Today's blog post comes from preservice teacher Samantha Jessup. While originally posted in November, we at KATE Blog felt that the sentiments were worth sharing as we gear toward our end-of-year reflections.
Throughout this semester I have really come to appreciate the quality of the education program I am a part of through my university. Transitioning to thinking of myself as a student teacher, to an intern, to eventually becoming a teacher has been honestly traumatizing at times. I have struggled with having confidence in myself and my own abilities no matter how hard I have worked or how well I have prepared. In this it seems however, I am not alone. I have found many of my classmates sharing the same sentiment, and I think it is time we all took a look at ourselves and how far we have come.
One year ago, I would never have thought myself ready to start building a unit plan. One year ago, Smagorinsky's chapters on building meaningful unit plans, introductory activities, and designing "good individual lessons that are related to the unit's goals" (p. 184) would have seemed overwhelming to me. Randy Bomer's thoughts on teaching digital literacy, wouldn't have resonated with me the way it does not after witnessing my students' struggle to utilize the technologies accessible to them. Through learning and experience I, no we, have grown immensely. There has been another great teacher though, that we have often overlooked, or hidden away in the shadowed corners of our classrooms. We fear it and avoid it, fighting tooth and nail at times to keep it at bay.
Early this semester I made a trip to the bookstore, eager to make good on a clearance sale I had marked in my calendar months ago. Browsing the young adult literature section, I happened upon a pedagogical textbook entitled “Teacher Evaluation: To Enhance Professional Practice”. I was intrigued. I added the slim paperback book to my stack, and immediately tucked it away in my bookcase as soon as I made it home, never to be seen again, until earlier this week when I began working on my self-evaluation assignment for my lesson plan. I found my thoughts drifting back to the ominous book sitting loudly on my bookshelf and I couldn’t help a peek. What I found resonated with me. In the very first chapter I found that the professional and published professional practitioners that I was reading, addressed the fears I had over my own personal failures and the atmosphere that had brought them about, “Teachers are unlikely to be honest about any difficulties they may be experiencing if they fear that ‘problems’ will be described on the final evaluation document as ‘deficiencies’. Such an atmosphere is not a safe one for taking risks; the culture surrounding evaluation is not one of professional inquiry” (pg. 6). Now, this book was published in 2000, but I have found many of the same thoughts lingering in our school systems and our professional teaching programs.
Let’s just say it. Failure.
We as teachers, are many times terrified of failure, however I have come to realize that failure, as terribly often as it seems to happen, has been my greatest instructor and my greatest companion on this long journey to becoming a professional practitioner in the teaching arts. Often times as teachers, we are even required to fail in order to more fully understand our classrooms and improve upon our instructional practices. It’s time we stopped hiding our failures in the corner, and started sharing what we have learned from them with our colleagues and classmates. I for one am no exception as I have experiences some of the most painful failures in keeping up with the demands of life, work, and school, and have been a detriment in the past to both my colleagues and myself. This failure, thought I have learned much from it, is something I continue to struggle with even to this very day, but admitting that failure was the first step on a long road to overcoming it. Rather than criticize each other for it, we need to collectively gain from these experiences, making the most we can of these unpleasant events. I have come to think of teachers ironically as the “greatest” failures. Not because we fail greatly, but because we rise greatly.
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” – Robert F. Kennedy
This blog comes to us courtesy of preservice teacher Jentry McDaniel
Often, I think we underestimate parental and community interest in education. Because parents don’t show up to conferences or answer emails and phone calls, it is automatically assumed that they don’t want to be involved; we assume that they don’t want any responsibility over their children’s academic progress. During my years as a para at a middle school, I was exposed to home visits and their impact on student education. For example, I worked with a student my first year who really struggled academically and socially. Their teachers were frustrated because the student showed up to school late every morning, slept during class, and didn’t always have their homework completed. As direct support for the student, I was unbelievably frazzled as well because I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere with the student (and in hindsight focused way too much on how the student wasn’t serving ME instead of focusing on how I could be better serving THEM). Eventually the principal suggested that a couple of the student’s teachers attempt a home visit. During the home visit, the teachers learned that the student was living with almost a dozen other family members, so they didn’t have their own room and it made it difficult for them to sleep restfully. Also, the student’s mom didn’t have reliable transportation, so they had to walk a distance to get to school if no one was able to pick them up, which was often. Mom was deeply troubled by her inability to provide a peaceful environment or transportation for her children and didn’t know how to reach out. Fortunately, as a result of the home visit, Mom felt like (rightfully) the school was on her side as we were more accommodating of her sleepy child and did our best to facilitate her child’s timely arrival to school, which had a positive impact on their grades. In the time following, the mother also felt comfortable being more actively involved in what her child was doing, getting to know the teachers, what they were teaching, and their expectations better.
My experience proved that it’s not that parents don’t want to be involved in their children’s school lives; parents can easily feel excluded because schools and educators could do a little more work to ensure all types of families feel welcome in that space, especially English language learners. In their research, Samway and McKeon mention that for English language learners in particular, schools have implemented interactive parent-teacher conferences with mini-workshops for parents to participate in with their children, which provide demonstrations of the types of things their children are doing in class (167). Similar to our daily lives outside of school, as educators, it seems so easy to get into a pattern of frustration and complaining about things that aren’t working rather than trying to find solutions to those problems. Sure, it can be difficult to feel a lack of parental or community engagement, especially when we desperately want that participation and feel like resources aren’t readily available to make what we dream a reality. I guess what I have to remind myself is that I have to make do with what I do have. If there aren’t translators available to help me communicate with a parent, could I have the child or another family member serve as an intermediary? What about learning some conversational Spanish in order to bridge the gap myself?
Samway, Katharine Davies and Denise McKeon. Myths and Realities: Best Practices for English Language Learners. 2nd ed. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2007.
see original at http://msmcdanielsmusings.blogspot.com/2017/01/serving-parents-to-foster-community.html
Welcome to the the new face of the KATE BLOG!
Spring is a season of change, and we at KATE are embracing the wonderful weather and the fresh attitude it brings. The Board inducted some new members during the 2016 Conference, and this has brought new ideas to the table.
After much discussion, we are finally ready to let the KATE Update become something fresh and exciting. In the past, the update was a paper mailer full of insight and newsy items about our membership, but with our website being the primary place people visit to stay up-to-date, we’re going to focus on timely digital content that will be easy to access We still want to hear from our innovative members and from those new voices in teaching! So we’ll be sharing posts from the KATE community that reflect on teaching and best practices in order to better support and celebrate teachers of English across the state.
The KATE Blog team is comprised of new and experienced teachers. We’ll work hard to review submissions and to craft our own contributions. We want this to be a resource for teachers. Please consider lending your ‘voice’ to our new venture by submitting.
KATE Blog Submission Guidelines
We are excited that you are interested in submitting for the KATE Blog. Teachers are our greatest asset and resource, and we know that the expertise you have to offer should be shared with our community of teachers.
We are interested in a variety of topics:
If you are also a teacher-blogger, you may request re-publication of a post from your own site.
Submission preference is given to KATE members. Once submitted, our Blog committee will review your submission and get back to you as quickly as possible. Please bare with us as we are ALSO teachers - just like you - and volunteer our time.
The KATE Blog Team!
Editor's Note: Today's post comes from Jenni Bader
While it is true that teaching has been a dream of mine since I was a child, I did not originally enroll in college as an education major. After working for three years as a special education para at an elementary school, I didn't want any part of the bureaucratic red tape I had seen my teacher friends fight their way through day after day. My passion for helping people had grown stronger, but I was convinced there must be some other way to achieve that goal. I had ample opportunity as a para to see the baggage that so many children come to school carrying, and it made me angry that some of this was due to abuse or neglect on the part of parents. Yet, I also saw that most parents do love their children and want to see them succeed in school but that many do not have the resources or have needs and problems of their own that get in the way of helping their children.
With the desire to help both parents and children, I explored social work as an option before settling on psychology as my major. During my year in the psychology program, I took Community Psychology, which, along with some encouragement from my English 101 instructor, eventually led me back to teaching. Through that Community Psychology class, I realized a few things.
That's right, I'm gonna make my dreams come true--doin' it my way.
(Yes, I am old a returning adult student and I watched way too much TV as a child.)
So, imagine my delight upon completing my first reading assignment for my English Methods 2 class titled "Involving Parents and the Community," a chapter from Myths and Realities: Best Practices for English Language Learners by Samway and McKeon. Although the book appears to primarily deal with English language learners, this chapter brings to the forefront questions I had as a parent of children in public school, ideas that emerged from my observations as a para in a rural district with few minorities or ELL students, and issues faced regularly in my student teaching placements in an extremely diverse urban district. I believe the principles and strategies in this brief chapter can be successfully applied anywhere and the potential is tremendous. Uge, I say! Absolutely uge! Make our schools great again!
Too soon? Ah, well, something it is certainly not too soon for is parent and community involvement. In fact, this is a particularly timely topic with an incoming Secretary of Education who touts parent choice in education as reason to institute a voucher system that would take money away from public schools without ensuring increased quality for schools or greater academic gains for students. While it is not my aim to discuss Betsy DeVos' qualifications, further examine her proposed methods, or support in any way the ideas she has put forth, I would like to point to one fault I see in the majority of our public schools that may be helping forward the rhetoric of those who agree with DeVos.
The simple fact is that many schools have failed to use one of the best resources available to them: the very communities from which they draw their student populations and within whose boundaries they reside. While scrambling for government funding, we have forgotten that the best facilities, textbooks, and technology mean nothing unless our students make the best use of whatever resources and opportunities they have access to. In order to get students to the point where they are actively availing themselves of all that schools offer them, families and communities as a whole need to help reinforce the value and necessity of education. Yet schools often push away parents and other community members who should be their best allies rather than welcoming them and encouraging their involvement.
Perhaps educators' defensive stance and habit of presenting themselves as the sole experts and givers of knowledge1 is an understandable reaction to a public constantly questioning teachers' qualifications and effectiveness and too ready to cast the blame for society's ills upon schools.
Perhaps. But the cycle of blame and resentment must end somewhere if we are to work together toward that common goal that parents, educators, and all community members share: raising children to be happy, healthy, and successful individuals, engaged in the community.
As leaders within the community, educators must take the first steps to build bridges between home life and school life and open up the pathways for community involvement within the schools. "Involving Parents and the Community" cites four levels of cooperation first identified by Menacker, Hurwitz, and Weldon (1988) for school personnel to develop: parents as clients, parents as producers, parents as consumers, and parents as governors2. The first level, parents as clients, may be the most familiar to our thinking about schools, although it challenges the typical view of the student as the client with parents largely out of the equation. The next three levels, however, are where we can really expand community involvement and begin to tap the wealth of resources available within our communities.
With parents as producers, educators retain their role with a wider pool of resources as parents and other community members take on responsibilities that help the school function. The chapter lists some jobs that parents frequently volunteer for such as helping in the classroom or on the playground, but help with these tasks becomes less necessary in high schools. Parental involvement in middle schools and high schools can be tricky, too, as teens work to establish their independence, but roles for parent and community volunteers abound. The possibilities are only limited by imagination and the effort we are willing to put into seeking and establishing these opportunities.
Every community has members with knowledge and skills to share, and it is a human conceit that we tend to value those who take an interest in us. When school personnel show their faith in the ability of community members to add something valuable to the school and community, interest in doing so rises. Likewise, when the community shows it values students by investing time, effort, and resources, students see themselves as valuable and gain interest in contributing in turn to the community. Thus begins a virtuous cycle antipodal to the current cycle commonly seen.
The parents as consumers level brings parents and community members into the school on a regular basis for programs that aid or benefit them. This may involve classes that help community members with English language acquisition or teach parents strategies for helping their children succeed in school; support or focus groups for addressing individual, family, or community problems; or partnerships with health clinics and others interested in expanding service within the community to name only a few possibilities. For a number of years these ideas have been implemented with great success in several urban schools, but the idea has yet to catch on in most places.
At the level of parents as governors, parents and community members share in making decisions that affect their local schools. For most of us, this only happens when voting for school board members or on special issues or if a huge controversy is scheduled to be discussed at a school board meeting. Even at these times, community members do not turn out in large numbers to voice their concerns or influence policy. Viewing parents as governors, however, requires schools to actively seek greater participation from community members in setting and implementing policy--something educators and administrators generally balk at. The effort to keep the larger community out of this decision making process, however, has only helped to fuel the flames that people like Betsy DeVos and Sam Brownback try to throw on public education. The answer is not to tighten the ranks and further distance the public the school system is designed to serve but to welcome that public in and tap the wealth of resources it has to offer, and it begins with establishing the first three levels of parents as clients, parents as producers, and parents as consumers so that parents are then informed and capable to become parents as governors.
There are so many more things I would like to write on this topic and links and articles from that Community Psychology class I need to find. For now, I'll close with another cheesy inspirational moment from 1970s television for my fellow student teachers who can turn the world on with a smile.
(Tosses hat into the air) This is it! Only one more semester to go! You're gonna make it after all!
And one more:
Editor's Note: This blog was originally posted:
Follow the link for additional discussion.
Editor's Note: Today's Blog is written by Jen Coslett
Micro-Aggression. Really?! That’s a thing?! Aggression is aggression and size doesn’t matter, right?!
So. Much. Wrong.
I sat, awestruck (and admittedly “fangirling out”) as Bill Konigsberg gave his keynote address at the 2016 KATE Conference. When he delved into defining micro-aggression, my fangirl persona dissipated and my teacher/social worker/mama heart sunk. I’ve always considered myself an advocate and now facts that proved my failure were being spread out before me. I have been micro-aggressive. My family and friends have been micro-aggressive. I felt like such a hypocrite.
You see, I’m a coach’s wife. Not just a run of the mill coach’s wife, I’m a football coach’s wife. We are a football couple raising football kids in a football home. Faith, Family, Football. Rah, Rah, Rah. I have always loved this identity for my husband, myself, and my children.
That is, until Mr. Konigsberg’s words pierced my heart.
I was nauseous as the realization that everyone in my family---my husband, myself, my children, and our football family of fellow coaches, players, and parents---has perpetuated, and continues to perpetuate acts of micro-aggression. Every time our team punts, each one of us screams one five letter word that had always seemed so benign.
As the ball hits the turf, our players scatter avoiding any possible contact with that ball. All the while, everyone---players, coaches, parents, fans---all scream at the top of our lungs, “Peter! Peter! Peter!”
This isn’t simply an unfortunate choice for titling a play call. This isn’t an inadvertent use of a name that matches some poor kid named Peter. No. No. No. This is deliberate. And, now, thanks to Mr. Konigsberg I am able to recognize, this is unacceptable.
You see, as we all scream, “Peter! Peter! Peter!” we might as well be screaming, “Penis! Penis! Penis!” The whole point of this chant is to remind and encourage players to stay away. To get back. To avoid.
Steve Maack, in one of the breakout sessions during the conference, commented that micro-aggression is like a papercut. It cuts. It hurts. It’s annoying. It’s a constantreminder.
Thank you to Mr. Konigsberg, and the many other presenters, who selflessly provided a definition of and a framework to move beyond micro-aggression.
We all need to be better. I need to be better.
Editor's Note: Today's KATE Update is by Jenni Bader
On Thursday and Friday of this week I attended the Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) Conference in Wichita. As excited as I was in the weeks leading up to it, the conference still managed to exceed my expectations. The mutual goal of educating and supporting young people served as the uniting bond, strengthened by a high level of professionalism. These, along with the warmth and openness of all present proved a refreshing tonic after months of slogging through the current social and political climate. This is what people can achieve when they set aside their differences and work together.
One big surprise of the weekend for me was how much I got out of the first keynote address. I have never read any of Bill Konigsburg’s books and doubted if I ever would. There are so many books and just so little time. From what I had heard about this author and his books, I didn’t think this keynote would benefit me much. Dear reader, it is a foolish and dangerous notion to judge that another person has nothing to contribute to your life. Such thinking goes against my core beliefs, yet I sometimes catch myself heading down that treacherous path, and I am thankful for the warning signs and reminders that put me back on track.
During his keynote address, Mr. Konigsburg spoke very honestly about the emotional turmoil he experienced while grappling with his identity as a young gay man. It takes a lot of guts to share such a personal story with a room full of strangers, and I am grateful for his willingness to do so. Although these are experiences I do not share, this perspective increases my ability to empathize with others who may be going through similar trials, and it informs my words and actions so that they can be imbued with greater kindness, gentleness, and care.
Toward the end of his keynote speech, Mr. Konigsburg said something that particularly struck me. He said that someday he hopes to meet a teacher who is “a Christian, a pro-lifer, and who believes being gay is a sin” and that this teacher will save just one kid who is going through what he did by showing that they care. I had hoped that I would have the opportunity to talk with Mr. Konigsburg later in the day and thank him personally for his speech and especially for saying this one thing, but I didn’t see him when there wasn’t a crowd around him. The description may not fit me precisely, but it’s close enough, and I am certain there are quite a few more Christian teachers and student teachers who feel the same way. It is possible to love and support people individually without agreeing with them on everything. I think the world has forgotten that. It’s time we remembered.
There are so many more things I learned this week. I am still trying to digest it all. Several of the breakout sessions as well as the Thursday lunch keynote speech and the Friday lunch panel dealt with diversity and inclusiveness. All of these fit very well with my own presentation on teaching social justice, and several others offered ideas I would like to incorporate into my teaching on this theme. Kevin Rabas’ Thursday presentation on ekphrastic poetry, poetry in response to art, gave me a specific way to use the art I had been thinking of pairing with some of the written texts I’m considering, and I added this idea to my own presentation on Friday.
Above all, the collegiality at this conference made it such a wonderful experience and really helped build my vision for teaching as a member of this community of teachers and also for working within our individual schools and communities. I am truly blessed to be part of such an amazing group of student teachers who add such depth and richness to my life and my understanding of it. The opportunity to glean from the experience of seasoned teachers already in the field has been priceless, too. My biggest take away from the conference was that together, with love, we can do great things.
Editors Note: Today's KATE Update is written by Samantha Jessup
Going into the KATE (Kansas Association of Teachers of English) conference this year, I was filled with both trepidation and curiosity. How could I, a student, ever hope to make a place for myself among this community of passionate, progressive teachers? I was very uneasy, expecting the conference to compose itself of hundreds of people from all over the state, few of which I would know, and even fewer who would know me. Yet, fellow classmates of mine were presenting at the conference and were just as nervous and inexperienced as I.
Arriving at the conference changed everything. When I realized that the conference attendees numbered only in the dozens, possibly around one hundred people, I was shocked. It was inconceivable to me that so few teachers in Kansas were at the forefront of this professional communicability, and that so few English teachers either chose not to participate in this event, or were left unaware. This made the impact of the KATE conference for me, that much more important and meaningful. I was taking part in a select group of teachers concerned with their profession and eager to discuss the modern issues and discoveries of teaching.
Bill Konigsberg was extremely humble and kind in his keynote address, which started us off. His message and gentile manner in which he presented it, really carried such an inviting warmth. I was honored to have had the chance to speak with him later, and to attend his session later on publishing YA literature, a great passion of mine. He was definitely a great part of personal growth and professional development for me, both as a writer and a teacher.
Attending the different sessions, on a bibliography of YA Lit, Graphic Novels, and how to use YA texts to advocate for anti-bullying, were interesting and educational experiences. It was wonderful to share my passion for teaching using graphic novels, especially since there were so many teachers interested in the session presented by my classmate. There was vital discussion and relevant applications among all of us.
Now I look forward to implementing some of the strategies I have learned about using graphic novels in my classroom, and creating some of my own. I can't wait until next year so that I can share what I have discovered about teaching graphic novels and strategies other teachers can use.
Most importantly though, I look forward to being an active member of the KATE conference and continuing in my professional development, growing and discussing important issues of the the education profession and the pivotal issues of teaching English.
The Pre-Service Perspective Series Continues with a post by Jentry McDaniel, previewing a topic that will be tackled at the KATE Annual Conference, which starts this week.
As a pre-service teacher, something I have been grappling with is how to create an inclusive environment for my students. Over the past year I have been working more on awareness of differences (ability, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, etc.) and checking my privileges along the way.This growing awareness has made me particularly mindful of how my assumptions about students and their experiences inside and outside of the classroom are shaping them, especially socially and emotionally. I know that education and experience are the most influential components of growth, but how do we tackle those experiences that teach us with grace rather than indignation?
A few weeks ago I had an interaction with a student that keeps replaying in my head. She had been late or absent from class just about every day since the semester started, and this particular morning she walked in pretty flustered. Because we were already twenty minutes into instruction, I quietly approached her and began explaining what her classmates were doing and attempted to provide her with an example to get started. She sighed loudly and rolled her eyes, but I continued talking, trying to ignore her growing frustration. Once I stopped talking, she informed me that she wasn’t going to complete the assignment because she didn’t complete the reading. When I suggested better time management outside of class, she told me she was a parent and found it extremely difficult to allot time for reading. Before this conversation I was unaware that she had a child, which is why I assumed that she may have had time outside of school to complete school work. In that instance, I alienated this student by making her feel like she wasn’t doing the best she could with what she had. She eventually transferred out of the class (which is not a result of our conversation) but when I ran into her in the hallway last week I made sure to apologize for making her feel attacked our last morning together and asked her about how things were going at home. Everything seemed forgiven afterwards, but thinking back on myself at that age, I can only imagine that this student, as well as many others, probably still carries that assumption in her subconscious; more baggage. The things we say to students and the way we make them feel while under our authority has the power weigh them down, just as the things outside of school that we don't know about do. Instead of adding to that baggage that is isolation, non-affirmation, and inferiority, what can we do to help our students take a load off?
The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) offers some seemingly effective practices for fostering an inclusive environment. Their research and resources obviously have LGBTQ+ students in mind, but much of their message can be applied to other populations of students that I listed at the beginning of the post. Some of the ideas GLSEN presents are:
Editor's Note: Today's Pre-Service Perspective piece was written by Taylor Ewy
It didn’t take too long for the dreaded defensive phrase to be used by a student at my placement. While my mentor teacher shared with the class how to organize their 3½ inch binders for all their classes (Wow, those binders arehuge!) I saw a student begin to work ahead and, unfortunately, was not organizing his binder correctly. I went over and asked him to be sure to watch my mentor teacher carefully, and then I heard it: “But I wasn’t even taaalkinggah.”
Now you may think “taaalkinggah” is not a real word, but it is, trust me. I refrained from replying with, “I didn’t even say you were taaalkinggah!” and instead I frowned, saying with some exasperation, “I didn’t say you were talking,” (Better, right?). It didn’t work. I had engaged in a power struggle where neither of us left with the amount of face we needed in the first week of school.
It’s a basic rule of classroom management I learned in my Sprick text in Core I a year ago – do not engage in a power struggle with a student. How can we avoid these? Robert McNeely, in his article “Avoiding Power Struggles with Students” for the National Education Association, shares some excellent points that I need to remind myself over and over again. These include:
From his larger list of do’s and don’t with power struggles, these two are where I struggled in this instance and I see myself having issues with in my future. These two struggles come from my weakness (or perhaps misguided strength for a more positive outlook) of controlling a room more than I should. For example, I know from being the oldest child in my large family and working with many young children that my number one pet peeve is when someone uses a tone of voice I might perceive as having some whine to it. It makes me cringe and react too quickly without the kindness the student deserves as I quickly try to end the whine. When the student reacted to my redirection with a whine and some defensiveness, I did not initially react in a way that allowed him to save face as I tried to gain control for myself, not for him. Ultimately, I was looking to have the last word and let him know I was in control.
McNeely quotes Christopher Perillo under this section of advice in his article sharing Perillo’s brutal honesty on the topic:
“Teachers who insist on having the last word are bringing themselves down to a juvenile level. Students will remember this and that teacher’s value will be diminished” (McNeely).
To say the least, I need to find a better method for working with students who are not reacting how I hoped instead of engaging in the power struggle. My question moving forward is how can I provide an out for students so they can save face, but still get my point taken seriously? Also, how can I practice controlling a classroom for my students rather than for my own needs?
Luckily, the student and I were back on good terms not even five minutes after. I was sure to drop by his desk to compliment his organized binder. Though he was upset when I initially asked him to redirect his attention to my mentor teacher, after I got my last word in (shame) and left him alone, he returned his attention to where it needed to be and was successful in the assignment. It seems students are forgiving if you’re honest and kind, but how many times can a student forgive me if I keep engaging in power struggles where no one wins? Onto week three, that much wiser.
x Mrs. Ewy
McNeely, Robert. “Avoiding Power Struggles with Students.” NEA, 2015. Web. 05 Sept. 2016.
Editor's Note: Today's Pre-Service Perspective piece was written by Taylor Ewy
“Please tuck in your shirt,” I whispered low with a smile so only the student would hear. I assumed I was doing her a favor, saving her from having to be stopped by another teacher or possibly even sent to the office. I remember in my Catholic high school tucking my white oxford straight into the pleated green and blue plaid without any blousing to avoid the dreaded veteran P.E. teacher at the end of the lunch line. He was always ready with the “pink slips”, which were basically demerit slips on speed dial. Every teacher had them, but this teacher gave them out so readily that they were pre-signed with a stamp of his signature. When you got a pink slip from this teacher, the whole hallway knew it. His voice carried and he was about making sure everyone knew it was happening. Humiliating. An unforgettable experience. It happened to me twice my entire high school career and both times my skin was inflamed with embarrassment for the next hour, my makeup basically melted off from the heat in my face. I didn’t want that for this girl, though I’m sure there’s no one like the old P.E. teacher where I am now. So I bent down to her level to whisper while the teacher was instructing, “Please tuck in your shirt.”
“I’m not allowed to,” she whispered quickly, shifting her eyes. “What?” I said a slightly louder, seriously confused. “I’m not allowed to!” she whispered urgently, her eyes wide. This was obviously embarrassing her, so I nodded knowingly and walked away. I couldn’t figure it out, but later, after confirming it with my mentor teacher, I learned she was not allowed to tuck in her long sleeve shirt for religious reasons. I felt like I just became the old P.E. teacher because though I was whispering, her eyes looked at me like I was shouting.
The next day I walked over to another student who was sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. “Next time, let’s be sure to stand up all together,” I whispered, again with a smile. “I’m not allowed to,” he whispered back. I must have let a quizzical look slide because he quickly followed with, “My family is Jehovah Witness.” “Ah,” I said as I walked away. Second day in a row, assuming and losing.
Third day! I’m prepared to be unassuming. One student starts joking about Justin Bieber, referencing rumors that a few others chimed in hearing about. “Let’s focus on our article,” I offered, but the conversation picked back up again less than a minute later. “Does it really matter? It is none of your business. Let’s enjoy his music” (one of his new songs was playing softly in the background). “It matters,” said one student, “because it’s against Jesus.” I am just about offending everyone this week.
My K-12 education was Roman Catholic, being in one building for K-8 and then meeting my 250 graduating class for high school in the same school my parents went to. I was taught by several sweet sisters (different than nuns, by the way) and knew that what I believed everyone else in the room also believed, or at least was taught to. I could make assumptions about my classmates. For many reasons, I am not able to make nearly that many assumptions with my students this year.
Religious diversity has been the first hiccup of my Core III experience. Though the situations I shared weren't that bad, I knew I had personally made an assumption that everyone was the same and was caught off guard when it wasn’t the case. I think I handled each situation well, but not being prepared for these moments was a slight failure on my part. My next step is to walk into the classroom without too many assumptions about my students beyond they all can learn and what I am sure of because of records. If I make the wrong assumption about a student, I hope that I won’t let on that I am surprised or confused so I don’t embarrass them. I had to go look up after class about why Jehovah Witness believers do not stand for the Pledge - I wish I had known that earlier so the student didn’t see that brief look of confusion on my face.
As this week comes to an end, I look forward to growing more in my relationships with the various students as I get to know more about them. I’m prepared for many more hiccups, but I’m also prepared to keep moving forward with what resources and knowledge I have available.
Keep up the good work, my friends!
x Mrs. Ewy