2.19.2011

T.E.A.C.H.E.R.

It's only taken me seven years to realize that "real teaching is real hard." That, by the way, I coined earlier this week. So when I get famous (not sure by what means, or when - I'm thinking some kind of inspirational teacher movie, ala Jaime Escalante, or LouAnne Johnson), know that I've got the patented rights to this. Just saying.

All you educators out there know the following: teaching is not about just teaching. Teaching, imparting information, is only a small sliver of what we do on a daily basis. Currently, the district I work for is integrating a new system of teacher evaluation known as RISE (Research-based Inclusive System of Evaluation). It's intense, but entirely logical. It forces educators to look deeply at their practice and reflect in a manner that they never have before - at least, in a way to which they've never been held accountable. There are 24 components by which we are evaluated, and trust me when I say no stone is left unturned. It's quite a process, but one that if you're doing your job, you'll be okay. It's not that you'll move through the process with flying colors, hardly anyone ever does, but you'll not leave with a rating of "unsatisfactory."

What I believe RISE comes down to is reflection. We teachers are so damn busy every single day that we often miss opportunities, or overlook chances to reflect on our practices. This new tool affords us that chance. But - honesty is crucial in making the process worthwhile. If one is less than brutally honest, then there is no take-away, no learning. In my first RISE evaluation a few months ago, I actually talked my Principal down on a couple of the components. He wanted to rate me proficient, and I thought I should be basic. I didn't see it as some scary black mark, but just a more clear picture of where I am. A perfectly distinguished (highest rating possible) teacher does not exist, especially not for all 24 points. I will certainly work towards being distinguished, but for now, I'm comfortable with basic/proficient ratings. I've got 23 more years of this: the race is not given to the swift nor strong. Victory belongs to those who keep on moving on. But what about the rest of the teaching menagerie?

Last week was very eye-opening. A student lost her cousin to a brutal shooting. It was gang related, senseless and inexplicable. He was shot in the chest six times and left on the street to die. And he did. He could not get away because he was on crutches, his ankle in a cast from having been shot at sometime earlier in the month. The police were called but did not respond for three hours. Um, can we say institutionalized racism? Disgusting. This young man's passing garnered a whole 4 sentences in the local paper. Apparently his life wasn't worth much more than four lines.

This student, a sweet young lady, was shaken to the core. She saw him in the street, lying in his own blood. We sat on a bench and spoke one afternoon. The details of her life she described were so foreign to me, to my blessed little life, that I was riveted. At one point I asked her if she could live anywhere in this city, where would she live. Her response: "I don't know, where is it safe." In that moment I wanted to swoop her up, bring her home with me to my safe neighborhood for the weekend. I imagined baking cookies and cupcakes, watching movies together, and taking walks with Olive. I wanted to show her what life could be like. That normal wasn't just a fantasy. But what would one weekend do? It wasn't going to save her. She would be going right back into her own reality as soon as the weekend was up. What could I do, how could I help her? Teaching English seemed incredibly insignificant.

The Great White Hope, I am not. I cannot save her or any of them from their lives. I'd like to think I can empathize with these students, but that's not really possible. I don't truly know what it is to live a life violence and loss and fear and uncertainty. I had two parents and a safe home. We took vacations every summer to places like Yosemite, Disneyland, and Palm Springs. College was part of the culture of our household. Education was top priority. That's not so for this student. So how do I help? I've offered an ear, a shoulder and support. I will encourage her to chase her nursing dream. What else can I do?

None of this is part of the RISE rubric, but arguably just as important.




3 comments:

The Bizer said...

So many stories around the country like this only the teacher doesn't have time, empathy, or interest to get involved. Nice work, wonder woman. Teachers can't be everything for their students - no one person can. Your actions say something about you as a person more than you as a teacher.

Wonder Woman said...

Thanks, Bizer. I appreciate it.

Gabby said...

Being there, lending an ear, and offering support, is often exactly what an alone, lost, and discouraged child needs. Never underestimate the power in showing a child you care. They can feel it, they can see it in your eyes, and they can hear it in your voice. Sometimes it's more interest & concern than they've ever known before. It's a gift that they can open up again and again and just might change the coarse of a life. If the world was filled with teachers like you, my friend, the world would be a much different place.