Sunday, September 11, 2011

The teachable moment

I've been watching the History Channel and MSNBC with their 10 year 9/11 anniversary shows.  It brings back how I handled the situation as it unfolded at the school.

Students to my next math class came in at the bell demanding to have the classroom monitor changed to a news channel.  They said that there had been an explosion at the World Trade Center.  I refused, noting that it wasn't the first time a bomb had gone off there and it wouldn't be the last time.  I was wrong.

When an office worker came by to pick up my attendance, I asked her about the students' comments, and she said something really big happened there, so I changed the monitor to a local station and we watched and listened about the planes hitting the towers.  Then we watched the first of the towers to implode.  My brain was in logic mode, which is normal for me under stressful situations when in public, and all I could talk about was how someone managed to get the tower to implode rather than explode.  I did try to call my husband at home, but he did not answer since he was still asleep.  We then saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon, of which the news anchor was not aware.  He kept on asking someone to tell him what was on the screen.  He did get his information after we had seen some of the Pentagon damage.  It would be nice if the anchors had one monitor facing them that showed what the viewers were seeing.  Class ended, and I finally got my husband on the phone.  I told him to watch CNN right then because they were, at that time,  the network that would spend the entire day on the situation.

I went to the cafeteria during lunch and found it rather empty of the many students that were usually there.  The dean of students said that parents had been pulling their children out all morning.   I guess that fear takes hold when the unthinkable becomes real.  By the way, our student population was up to par the next day, so the parents must have felt better by evening.

In my remaining classes after that first class, I did not have the monitor on the news.  I told my students that they needed to learn everything they could in order to help make a better world, that we needed all the good people we could get.

I had a graduate class that evening, but it was cancelled by the instructor.  Many of my classmates had pushed for the cancellation because they were still in shock.  Still in logic mode, I felt that my classmates had wimped out, but I did not know that my instructor had been trying to contact his father who worked in downtown Manhattan.  FYI: the father was all right, but had spent all day walking from his office to off the island so he could get home.

How was this a teachable moment?  It allowed me and my fellow teachers to help our students understand that when one cannot offer help immediately, one must do whatever is possible to be ready to offer help in the future.  In our Catholic school, we also helped students to understand that it was possible for God to make good come out of this tragedy with our help.  Of course, our school and students started working on ways to help the people in the midst of all the tragedies the next day: making/collecting money needed to keep the help coming and special prayer services including an all-school mass.  We have a framed pastel picture drawn by one of our art students that has on the left side a firefighter in front of the World Trade Center twin towers falling with the smoke and dust around and on the right side a blood donor in front of a local donation center.  It fits the school since 2001 was our school building's first year of use. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

What's this about a teacher's short day?

There seems to be a misconception that a teacher has a short day because an official school day is usually 7 hours long.  Well, those 7 hours make up the students' day, but not the faculty's day.  I start my day at least 1/2 hour prior to the "official" start of school.  Actually, I have already checked my school email from home and dealt with some of the issues in them prior to leaving home.  I do not leave the school until about 45 minutes after the last bell.  I see students before school and after school to help them and to let them make up their tests and quizzes. 

Then, there is the grading.  Wednesday night was the open house for parents of current students to meet their children's teachers, so I really had no time to grade the homework I took up that day.  Hence, on Thursday night I stayed up an extra hour just to grade the waiting homework plus the quizzes I gave that day.  I plan for when I will grade work, so make up work is pushed to the end of my to-do list and may take some time for me to grade.  I usually do make up work on the weekends.

With the grading comes the responsibility of keeping an eye on which students need more than most.  I discovered in grading the quizzes that I have a student who will need extra effort on my part to help the student demonstrate the math skills he/she has learned.  That means more meetings with parents, the student, administration, etc. outside of the official school day.  Plus I need to make sure that that student's tests and quizzes allow the student to legitimately succeed.  I do not believe in false grades, but I do know that not everyone has good math logic abilities.  I'm so glad my art teachers didn't grade just on my ability to shade properly -- because I didn't shade at all usually -- but also included my best art skills, i.e. structure and form.  I try to remember that gift when teaching students who care and work hard to succeed.  They need to know that they have math skills, just not necessarily in the same way as their classmates.  St. Paul was right: we are all parts of the same body, but we each have different gifts to share in that common body. (My interpretation.)  Besides, nothing succeeds like personally-achieved success.  I have faith that this student will strive to achieve as much as possible in math when he/she knows what is possible.  I've seen it happen before.

After saying all that, I guess I lost track of my original subject, but I regained my incentive to be the best teacher I can be.