I walked by a group of students who were sitting in a loose circle talking and laughing loudly. No pen, no paper in sight, looking, for all the world, like kids doing nothing. On my way over to “blahblahblah” at them though, I stopped myself, and only because of that other conversation, and decided to listen instead. You know what? They were working on exactly the thing they were supposed to be working on, talking through a story they would film together, workshopping and expanding ideas. Their loud was super-good loud.
I’m convinced this project wouldn’t work half as well if I told the students what to read. Instead, I gave them a few days to look up books they may want, read excerpts and reviews, and do their best to choose a book they were truly excited about. I approved them, but did my very best not to say “no” to anyone. I started the process early in order to give students a chance to track their books down at libraries and track down copies of books myself as best I could. I also put in a bunch of work over the last couple of years to build up a classroom library that is full of new, high-interest books that students want to read, specifically books by and about people of color and women.
Students then pick out some paper and markers and stuff and write down their one word. After school, I get a whole bunch of tape and a decent podcast, and tape them all up on the wall. It’s a beautiful thing, this physical representation of all these wonderful people, of the diversity in who they are and how they see themselves. The next morning, students from all hours came in early to read through the wall. They stood with their friends, pointing proudly at their sign. They said, “There I am, that’s me.”
The examples that came easiest were ones I’d spent the longest seeing and addressing, and I don’t want it to sound like it was all old news for me. It’s not. In my classroom, I’m still apt to see Black boys as behavior concerns, and Black girls as less capable. Professionally, I am less likely to assume intellectual study of Black colleagues and more likely to assume “natural” talent. Mind you, these are things that I know live in my head, that happen pre-consciously, and that I do my best to recognize and un-learn (and have only thousands of personal lived experiences to work against them). But I know when I’m not doing my own work of staying focused on that, they can slide in too easily; and I know that I have a lot more work to do.
I disagree with Alec on just about everything politically, but that doesn’t mean he should feel unwelcome or silenced in my room. Alec and I have been talking all year about what it means for him to have a ridiculously liberal teacher like me, a teacher whose politics are pretty Google-able and apparent, and who talks about things like race and current events and culture and politics in class constantly. I check in with him now and again to make sure he still feels welcome and safe in my room, and he checks in so often to tell me what his brain is working on and how it relates to my class.
Classroom Management seems to be the one thing every prospective teacher most wants to know about, and the one thing they don’t feel ever gets addressed enough during their preparation. So, I get asked, kindof a lot, about how to manage a classroom. I’ve tried a lot of things. I don’t get it right all the time now. I know I should have an attention-getter thing that I yell out and the students respond, but I always feel silly doing them. I know that, especially when my patience is low, I insist on quiet that I don’t really need or react with sharpness or loudness that is really unhelpful.
The last few months of the work I’ve managed to do while doing everything else has culminated in this thing I keep calling “The Two Week Plan.” I call it this because it’s a plan, because it takes two weeks, and because it’s what I first named the document I made it on. I have time to think, but not enough time to name things in catchy ways. My old school had someone who would brand things for us, which, on reflection, is a really weird thing for a school to have.