So, after my 2nd time of subbing at a high school that Dangerous Minds (or Coach Carter, Freedom Writers, o Stand & Deliver--take your pick!) could have been based off of, I've decided I need to write down a few of the "adventures" I have been having lately with my latest career choice!
I signed up to work with a company that promised daily jobs, and that they would even give me the choice of valley-wide schools to work for each day. I knew I was in trouble however when the over-chatty government worker handed me my substitute teaching certificate and said, "Boy! We've been getting a lot of you guys lately, more than usual! Must be the economy these days....". She was right! Jobs have been scarce, giving me only a few opportunities a week (if that) to work. So when a job actually comes along...you take it!
This level of desperation has led me to accept jobs across the valley...and when I say across, I mean ACROSS. NW Glendale, Laveen, Southwest Phoenix, you name it...I've driven the 45 minutes to get there BEFORE rush hour starts. At most of these schools, I have found myself to be the minority, both in race, religion, and sometimes even sexual-orientation. The teaching method of most schools I have been in, is to hand the children busy-work. I come in, all ready to read stories, lead lessons, and make learning fun (that's the educational background I have), only to hear a grumpy teacher bark out in broken English, "Get your books out 1st grade! Copy them, word for word, 5 times! No talking!". All fun is then zapped from my job, as I then have to become Miss Meany, the No-Noise Monitor. Boo!
Of course, not all experiences have been like this. For the most part, I have found children starved of positive attention & a kind word. In situations like the above, I suddenly feel like the Florence Nightingale of substitute teachers, as I quietly go from child to child, looking at their work, and complimenting them each for something specific. I LOVE seeing the smiles light up their faces from the encouragement. Some class personalities allow me to do this, others don't. Today's for instance, really didn't. In fact, with most of the kids bigger than me and already of a legal age, I was pretty sure at a few points they were just going to beat me up. They were already partly doing it on each other anyways. The language out of their mouths was....graphic, to say the least,both in words used and subject matter talked about, and the non-motivated attitudes epitomized what you would only expect to find in a made-up teenager on sit-com TV. Needless to say, after an attempt at conversation with the student counsel led to questions about if I'd ever #(*%&@?! been to *@(#*&% Chip N Dale's, like the girl turning 18 next week was doing, I stuck to reading the book I brought and counted down the hours for normalcy to return to my life!
A few days ago, I had a profound experience that, if for nothing else, can surely b used in a talk one day on the importance of not labeling others. I had a class of 6th graders who had not yet had a stable teacher (i.e. 4 months of subs!). All were actually pretty good kids, and I was left with an open day to fill with my own creativity (YES!) Pretty soon however, my creative genius was thwarted by a few ruffians in the back. Godfrey, Rammon (who also went by both Juan and RJ throughout the day), Jason, and Daniel...for some odd reason, some teacher, somewhere, had thought it a bright idea to stick all these little hooligans together at one table. They were rude, distracting, loud, disruptive, and even at times, physically harmful to both others & themselves. They refused to follow any instruction, and often just ht the floor and stated making baby sounds if I tried to address them one-on-one. Needless to say, was not amused and authoritative Ms. Alamo came out, yelling a few choice instructions.
Lunch time came, and to no one's surprise, this table of future-criminals were left, not yet dismissed due to unfollowed directions. I seized the opportunity to calmly go into a stern spiel about their behavior being unacceptable. Two sentences into my discipline however, the thought came that if I continued to treat the boys as outlaws, their behavior would remain that way throughout the day. So instead, I heard my voice change and the words come out, "Hey, I know you guys are good kids....you are GOOD KIDS. I know that. I can be the nicest teacher you've ever had, or one of the meanest. It's really up to how you choose to behave. Please don't make me be mean, I want to be nice today. Can you all help me with this?" heads nodded. "Good. Should we start over when you guys get back?" this time, I heard a few "Yeah"'s come from them. I took a deep breath of encouragement, and dismissed them.
I'm not going to say the rest of the day with these kids was easy...getting them to quietly read took about 20 minutes of patient (and sometimes stern) coaching to get away from each other. But the minute I saw even one of them actually LOOKING at a book page, I ran over and thanked them for the good job they were doing. I did this with each one of them (minus Daniel who was...MIA for some odd reason). Pretty soon, I was able to go back to this group of boys and tell them they were currently the most well-behaved group in the whole class. They were ALL on task and working hard. The boys looked at each other and laughed, saying, "Yeah, THAT'S never happened before! We usually only get yelled at." Daniel did eventually come back, and even annoyed the boys that he only wanted to play not work. He unfortunately was eventually sent to the office to spend the rest of the day (A first for me!), but it did solve the problem.
Godfrey, a little african-american boy, especially soaked up any little praise I gave him about the work he was doing. He went from the little boy that morning threatening to cut his wrists, to intently writing two paragraphs about his thoughts on school. The real reward came when he told me, "Ms. Alamo? You're nicest substitute I ever had. I ain't never liked a substitute, but I like you!" :) Pretty big compliment coming from a boy I'd been snarling at only that morning!
Alas, the day did not end happy. The permanent teacher appeared in the class during the last 5 minutes, along with a neighboring teacher. The neighboring teacher immediately said, 'Want to know who the angels and devils are? I'll tell you!" he then systematically went around the room, pointing to each child and labeling them as "Angel". He got to Godfrey--sweet Godfrey!, who looked hopefully up at the teacher's pointed finger--and said, "This one? This one is a devil! You better watch him! He's not like the others!" He then pointed to Rammon/RJ/Juan and said the same thing. I watched Godfrey's face just fall at the label given to him in front of his brand new teacher. I was standing next to Rammon at the time, who I heard say, "Man, that's messed up! I mean, i can be bad, but I can be real good too! I've got two sides of me! I'm not always bad, mannnn!!", Godfery too was mumbling in disgust and looked at me, 'But I was good today, right ms. Alamo?", to which I affirmed, and tried to high-five him a few times for the job well done before he left.
What on EARTH, gives a man the right to make someone else feel the way I saw Godfrey feel? Who on EARTH employed that man to shape young minds?! I was so mad that day as I left, feeling like with one loud, imposing label, this man had undermined all the progress I had made with the boys that day. Positive Reinforcement had actually worked on some pretty tough kids seeking any kind of attention they could get.
It made me think though--people really do tend to live up to the labels we give them (or, the expectations set for them). Or, as my roommate so poignantly put it, "it's easier to believe the bad stuff people tell us about ourselves. So, if they say that's who we are...we'll believe them. And we seldom disapoint." Is it any wonder then, that from an early, impressionable age, the church teaches us we are a "Child of God"? How wonderful is that? :) We are labeled the highest honor that can be given to a creation on this planet--His child. The expectations are set, the destination high, yet achievable. I'm so grateful for the kind encouragement we get from an all-knowing God, who knows our potential, and encourages us to that point, instead of punishing us for not yet being there.
So, with all this in mind, I have accepted a position at Keystone Montessori ( http://www.keystonemontessori.com/ ), a school that believes in quiet, patient encouragement of the child. After thinking about it, it seems more like the method our Heavenly Father uses in our spiritual upbringing..and one I would like to develop more myself. I start in January! I'm looking forward to the challenge of learning new methods. Honestly...I'm SO excited about this position! Reasons I'm excited:
--the diverse group of students have such an attitude that instead of being labeled a "minority school", it feels more like a "culturally diverse school" (meaning, they actually look me in the eye and don't try and make me feel guilty for being born how I was born.) Culture becomes a celebration that enhances the learning environment, instead of a label.
--They teach Spanish! Yay, I get to tutor in Spanish!
--I'll work with a teacher from Vera Cruz, Mexico...who already knows I'm Mormon that served as a missionary in south America, and she's asked a question or two :) Oh...and she hates having to run by a watch as much as I do :)
--My job will be to specifically work one-on-one with each child to monitor their progress...my forte.
--I am in charge of "Individual Fieldtrips"--meaning taking different kids to the public library, or to go get more "frog food" from the local petstore. How fun is that? Random breaks in the routine are fun to me :)
--We do art! And there's a heavier focus on Science than in most schools.
--And the ring-dinger of them all: Free trip to Washington DC! :) Apparently a "class field trip" in this school means taking 26 pre-teens to the US Capital! Or Pennsylvania...apparently the kids haven't decided yet :)
Until next time blog-readers! :)