Monday, April 14, 2014

Who Kids See as Mentors

Class began today with a short conversation about mentors: what we thought they were, who could be a mentor, how to find a mentor, why we need mentors, etc. My 8th graders were accurate when it came to the formal mentor-mentee relationship.

Yet, it wasn't the formal mentor I wanted them to think about. I challenged them to find the informal mentors in their lives. The people, of any age, who we admire...who do things we would like to know more about...who possess a quality that we would like to see in ourselves. Find the people who do not set out to be your mentor, but because of what they say, or what they do, you notice them. And you take a cue from them.

The unexpected mentor.

Drafting with my first period class, my notebook entry focused on one student who mentored me. After drafting and sharing it, I used the notebook entry as an example for the rest of my classes--freeing me to move around the room.

An excerpt from my entry:
...I admire when kids say hello to one another, or say hello to me, or goodbye, or thank you. A few specific students say those things to me every day--no exaggeration. I've heard again and again that in order to gain respect, one must first give respect. And I look at those students as people who will never have to worry about respect. It is a part of who they are. Respect is their exemplar. The don't pretend to not see other kids in the hall; they don't pretend not to see me between classes. I admire their willingness to be the first to say hello or when they are loud when they say thank you. 
Many years ago, a high school student (Becky) wrote an essay about saying good morning and hello. Her teacher shared it with me, and I don't think Becky ever knew that I read it, or kept it. 
For several years it was framed in my classroom. In the letter, Becky wrote that our saying good morning and hello to one another mattered because so few people said hello to her--and she noticed it as a fourteen year-old. She let herself dwell on it. And she started to feel invisible in our school. She wrote that our hellos made her feel like that I saw her. I saw her: Becky. Not I saw her: generic 8th grade girl. 
Credit: Stacy Moore
I think about Becky's letter from time to time and pull it out to read it. When I do, I find myself thinking about eyes. And I am asking myself, right now as I write, who in this 8th grade class is starting to feel invisible. Or, and bless you if this is true, who uses their eyes to truly see others for who they are.
I kept track of what mattered to my kids today--the things they say they admired in others, the qualities in people that they wish they could infuse in themselves a bit more. Overwhelming numbers wrote about people who give their time.

What struck me as I listened to my kids share is that they used the language "and they get nothing out of it." Meaning the identified mentor gets nothing out of it. In each example, they meant money. People weren't paid for their time and they noticed it.

Writing about and talking about the informal (or unexpected) mentors in our lives was worthwhile exercise today and something I anticipate returning to, now that I planted the seed of noticing the things about people that we admire.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

You think that? You believe that? Why don't you share that?

One portion of a dogwood blossomed white flowers. Medical students hustled from building to building in short-sleeved scrubs. The streets were without traffic

The University of Pennsylvania's campus is entangled in enduring evidence of Old Philadelphia and the glossy steel and glass of new medicine. Brick and mortar facades, dark and soft-edged, lay in the shadows of new construction racing the sun to the apex of the sky.

On the second floor of the nineteenth century constructed Houston Hall, we met in a room named for Benjamin Franklin.

No one forced the teachers to be here yesterday. No one paid us to go.

The currency, the bartering chip, was in the writing, the reflection, the sharing...the conversation we made.

Teachers from the Philadelphia public schools and the surrounding region met to share and write their stories. We are makers, and in the act of exposing reality, transforming reflection, and challenging the status quo we invest more in ourselves and our profession than any promise of salary.

The message yesterday was that teachers must share their stories.

The voice of education is the least heard, the last asked for. Don't wait to be asked. As keynote speaker, Meeno Rami said, "You think that? You believe that? Why don't you share that?"

To my teacher friends, the public dialogue about education is already happening...with or without you. Take part in it. Share the good news. Share a lesson. But write it down so that it lives on and becomes a part of the public record.

If we do not share our truths then those who do not know will make up their own truths about us.

And for many, that may be the only truth they ever read or then it must be true.

Associate professor Dr. Luke Rodesiler found me through my online writing--through my willingness to share my story, my successes, my failures. Dr. Rodesiler travelled the country to meet with five educators who he found doing similar things online: me, Meeno Rami, Gary Anderson, Cindy Minnich, and Sarah Andersen. Together, we used the research and our experiences to collaborate on an article that we will be published in the July issue of English Journal: Transforming Professional Lives Through Online Participation. We also have the same material submitted to NCTE as a proposal for presentation at next year's conference.

None of that would have happened for any of us if we were not sharing our story. The payoff isn't in royalties. The payoff is in the seeds planted by writing. As Rami suggested yesterday, the act of writing, the act of reflection more specifically, "is an act of self-care."

Care for ourselves individually, yes, but even more importantly, care for our profession.

Tell our story. Share your story. Plant the seeds that will positively alter public perception.

Tell the good stuff. Celebrate who you are and what you do. Celebrate your colleagues.

If we can come together on this, it will have a far-reaching impact on the perception of education. Otherwise, Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee...M. Night Shamalan (of all people, a mediocre film director has a voice in education and maybe you do not...are we now sharing the same angst?) will continue to thrust a skewed, false story into the eyes and ears of the public.

Tell our story. Share your story.

Every one counts.