I finished up the teaching week at the Grand Canyon with the third set of students, all 102 students made it to the South Rim this week and it was exceptional. It was exceptional not just because kids got to run around outside (which is awesome), or that I sang along to top 40 songs with 7th graders for hours (if I hear Happy one more time…), or because the students were more themselves (student asks, Can I call you Diana? ;-), or because I am more me (teacher me vs. person me) or because they made all kinds of connections with their learning (which they did), or because it was the GRAND CANYON (which all alone is pretty stupendous) or because… etc.
I am in a pretty tricky position with these students… I am their sub who came in for 6 weeks, left for 5 weeks and then came back to finish the year (its a long story, but the original 6 week gig was all it was supposed to be). I don’t know them as well as I need to know them, to be effective. I am in a crash course to know them, know them well enough to push them, to teach them about their own learning, to work *with* them and not just ask them to *do* work. It’s not easy, but its a good challenge. Luckily, I am supported by a few really wonderful people (some of my teacher friends I’ve known the longest) that are there to help the situation along.
Another part that makes it difficult is that this is a two year program and I have become a key player in year one. I cannot stay for year two. From the back of the van, on Friday, the students started lobbying for me to stay. They knew I was headed to Philly for spring break to work on the SLA/Inquiry Schools projects and they heart-breakingly started saying things like, “just tell those Philly people that you quit while you are there”, “we’re way better than anything in Philly, I mean, we have the Grand Canyon” and it went on from there. Being the nomad has been unwieldy at times, but everyone that knows my deal, knows that I am not sticking anywhere right now… but, these kids didn’t get the memo, or rather won’t accept it. Encouraging them, as their teacher, to push themselves doesn’t work well if they feel like I have one foot out the door. Everything I am doing is saying, I’m all in… but then… Argh.
This past week, I did about a month’s worth of getting to know kids. Taking them to new places, outside the normal classroom allows you to accelerate the pace at which you know them, not just as learners, but as people. And it is a decidedly two way street. (a quick aside: I would make the connection that at SLA, we did much of this through informal social networking.) When people ask how to *fix* their schools, I think my new answer might be, how well do the people in this building know each other and what are the systems and structures that support that ‘knowing’. I will be a better teacher because of the time I spent with the kids at the Canyon and they will be more invested in our class as learners, because we see each other as people, not just as teacher and student. We need more intentional structures in our schools that facilitate knowing and caring, not as a nice bonus, but as a core building block. You will never get as much from the learning experience as either a teacher or a student if you fail to recognize the relational power of first knowing teachers/students as people.
The bugger of it all for me… is that now that I know these kids, I am not going to want to leave them.