February 20, 2010

the no-good-very-bad day

Being a teacher is difficult sometimes. The students don't understand the material. They say or do something disrespectful. You feel like you're not explaining the material well enough. Whatever. Some days I feel like a bad teacher. However, on these days I find it easy to remember that they are only 13 years old, so they can be forgiven easily - they are still growing up and trying to figure out the world, so it's hard to hold much of a grudge.
And then there are the days when you have a serious difference of opinion with co-workers, people who are not 13-years-old and hence you expect more from them - and they are harder to forgive. Yesterday was one of these days for me. For the first time since moving to Colombia and teaching at my school, I really felt like my co-workers did not align with my personal beliefs.
Here's the situation:
We're going on a 3 day, 2 night field trip to a place called San Vicente. We leave on Wednesday of the upcoming week. Once there we are going to be doing lots of activities like repelling, hiking, swimming, etc with our students. Ever since our mini-convivencia (Spanish word for field trip, more or less) a few weeks ago I have been so excited to spend more time outside the formal classroom!
In the permission slip for students and their parents to sign, we included a "Behavior Contract" of things the students needed to do in order to attend the field trip. This included not having many referrals to the dean and not be failing 3 or more classes. On Friday, we met as an 8th grade team to discuss those students who would not be attending because they did not uphold their end of the contract. We came up with a list of 6 students (all boys, interestingly enough) who would not be allowed to attend for discipline or academic issues. Each of these boys have caused our team many headaches since August, and while they all have the potential to turn things around, each of them has at some point been a serious distraction or problem in the classroom. On almost a daily basis some of them make it very difficult to feel like a good teacher.
Soon after we decided these 6 students would not be allowed on the trip, our administration decided they would be attending. Apparently our contract read, "more than 3 classes" and not "3 or more classes" in terms of failing. Also, apparently discipline referrals for "minor" things like not following school rules for uniform do not count as true referrals. While our administration has a history of catering to the wealthy and powerful community of parents at our school, I was shocked by this decision. For me, school is about education and learning, and if students cannot be respectful, follow rules, and maintain commitment to their studies while we are in a school environment, why in the world would I want to take them on a three day field trip???
I did not realize quite how passionately I felt about my convictions until I ended up crying in front of my principal, twice. (Side note: Have I mentioned that I hate hate hate crying in front of people? I am fine expressing my opinions but once you cry about something it takes all your good points and tosses them out the window! Why do women cry about things like this?? I need to learn to express myself without crying - immediately.)
So anyway, I cried, twice. Insert red, blotchy face for the rest of the day and me wearing sunglasses around campus for the entire afternoon. In the end, all of our students, with the exception of one who is failing 4 classes and those who chose not to attend, will come on the field trip. I still feel very excited for the trip and I know it will be a positive experience for almost all involved. At the end of the day, I am not in charge so I have "agreed to disagree" in this case.
However, this experience has definitely made me question more the way schools operate, especially private schools. I attended a private high school and witnessed first-hand the various parental and community politics that affected my school, and I hated it. Now I am involved in those same politics from the perspective of a teacher, and I cannot really say I enjoy it. I love being a teacher because I love students, I love learning, and I love knowing that these kids are going to be the ones who change our world. As someone who debated working abroad or volunteering to teach in a big city for at-risk students, I am starting to see the vast difference in these two options...perhaps this will affect my future job decisions as a teacher, but only time will tell.
Until then, I am enjoying the weekend and doing my very best to forget about the no-good-very-bad Friday at school. I have a distinct feeling the "pub" crawl my friends have organized for later will help...details & pictures tomorrow. :)
Happy Saturday friends & thanks for listening (reading).

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