Lately I have been teaching in the dark.
Our school has no Internet access. The students have none at home, either.
What do we do? We read. We have conversations, live conversations, about what we read. We look for solutions together and they are made from the stuff of our brains.
Did I mention that we read? My students in Grades 7 through 11 love to read. All of them. And they can have and do have conversations about the books they read. They can even make connections between them. They jump up and down with pure joy about some of the books they are reading. I actually have to tell students to stop reading.
I see the Science teacher outside, collecting insects with the students, examining them under microscopes and in their terrariums. I see evidence of writing in French when they students laboriously and lovingly work on their scrapbooks by hand and write letters describing why they included what they did.
At lunch time students play with each other. Yes. Even the boys in Grade 11.
Lately I have been teaching in the dark and I’m surprised to say it has been illuminating.
Yesterday afternoon I was driving in my truck (I love my cherry red pickup truck) with Jack yodelling from the passenger seat when I tuned in to Talk of the Nation on NPR. They were in the middle of discussing school discipline and inequality and the part I heard had a first year teacher call in to complain about this one student who kept showing up in her classroom despite numerous incidents of disruption. She said that she spoke with administration, to no avail at first. To his parents, who eventually cussed her out on the phone. Then back to administration, and I think finally he was removed from the school. At the end of her bit, she made a plea for more alternative schools for ‘kids like him’. I’m not sure what she meant by that. Disruptive? Black? Bored? Different?
What struck me was that no where did she mention that she spoke to the boy. Not an in front of the class kind of speaking to the boy but a one on one, caring kind of speaking.
When she wished there were more alternative schools to put ‘kids like him’ I immediately pressed record on my cell phone and said,
‘Here’s a big idea. Why don’t we get rid of alternative schools altogether and just all teach as if we were alternative school teachers.’
When I taught at an alternative school I felt that I was finally teaching the way I was meant to be teaching all along. From a core of relationship. From a starting point of care.
When I say alternative program or school I don’t mean a place where they dumb down the curriculum or focus on life skills because their clients have already failed at ‘real’ school. I mean a place where kids are held to high standards but are helped in their assent past those standards by caring adults. Where glitches are not met with criticism and punishment but conversation and direction. Where discipline and failure does not happen to some more than others because of the colour of their skin, the language of their tongue, or the experience of their parents.
Now that I no longer teach in an alternative program I strive to remain that kind of educator – the kind of teacher I am meant to be.