Remembering

I have kept a teaching journal since my days student teaching. Recently, I went through some of my older ones, and relived some classroom moments. Can anyone relate?

— Classes reviewed pronoun usage today. It was fatally boring.I transcribed and returned their oral exercises. What surprised me in these was not the grammar but their responses to the question: Does a person owe something to the community in which s/he grew up. Traditionally, in the black community, the answer to that has been an unquestioned yes. But these are divided…

— After-school session with a group of seniors struggling over S/V agreement. We talked through some examples from the text focusing on the “why.” One student was having an especially difficult time; he stayed with me until almost 4:30. Although the session went well, I am most concerned about not yet making a strong enough connection between their own writing and the usage issues. For that matter, I’d like more connection between all the aspects of language arts within the class. We’re supposed to be studying the early poets…NOT. I can’t even bring myself to go that way. Trying to think of a way to connect the study of those with rap lyrics…

— Observations on [student] Interview #1. I’m intrigued by several of her comments. TL appreciates, even enjoys, drill and recitation in grammar. Copying rules from the book and then repeated drills. Her mother has told me, and I’ve observed that she is very serious about her school work to the point of test anxiety. When she talked about it, I could sense the security that this method gave her. “I know I’ve been taught; I know I’ve mastered it.” She also brought up that her Black teachers seemed to care more about whether their students passed or failed. She says we refuse to ‘allow’ children to quietly quit. We fight, pull, cajole, sometimes nag them to the point where they’d rather pass because it’s easier.

— The counselor asked me to sit in one of the math teacher’s classes so that teacher could come to the office for a parent conference. I knew all of the students, and they were very relaxed with my being in the room. It was a geometry class. We joked, and I finished my lunch as they worked. They were actively, no, fervently, assisting each other with the assigned problems. There was no shame (visibly) or embarrassment among them about not knowing how to do the work. I had seen the same phenomena in my own room AFTER they finished our work on English, and they began helping each other with math or science homework.

Why, I wondered, (and asked them aloud) was there not this same attitude of sharing when it came to doing English assignments? I had observed (and they confirmed) that they would distrust and disparage one another’s knowledge of English, always wary of a classmate’s suggestion on a sentence or writing revision. Only my comments were accepted. They are embarrassed that they can’t “do” English, but they are also angry. One said, “Well, Miz Mo’, lots of people need help in math or science, but everybody s’posed ta know English!”

— During a Saturday morning conversation, a parent [African American male] made this spontaneous and passionate observation:

“Personally, English offends me. It insults me. If you talk to someone who considers himself an English person, the first thing they want to do is correct me. I’m American; I’ve been speakin’ all my life. Why do I have to be corrected? I refuse to stop using my “com’ ‘ere’s” and “git da’ts.” What you’re saying and what most Black kids are probably thinking is that there must be something wrong with me that I don’t know English and I’ve been speaking it all these years. You feel like a captured slave. Like we’re still slaves. We’re forced to accept somebody else’s culture.”

— Today during our class opening grammar activity, we came across the following sentence: “I took my dog Sam to the lake who was lame.” One of the students found this in an ACT practice exercise. The author’s intention is to create a misplaced modifier by suggesting the lake is crippled rather than Sam, the dog. However, my students all interpreted the word “lame” in its more popular connotation “boring.” Hence, their “correction” of the sentence was to change WHO to WHICH. The incident became a teachable moment for me to explain cultural bias.

— A so-called reading specialist from the State Dept. waltzed in today and, without so much as a casual conversation with any of us, proceeds to announce that THE problem with our students is that they come from poor, single parent homes in which they were not read to often enough, if at all. We are, therefore, to compensate for this lack by taking 20 minutes of each class period to read primary level books to them. The fact that she looks like Shirley Temple and had only taught for a year or two in lower elementary before going to work for SDE doesn’t help her credibility with the faculty, many of whom laughed at her out loud, or cussed under their breath.

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