Archive for January, 2007
No disrespect to those men and women who actually found themselves fighting in Southeast Asia over thirty years ago, but teaching middle school has got a lot in common with surviving a war in a foreign land. I know a little about preparing for war. I served eight years in the Army National Guard. They paid for my undergrad tuition and taught me lots of useful things to assist me if I ever found myself on the battlefield. It’s been nearly a decade since I wore the uniform, marched in formation, fired a rifle, and followed the orders of a commanding officer. When I left the Army, my teaching career was just beginning. I traded the soldier’s duty to "serve and defend" for a duty just as important and vastly more complex than knowing how to follow orders and shoot the enemy before he shoots you.
From my couch, I’ve watched the US occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, seen the increasing numbers of National Guard members fill the need for troops on the ground and decreasing recruitment numbers signal waining support for the war. My unit was never called to duty. I missed my chance to fulfill my Hemingway romance with war. It’s a good thing. I’m not sure how I would have held up under actual battle conditions. From my training, I remember the term mettle:1 a : vigor and strength of spirit or temperament b : staying quality.
Middle schools seem to be designed to test the endurance of a teacher. I’ve taught for nearly 15 years, mostly 4th and 5th Grade, but I’ve spent enough time with kids of all ages to say that middle school is the most challenging. Years ago someone told me that middle school years were the "containment years." I had no idea what she meant at the time, but it’s crystal clear now. Seventh and Eighth Grade can be a volatile time for kids. It was for me. Yet somehow I became a committed, independent reader and writer around that time, no thanks to my classes. However, I was contained long enough for some reaction to take hold. What it was I have no idea. A similar situation occurred a few weeks ago.
I had been on a student’s case for weeks to turn in an assignment. Each time I asked him when he planned to turn it in he sighed and complained that he was overwhelmed and confused by what he needed to do. He skipped all after-school extra help sessions that I provided to help him. After the holiday vacation, I started back to school in a miserable mood. I wanted to go back to sleeping late and reading and writing for most of each day. Larry still had not turned in two major assignments. I was at my desk reviewing who had not turned in assignments and was about to call Larry up to firmly remind him once again of the work he had not turned in. But before I could call him, he came up to me and asked me how my vacation was. I was completely caught off guard. I told him it was good. He continued to ask in the most genuine manner if I had spent time with my family and friends. He nodded and smiled as I told him how much I enjoyed seeing my two year old niece over Christmas. He returned to his seat and left me wondering who had just body snatched Larry. This was a remarkable shift in this student and I have no idea was prompted it. Today after class, I had to tell him that he’d receive a warning this quarter because he didn’t turn in those two assignments. He shrugged his shoulders and said "Yeah, that’s okay." A month earlier he would have pitched a fit and stormed out of the room in tears.
So I guess a teacher has to rely on hope to see yourself through the school year. Hope that students feel compelled to do their assignments. Hope that they make strides in seeing themselves as part of a larger learning community. Hope that they don’t become completely consumed by the dating dance and their appearance. Hope that they retain the resilience of their younger years. Hope that they don’t feel completely alone in the sea of students surrounding them each day.
- students became so enamored with blogs that they wanted to prove to their teachers that they actually could write coherently and follow basic grammar and punctuation rules?