Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Lesson from Aristotle

"The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal." - Aristole

One thing I love to see in the morning is students walking into my class.  It is, however brief, a moment that they are all equal.  If you look at their faces, they can tell you, nonverbally, about everything they're thinking.  You can tell what kind of day they're going to have, how well they will participate, or whether they haven't taken their medicine.  Teaching 7th graders is even easier because along with their facial expressions are loud sounds of either joy or agony coming from their mouths.  Today, I knew, as soon my students walked in, it was not going to be the best day.  They all filed in quickly, as they know not being in the seat by the bell is almost punishable by death (joking, of course).  Most of them were smiling, asking me whether we would continue reading "Out of the Dust."  Their smiles faded when I said, "No."  Then it hit- like a smell as you're walking by a sewer.  All of the happiness that was in the classroom had by sucked out.  My tallest student, a young man with a typically cheery affect walked into the room with the scowl meaner then Mr. Scrooge's (before he met the ghosts).  "Good morning," my co-teacher said to him as he walked in the door.  He looked at her with a blank expression and proceeded to his seat in silence. 

"What in the..." I was thinking, but decided to let it go.  "Maybe something bad happened on the bus," I thought to myself and moved along with the lesson.  I quickly noticed by his less than usual attitude towards work that today was not going to be a good day.  I knew why he was mad.  This past weekend, after warning him numerous times about his off-topic conversations as his group was trying to conduct literature circles, I called home and expressed concern.  Now he was in trouble, and he thought not doing anything in class and ignoring his teachers was going to make me pay for it.  (Kids are so funny!)  Needless to say, before class was over, I decided to talk to him, one-on-one, to get him back on track.
I must preface this next part by saying that, since moving from my old school district, where students would attack teachers and other students (verbally and physically), to my new district, I believe that my students are angelic.  They are typical middle school students who might get a little off topic, act strangely, and exhibit crazy behaviors, but for the most part, are kind to me and each other, and have NEVER, EVER been disrespectful.  With that being said, I immediately started to see shades of my past school when conversing with this student.  While maintaining a fine line between respect and utter disrespect, he made his point quite clear- he thought I was being "unfair," and that is why he had an attitude.  He said it was "unfair" that he was the only one punished when another boy was talking just as much as he was. Parents and teachers alike know that "unfair" is a word that kids just have a magnetic draw to by the time they turn 13.  It is like a rite of passage- I remember going through it myself.  Despite my outward appearance of being completely displeased and intolerant of his tone, inside, I actually felt bad for him.  He was right, it wasn't fair.

What I verbally (and somewhat nonverbally) told him was to worry about himself. "Two wrongs don't make a right," "Life Isn't Fair," and all of the other cliches we heard in school and from our parents.  What I really wanted to say was, "Trust me, kid, I don't want to give that other kid chances.  I would like to kick his butt out of class daily, but his legal accommodations require otherwise," or "I know it seems like I am unfair to you, and I don't want to be, but it is because this other student has paperwork that states I HAVE to give him preferential treatment, even though it burns my heart and soul each time I have to turn a blind eye."  If he were older, perhaps he would understand.  If I didn't care about compromising my job, I would have told him the truth, that equality is not always fairness.  

In my few years of teaching, I have discovered that many things I thought I knew, many ways I thought things should be done, and many social expectations we hold are wrong (or not so black and white).  This would be one of them.  I used to think each student should be treated exactly the same, with the exact same expectations.  I quickly found out this is was not even a possibility.  When students have disabilities, behavior problems, or if they are just struggling learners, it would not be fair to treat all of those students equally, despite my initial desire to try.  The truth is, you do have different academic and behavioral expectations for your students.  Does it mean that you believe in one less than the other?  I don't think so because we each have our strengths and weaknesses- wouldn't you rather be judged for what you can do, rather than what you cannot?

I hope that one day, my student will look back on this day, and understand the true nature of his situation.  I hope he smiles when he realizes that he was being treated "unfairly," knowing that it means he was expected to be different and rise above.  I hope on that same day, he walks into a classroom, or a board room and smiles to replace the disdain of his morning today.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Out with the old...

Happy New Year to all!  

This morning, as I was sipping the last of my Trader Joe's Vanilla and Cinnamon tea, I started reflecting on the happenings of 2012 and thinking about all of the things 2013 could have in store!  2012 was a wonderful year for me and my family, filled with typical ups and downs, but mostly laughter and exciting memories.  My husband, Ron, and I laughed our way into 2012 when we went to a Kevin Hart show, a birthday gift I gave him.  Two of my best friends, Courtney and Amanda got engaged.  My cousin, Heather, also got engaged.  I continued to pursue my Master's degree and maintained a 4.0 GPA.  Ron and I celebrated our first anniversary and gifted ourselves a trip to New York, which was filled with unforgettable memories for both of us.  The most exciting event was that I got a new job that I absolutely love.  I feel appreciated and recognized for the hard work I do and, even though I miss my old coworkers, I have made new friends I know will be extremely influential in my 2013 life.

2012 wasn't all good, as I lost my grandma.  Despite that, I can feel her with me, watching me always and I strive each day to make her and Grandpa proud.  My dog, Karma, for whom this blog is (partially) named, gave us many medical scares after biting a battery in January and randomly breaking out in hives in June, but both things ended up being minor, which was truly a blessing!  My only remaining friends in Virginia Beach moved away- Kristen and Rick, we miss you terribly! I am thankful for having so many wonderful friends who have filled my life with such happiness, but I definitely wish they were a little closer!  Ron and I didn't have a baby, like a had anticipated, but 2013 has smiled at me, and winked it's eye; it has offered me a possibility.

There are many things that are certain in 2013, my love for my husband will grow even stronger than it is today.  My friendships with continue to blossom.  I will be able to witness my friends and family make the next step in love with their significant others when they say "I do."  Karma will still sleep, play, eat, and maintain her lifestyle as the most beautiful, spoiled dog princess alive (and hopefully not eat any more batteries).  I will graduate in May 2013 and begin my doctorate degree.  I will work on myself- mentally, physically, emotionally.  I will keep writing, no matter how many people are reading and listening because it gives me peace.

I hope you all have a wonderful 2013.  I can't wait to see what is in store for us all!  Cheers!