About a month ago or so, I got an email from a member of the Champaign-Urbana Film Society. He let me know that he got my name from one of our awesome fine arts teachers. He was writing to tell me about an amazing writing contest the CUFS was holding, in conjunction with the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization (CUDO). It is called the Pens to Lens Screenwriting Competition. The competition itself is fairly simple: students in grades K-12 are invited to write a screenplay between 1 and 5 pages in length. The screenplays must be typed and submitted electronically by February 28. The submissions will be judged in three categories: K-5, 6-8, and 9-12.
Our music teacher came in to tell the students about the contest and answered a few questions. The members of my class are invited to participate, but we are not going to take time out of our regular schedule for them to work on it. This is a purely voluntary event. However, I wanted to make sure my students knew some of the basic rules for writing a screenplay, and since this ties in well with our dramatic writing unit, I decided to give them time today to work on this unique writing format.
I started by reviewing that every story has three basic elements: characters, setting, and plot. I asked my students to create a “seed story” by generating these basic elements. Our seed story was outlined as follows:
Characters: two girls in our class, one boy, George Washington, and Snoopy.
Setting: Hawaii, midnight, 3164 A.D.
Plot: The characters are playing hide-and-go seek and Snoopy tries to play “fetch” with George Washington’s teeth.
The students got together in groups of two, three, or four and started writing. I gave them 20 minutes initially, but since they were all engaged after that time, I let them go for a little while longer. There was a wide variety of stories produced, and the boys and girls were able to experiment with telling stories in a dramatic format. Even without being told, many of the stories were written like a play or script, rather than in narrative form. It was really neat to see what happens when I continue to give my students the freedom to express themselves! I hope that at least a few will submit a screenplay for the Pens to Lens competition. The grand prize is having their story produced by CUFS and CUDO and shown at a film festival in town in May! Other submissions may have trailers or promotional material made!
One of the indicators that the end of the year is nearly upon us is the arrival of the children’s librarians from the Urbana Free Library. They come to the school each year to announce the library’s summer reading program. I honestly have no idea if summer reading programs at public libraries are a universal practice or just something that happens around central Illinois, but I love them and hope that they do get offered everywhere.
When I was a kid, I always participated in the reading program; at least, for as long as I can remember I did. I don’t remember Mrs. Walker, our children’s librarian, coming to the school to announce the program, though. It seemed like it was just a given that we would be signing up and participating as soon as it was offered. But then, my best friend and I spent a lot of time at the library throughout the year anyway. The library was roughly halfway between my house and his, so it was a convenient place to me. And, of course, we couldn’t meet at the library without going in, finding books, playing games, watching movies (old filmstrip movies that were old adaptations of classic books, usually), and just hanging out with Mrs. Walker. We even helped her tidy up the library from time to time.
I distinctly remember the last year we were allowed to participate in the summer reading program. Most students dropped out after elementary school, but we were allowed to participate in middle school, too. And even though we knew we were going to be reading anyway, we wanted to participate so we could get the free donuts from Ron’s Donuts & Bakery, which just happened to be down the street from my best friend’s house. At the end of eighth grade, we were told that we could participate one last time. Because it was the last year, we wanted to make it special.
Instead of setting a reading goal of 25 or 50 books, which is what most of the big kids did, we decided to go all out and set a reading goal of 100 books. The librarian had set a rule that children reading chapter books could count every sixty pages as a book, which means my best friend and I each had to read approximately 6,000 pages. Easy as a pie!
When librarians came to our school, I made sure to tell my students about this story as further evidence of my passion for reading. I would love for each of my students to participate in the library reading program. As I reflect on how this year has gone, I can think of a lot of things I would have done differently, but there is one thing I think I have done very well: I have passed on my love of reading to my students. Not all of them want to read as often and as long as I want them to, but far more of them want to read than don’t. This is a signal that I’ve done something right this year. I just hope that this love for reading continues onward!
Today was one of many wonderfully exciting days for my classroom. We, along with our entire building, were fortunate enough to have a special visit from the music department of Urbana Middle School (UMS being, of course, the school that all of our students will feed into after completing fifth grade).
This visit was manifest as a special 30-minute concert. It started with the String Ensemble performing a couple of selections after introducing the instruments (violin, viola, cello, and string bass). Then the 8t grade chorus sang two pieces, the second one including a number of solos. I was saddened to see that there were only two boys in the 8th grade chorus, but I am assuming that the boys are only able to do so many things, and being in the chorus is probably not high on the list. (To be perfectly honest, though, I wasn’t in the chorus when I was in middle school. I joined my sophomore year of high school.) The assembly ended with a performance by the concert band. The director introduced the typical introductory instruments: flute, clarinet, trumpet, and trombone, but she pointed out that they also had percussion, French horns, oboes, baritones, and a tuba.
After the concert, I led a brief discussion in our classroom about being in band and chorus. I encouraged everyone in my class to join the beginning band in 5th grade. I then suggested to the students that I could play instrumental music on my computer while they do silent literacy work (reading and/or writing). I received an enthusiastic reply, and so we tried it out today. They seemed to quite enjoy reading and writing while listening to a wide variety of instrumental music, including classical, soundtracks, and modern selections. We will do this again tomorrow and see how they do after the initial novelty has worn off!
Today was the third day of my three-day assignment as the band teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. It was pretty close to being exactly what I expected, with a few exceptions.
With the DVD actually working this time (huzzah!), the day went quickly. I watched the same four scenes of Mary Poppins over and over and over again. Some of the classes went very well, with the students being polite and respectful not just to me, but to each other. One class was absolutely terrible, to the point that I told them that they were the worst class of my week. They were much better behaved after that, probably because it dawned on them that I report to their teacher how they were for me, and their teachers do not take kindly to students abusing the subs, even if there are just a couple of days left to the school year.
The worst, though, was when I had a group of four students talking throughout the movie in one period. I repeatedly asked them to stop talking, and eventually three of them did. But one boy kept it up. So when I told him again, he responded by accusing me of being racist.
I stopped the movie, turned on the lights, and explained to the class the difference between racism and having a white teacher tell an African-American student to stop being disrespectful. I don’t know that the message got through at all, but I wasn’t going to let a student get by with making such a ridiculous claim without any response from me.
Fortunately, the rest of my day went very well. The 8th graders, especially, were great. I told them that they could talk and sign yearbooks as long as they cleaned up the room and put all of the furniture back where it belonged at the end of class. They did. One boy asked me to sign his yearbook, and another promised to find me on Facebook. (I have a policy of not accepting friend requests from current students, but insofar as I do not sub at the high schools in Champaign, and he is done with school on Friday, I said he could friend me if he could find me.)
And then it was a quick farewell to the students I have come to know so well over the past several months. Some of them are probably glad to not have to see me again. Others expressed sadness but, at the same time, they are done with middle school, so the farewell was overshadowed with the jubilation that they survived. I’m glad they did, and I wish them all the very best in high school. I’m sure I’ll see some of them around, most likely at Wal-Mart, where I seem to run into a bunch of students.
Today was my second day as a band teacher at Edison Middle School. Yesterday we watched short podcasts because it was a half day and the students didn’t have much time in the room. We were back to the regular schedule today, though, so the plans allowed for starting a much longer video.
We were to watch the Walt Disney adaptation of Mary Poppins, because the bands had just featured several of the songs in their recent concert. The teacher had the DVD ready to go, the computer set up, and everything should have been hunky dory.
Despite my apparent anti-technology aura whenever I get near an LCD projector, everything was working fine. The first class of the day (7th grade woodwinds) got started on Mary Poppins and everything seemed to be okay. Until we got about 10 minutes into the movie and it froze up. Completely.
Okay, no problem. Take the disc out, make sure that it doesn’t have any smudges, put it back in, and away we go, right?
Not quite. We made it a few more minutes and it froze up again. So I took the disc out again and examined it more closely. It was scored and scratched and marred so thoroughly that I was surprised it was working at all. Then I noticed what I had failed to take into account: it was from the public library. I love the Champaign Public Library. It has an awesome collection of everything you could want from a public library. But the patrons don’t take very good care of the DVDs. So we had to stop.
This was quite problematic, as I still had four other classes for the day. I had no clue what to do. There were no back-up plans and, since this was a band class, it wasn’t like I could just have the students take out some other work–most of them didn’t bring anything with them, anyway. So they had free time for the rest of the period, as did the second class of the day (6th grade woodwinds).
During this class, though, I did a check and found out the library had at least one other copy of the movie on DVD. The CPL just happens to be across the street from Edison. Except there was no way I could leave the building. So I texted my wife, but she was far too busy at work. So I texted her dad, who is done with his classes for the year (he is a college professor). He was able to get to the library, check out the DVD, and navigate his way through Edison Middle School to find the band room and deliver the movie just in time for my third class of the day!
The last three classes (7th grade brass, 6th grade brass, and 8th grade band–or maybe it is 7th, 6th, 6th, 7th… whatever), were able to watch the movie.
Well, kind of.
This disc was also scratched. But, fortunately, I only had to skip two chapters and everything was back on track. Thank goodness! We will watch more of the movie tomorrow. Hopefully nothing else will go awry! But I may bring a musical DVD of my own. You know, just in case.
Today I was an 8th grade science teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. I am now just 9 teachers away from subbing for 50% of the teaching staff at this school! I am not sure if I’ll be able to pull it off, with less than 30 school days remaining in the year, but it is still pretty awesome.
The students I worked with were pretty good, and they were all working quite hard, even the ones who typically slack off in every class. There was only one class in which I had any problems, and that was an afternoon “FLEX Period” which is kind of like a focused study hall. I don’t know what the focus was supposed to be when I was there today, though, but we went to the computer lab where the students were given the following very clear instructions from their teacher:
No music sites (videos or audio), no random web surfing, and no inappropriate sites (i.e. sites that should be blocked by the school’s CIPA filter). The only sites they should be on were Study Island, Google Earth, or FreeRice. It is also generally acceptable for them to go to school-appropriate game sites like Fun Brain or Cool Math Games.
What is not acceptable is to circumvent the filters to get onto Facebook.
So of course the students at Edison Middle School have learned that just because http://www.facebook.com is blocked by the filters, there is no reason to assume that https://www.facebook.com is, as well. Which, for some silly reason, it isn’t. Which, in turn, led to me repeating telling two students to get off of Facebook.
So they closed the window and, as soon as I was out of view, opened it up again, but kept it hidden on their screen.
Silly children. They really think I don’t know their tricks? I told them to close it again, and then positioned myself in a spot in the room where I could see their screens at all times, and still see what everyone else was doing. Unless, of course, I happened to turn away for a moment.
When I did, these children once again tried to sneak it open. So after three warnings, I told them that if they went onto Facebook again, they were going to the Discipline Office. One of them took me seriously and actually stopped playing around. The other, though, waited about fifteen minutes, then went right back to doing what she wasn’t supposed to be doing. I immediately buzzed the office and told them what was going on and why she was being sent up.
Funny thing: apparently the students didn’t think about the fact that telling me how they are outsmarting the system would result in me passing on this juicy bit of information. Which I did. So now, hopefully, the secure-server version of Facebook will also be blocked by the filters. Sure, these bright young men and women who can’t figure out how to turn assignments in on time will probably figure out another way to circumvent the filters, but their teachers will still find out and will still put more blocks in place. Even though the teachers would love to have access to these sites. But when the students can’t show self-control, the harsher restrictions have to be put in place.
Today I was the art teacher at Edison Middle School. The students had some handouts they were doing (essentially glorified colouring book pages) and so it was a pretty easy day, albeit a somewhat boring one, too. I suppose I should count myself lucky, though, since I don’t actually know enough about art education to really be able to teach. I don’t know, though… maybe I could fake my way through it. I’d hate to teach something incorrect, though.
Anyway, despite being a bit bored, I had a great day. The best part was at the end of the day when I realised I have achieved a new milestone. Or maybe I should use the more modern term and say that I have unlocked an achievement.
You see, for years I have struggled to convince students that my last name (Valencic) is not that hard to say. It is three syllables, pronounced, in our anglicised way, as vuh-len-sik. I am honestly not sure where the stressed syllable is located–count that as one of my failings as a native English speaker who never learned grammar and rules for the language. Regardless, I usually give some spiel about my name being Mr. Valencic, and that student may call me Mr. Valencic, Mr. V, or “sir”–not Mr. Valencia, Valencio, Valensis, Vlassic, Valansky, Mr. Dude, Bro, Fro Guy, Shaggy, Mr. Substitute Guy, Curly-Hair Man, or, my favourite, Ryznard Szyndlar (something that showed up in the mail for me once). Most students (and teachers) are satisfied to call me Mr. V, which I am totally down with. (As a side note, I recently learned that my dad has regularly been called Mr. V for quite some time. I did not know this. Odd.) And a few brave souls are willing to give my actual name a shot.
These are the few, the proud, the Marines of the spoken language. They work on it, they learn it, and they are super excited when they say my name correctly. And now they correct their classmates. Achievement unlocked: students inform others of the proper way to say my name. I don’t even have to introduce myself at Edison now. Heck, some of the students, I’m pretty sure, think I am a teacher there; they just don’t know what class. I have suggested that the school hire me as a full-time substitute but, alas, it isn’t my decision, nor is it the decision of the teachers with whom I have suggested this.
Still, it is a good day to know that the students respect me enough to make sure their classmates call me by my name and not by some horribly twisted variation. Now to reach the next milestone, which is for everyone to know my name and say it correctly!
Today I was the art teacher at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High. This was the first time I’ve subbed for an art teacher in over two years. It was a good day. The 8th graders were making “handscapes” (landscapes that featured hands in atypical locations, such as in the place of tree branches or clouds or ears of corn). The 7th graders were making balancing toys–paper images weighted with pennies and made to balance on the end of a pencil. The 6th graders were making pictures of their dream locker interiors, which included video game systems, secret rooms, soda machines, etc. With just one exception, everyone was working on the assigned project the entire class period.
I love how middle school students are so interested in knowing who I am beyond just the substitute teacher. They ask me questions about music, literature, movies, television, whether or not I’m married, where I went to school, how old I am, what my first name is, what my wife’s name is, how I get my hair to look so awesome, etc, etc. I also have the occasional student ask if he or she can add me as a friend on Facebook. This happened today. The conversation went something like this:
Student: Hey, Mr. Valencic, what’s your first name? I want to add you as a friend on Facebook!
Me: Sorry, I don’t accept friend requests from students.
Student: Oh, okay.
I have had surprisingly few students attempt to add me a friend. Two are high school students in Mahomet. I did not accept either friend request, though. Some may think I have some sort of double-standard, because I have many, many, many friends on Facebook who are in high school. These are young men and women who I have come to know through Operation Snowball, Inc. and the Illinois Teen Institute. In each case, I have a strict policy (which I shamelessly stole from my friend and drug prevention field colleague, Rob Grupe) regarding friend requests: I do not add teens, but teens may add me. However, the relationship I have with these teens is not the same as the professional relationship I have with students. While it is a professional relationship, the nature of these prevention programs leads to a greater degree of friendship and I am also a resource for these students to find support in building up their prevention programs at home.
Due to the incredibly public nature of Facebook, despite the numerous attempts to create security restrictions, I always make sure that I would never be ashamed to let my mother, my employer, or my ecclesiastical leaders see what I have posted online. (This is also true for my blogging.) I am always shocked when I hear or read about teachers who do not maintain these professional boundaries. I have heard of a high school discipline counselor who friends teens, has joined a group dedicated to her, and has had pictures of herself drinking alcohol posted in the same mobile uploads album with pictures of her students. To me, it just makes so much more sense to treat Facebook as a semi-professional outlet and to remember that just because you can make something available online, doesn’t mean that you should.
Have a great weekend!
Today I was a science technology teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. I worked with students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. I had a wonderful day working with these students and was very impressed by how well-behaved and respectful they were. The most interesting thing about it was that the notes from the teacher, and comments from the other teachers in the building, indicated that there were many difficult students in the classes. However, I did not have any difficulties with any of them.
I am not trying to say that the teachers at the school are deficient in any way. In fact, I have been incredibly impressed by how well the teachers work with their students, manage their classrooms, and how amazingly they help each student do his very best. I have been delighted to work with these teachers and would be thrilled to be a part of their team. Of course, I don’t have middle grade endorsements, so I am not fully qualified to teach full-time at the middle school level, but if I was, and there was a job available, I would definitely take the opportunity.
So, why did I have such a great time working with these students when others have not? Well, for one, I do not believe that the so-called “difficult students” are always difficult. For another, I have been working very hard at developing a strong, positive relationship with the students at this school. While some substitutes have a reputation for being boring, others are known for being ineffective, and others are considered to be tyrannical, I am known for being none 0f those. Students, teachers, administrators, and other staff know me to be engaging, effective, and fair.
Having finished reading The Dreamkeepers, I decided that I actually enjoy reading the books I acquired during my college courses, so I started reading Setting Limits in the Classroom by Dr. Robert J. Mackenzie, Ed.D. I read a few chapters of this book during my class, but I never read the entire thing. I am not done yet, but I am close to the end, and I wanted to write up my first (of probably several) book review.
Setting Limits in the Classroom has a lot of good, should-be-common sense suggestions; for example: don’t be wishy-washy. He focuses on the need to set firm limits with students while being respectful and provide students opportunities to learn what is and is not acceptable. The most important lesson I have taken from the book is the idea of providing simple, clear directions for students. To draw from an application I used today, I had a young man who was horsing around in the computer lab. I approached him and said, “Jacob, you need to be respectful and responsible in the computer lab. If you can’t behave responsibly, I am going to have to send you back to your teacher.” He tried to test me by arguing, but I cut him off by simply restating the expectation: responsibility in the computer lab or no computer. He did not test me further, and was well-behaved the remainder of the period. Dr. Mackenzie uses many examples from his experiences as an educator, a therapist, and while presenting workshops.
Another excellent point he makes is that expectations need to be established on the first day of school, reviewed and rehearsed during the first week, reviewed regularly during the first month, and revisited throughout the year. Of course, this is not particularly useful advice for a substitute teacher, who typically has between 45 minutes and 7 hours to work with students before he or she leaves. He also discusses that expectations and limits allow freedom in the classroom. One of my favourite quotes is this: “Freedom without limits is not democracy. It’s anarchy…” That is so very true!
I do have a few quibbles with his methods. For one, Dr. Mackenzie seems to identify the classroom teacher as the absolute monarch of the classroom. The teacher sets the rules, expectations, and consequences. The teacher dispenses punishment or rewards. The teacher is in charge. The students are merely there to hear and obey. This rubs against my more democratic egalitarian approach to education that includes the students in the process of establishing expectations and consequences. Of course, there will be expectations that I will ensure are included because, as a member of the classroom community, I am also a part of the process. I also believe that I am as accountable for my actions as the students are for theirs. I am not above the law. My other quibble is that Dr. Mackenzie presents his methods as not just the best method, but the only effective method of classroom management. I have observed many different methods and have seen that different methods work for different teachers. Setting Limits in the Classroom would settle better if he pointed out that his is but one of many effective strategies.
I have already started applying the principles of this book with my students and have seen that it has improved my classroom management. Admittedly, I have also worked with a large number of incredibly compliant students, but I am excited to continue to apply these methods with the students in other schools. I’ll be sure to share whether or not it continues to be successful. At this point, I’ll gladly recommend Setting Limits in the Classroom to any teacher looking to find another strategy to improve classroom management.
Today I was a special education teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. This was my third or fourth time substituting for this particular teacher, so I already knew what to expect, and I was glad to be available to sub for her again.
Her schedule is set up so that she and another special ed teacher work with four or five students throughout the day. During some of the periods they are in the special ed room and during other periods they are in the regular classroom. I spent the bulk of the day working with one boy, going with him to classes to offer supports as needed, or working with him in the special ed room. It was really neat seeing how well this works for him. He is a very bright kid and very earnest in his efforts, but he is also easily distracted and forgets to bring his supplies to class. Working with a teacher one-on-one has had great benefits for him. He learned today that he got an A on a recent social studies test and, from the reaction shared by just about everyone, I think this may have been the first time he had had a success like that.
There is definitely a great benefit to working one-on-one. Unfortunately, the realities of the profession make such opportunities hard to come by. There simple isn’t enough money in the budgets of the various school and government organisations to provide tutors for everyone. We are blessed in our community to have volunteer tutors from the university, paid tutors from America Reads, and parents who give of their time to work with students after school. While there are still not enough resources to provide the support that everyone needs, I have seen that what is available is being used to the highest degree. It reminds me of the proverbial story of the boy tossing starfish along the beach back into the ocean. Critique the story as you will, the moral is still true: it may not make a difference for everyone, but it does make a difference for the one.
Today I was a special education teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. This was yet another job assignment that showed up in the wee hours of the morning–this time at 4:45. I decided I’d rather brave the unknown world of special education (unknown only because every special ed teacher does something different) against the somewhat-known world of 1st grade, which was another assignment available.
During the course of the day, I had students who were very well-behaved and did their work, as well as students who were belligerent and uncooperative. Several weeks ago, I had reflected upon the fact that I am not, in fact, Superman. I cannot, in fact, do everything. And, along with that, I do not have some magical, mystical power that commands the love and respect of every single, greatest-sub-ever-hood notwithstanding. All of which combines to mean that there are times when I need to call upon others to help me out: neighbouring teachers, assistant principals, and the good folks in the discipline office. I don’t know what my problem is, but, despite my knowledge, I never do this.
I seem to be determined to suffer through a day with noisy, belligerent, uncooperative students. It is as if I have some hidden masochistic tendencies that lead me to enjoy suffering. I have talked to other substitutes about this, and it seems to be a common malady of the substitute teacher profession. Part of the cause is found in the fact that most of us are seeking full-time employment and are hoping that our time as substitute teachers will help convince those with authority to hire us that we are worth interviewing and, hopefully, actually hiring. Nobody looking for a job wants to appear weak. As an educator, a huge aspect of my job is classroom management. If I have to keep calling on the office or other teachers to come in and manage my class for me, doesn’t this give the impression that I cannot, in fact, manage a class?
The answer is a resounding NO! As a substitute teacher, it is understood that I have not devoted the time and energy to win the hearts and trust of the natives. Not all the time. I am an outsider. No matter how often I am in the building, no matter how many times I have worked with these students, I am still seen as an outsider by many of them. Especially the noisy, uncooperative, belligerent ones. Sure, I can leave notes for their teachers to explain the poor behaviour, and sure, the teachers will dole out the appropriate punishment, but the punishment doesn’t come from me. It comes from someone else. The teacher that the students know, trust, respect (if sometimes only grudgingly), and even love (at least some of the time). I am reminded of this lesson nearly every time I teach, or at least on a weekly basis. Yet I continue to forget and find the need to relearn the lesson again and again and again and again and again.
As I left Edison today, I saw the man who strikes fear into the hearts of the students. His official title is “Hallway Supervisor” but it may as well be “Dungeon Master”. No matter how uncooperative or belligerent a student is, he or she trembles at the very mention of his name. I thanked him for speaking with two of the boys with whom I had worked today, and he said, “Hey man, no problem! It is what I do! I’m here to help!” I mentioned briefly this lesson that I learned, and he pointed out that while he appreciates my desire to manage the class on my own, it is his job to take the students who are hindering the education process and make it so the rest of the class can learn.
I will stop short of vowing to call on the assistance of others to help me as soon as a problem escalates, and I am sure that I am going to have to learn this lesson again, but I hope that I will learn it in the morning, rather than at the end of the day. Because, let’s be honest: teaching is a much more pleasant experience when one is able to actually teach, rather than spend the whole time trying to keep one student from ruining it for the rest of the class.
Today I was a strings teacher at Edison Middle School in Champaign. This was the first time I had subbed for a music teacher outside of a grade school, and so I wasn’t sure what the day would have in store for me.
The plans that the teacher left for me were to have the students practice in sectionals in preparation for a concert coming up in two weeks. I had three classes at the middle school; one for each of the three grade levels. While the day was looking to be rather boring, it turned out to be quite fun. The piece that all of the students were working on was an arrangement of Fantasia on Greensleeves by the immensely-talented but equally-insane composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. (Disclaimer: I have no idea if Vaughan Williams was actually insane. I just like to think so because his music is crazy.)
The seventh graders were first. They practiced in sectionals for the first 30 minutes of class, then spent the rest of the time doing a run-through together. I was able to put to use my skills as a musician and waved the baton in the air as they played. They were considerably better than I expected of 12-13-year-olds, and I think they actually made progress in their practice, which is always a good thing.
The second class was the sixth graders. They had four violins, a string bass,and a cello. They, too, were pretty good. The biggest problem encountered during the class was the the cellist was a rather bossy boy who had to be continually reminded that I am the teacher and, believe it or not, I do know something about music, so please sit down, okay, thank you very much. His classmates commented that their regular teacher has to do this quite often, as well.
Before having my 8th graders, I got to drive across town to enter the halls of a building I swore to never enter again. I speak, of course, of Champaign Central High School. I was there for one class that this middle school strings teacher offers: guitar. The students, mostly juniors and seniors, were expected to work on writing their own songs for guitar. Most were actually working on this, and I was pleased to hear a broad array of real music being composed and performed.
After lunch and an hour-long break, I finally had my 8th graders come in. All three of them. They spent the time practicing Greensleeves as well as a variety of other pieces on which they are working. I was surprised at the increased level of performance between even them and the 7th graders. I can tell that these three students take their music seriously, and they see it as a meaningful outlet for expression. I hope that they never let that outlet run dry or falter from lack of use.
Today was probably one of the most enjoyable days I have had teaching in Champaign in a long time. I’d love to sub for this teacher again, and be able to help his students continue to grow in their skills, even if I myself have no skill at drawing a bow across a string or striking the keys of the pianoforte.
Today I was a middle school special education teacher who works with the students who are emotionally disturbed at Edison Middle School. I’ve worked with these kids before, and they are all really awesome. Their teachers and aides are awesome, too. Most of what I do on these days is simply be there to answer questions, help maintain discipline, and encourage students to stay on task and keep focused.
There are moments when it feels unnecessary for me to be there, but then I think about what all of these students are going through. Emotional disturbance isn’t just some quack theory. It is real and it can be debilitating. Yet these boys and girls wake up every morning and come to school every day. They go to all of their classes, despite their disadvantages. They see their teachers there to support and encourage them, and they keep coming back.
What I find even more amazing is that the teachers keep coming back, not just every day, every week, and every month, but every year. These men and women are dedicated and passionate about what they do, and I am simply in awe of what they accomplish. I am amazed at the levels of patience, compassion, tolerance, and understanding these educators obviously have in order to work in the special education field. I hope that I would. I am inspired by their dedication and I hope that I can be like them.
But I do not plan on being a special education instructor. I am what is known in the profession as a generalist. I work with everyone. So I also hope to be as supportive as possible for the special education teachers and aides. I once met a teacher who complained about having students with special needs in his classroom, and complained about having aides present to work with these kids. I will never do that. I am filled with respect for these students, and I love what they contribute to the class, just as I love what all of my students contribute. And I will never, ever, ever resent having another adult present, even if he or she is just there to work with one student. After all, at the end of the day, each teacher is there to work with the one, even while working with the group.