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Thanks for checking in. We all know life can be EXTREMELY complicated. I blog about recognizing and removing the barriers that sabotage our living well. 

- Nobody had perfect parents, so we all have issues.
- We struggle to keep up with work, personal goals, staying healthy, and all kinds of relationships.
- Our minds are busy, and they seem to often work against us.
- At the end of many days, we're disappointed about what didn't get done, how we failed, what we should have done.

So I blog about increasing personal awareness and finding balance so we can cut ourselves some slack. Let's stay grounded as we move forward in manageable steps. Perspective is everything, and I try to see around the corners so we can leverage what we've already got into more of what we want.

Follow me and give me feedback. You inspire me, and I'll try to inspire you. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Education, diversity, and harder to teach children

I just finished a great week of teaching. We're a month into the new semester, so now the students are familiar with their teachers,  the environment, and their classmates. I teach at an alternative high school in which a majority of the students are Black or Latino, with fewer than a dozen White kids. When many new students come, they believe they are coming to a school for bad kids. Sometimes this makes them bring a bit of attitude because they believe they're coming into a survival of the fittest arena. What they bring more than anything is the brutal fallout of inadequate and inappropriate educational and life experiences, because inside, they are just like other teenagers.

Diversity is a strange thing. It works if people are comfortable with the traits and dynamics that all members of the population bring. It is the path to hell when the traits that participants bring go against the expectations that have been set beforehand. My former school superintendent, Lester W. Young, Jr., always said (and I paraphrase), "Schools should be able to adapt and change in order to respond appropriately to the children that come through their doors; the expectation shouldn't be that the children will change in order to fit into the school building." So when students, through a generally long and torturous road, find themselves at our high school, most usually feel accepted for who they are for the first time in many years (if ever).

  • Many of our kids are a bit tough, but often they and their families have really been through some things, and are still going through them. I have foster kids, homeless kids, and kids who live independently.
  • Many are not friendly up front, and can be downright rude, but they have often been rejected, dismissed, ridiculed, and left behind in a lot of classrooms-- and they are expecting the worse from their teachers.
  • Some don't listen very well, and that's because many have been taking care of themselves and their siblings for a while, or have been dismissed because they themselves haven't felt listened to or heard because they don't speak standard English, or have the right tone of voice.
  • And some can honestly be called mean as snakes, but that's because they are angry as hell because of what has happened in their young lives, and oftentimes teachers have been part of their daily misery. But it's hard to know and understand the "big picture" when there's a whole classroom full of personalities needing attention.
So they find themselves in our school because they don't fit well into the mainstream setting as it is generally constructed. But they are not the losers that they and many others will peg them. And many have been pegged losers since third grade when they couldn't pass the mainstream tests, and haven't been quite considered normal since.

But I had a great week because this is the time in the semester that the students know that I really do accept them for who they are, and I want the best for them. Most have fallen into the habit of working hard for me, and I have created a safe environment where some will begin to struggle and read aloud, and stumble over words that children 8 or 9 years younger can breeze through; and I dare anybody to make them feel less than courageous and hardworking. In such settings, the gap finally begins to close because they are met where they are, and they feel better about themselves as students. Some let their brilliance show for the first time because they can bring their whole selves with them--especially their unique perspectives.

There are a lot of grey areas in education, but my tips are really for people who work with children and young adults. Try very hard to like them and connect with them. You never know what they are going through and who they really want to be inside. Think of how it is in a large family where each child has his or her own set of strengths and weaknesses, good and bad points. The parents' job is to juggle the responses and see with a large and ever-trolling eye. It's a juggling act, but that is the important and bottom line work of it.