After a rough start to the school year from a technology point of view, I need to take a few minutes to reflect on the rest of the week.
Tuesday was the first day back for students and I am always excited for the first day of school. This year I was also nervous. All week I felt like a first year teacher. Two new subjects to teach.. Wow! I tried not to let it overwhelm be, but there were moments of panic in the week. I have taught computers for 10 years. Could I really teach English and Social Studies and could I do it well? As the kids came in Tuesday morning, I was more overwhelmed by how much I had missed them over the summer. They are 8th graders, so very few of them were anxious about being back. They are the top dogs in the school and you could see that knowledge on their faces. Many of them knew I was making the move upstairs and my classroom is the first one as you make the turn down the 8th grade wing. So as I am standing in the hall to direct them to orientation, I was greeted with hugs and high fives. What an amazing way to start the year. I think a few of the 8th grade teachers were jealous. They don’t know many of these kids yet, but I have the advantage after having them in classes for the last two years. Knowing I was a leg up in forming the relationships necessary to teach students was a confidence boost to me. I was able to let them choose their own seats and make suggestions about a few not choosing wisely. We did ice breakers on the first day and rules and procedures on the second. My social studies students (I am thrilled to have them twice a day) did current events and wrote their personal history. My English students wrote two bio poems. The second one will not be due until Monday, but I have been grading the first cinquain poems and learning much more about my kids. Reading their personal histories has also been helpful. Even though I have had these students before and know a lot about them, put a pen in their hands and information flows. I was worried about teaching writing, but I can tell that they are going to need this class. Sure, they need to learn more about spelling and grammar, but they really NEED to be able to channel their feelings onto paper.
My students are from the poor side of our city. My middle school has 87% free and reduced lunches. We are 60% Native American and a large number of those students seem to float between Rapid City and the Pine Ridge Reservation. The poverty on the reservation is mind numbing. We have students that run in gangs. We have a problem with alcoholism both with parents and students. Drugs are not uncommon. We seem to draw in more special education students. We also range up to average middle-class. We certainly aren’t up to what is seen in large, inner-city schools, but it is the toughest part of Rapid City, SD. Most of my kids come to school with a great deal of baggage. I think our teachers are the hardest working middle school teachers in the city. We try to take care of students needs before we can even think about curriculum. Our school serves breakfast for the early drop-offs and has an after-school program that runs until 5:30 for those that have no where to go after our 3:02 bell. We have an Eagle Closet, which would be like a thrift store except it is free for our families. We have a parole officer that comes to our school several times a week to meet with her kids. We have a liaison officer that is kept far too busy. We have a food backpack program that sends students home on Friday with a backpack full of groceries to get students through the weekend. We have just set up a new fundraising committee that teachers are volunteering on to raise money for so many of the other items our students need. And with all of this said, let me assure you, there is NO other school I would rather work at. Even with all the issues they have, my kids are just kids. They need an education and they need someone to care about them. I never leave the school on any day when I don’t know with absolute certainty that I touched the life of a child. There is nothing that can give more purpose to my life.
My previous post expressed my frustration with technology. Yes, I am passionate about teaching 21st century students with 21st century tools, but even more so when it comes to MY kids. These students that come to me each day have not had the advantage of computers in their homes since birth. Some of them are starting to get them now, but their parents certainly know very little about technology and aren’t teaching them how to behave in an appropriate manner on the Internet. I have accounts on MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo and have found many of my students on Bebo. This summer, many of them found my account and made me their friend. (I don’t remember ever wanting to communicate with any of my middle school teachers in the summer, but maybe that was because I grew up in a different kind of household.) Because they reached out to me, I never missed an opportunity to chat with any of them. I counseled a few on what they were putting on their pages from a safety standpoint and tried to turn a blind eye to the language they were speaking to one another with. I did pull one young lady aside on the first day and express my concern at how vulgar her sign in name was and why, perhaps, that wasn’t the impression she wanted to leave with someone who might be her future employer. She hadn’t thought of it that way.
I talked to my principal about Bebo and we are going to try to get the district to open up the Internet one night a month. We are going to invite parents with their children to come in and I am going to discuss safety on sites like these and why putting the wrong image out there for the world to see might not be a great idea. Then we will have the students log into their accounts and show the parents. I will encourage parents to make the call on what is and isn’t proper and guide their own children. I am also go to encourage parents to set up their own accounts and have their children make them their friends so they can check in. I know some kids would feel this would be an invasion of privacy, but most of my kids would welcome this kind of attention from their parents. And parents just need to learn how to guide their children in an unknown territory for them. My son and I have had numerous conversations about what I have seen on his pages and it gives me a window into his friends. I hope we can work this out. I think it could be fun and good for all involved.
Back to the first week, – I get sidetracked once in a while – even with all the frustration, I love what I do. It is a calling. I don’t get up and go to work every day, I have the pleasure of spending my day with some amazing, young individuals who make my life richer. They keep me grounded. They make a bigger difference in my life than I probably do in theirs, but they make me want to work my tail off to be the best teacher I can for them. I’m glad they’re back. I needed to be grounded!