May 22, 2011 Leave a comment
Out of Chaos and back to Aunt Em and Home
When you hear the word home what do you think of? I think of somewhere safe and warm, where I find cookies and milk waiting for me when I came home from school. In today’s urban school’s this is almost a fairy tale or a story similar to the “Wizard of Oz” movie. With broken families, violence in the home, poverty, English as a second language now more the norm, how can we make learning a possibility for such a diverse group of students? In reading “What Urban Students Say About Good Learning” by Corbett and Wilson, I learned that maintaining good order and discipline in the classroom was one of the six requirements that students identified themselves as being necessary for them to learn in a more effective manner. In urban settings where students lives may be filled with chaos, the only secure environment available for teens to learn, may be in the classroom. Homes, such as Dorothy’s in Kansas, are not there to support the vast majority of urban students as their life experiences seem to parrallel the very hectic and troubled path along the yellow brick road to Oz that we heard described so eloquently earlier this week in our Professional Development Workshop. I say teens because I want to teach High School Social Studies, History, Civics. The very classes that I latched onto in High School with a passion to the extent that I became part of new programs such as the Junior Senate traveling to the State Capital and even to D.C. to participate in a student government program. My greatest fear was that I would be placed in the pre K or elementary grades when I participated in this course, I love little one’s, especially all of my nieces and nephews, though only in short increments and well, I do not have that special gift that I see in many of my classmates that make them shine in their presence and I’ll leave it at that. I’ll take the very imaginative, mischievious, and possibly just bored young adult that I see myself in to be quite honest. 18 year old felons returning to the classroom after court dates, 17 year old single mothers, 15 year old pregnant girls, my heart bleeds for. I need to teach them the basic skills to survive and thrive, I do not fear them as some do, I want to reach for and embrace their ability to cope and survive in a world where they’ve been targeted by those flying monkeys you remember from Oz, the ones that at a younger age scared me. The importance of voting, being able to read, the possibilities that scare my future students are exactly what I need to learn to deal with now so that I can be the calm in tornado alley or their local neighborhoods (aka Kansas, Texas, New Mexico) for them. In case you didn’t remember during the speach, it caused the house to fly and kill the Wicked Witch and made a pair of Red Ruby Slippers available.
Our guest speaker, Mr. Earl Carter, emphasized how critical the ability to manage a schoolroom was for new teachers. That it was a necessity for teachers to acquire this skill of managing the classroom was so that we could get to know and have a personal relationship with our students, advising additional classes in the management arena if possible. He started his discussion with the story of Dorothy whose desire was to return home to Kansas to see her Auntie Em and the collection of friends who joined her along the way also seeking things they desired which included a heart, courage, a brain. Their adventures were very erratic and troublesome as they tried to reach the great Wizard of Oz in the Emerald City. They encounter flying monkeys and a Wicked Witch as they traveled the yellow brick road to see Oz, which I picture as a very undisciplined and chaotic classroom with no direction or goals rather like a tornado. The individual goals of the characters and their distractions throughout the story line emphasized the fact that in the end the smartest and bravest character was Toto, who knew something or someone was not as it seemed in the Emerald City and chose to investigate until he discovered the truth that the Wizard was just a little man behind a curtain. As Mr. Carter used this story to draw in my fellow pre service teachers, he again made the connections of how chaotic a classroom could become if not controlled as well as the importance of relationships in order to cement that trust between a teacher and student. He stated “You have all been blessed in having a high GPA, to attend the finest colleges, still…if you can not manage a classroom, you can not share the information you’ve acquired and will not be the most effective teacher until you have mastered these skills.” One of the ways to acquire these skills is to observe other teachers and emulate those styles that could work for me. I am blessed that I have had a career that I adored that gave me skills that I possessed when I needed them. As a Drill Sergeant for the Honor Guard, I do have a voice that when necessary can be very commanding and apparently forceful as noted by the students in the classroom this week. It wasn’t until I introduced myself as Sgt Rogers during a history class on the SALT treaty and the Gulf Wars, that the class I had been shadowing found out that I had been in the military. The 9th graders range from 14 1/2 to 18 years of age, and as mentioned, there is a young man who has been incarcerated, a young lady – who has a brother, and just deployed this week to Afghanistan, several that want to enlist for various reasons though primarily to pay for their education. I didn’t mention that over half are special needs, many others have behavioral problems, and are in need of more intense teaching time and attention then my mentor can provide because I expected exactly that. I didn’t expect to be greated by the majority so pleasantly with Good Morning, Ms Rogers. (I can say that is the hardest thing to get used to after being called Sgt. for 20 years!) The amount of respect the teacher has from her students is amazing and that she knows most of the 9th graders, where and what class they should be in during each period as they freely roam the halls is astounding!
During my urban experience, I’ve been able to view classroom management styles that were radically different. The styles varied from being extremely lax with students throwing computer equipment across the room to authoritative, where it appeared to allow more time for learning in the classroom. My mentor teacher is very skilled at diverting students who may become disruptive and to refocus on that days lesson plan, adding the new information back to previous knowledge learned and current events. There are clearly established rules and each student is held accountable with consequences taking place when they’re broken. She has to work harder to reestablish rules of behavior for the classroom when others choose not to enforce the rules of the school. As Horace Mann wrote, “It is unjust also for one teacher to profit by letting down the discipline of a school, and thus throw upon his successor the labor of raising it up to its former levels.” I believe that when students are aware of the high standards of behavior and that they are enforced with reasonable consequences, students will shine brighter than the Emerald City in the story of Oz. She reminded them Friday that she talks to their future teachers daily and that she expects to hear good things about thier behavior and achievements, letting them know that she is still involved in their lives if only on the edges. She doesn’t become lalled to sleep in the poppy fields as the group of friends do when the Emerald City comes into view, she questions them on their weekend plans and what goals they have for the upcoming summer vacation.
My personal experiences in classroom management are as varied as thier locations…from the desert camps in Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the ROTC classrooms of Biloxi, Mississippi and Lakenheath, England. I prefer to set the rules and expectations upfront so there are no doubts about what is expected from the students and in turn they are able to demand certain expectations of me. That by the end of the course, they will know battlefield first aid or how to perform CPR that one day may save their child, friend, or coworkers life, knowing the dates and reasons behind the Gulf Wars as students in the ROTC. My moving positions around the tables and classroom helped to ensure what occasional disruptions between students writing notes or the odd sleepy individual who had just gotten off a 12 hour shift stayed alert for the briefing worked in the past and I have employed these same tools this week while participating in the classroom. I feel confident with these areas to include lesson plans to a point, I am nervous about the weekly lesson plans and paper work requiried by the district or state education department that I’ll be developing on Monday because I’m unfamiliar with certain terms and with their procedures. I will work with my mentor to prepare a lesson plan, establish visuals, learning stations as well as gearing them to each class or students needs before teaching it which will help me feel that I won’t take anything away from the students which is my greatest fear and concern. My teacher is willing to share any answers or experiences with me and when possible has included me in the teaching process allowing me to learn valuable insight before I start my education classes. She found after her first year of teaching in this school that most students would lose binders or notes at home or were unable to keep them organized so established a method that allowed them to store them by class with other teachers using this same method, their use of study time for tests was increased and order started to come to the land of Oz. Knowing my students and being able to teach the material pertinent to their personal safety or future educational goals, even if it’s just returning them home safely to family in Kansas (aka Phili school district) it is my passion!