Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On their turf

I had an incredible experience after my disappointing day yesterday. I was on my way to another town to pick up a few supplies, and I saw four of my students get off the bus coming from football practice. I decided to turn around and pick them up, and ended up driving each of them home. It was such an eye opening experience. I have never been so involved with poverty at this level. Each of them live in run-down trailers with only blankets covering the windows. The yards were littered with all manner of debris and I could barely even drive down the poorly paved roads. All of the sudden I came to a fuller realization of what my students are up against. Up until this point I viewed their poor behavior merely as a nuisance to myself. However, I am quickly learning that the behavior expected from them in a school environment, is very different from the expectations they receive at home. I want to make it clear that I am trying not to judge this situation in any way. I am only attempting to describe what I am learning as I observe this foreign culture unfold around me. I was able to stop and converse with many other students that I did not expect to see, and felt a twinge of joy because they seemed genuinely happy to see me. On my way out of the town, I also felt somewhat frightened as I drove through numerous groups that all seemed to stop and question my motives for entering their community. Many of the people refused to acknowledge me as I nervously waved to ease the tension. This reaction only further seemed to prove the undercurrent I have felt coming from my students since day one. It seems to say why are you here, and why should we care? News traveled very quickly the next day that I had made the trek onto their turf. Many of the students seemed genuinely impressed that I would come to visit their meager surroundings. I approached the day with a newfound understanding for my students, and even though I refuse to lower my expectations because of where they're from, I can now stop punishing them for it. Instead I will teach them how to act in this environment, and how to be successful in many other professional circles.
I also had quite a few breakthroughs with my students today! Robert who usually sits in the corner and laughs incessantly, told me today that he now knows that water forms hydrogen bonds. This is a huge leap for Robert, because until this point he would stare at me and mumble something that always ended in a chuckle. Now I do not always understand what he says to me, so I began assuming that he found either me trying teach or learning in itself hilarious. However, I now know that he is very capable of learning, and it helps if marshmallows are present. I had the students make water molecules out of marshmallows and bond them together today. Most of the students were more concerned with eating the marshmallows than actually "bonding" them with anything that could potentially get them dirty. I don't think they are getting very much to eat, because I ended up feeling sorry and letting them eat all of the marshmallows we didn't use. I am truly coming to love these kids.
I learned today that some of my 9th graders are reading on a 2nd grade reading level. No wonder those students refuse to write anything on the board, and usually spend most of their time running around my classroom. I will have to find a new way to get through to them, although we are working on literacy daily in the classroom.
Finally, I will begin a dance club next week. I know this will be a great opportunity to get through to the kids. They have such a natural feel for rhythm and dance, and I can't wait to tap into it. The young man who was just voted most popular in the school will actually be the president of this group. Imagine that a young man who loves to dance can be accepted in this culture as one of the "cool kids." I know my high school experience would have been much different :) He told me today that he wants to complete a dance minor in college, but that he has never had any formal training. Even if he is the only one to come to dance club, I know that it will be worth it. Our first calling is to put together an egyptian dance for the homecoming presentation. Wish me luck!


Katie said...

That sounds awesome... please post video of the final dance! I'm sure it will be awesome with you as their leader. And what a fun way for you to continue doing something you love.

Dani Frogley said...

Reading this post just made me so happy :) I'm so glad things are going better J. Yay for marshmallows! And that is so exciting about the dance club too! Not only is that gonna be an incredible opportunity for your students to finally be able to exercise their creative minds, but it's gonna be such a good outlet for you as well. I can't wait to see how things progress!

Karen Webb said...

Marshmallows work well with nursery, primary and I use them when I substitute. They are ALWAYS a great standby with anyone. It is my secret to Success! I'm glad you finally found the secret. You will now be truly the best teacher ever! I can't wait to see how the dance club comes along.

Mr. Hill said...

Hey thanks for all of your words of encouragement! Miss you all!