Many people think that teachers are the ones that administer the learning experiences, and the students are to take away what the teacher presents, but until you stand in front of 25 lower level students, who 10 weeks ago wouldn’t even open their notebooks, and realize that they are now asking clarifying questions, digging for examples, cooperating successfully in groups to find answers, and standing in front of the class to present their work, you don’t realize how much they have actually taught you.
If you asked me three months ago after my first day with this group of students, or even two months ago after practically being sexually harassed by the entire class of teenage boys, if I ever though that they would reach this point in ten weeks, I think I honestly would have laughed. I was hopeful, and positive, because I forced myself to be. I knew if I didn’t convince myself to be hopeful and positive, I would have given up on their learning abilities like many people have. These kids are not stupid, but they can be lazy, and rude. Teaching takes a certain mental toughness, to convince yourself to believe in somebody no matter how many times they insult you, no matter how many times they tell you that your class is “gay”, no matter how many times they walk out on you and slam the door in your face, to keep believing that there is something deep inside of them that you can bring out is mentally draining. It’s almost like being in an abusive relationship sometimes, and I’m choosing to stay in it.
When the clinical faculty member who observes me, met with me, and filled out my mid term evaluation, he had mostly positive things to say, but the one piece of constructive criticism he gave me was that it’s ok to take risks with lower level classes, even if I fail miserably. I take plenty of risks in my advanced year 10 class, and even my standard year 9 class, but in my lower level year 11 class, where the students have been known for stealing cars, fighting, and verbal harassment, some days I feel like stepping into the class at all is a rink, so to convince myself to do something wildly different troubles me. They are a class that gets very flustered over change, and that is why they rebelled against me at first, because I was making them do work that nobody had ever asked them to do, and they were FINALLY comfortable with the work load, so I’ll admit it, to ask them to alter that scares me a little, but yesterday, I took a risk.
Newcastle High School has a fantastically expensive and elaborate classroom called “the connected classroom”. It’s a technologically advanced, specially designed classroom, and is brand new to the school. It has a smart board, a brand new projector, brand new laptops and a massive charging station, a new flat screen television, a few couches and coffee tables, and these impressive puzzle piece desks that you can arrange in any shape you want. I had brilliant idea for a lesson floating on one half of my brain, and $100,000 worth of student caused damage electrifying the other side of my brain, but I jumped at the opportunity to “take a risk” when I saw that the connected classroom was free first period.
The new unit for the start of this term is a sports literacy unit, focusing on the analysis of “sports language”. The start of the unit suggests beginning with a class discussion on national anthems at sporting events, and national athletic chants, but instead of just a starting class discussion, I decided to make the entire lesson about this. After some research I found four countries that have different sporting event chants, songs, or anthems.
Ireland – “Ireland’s Call"
England – “England til I die”
USA- “USA, USA, USA!”
Africa – “Shosholoza”
After an introduction to the lesson, what I was hoping to do for the main part of the lesson was to split the class up into groups of four or five, and give each group a country. Each group would have to research a YouTube clip that goes along with their chant (I had already researched these so I knew they existed), why the chant first originated, who sings it, and what the language and words say about the country’s national pride. Then, they groups would show their YouTube clips to the class, and give a five minute presentation to the class on their country and the national chant.
I arrived at school an hour early and went to the Tech staff room to speak with the head of the technical support. He and I went to the connected classroom and hooked up all the technology I would need to make my master plan work. I arranged the puzzle piece desks into clusters, and put two lap tops on each cluster. While those powered up, the tech guy set up the projector, the main computer, and the internet for me. I put my lesson on a desk at the front, made sure everything was in order.
When the bell rang I rushed back down to my classroom and met my rowdy group at the door. I was also being observed today, so I had a brief chat with the clinical faculty member who would be taking notes on me. Then, I had a chat with my class about responsibility. I told them that I was really trusting them with the technology in this classroom, and that I couldn’t afford to give first and second chances, if anybody was irresponsible or disrespectful to the opportunity they have been given to use these resources, they would leave immediately. The whole class listened to me speak, nobody spoke over me, and to my surprise they all seemed to take it seriously. I asked them when we first entered the connected classroom to sit in groups of four or five, to not move from the table unless I asked them to, and to not touch the laptops until it was time.
We then travelled across campus to the Math department, where the connected classroom is. All of the students sat four or five to a table like they were asked, and I walked to the white board, next to the smart board, and began to introduce the new unit. On the board, I started a “SPORT” web, and asked a few students to come up and web a few words and phrases that came to mind when they thought of sport. They grumbled a little bit over having to get out of their seats, but I told them if we were doing a sport unit that the exercise would be good for them. After we had web full of terms, we analysed the words as a class. With words like “footy”, “rivalry”, “pride”, and “team”, we looked at why these words are particular to sport. I wrote the words “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!” On the board and as soon as I asked the class what it said, all of the boys chanted the words in perfect unison. It is a national Australian chant, and it was so cool to see the whole class say it together at the same time, in the same tone. We then discussed how this was a way of expressing national pride, and that many countries had chants like this, and that is when I handed out the assignment.
As I walked around, many students had questions that blew me away. The group that had been assigned Africa’s chant, “shosholoza” asked me why I thought they kept it in their language instead of translating it to English. Instead of giving my opinion, I told them that was a great thing to think about as a group and to discuss when it came time to present. The boys who had the “USA! USA! USA!” chant were fascinated by the fact that the chant started in the 1979 Olympics when the US played the Soviets, and I watched as they clicked on YouTube link after YouTube link of clips from different sporting events where they could hear the whole crowd chanting USA. They stumbled across the trailer for the movie “Miracle” and asked if it could be the movie we watch for the unit, and I said I would think about it. The groups who had Ireland and England, after listening to the songs on YouTube, looked up the lyrics to the on their own and wrote great responses to what they though the songs meant.
After about a half hour of this, it was time for the students to present. I asked the groups to close their laptops, and called each group one at a time. They were a little reluctant to speak in front of the class, but they didn’t challenge me or refuse like they would have months ago, and once they were presenting they had some really great things to say. The group who had Africa said they felt like keeping it in the native language kept it true to their culture, and the group who had England said the thought the words “England til I die” said that England was so proud of their nationality, that they would do anything for their country, even die. The boys who had been given USA chanted the USA cheer for the entire class, and enthusiastically talked about the “Miracle on Ice”.
With ten minutes of class left, I asked them to think about the fact that while all of the countries are very different culturally, sport is something that brings us all together, and that even though we may be competing for the same title, we all have this sense of national pride that binds us.
The clinical faculty member and I had a meeting after class and he said that he was happy to see I had taken a risk, and asked how I thought I did. I felt like the students had taught me so much about my own capabilities during this class, and that giving them a little more trust and responsibility also taught me more about their capabilities and how far they had come. He also said I have the natural ability to connect with the students on a personal level, and that I should always use that to my advantage. It really felt good to see that he acknowledged that I took his advice at our last meeting before the holiday, and it also felt good to see that taking his advice really payed off, not only for my students, but for myself as well.
I was so proud of my class that I went to the video store and picked up “Miracle”. Before class this morning I told them that I was extremely happy with the way they handled the lesson yesterday, and how far they had come. When I pulled out the movie the whole class began to cheer, and a few of the Aussie boys started the "USA" chant. Today we watched the first half of the movie, and tomorrow we will finish the movie and begin discussing what it means to “represent” your country, and sports jargon. I am hoping they continue to show me during my last three weeks here how much they have improved, and how much they will continue to improve once I leave, because I for one know I will take everything they have taught me into my next teaching experience.