Saturday, September 21, 2013

Connections to Professional Life: More Things I'd Say to Parents (Part II)

Of the 54 students on my team, about 15 of them probably should have waited a year before enrolling in kindergarten.  Really. All told - a period of 3 weeks with about 45 hours of classroom instruction compounded by the complexity of boys - and I know tons of public educators who teach students from  diverse neighborhoods would be able to say "I feel you Ms. Naputi."  So in the spirit of pre-adolescent boys who do some of the strangest things during class, I'm picking up where I left off and my next item for parents to know is this . . .

#9 Your son should have only the basic supplies for school.  This means a #2 pencil, a simple calculator, and some looseleaf paper.  Anything mechanical is a distraction (he'll take it apart) and anything that is constructed of separate parts should not be purchased (he'll bend, break and reconfigure it).  He can still write words on his basic calculator but at least he will not be fidgety if his paper doesn't have the fringes to remove.  If you can find or make a pencil box out of titanium and cover it in bubble wrap, that'd be awesome - your son can bang on it all he wants and when it inevitably falls to the floor it'll be as inconspicuous as a tiny weed sprouting.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I can avoid petty clashes with a kid who cannot control his impulses. And I'm sorry to harp on the boys, but all of my data points for distractibility aligns with that gender.  It also means that by keeping it simple for your kid, I can actually give positive acknowledgements for meaningful participation and engagement.

#10 I will avoid the -isms.  Sarcasm.  Cynicism.  Pessimism.  Middle school kids have a hard time differentiating these -isms, and adults really should be sensible because often these -isms border on being too much.  True, some are unaffected by sarcasm and there are those who are already cynical and a few who have adopted pessimism way too early in their lives and if this is so, then it can make adolescence even gloomier.

What does this mean for me as a teacher? It means that when I go there, I'll wage that battle with myself to get out of it.  As an educator, cynicism and pessimism are enticing because so many legit reasons exist that lead us to that black hole.  But there's danger there.  And I won't find transformation on that path and isn't that what teaching is all about?

#11 A dress code will be enforced.  Aside from the district dress code policy which I honor to the tee,your child needs to come to school dressed for their job.  This means they cannot wear pajamas or house slippers to my class.  There's just something musty and gross about a student rolling out of bed and coming to school without changing their panties or underwear.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I will dress professionally.  It means that the 6-year tradition of "Team Dress-up Day" on the first Tuesday of every month will continue, and that students who show up dressed-up (most of them do . . . ) will be recognized.  It means that at times my teaching partners and I will plan academic presentation formats to give them a purpose for dressing up, but to also help make the connection that presentation - in various forms whether it's on paper or in-person - makes a difference in how you feel and do.

#12 I will not always get the last word.  Saving face in the midst of a power struggle is a big deal to a kid.  If s/he says "So" or "I don't care" or "Make me," I'm going to think negative thoughts in my head but I'm going to back off.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I can't force a kid to be a student but I can believe in their human-ness and realize that everyone comes from a place of instability.  And really, it means that sometimes having the second to last word is okay.

#13 Your child isn't better than their peers.  When a student rolls their eyeballs at others, sighs heavily or even lightly, refuses to participate, or only wants to work alone or on their terms, it sends off vibes of superiority.  Worse is a gaggle of those profiles in a classroom and even worse is when that air of entitlement hovers over such rich and beautiful diversity.

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I'm going to call out those kids who overtly and covertly judge others.  They probably don't even know how obvious their body language and actions are, so I'll be very specific when I show them what their airs and entitlement look like.  And I might have to be very direct and say some things they haven't ever heard before.  I might also issue a challenge that they form an alliance with someone who comes from a different neighborhood, social class, background, or who differs from them academically.  Because one thing we all have in common is that we all have stories to tell and contrary to perceptions and judgements, some might have similar ones to share.

#14 In a million words or less, tell us about your child.  It's the only parent homework you'll get.  Students are sent home with a blank sheet of paper with the direction, "In a million words or less, tell us about your child." The return-rate is high, and we get a range of responses - from a single paragraph to a 4-page essay, and they come back written in Spanish, typed or hand-written.  Sad to say though, a few come back blank or not at all - the blank one you see in the picture below was from a kid who said, "My mom said she's not gonna do no homework . . . "

What does this mean for me as a teacher?  It means I get to know your child as a son or daughter, sometimes as a foster child, and occasionally as a grandchild.  I get to know them from your eyes and that means a lot to me.  But really, it says a lot about you.  Because underneath the descriptions of your child's talents and gifts, strengths and weaknesses, is the undeniable love and hope that you carry for your kid, and that makes me feel tremendously proud to be their teacher.

After next week it'll be one month since a bunch of parents' kids became students and I continue to look for ways I can practice being a better parent and teacher.  At the same time, Misa and John-Pio are into their own routines of school and play, and - biggest surprise of them all - Emma is coming into her own as a teacher in Kenya, a career path I thought she would never consider, and psyched to hear that she is.

I'm not gonna lie - I'm really tired and I've had a drink every single weeknight which goes against my usual routine, but I've managed regular workouts, some good runs, and a number of good climbing days.  So in the spirit of this blog also being about my favorite thing to do - climb - here's a video Misa took early September when she and I spent time focusing on a few climbing goals.

Climbing from Vera Naputi on Vimeo.

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