Sunday, September 28, 2014

Trying on different hats...

Chapter two of Nakkula, "Identity in Context," talks about the different ways that young people come to know who they are, and the different ways that they get there. This chapter reminded me of playing dress up or deciding which outfit looks the best in the dressing room. When I was a freshman in college, I began volunteering at a youth center in Cranston. My volunteering led to me leading retreats for Confirmation students on Saturdays and Sundays, and in the retreat program there is a section that is entitled, "Who Am I?" This section of the retreat asks young people to identify the different masks that they wear when they are with certain people, or the masks that they are wearing that cover up who they really are on the inside. We talk about why we wear these masks at all, because as Nakkula says on page 18, "the question of "Who am I?" is asked with great passion and urgency." If we are covering up who we really are with masks to hide ourselves, then we are probably working through one of Marcia's identity statuses. In the retreat program we also talk about removing the masks and letting our  true self be seen. This takes a lot of vulnerability, especially if we are not sure who we really are under the masks yet. There is a great song from the movie Mulan that I like to use during this section for some mediation. I have done this activity with my students, and I learn so much about them in the process, but I also learn so much about myself. On page 20 Nakkula writes, "identity formation, then, is the dynamic process of testing, selecting, and integrating self-images and personal ideologies into an integrated and consistent whole." I have to admit that I think this a process that never truly ends. I am learning new things about myself all the time, and parts of me change as a result of events and people that I encounter. I'm not sure why this would be any different for young people. I also am not sure why this would seem foreign for adults.

There is a great section on page 24 that asks about thinking about why students make certain decisions. It ties directly into our observation of an adolescent. "Why they chose that shirt, why that music, why that book, why these friends, why this hair, why that movie, why that food" it reminded me that it does matter, after all, what shoes they are wearing. Because those shoes are most likely a very planned part of the identity that they are trying to shape. That might seem silly to us now as adults, because we do it in a little different way. (Or maybe we don't) I felt as though Nakkula was writing about me on page 30 when talking about identity as a Red Sox fan. It has always been a big thing in my family to watch baseball, and to love the Red Sox, I could have challenged this within my family (as I have challenged many, many other things) but I enjoy this foreclosed part of myself. It brings me in community with my family, and its something that we can talk about, follow, and enjoy together. I think that when young people start to form their own thoughts/feelings/view points that differ from their previous foreclosed status is when they start to have conflict with their parents, guardians, or other people in authority. I talk a lot about this in morality class with my students. I ask them to think about when a lot of their problems or fights started with their parents and almost every time they identify it as when they started to challenge the things that they had previously accepted as 'true' or 'fact' or the 'right way.'

On page 33, Nakkula asks us to imagine what it would be like to negotiate the expectations of different groups of people...I do not think that we really have to sit and imagine this...we do this everyday already. The expectations of the people we encounter vary based on the setting and company that we are in. I do not think it is unreasonable for their to be different expectations of behavior in different settings. It does not mean that you as a person are different, it means that adapt to the situation that you are in appropriately. Part of this is learned behavior, and part of this is 'on the fly.' For example, when I was growing up and with a group of friends many people would be swearing in the group. I, too, would swear every once in awhile to "try on that hat" while with those friends. But when I was at home with my parents or at school talking to teachers I knew that "hat" was inappropriate and there would be consequences for that behavior. I am not sure that means that I changed by identity-maybe just a small piece of who I was deciding if I was going to be or not. I do not think that this was a difficult switch, and to be honest, I don't think its unreasonable for us to teach young people that sometimes you have to act a certain way in certain places...its not always anything goes.

"One cannot be all things to all people."(page 37) This is not really anything that spoke to me about teaching, but it is something that spoke to me about my own life. It is something that a friend said to me recently because I try to do everything for everyone all the time. I needed to be reminded that its ok to not be all things to all people.

Overall, I think that what the statues have taught me is that if my students are approaching me at all different statues and going from one status to another that their learning styles are probably also changing as rapidly as their statuses. Also, teaching in different learning styles could work complimentary or negatively with a a student depending on the status that they are in. I think its important to note that we also are always "in the process of becoming"(39).

On page 57, Nakkula writes, "students make clear and profound distinctions between those teachers who are committed to them and those who seem interested in the schoolwork only. Teacher commitment to the students as human beings and as learners seems to earn a reciprocal commitment from the students." I have found that this to be overwhelmingly true for me as a teacher. I have had teachers that only care about the schoolwork, they are the ones that I have always said were really smart, but I am not sure they like kids. I may not be the smartest person in my classroom at any given time during the day, but my students know that I am committed to them as human beings and as learners.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Building our stories...

Chapter one of Nakkula and Toshalis, "The Construction of Adolescence," speaks about something that I think happens all the time in the classroom. There is a often a disconnect that happens between student behavior and a teacher's reaction to that behavior. Often if a student is acting out in class the immediate reaction is to just correct the behavior and move on. Very little time is spent thinking about the reasoning behind the students behavior, unless it persists over and over. The reflection of the student's behavior, for me, comes after the student has long left my class for the day. This happened to me just yesterday. K walked into homeroom with a look on his face that I could tell it was going to be a rough day for him. I asked him what was wrong and got no response. I figured that maybe he was just tired. I had K for class three periods later and he was in the same mood. I again asked K what was wrong, and got no response, so I let him be. K left my class, and I began to wonder what I could have done differently. He was never disrespectful to and he never acted out in class that day, but I knew there was a different layer to his attitude for the day. So I thought about it for the rest of the day and decided I was going to try with K again right after school. I asked him to come into my room and I shut the door, we sat at my table and I asked him what was going on. K started to tell me about his weekend and how his mom and his girlfriend had a fight Friday at the football game. Then how that escalated to his girlfriend's mom getting involved in an argument with his mom as well. And ultimately it ended with K's mom telling him that he had to chose between his mom and his girlfriend. K has spoken  in class about how much his girlfriend means to him and about the amount of time that he spends with her and her family. He has also spoken about his rocky relationship with his mom. I asked a few questions, but mostly I just listened. K just needed someone to sit and listen so that he could talk it out. While K's behavior was not aggressive like Antwon's, I still believe that he was "testing the nature and boundaries of their relationships and the learning environments in which these relationships are created"(p.3). I think that maybe K was testing how I would react to his attitude all day to see if he could get some light shined on him. This was not because he wanted to be the center of attention, but just because he needed someone to talk to and maybe wasn't sure how to ask yet.
Nakkula and Toshalis write about "authoring our lives" and how "we do not construct our life stories on our own. We are, rather, in a constant state of cocreating who we are with the people with whom we are in closest connection and within those contexts that hold the most meaning for our day-to-day existence"(p.6). I think that if this is the approach that I take to all interactions that I have with my students that on even on the days that I am tired and not feeling well I will approach them in a different way. I feel that there is a great deal of responsibility on the part of teachers when they view themselves as authors in a students life. If we think about the amount of time that we spend with students on a weekly basis, the 'writing' that we do with them takes up probably more time than most others they come in contact with. For some, even their parents. It reminds me of that 'classic view' of learning that we talked about in class last week. It also reminds me that we never know when students are learning from us. Nakkula writes on page 8, "should we as educators think of our work with youth in more relational terms?" This makes me think of the 'hidden curriculum' that happens in all schools and in all classrooms. I would argue that in many cases the hidden curriculum is more important than the set curriculum. The hidden curriculum are the skills and characteristics that students learn and transfer to their life outside the classroom.
On page 8 Nakkula also says, " they must share how they themselves think about or make sense of this content." Nakkula is of course referring to how teachers learn the material that they are teaching. When I am presenting information to my students I often tell them how I make sense of it. To be honest, saying out loud helps me to learn it over and over again, which I think is great and really works for me. I can also honestly say that I do not think I learned very much in my own high school experience. My teachers gave us loads of information and never asked us to do anything with it except spit it back to them on a test. I was good at memorizing, so I did well in classes, but once I gave an answer on a test and handed it in the majority of the information was gone. It wasn't until I was asked to apply the information to something that I feel that I really learned anything. Vygotsky's ZPD aligns directly with the idea of creating disequilibrium in students. If they are content all the time they are less likely to soak up any new information.
Nakkula writes on page 14, "by engaging with their students, educators ingest the nutrients for their own professional growth and, in turn, their own personal gratification." I feel that I am a more effective teacher because I have daily conversations with my students. I know what is going on in their lives, and as a result I can translate some of that into my teaching. I really do feel that my students are the coauthors of a huge part of my life, and they are writing a story that I am proud to tell.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Teaching: Vocation, Mission, Profession

In this installment of Ayers...
On page 71, Ayers speaks about student work being linked to student questions or interests. He says " I want to develop my agenda in light of theirs." I think that student work should mirror the questions or interests of students because then they will relate to the material easier, and have a greater chance of learning it. But...I think that a classroom that is only made up of what students want to do is not a healthy one. The reality is, there are certain things that students need to learn in order to be successful in not only school, but other areas of  life. Tailoring every day and every lesson to the "agenda of a student" seems to me a bit extreme. Especially because many students do not have an "agenda" for their education. Or maybe they do...

Page 74 begins with Ayers talking about standards up on his soap box. "But who decides what the standards are? And can standards ever be definitively summed up? Since knowledge is infinite, and knowing intersubjective and multidimensional, anyone who tries to bracket thinking in any definitive sense, is in essence, killing learning." I do agree in some sense that standards put brackets around learning, but we do that all the time as teachers. Tests and quizzes put brackets around learning too, its just brackets that we create. The reality is we need to assess students in some way to have grades. It is unfortunate that sometimes the things that we pick to assess students on may not be the things that they actually learned...but that's the challenge of teaching....that's what keeps it interesting and fun-coming up with new ways to have students learn the material that I am teaching. Working in a private school we do not have any of the state tests that other schools have to worry about, so maybe that is why I am a little more open to the idea. I would love to see how the students at my school would score on the tests.

"The work of a teacher-exhausting, complex, idiosyncratic, never twice the same-is, at heart, an intellectual and ethical enterprise. Teaching is the vocation of vocations, a calling that shepherds a multitude of other callings. It is an activity that is intensely practical and yet transcendent, brutally matter-of-fact and yet fundamentally a creative act." This quote from page 93 speaks to me because I do feel as though teaching is my vocation. Teaching should be so much more than "just a job." I think about the teachers in my life who I learned the most from, and without a doubt, they are the teachers who truly felt that teaching was a calling for them. I talk a lot about vocations with my students, and there is always interesting conversation around the difference between a job and a vocation.
On page 98, Ayers writes, "The mystery of teaching keeps me on my toes. If teachers are never self-critical, they will become dogmatic, losing their capacity for renewal and growth. If they're too self-critical they become powerless and timid. Balance and clarity is key." There are many teachers at my school who are afraid to be self-critical. They never want to step back and look at their teaching and see if students are actually learning or if they are just memorizing and forgetting. Self reflection is means that things might have to change, and some teachers are just not willing to do that. I know when I first started teaching in my practicum and at the beginning of my student teaching I was too critical of myself, always looking for the bad things that I was doing, and not celebrating anything that I was doing right. When I learned that being critical of yourself is looking at the positives as well as the negatives I began to see the real value. If I did not reflect on my teaching, I do not think that I would be an effective teacher at all.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Joy of Teaching...

"To Teach the Journey in Comics" by William Ayers is a thought-provoking graphic novel about the trials and triumphs of teaching, and ultimately learning to be a better teacher. Ayers is open about his approach to teaching and the obstacles that he has faced. On page 1, Ayers begins his story by saying " for those of us who construct our lives in teaching, these images are necessarily changing and growing, and while they are sometimes vivid and concrete, they can as often be characterized by wonder. In either case, images of teaching can fill us with awe..." I have found that images of teaching certainly do fill me with awe. As I enter my fifth year of teaching, the joy that I feel when my students walk into my room is still very much present. I love the image of "constructing our lives in teaching." My students and their many games, activities, plays, and clubs are what do construct a lot of my life. I am fortunate that I am able to be present to them in a lot of ways. I think that constructing our lives in learning is a beautiful image. This is more or less what happens, but to think about the pieces that fit together to construct our lives in learning paints a very unique picture.

On page 2, Ayers writes " I began to wonder if I might more honestly and more joyfully think of myself as an explorer on a journey with my students, a voyage of discovery and surprise." When I started teaching Religion I had the mindset that I was supposed to know all the answers to the 'hard' questions that the kids would ask to try and trip me up as a new teacher. I quickly learned that if I took that approach to teaching that I would be easily frustrated and burnt out. I found that learning the information alongside my students is much more fulfilling than preaching to them about 'what I know.' The reality is that I am an explorer on a faith journey, and I am trying to guide my students to be explorers of their own faith journey's, so why would I not walk with them? The same would be true if I were teaching English. I would want to make meaning of literature together, and to find our voices in our writing. There is a great image of this on page 5:

In the middle of page 26, Ayers says "A commitment to the visibility of students as persons requires a radical reversal..." The beauty of the teachers that are reading this blog and this book are that they already know this. The classroom is not the stage. There is no need to perform on it everyday and be the center of attention. I wish more teachers would step out of the spotlight to see their students as human beings. They are not a faceless audience, and teachers would be able to see that if they stepped out of the spotlight. Our students are facing real world situations and to simply see them as just 'kids' would be to do them a huge disservice.

At the end of page 32 Ayers writes, "Life in classrooms, after all, is life itself. The learning environment is a complex, living reflection of a teacher's values." The statement is especially important to me because I hope that this is what my students feel when they are in my classroom. I try to make my classroom reflect the things that I value...voice, opinion, choice, compassion, and the individual. It is my hope that students feel that they are truly valued as individuals when they are in my class and when they are out of my class. This is further enforced on page 58,

Ayers is speaking my language, and exactly how I feel about being a teacher, and learner in my own classroom. On page 58 when speaking about Avi's classroom he says, "Avi's classroom functions as a forum where everyone learns to speak with the possibility of being heard and listen with the possibility of being changed. In this way, kids learn to see themselves and one another beyond categories or cliques, beyond labels of any kind." Yes! This is exactly what I hope to accomplish by having students check in, and be heard. It allows everyone time to speak, and for them to maybe uncover some things that would break down walls in our classroom.
I love this book, and can't wait to write more about it.