Sunday, November 17, 2013

Week 3 Photojournal

"Can You Please Read This"

After Ghana-born Ziggy Ansah was drafted 5th overall in this year’s NFL draft, I joked that I was going to find a student who had potential and make a star out of them. I am not really going to do this, but if I were going to, I would choose this boy whose name is Nii. He towers over all of the other students, and looks like he is 18 and not 13. I could seriously see him starting at middle linebacker on
Nii was laughing before this, and was
trying to hold back.
some lucky football team somewhere in America. Fortunately, he has other talents in case football does not work out with him. Nii is pictured here holding up his exercise book, and the speech that he is so proud of.
            Nii does not speak a lot, but he does smile a lot. When he speaks, he has a surprisingly soft, high-pitched voice. I only taught two lessons this past week (I will be teaching every day this week), and when I do not teach, I sit in the back and observe and circulate around the classroom when necessary. I sit in a chair next to Nii, and he always makes sure it is in the right place and is cleaned off before I sit.
            Before class began, Nii handed me his exercise book and asked me if I could please read it. The students were taught how to write a speech the day before, and I did not really agree with how formulaic it was taught. I did not believe that students would be able to insert their own voices and put passion into what they were writing. Nii proved me wrong. The speech topic was: “If you were speaking in front of the PTA, what would you tell them your school needs?” The answers to this question were very interesting, and could be an entire story in itself.
            Nii wrote that the school could use better shutters on the classroom windows so that the rain did not ruin the books, Internet access so the students could pursue further research, and lockers so that nothing was ever stolen out of students’ bags. His points were all well supported and seemed to be valid, but what amazed me the most was the voice he used to discuss his points. It was very clear to see that this is a student who believes what he is writing, and believes that the school needs what he is writing about. When I read the end of the essay, I knew that was what he wanted to show me. This is how Nii ended his speech: “Elders say luck is like sand in hands. It sneaks through fingers no matter how gripped firmly or held loosely. Only hands in the prayer posture can save it. Parents, we are pleading with you to help us and also pray for us, and I think if you help us by helping provide these, I know God is going to repay you.” I was blown away. The guidelines for this assignment did not include an analogy or anything of this sort. I proved to me that despite the rote, often repetitive curriculum, students here are capable of that higher order thinking and creativity. It just needs to be unlocked.
            I told Nii how impressed I was and how good his work was. I commented on all of the points he made and I told him I loved the analogy. He told me that that is what his grandmother says to him sometimes. As class moved on, I nearly lost my cool. My teacher had the students copy the speeches from one notebook to another so that there were no mistakes. Nii was getting frustrated because he misspelled a word, and wrote something improperly. He knew that his teacher would be looking for mistakes like that, and would mark points off, despite writing a very good speech. Another student, one of the smartest in the class, was told the he writes his lowercase f poorly, and had to fix it. I am finding that I am growing more frustrated with things like this than the caning! The students could be doing such a great job, but that is never acknowledged, and looked over because of a few mistakes here and there. My teacher tells me that she will do nothing next week, and will only watch me. I’m hoping that I am able to praise the students when they have succeeded, and that she may be able to see their positive reaction and consider teaching in a similar fashion in the future. 

"An Uphill Battle"

          I’m teaching metaphor a little bit this week, so I think it is appropriate for me to be metaphorical here and now. We climbed and climbed when we were at the Tano Sacred Grove this past weekend, and although we did not stand up on the highest rock and stay there for hours, I felt like the world paused for a little and allowed me to think. I think too much probably, but I like to reflect and I feel like it is healthy. One thing I came up with while we were climbing was that education is always going to be an uphill battle that is not easy, and will never be easy.

            On Saturday, I did not know what I was getting into. It was hot, and I was sweating. I felt sweat in my eyes, down the small of my back, and running down my nose as I climbed. I grabbed whatever I could grip, and stepped on anything that resembled a foothold. After we reached the top of the first formation, I got a taste of success. Not only had I made it up this far, but also I received a reward – the beauty of the landscape in front of me. This felt good, and after, I was ready to continue and keep going. Although I felt good, it only got harder. The formations seemed a bit steeper and the formations a bit higher. Again, I felt the doubts and struggled a lot at times, but when I hit that top rock, I felt like the greatest climber in the world, and when I saw vast African landscape I wanted more. When I was there, I thought, and I thought about education and where I was and what I was doing.
            When I started with education, people told me I was crazy. There aren’t any jobs, education is going down the tubes, kids are getting worse, standardized testing is ruining everything, APPR, etc. I heard it all, and it was becoming a little intimidating. I started, and it still felt a bit crazy. However, once I started in classrooms and volunteering with certain education groups, everything clicked. I reached the top of the first rock. I saw everything out in front of me, how beautiful it was, and how much more there is. From then, I didn’t want to stop. Now that I’ve actually been into a classroom, created lessons, dealt with students that are real and unique and breathing, and are not just figments of my imagination and subjects for mock lessons, I know that it is a struggle and times and it is difficult. Nothing is ever perfect, despite the perfect planning. There aren’t always well-defined grips or footholds. The surface is slick sometimes, and some extra effort may be needed to just stay on course - not even to reach the top. It takes work and frustration and a lot of effort, but there is always a payoff. It could be an essay, an answer in class, a nod of understanding, a high five, a laugh. This is the beautiful landscape that I look forward to as a teacher.
            Education is a lot bigger than me. I know that I will end up in one school, with only a fraction of the students in the world. I have seen the landscape and I know that it is worth all of the work and the struggle. I cannot speak for every teacher in the world, but I know that I am with nine other teachers that have seen the landscape and understand. I am confident that there are more like us and I can’t wait for 20, 30, 40, 50, 100 years from now to see how we have made a difference. 

1 comment:

  1. I do a bit of teaching myself for karate at a dojo in Mendon, and I cannot stress enough how important praise and encouragement is. That's the fuel. Praise is the reason you give students to do well--or at least it should be. One would think that a high-criticism method of teaching will raise the bar for what's expected of students, and to some extent it is. But in another way, it actually can lower the bar tremendously. If you are so concerned about meeting the expectations of the assignment given to avoid punishment, then the passion gets taken out. But if you know that a really good performance--one that goes above the expectations given--will yield a high amount of praise, then you bet you're going to want to do well. Additionally, if you spend most of your time talking about what students did right rather than what needs fixing, they will be conditioned positively to explore ways to improve upon their strengths, possibly to the point where their shortcomings become forgivable, or they figure them out for themselves and work to fix them. Praise and encouragement serve to promote good work. Criticisms (which in my opinion should often be downplayed--especially at en elementary level) serve to give a push in the right direction.