Report from the classroom
Today’s lesson is on how to get students to care. A week ago I wrote a story about a day in the life of Creekside. It came out on Tuesday and I suggested to our English teacher, Rosemarie Green, that she use the story in class as a discussion topic.
“Mr. Williams, I feel offended because I am a hardworking student who gets really good grades, but now because of your story people will get a bad impression of me.”
“Creekside provides a good opportunity for those students who are behind. Get to school, be respectful and you can go far.”
“The reality is that many of the kids actually choose to attend here. Our school isn’t just an ordinary school; it’s more of a family. Teachers at Creekside help us learn but also build relationships with us.”
“Wouldn’t it have been better to concentrate on the good things Creekside students are doing? A lot of us do have personal problems, but we are trying to not give up and keep going in school. I know that if Creekside and the Teen Parent Program didn’t exist, I would have dropped out.”
I had many discussions with students about what was written. Some thought I was saying they were all on drugs, they were from broken homes and their parents were all on drugs. Most thought the tone of the article was negative and I was perpetuating negative stereotypes of the students. One just called me a loser and an a-hole. We talked at length about how to express and take criticism without making it personal.
We went through the article word by word and I realized that some of the upset was based on
misunderstanding. I also made some general statements which certainly do not apply to all students.
Teachers work in the environment where they feel the most comfortable and where they can have the greatest impact. A great first-grade teacher may not be a great 11th-grade teacher, because the needs of the population are so different. I’ve worked with alternative populations because I love to see the change when a student is turned on to education.
When people ask me what I teach, I reply, “engagement,” because it is at the base of all my subjects. If the students are not engaged they will not learn.
I love teaching at Creekside. We teach a standards-based curriculum full of rigor, but do it using individualized curriculum, projects and hands-on learning techniques that work with our students. I have loved it for 12 years and while there are good and bad days, like any job, it’s a good fit for me.
My goal in the article was to inform not offend, and I am sorry if I left people with a bad impression of the students.
Each day they overcome problems, work hard and develop strategies for success. I am very proud of them and I expect great things from them.
I love running into current and ex-students at the market or in the Plaza and catching up with how their lives are progressing. Love what you do and you will never work another day in your life. That’s how I feel.
When the day was over, Rosemarie Green and I sat down to talk about the responses. Even the lethargic students had opinions, and I thought about how much was gained by getting the students to think, react and care. This became a theme as we talked about revolution in the world and Wall Street and school budget cuts.
Sometimes the best lessons are unintentional.