Wednesday, June 2, 2010

October through June... and beyond!

It's been a while since I posted, but with good reason. The school year hit me like a ton of books. I worked more than ever since we've been parents (12 hrs/week), and I was a part time student working on an MA in Education at the same time. Juggling those with motherhood and marriage and moving left little room for recording my musings. But summer is approaching and peeking into the thought of a free afternoon here or there has me giddy. I've only one class left to finish my degree (done by end of August/early September), so this summer I'll be balancing that with my time home with the kids and just a few projects for work. A lighter load. More thoughtful me time. And I really enjoy the luxury of time because I do better thinking when I'm not multitasking so much. Once my MA is done-- did I mention, just a few more weeks?-- I'll free up some cognitive real estate and, if the better angels win out, fill it with thinking/writing about what I want to think/write about.

It's not that I haven't enjoyed the program. I actually really have. The content has caused me to grow, and I've felt like a lot of things sort of came together in reading through the thinkers we've studied. Many untethered thoughts and rootless intuitions became better connected and deeper understood, which translates to better able-to-be-used. I like to think that I do have good intuitions about teaching. And those haven't changed tremendously, but my confidence has, and my actions are now based more on reasons and principles and less on the hard-to-explain-to-others/hard-to-replicate gut feelings. The learning has deepened my efficacy for teaching because I no longer think, "I am a good teacher because it seems like my students learn. Boy, I hope I get lucky and they always learn in my classroom." I now think, "I am a good teacher because I know how to make content personal for students, I allow students to grapple through ambiguity until they reach their insight, I validate my students' individual growth and keep them each moving forward in their own learning, I reflect and modify what doesn't work in the classroom to continually improve my students' experience...and for all of these reasons, my students learn. I know I am responsible for their learning, and I proud to see my fingerprints all over their growth. Best of all, I know I can do this with my future students as well." That is a summary of the shift, but the oversimplification still gets at the heart of what the learning has meant for me.

Oddly enough, the longer I teach, the more idealistic I get. That's not the anticipated trajectory. Think of the veteran teachers in the staff lounge during lunch-- they exist on every campus-- eating their sandwiches and crowing about policies and personalities, running Scantrons through the computer while moaning about the ever-changing tide of educational whim. That's where the fresh faces end up after 15 years. But you know what, I'm half way through those years in the profession and I don't see myself as half way there.

I'm more like a "naive" teenager when it comes to what I think is possible in my profession. I love teaching, and I love it more all the time. Part of that has to be where I am teaching. At Visalia Charter Independent Study, we serve mostly "at-risk" students-- meaning, they are at risk of dropping out, not receiving a high school education for myriad reasons. But the one on one and small group atmosphere has connected these kids in a way that brings them back into the educational fold, so to speak, and my successes there-- my students' successes-- are so inspiring to me. It is such a powerful feeling to be a student's mentor/friend/teacher/cheerleader and to see that relationship be the difference in the student's success. Last night, I saw three of my students graduate from our school and Friday, I'll go watch another of my students graduate from a traditional high school (he transferred back for his last semester). These students have all gone through some traumas that set them back a pace. I am so grateful to be part of an educational program where those traumas don't have to define their academic chances. The flexible pacing of our school's program, the individualized nature of it, makes it possible for challenged students to be successful. It feels just.

One of my students dedicated her rose to me last night. It's a school tradition. Students choose someone to thank and honor by dedicating a rose to them. They set down their rose as they pick up their diploma, and in the program it is printed for whom they intend their thanks. This young woman shared her heart with me while she was my student. She honestly opened up her pain and struggled right in front of me. She vented with me; she let me love her. And I do love her! I am so proud to see her accomplishment. Her rose dedication reads:
I dedicate my rose to my teacher for never giving up on me and believing that I could graduate. Thank you for everything!
This kid has no idea what joy her story brought to my life. To think that my encouragement helped such a worthwhile, thoughtful, beautiful person rise up and validate herself through her own think she learned something from me and grew to better confidence and better choices because she had me as her teacher...this is why I teach!

So the school year, both working and being a student, has been consuming-- in a good way. Looking ahead to summer, besides my last class and the comprehensive exams, the projects I am working on for school (a Psychology course for students, a 10th grade English curriculum, and a Policies/Procedures Manual for staff), I have a few goals for the time I envision opening up. I hope to:

do tons of enriching, academic activities with H and J (daily)
sew something
have a great time on our family trip to San Diego
read a couple books for my own pleasure
write, also for pleasure
more blog posts at family site and here
get our house more settled-looking, more home-like
have fun with our friends and playdates for the kids with their buddies
develop H's and J's swimming skills
begin H's piano lessons
paint more of the interior of the house (?)
stay cool

... is this too ambitious?


Katia said...

I wish all educators were just like you. You're one in a million. Tackle that list and don't beat yourself up for any things missed.

mary gendron said...

Wow! I thought I was busy this year! Congratulations on your accomplishment! Your summer list sounds totally doable....and fun! You guys will have a fantastic summer! We went to SD last year and went to the best little beach called Moonlight Beach. We had a blast!

Good luck on the staying cool part!

Ruthie said...

We'll have to look into Moonlight Beach. We do plan on a beach day (of course) while we're there.