My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Middle School Madness


new class

My new classroom.

August 26, 2016

Dear Readers,

School is back in session and emotions are running high.  So far in my classroom there’s been laughter and sorrow, smiles and tears, and a whole lot of learning…and that’s only me, the teacher, not my prepubescent charges.  As always, I have so much to learn about the students I teach.

The school year started out better than I had anticipated.  In fact, it started out better than anyone had anticipated, the other teachers, the administration, even the students.  The ‘feel’ of the new school year was much lighter, much happier, and much more chill than the previous three years.  Even the students’ behavior had seemed to mellow over the summer.  The school’s ‘detention room’ had much lower numbers than in previous years, and it began to feel like our school had turned a corner, at least behaviorally.  Which made what happened this past week so upsetting.  However, I have to admit, what happened this past week is part and parcel of teaching at the middle school level.

I have a secondary-education, English degree and in my state that means that I am able to teach 7th through 12th grade English Language Arts.  I have always known that my personality and my teaching style work best with teenagers, ages 14 to 17.  I am both strict and demanding of my students.  I expect every student to reach just past where they think they can and to work just a little bit harder than they think they should.  In other words, I have high standards, for my students as well as myself.

My high standards do not end at my classroom door.  I expect students to behave like they have some sense when in the presence of adults.  I realize that middle school students can act crazy and they can be loud and obnoxious, which is why you’ll find me wearing earphones when walking the halls and/or during school assemblies.  It’s not the crazy, loud and/or obnoxious behavior that bothers me, be cause believe me, I can act crazy, loud and/or obnoxious right along with my students.  No, it’s not that.  It’s the flagrant disrespect, the bullying, and the violence that I cannot tolerate.  And that is what always pushes my buttons.

In my classroom, the rules are simple: 1. Listen and follow directions; 2. Raise your hand and receive permission before leaving your seat; 3. Keep your hands and feet to yourself; 4. Respect yourself, your classmates, and your teacher.  The consequences are equally simple: The first time a student breaks one of the class rules I give the student a warning.  The second time a student breaks a class rule, they are sent to time-out.  This may seem babyish and elementary.  However, my students all work in groups and it pains them to be isolated from their peers.  Needless to say, it is rare that I have to go to step three.  I allow my students to re-enter their group once they have sat alone for a few minutes, thought about what they have done, admitted to me which rule(s) they broke, and apologize.

My last recourse for a rule-breaker in my class is to send them to the office with a referral. Now, once they leave my classroom and head to the office to speak with the vice-principal, any further consequence is out of my hands, and the rule-breaker is out of my hair…at least for a the day.  Fast forward to this past week.

This past Wednesday was quite an eye-opener.  Not only did I have to write one referral in one of my classes, I was close to writing 8, yes, 8 referrals in one class.  I was beside myself.  Before I began yelling (yes, I do raise my voice at my little cherubs), I stepped away from the front of my class to calm down.  That is when I had a small epiphany: my students tune out anger and respond to calm.  I calmly addressed the class.

It worked!  The 8 rule-breakers were subdued with my soft, low voice and my encouraging words of wisdom…for exactly 6 minutes.  Six minutes is just enough time to lull me into a sense of false security!  It was the end of  the period and I just didn’t have the heart to write 8 referrals.  In fact, I was so hurt and disappointed that all I wanted to do was cry.  I excused my students to their next class with the threat of writing referrals for the unhappy eight as soon as school was out.

I didn’t stick around after school to fill out the paperwork, “I’ll do it in the morning,” I sighed to myself.  I do not make idle threats to my students, that just leads to students not taking my word seriously.  No, I had to follow through with the consequences.  However, I would sleep on it and go in to the office in the morning, sans emotion (I hear that is always best).

The next morning at school as I was writing the referrals, I received a call from one of the mothers of the unhappy eight.  The mother wanted to know why I was punishing her daughter, at which time I politely explained my class rules, i explained which rules her daughter broke, and what the consequences were.  The mother’s response?  “Well that doesn’t sound like my daughter.”  Sigh.  Of course not.

There was no getting through to this mother.  She kept insisting, “That doesn’t sound like my daughter!” and my insisting that it was exactly like her daughter was not going to change her mind.  Finally, she said, “Well, I’m good friends with Mr. Vice Principal, and I’m going to give him a call!”  Sigh.  Of course.

I was certainly upset with this exchange.  However, I had the whole morning to decide how I should handle the whole referral mess, the afternoon would come soon enough.

As the unhappy eight entered my classroom, I realized they were happy and smiling.  The mess from the day before was long forgotten.  What had broken my heart wasn’t even a  blip on their radar.  Oddly enough, this made me smile.  The were 11 and 12 year old kids and they had been acting like 11 and 12 year old kids!  It was then that I had a little bit bigger epiphany: they are only 11 and 12 year old kids!

The class began with light and airy conversation between me and the (now) happy eight.  I was certainly in a much better mood, as were they.  As we all came to an understanding, the student whose mother had called me that morning raised her hand and asked with a smile on her face, “Miss, did my mother give you a hard time on the phone?”

I smiled back, a genuine smile and said, “No, she just kept telling me, ‘That doesn’t sound like my daughter.'”

My student chuckled, “Yeah, she doesn’t know how I act at school.”

Of course not.

Peace, ~v.

 

 

 

 

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H.W.G.A. or Here We Go Again


August 7, 2014

Dear Readers,

Here we go again.  When we were growing up, my siblings and I used to say, “HWGA,” whenever our parents would argue with one another.  We would roll our eyes at one another and simply mutter, “HWGA,” and we all knew what that meant, “Here we go again!”  We would all scatter to various rooms in the house, or sneak outside so as to not have to listen and/or to give our parents their privacy.  Don’t know if we ever told Mom and Dad what HWGA meant, or if they even knew we had a little code.  Well, Mom knows now if she’s reading this (sorry MmR, GaZjr, AeZ, FaZ, MdZ, VlD and DrZ for giving away the secret).

Today’s post will be my last post for…well, I don’t know how long.  I will leave this post, and the rest of my blog up for three days, and then I am sorry to say, I will be shutting it down.  I am sure some of my dear Readers would like to know why.  Here is the condensed version:  a student.  That’s all I will say on the matter.  However, I will be back.  I don’t know where or when, but I will be back.

I do this to protect not me, but my loved ones.  It is my decision to write, so I am willing to suffer the repercussions.  however, I do not wish to harm anyone with what I do and who I am.  I know you dear Readers will understand.

Now, on to loose ends.  In my last post, The Ones You Never Forget, I wrote about a former student (CM) that seemed to be troubled.  I had several people tell me that they wouldn’t be surprised if I hear from the student again and that he would remember me.  Well dear Readers, God does have a way of making believers out of us cynics.  Yesterday, two days after my post, CM did indeed get in touch with me!  He has since graduated from high school (no small feat) and is gainfully employed and looking forward to being a father and getting married (in that order).  He said he sought counseling on and off through his high school years and although he is not quite over some trauma he suffered in his teen years, he is much better than when I saw him last.

Now this is why I teach, because of kids like CM.  When I met him, he did not believe he had a chance at a life, he couldn’t see past his pain.  I did not think he would ever remember that I taught him how to write a complete paragraph, nor did I think he would remember that I taught him how to write a proficient essay.  What I was hoping for, however, was that he would remember the seed of hope I was so desperately trying to plant within him.  He thanked me for always believing in him, for never giving up on him, and most importantly, never letting him give up on himself.  Wow!  You could have knocked me over with a feather  Now that is why I teach.

Two other posts that I have to close out are Out of Focus and Out of Focus, Again.  Although this school year has started off better than perhaps the past five or so years, I had one class that I was not really connecting to, yet.  I thought I had solved the problem, but after a second lesson went flat, I decided I needed to try a new tactic.  I thought, I prayed, I meditated, I slept, I asked fellow teachers, I thought I had tried everything.  Then, God sent me an angel in the form of a Badass Teacher, DS.

DS wrote to me and suggested that I try a team building exercise.  Some may know it by a different name, but the premise is the same.  When you are with a group, be it work, school or church, and you must function as a group, you must have trust and a sense of camaraderie.  Without those two things, your group will not function properly.

“But, of course!” I thought when I read DS’s message.  “I need to build a little trust and camaraderie among my students.”  Not only does it help the students gel as a class and as small groups within the class, it is a diagnostic tool for me.  Here is how my team building exercise went:

I had my students do an exercise called “The Human Knot,” (again, some may know it by a different name).  Eight students stand in a circle, for my classes it worked out well, since my classes are in groups of four.  The eight students put their right hands in the middle of the circle and grab the hand of someone within the circle that is not standing next to them.  Next, they put their left hands in the middle of the circle and they grab the hand of someone else not standing next to them.  In order for the exercise to work, each student must be holding hands with two different people, and they must not be holding hands with someone directly to their left, or directly to their right.

Next, the students must try and untangle themselves to form a circle without dropping each others’ hands.  It can be done.  It has been done.  And in my classes, it was done.

At first, the students were reluctant to hold each others’ hands.  Then, all it took was for one student to make a move, and they all dug in, teamwork at its finest.  It worked beautifully.  One group within each of the three classes that tried this,   were able to form a circle.  It was the neatest thing to watch.  And that is all I did, watch.  Here were the results:

Most of the students were able to successfully work together.  However, there were a few that started out extremely annoyed with me for even suggesting this exercise, but they quickly joined in and tried to help.  Even so, there were two or three who simply refused to help, they just stood there, not helping, but not hurting the team.  The students thought it was fun, but didn’t really know what it could possible tell me.

I was able to see who the leaders and the reluctant leaders of the groups were, who the loyal followers were, who the reluctant followers were, and who took on the role of comic relief.  After each class had finished the exercise, I gave each student my observation of how they functioned in a group.  For the most part, the way students behave in team building exercises is the way they will behave when working in small groups.  Both the students and I were surprised at the leadership qualities in some of their peers.  However, I explained to them, now I know who has the leadership qualities, and I fully expect them to live up to their roles.

I tried this, and similar team building exercises with many of my classes over the years.  And each student that has participated, has risen to the high expectations I have set for them…without exception.  It was, and has been an exceptional diagnostic tool.  Now that I can see the beginnings of my students strengths and weaknesses with a small group, I can begin to work with them to get their best efforts.  By the end of the first quarter (around the end of August) I should see students working up to the high expectations I maintain for all of my students.  Teaching…It’s a Beautiful Thing.

Well, dear Readers we have come to the end of  very fine friendship, at least I think so.  I will be back someday; someday soon, I hope.  I will continue to write, because writing soothes my soul.  As for publishing, well, I’m working on it.  I thank each and everyone of you, dear Readers around the world.  I have enjoyed every smile, every frown, every frustration, every thing that this blog has brought me.  I leave you with the hope that you will all go out and change the world for the better, even just a little, I know I will.

Please always remember, and don’t ever forget…Peace, ~v.

 


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An Open Letter to Teach For America Corps New Recruits 2014


August 3, 2014

Dear New Teacher,

The first, and probably the most important thing, is that this is a letter of support.  Teachers are teachers no matter how they made it into the classroom, traditional, nontraditional, I respect both.  I also respect your passion.  I know you have a passion because who other than a passionate person would embark on this journey.

Like you, I came to be a teacher in a nontraditional, unconventional way (I was a 33 year old, mother of five when I went to school to earn my degree).  Also like you, I am passionate.  However, we differ in that I went through a traditional, secondary education program and you are a Teach For America recruit.  Both can be valid.

In the ensuing months, you will no doubt read and hear more rhetoric regarding education in America than perhaps you have already.  I would encourage you to ignore the negativity on both sides of the aisle:  pro-TFA, anti_TFA, doesn’t matter.  I say this because you have a job to do and your kids need you, all of you.  In fact, they need more of you than you have to give, but please, don’t give them all of you; hold back a little for yourself, you are going to need it.

You are going to need a place within you that is sacrosanct, a part of you in which only you have access.  This is the place to which you will retreat, a place where homework and standards and Common Core are four letter words.  A place where making a pauper’s wage for what we do, is never an issue.  A place to go where bitter, veteran teachers cannot hurt your feelings, nor your new TFA supervisors encourage you to believe that you will be an effective teacher, you won’t be, at least not initially.  You need that place.

You need that place because you will encounter this, and so much more, and you need to sort it all out, calmly and rationally, relaxing not stressing.  Then get ready…

Your kids are going to tell you things (some in person, some through their writing) that you are not going to believe; believe them. Your kids will test you and test you and test you some more.  They do it to all new teachers.  You will have to earn their trust.  The kids you teach will have seen teachers come and go, so they do not want to invest emotionally if they even suspect you will leave them in a few years.  Although, the students you had initially will be gone, the influence you had on them will not, if you are one of ‘those’ teachers, and let’s face it, we all want to be one of ‘those’ teachers”.

Some days your kids will be your saving grace,and some days they will be the bane of your existence, accept both with equal fervor, kids only expend energy on teachers they feel strongly about.  You want them to feel strongly since indifference and apathy kills creativity.  Learn how to turn the negative into a positive and you will have a loyal fan for years to come.

Finally, I was going to end my letter of support welcoming you to the profession and wishing you best of luck in the coming school year;  I’ve had second thoughts.  Although I do welcome you and I do wish you the best of luck, take careful note:  kids know.  Kids know whether or not they can break you, whether or not you are a teacher for life, whether or not you really care and whether or not they can trust you.  Kids know.  So, if your aim is to put in your two years and move on we, the kids and I, would rather you just keep moving, we don’t need you.  If, however,  you have an open mind with regard to making teaching your vocation we, the kids and I, welcome you with open arms, we need you.

Good, bad, or indifferent, all teachers leave their mark.   You choose.

Peace,

Ms. Victoria Kunzmann

7th Grade Language Arts


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What I Did This Past Summer


Look closely, gaming sites were more popular than the education sites.

Look closely, gaming sites were more popular than the education sites.

June 13, 2014

Dear Readers,

My two week stint as a summer school teacher has come to an end and so, it is time for reflection.  Educators worth their salt know that in order to improve their effective instructional practices, reflection is a must at the end of every lesson, unit, day, month, year, professional development class, etc.  It helps to see what works, what needs improvement, how we can better serve our students, our schools, our colleagues, our communities, ourselves, etc.  In other words, how to use every waking, breathing, livable moment of our lives to create master teachers, dang it, because we teachers, are failing our students!

My apologies, dear Readers, for my little soapbox rant.  I am back on track now.  Although it may appear that I am poking fun at reflection insofar as it relates to my teaching, I believe it to be a valuable tool in assessing what I need to improve upon.  Unfortunately, without the cooperation of the other ‘players’ on the educational field, my improvement will only go so far in helping our students to achieve.  The players’ roster includes, but is not limited to, students, other teachers, administrators, parents, and even society at large.  Now, how’s a girl supposed to get all of those entities on board the “Yea, Learning!” train?  I’ll tell you, it ain’t easy!

For the past two weeks, I was the instructor of record for a credit recovery class for a group of 6th and 7th grade students.  For those of you dear Readers who thought disinterest in institutionalized learning began in high school, I can assure you that it does not.  Yes, it seems that even 11 and 12 year olds need help recovering their credits.  Gone are the days when little Suzy or little Johnny had to repeat a grade because of failing marks.  Now, (cue Superman theme song) teachers can advance a pupil’s learning ability through the help of self-directed, computer based programs.

For the past few years, computer based learning programs have become all the rage.  Which is fine, for a certain section of the student population.  The demographics for that certain student population, I believe, would be as follows:  self-motivation.  Yes, dear Readers, self-motivation is the key.  Without that, self-directed, computer based programs are difficult to teach at best, and a disaster waiting to happen, at the very least.  Here is where I come in.

My class started with 18 students, 3 girls and 15 boys, all completely disinterested in spending 4 consecutive hours staring at a computer screen and me staring at their backs.  Of the three girls, two were highly interested in the boy seated next to them.  Moving the girls away from their love interest did no good, they just moved their interests along with their seats.  And sending them to the office did no good, as they were right back in my class the next day.  Sigh.  As for the boys, two slept their way through the first two days of class, four kept trying to hide the fact that they were spending the majority of their time on gaming sites, and three of the boys could not stay seated (one kept wandering aimlessly around the room, while the other two simulated professional wrestlers in the middle of the room).  As for the remaining 9 boys, three tried to continuously get onto web sites that had been blocked by the school district, one tried to hack into the control panel, and one wore an ankle monitoring device that kept beeping because it needed to be recharged.  So, for those of you keeping track, of the 18 students on my roster, exactly 5 were willing to learn.  Unfortunately, they were the five neediest of the bunch.  You know the type; cannot type a word without the approval of the teacher.  So all day long it’s, “Miss, Miss, Miss, c’mere, pleeeeeease, I need your help.  Miss, Miss, did I do this right?  Miss, why don’t you help me?”  Sigh.

"Hey, if the teacher is waaay over there, she can't see what we are doing on the computer, right?"

“Hey, if the teacher is waaay over there, she can’t see what we are doing on the computer, right?”

I can laugh now, dear Readers, summer school is over.  And although it does sound like a comedy of errors, that is exactly what it was like the first few days.  By the end of the first week however, the students got on track, with a few exceptions.  By the end of the second week, all but those few exceptions had passed the classes they had failed throughout the regular school year and recovered their credits.  Not bad for two weeks of summer school.  As for the few exceptions, the three boys trying to get onto websites blocked by the district, well, they managed to get on some of them.  What were the sites you may ask?  Well, let’s just say that three of my students now have a very good grasp on the female anatomy, a very good grasp.  Sigh.  I guess it goes with the territory.  Here’s to a restful rest of the summer.  Peace, ~v.


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It’s All About the Connections ~ Part II


We connect in ways we do not even understand.

We connect in ways we do not even understand.

November 24, 2013

Dear Readers,

The last time we were together, I’m pretty sure I rambled.  It feels so good to be writing again, that I may have tried to stuff too much stuff in my previous post (It’s All About the Connections ~ Part I).  However, I do know where I wanted to end up, and look, we’re here.

I have spent the past three weeks or so, trying to speed up the learning process in my students.  We have to keep to the calendar, more tests ahead.  I have been so preoccupied in trying to do something I detest, I almost forgot about the things I love.  Specifically, I love the connections I make with  my students.

Since the beginning of the school year, my second block class has been my largest, and most difficult of all my classes.  However, they have been the easiest for me to connect with.  It took my principal coming into this particular class to observe and help me quell the riots, for me to realize that 80 to 85% of all of the chatter stemmed from discussions on classwork.  I know, right?  Although to the untrained ear, mine in particular, my second block class sounds unruly and out of control, they are really just verbal learners.  I have discovered that most of the students in this class need to verbalize what they are learning in order for it to stick in their brain.  I’ve since revised my “No talking out of turn” rule; these students need to blurt out their understanding of a concept as soon as they internalize it.  This learning style certainly lends itself to a cacophony of adolescent voices.

Now don’t get me wrong, they are teenagers, so they do try and take advantage of what they see as a ‘free-for-all.’  I just have to make sure they stay on task.  They are more apt to stay on task dear Readers, if they know the goal they are working towards.  Also, they work much harder and much smarter if they have a connection to the teacher presenting the material; that’s me!  It has taken me since the start of school to create a seating chart for this class where each of the groups is working together, for the benefit of both the individual learner and the group.  And it is finally working to the students’ advantage.

Let me just step out of my post for a second and explain what a huge sacrifice I am making here.  I am, by nature, a very high-strung individual.  I experience anxiety when I am in a noisy environment, such as this class.  My heart rate jumps, I clench and unclench my teeth, and my brow breaks out into a sweat.  I have explained these symptoms and what they mean to my students.  The students in my other three classes, for the most part, are keenly aware when the noise is getting to be too much for me; not so, this class.  But, they are doing better, by far.  Knowing my perchance for hyperventilating, I still choose to allow my students to learn how they learn best:  noisily.  I allow this, even at the expense of my own mental health.  “Ahhh, suck it up!” I hear my alter ego exclaiming, and I do.

Having connecting so well with this particular class, I have hit a few snags.  My first concern is that my students begin to feel so comfortable with me, that they have begun speaking to me as if I were their friend!  Even in a parallel universe, this will never sit well with me.  Here’s an example:  It happened the day I walked around to each of the nine groups in my second hour class and tried to connect with each of my students.  There is a fine line between respect and disrespect, and one of my students was just about to cross it.

As I stood at the white board calling on students to read a portion of a text and answer a question, I heard the usual chatter.  Most were discussing whatever it was they were discussing when I had been a “guest” at their tables.  I had to reign them in only once or twice before I called on V. to begin reading.  V. was unresponsive the first time I called on her, so I called on her again.  Still, no response.  I tried one more time, this time in a very firm and authoritative voice.  With her back to me, she waved her hand at me and said, “Hold up!”  At which point the rest of the class began laughing.

“Oh, this will not do!” I exclaimed to myself.  Out loud, I said, “Oh no I will not hold up!  How dare you speak to me in that tone.  I’m not your friend.  I am not 13, I am a grown woman, older than most of your parents and I deserve to be spoken to with respect.  I’m not your friend, I’m not your buddy, I’m not your pal; I’m your teacher and I will thank you to remember that whenever you address me from here on out.”  I guess familiarity does breed contempt.

As I walked around my class that day, connecting with my students, I lost a precious block of “test prep” time.  As I stood at the front of the class that day, I could feel my heartbeat increasing whenever I had that thought of losing time.  Conversely, I could feel my heartbeat slow down to normal as I countered that thought with this thought, “Yeah, but it was so well worth the loss.”

It’s all about the connections dear Readers, it’s all about the connections.  Peace, ~v.


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It’s All About the Connections ~ Part I


We're all connected.

We’re all connected.

November 24, 2013

Dear Readers,

I have been busy, busy, busy.  I have a schedule to keep and the curriculum is fast-paced.  I am in a rush to cram every last bit of information into my students’ long-term memory before their semester final.  And my students are in no hurry to learn anything more before their semester break.  It has been a battle of wills.  One, I am quite proud to say, I lost.

This is the first year since I’ve been teaching that I have not been able to set my students’ learning pace.  My current teaching position came with its own predetermined, pre-packaged assignment calendar.  At first I thought, “Hey, that’s alright.  It will save me time knowing what I’m teaching and when I’m teaching it…and for how long I’ll be teaching it…”  Wait, hold up!  What was I thinking?  Nothing about this inflexible calendar is alright.  This inflexible calendar.

Inflexible and rigorous, that is how I would classify the breakneck speed with which I have to try and coax my students to learn.  And those two words go against the very nature of most of my students’ learning styles.  Any educator worth his salt will tell you that when you cram information into a student’s brain, there is neither teaching nor learning taking place.  And that is how I have been running my classes the past two or three weeks.  Cram, cram, cram.

“It’s in my students’ best interest if I can just teach them everything they will need to know to do well on the test.  I have to prepare them for high school.”  Stop.  The problem with that philosophy is that students never internalize what they are taught during the cramming sessions.  They may keep enough of the information in their short-term memory long enough to pass the test.  But come next semester, that information will be long gone.

“It’s in my students’ best interest if they can just learn everything they will need to know to do well in life.  They have to prepare themselves for high school.”  Stop.  Is that even allowed?  I mean, should students determine how fast or how slow the learning pace should be?  Technically, yes.  At the very least, I should not be cramming information into their brains when their bodies haven’t even had time to absorb the lesson from yesterday.

I miss setting the pace.  The pace is not some arbitrary date on a calendar.  The pace is determined by my observations and the students’ authentic assessments.  If the students don’t get the concept, we ain’t moving on.

I also miss the connections with students that setting the pace of my classes has always afforded me.  I’d like to think that I teach much more than reading and writing.  That had been sorely missing from my daily routine, until last week.

My largest and loudest class had just thundered into class.  Backpacks are flung, voices are raised, and in record time, there is a loud, steady hum of adolescent voices in the air.  Bell Books are opened, pencils are scratching , keeping time with the hummm.  It’s been awhile since I’ve caught up with each of my students, now seems the perfect opportunity.  It’s time for me to make my rounds.

Table 1:  2 boys, A. and C.

“Okay gentlemen, I seem to be missing assignments from you two.  Look, I’m gonna sit right here, right next to you two until I am sure you are going to finish your writing assignments.”

“Ok, good!  You can help us.”  C. hands me his letter.  “Can you read it?  Is it right?”

I read, I mean I really read.  “This letter is great, C.  Very proud of you.  Looks like A. has been teaching you some of his writing tricks!”  A. and C. are both smiling proudly as I move to the next table.

Table 2:  2 boys, J. and A, arguing with one another as I approach.

“Hey, hey!  What’s going on here?  A., you seem the most pisssed off, what’s goin’ on?”

“Miss, J. made this girl hate me!  He told her a lie about me and now she’s mad at me!  J.’s a bully, he bullied her.”

“Miss, I told her the truth about A, and I told her just one lie.”

“Dude, she likes him!”  I blurt out.  “And I’m pretty sure A. likes her.  So, why would you tell her a lie about your best friend?”

“Yeah, it’s J.’s fault if she hates me, now.”

“Ok, hold up there A.  If this girl likes you she likes you, and nothing J. says can change that.  Now J, could it be that you told her a lie about A. because you like her and you want her to like you, hmm?”

J. shrugs his shoulders and smiles a sly smile.  “Hey!  You’re my best friend!” I hear A. say as I slip off to the next table.

Table 3:  2 boys, A. and B.  2 girls, S. and H.

A. speaks up first, “Miss, my dad said to tell you thanks for the phone call.  He said he was all ready to yell at me when I got home, but now he’s happy I have a good grade.”

“Great,” I say sarcastically, “it could have gone a lot different.  And if you don’t stay in your seat, it will go a lot different.  If you get up, without asking,  just walk right straight to the vice-principal’s office, because you’ll be serving a detention and breaking your dad’s heart all at the same time.”

Both girls, S. and H. thank me for calling their parents with good news.  I like to make it a point to call a group of parents each week to let them know how their child is progressing in my class both academically and behaviorally.  It’s always a happy phone call and this was one of the groups I chose this week.  “My dad and step-mom got your message and they didn’t call back but, they were both proud of me.  And happy, they were happy,” said H.

“Thanks to you Ms. Kunzmann, my mom is buying me the new [game system],” said S (she didn’t really say ‘game system’ but, I forgot which one she said and I don’t want to insult her by writing the wrong one.)

“I see B. is being awfully quiet.  He’s saying, ‘Please let her go away, go away.’  But, I’m not going away, B. The phone call I make to your parents is going to be to inform them that you have in-school suspension next week.  They won’t be too happy about that, right B?”

“Nope.”

“So why couldn’t you just come after school yesterday for 20 minutes.  That’s all, 20 minutes.  So you would rather have in-school suspension than serve a 20 minute detention with me?”

“Yep.”

*Sigh.  There’s always one.

My making the rounds was taking a bit longer than I had anticipated, but what the heck, I was making connections with my students.  It’s all about the connections.  It’s the connections we remember, dear Readers, not the writing of a paragraph, not the reading of a persuasive text, it’s the connections.  So far, I have only connected with 1/3 of the students in this class.  I still have six more tables to go.  Stay tuned, dear Readers, I do believe I’ll be writing a part two.  Peace, ~v.


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Tell Me Why?


September 5, 2013

Dear Readers,

Question authority.  This two word sentence has always excited and incited me, if for no other reason than to determine the answer to that age old question, “Why?”  Perhaps I should clarify, not, “Why is the sky blue?” kind of questions.  Rather, “Why do we want to impeach President Nixon?” kind of questions.  Yes, I am old enough to remember the Watergate era, although just barely.

As a young girl, I was a precocious chit.  I became interested in current events at around the age of 8.  Although I didn’t quite understand all of the nuances of the answers, I would still ask my dad the why questions that filled my head.  And my dad would graciously and patiently answer them.

Through the years, I began to notice that my why questions always fell into one distinct category:  justice for all.  Although one of the cornerstones of our society, justice for all has never quite been America’s zeitgeist.  Oh sure, we come as close as anyone.  However, we generally tend to fall a little short.

I believe the reason that I directed my why questions to society at large was because I was never allowed to question authority in the society that was my family.  And truth be told, I’m sure my dad found it so much easier to discuss with his daughter, the whole of society’s injustices as opposed to discussing family dynamics.  “Why are we fighting in Vietnam?” was infinitely easier to answer than “Why do I have to learn how to make tortillas and the boys [my brothers] don’t?”  I told you I was precocious.

Fast forward to me raising my own family.  I believe I responsibly handed down the concept of Question Authority to my own children.  If there was a why question on my children’s lips, I allowed them to ask it.  And that includes questioning some of the rules I laid down.  Now, dear Readers, notice that I did not say, “Challenge authority.”  No, not challenge but, question.  Whereas questions can be respectful inquiry, challenge insinuates disrespect.  I taught my children how to do the former.

I was generally open to discussing the whys of my parenting with my children.  Make no mistake dear Readers, ours was not a democratic familial society.  No, it was definitely a monarchy, and there was but one ruler, yours truly.  However, I always surmised that if my children knew the why of some of my directives, they would be more likely to accept them.  And as my children grew into adolescents, they became quite adept at questioning me with the intent of trying to change my mind.  They grew up watching me, their authority figure, logically answer their why questions so much so that they picked up a few pointers.

Incidentally dear Readers, I am frequently wrong.  In fact, I tend to believe that most authority figures are frequently wrong.  However, not being questioned lulls them into a false sense of security that they can do no wrong.  And when ordinary citizens are not allowed to question authority, injustice ensues.  This is especially true with the teacher/student relationship.

In the kingdom that is my classroom, my students are the subjects to my benevolent dictator.  However, I always spend a good deal of time schooling them in the art of questioning authority.  And I have to tell you dear Readers, I am most proud when my students question my mandates, only to have me see the error of my ways and change my mind, thus, change my rules.  As I said, I am frequently wrong.

Such was the case today, dear Readers.  I had laid down the law in the first few days of the semester.  However, my students were far from the law abiding citizens I had hoped they would be.  So, to quell the uprising, I recently suspended all privileges.  Most of my students acquiesced.  However, there was a lone rebel in the crowd who had taken my Question Authority lessons to heart.  And she became the leader of the Student Rebellion.

Myra (not her real name) respectfully questioned me as to why I had to revoke certain privileges.  After I thoughtfully and carefullyexplained my position, we both realized that there was no logic in my argument.  Even though most of her classmates wanted her to, Myra didn’t challenge me, she simply and respectfully questioned my authority.  And she was right.  And I was wrong.

That was yesterday.  Today, I humbly went before my classes and apologized for the injustice.  I also thanked Myra for being brave enough and respectful enough to question me.  I proceeded to tell my classes that they had her to thank for my changing my mind.  I was very proud of Myra today.  Although, I think she was even more proud of herself.  And it sure did make me smile when I overheard her telling a group of her classmates, “She told us we could question her.  You guys should listen to Ms. Kunzmann.”  Yes, indeed they should.  Peace, ~v.