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Friday, May 16, 2014

31. The fear of being a teacher

When I opened my mailbox, I was surprised to find a golden envelope with my name written, so I did not wait to enter home and opened it right there. It was an invitation to a special event during teacher appreciation week, the envelope and the paper were very elegant and I was happy that finally my name was preceded by the word teacher. After the initial panic and my reluctance to initiate this adventure, I think that I feel well with that word.

I felt nervous when I wake up the day of the event, there were many questions in my head fluttering like doves in a park, is time to feel part of the group? Do give class to a group of children makes me a teacher?

When I began to shave  it came to my mind all the memories of my student days. The images were not very pleasant. I remembered the frustration by not be able to pass the exams, dire hours that is preparing writings that  my teachers never read, the folly of learn things that don't make sense and that panic of not being accepted for other children.

I decided this was not the time for my children's fears,  I could leave them for a chat with Gaby in order to laugh at all of this and not see them with grief.

When I was ready to cross the street to get into school, I found happy children and parents, all thanking me for my daily work and for making nice classes. I received small gifts that I put very carefully in my back pack and then I went to the offices, where there were several  posters that parents and administrative had been placed to make us feel that for a week, we were the heroes of the community.

I started to walk where appreciation ceremony would take place for all the teachers, when I realized that my phone had almost no battery, so I returned to an empty office to charge it for a few minutes.

While I was waiting I could see a silhouette on the other side of the aisle. At first I thought that it was  just a backpack, but with a little more attention, I noticed that it was a person, seated, with his head between his legs and arms immobilizing his body. I approached with care to not disturb his stance, and I realized that it was a first grade child.

I decided to sit next to him, to make him company while my phone was loaded but he did not move, he ignored for several minutes, so I started to look for a candy in my jacket and when I found it, I said aloud: wow, it’s amazing what you can one find in your jacket when you do not wash it!

His small body moved slightly, but I could not get his head between his legs.

I went further and touched his shoulder... would you like a half of this candy?, I am in diet, so you will get half of all these calories.

The child began to cry and his body moved like leaf driven with the autumn wind. I had to be more direct in my approach and I hugged him... incredibly, his response was to hug me so hard that I thought I would stifle.

Slowly he calmed and I could finally see his face, I recognised him because once I found him during the break and helped me with half of my sandwich.

I carefully wiped their tears but they were mixed with snot, so I had to find a Kleenex to do a better job, when finally he looked at me, I stretched out the candy and joking I said that there was not doubt that this candy had lot of stories after being in my jacket for months.

I asked him to tell me his story, but he hid the face on my chest and it was clear that my cheap psychologist tactics wouldn't work. So I started telling him  a story that my students and I had written for mother's day. It had all sorts of characters, flowers and bugs, I suppose that I put too much emotion because after a moment he began to laugh. Yes, I recognize that squirrels do not spit broccoli soup and flowers do not attack pigeons... but in the end that face looked at me and began to speak:

-      My stepbrother screaming to my mom because I make noise at home, my mom yells at me because I play quietly in the courtyard, it says that I am rare. My classmate steal  my lunch and it’s scary to come to school every day.

I looked at him trying to not show pity, but understanding. I told him about my panic I was not doing things right and not to teach children as I should. I told him that when child was afraid of tests and It was awful to make angry to Sara Johansenn or Peter Dutch, because that would cost me a fight at the end of the day.

-Adults are not afraid of anything, and teachers may not have fear, they are teachers!

His gaze was confounding, but explain that adults have the same fears of children, only that they grew with us and we learned to hide them.

At that time my cell phone rang and we walked together up to where it was. It was Gaby, annoying because I was not at the ceremony, where did you go?, she asked.

I saw my new friend and I told him: do you see it? adults also have fears, for example to be in the wrong place.

I replied to Gaby  I would find her soon, and then took Edward's hand, and asked him  to make me company during  the ceremony and sit with me, because I was afraid to be wrong, with the wrong people.

When everything is completed, I asked him to tell me the names of the guys who took usually his lunch and together we went to teach them a lesson. I looked at them and told them that Edward was not alone, that he had a guardian and that if something happened you, I would ensure that their parents knew about this.

When everything was over I lead him to  his mother and asked her to observe him carefully, that his son had a lot to give to the world, but needed a little help from his friends.

I don't know that it means to become a teacher, I know that they are not only the books, but the exact moment at which one gives is that the cell phone has no battery, and that there is no one else to turn to teach a child that in life, we all have fear of something, even  to be teacher!

Friday, April 25, 2014

30. Seeding ideas

When I arrived to my guru’s house to tell her about my minute of fame front of the cameras, I found her occupied with her jars full of seeds and several photographs, it seemed that she was trying to recognize plants, but when I stood front her, still without looking at me, she told me I looked good in the camera and she sees with  pleasure that there was a slight awareness on the subject of evaluations. 

I know that I wanted to tell her about my experience and I heard exactly what it wanted, but I was intrigued with all the attention that she was putting on those seeds, and then her photographs. Over time I have learned that she has the ability to divide her attention, so although it seems that she is not paying attention to you, she understand very clear what I say, I hear, even when it looks like she has eyes and ears in something else.

What are you looking at?, Finally I asked her,  are you planning to do genetic crosses?

 She replied me with a smile, and by very first time in the last 15 minutes she puts her eyes on me.

-  No, nothing like that!, I'm looking at something intriguing. If I tell you that winter has been more raw this time, what would you expect about the growth of plants?

I thought her question carefully, although I knew what was coming would be a great learning. 

I think I would say that there will be a delay in the outbreak of the plants during the spring.

  -Yes, I thought the same, but if I look at my pictures of previous years, the plants re-born in the same order and I can say that under the same date of the calendar every  year. The last two winters were very benign. Last year, specialists assumed that some plants do not reach to sprout, because the heat arrived too soon, however  they sprang up without problems, but this year, although winter has been brutal, all of them follow the same pattern of growth.

It means that the temperature is not important?

-       That seems, at least so far, but no doubt many more observations are needed. My plants always come with a couple of weeks of delay compared to others  of the same species that are located where they can receive better the Sun. So the Sun is a factor, but not the temperature in terms of fluctuations.

They are like children, follow a pattern of development unless the environment is not the most suitable.

  -Exact, I could not do better analogy!
I guess that’s why children who seems to have a learning problem, if there are some adjustments in the environment are capable to attain their objectives.

  -Yes, environment adjustment!

Yes, that what I have observed. Do you remember Ann? She is  the little girl you helped me because she couldn’t speak well?

  -How could I forget about her?, I hope that you have fun a lot of fun learning new vocal movements!

Actually we did!, all of us have had so much fun helping her to recognize the movements of her lips and listening to us when we began to speak slowly. 

Well, she comes to my mind because she couldn't talk, and we assumed that she was going to fail  trying to learn, but it seems environment works with children like with your plants, when we gave them the opportunity, she showed her talent, and the atmosphere was important to achieving this progress because we leave hoping  that she speaks as anybody else and started to realize all of importance of making the correct movements with her lips. Her environment became friendly and she gave herself the opportunity to try.

  -Like plants, when they have the correct variables, began to bloom!
Yes, so I see it... I think what you are trying to teach me today is that the environment is important, even if it appears we bloom later than others, the environment is important.
 -Yes!, although I had no intention to  give you a lesson today... I have still so much to learn of my plants and environment, but without a doubt, I believe that we can reach that conclusion, at least for now. 

If parents can change the environment in which evaluations are conducted, perhaps we can get an improvement in children's learning, because the tests cause great stress, even just to mention the word “test” causes panic to all of us.

  -I hope that one day, you and I are able to see that in education, but I think that is still very far away.

When I walked toward my house, I looked carefully all the plants blooming, earlier the flowers emerge, makes shines everything and I felt amazed about the relationship we have with the rest of the nature.

Friday, March 28, 2014

29: why do we apply exams?

When I walked around the corner to get to the  school,  with some surprise, I saw vans of different television channels. For a moment I imagined the worst, Had ocurred an accident?, Was there an order to close the school?, Had someone appeared dead inside one of the classrooms?, had a kid committed suicide?

I ran as fast as I could and when I was crossing the street, a mother pointed me with her finger and in a second  I had a camera on my face and  a microphone touched my nose. 

-He is a teacher of this school, he can talk about it... 

I felt panic!, perhaps they would know that I am against the text books?, another mother grabbed me by the arm and began to talk so fast, that it made me feel like in a supersonic airplane, she told me that a large group of parents was against the application of the State tests because they caused too much stress to children and those tests  did not count to the academic notes of students, so parents were considered them “unnecessarily stressful”.

I wanted to hug this mother for thinking of the good of her child and not only accepting what everyone thinks that it is right for her child. When I was ready, I asked the reporter to tell me what was his question before recording:
-Is it true that State Tests do not count for the academic evaluations of children?

It is true, nor evaluate knowledge, or understanding, the test is intended to analyze the memory capacity of the students.

-Do you agree with the boycott proposed by parents?

I don't have enough information from the protestants, but it seems to me that if parents have something to say about the education of their children, we must listen to them.

-What happens if a student refuses to answer the exam?

Probably he or she will suffer disciplinary action. 

Parents began to speak out at that moment and defended the right that parents have over their children's education, and if the tests cause them stress and this experience is not going to yield academically... 

What a heck?!, I think their  argument is pretty solid, I had never heard parents defending the right to refuse a test. That is not something that is seen every day.

I hope more voices to rise because this  demand is not absurd. Perhaps are we putting our children's education in hands that only see the numbers and not their minds?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

28. changing roles

I visited my parents’ house during Christmas holidays, and something strange happened; one evening my father called me into his office. 

He does something like that only when he wants to talk seriously with someone, mainly about bussiness, and in my case,  that included when he told me that it should work to find my own destiny, when I lost my job in his company and when he told me that he was not going to pay a coin for my higher education, so I really felt the urge to run away when he called me, but my mother told me I could be quiet that everything was going to be ok and I should enjoy this moment.

First of all, he let me sit in a leather chair that had belonged to my grandfather, it was a well-kept relic that my father reserved only for big business meetings, so when he asked me to sit down on it, I almost jumped over and told him that my teacher salary did not give me enough money to pay a cruise to Alaska, or a necklace of diamonds for my mother.

-Don't be silly, I will not ask you for money...

Oh!, I answered, Could I rest? ... what you have to tell me then?...

-       I see that you enjoy being a teacher...

Yes, I think I can say without hesitation that I enjoy it and that I have learned a lot about  life thanks to the children.

-I thought that workers in my companies should have a school in which children can learn, and they can be more closely of them monitoring their academic performance and support them better in their tasks. Some of them send children to very distant schools, so they have so much stress driving around the city and frequently ask for permission for meetings with teachers, while others, simply decide to ignore those calls... I think that if they could have the school at the same building, they would not be so worried about running to take care children or taking a moment to ask about what their children need.

I thought that we can take the first floor of every  building and eliminate the penthouse for the executives offices, because they are more important on the battlefield and not in an office so far that no one has access.

I want that YOU leading all the administrative roles of education. The advantage is that children would be understanding what their parents do every day... cultural areas would be open to them... What do you think?...

Holy Cow!, I think rarely a powerful man offers you a job almost from nowhere... I was about to ask him to repeat every word because surely I had not understood well what he said, but I could only stutter a little and smile like a fool... but then I cleared my my voice and I felt kind of scared listening to my own voice.

If  I would agree leading the schools, It would mean that I could not teach anymore… that would make me part of the system and instead of working for children's learning, I would work for education. Students have taught me the world need more hands that put the foundations of a building, rather than politicians.

-I Understand... I think your words make me very happy... the plan is under consultation with lawyers, actually I want to make it work... would you teach in our schools?, perhaps can you  be part of the group designing courses?

YES dad, of course I'll give class in your school!. Thank you for recognizing my talent!

-You have earned the respect of many, but especially of yourself during last months. Your mother is very happy seeing how you've changed your attitude towards life.

Telling the truth: Yes, it makes me happy to serve to others, especially in the construction of their future. I know that I can make lots of money with everything I've been able to learn, but I prefer to believe that what I do in the classroom is worthwhile. I want that one of my students can earn a Nobel prize one day or perhaps one of them can cure my cancer or maybe even save your life or my mothers.

-       You will definitely see it. When you believe in yourself, you can believe in others.

Let’s hang out with your mother, she is very  happy that you have come to visit us.

I could not stop smiling all afternoon... I guess that is called a professional award. I could not wait to tell Gaby and my guru about this moment... for the first time I was watching my father eye to eye and we had a project, our project!, but at the same time, for the first time I had clearwhat I wanted for children future.

Friday, January 17, 2014

27. Practice makes the master

Everybody was with that winter break feeling, so I try to stay calmed, and I started a little more artistic activities with children. It was easy to notice the importance of art in the classroom, children feel relaxed and they can explode their personal abilities, some discovered to be good to sing, while others prefer to play instruments. At the end if the language depends on the sounds, singing and music are part of the same sensory system.
That evening as usual, I went to talk to my friend. It is interesting how much our talks were shaping my ideas about teaching. I still have fear of damaging children minds, how much is too much to ask to them?, May I ask to little?, If they laugh too much it means I'm not a good teacher... perhaps there is no a way to measure success, except with tests, or hoping that one day they become successful people, but I had to wait many years to answer my questions.

We started our discussion about the exaggerated amount of content in books, seeking to create skills in students, which lost motivation sometimes,  and  it doesn’t allow to repeat what should be learn.
-   Sometimes I would like that children could enjoy the home works and not just going from one lesson to another, I told her with reluctance.

-  Many persons wish the same, It is not only boring, it goes against the most basic principles of learning, which shows you the distance between education and learning.

-       Then, should we repeat things more?

-  When you look histories of great athletes, artists or anyone whom you admire, you discover there is something in common: they began to build their skills from a very early age, and took baby steps before becoming masters.

-       It is true, although the competency model describes that slow pace towards goals that allow children to be fit in your environment...

-       Thus they should be designed, but actually only mark the goal, for example think about reading, it only says that children must be capable of developing a verbally communicative competence to understand ideas of other persons, but you don't shred the process.

-       Where does the process begin?

-       It begins in the ability to listen and clearly differentiate sounds of natural language. However you hear one and other environmental sounds at the same time, like birds singing, or leaves falling, dogs barking, then you must  give them meaning and associate them with words to every sound. The brain works combining all that information, but it does work from nothing, it needs to discriminate between a word, a melody or a noise. That helps you to discriminate sounds better when you are exposed to each stimulus.

-       Then should we allow to children to listen other stimuli to support them in reading?.

-       Of course!, and let them sing, encouraging them aurally, let them do play with words, because the next big step is to see the sound, through signs and symbols that represent those sounds.
-       I have always thought that reading is a visual process, I have never thought it was a acoustic task.

-       You are not the only one!, but when you work with children, you discover if they have failed to differentiate sounds, they are not able to relate the sound with the symbol, and that produce a writing with spelling mistakes. This explains why foreigners can write well, because we also have tools to check spelling, but when we listen to others and we should talk it is obvious that we are not native speakers.

-       It's true!, I have seen that foreigner children are good when they write, but it’s painful for them to talk sometimes, because they do not understand some words.

-   Sometimes they feel shame to say: I am sorry, but I don't understand!, but if they overcome that fear and try over and over and over again, usually they finish being capable of  understanding not only words, but meanings, and that is the language, which eventually turns into written words.

-      Then, they should practice a lot, and we should not to change content sometimes arbitrarily.

-       I agree!, if you read about persons who have been excellent in something, you realize  that they began with a very different activity, sometimes far away from what we know, but eventually those persons find both taste and motivation to try something new, then if you look at biological models, any one, you can find two important aspects: one is the motivation to repeat and repeat and repeat something that ending being automating such conduct that becomes easy.

-       It is true, but in school sometimes we do not encourage it and we don't allow them to do it a thousand times...

-       When cellist Pablo Casals was asked why  he continued playing his beloved instrument after 90 years, his reply was that he wanted to "keep making progress", even if his his talent was recognized 60 years before that. He also said that the art of interpretation and not exactly following what is written...

-       Then there comes a time in which every one seeks to advance and evolve...

-       Yes, it occurs naturally, but you must give the chance to your  child and forget to say: "You shouldn’t do that", " Do it again this way"... you should let them experiment a bit, to look for new solutions, other ways of saying things, and above all, enjoy...

This talk made me clear in my mind what Iwanted for Christmas: I asked that one day we could give kids more freedom to find their own talent, because there is no doubt everybody has one, something in which we are excellent, but there are those who never find it.