Friday, June 13, 2008

Docent Doe

For what it's worth, I highly recommend other first year teachers take an extended road trip during the summer. It seems impossible for me to tell how much of my isolation is geographic versus job focused, but I hadn't realized how distant the rest of the world had become.

I'm currently in DC and am loving the opportunity to play tourist. Hitting museums right and left.

In Feburary, I saw this article and resolved to visit the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Seriously, I saved it to tagged to a friend in the area with the note, "Can I visit this whenever I make it out to visit you this summer?"

I did not visit with that friend, but with another friend. We arrived just before a docent tour of the portrait gallery started and decided that would be a good way to start off our day. The tour was wonderful. Our guide took a route where she stopped in every room that we walked into. She would tell us about a portrait, giving all sorts of fun facts. (Which president had a rubber jaw? And where was the secret surgery performed?) And she kept us moving. If there was something else in the room that you wanted to see (for instance when I saw a Lakota cradleboard), that was fine. She kept everyone else moving through. The style was so exciting that I wanted to keep up and find out what else was going on.

After that experience, we were eager for the next docent tour this time of the Art Museum side. Maybe our expectations were raised so they had farther to fall, but we were not impressed. When we were given the out (another docent tour starting now) we jumped for it. And were thrilled to find our first guide doing a different tour.

The thing is, the second docent did the things that good teachers are "supposed to" do. She started out telling us where she would take us. When we were touring she asked us questions about the paintings. She waited for us to stop looking at other pieces in the room before she started talking. She got out the special docent gloves and showed us things that most visitors won't get to see.

And I was BORED.

If I wanted to talk about the pictures I would go through with my friend. I was there to learn more. I wanted the action-packed excitement. And the docent gloves weren't it, no matter how much she liked them.

I keep thinking about how this applies to my classroom. I fear I'm too much of the second docent. Too much of the following the rules. Too much of being excited about myself. Not enough contagious excitement about the material.

I'm not always sure of what makes the excitement contagious, but I think having the deep knowledge of the material. Having the confidence to say, "I don't know the answer to that. Let's look it up." Having the knowledge to be comfortable asking what students want to learn. Where do you want to go from here?Being able to say, "Oh this museum is confusing. I came up a different direction than normal and now I'm lost. You enjoy in here while I go find the picture I really want you to see."

Hopefully I'll have a bit more of that confidence in year two.

And lesson for anyone visiting DC, on Docent tours at the Portrait Gallery, Library of Congress, and the other museum where she works, try to get Madonna as your guide.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Note to self past

It's interesting how I remember so much of each individual day from this time last year. Today, for instance, I sat with a new friend, who had agreed to be my housemate for the coming year, as she made the call to resign from TFA.

10 schooldays since I turned in my keys for the summer and I may be ready to reflect on the year.

Dear Me '07,

Congratulations! You've made it through the whirlwind of finals/induction/graduation/packing-up-and-saying-goodbye/putting-stuff-in-storage-and-meeting-everyone-new
/9-hour-drives/flights-galore! Doubtless you realize that the whirlwind is just beginning. Take a moment, however brief, to savor these moments. They will be the last ones you have for a year without the pressure of lesson planning, grading, or just thinking about students.

During the fall, a friend will ask you, "If you could go back a year ago, would you still do it? Would you still check the box signing up to teach?"
My answer? "I don't think I could have talked myself out of it."

Claim it for what it is. The confession that you wonder why you agreed to this despite the warnings. The acknowledgment seeing the achievement gap from the student side is a different story than seeing it from the teacher side. All the more so in a strange and foreign land.
This accompanied by the optimistic hope that you can help the education system in some small, albeit stopgap, way. The determination that what is happening is not right and that doing something is better than not. The faith that, at least for now, teaching is your calling.

Because no matter how much you hear the stories, you don't know it until you live it. And even after living it, yes, especially after living in it, you realize you still don't know it.

After two weeks visiting friends in cities I've realized that when I'm in one world, I can't really imagine the other one. On the reservation, the neighborhoods of the suburbs aren't even a dream. The stores of downtown might as well be on the moon. The fifth-graders on a scavenger hunt at a museum are a sight to take pictures of, never mind that I have no connection to them.

As I drive farther from the reservation, it becomes ever harder to describe. When asked about jobs in the community, should I avoid mentioning the 85 percent unemployment rates? As the force of the number is reflected in people's face, should I remind them that this is among the poorest places in the states. I feel guilty for falling back on the deficit model--there is a rich heritage, my favorite tradition is the morning flag song--but there is truth that in other, larger areas there is wealth nearby. That wealth symbolized by something more than trailer-park teacher housing. Meaning not only is it existent, it's visible.

Given that I fall short of describing the reality you'll face, offering wisdom of how to prepare for it is beyond me.

My general advice?
Take advantage of your ability to ask for help.
Be amazed at how much you can keep in touch with people when you really need to.
Retreat to the edublogosphere when you need to passively plan for the future (or just not plan for tomorrow quite yet).
Take a mental health day when necessary and hope for conveniently placed snowdays.
Get out of town to remind yourself of the different worlds when you need to.
Own the successes of each day as they happen (too many will still feel like failures at the end of the year).

And remember, you couldn't talk yourself out of it. There's something here you believe in. In the students. In the community. In yourself. You may not know what it is, but it was strong enough to get you to check the box. And for what it's worth, it's strong enough that you'll be back.


Me '08