This semester, in my Grade 11 English class, I decided to try something new. I decided to incorporate a new non-fiction writing assignment in my course, in place of a traditional "reading journal". This non fiction writing was optional but I was very pleased when I logged into my Teacher Dashboard in Hapara to see that over 90% of the students to chose to do the personal writing assignment.
I was inspired by a few posts I had seen on the Humans of New York instagram page - in particular, ones of students talking about struggles in their lives. I started to wonder how much I know about my students. I also started to reflect on what I would share if I was stopped by a "HONY" type of project.
I knew that in order to get my students to buy in, I would have to open myself up also. I would have to model not only what I was looking for, but also some vulnerability in what I was sharing if I wanted them to share true feelings and emotions with me.
So last week I walked into class ready to present my brand new lesson.
I polled the class to see who had heard of HONY. Not many. But many had heard of something similar, our school's own "Humans Of" page. I used that as my kick off to introduce their task.
"When people find out that I'm a teacher, they always want to know what it is like to be on the “other” side of the classroom… people always want to know what the hardest part about teaching is. It's not all the prep or the marking... although those are the most time consuming. And, most days, it's not even the behaviour issues or the disrespect, as frustrating as those are. Usually it's the battle to make a difference. To reach every kid. When kids are little, they are usually so excited about school and so open about their feelings and their struggles. They want to share their goals and dreams with you and they will tell you about their defeats and disappointments. By the time they get to me, in high school, that has often changed. They all have their own unique past life and school experiences which influence them, who they are and ultimately, how they are in my class. I have 75 minutes a day for 18 weeks to try to make an impact on them. To teach them not only curriculum - fundamentals of English or History or Civics, but to hopefully make a positive difference in their lives… one that they will carry with them further than their memory of metaphors and conscription and electoral reform. And it's not easy to reach them all. There are so many other factors at play - stress, depression, anxiety, poverty, hunger, gender and sexuality issues, self esteem, negative school experiences, bullying… to name a few - that shape who they are and what they are feeling. But I only know what I observe or what they choose to share with me. Usually there is so much more beneath the surface. And sometimes those stories are the saddest of all. The stories that I’ll never know. So that's the hardest part of teaching: the helplessness you feel and the tears you shed when you so desperately want to reach every single student but know that sometimes you just can't because it's not always about you... it's about them... and you need to respect that too."
That was a big share. A big vulnerability for me to lay that one out to them.
I then shared their assignment:
Imagine you were stopped by a “Humans Of” photographer. You can choose anything to share with him/her. It should be something that you think ‘defines’ you as a person - a life experience (positive or negative), a passion/goal, a memorable moment. It should be about 450-500 words. Use the Humans of New York social media pages (http://www.humansofnewyork.com) (and my example) as a guide.
Next, answer the question: Who am I? The first part should be background information about you (who you are, where you are from, where you have lived, your family, your hobbies, etc). Choose any quote that “speaks” to you. It can be from song lyrics or a poem or a famous “saying”. The second well developed paragraph of this assignment should about how this quote represents you or your life (or what you want to be or want from life).
And I waited patiently for the week to pass until they submitted the assignments to me.
I had no idea whether this was going to be a huge success or a huge failure.
The night that the assignments were due, I sat at my computer and watched the clock click to 7:30pm then I went into their folders and started reading. I stayed up until well after 1:00am reading all of these amazing reflections. Some were hilarious, some were so sad that they made me cry, and some inspired me.
But most importantly, they gave me insight into the students I was teaching. I got to know something about each and every one of them that I might not have known otherwise. I can't control how much they choose to share - perhaps some of the students who shared the funny ones have some deep pain that they chose not to share with me.... and that is okay. What is important that I gave my students the opportunity to share with me whatever they felt comfortable sharing and in turn, it offered me a chance to understand them better.
I am also glad that I chose to wait until a few months into the semester; while I understand that there is merit to knowing information about your students "right out of the gate", I think that my choice to wait a few months gave my students a chance to get to know me and hopefully feel comfortable sharing some things that they might not have otherwise shared, back in early September.
"No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship."
Yesterday was my birthday. Not that birthdays are really a big deal when you get to be my age... but it was my birthday nonetheless. Usually there are some minor celebrations - maybe a dinner and a few gifts and definitely some "Happy Birthdays" in passing. Yesterday was not a "happy" birthday. Yesterday I was sad. I was mad. I was distressed over the results of the American Presidential Election. I have spent many months following the coverage. I watched the primaries and those respective debates, when the candidates were battling within their own parties for the nomination. I spoke at length with my classes, namely my Grade 11 English classes, about what was happening in US politics, linking it to our studies of George Orwell's classic, 1984.
I watched and listened as Donald Trump used racist, sexist, homophobic remarks throughout his campaign, in shock and disgust. But I was always sure that he would never win. I didn't think it would be a landslide for Hillary Clinton, but I had faith that hate would not triumph.
Yesterday, when it was announced that Donald Trump was the President-Elect, I was upset. I was mad. I was sad. I was shocked.... truly shocked. I didn't see this coming.
This has nothing to do with political ideology; Republican, Democrat, Liberal, Conservative, Socialist... I don't really care. I do not espouse my political views in the classroom because I do not feel that is my place.... nor really within the realm of my personal life with friends. This is not about Republicans winning. I have been very vocal in explaining that within any political ideology, there are people who make good leaders. Marco Rubio and John Kasich were both vying for the Republican nomination; both of these men I consider intelligent, well spoken, experienced politicians who were strong options for the leadership position. Does this mean I agree with their politics? No, it doesn't mean I agree with them on all issues or any issues... but I can respect and accept them because they carry themselves with a certain level of humility and class.
My problem with this election result is that Donald Trump stands for hate. I have a serious problem with someone who makes inflammatory remarks without even a second thought of the impact of these words. Someone who refuses to ever apologize and admit that he is wrong. I take issue with the fact he publicly declared that Mexicans in America are "rapists and criminals". I condemn anyone who suggests that someone taking part in his/her democratic and constiutional right to protest and peaceful assembly should be beaten up: “Maybe [the protester] should have been roughed up,” he mused. “It was absolutely disgusting what he was doing.” I abhor the fact that a Presidential candidate can be excused for remarks that are not only sexist, but actually promote sexual assault, by saying to "grab her by the p*****" is just "locker room talk". I reject the notion that you can promise to deport "Muslim immigrants" and "build a wall" to keep Mexicans "out" and yet, still be considered "not racist"... that you can be endorsed by the KKK and not decry their support and reject any affiliation with them.
That is my problem with this election. That every single day I come to work and try to teach my students to be loving, kind, fair, understanding, respectful, caring and positive people and that the man who has just succeeded in attaining the highest political office has openly and proudly acted in a way that is bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, hateful and divisive.
So yesterday, I was angry. And I was sad.
But today, I am hopeful.
I listened to Hillary Clinton deliver a powerful, eloquent and gracious concession speech. It was so painful to watch. Not because she lost, but because he won. But in those moments, watching her speak, I felt hope. Because her speech was not a rally cry for protest, for revolution, for anger... but because it was devoid of bitterness... it was a call for all people to come together. She told her supporters "Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and a chance to lead". She thanked all those for supporting her and continued to reiterate the importance of doing the right thing: "You will have successes and setbacks, too. This loss hurts, but please, never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it. Nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion."
President Barack Obama also shared his thoughts, and true to what we have seen over the last 8 years, he did so with dignity and grace, telling the American people that he respects the democratic process and will "work as hard as we can to make sure that this is a successful transition for the President-elect -- because we are now all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country."
And that, is what is the key here. Because what is done is done. And hoping that President Elect Trump falls flat on his face and ruins America so that people can say "I told you so" is not only ignorant, but it's ridiculous and it's wrong. Everyone now has to hope that President Elect Trump is successful, because his success is America's success and it's the world's success.
So when, in his victory speech, he declared: "It is time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be President for all of Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people, I'm reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.", I choose to believe in hope and possibility and believe that he will choose to be true to his word to be President for ALL Americans; even those who have been marginalized and hurt by his remarks in the past. I choose to believe him when he says that he "will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict."
I choose HOPE because in the impassioned and fervent final words of Jack Layton:
Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
So while I am sad, and while it pains me still and while I will continue to champion equality and respect for all, while condemning hate and hurt, today I will look to the future with the optimism that if we all choose love instead of hate and hope instead of fear, our whole world will be a better place.
Who am I?
Hi! I'm Megan. 21st century learner and teacher. I am passionate about DI, assessment, student success and #edtech. My blog is where I share what is happening in my classes, my professional learning and sometimes things that are on the outer circle of education. Comments always welcome!