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updates for 03.20.2011

2 new posts today

Mama Mac <3

This is going to be a short and sweet post.  I just got back from Palm Island, Florida, and had the best Spring Break ever had.  I chased a tortoise, drove up and down the island in our golf cart, played many fun games, made new friends with teachers across the Delta and some fun, old people, rafted on the high seas, had green pina coladas (happy belated St. Patrick's Day!), tanned all day on the beach, and did NO school work.  It was perfect.  I drove through the night and got back at 9 AM this morning.  It was phenomenal. We don't have school on Monday, so today is really like Friday and will be treated as such.  I wanted to end this post by saying hello to a very special lady, Mama Mac.  I was able to spend my week with Virginia and loved it.  You did a great job raising her, and I'm sure it wasn't easy.  I cannot wait to meet you over Easter. Sorry if you are not Mama Mac and this was creepy, but you'll get over it.  Have a great Friday/Saturday night.


Then and Now

There was a time, not so long ago, when Teach For America was just a bookmark in Firefox and a non-profit I thought was too good to be true. While I certainly am the same person I was then (it was only two years ago), there are a couple things I’ve been noticing lately that are markedly different. The first: Before I was a part of TFA, I became fascinated by these demonstrations. I took the skin tone test three times in a row—the first two times I showed a “slight preference for light skin over dark skin” (I was determined to ‘beat the game,’ as it were, and my third test finally showed no preference). I ran into them again yesterday, and both times I did the demonstration, I came out with a “strong preference for dark skin over light skin.” While I take these matching games with a grain of salt, I do think they’re interesting—and I definitely would agree that I’ve developed a great deal more positive unconscious associations with dark-skinned people as a result of my experiences during the past year (both teaching and non-teaching experiences). The second: I forget that I mused upon teachers and students and learning and responsibility before I ever considered becoming a teacher. In college, I paid close attention to teachers’ grading policies and wondered what was ethical and fair and what wasn’t (dropping the lowest test score? Curving tests? More extra credit in hard courses?). In the beginning of my junior year, one such musing included the following:

“Teaching is entirely dependent on learning. Ideally, a teacher would impart material in such a clear, interesting, easy-to-understand manner that no student would have unnecessary trouble learning it. Also ideally, students would work and study exactly as the teacher intended, in order for their teaching to stick. Then both teacher and students would be successful. But when they aren't, whose fault is it?It's got to be up to the student. You can learn anything, but you can't teach anything. The best student can succeed even with the worst teacher, but even the best teacher has no hope teaching the worst student.

(Which brings up another question, though: does the teacher's responsibility end at presenting information in a learnable way? Mustn't they also inspire, engage, and arouse the desire to learn? If so, the best teacher should be able to transform the worst student into the best student, and then they COULD teach anything. To anyone. But that seems like an unreasonable burden to place on the teacher.)"

I had college professors and students in mind as I wrote this, but was extending it to all teachers and students (at the time, the distinction didn’t seem important). In my mind, while all students were certainly capable, not all students understood how to actualize their capabilities—and whether or not they did wasn’t the teacher’s problem. Now, that is THE single responsibility I take on most consistently. While I still remember the sentiments behind these words, I’d never write them today—at least not about pre-college teachers. There’s a certain TFA-heresy in “the best teacher has no hope of teaching the worst student” and “that seems like an unreasonable burden to place on the teacher.” It’s interesting that I’ve always placed the onus on my current role—when I was a student, it was students’ responsibility to figure out their own success; now that I’m a teacher, it’s the teacher’s job to ensure it. But do I really believe this is my responsibility as a teacher? Or is it my responsibility as a corps member? … and how, if at all, does this extend to college courses?

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