Saturday, February 2, 2008

Tears fell...

I'm not a mean teacher. I'm pretty tough, but not mean. It's my opinion, if I'm not making learning a little uncomfortable, I'm not doing my job. Like exercise, you're not going to gain strength unless you're, well working. Work hurts a bit.

I also don't play into that whole "raise self-esteem at all costs" perspective the field has turned to in the last ten or fifteen years. Don't get me wrong, I'm not into tearing down the psyche of the young minds I'm charged with educating. No. Not at all. Still, I'm also not into fibbing the truth simply to protect ones fragile esteem.

We send the wrong message as educators if we say crap like, "Nice effort" when you clearly didn't try. "Very creative," when the project had nothing to do with the objective, but the presentation came with a fun song and dance, is detrimental. Better yet, "I like how you wrote your name" when that's all you've completed in an hour, is excusing laziness. Yet in the same breathe, I'll freaking go crazy and do back flips if you impress me. And I'll give out high-fives like I'm Fat Joe making it rain.

High expectations = high results.

And I think my approach works, because my students know I love the hell out of them. They know I care. They know I work hard for them. They know I'll got to bat for them. They know I stay up nights worrying about them. They know I'm tough because they know that I want them ready for the real world. And the real word... it's tough.

Most of my students already know tough. They come from pretty tough homes that are in pretty tough neighborhoods. My little ones are survivors. They've already got the instinct. I'm just helping to provide them the tools to get out, to make it, to survive with success-- productive citizens, you know.

Last year, tears were a daily trend in my room. Sometimes from me (in hiding), but each day from my students. It became a running joke with my wife, friends and co-teachers. "How many kids did you make cry today." More than not, it was more than one.

Like I said, it wasn't because I was mean. Rather, it was because I cared. When one of my students were goofing off, I'd call them out on it. Not publicly, but in a private, calm tone.

"You're better than this. I care too much about you to let you throw all you have away." Tears followed.

When students fought and bullied, I didn't get angry (much). I pulled them aside and looked straight in their eyes.

"I'm talking to you know because I know that you are better than what you're showing everyone. You are not bad and mean. I know that you are good. It is not acceptable to put your hands on another person out of anger. I will not allow you to think this okay,because I do not want you to end up in prison." And then, tears.

Prison was a reality to the majority of my students. So was the feeling of rejection and failure. Often "laziness" was only a sign of fear. Not trying, was easier than failing.

"You'll only let me down if you give-up. Falling down is alright, unless you refuse to stand." Again, tears.

My 30-plus classroom was rough. I wasn't always calm. They weren't always so easily reached. I wasn't always on my game. Often, my frustration and anger became personal. I lost my temper. I yelled. Once I threw a marker across the room. Anther time, I kicked a ben across the floor (I could list many instances). Unacceptable.

But we'd come together, as a class, to talk. Forgiveness. Understanding. And effort to be better. A desire to make it right. I needed it as much as they needed it.

We all learned from one another. We all saw great success. My students, by the end of the year, were scoring above the district average on benchmark tests. All of my students were reading at grade level when they left. They had accomplished the unthinkable for a bunch of inner-city black kids. And I was promoted to a new position.

This year, I have shed no tears. I haven't lost my composure. Life is much easier. But I miss it all: the craziness, the challenge, the tears. But most of all, the hugs and smiles. I miss their success.

1 Babble-Backs:

Mishka said...

Sounds like you are exactly the kind of teacher we all need in school. Too bad not enough people see that.

 

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