Saturday, October 29, 2016

This Week in My Career
By:  Patte Carter-Hevia

A couple of days ago, I was talking to a union official about my teaching assignment, Life Skills, with a decision to emphasize leadership. I teach in a leadership academy that for years has not taught a leadership class. When presented with the opportunity to teach Life Skills again, I jumped at it. The focus of leadership has been in my brain for years.
This person asked me about my curriculum. I told him there wasn’t one as far as I knew.. He said it was problematic. He talked about instructional council. Getting something approved could take over a year. There was an approval process that involved reviewing the curriculum and the teaching materials to make sure that no copyright laws were being violated, a budget, a pre- and post-test for teacher-evaluation purposes.
I get it.
Sort of.
I’m the teacher who for years has used toothpaste to teach my kids that their words matter so choose them carefully. I’m the teacher who was moved to Track 3 (minimally effective), accused of stealing instructional time from students last year, and placed on an improvement plan for teaching that lesson in these days of high-stakes testing. I had to scratch and crawl to be rated effective at the end of the school year.
I have been teaching Life Skills on and off for years. I have never been given curriculum. I have never been given teaching materials. I have never been given a budget. To be honest, I never asked. I don’t want to be scripted or pigeon-holed by someone else’s definition of Life Skills and Leadership.. As long as I have been teaching I have considered lesson planning (what materials to use, how to use them, what to say, how to evaluate student learning) to be part of my job. Standardized sucks the life out of authentic teaching and authentic learning.
I scavenge. I find. I develop. I buy. People who know I spend my own money and who believe in what I do help me when they can.
I teach.
Students learn.
I am a work in progress, even after over thirty years working in education, twenty-five of them as a certified teacher. So are my students.
How do you measure self-esteem? Self-confidence? Responsibility? Decency? Respect? Communication? Listening? Stepping outside one’s comfort zone and possibly making a difference? Integrity? Motivation? Common sense?
Pre- and post-test be damned. Are we so far gone in education that if we can’t measure it on a test, preferably a standardized one so that a company can make a profit, then we shouldn’t be teaching it? Is it really the educational version to the question, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it make a sound?”
This year’s Minty Fresh Day had three takeaways for students. I used toothpaste to teach them that their words matter so choose them carefully. I used their assignment papers to teach them that apologizing doesn’t put things exactly back the way they were before so choose their actions carefully. Apologize anyway. Every time. And I used apples to teach them that people may look fine on the outside and have deep bruises on the inside.
Then this past week I spent two of the most gut-wrenching days I have ever spent in any classroom in my entire teaching career.
I showed the movie “Bully” to my students. In my opinion, it’s an unflinching look into bullying and the effects it has on the victims and their families and friends. No actors. Real-life situations. Kids saw parents who had lost a child. They saw actual bullying take place. They saw grief. They saw reactions from school officials. They saw the snippets of the Stand For the Silent rallies that took place, one of which took place in Lansing, Michigan -- their city. I watched their reactions as they met Tyler’s and Ty’s parents and families. I watched their anger as they saw what happened to Alex. I watched as they felt sympathy for Kelby while admiring her spirit and determination and optimism. I watched as they acknowledged their understanding of why Ja’meya did what she did and celebrated her homecoming.
I warned my kids that I would be a mess by the time the credits rolled. As they watched me go through the tissues, they knew I wasn’t kidding.
And I did it five times.
One of my students asked me if I didn’t get bored watching the same thing multiple times. I told him that I wasn’t worried about that; I had been bored before and I would be bored again and I knew what to do that was socially appropriate when/if I ever was bored.
I told him that I would be worried if I didn’t react. Not reacting would mean that I had somehow become desensitized; becoming desensitized would mean that I didn’t feel. I told him that I didn’t worry about being bored. I would worry if I didn’t FEEL.
I shared that with every class, every student. I didn’t try to hide my emotions. I told them that this movie affected me on every level: as their teacher, as a parent, as a human being, as a victim.
I gave my students the challenge to sit alone in the cafeteria at lunch one day and become an observer. Who sits alone? Does anyone come along to sit with that person or invite that person to a table with others? Is anyone being harassed? If so what is the harassment? How does the person who is being harassed respond? Does anyone else notice? Do adults notice? If so, what do they do? I warned them not to evaluate, just observe behaviors. The discussion of their observations comes next week.
I invited a wonderful friend, a retired teacher, to come to my class for moral support because teachers don’t get “tears” timeouts and the show must go on.
After I turned off the movie, I stood in front of my students, fought through the tears, and said something like this to every class.
“At the end of the movie, Tyler’s dad wore a t-shirt with a delta sign that said ‘Be The Change’ and said that everything starts with one. It does. Change starts with one. It’s how we make a difference. In the movie, Kelby realized that it would take multiple people in multiple places across time to make things happen.
“I believe everything starts with one. And bullying stops with each one of you. It stops every time you make a choice to not make that comment about someone you don’t like. It stops when you squash the rumor. It stops when you stand up for someone instead of ignoring what is happening to him or her. It stops when you step out of your comfort zone to meet someone new. It stops every time you are kind to someone. It stops when you include someone you might normally exclude. It stops when you find out what you have in common with people rather than teasing them or putting them down for the differences. It stops every time you reach out to help someone or reach out for help because you need it. It stops with one act, one kind word, one choice at a time.
“I understand that some of you got this before you walked in here to see this movie. I understand that some of you get it a little more, maybe for the first time, by seeing this movie. I understand that some of you still don’t get it and you might not ever get it until it affects you or someone you love personally. Just like Kelby’s father said he didn’t understand that depth of hate and ugliness that exists in the world until he was the father of a gay child. I also understand that some of you might not get it ever.
“And I understand that some of you are going to walk out that door and laugh at me. I’ll be okay. Everything starts with one. Bullying stops with each one of us. Be the change.”
I got a lot of silence. I know kids were processing both what they had seen and what I had said. The two spontaneous hugs from kids were nice. Gave me hope.
Next week as we wrap this up, I will give my students a pebble to remind them that something small can make a big difference just like that pebble when dropped in water makes ripples that spread out. I hope they don’t end up on the floor. Or worse.
I have been told that my class is a semester-long class. That means that next semester I will do this all over again.
Lest anyone go there, no, I don’t think I’m all that. I have wonderful students, I work with some amazing people, and I am blessed beyond words to have people who love and support me.

Patte has been working in education for over thirty years, twenty-five of them as a certified teacher. She started out teaching adults who were either studying for the GED, taking high school completion classes, or learning to speak English. She now teaches middle school students in Lansing, Michigan

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