Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Back of the Class

I put my green backpack in the back corner and take a seat between two boys in my English 10 class, watching Randon, my student teacher, put up his PowerPoint during 3rd hour announcements. I feel a bit like an invader-- a giant trying to blend in among midgets. A little self conscious, I open my laptop and attempt to make casual conversation with Shay, the quiet, strawberry blonde soccer player on my left: “So how’s Macbeth going for you?”

Shay does not wish to make direct eye contact with me. “Umm…fine, I guess,” he responds, eyes fixated on his glowing laptop.

Aaron, on my right side, throws me a bone. “So you’re sitting back here with us, Ms. Leclaire?”
“Yep,” I reply, trying to sound enthusiastic as the reality sinks in: I am no longer in charge of this classroom. For the next ten weeks, I am not their teacher. So what happens to my role now that my student teacher has taken over?

First, I should clarify that this is not a blog about Randon. He’s having all the proud accomplishments and grueling struggles that a student teacher should have. If you'd like to read more about him, please visit his blog.

No. This is a blog about me.

So what exactly do I do here, in the back corner of the classroom, sitting amongst the masses? Here is what I’ve tried so far:
1. Typing pages of highly detailed feedback to Randon
2. Grading something easy, like vocabulary quizzes
3. Jumping into discussion every now and then when I can’t hold myself back
4. Giving quiet but dirty looks to disruptive children; even though their backs are to me, I’m hoping they can feel the silent, angry vibes of my fury and will alter their behavior accordingly

Sadly, none of this is doing it for me.

Here’s what I do now: I observe. And I mean really observe—not just Randon, but the individual students and the larger-than-life collective being that they form as a class. And I have to say that I have learned more about this class in the past four weeks of observing than I learned all of last semester.

My English 10 class is the deity of creativity and performs beautifully when engaged in activities based on performance and/or competition. My American Literature class is a slightly more volatile spirit that growls when asked to do anything to menial and cheers when given avenues for its aggressive passion, such as debates, and it is also a highly visual learner.

As for getting to know the individuals, I’ve noticed that the boy in the middle of my American Literature class who always seems to making snide comments is actually making very smart, constructive comments—it turns out that he’s just not that into raising his hand. I’ve been surprised by the fact that most students actually do talk about what they’re supposed to talk about when put into partners and groups. I saw that the quiet girl in the back who got a D last semester actually is annotating her copy of Frederick Douglass and is desperately trying to make sense of it. Actually, now that I think about it, all of the individual surprises have been happy ones. And sad ones, too, because I can’t believe how quickly I wrote these kids off last semester.

It’s a lot harder to write someone off when you sit next to him or her every day.

How do they perceive me, once so tall in the front of the room, now lounging in a chair-desk with the best of them? The only way I can describe it is like this:

At first, they were kind of like fish swimming around toward the bottom of the ocean, and I was a big snorkeler passing over them. They acknowledged me mostly through their peripheral vision, and they silently accepted my foreign presence without openly welcoming it.

But now, they’re letting me in a little, realizing that I’m not suddenly going to turn on them. They can hold a discussion with me just like I’m anyone else, and no, we’re not equals, but I can dive down a little from the surface, they can rise up a bit, and we can get close enough.

Today, I videotaped my English 10 class’s Macbeth performances, and I told Shay that he’d better step it up because I was going to zoom in on him the whole time. He shook his head as he reluctantly made his way to the front of the class.

As Shay was typing his notes, I told him that he needed to spice them up a little—they looked boring. I grabbed his laptop, set his background color to black and his font color to red. "See? Doesn't that look more Macbeth-like?" He rolled his eyes, but I'm pretty sure he agreed with me deep down.

After the bell rang, while Shay was packing up his bag, I said to him, “Set the standard high in your other classes today, Shay. Ask some good questions. Challenge yourself.” He finally abandoned his “no eye contact” rule and looked me squarely in the face. With a smile playing at the edges of his mouth, he asked, “Why are you picking on me?”

To which I responded, “Because I sit next to you.”


Blogger hannahl said...

Ms. Leclaire-

What makes you such an amazing and gifted teacher is the fact that you truly care about your students, but more importantly than that, that you yourself continue to learn. I have no trouble picturing you among the students, probably because you have done this quite often in our class. I applaud your efforts to understand your students on a deep and personal level, and do what you truly believe, and have observed, is best for them. Keep doing what you are doing, because it is inspiring to everyone who has had the privelege of being taught by you.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

You really need to blog/write more often, because this is truly great blogging/writing.

I'm finding both your and Anne's reflections on having a student teacher and playing a different role in the classroom fascinating. I think we may learn as much or more than Randon does from this experience . . .

6:24 PM  
Blogger Cara S. said...

I was thinking the same thing as Karl...that you are such a great writer. What a neat opportunity to gain a different perspective on teaching. Thanks for sharing.

9:50 PM  
Blogger annes said...

KK- you are the best. What a great reflection piece. I am so impressed by what you wrote and your way to personalize it while distancing yourself all at the same time. You are the Queen!

10:47 PM  
Blogger MollyS said...

Ms. Leclaire,
In class we rarely get to read more of your writing than just sample thesis statements or grammar sentences, but when we are given the opportunity to truly experience your words it always makes me feel beyond grateful that someone with as much passion in their writing is teaching ME to write. And like what Hannah said, you are a wonderful teacher because all of the things you listed DO affect you. If you didn't care as much as you do then there is no way we would try as hard as we do. I can not imagine taking this course with anyone else. Thank you so much including me in this post, I feel beyond honored.

2:57 PM  

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