difference, reflection

When We Assume Sameness

We look the same, well kind of, my husband and I.  Both caucasian, both tall, early to mid-thirties, quick to smile and seemingly always taking care of a child.  Our values are pretty much the same, our hopes and dreams.  We aspire to be the best parents we can be.  We aspire to be secure, in love, and involved adults.  We dream much the same.  And yet, even with all of our similarities, we are quite different.  We come from different cultures and backgrounds that permeate every decision we make.  Yet, to an untrained eye one would never assume that I hail from a country other than the USA.  To an untrained eye I look as American as apple pie.

But those differences linger and they erupt from time to time.  Our norms are slightly different, our expectations widely so at times.  The way we treat friends, what we consider the norms of social behavior are different.  Small tiffs can erupt based on this, moments where we do not see eye to eye and have a hard time doing so because our background dictates a different world view.  The expectations we have for our children and their behavior vary, much of it based on what is deemed appropriate and respectful in our differing nations.  And yet we look the same so you would never know but those differences linger just below the surface, ready to show themselves whenever a situation arises.

How often do we do that to students who look like us?  We assume they must have been raised in a society and culture much like our own and thus set our expectations accordingly.  We speak so much about recognizing students from other cultures and embracing them and our differences but often only apply it to those that look markedly different than us.  If a child speaks another language, well then we expect differences in norms and behaviors   But when a white kid, blonde, blue eyed like myself doesn’t act like a “typical” white, blonde blue-eyed kid, then we get confused.  We might have to do a little digging to find out that  child is not from the same background as ours.  And then we realize, oh, they are different, not quite what I had expected.

And as for me?  I get assumed American all the time and yet Denmark raises its children markedly different than the typical American ways.  The differences are subtle, but they are there, and they explain many parts of my personality.  So perhaps our assumptions of likeness need to just stop.  Yes, it is nice to assume that w all come from the same background, but we don’t.  Perhaps when we embrace children from other cultures we need to move past the skin color and language they speak and truly see the whole gamut of differences we may have.  I know my life would be slightly easier if we did.

Be the change, being a teacher, control, difference, mistakes

Oh No, Not Another Change – Why Stay Skeptical When Curiosity is More Fun?

Image from icanread

A new curriculum is announced for next school year… again.  Every year since I have started something new has been introduced and so I find myself in the back of the group, murmuring about how once again something new is coming, more money being spent, more time needed to learn, to understand, to adapt.  Once again I have to rewrite everything.  Once again; change.  I go home and discuss it with Brandon who stops me in my tracks with a simple question; why not get excited about it?  And I think, yes, why not, indeed?

Why not replace my skepticism with curiosity?  Why not embrace the new like I do within my own classroom; try it out and then judge it.  Why am I, already, after only 4 years of changing turning into that teacher, you know, the one that is quick to judge.  The one that jumps to conclusions, the one that wants things to stay the same because they are not broken and do not need to be fixed, thank you very much.  I change things every year, I hardly ever use the same lessons, I change so it fits my kids, my mood and my goals.  I change because if I became static I would be bored out of my mind and few things are worse than a bored teacher  So why am I already so stuck in my teaching ways that I have to be the one adding negative thoughts to a new initiative?  I don’t know how that happened so soon.

So I renew my vow of positivity.  I want to embrace the new, which does not mean going into it blind, but rather than I will stay open to it.  I will explore it, adapt it and make it work for me.  I will give things a change, suspend my judge.  Stay curious and not assume it will be awful.  I am much too young to be so stuck in my ways and that is a healthy lesson for me to learn.  Let’s hope I don’t forget it.

being a teacher, difference, making a difference, Passion

What Type of Difference Do You Make?

I have been accused of being a good teacher, something I carry with me when the days are long.  I say accused because I am still looking for the proof, the evidence that indeed whatever it is I have chosen to do makes a positive difference in the lives of my students.  We know we make a difference every day, however, we do not always know whether it is a good or a bad one.  And as teachers we make the choice of what type of difference to make.

When I was child I was bullied by my classroom teacher.  For 3 years she hated me with a passion so deep that I ended up switching schools and leaving everything behind.  I was different, having been taught English at a young age, and she did not like anything about me.  She stopped friendships, singled me out whenever anything went wrong, and once kept me in a closet. It was extreme, and not something many students thankfully ever have to experience, but she made a difference in my life.  She taught me how exactly not to treat a child.  How exactly to make a child feel unwanted, unloved, and like an overall outcast.  She taught me many things.

Another teacher thought that I just wasn’t trying hard enough.  Every conference, he would tell my mother that I was smart, but…obviously, I thought school was a joke.  He thought my essays were too dark, too long, too sappy.  He thought my witty comments in class were not so funny.  No matter how hard I tried to emulate the students he did like, he did not like me much.  I never got the good jokes or the extra remarks.  He taught me to believe in myself even if someone didn’t get it.  He taught me it it is ok to be too sappy or too dark as long as it is not all the time.  He taught me that my mother believed in me no matter what he said.

And then there was my music teacher.  Oh, for two years she thought I was a musical idiot.  Although I asked her for help when it came time to compose, she offered me the same explanation over and over again, hoping that this time it would make sense.  It didn’t and what I composed sounded crazy, yet, I had no idea, because I didn’t know how to play it.  I scored high on performance but crashed in music theory and composing, leading me to abandon being a music teacher.  She taught me to explain things properly to my students, and not in the same way but in a different way.  She taught me to listen when someone explains why they do not get it and not just jump to conclusions and move on.  She taught me that I am supposed to believe in the abilities of my students and not box them in.

There were others.  Others who didn’t get me, didn’t believe in me, or lost me as a student.  Thankfully there were many as well that liked me, supported me, and nourished me.  All of of my teachers shaped me into the teacher I am today, however, those that harmed me somehow shaped me more.  They taught me what not to be, provided the example of how not to teach, how to shut out and disillusion.  So when we speak of making a difference in our students lives think of what type of difference we want to make.  Do we want it to be of negative consequences or positive?  Either way, we make a difference, but it is up to us to decide which type.  I hope you choose wisely, after all, these are just children.

being a teacher, community, difference, hopes, self

We are Not Born Selfish

As I watch my daughter interact, I realize that we are not born selfish. Instead we become it as our lives turn into one long competition for more, bigger, better. This can be seen in school where many teachers suffer under constant business or stress, and if they are not suffering from it, they are a rarity. I used to be one of those teachers, too busy to even think some time, until I realized that by projecting this frantic persona, I was being selfish.

When you are constantly busy, or claiming to be, you shut yourself off to others. People realize that you will not be able to help, because you are too busy; you will not give them that precious time they may need, because you have too much to do. This is detrimental to furthering personal connections. When people stay out of your way because you are frantic, they often do not come back.

So when you return to school, make a conscious effort to turn off your busyness. Instead open yourself up to others. When someone approaches you for help or an extra hand, give it to them, even if it interferes with prep time. This small gesture of giving time fosters goodwill in your environment. When we actively help others, they notice and they in turn may help others as well. We all know that helping breeds helping, so why not live it? I know we are busy, all people are, but it is how we choose to deal with that busyness that makes the difference. So remember that doing something that may seem inconvenient to you may make a huge difference to someone else. Don’t be selfless but be less selfish.

acheivement, alfie kohn, assumptions, being a teacher, believe, change, choices, communication, difference, elementary, get out of the way, grades, homework, learning, parents, promise, trust

How Homework Destroys

It finally happened; a parent decided to disagree with my new take on homework. They do not feel that I am providing enough and thus am doing a disservice to the students by lulling them into a fake sense of security in their skills. My response at first was indignation; how dare so and so question my fantastic educational shift in philosophy. Why are they not enlightened or believers as well? And then it dawned on me; I have not shown them the way.

I spend a lot of time speaking to students about what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what the goal is for their learning but not enough explaining that to the parents. And while I hope that parents have faith in me, I cannot take it for granted. I am, after all, messing with a system that has been set in place for many years and that these same parents are products of. So, of course, my system may come as a shock at first, and without the proper explanation it will continue to be so. After all, parents have been trained to think that for every grade level you figure out homework load by multiplying the grade level with 10 minutes. So by 4th grade, students should at the very least be doing 40 minutes of homework a night. And yet, my students don’t. They do most of their work in class, even staying in for recess so that I may help them, and I never willingly send home a piece of homework that I know they will struggle for hours with.

Homework should be practice, a showing of skills. It should not be a two hour time consumer where both mom, dad and the encyclopedia gets involved. I explain this to my students and the sense of relief is visible in them. They know that I will challenge them in class but at home they may pursue life instead. So if you work hard at school then the reward is rest, family time, and a pursuit of happiness. And it works. My students are still learning everything they should for the year, albeit in a more hands-on manner. I am shying away from worksheets and instead having conversations about learning. Our favorite tool is our dry-eraseboards that allows me a quick check in for understanding. And the students are noticing the difference. No longer dreading the afternoon because I will continue to haunt their day. No longer dreading school because it means so many extra hours of works. No longer dreading learning because they are realizing that learning is something you do at school and that it doesn’t come form worksheets.

When I recently welcomed 9 new students into my room, one “old” student told me that she was looking forward to seeing how the newbies would react since I “teach a little crazy.” And perhaps that is true. I am loud, obnoxiously so at times, and I have high standards. I push kids to learn, I push kids to understand, and then I back off. I let them think about it, let the learning resonate within them, and then I challenge them to dredge it out again the following day.

By no means, am I the perfect teacher. I have many years of learning to come, but I do know that I am on to something here and I stand at a fork in the road signaling a massive shift in my whole educational philosophy. I believe these students are learning, I believe I am preparing them as well as any other teacher, and most importantly I believe I am letting them be kids at the same time. My students know that if something is homework it is for the benefit of their learning and is important to do, not just another piece of paper that their teacher didn’t get to in class. They know that I only assign it if it is truly valuable, and not just something for me to use for grades. They know that we will meet and discuss their learning, always knowing what is missing, what is accomplished, what the direction should be. They know that if I assign something to them it is because they have the skills needed to do it. Do yours?