Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Time With TED. Enough Said.

Short post today - I'm home with a sick child - but one of the things that a family sick day allows is a little time to explore and peruse some of the more worthwhile links shared by people in my Twitter community. Someone retweeted a link to a TED talk by Eve Ensler about "embracing your inner girl," which was mildly entertaining, but it prompted me to wander a bit through the TED site. Funny, I never regret the time I invest in TED, yet I can recall practically hating myself for the time I used to squander on Facebook (I recently deactivated my account).

In any case, I'd like to share a link to Dave Eggers' 2008 talk on creative engagement with youth and schools via community-based tutoring centers. He points to the critical importance of the one-to-one teaching/tutoring model - something so rare in education today, but so effective and vital to the success of students who struggle most. If you've never checked out a TED talk, consider this your lucky day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

recidivism bites

Last Friday we had a graduation for Jonah, a sixteen year old kid who is the father of two children and has another on the way. At the ceremony, we all bestowed our best wishes upon Jonah, saying positive words of encouragement and reminders about responsibility, hard work, and healthy goals. Jonah thanked everyone, including teachers, staff and other residents, and said he would keep his head up and stay out of trouble. To be honest, I had strong doubts about Jonah's future and his ability to make it out there (and by 'make it' I mean finishing school and getting a legitimate job, as opposed to earning a living as a purveyor of illicit drugs).

This morning I learned that Jonah was arrested for possession of marijuana, which means a few things:

1. he's going back to secure lock-up after only 6 days on the out
2. his community re-entry and education plans are totally derailed
3. I now know why I had such doubts about Jonah

In reading workshop, when I would ask Jonah to describe something in either oral or written format, he used to say to me, "Miss, I know what I am trying to say, but I can't find the words. I don't's's so hard for me." Jonah had also confided (in a very open way) that he had been smoking pot regularly since he was ten years old, and that he didn't know how he was going to make any money in life other than by dealing drugs. I asked him if he thought that plan would work for him in the long term. "What are my other choices?" he replied. "Well, education would be a good start, don't you think?" I offered. "Which would lead to a career path of your choice. It can be done, you know," I told him.

But I always saw a dismissive expression on his face when we had conversations like this one. I never got the impression that Jonah wanted to complete his education and get a job. Maybe he was addicted, to a number of things for a variety of reasons. But I still feel mournful at this latest twist in the tale of Jonah. I'd rather be writing about all the success stories of kids in DYS who actually use their time in custody to turn their lives around. These stories exist and are worthy of wide public broadcast. For now, though, I reflect dolefully on Jonah. Perhaps his latest learning experience will be the catalyst for some sort of positive change.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Man On Wire

I just finished a mini unit on courage and perseverance using the Academy Award-winning documentary film Man On Wire as my focus story. Before watching the film, I indulged in a read-aloud of Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between The Towers. I'm sort of sadly amazed at how much background I need to provide to my students on things I used to think everybody automatically knows, such as What Was The World Trade Center and Where Is New York City and Why Is The World Trade Center Not Standing Anymore. That last one, having to do with a lack of awareness of 9/11, is rare among my students, I must admit. But it is a fact that the kids who come into custody of the Department of Youth Services tend to be 1)lacking in formal schooling, 2)from families that either cannot or do not support learning, and 3)are ELL's. Hence, I need to pre-teach a lot of stuff. On the other hand, that's why I'm here, right? I love teaching, reading and learning side by side with my students. So I guess I'm in my dream job.

"Can you 'see' yourself in this story?" I ask them, reminding them that we comprehend stories in many ways, two important ones being feeling and visualizing. "Miss, I would never do what he did. To walk on a wire up in the air, that far up? No way. Maybe I'd try it if there were, like, a trampoline or something underneath me."

I give an empathetic chuckle. "I hear you on that one. I can't see myself as a wire walker, either. But what do you think Philippe Petit's story has to tell us about things like following a dream and never giving up? Is there a message there for us?"

One of my students, Miguel, raises his hand. "Miss, it's like he's telling us that we are powerful beyond our wildest dreams. All we have to do is think it, dream it, and we can do it. I hear his message. I get it."

I look at Miguel, my eyes wide and glassy. "Yes, you get the message. You are all so capable and powerful," I tell them.

May my students set their goals in high and healthy places. And may they embody the true meaning of perseverance. I'll help in any way I can.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

the smell that surrounds you

I realize that this isn't the most savory topic for my first blog entry of 2010, but I've been moved to write from the heart. Whatever the substitute cook made for lunch today is causing every single resident to make painfully obvious their resulting indigestion. Every kid has passed gas since lunchtime. I can also hear staff members downstairs having the same problem. It is now 2:31 and I am contracted to be here until 3pm, but, dear Jesus, let's remember that heat rises, and it's becoming unbearable up here on the third floor. There's no escaping it. So, let this be a parting farewell, or a farting parewell, take your pick. I'm OUT.