Wednesday, April 20, 2016

One of THOSE Days

It has been an incredible week so far. On Monday, environmental reporter from the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, Garret Ellison, joined my journalism class to discuss his writing and research process. We learned all about how he gathers information, interviews for a story, and about how state agencies and the general public interact with the pieces he has written.  Today, Darcy Meade from the Ionia Sentinel Standard shared with us her experiences in both television production as well as working as a newspaper education reporter.

It also happens to be our big poetry week.  Students brought in their favorite poems and lyrics which we posted in a hallway display. My public speaking students listened and responded to the American Academy of Poets "Dear Poet" program. Tomorrow we will chalk our favorite verses outside on the sidewalk of the school's main entrance and share our favorite poets for Poem in Your Pocket Day.

But today has also been one of those days.

Because despite how well I planned for these events, and how well some small pieces went, those things that went oh-so-wrong are overwhelming me.

It started small. Some of the students in my first period class didn't come prepared. I had asked students to bring in their favorite poem or lyrics to share. No big deal. This is to be expected.  I have Chromebooks in my room and a whole slew of poetry books, so students had the ability to look up their favorite verses if they forgot to bring them in.  "Ms. Ward, it can be a song, right?" Of course! Which lead to a short but great conversation about why song lyrics should be considered poetry. Students named off similar traits.  I asked students to list the title, author, and favorite stanza on an index card which we then taped to a hallway display for poetry month.

I teach 15 and 16 year old students. I know that they like to push boundaries. But we know each other. We've built a community of trust. I suppose I should have expected, but didn't, the couple of students who made the decision to write inappropriate lyrics. That question about whether they could use song lyrics wasn't about whether lyrics were poetry. The students were looking to push a boundary. And they did. Pulling up crude and profane lyrics, scrawling them quickly onto a note card, grabbing a piece of tape, and jumping to add their card high upon the hallway wall, far out of my reach.  I had pull a desk from my classroom and scramble on top of it to snatch the offensive verse from the display.

What irks me most is not that I didn't think students would try to push boundaries, they are tenth graders after all and that is what they do, but what irks me most is that the students didn't take into account our classroom community. I sought special permission from the principal to post this display in the hallway, to showcase our love of well-crafted lines, and a couple of students, students who have been in my class and built our learning community together since September, made the decision to disrespect our learning community.

If that was all that happened, I would be handling today better. I know that tomorrow we will have a class discussion about respect and community. And I know that it will be a good reminder for all of us about what we value and how we build our community. But this initial disruption was followed by a much larger one.

Part of my day is scheduled by the students and teachers. Students have 30 minutes each day to schedule time to work with a particular teacher, or a particular teacher can assign a student to "office hours" for more individualized help. It is a wonderful program. I had scheduled my struggling journalism students to my office hours today, hoping to get those who had fallen behind caught back up.  But one young woman wasn't having it. "Why do I have to be here?" she demanded. My room was filled with 30 students, many who needed extra help on specific assignments and others who were still signing into my office hours.  The room fell silent. When I explained, she threw her hands on her hips and stated that she didn't need my class to graduate so she was just planning to fail it. This breaks my heart.  To see someone so young, so angry, so checked out.  I responded something to the effect that I didn't want her to fail. She turned on heel and started to march out of the room.

"Making the choice to leave your assigned time will result in consequences," I called.

"F**k your consequences," she yelled back at me as she walked out the door.

She skipped our journalism class as well.

At the beginning of the year, I start my classes with an exercise. I ask students to fold an origami crane using these awful printed directions in two minutes time. They can't do it. I ask them why, and they tell me what they need to learn. We use this exercise to talk about failure. Failure gives us an opportunity to reassess and reflect, to figure out what went wrong and make adjustments. I tell students, if you aren't failing, then you aren't learning.

But what happens when the teacher fails.  I know this is my learning moment. This is the point where I need to reflect, to adjust what I did and how I respond. I know that there are reasons and personal stories that accompany both of these disruptions today. I know that in the scheme of things, they are not insurmountable issues. But I feel defeated today.

I love teaching poetry. It is sacred for me. It feels trampled.

I love working with students, and it is a point of pride that I do not respond to students with sarcasm or disrespect. I was so taken aback to be spoken to in such a way.

I just finished re-reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly, and in it she quotes Theodore Roosevelt,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” 
I know all of this. But there is a gap between knowing and feeling. I feel like I have failed. And while I may know that I have dared greatly, I still feel pretty lousy in this moment.

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