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.