My 2nd period sixth grade class is chugging along smoothly when the counselor steps in. "Mr. G, can I borrow your class for just 2 minutes? I got a student here who has something he needs to say to them." "Sure," I replied, and D tells the class "Kam has something to say to y'all, and it's not going to be easy for him."
In walks Kam, a chubby kid with a funny mohawk whom I'd marked absent because I'd not seen him. He has a paper in his hand and he steps to the front of the room. He has one forearm across his eyes and he's already snuffling. "I wanted to say I'm sorry..." is all he gets out before blubbering commences. Immediately there are "ohs" and "It's okays" and "we love you Kams" from the entire class. An active and moody girl who sits at my desk to keep her out of trouble gasped and asks me if she can go hug him and I tell her yes. She does so, and takes his paper and begins to read an apology about gossip and putting people's bizness out. Mr. D comes back in the room and says "Oh no, no no no. He's gotta say it. I appreciate your support and all, but it's on him."
Kam reads the apology, which is accepted tenderly, and I see how a group of kids brought up in a school which values shared feelings and a sense of community can function together.
Then I face the seventh grade boys, who have not been brought up through that kind of school, and who are rebelling and doing their best to prevent any kind of community functioning. I have a crew of them I work with every morning, and Mr. B from Cameroon has the other. We have been trying to get them together for a seventh grade community meeting for 3 consecutive Fridays with the seventh grade girls, but they cannot line up, they can't get in a circle, and they can't be quiet. We're pressed for time because there is a school-wide meeting coming and these kids can't handle it yet, and we don't want them in front of the elementary kids and sixth graders acting this way. It takes us two hours to get through a 20-minute activity. The only respite we get, the only time we get a half-hour of silence and respectful and honest communication, is after I tell them "Ok, I was disappointed in you guys, and then I was frustrated. Now, however, I'm embarrassed. I am embarrassed to be associated with young adults who behave this way."
I'm starting to realize that in order to teach the way this school expects me to teach, I need to get my brain back to the way I used to teach college courses. I rarely planned detailed lessons: I had text, I showed the students how I interacted with that text, I made detailed notes to display my thinking to them, my connections, my questions, and my inferences. And then I allowed the students to share their reactions to the issues or knowledge raised, and then we moved to the text as a piece of writing. What worked? Why? What could be done better? My brain is far away from those days, but I need to get it back. Part of my problem is that I'm no longer interacting with texts in the same rich way. I don't write in books any more, or think deeply about them. I need to do so again if I expect to teach these kids to be life-long readers.