My Four Word Education Plan!

04/21/2010
Banksy
Image by Walt Jabsco via Flickr

I was feeling very burnt out today.

The reasons why have been accumulating since I hurt my knee in the first week of school and was out for a month.

Then this morning my lesson on the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire failed and I found out that a boy who choked a classmate then used a marker to pretend to masturbate would not even get a one-day suspension.

I just love it how we teach our students that their actions have no consequences then wonder why they don’t learn to behave better.

When my last class ended I just sat down to gather the energy to go home.

That’s when two of my 6th grade students came in to get some more information prior to a class debate between advocates for the Athenian and Spartan lifestyles.

One of the girls is a bubbly, athletic and enthusiastic ball of energy, the other was S, who I have written about before.

After a half-hour the first girl left.

S and I continued to talk.

We talked about ancient Greece, ancient Rome, and also about modern family life. We chatted about predictions that the world wound end in 2012 and agreed that there probably would be a 2013 and more.

I taught her about the butterfly effect and the random but thoroughly interconnected series of events that we are all part of and affected by.

We discussed global warming, the Ice Age, the water cycle and the first law of thermodynamics (though that’s not what I called it).

Just when I needed it most, I remembered the joy I get from teaching.

In our third hour of chatting I told her about the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I helped her understand how to find the area of an isosceles trapezoid.

To outside eyes each of us was taking a huge risk.

I was breaking the most basic rule of being a male teacher; sitting in a classroom alone with a just-turned 12-year-old girl. And she was sitting with me.

We could do this because we trust each other. We feel safe with each other.

The distillation of my philosophy came to me as I was telling S how I realized she was different from almost every student I’ve taught.

Whenever I ask a question requiring a higher-order thinking skill and the rest of her class stares at me as if I were speaking Klingon, she will raise her hand slowly and say, “I’m not sure, but…”

That’s it!

Philosophy & Poetry
Image by Lawrence OP via Flickr

That is my education philosophy distilled to its most essential point.

“I’m not sure, but…”

I want all my students – all students – to feel safe enough, secure enough, challenged enough and supported enough to take the risk that S takes.

No, I don’t mean spending almost three hours alone with a teacher.

I want them all to be able to say…

“I’m not sure, but…”

If we can get our students to that point I guarantee they will learn.

So how do we get them there?

I’m not sure.

But…

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Sticks and Stones… Yeah, Right

03/22/2010

It happened again.

I’m sure the person responsible for it didn’t mean to do it.

Why, I’m sure she didn’t even give it a second thought.

That is the crux of the problem.

We don’t give the words we use a second thought, at least not when we say them out loud.

When we write we choose our words carefully, aiming to get just the perfect nuance, the right shade of meaning.

When we write we recognize the power of words, how choosing one instead of another shifts meaning in subtle or overt ways. We use dictionaries and thesauri in tandem to aid us in our search for precision in language.

I do, and I am confident many other writers, cognizant of the complexity of our mutt-like English language, do as well.

While Professor Henry Higgins bemoans that “One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get,” the rest of us are free to revel in the diversity of words that Dutch, French, Turkish, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, Saxon, German, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, Italian (itself a motley collection of distinct dialects), and more have contributed to what we commonly call English.

It is that very diversity that allows linguistic precision, and it is that capability for precision that makes it so very distressing when people who should know better use words carelessly.

It is one thing to use an imprecise word when speaking, but quite a different thing when one is writing and, perhaps, has the time to choose words more carefully then read and revise by picking a different word or phrase to better convey intended meaning.

Still, despite the opportunity to do better, I’m sure the person responsible for it didn’t mean to do it.

Perhaps I should say persons because the offending term appeared in a magazine article and this magazine has an editor who might have caught the offending term and suggested an alternative.

That this did not occur leaves me to presume dereliction of duty or, worse, intent.

I will not embarrass the writer, editor or magazine by identifying them, partially because that is not how I operate, but also because the offensive phrase is so commonly used.

Here’s what I’m going on about; just a few simple words:

“Regular education,” or in this specific instance, “regular classroom environment.”

I am known in many corners of the online world as Spedteacher. It’s a handle that takes SpEd, a common abbreviation of ‘special education’ and adds it to my job title.

Perhaps I should call myself ‘Irreguteacher ‘ instead.

The opposite of ‘regular education’ is irregular education. A classroom environment other than a regular one is an irregular one.

All people are different. We all come with a broad selection of abilities and things we’re not so good at doing. How can it be that only a very small group of that overwhelming selection of abilities is labeled ‘regular’ and the rest are implied to be irregular?

In the text for one of the many inclusion-themed t-shirts available from his Nth Degree Catalog (The Home of Wheelchair Boy Jeans) Dan Wilkins explains the problem with the phrase ‘regular education’ much better than I can:

“One of the problems I have with the Special” and “Regular” education dichotomy is that its very existence forces us to label every kid just so we know which box to put him/her in. It gets worse. Then we take all the kids in one of the boxes and we put each of them in their own box and slap another label on it…. perhaps two…or ten. After a while we forget about the kid in each box and just see the box (and all its labels). It gets worse. Inside the box, the kid, misjudges the edge of the box for the horizon and comes to believe ‘that’s all there is…’ In the eyes of everyone, including the child, the kid and the box become one. So much for dreams…the chase is over before it begins.”

There it is.

In general, it is better to call the classrooms most students are in “general education.”

Calling them anything else should be irregular.

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