Friday, December 11, 2009

The Hallowed

The blue dress shimmers. The star garland wrapped me up like a gift. The dollar store stars complete my ensemble. I wave the sparkly wand about. “I am a galaxy. I am a galaxy” My diaphragmatic voice reminiscent of Mrs. Doubtfires. The students are riveted.
Halloween was their day to dress up, to peek at their fears and fantasy’s. A hallowed day to shut away the cacophony of the real world. I stood all a twinkly in front of my classroom of special need students, flailing about like a meteor whose fire is fanned by the unnamed “baby stars”
In honor of Halloween the costumed students trick or treated through the school. We teachers masqueraded as witches, devils, angels, a sixties flower child. Our attire announcing our intentions for our students. Our garb not a mask but a window to our wishes for them.
I will put a spell on you. I will bedevil you. I will chant at you. I will flash through your universe until you join me. You the student, we the cataclysmic instrument to the excavation of your essence.
Next year I will dress as an archeologist. Let me excavate the gem of you. Come closer, let me spark, engage you, look to the heavens.
I had explained to one of my coworkers that my costume was an effort to enchant the students to my land of learning.
Frustrated with the No Child Left Behind legislation and some imposed curricular changes I’d begun a blog to express my views and vent my frustrations. My proselytizing put me in the mind of my plumber dad. Ever the rebel, he philosophically aligned with Upton Sinclair and Tolstoy. A religious man, he felt he had a greater master than the boss. He told a story of how one day on the assembly line he tossed a smoke bomb under some machinery. The workers had to clear out for an unexpected coffee break while the source of the smoke was located. His antics push the boundaries.
Yet he was a constant, committed laborer. He’d trudge in the door after work his thermos empty of the tepid coffee, he smelled of the refinery. He was not afraid of hard work, dirt or extreme physical labor. He gave his 50 years with gratitude for his skills and opportunity (recessions and unemployment made him aware how blessed work could be.) Critical of “the man” yet he bled and sweated till the age of 75. I put his service pin on my charm bracelet, the one I dangle noisily to get the students attentions.
Since the beginnings of my career I have lit my own smoke bombs. Not for my own entertainment but intending to draw attentions, to make noise about inequities. I’d assume the persona of a McBethian Weird sister, stirring the pot, adding an element, intuiting the future .My energy quixotic, my idealism righteous.
What is my role really? How shall I cast this story? I have been a magic fairy, a mother superior…but at all times I must remain a judge. I need to scrutinize not only the organization but must examine my performance.
At our core teachers are assessors. Teachers are trained to view in the negative. What skills are lacking and how do remediate them? We must find the specific ingredient to engage each learner, to ignite the spark to induce the alchemy of learning.
The critical ingredient, the one I have the most control over is I.
Tis I.I may be a drone worker like the blue collar fellows in Diego Rivera’s mural tribute to workers at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Yet we teachers are not cogs in a wheel. We are charged by design to be the architects’ of learning, the stewards of citizenship, and the custodians of tradition. We navigate ever changing administrations, philosophies, tides and tsunamis.
The “system” is the sea, the students the passengers. We are and must be the captains. We appease, delight and steward the students to their destination. We must keep them on their itinerary, expose them to new horizons. We must chart through torrents of change, and the hurdles of history. We are the captains.
Though a cliché, Captain Stubbing or perhaps Ahab, we are the stewards. Teaching is the most public of isolated professions. In the end regardless of outside influences a teacher’s domain is their own. It is a one women show. The scrutiny I heave on events and systems, I turn this same eye on me. In the end rightfully the mirror is on me.
“Feed the beast” take care of the paper work, documentation; assessments etc. just do it and get on with the business of teaching. A personal performance inventory, rigorous rubric for self assessments are imperative. How could I adapt the lesson or modulate my performance to best reach the goal. The current public discourse ties merit pay to the student’s performance on standardized test. Perhaps I will get the bonus or perhaps my years of vocal scrutiny will jinx my pocket book.
I cannot let dollars decide. I must inventory what message my demeanor and persona imparted on my students. Did I hear them? Did I find their spark and ignite it? Did I create a space for their voice? Did I look them in the eye and modulate my presentation to their nods of understanding? Was I inclusive? Did I individualize? Did I temper my teaching to their skills and capabilities?
We teachers I think have our own unspoken Hippocratic Oath, a code. We must be stellar citizens and kind souls. We must be presents to the essence/spirit of the child. We invite and insist on their attendance in their learning/the classroom. We must push the bar, our expectations of ourselves/myself as a teacher and an employee must be higher than any public standard measure.
“I will quit if you do not learn to read” That is how much should be on the line when it comes to literacy/learning. I must find the route to the child who is lingering behind and is now afraid to join. (It is just easier to quit than be a failure.)
We will be Alice through the looking glass, Mary Poppins or in an emergency the wizard behind the curtain …this is us, and channeling whichever Archetype will gather our learners aboard. I think it not the system or the kids where I may dwell. The essential questions must remain focused on me…the educator. I will quit my job when I cease to ask this much of myself…