Friday, March 6, 2015

Chapter 5

Because all great procrastinators spend time on Facebook rather than accomplishing their work, as I prepared to write this blog, I felt the need to visit the world of faces first. Conveniently, I found a particular African proverb that struck me:

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance

How much truth can one line hold? For me, this line kind of epitomizes what we’ve discussed in this class throughout the year. Our goal is to help students break the cycle of poverty. Some students are born into a cycle of wealth while others want nothing more than to enter that world. It’s hard to fathom what poverty can do to some students, and even throughout the conversations we’ve had, it doesn’t become completely apparent. For these students, they are striving for an education - they are striving for a chance to escape the ignorance that may befall them.

The most sparking area that we discussed in our last meeting dealt with the benefits of the arts, AP courses, and physical activities. It seems that, in many schools that I have observed and many colleagues I have conversed with, there is a split between the arts and the athletics of a school. Each attempts to demonstrate great worth and value by providing for students, but in the end, a grudge match occurs between the sports and activities advisers. I don’t think it is intentional and I don’t think it is something that we want to engage in, but students pick up on an animosity between the two spectrum. We need to unite our groups and think about the best interest of the students. Both sports and arts lead to academic success. In the long run, isn’t that it’s all about – teaching these students? 

The area that I wish we had some control over would be the AP courses, which we do not offer at RHS. Instead, we have opportunities for dual-credit, but those are paid for by the students. Poverty-stricken students do not have many options when it comes to early-entry status. One dual-credit course can cost upwards of $300. How do poverty students make this happen? Can they? As we discussed during the morning session, we can recognize the need for these students to achieve, but it becomes very difficult to know how much we can intervene. 

Overall, I have found many of our conversations sparking. This is a topic that, until it is discussed and considered, is under the radar for many of us. I know that I didn’t really consider poverty stricken students when I began teaching; now, I have a much wider range of perceptions to some of the behavioral issues of Jr. High. It is very easy for a teacher to bark and holler and come down on students who do not act perfect. What I try to remind myself now – these students need, at their very core, just one person to treat them as a person and not as a child. That, we can accomplish every day.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Chapter 4

As a district, I would suggest that we are on the right track. In his book, Jensen suggests that we integrate an enrichment mindset. To do this, we have to convince our students that they are all capable of learning. In the past couple of years, I have seen this mindset develop. Our students, through a variety of processes and systems, are no longer being allowed to fall through the cracks. Accountability is taking over and, as such, we are relaying a belief that all students can learn. Jensen suggests we embrace an attitude of "intellectual curiosity, emotional engagement, and social bonding" (p. 94). If we can create an environment in our building where students feel learning is possible, through what we are currently implementing and what Jensen states must happen next, we will maintain and only improve our current state.

I also think we are on the right track when it comes to building relationships. Especially with the new mentoring program, we are providing every student a staff member they can rely on and trust (hopefully). I do think, however, that all teachers must commit to this mentoring program. If only part of our staff is trying to connect with the students, we will only further isolate certain students. I particularly like Jensen's steps to strengthen these relationships, primarily the statement "Show that you care more than you show authority or knowledge." I think it was this class or during one of this year's PD days when it was stated that "Students will not care how much you know until they know how much you care." Of all the statements or ideologies I have heard in the past few years, this one strikes me as the most important. In terms of what we're doing well, I would say our students do know how much we care, and if they don't yet, they will soon.

In order to keep moving forward, we, as a staff, need to give in to the forward momentum, not just to assist our poverty-stricken children but to help all our children. If we want to really help our students learn and grow, we need to demonstrate that we, as a staff, are willing to make changes in our teaching. This, of course, we have already done. I do think, however, that we need to continue to impress upon all students an ability to learn. If we allow our poverty students to believe they can't do it, they will start to believe it. We are the key to our students' educational lives. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chapter 3 - A Mindset for Change

For me, the line from Chapter 3 that struck me most occurred within the first paragraphs of the reading:

The reason things stay the same is because we've been the same. For things to change, we must change!

In a conversation regarding students and poverty, this is definitely not the line I would have expected to stick out. In all honesty, this line rings true for the issue facing poverty-stricken children; for so long (or for most of their lives), they have been labeled due to their Socioeconomic status. We try to teach kids at a young age that it is not nice to point and call names. However, teachers have no problem picking little Timmy out due to his parents' lack of money. We are sometimes the worst perpetrators when it comes to labeling. The worst part of it, however, is our blinded reality or our own urges to insist that we are only trying to help.

Chapter 3 brings to light the idea that change is in fact possible. Students can change. It is particularly interesting how this book and Mindset correlate as changing a students perception of their own situation is dependent upon their ever-changing mindset. Jensen cites several studies showing a mind's ability to alter and change. However, many of these studies relied on placing SES students into a more positive environment or introducing a group of variables otherwise unavailable. What is doing the changing in these situations?

That is not to say that SES students not in these experiments are incapable of changing; however, it is unrealistic to expect them to make the changes independently. The experiments conducted proved that change is possible. Students born in difficult circumstances can learn. Should they be forced to change on their own? I think of even adults' desires to change. How many adults change completely independently from everyone? How many require some help or guidance? For SES students, that is where the teacher plays a vital role. The teacher's job for every student is to foster an attitude that learning is possible no matter what. For SES students, especially at a younger age, that is all they want.

I direct back to the opening quotation. "For things to change, we must change!" (Jensen 46). I may offer a slight revision: For things to change, we must offer and accept help to change. For our SES students, change is a possibility. Jensen proves this time and time again. What we, as teachers, must do is offer to our students the map to change. We are dealing with 5-18 year old students; none in this range are capable of transformation completely on their own. Let's change our attitude regarding SES students. Perhaps this is the first change that must occur.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Post 1 - Chapters 1 & 2

Children dealing with poverty is something that we, as educators, want to say we consider and recognize in our classrooms. We want to say this and we do say this, but that does not always mean we know why it is happening or how to deal with the students affected by a lack of income. With everything else teachers deal with in the classroom environment, poverty may easily have gone unnoticed. Instead, we go around treating all students the same and expecting all students to complete the same tasks by the same due-date. 

That's not to suggest that we should start treating children affected by poverty differently than the rest of the room. In reality, it is more important to treat these poverty-stricken children as if they didn't have these life burdens.  Calling them out (even unintentionally or privately) can have devastating results. The child will feel alienated (or further alienated if that feeling is already there) from the rest of the class. Jensen makes it very clear that we do not want to show pity for these students; rather, Jensen suggests we feel "empathy" (p. 12) as this will invite the student into the room with causing a scene. 

I continue to think about those who deal with poverty, trying to come up with a plan for successful education when the first thing on their mind is typically not parts of speech. How do we teach to those who go straight to work after school lets out? We demand homework as a way to practice skills; they perform life-skills instead as a way to survive. 

As educators, how do we acknowledge without labeling; how do we assist without patronizing; how do we encourage without pitying? When it comes to poverty in education, situations can change and new students can be on the other side of the "haves" and the "have-nots." It is up to us, as professionals, to keep them engaged (or as engaged as possible) because after they leave our classrooms, they have a different assignment to fulfill. It's not about pity; it's about empathy. And it's about presenting opportunities for these students that they can, in fact, be someone...other than poverty-stricken.