This is my life as it comes hurdling by....

Friday, March 20, 2009

My Turning Point

As many of you know I have been teaching High School Art classes for only about 2 weeks now. I am still not completely comfortable with my classes yet and if I am being honest, half of the kids scare me to death. Luckily for me this has been a popular topic of conversation in my Art Ed classes and we have been given advise on how to handle this kind of fear.

To explain myself, the fear isn't of getting up in front of a class, or knowing the answers to all the questions, it isn't skill level, it is the fear of finding your voice. How tough is too tough? How laid back is too laid back? How do you get kids to respond to you, be respected and still put them in their place when they need it? The answer for the most part has been: It is easier to start off tough and slowly loosen up than it is to start off laid back and get stricter.

It sounds pretty simple and straight forward right? In theory, yes, it sounds simple but in reality it has been pretty hard for me to find this balance. Kids are so confrontational at this age and it usually doesn't take much to set them off. Think of the normal high school kid and how tough they can be at this age. Now add 19 of those kinds of kids to the average of 5-6 School Within A School kids I have in EACH of my 6 classes. For those who don't know what that is, it is an alternative school for kids who have been kicked out of the public school system (only at this school their school is inside our school). Usually it is at another location and they don't have much contact with the regular students. This is their last chance before they are kicked out of school completely. Not only are they tough kids but in most cases they have pretty heavy things going on at home.
Facing these students every day has been such a challenge for me. I don't always have the right thing to say, I can't always tell if they telling the truth or lying to my face and why do they always have to go to the bathroom or visit the nurse's office?? So far my way of coping with feeling completely out of my element has been to shut everyone out and pretty much be a moving sculpture around the room. I rarely smile, I never talk and when they want to know something about me I completely shy away and don't want to tell them ANYTHING!! Sound much like me? I know, it isn't.
Well today was a break through day. I knew it was a field trip day and we were going to the Thomas Hart Benton House and Studio (AWESOME by the way) then lunch at the Salty Iguana then a quick stop by the Harry S Truman Library to see the mural painted by THB. What a fun day and to top everything off it was Friday! I guess I was in deep thought or just really into The Sound of Madness when I came to the stop sign right outside of school. I did my usual stop and the next thing you know I see the lights....just as I was pulling into the front parking lot of school.....the same time all the buses were pulling in....full of curious students. Keep in mind it is only 6:45 in the morning and pitch black....all you could see were the flashing lights. Apparently I didn't come to a complete stop at the stop sign and that is a violation of the law. By this time the principal has come to the parking lot assisted by a few other male teachers (I am thinking they might have thought it was a fight, drug related? Who knows but they were ready for whatever). Once they saw that it is me that laughed and walked back inside. Not the students however. They continued to hang out the windows and stare at me. I was horrified! I thought for sure I was in trouble and the kids were going to be little demons about the whole issue.
Surprisingly, everything was okay. My principal laughed and told me if he had a nickle for every teacher that has happened to....(They are incredibly strict in this area). My teacher also told me she thought the cop might have thought I was a student because they come down really hard on them. Then my students all came to me to see if I was okay? Was I in trouble? What did I do wrong? This was the turning point. Instead of trying to play it off or telling them to mind their own business I made a joke out of it. I was my usual playful, silly self who laughs things off and it felt really good. It was actually comforting to finally see that they had feelings and... pulses! The rest of the day they would see a police man and yell, "Hey Mrs. Cummings, watch out the police are after you again!" or something like that. I had kids that wanted to talk to me on the bus, at lunch and even one kid who wanted a picture of the two of us in front of the Mural! This made me realize part of finding my voice wasn't so much about being tough or being soft it was more about who am I and who do they need me to be? This sounds completely cheesy I know but I'm not sure how else to put it. Being a teacher you never leave the job. You don't punch in and punch out. I think what the students benefited from today was seeing that I was a human too. I still struggle sometimes. I get in trouble. I DON'T always have the answers. I DON'T always follow the rules. I still make mistakes but I take them in stride. I owned up to my mistake and will pay the price for it. Seriously, $80 for "running" a stop sign?! "I totally paused"

On Monday morning I plan on sitting at the, uhmm, all stop signs for at least 6 seconds. I will not speed and I will show up to work on time without a police escort or light show.

Saturday, March 7, 2009


I know I said that I didn't have time to do this...and I really don't but I just HAD to!

As you all know I have been doing the first half of my Student Teaching at an elementary school in Lee's Summit. Well my last day was Friday. I am so so sad to leave all of the wonderful staff and students that go there. I truly loved every single day.....even the really bad ones. I don't think there was ever a day that I left without learning something. Whether it was about my teaching style, the students or myself I was constantly soaking up everything I could like a sponge and relfecting on my experiences.

In the mornings the teachers stand outside their rooms while the students file in from the buses. It is kind of cute actually, like a little student parade to start each day off. On Friday I was flooded by kids who wanted to come say goodbye and give me a hug. I got handmade cards, lots of advice and some brownies....that I never did see. This was overwhelming to me. It made me feel like I have achieved something so big in such a little amount of time.

Also, we have two students (6th graders) that come in the mornings and afternoons to help in the art room and they are AMAZING. You couldn't find two better kids, really. On my last day they gave me a cd and it finally broke me. I was doing so good all day and then I just lost it and broke down and cried. I am not familiar with the artist, Christ Filer but the title of his album is truly appropriate "When It Don't Come Easy". Some other song titles from this cd are "Joy Ride", "So Much Love, So Little Time", "Say Goodbye" and "Independence Day" which all have a special meaning for me now and my little time at this school.

My teacher gave me something too that I had to wait until I got home to open. I just couldn't do it in front of her, I knew I would burst into tears. It was so so sweet. She made me my own apron for my classroom and stuffed the pockets full of things I might need. Everything from chocolate to airborne to stress relief bath foam. She also included a watercolor painting she made herself and a card. I wanted to take a picture of everything and post it but I am low on disk space for now and can't do anything with the images in my camera!

This was truly such an amazing experience and I will never forget everyone and everything they have done for me. I was pretty sure they were going to have to call security to remove me from the building because I wasn't going to leave. Then they came up with the idea of meeting for happy hour and I left happily.

I don't know how my experiences in High School will be but it will be hard to measure up to the ones I had in Elementary. I start on Monday and will teach 9th graders until the beginning of May. It is going to be tough finding a job in this kind of field but I have faith that I will find something. Even if I have to start in a less than desirable school district.