Sunday, March 1, 2009

what makes it worth it

Via Flickr. A student that made an account, posted pictures, and had an avenue to keep in touch. We write back and forth every year or so, just a simple exchange. In his last message (he never made it through traditional school and I never faulted him...he was too creative to be kept in a box) he wrote: "Don't tell anyone but you were the best teacher I had in high school."

Wow....I remember that school....I remember being in a trailer at the end of the line of trailers...never seeing anyone except my dear Mr. Alvarez and my darling students. Darlings because they came in every day wondering what on earth I had in store for them. We read, wrote, spoke, sang, danced, colored, illustrated, scanned and played. We had fun, we did a lot of hard work, and we recorded most everything on film and blogs for posterity. I remember just going for it. Going for my gut feeling of not covering but teaching a handful of usable skills, usable over and over and over and over and over and over again.

And being creative and fun and letting the ideas just flow and encouraging each kid where he or she was at in life and not expecting anyone to complete a worksheet or know a discrete set of vocabulary from a chapter from a book that made no sense to a small-town kid from a dead mill town in the middle of the Maine woods.

This was the first year I taught the words "snowmobile", "fourwheeler", "icefishing" and "hunting". And I knew I had something. I knew I finally got it. Not that my kids are all these Maine kids...I have kids with all kinds of interests...but this was the year I figured out that what the textbook says to do and what I know to do are different. I can still teach the skills but using the context of the students.

Oh, the difference it has made. For me, for them. Discovering together that IDEAS are more important than MEMORIZATION or even SPELLING.

(Spelling is important, yes...but in the big scheme of things I'd rather assess an idea and its execution in full...)

Anyway. Wow. There are days I feel despondent. Will they use these skills? Will they learn something worth keeping from me?

I think this kid learned from me that he was valuable, smart, and creative. And that he didn't need high school to be valuable. He has a tough road ahead of him, making a way that is non-traditional. But as I told him you can do it. You have the brains and the creativity.

In return he tells me I am the best teacher he had in high school. I will take that.

Yes, I care about what the kids learn. But I also know that there is a greater work to be done. A kid cannot learn until he knows he is valuable. Period.

I remember one year having one singular goal for one student. I wanted this student to gain enough confidence to talk in class. It never happened. It nearly broke me. She did not know what potential she had. She was afraid to smile, to speak. Every single day I gave her a smile and a genuine hello.

I don't always accomplish my goals.

But sometimes it happens. Today I feel good.

2 comments:

rach :) said...

Put that note aside, and save it when you need sunshine on the darkest days in the classroom.

BTW...I think you would make a great alt ed teacher, if you ever tire of spanish :)

Amity said...

I would love to teach alt ed. Really. I would love it. My parents did it...

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