A list of things I control in my physical classroom

  1. Where students sit
  2. When students talk
  3. Who I call on
  4. The music
  5. When student write things down
  6. When students eat
  7. How student demonstrate competency
  8. The language students use
  9. When students leave
  10. How I deliver content
  11. The stuff on the walls

I am not sure all of these are bad. I am just starting to think.

Control and Freedom: part 1 of infinity.

“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be” ― James Baldwin.

“Bussed to white schools, we soon learned that obedience, and not a zealous will to learn, was what was expected of us. Too much eagerness to learn could easily be seen as a threat to white authority.” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as a Practice of Freedom

When I speak of a child’s right to freedom, I mean that by virtue of being human she is endowed with the unassailable right not to have any part of her personhood assaulted or stolen. -Carla Shalaby, Troublemakers

“It’s just that Señora’s classroom is more free than yours” – my 11th grade student January 2020

I am really nervous about all the new things teachers are going to try to control now that we don’t have physical classrooms.— Me, yesterday on twitter (@sophgermain) July 26, 2020

I am trying to write a proposal. I have for about a year now been thinking about my classroom and how I run it. The balance of control and freedom. I am trying to cohesively pull together 500 words about that and how I am working to shift away from a model of control to a model of freedom. I truly don’t know if I can.

By the time students get to me they have been in a school system for a least 10 years that has continually worked to teach them obedience. I am thinking about the teacher in Carla Shalaby’s Troublemakers who said, “I have to sort of bring them into a place where their behavior is commensurate with the expectations of the classroom because this is a white-bread Americana school.” I know that in their at least ten years of schooling my students have had teachers that thought things like this. I know this because I have been that teacher. I thought for years that my job was to teach students to fit into and work in a system. That to belong in the system was success. Until recently, I had never considered the problem was the system itself.

When they get to me they are not only holding the pain of a system that forces them to a shape their bodies in to seats build for someone else but also they see me. I am white and I teach math. I remember listening to Marian Dingle interview Naomi Jessup on the Heinemann podcast. Dr. Jessup talked about this one bad (read: probably racist) math teacher her child had had and how after that she became her child’s at home math teacher. That even if the kid had had good teachers later her kid was done with them. I imagine that by the time kids get to me many of them have hit that point but without a math teacher parent at home to help them.

Now, I am thinking about next year. About the 2020-2021 school which has the potential to be entirely online. I am watching teachers build bitmoji classroom (see: Kelly’s great thread here), spend hours sorting out zoom, and transfer entire curriculums online. I am seeing threads about expectations for video conferences and uniforms and physical spaces. (Just to be clear some of your kids are gonna zoom from their beds because that is their only personal space. Some of them share a bed.)

Here’s what I am thinking about:

  1. Nothing matters more than taking care of my kids. This means knowing them and listening to them and honoring who they are.
  2. This is an entirely new world, if I want to try to do something different or cool or something that doesn’t work this is the time.
  3. This is also a time for honestly and co-building. By co-building I mean, asking the kids what they think and want and then doing that. (If not now, when?)
  4. Lastly, and permanently on my mind, how do I educate for freedom? How do I make my room a free place? How do I encourage kids to take it? How do I help them reignite a zealous will to learn?

Muscles.

I am the definition of an indoor kid.

As a child I played sports only until my parents lost the ability to force me to do things.

Unsurprisingly this was very very young.

I was routinely deemed “uncoachable”.

It probably don’t help that I have no desire to win.

This year I have read over 20,000 pages of fiction that’s not including my research.

I read the way other people go for runs, lift weights, or swim.

I go to the beach, when I remember the sun is good for my brain, with a book.

I go everywhere, with a book.

For 2 years, I climbed at an indoor gym.

It was repeated lessons in doing hard things and in figuring out my body.

I failed a lot, I got better a lot, I climbed 15-20 foot walls without ropes.

I fell and I didn’t fall.

I could do three pull ups. (I had visible muscles?)

Then grad school and work and reading, then quarantine.

Now I write, every day like I used to climb.

The muscles I use are different. The old ones are soft.

New ones are sharp.

If anyone figures out how to have both, will you let me know?

If I get sick…

if I get I will be in my house alone. I have told my 38 year-old brother he will have to come. If I get sick my mother will want to come. She is 67. If I get sick my father will want to help. He will call. A lot. If I get sick if will be because I went back to work. If I get sick even with reduced class sizes and a hybrid model, I will be in contact with 100 teens. If I get sick they will be in contact with their families, easily 500 people. If I get sick it will be someone’s job to track down all 500 hundred of those people. If I get sick people will die. Maybe not me. If I get sick, will you take care of my cats? my students? my friends? my brother? my dad? my mom?

Types of Friends

not mutually exclusive.

  • the one you call when you have a bad day
  • the one who calls you first with big news
  • the one who is your biggest cheerleader
  • the one who gives out baked goods
  • the one who calls you on your bullshit
  • the one you sit with at lunch
  • the one who is online but have never met
  • the one with all the wisdom
  • the one with the good instastories
  • the one who rages with you about societal bullshit
  • the one who sends you pictures of their baby/dog/cat
  • the one you talk to about money
  • the one who always hosts
  • the one you introduces you to the best people
  • the one who forces you to work
  • the one with the same taste in terrible media
  • the one you can share clothes with
  • the one who pushes you to be better
  • the one who knows how to mix a drink
  • the one who you have known since diapers
  • the one who hates your nemesises for you
  • the one you only talk to once a year
  • the one who believes in you more than you believe in yourself
  • the one who is just consistently there

I, like you, have no plans.

I am starting this under the assumption that I will be teaching fully online for the foreseeable future. Cases in San Diego are on the rise and I am leaning into believing in my school district will see this and not open schools.

I want to use this space to think through some ideas I have. To dream big, as Lizzie told me was my job.

Before I do that I want to explain what my situation is: I will teach one 9th and two 11th grade math classes next year (all homogeneous, no tracking). It’s about 100-120 kids. I see them for 75-90 5 days a week usually, although for the purposes of this let’s say 75 minutes a day 5 days a week is my assigned time in the virtual schedule. Also, in both of these classes I work in a team of 3-4 teachers who are pretty much teaching the same thing as me on any given day/week.

Okay, Big ideas. (All of this is open for feedback and questions!)

  1. I need minimum two weeks to meet with and get to know my kids: I am thinking all class zoom games and activities, small group bonding (think table groups), and individual meetings with every kid.
  2. I am thinking about the fact that we give kids notebooks every year. So I think I need to drop one off, maybe with an intro letter, and some pencils to all my students in the first week of school. I know this is a lot but then they can see me. This feels important.
  3. What is content in this world? I am not 100% sure but I also know I work in a district so I have somethings I have to work with in. Maybe all class meets Monday and Friday. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday are small group work meetings. Groups of four meet, I listen and chat to gauge competency.
  4. These midweek meetings come be used to build questions we can answer around the content of the week. (maybe they push us to other content too). Fridays the students report on the questions they’ve developed and we make plans for the next week to answer. Maybe some groups change their questions to other groups. Maybe some discover they want to save their’s for other weeks.
  5. Monday is for check ins always (some during the week too). We do our circle questions. We build trust. We learn about each other.
  6. I am also thinking about the fact I teach in a team. Does it need to be just me working with kids or can all three of us push into break out groups and talk to kids? Can we hold classes together? Can our kids present to each other? How do we build trust across a whole grade level?
  7. Assessments as videos of students explaining their questions and the math they did to solve them?

Will you tell me what innovative things you are thinking about for next year?

Just to be clear I only did about 6 weeks of emergency online pandemic teaching this year and I did a mediocre job. I am trying to think about what better looks like this year.

maybe it was always glass

slowly my fingers unroll from my fist

one by one, I count to ten, my breathing coming easier with each finger.

the system and I have been together for 29 years

a new book, a hard problem, a debate

understanding how the system moves and flows

where to push and where to follow

my favorite game was always to avoid the sharp bits

the parts that would catch and end in my unravelling

once i missed 45 of 90 days of a class in a term

i cried

i was given a B.

ten years later i stood in a different place

inside, with useless tools

a hammer, sometimes

a chisel

hitting, carefully or not

always trying, rarely denting

pounding at the unjust cogs

right is confusing and wrong?

i am so often wrong.

stings a little. sometimes a lot.

my personal eradication of public waterworks, tears no longer weapons

rivers of frustration flood my home

and now

the system, so indestructible

come hammer, come chisel, come bulldozer, and even cement trucks

it had stood so tall, replicating itself.

harm, over harm, over harm, over harm.

now, it stands still, looks more and more as though it has always been

glass

shatterable with one small hard stone

one two three four five six seven eight nine ten

listen.

with the system still

voices come through

possibility

possibly.

Villager.

This was written in the 15 minutes before school so forgive me my typos.

 

I want to be a villager. I have always had a need to be a part of things. I like to know what’s going on and I want to be included. I want to help, I want to be needed, I want to belong.

 

I was raised in the way I think lots of middle-class white kids are. I am a part of my family but my accomplishments are my own. My grades are mine, awards are based my work, and even if my teacher wrote me a letter of recommendation or spent hours teaching me something, I am the one who did the thing. I should probably say thank you but deep down, I know, that I am a winner.

 

I didn’t learn til the last few years that not everyone was raised this way. That some families talk about their grandparents. You only accomplished what you did because your grandmother stood in line for hours 30 years ago to get an apartment in this neighborhood. Or, I’m proud of this award because it shines on our whole family. Your light is not just your light it is all of ours and we bask in it together.

 

Sometimes these beliefs are even bigger than a family. The accomplishes of one might be the accomplishes of a whole group. But the thing is, even though its total and utter bullshit, this is not the way white people* think about things. Jeff Bezos’ accomplishments are not mine nor are Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s (and she’s Jewish and a woman!).

 

This lack of a village or a deep sense of community has always been hard for me. One of the many reasons I moved home after a year of college is that I missed being known. I missed having people who knew my life and my story around me.

 

I have been thinking a lot about community as the coronavirus spreads throughout our very very small world. I have been thinking about it as people talk about how it “won’t affect them because they are healthy.” There is a deep lacking of community there. There is such a sense of individualism. What you’re saying when you say that is so long as you survive this isn’t that bad.

 

I want to go back to a system of villages. I imagine in those the elderly would be valued for their wisdom. I imagine the sick would be carefully protected. I imagine we would all work really hard to be good villagers.