love of art. love of architecture. love of history. love of each other.
love of art. love of architecture. love of history. love of each other.
An early morning walk to the inauguration of President Obama.
He begins his second term on our National Holiday: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Washington, DC, USA. January, 21, 2013.
Looking out to New York, in Kandy & across the bay to San Francisco:
“I am enthusiastic about everything I like.”
Me too, kid. Me too.
This quote has summed up the school year thus far. It was written on an introduction sheet my high school students fill out in the fall. The answer was in response to a question asking about students’ hobbies, interests and things they enjoyed outside of the school day. When I first saw the response, it made me laugh.
I have been struggling with a most important work issue this year: my students.
The year started off as a dream, my new students are kind, polite and well-behaved. They are nice to each other and seem to enjoy attending class. They are rule followers and I have no attendance issues. I see fear though as new concepts are introduced and some students freeze, refusing to attempt an assignment because they might not be The Best. When I give an “experimentation” assignment, (where one tries something ‘new-to-you’ over a period of time) some look at me with tears in their eyes while frantically explaining, “I just don’t know what to do! I don’t have any ideas!”
I teach teenagers. They should be creative and crafty. They should break rules. They should be inappropriate and weird and push every boundary set before them. They should be making mistakes and stupid decisions so they have the opportunity to learn from them before they get much older.
According to my informal data collection, I’m not the only teacher who is perplexed by what is occurring (or not occurring) in the classroom. In response to the question, “How are your classes this year?” the teacher-answers align with what I am experiencing. Everyone I ask says something similar to the following:
“Great!” “The kids are so nice.” “I have really good kids!” “My students this year are really…sweet.”
And then, there is, a very l o n g PAUSE.
No one likes to speak of what comes next so we either exchange knowing looks in silence or avoid eye contact when the subject isn’t changed. Eventually someone will ask the next set of questions:
Compared to other years, how much material have you covered with this group?
(a little more than half of what is typical)
Do your students absorb written information?
Do your classes listen to/follow/comprehend verbal directions?
(not at all)
When you model or demonstrate do they pay attention?
(when they are not checking their phones)
How is their long-term memory? Short term?
(not good at all) (a little better)
Do they ask for help?
(rarely and when they do, they can’t seem to form full sentences)
Can they write?
(not well or they seem to think anything they discover online already belongs to them)
Are your students depressed and anxious? And medicated for these things too?
We all know the kids have changed. Very quickly. Over-the-summer-quickly.
And WE, the teachers, haven’t changed fast enough.
Will starting a twitter account so kids can follow me, in the hopes that a quick tweet may sink in more than eye contact and the sound of my voice, solve anything? Why would one not be bored if one only participates in pre-experiences tried and found to be successful or nice? How can the absence of creative thinking, as a result of incessant standardized testing, be undone? How can we unfreeze fearful young people and get them to try something, anything, new? How can I motivate them to push harder, do better and surpass what they have done before when they don’t know how good a true success feels? How can I communicate that one can do better— especially if one has not tried— without hurting their over-sensitive feelings? How can they understand that, despite everything they have been shown, one doesn’t get a medal, a ribbon or an “A” for just showing up? How will they ever appreciate success if they never attempt (or are allowed to attempt) something they may fail? How will they value efforts and struggles if everything one may be motivated to work for is placed directly in front of one before they even know what they desire?
I am enthusiastic about my students, whom I like. I just feel I no longer know how to teach them.
*alternate titles considered for this post:
the zombie apocalypse is in my classroom
the kids are not alright
it’s not you, it’s me
Ai Weiwei’s Cube Light at the Hirshhorn
Jean Claude & Christo’s The Gates in Central Park (altered)
floating jellyfish at the Aquarium of the Bay
Ingo Maurer’s Chandelier
Recently, on three most-frigid days I saw a line of waiting people that had formed around the perimeter of the National Archives building in Washington, DC.
This isn’t a common site, except on the 4th of July, and I mistakenly pointed out to my curious in-laws (who were visiting from their home country) how Americans would stand for hours, in below freezing weather, waiting for a glimpse of our Constitution, Declaration of Independence and other important historical US documents. I later had to amend that statement when I realized we had, unfortunately, missed the incredibly rare opportunity of viewing the Emancipation Proclamation on the 150th anniversary of the signing of the document which freed slaves of the confederacy. This document led to the creation of the 13th amendment which abolished all slavery throughout the US, two years later, in 1865. One can find just about any document online but it never compares to seeing an original, standing in the same place where the writer and signer(s) stood and being tugged back into history to a specific place and time.
This year is also the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg (in July) and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (in November). The battle of Gettysburg did not end the war but it is considered by many as a turning point which placed the union/US in position to eventually “win” the war and defeat the southern confederacy so the states could be reunited. One hundred and fifty years later, with so many advancements and changes, one would assume the American Civil War would be ancient history only to be thought of on major anniversaries or when looking at family histories. It seems to depend on where one has lived. I have never, ever heard anyone from a northern location mention the civil war. Rarely does an occasion pass when the civil war is not mentioned among southerners.
The anniversaries remind us of more difficult times of war and unequal rights and oppression. I am also reminded that with all the tremendous changes in our country we have not come as far as we should have after the passing of so many years. Our country, which I love, still struggles with issues of inequality and is still engaged in wars. We are still seeking, as Lincoln stated in his second inaugural address in 1865, to “achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations”.
Gettysburg National Park
Resolved to be more appreciative: for my education, a home of my own, good health, plenty of food and family who are safe. When one meets people who are struggling daily to acquire all of these things with determination, optimism, grace and faith it is a constant reminder to be thankful.
This blog is less than 4 months old and I intended it to be private so it could be a space of my own. I’m glad I have kept it public even though none of my friends and family (so far) know of its location! I am so thankful for the positive feedback and support—none of which I expected— and I am constantly inspired by fellow bloggers. I feel I know so many of you through photos and stories that are so generously shared. Thank you for checking in and may 2013 be a peaceful and happy new year for each of you.