Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Even More Tales of Schools

I've got school on the brain again. I'll get back to running at some point, and maybe find something new to talk about down the road, but for now, I've got school stuck in my head.

I have a kid sleeping in my classroom right now. And it's okay. I told the hall monitor that he wouldn't be switching to his other class because he is dead to the world. He came in this morning stumbling tired. He's not drunk, not high. I know the difference. He just hasn't slept and that's unusual for this kid. I asked him what was up. "Haven't slept," he said. I asked how come. He asked, "can we not talk about it?"

If an administrator, politician, or some other outsider walked by and saw that I was typing while he is sleeping, head down on the desk, hood up over his head, I imagine they would have some problems. They would at least have questions. So here are a few answers.

This is a good kid. He works hard here. He's had his share of problems in school (which is why he is here at alternative school), but he showed up here with a willingness to give it a fair shot. When I ask him to do something, he does. He is respectful to other students. And he plays defense on the basketball court.

That last part is indicative of what a kid will do in other areas. Defense isn't glamorous and almost no one really works at it. He does work at it. He rebounds, he passes, he almost never shoots. That's the type of kid he is.

Today, after he told me how tired he was and asked if we could not talk about it, he wrote for seven minutes. That's how we begin. I ask every kid to write and he did it. He wrote about how tired he was. Even as he was writing, I saw his eyes closing and then flashing open only to droop again. When we were done and I gave them a reading passage and some questions, he started in on it but then asked if he could do it next time. I looked him over. He wasn't whining, he was asking. I said that he could do it next  time and I told him that I wouldn't be offended even a little if he put his head down.

He resisted. You know why? Because he was pretty sure it would offend me. I assured him that it wouldn't, told him that I was grateful that he was being so considerate and told him to get some rest. That's what he is doing. He is going to miss part of his next class because that teacher and I agree that he needs this today and that he will pick it up tomorrow.

My answers for the outsider wondering what the hell is going on are simple: This kid needed individual attention today. He needed to be treated like a person. And all of us who work with him know that giving him what he needs today will pay big dividends for him down the line. He will have trust in us. He will understand something new about how the relationships between teachers and students can work. He will grow a little. And all of that from a half hour nap. Having him sleep right now is a good investment in his future.

Speaking of outsiders, there's been news about a school district which was giving math problems related to slavery. The questions seem crazy and make for good news. People have been asking me if I've seen this and if I'm not outraged. Well, I haven't seen it first hand and I'm not outraged. My guess is that this was a math teacher trying to work with other subject teachers on an immersive unit about slavery. The questions are supposed to be outrageous because slavery is an indefensibly outrageous practice.

Still, people are outraged that these are the questions and they wonder about the teacher's sanity. So it is when we see only a part of the picture. I think NFL practices would look insane if no one knew about the game to be played on Sunday.

My point about schools and about the larger issues is this: we rarely see much of the picture and it's almost hopeless to ever see the whole picture. What we might want to do before we go off half-cocked about something on the evening news or that we see in a classroom is to find out what is being taught, what is being learned, what the goals are and so on.

If nothing else, all this writing is teaching me how little can be said in 750 words, how often I need to rewrite and try to say something again in order to make sense of it for myself. I'm learning that to understand, I absolutely have to write on.