Friday, March 12, 2010

Fatherhood in the Classroom

I have found that one of the most difficult things about being a high school teacher is being a high school teacher with two small children. It's not that having two small children makes it harder to get work done at home, which they do, or that my teaching and coaching keeps me away from them more than I would like, which it does. Those aren't really difficulties as much as they are inconveniences. No, the thing that makes this job difficult for me is seeing all of the possible outcomes for my children.

Every single day, I have about 150 students walk through my door. A majority of them are great kids. Sure, I would like many of them to try a little (or a lot) harder in school, but they are respectful and (mostly) well-behaved. I know that the time will come when they wake up and everything clicks. Once that happens, they will be successful in their endeavors. I have a smaller number of kids who are absolutely brilliant, work hard, volunteer, and pretty much impress the socks off of you on a daily basis. These kids have nothing but possibilities ahead of them. Lastly, I have an even smaller group of kids who have no ambition, no respect for anyone (including themselves), and walk around full of a strange mix of anger and apathy.

I look at the first two groups, and while I hope my children fall somewhere in the second group, I would be okay with the first group. For me, it isn't really about grades when I find myself daydreaming about who my kids will be as high school students. I want my kids to be hard workers. I want them to respect their teachers and peers. I want them to display a sense of pride in themselves and their school. I want to be able to walk into a parent/teacher conference and have the teacher say, "I really enjoy having your child in class," and have them mean it.

When I look at my children now, I can't help but believe that all of this will come true. They are sweet, caring kids with a natural curiosity about the world around them. They love to learn and interact. We've taught them to be "bucket-fillers", not "bucket-dippers", and they take it very seriously (If you don't know what any of that means, Google it). However, this reassuring feeling leaves me very quickly when I realize that the third group, the group I don't even want to think about having my kids be a part of, probably started out sweet and innocent also.

Somehow, those kids started out as happy, curious little children and have ended up angry and rebellious. I find myself wondering how it happened. What went wrong for these kids? Was it a single moment or event? If so, will I recognize that moment in the lives of my own children? Will I know that I am dealing with a make-or-break situation and bust out my Daddy A-Game? I would love to be able to help my students who have lost their way find the joy I know they must have had as children in something more productive than the things that I'm sure make them happy now, but I worry that the only thing I can do is not make it worse and dedicate myself to making sure any kid who walks into my room knows that I have the same dreams for them as I do for my own kids while making sure that I don't forget to take the time to let my own kids know how much I believe in them too.

Wordle: Fatherhood in the Classroom

Friday, March 5, 2010

Am I An Optimist?

Sir Winston Churchill once said, "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." I always figured myself as a pessimist. I don't know why, but I tend have a somewhat grumpy demeanor, and since grumpy and pessimist seem to go hand-in-hand, I just figured I was a negative guy. Upon further review, I am not. I am a closet optimist.

I was not able to understand this until I found myself spending more time with someone who I truly believe is a pessimist to their very core. It was in this situation that I realized the difference between mood and outlook. Since I am often in a grumpy mood, I assumed I had a grumpy outlook, but I really have a positive outlook.

Basically, where I am right now is where most teachers are. We struggle every single day to figure out what is best for our students. How do we make sure they are prepared for what lies ahead? It was during one of these conversations that I realized I am not only an optimist, but a fierce and passionate optimist when it comes to my students. The discussion was over what students "need" to learn in high school. I was stating my belief that we should treat every student as though they are going to attend college and make sure they get the information and skills they would need to pursue that course. On the other side of the discussion were those who believe a majority of our students will not attend college and therefore do not need much more than basic academic skills with a heavy dose of life skills.

Do not get me wrong, I think kids need to learn to address envelopes, pay bills, change a tire, cook without burning their house down, etc., but I simply cannot exist in a world where I accept from the word go that my students CAN'T achieve higher education. The system as proposed by my colleague would basically allow students to be split into two groups (either by student/parent choice or some kind of test, I guess) and those who are deemed "college bound" would get the education that we are basically offering all students now, while the ones who are decided to be only fit for unskilled labor will take classes on basic life skills.

How does this define me as an optimist? I honestly, to the core of me, believe that nearly every single student currently enrolled at PCHS has the ability to achieve not only a high school diploma but also education after high school. That education may not be at a university, but certainly they can all attend a community college, trade school, apprenticeship program, or any of the other opportunities out there for someone who has graduated high school. I don't believe that some students are incapable of grasping complex material for any of the reasons being given (poverty, parents who lack education, etc.). I am an optimist because I believe every student who walks into my class can meet my expectations for them if they choose to do so.