Real Talk

“When Kepler found his long-cherished belief did not agree with the most precise observation, he accepted the uncomfortable fact. He preferred the hard truth to his dearest illusions.”   -Carl Sagan

One of the harder realities of teaching the lowest performing students (as measured by the district) in the Reading Department is that many of my students, despite being in intensive reading year after year, have a strong denial when it comes to realizing that they are far behind where they should be at their grade level and remediation is not just necessary but crucial for their success in school and life. But it’s a hard talk to initiate. Being placed in a different small group which the student perceives as a “lower” group (although group levels are never deemed ‘high’ or ‘low’ just as needing different targeted remediations and strategies) can be an uncomfortable adjustment for a student. It takes time and understanding of their feelings from me and trusting in me and hard-work from the student.

I had one student who when I placed her in the Interventionist group was very unhappy about that move and would sit in the group and not participate or do any of the work. But we kept at it, my Interventionist and myself, and eventually she started helping out and actively participating, and, most importantly, coming to school more. This was a girl who when I met with her mother, her mother had no idea she was not showing up for school. And because the student became more invested in her work, she was growing and the remediation was working. When I told her last week it was time to move to another group, she emphatically shook her head no. I’m not told no very often, and this was one occasion in which I had to smile. I looked at her and told her that I thought she didn’t like being in the interventionist group, and all she could do was put her head down and smile.

However, some students resist even more than others, and most if it revolves around the hard hallway conversation about me having to make teacher decisions the student may not agree with. One such student last week was so angry with me that it pushed him towards starting a fist fight with another student. Take two happened two days ago when he came back to school. I pulled him out again for the hard hallway conversations. I showed him the ORF (oral reading fluency) of another student who is at the goal rate of 150, and then showed him his rate of 90 and some of his assessments he had done in class. I told him that I wasn’t showing him these things to make him feel bad, but rather to show him that my decisions I make are based on the work that he has given me. He insisted that he just did not try in class, and I told him that he could truly understand the benchmark cause and effect a bit more, and that all we are to those who do not take the time to get to know us is what appears on paper, as unfair as that is. Therefore, we have to be not only amazing people in person, but as great as we can be on paper as well so those on the outside give us a shot. Our hallway conversation ended with him solemnly nodding his head that he would work hard in the Interventionist group and focus on learning all the skills he needed to develop.

When you aren’t where you are supposed to be for your grade level, you always know it deep down. You get placed in similar classes each year, students pass by the classroom and crack a joke about the work. My students know what it means to be in IR+, whether they let themselves think it or not. And they shouldn’t dwell on it. It’s a major reason I spend time making the curriculum as close to an honors class as possible. But when it comes time for small group, that’s when they have to get the remediation that will hopefully take them out of intensive classes. It reminds me of the beginning of the year, when I was sitting down with one group and I explained to them the purpose of small group through a football metaphor. I asked them if they could be one of the greatest football players ever and all they needed was 1 or 2 more skills, would they not do everything in their power to acquire those skills? That seemed to resonate with them, and I hope it still does. The smartest people go after the knowledge they still do not have. They don’t sit around being content not to have it.

I guess that’s the real talk in the classroom, the tough conversations that oftentimes happen in the classroom. But honesty that stems from love and care is necessary for upward movement. Some facts are uncomfortable, but the sooner we face them, the sooner we get to move on.

“I Think I’ll Move to Australia”

“I went to sleep with gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”
― Judith ViorstAlexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

 

Today was just one of those days. One of those days that you feel you need to sit huddled under your blanket at home and a whole tub of ice cream. One of those days that you want to just hit your head against the wall until all the memories of the day come rattling out. One of those days when you think hmmmm, I wonder what is left to go wrong today, there is still an entire evening left. One of those days when the only way to salvage the time is to think of the ways to make things better and count the small things as blessings, like how much I appreciate the people who work in my department. Oh, and to also remember that some days are just like this. Even in Australia.

alexander-and-the-terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day

 

Why Second Inaugurations Are Still Meaningful

I didn’t have any of the fancy ball tickets or VIP access to the events, but being among the masses who cast their vote for a a more permanent type of change than the one we first dared to dream of in the first election. There was something about being among the “ordinary folk,” the pushers and hopers who make each of these inaugurations and affirmation of democracy possible, that makes a moment as momentous as President Obama’s second swearing in something to rest dearly on my heart.

I’ve written about this recently, but it’s worth mentioning again how the second year out of college is that time period, after your first year of wandering, that one truly starts to come into one’s own skin, with a more confident notion of where they might want to go in their life. I imagine the second year of the presidency is much like that. President Obama’s first term was filled with many highlights, but it still left those who so fully embraced his campaign of Change wanting more. Thank goodness we will get the chance to see just that. Obama’s speech and demeanor in these last few months since election has shown that, just like many second year postgraduates, this time around he finds himself more firmly down his path of who he wants to be as a president. This time around Change won’t even be something that is hinted at, it will be the kind of Change that is more permanent. If there is one thing that was proven in this last election is that a large majority of Americans are ready to put their chips all in that reshaping and redefining America is a job that often needs to be done as we forge ahead in the years on this beautiful planet. Standing in the bleachers as the Obamas passed by was less about the people waving at me, but about what they stood for and what I know they can do with these next four years. I am continuously humbled by what the mighty shoves of diligent workers bring about this country every day, and as I make my way back to Miami tomorrow afternoon, I plan to continue my pushes forward too. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but if it weren’t so necessary, we wouldn’t even be celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr today.

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A Farewell to Home and Vacation

This morning I packed my bags and marveled at how I had come home with half a carry on bag full of clothes and was leaving with a huge checked suitcase and a very full carry on bag. I said goodbye to the snow and hugged my family goodbye, and hopped on board a plane packed with college football fans bound for Florida. The Colts lost and I gained 50 degrees back. It’s nice to be back in Miami. But the switches between spaces are always moments of readjustment. Leaving Indiana always reminds me of a poem I wrote when I left for college, which was the last time I have lived long-term in Indiana, and most of it still rings true for every visit since:

 

REFLECTIONS OF HOME

The sky is gray in the winter

But the spring brings lovely green

While summer burns with a lover’s touch

And the fall takes away big dreams

 

–But it’s Home

 

There’s no place like Home

As the old saying goes

But what do you tell all the people

Who make it their home

Because they do not know

That there’s a world beyond the pastures?

 

–It’s my Home

 

I want to tell the people that hating is not the answer

I want to let them know that the world is so much bigger

To let the children know that there are options

That coming back is fine, but only if it’s what you want to

I have to let them know

 

You loved me once, though I am different

You love me still, though I went away

I went away to find the answers

To the questions that you gave me

And now I’m back with open eyes

To see Home all the better

 

–My Home

 

I hear the gossip of the women ready to tell you your worst news

I feel distant from the girls who married after school

Jobs and husbands and bills are not my life

And I watch the face of she who recently became pregnant

The eyes of all follow her as she walks down a lonely street

But what do you expect when you give pressure to the girls

To find a love by age sixteen and marry off come graduation

 

You there, girl I knew when I was younger

Is this the life you chose or the life they made for you?

Did you ever wonder what it would be like to go off to college?

Or even just to see who else could claim your broken heart?

And boy, the one who told me all your secret dreams

Did they let you out to find them,

Or tell you till the land and pull the weeds?

 

–Our home

 

And I wondered long why you closed your gates

Why you were so scared of imminent change

If you never meet your neighbor

How do you know that you really hate him?

Do not let the older generation beat you down in hate

There are no gates where we live, so open up your hearts

 

I feel your eyes upon me when I make my way back home

I hear you whispering about me,

Asking why I left and where’d I go?

You don’t believe that I could ever be happy elsewhere

You don’t believe that I can make it out there

 

But I can

And I am

 

–And it’s Home

 

Despite the fact that no one looks like me

Despite the fact that your business is never your own

Despite the fact that it’s the sight of bittersweet memories

Despite the fact that once you leave, it’s hard to find your way back

 

–Do you want to? Do I want to?

 

But I never want to come back and feel like this is not home

I do not want to lose these feelings of connection

But I can come back home to see just how far I’ve come

 

I made it, despite everything else

I triumphed and am thriving

Because I can always remember

That where I’m from and where I’ve been

Is not who I am or where I’m going

“Anonymous Ripped Off Treasure”

“Somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff. Not my poems or dance I gave up in the street, but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin. This is mine; this ain’t your stuff. Now why don’t you put me back & let me hang out in my own self.

Somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff & didn’t care enuf to send a note home sayin, “I waz late for my solo conversation or two sizes too small for my own tacky skirts.” What can anybody do wit somethin of no value on a open market? Did you getta dime for my things? Hey man, where are you goin wid alla my stuff? This is a woman’s trip & I need my stuff to ohh & ahh abt…

Now you can’t have me less I give me away…I wants my things. I want my arm with the hot iron scar and my leg wit the flea bite. I want my calloused feet & quick language back in my mouth. Fried plantains, pineapple pear juice, sun-ra & joseph & jules, I want my own things. How I lived them & give me my memories. How I waz when I waz there. You can’t have them or nothin wit them… Somebody almost run off wit alla my stuff!”

– from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange