Bird Droppings September 12, 2011
Checking the toes for mittens
Last evening my granddaughter was showing off her new hat and mittens so clad in a t-shirt diaper and mittens and ski cap that looked like a penguin she was showing off for us. Finally she realized crawling was a bit harder in mittens and did her best to get them off. During the course of the day we were cleaning the garage and my eldest son found an old CD, Harry Chapin’s greatest hits. Jokingly he said it would end up in my CD changer in the car and sure enough it wasn’t twenty minutes till I had an excuse to listen to it. Harry Chapin has been gone for many years now but the lyrics of his songs live on.
“You can travel ten thousand miles and never leave where you are.” Harry Chapin
I was pondering this as I came into school today. I went out to sit and think late in the day yesterday and received an email on my cell phone. A tenth grade at the high school had been killed in a four wheeler accident. Within minutes facebook was popping with notes of condolence and thoughts for the girl and family as well as for another tenth grader severely injured in the accident. Just above my head is a photo from several years ago of a teenager who died in a car crash right after graduation. She and I had been good friends with her coming to my room to talk about problems on many occasions. The night of graduation she led me around taking pictures of her with various friends. Each one specific and after fifty or so we parted ways for the festivities. I hugged her after the ceremony and did not see her again till a text while in graduate school in South Georgia caught me by surprise. She had died in a car accident and the funeral was two days away. Death seems to never take time off.
After last period Friday a student whom I have never really had, walked in and I asked what was going on. He was complaining about a substitute teacher and how she did not get along with the class. She wanted them in assigned seats and took roll and wanted quiet. It got me thinking to perception and how in a recent observation by an Assistant Principal was so different than several we had last year. I do change how I do things often quite often always looking for the best way. As I read through my evaluation from the AP’s observation I was very happy and what amused was how he saw so differently than did last year’s AP who was observing the same situations. One saw six kids each working on differing assignments as great and one saw nonconformity. All in all it was a great day even though my allergies and recent rainy weather have me barely breathing.
I had several visits from teachers and staff that had never been in my room each was amazed and almost in wonderment sort of wide eyed as they walked around even had one person say they were coming back for an official tour. Some how many former students and often former student’s buddies’ end up coming by my sanctuary to talk often about nothing in particular. That was the case here a former student from four years ago and this fellow stopped by later in the day yesterday as well. It was a busy day.
“The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” Gaylord Nelson
As Friday ended and students cleared the halls I headed over to chat with some friends. I stopped at several points that I normally do and a substitute teacher finds me and asks about a particular student that was very disrespectful to her and by chance the room where we meet is coincidental as that teacher has this student as well and similar thoughts. He is a very negative student, belligerent and very disrespectful to authority. I think back to how different my observations were from two different people and how different these two saw this student I see so different.
“To me every hour of the day and night is an unspeakable perfect miracle.” Walt Whitman
Perhaps a seemingly random thought as I look at this morning so far. I was cleaning up my email inbox and as I went various quotes and stories sent from friends and associates I was copying and pasting to a word document. So this is a random quote simply pulled from the thin air, or for whatever reason not deleted many days ago, or is it coincidence that each quote and story today really is applicable.
As I look back at the teacher and substitute teacher and student, are they looking at life as Whitman suggests? Why is this student reacting the way that he is? My good friend Dr. James Sutton a psychologist in Texas addresses many of these types of teacher-student issues in his books. I just had a great idea for Dr. Sutton he could have for teachers a 900 number to call for help with difficult students. But in reality there is a mind set with the teacher and student often from day one.
Something is there with that student that is blocking or keeping him at a distance. The result is turmoil between teacher and student. Every day I have other teachers come by can you do this for me? I emailed a friend, I need to put a sign out by my room you need testing, advice, short essays, whatever stop in. Then it dawned on me, many of these students will not do anything for some teachers. In order to fairly evaluate, try and get that essay written in an unbiased place with someone who is not fighting with or in a tension with that student. Actually that’s not a bad idea for today. I wish I thought of it I need to email that teacher or two or three and commend them.
“Never think that I believe I should set out a “system of teaching” to help people understand the way. Never cherish such a thought. What I proclaim is the truth as I have discovered it and “a system of teaching” has no meaning because the truth can’t be cut up into pieces and arranged in a system.” Diamond Sutra
Not a good rationale for curriculum, but I do think in terms of life and relationships this very definitely applies. Far too often we tend to look at life as it is this way period. If I go over here it is the same. If I go over here it is still the same. I remember a teaching job in Macon I took on substituting. I was expecting little nice 12 year olds and when I got there the average age was 15 and in those days EBD wasn’t sorted out they were just all in that class. I survived day one to plan for day twp and all went well.
It is so difficult to try and treat everything in education as neat and clean. Trying to understand a student that is different in terms of the “nice” perfect kids is not going to work. So what truths do we set down what principles can guide us in dealing with a kid who is disrespectful.
“If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” William Penn
Sitting on my desk is a 4 inch by four inch board, one of those art projects decoupage on a board and with cute burnt edges is this quote from William Penn. It was given to me over thirty five years ago in Macon Georgia by a student from that first class of hooligans. We have all heard the saying about do not complain till you have walked a mile in my shoes. Howard Eubanks a teacher in North Georgia emailed me this story almost five years ago.
“Did you hear about the Texas teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his cowboy boots? He asked for help and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn’t want to go on. Finally, when the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, ‘Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.’ She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announced, ‘These aren’t my boots.’ She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to, and once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner than they got the boots off he said, ‘They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear ’em.’ Now she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry, but she mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, ‘Now, where are your mittens?’ He said, ‘I stuffed ’em in the toes of my boots’”
How many times each day with students do we forget to check the toes for mittens? We want everything just so perfect little darlings all in rows and little cute name tags and all in cute little outfits and quiet and neat handwriting and so forth. We really are trying to pull boots on everyday and every class with mittens in the toes. In a high school class it is hard to walk in and poof all is well. It is hard for many teachers to check all the cowboy boots for mittens. When you think there is a problem try and builds fail safes, have a core group of teachers you can check with. Maybe there is an issue with that kid maybe his mittens are really stuck in there deep. So many teachers would much more rather write a referral and teach by referral. If all my students are in, In School Suspension I will have a really great day.
I will have to admit there are students when I see they re out I cheer but I do it under my breath and to myself. But I am finding many teachers just do not want that chance, they do not want to look for mittens they may soil their hands. School custodians will always provide paper towels I have found and for the squeamish use the gloves in your first aid kit. I am being literal in a symbolic thought. Thank goodness it is Friday, although when I woke up I thought it was Thursday. Many years ago a friend sent this email note.
“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand – strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Ride! ” not sure where or who said this but a slight alteration – “Teaching should NOT be a journey to the end of the day with the intention of arriving safely with perfect attendance and all A students all in order and lesson plans in an attractive and well preserved lesson plan book, but rather to skid in sideways, Ideas in one hand – Creativity in the other, energy thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Day! ”
I bumped into another teacher after school Friday and they asked how was my day and I said “I had a blast” I really should have said I think I found about a dozen pairs of mittens. So I sit pondering a day after a great week of dealing with the death of a student even though I do not know this person perhaps I should have. Please my friends keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart.