Friday, March 10, 2017

Lucky to Love School

Wild winds whipped across the mitten state on Wednesday.  By 10:30 in the morning, I had received a text message and email that my sons' elementary school was without power, but not to worry, everyone was safe. A few minutes later, my high school's lights flickered, and we were suddenly without power as well.  A student handed me his cell phone. "My mom just texted me this. Apparently there's a portion of someone's roof in our front yard." The winds took off the roof of an elementary school in a neighboring county and left nearly a million people in Michigan without power, over 350,000 people in our area of West Michigan. Schools across our area were closed on Thursday due to the power outages, both mine and my sons' schools included.

By Thursday afternoon, many in the area had their power restored, including my home and my high school.  However, Thursday evening a friend texted me that he didn't think our kids would be going to school on Friday either because the elementary school still did not have power. Friday morning, it turned out he was right when I received a text that once again the elementary school was closed. Time to make alternative childcare plans.

So my two young sons packed up their backpacks and headed to school with me this morning. My first grader and second grader have been to my classroom many times when the big kids were not there. They have helped me set up my room in the summer and lug books up to my room on breaks, but today was the first time that they were in my class when it was filled with high school students.

My student teacher and I start each one of our classes the same way with a daily check-in that we call Lo-Hi's, an opportunity to share a low that has been impacting us or a high that we want to celebrate.  It is our way of learning more about what is happening in our students' lives outside the classroom as well as a way to build connections in our learning community. Students hear who needs support and who would like affirmations. Today, I shared that I was excited to have my two helpers in the class with me, and when students asked why my sons were in our classroom, my eldest would pipe up with an explanation of why their elementary school was closed.  "Lucky!" my first period chorused.  "Lucky!" my second period class murmured.  "Luck..." my third period class started to say when my eight year old broke in.

"Why does everyone say that we're 'lucky' because our school is closed.  It's not lucky. I like my school."

My third period class went quiet.

Flickr image by Matthew Hutchinson
The same thing happened in my other classes throughout the day, and I could tell that both my sons were getting frustrated each time that my students said they were lucky to be out of school. In later classes, my youngest son joined in. "We missed book fair today and library time."

My boys love school.  They love learning.  They love their teachers and talk about all the funny and amazing things their teachers share with them. At one point during the afternoon, my boys were starting to get a little antsy and asked me to print out some "homework" for them.  They wanted to be working on something like the high school students.  They came home today excited. Over dinner, my eldest told me that he can't wait to be a high school student because it looks like fun.

Today reminded me of a quote by Sir Ken Robinson (who coincidentally will be in Michigan next week!): "All children start their school careers with sparkling imaginations, fertile minds, and a willingness to take risks with what they think." At what point in their academic careers do we educated students out this? Why do students start to say that they hate school.

I know that many of the students in my classes do not hate school.  Some do.  But I also know that for some of my students, school is the only place they can count on regular meals. School is where some of my students will find a supportive friend or teacher to comfort them through a difficult time. School is where some of my students will be challenged and told that they are capable of more than they give themselves credit. School is where some of my students are excited to be earning college credit or job training towards a career they are passionate about. For some of my students, school is the stable center of their lives. And yet, even these students chime in with "lucky." It has become part of our culture to hate school, specifically high school.

So how do we change this? How do we change the dominate narrative that school is a place we are lucky to get out of, lucky to have an unexpected day away from, lucky to leave behind? I know there are no easy answers.  My students' responses today are developmentally appropriate. By the time they are seniors, we want our students to think of themselves as confident, self-sufficient members of our community. They are ready to move on. They want to move on. This is what teachers want to hear. But I also heard in my students' chorus of "lucky!" that school is not a place they value. This breaks my heart.  I don't want my students to hate school. I don't want my sons to learn that school is something to be hated.  How do I create a classroom culture where students feel lucky to love school?

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