Monday, January 31, 2011

Open Arms

I'm almost positive that I am not cut out to be a teacher.

This was confirmed during the two hours I spent in two local high school classrooms this week for my practicum.

School A is located down town, right at the foot of the capital. I was intimidated just sitting in the parking lot watching students strut in and out of the school, nonetheless actually meeting them inside. I walked into a pristine, yet rough-looking high school that boasts marble pillars and graffiti. The security guard at the front door was mostly disinterested in me and just pointed up the stairs as I gathered that meant, "Your classroom's up there somewhere."

I found what was to be my cooperating teacher's classroom locked. So I stood in the hallway looking through the window at the posters and desks. "Rebecca?" a voice came from behind me.

"Oh no, I'm sorry. My name's Heather. I'm just waiting for my cooperating teacher," I explained.

"Yeah okay, whatever, Heather. I'm your cooperating teacher," she said as she unlocked the door and led me and co-teacher inside.

At the bell, 24 students walked in to ipod melodies, shouts, and screeches of "Oh-my-goodness-I-love-your-leggings!" (If we're being clear, they weren't really leggings. There were actually the shredded and holed remains of what must have been leggings in a previous life. But who am I to judge? I'm the old 23 year-old fogey) The students took their seats eventually and continued talking throughout both of the teacher's pleas to be quiet. While sitting in the back of the classroom taking notes, I couldn't help but realize that only 10% of the classroom was white.

I watched Mexican, Vietnamese, Lebanese, and Black students interacting and causing quite a raucous that the teacher later described as a "good" day. I've spent about 98% of my life in the majority and I'll admit reversing that feels incredibly intimidating. Yeah, welcome to the real world, right? Usually when I think about my future classroom, all the students are polite and friendly, we get along, we seek to understand and respect each other, and we learn. But this classroom feels different. There's a disconnect. Nobody knows or seems interested in the person sitting next to them. Learning seems a chore. Reality feels dull and tiring and heavy.

After walking out of School A to cat calls from prepubescent boys, I drove to the east side of town to School B. The east side of town is where the new houses are being built. The east side of town is where upper to middle-class families raise their children in safe neighborhoods far from gangs and drugs. School B looked different. Walking inside I was greeted warmly by the administration and personally escorted to the classroom where my cooperating teacher stood anxiously in the hallway awaiting my arrival. Students wore name brands, smiled and said, "Hello" to me as they passed.

"HI! I'm so excited to meet you," she said beaming a smile with some green remains of lunch wedged in her front teeth. She proceeded to physically lead me by the arm around her classroom introducing me to the special education students I'll be working with this semester.

It was here that I met several students with varying degrees of autism, ADHD, Downs syndrome, and cerebral palsy. At the beginning of "class" (which is really an hour of games like Yahtzee, bingo, and Jenga), Emilia sucked her thumb and began screaming, Kerry squated in the corner "hiding" from all of us the entire period, and Jonathan grabbed for his ears and banged his head on the desk.

I also met Mary, a student with cerebral palsy. She operates an electric wheelchair with motions from her head. She types and "speaks" using a special computer. The teacher tapes a metal circle to her forehead which Mary uses like a mouse on the screen. She can't talk or control most of the movements of her body. But she giggles and smiles and communicates in amazing ways.

What most impressed me about School B was how the teachers talked to the students. My knee-jerk response would be baby-talk: slow and loud and simple. These teachers will have none of it and neither will the students. The teachers talked to Mary as if she could talk right back, but she did, just in her own way. They've learned how to interpret her body language in a way that Mary can feel respected and valued. I think she does.

I'm not sure I can teach tough, inner-city students.
I'm not sure I can teach special education students.
I'm not sure I can teach a brick.
I'm not sure I have what it takes.

I know I have the interest.
I know I want to reach students.
I'm just not sure that's enough.

I think I'm going to have to be a little less picky about who the students are.

Maybe no one is "cut out" to teach from the moment they are born. Maybe the cutting out process happens over time, with experience, a whole lot of humility, and open arms.

I'll be working on the open arms.


Joe said...

You can do it. I'm not sure any teacher candidate really feels like s/he is cut out to be a teacher. That's part of student teaching--a little exposure to reality. I've never been to School A, so that's new to me. The disinterest sounds like a disillusioned teacher. And that probably shows in the classroom. Students can be like that. I'd spend 2-5 minutes quieting one of my classes down. I learned some things.
I think I know School B. That's where I did my ST. The admin. and teachers are fantastic. Some of the students will test you, but they can be fun.
Don't throw in the towel just yet. Student teaching is a time of uncertainty. It's the last time you have the option to leave before you commit to being a teacher. Make or break time. You have what it takes. You can.

Anthony said...

Having been through SAU's educational system, I know that it can be a difficult and intimidating feeling to walk into the den of hyenas and expect them to all stand on their hind legs while waiting for permission to swallow the dog biscuit on their nose. Teaching is tough. However passion covers a multitude of shortcomings. Most teachers don't have that. They can spit out information, hand out worksheets, and yell at students and tell them they will never amount to anything. It takes a teacher with a heart of ministry, a passion to change the world, and the vision to see what these kids can become to really teach. Kids rarely learn what you teach them unless they are in some sort of gifted program. What we are teaching is knowledge acquisition skills. And to be able to teach that, students have to feel loved, appreciated, and safe. Several things in your blog demonstrate your ability to empathize, sympathize, love people and be perceptive to people's needs. Those are raw teaching skills that can be refined. But, to be perfectly honest, those are good raw materials for anything you decide to do.
Good luck.