Home Brew: Day 10

It’s difficult to summarize my teaching experiences these last two weeks. I could say that my lessons were successful, that the students learned, that the students exercised their imaginations, and that they had an overall positive experience. I could also say that I probably reached 50% or fewer of the ESL students, that 25-40% of the students in some classrooms exhibited immediate learning limitations with auditory processing or written expression (or both), and that more than 30% of the students in every classroom had illegible handwriting and/or incomplete sentences. I could say all of these things and all of them would feel true.
Some moments were truly humbling: using the “21st Century Whiteboard,” encountering the “Which branch would you join?” bulletin board, watching teachers call their students “rule breakers” and threaten them with “check marks.” When a learning environment is shaped by a teacher who only wants her students to silently obey, quietly do their worksheets, and not fiddle with new possibilities, what kind of impact can a guest teacher like me possibly make in a few class periods? When a teacher doesn’t even introduce me, but instead says, “Now boys and girls, I have my notebook out and I am going to write your name down if you cause any problems,” then sits down at her desk and texts while I attempt to inspire her students? When a teacher has side conversation with other teachers in the classroom while I am teaching and makes no comment about her student’s performances at open mic (or misses their performances entirely)? How can I possibly have an impact at age 12 when by age 9 they’re being encouraged to join the military?
My heart breaks to think of little Juan’s poem from my first day: “My favorite place is my home / Veracruz, Mexico. / I miss the feel / of the warm torta.” The bravery of that single child expressing himself in a language that is not his own, recalling a place he may never see again, was enough to propel me through the remaining two weeks. But I worry for him and for all the young minds in the schools I visited. Sure, a few great teachers were tucked away down the long hallways. But by and large I encountered an environment where order reigned and learning happened infrequently at best.
I heard a report on NPR recently that said a “new generation” happens every 5 years now, as opposed to the several decades we’re used to. Technology is chancing society so rapidly, that in just 5 years people are wired so differently from others that they move, communicate, act, and make decisions based on a wholly different thought pattern and set of criteria. That means the students I spent the last two weeks with were something like 3 generations younger than myself. That’s like having a teacher who is your great grandparent…and I’ll tell you, after being on the “front lines” of today’s rural public education system in North Carolina, I feel almost that old.

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