchanging sentences, but I eventually had to slow it down when they started trading off individual words and sounding like an odd robot reading machine. I let the rapid reading exchanges go on because I had students that were willingly reading. Although my big plan of changing the world didn’t happen today, I have to remember to love the little things that make this job worthwhile. Also, I do know that a few students were secretly engaged with the idea of making a small difference in the world, and even if I can’t make it a whole class project, I’m sure that a small group of us will end up doing something before the term is over.
I spent the weekend marking papers, so I was pretty stoked to get back in front of students. I know that as an English teacher there will be a fair amount of marking, but I’ve always enjoyed the classroom aspect much more. However, I’m not sure if it’s the pre-Halloween jitters or two-month stretch, but classes seem to be a little more restless. I see a few seeds of indifference creeping up in certain spots, and I get a bit nervous.
I’ve seen indifference when I walk around the mall or anywhere really. Between nuclear warfare and apathy, I fear apathy more because that’s what will actually lead to the destruction of the world. Yes, I’m being a bit over-dramatic, but I can’t help it. This is probably one of the reasons why I want to teach, so I can help the youth see that absolutely everyone can make a difference. I have that choice too. I could either pull out my mean-teacher voice and try to glue students to their seats or find a way to work with their restlessness and channel it into something productive. Now if only I can get over the two-month stretch as well, so I can figure out what that productive thing can be.