Afterward, Kindness.

Teachers had a uniquely difficult job today:  Support students who feel unsafe about the future of our country.  Do so with grace and humility while simultaneously dealing with our own feelings of uneasiness and hopelessness.

Based on what I hear my students say on a daily basis, it seems as though their views on the presidential race fell into one of four categories:  1.  Trump 2. Hillary 3.  Neither  4.  Indifferent.  This isn’t surprising for high school students in the far north suburbs but it seems important to note that my students’ views fall all over the political spectrum.

I began each of my classes today as I do at the beginning of each trimester:  You have my respect because you are a human.  My number one job is to keep you safe, and the most important thing that happens in this classroom is kindness.  

This isn’t anything new to them and it’s the culture we create in my classroom.

Then I pointed to this on my wall:

A gaping gash in the blue faux concrete. Many of them have never noticed it before but now their eyes are fixed on it.

This is where my “This is a safe zone” sign used to hang, I say.  When I painted the pillar, I had to remove it, and after sticking it back on, the adhesive wore out and it fell into the garbage without my knowledge.  But a wall with a sign doesn’t make this room any more safe. We create a culture of kindness and respect and use mathematics as a catalyst. THAT is what makes this a safe zone. 

We then had great conversations in both classes:  Spirals in college algebra, sampling bias in AP stats. But none of that matters if students don’t feel safe. As a teacher, I’ll do that every day as no part of my job is more important.  I’ll continue to fight for access to high level mathematics for all of our students and promote kindness in all of my classes. No one gets to vote on that but me.


Not Today, Please.

My prep period is the last hour of the day, which means the rest of my day can seem sort of like a hurricane, where I pass through the eye here and there.  Today, mid windstorm, I get the email I dread:  “I know you don’t like to sub on your prep, but I am down to my last two teachers, and I need a sub for Ms. XY.”

Great.  It’s Friday of a week where Monday was Halloween.  My to-do list was growing so although I don’t normally prefer subbing, today I REALLY didn’t want to.  But, I couldn’t turn this one down.  It was an emergency.  So, I sulked and complained to whoever would listen and felt sorry for myself until 1:25 when I had no choice but to mosey up to D238 and unlock the door for the eager students waiting outside.

Me:  What class is this?

Student:  Drama 

Wonderful.  To add a twist to my already knotted demeanor, it was a drama class (did you hear my dramatic tone?). Don’t get me wrong, drama class is great.  I just know nothing about it and feel powerless to assist anyone amid a sea of teenage angst.

The sub plans were pretty clear:  The kids will be memorizing their lines for the play until 2:00 and then they will rehearse in the drama room.  So the students went to their rehearsing spots and got to work.

At 2:00, we convened in the drama room and that’s where I was blown away.  The students realized that they were missing many of their classmates today (deer hunting opener) and attempts to rehearse would be futile.  Someone suggested they play “Whose Line is it Anyway?” (A hilarious TV show from the early 2000’s if you have never seen it.) They gathered their chairs around and threw out scene ideas and set the stage and off they went.  Then for 15 minutes, they flawlessly improv’ed like they had been doing it for years.  The classmates not on stage laughed, listened intently, and gave their peers their full attention.  I didn’t see one cellphone out.  Not one.  Not once.  When there were 5 minutes remaining, they played a game called “Splat” (which I’m proud to say I participated in) in which speed and acting like a household appliance are requirements.


Scene:  A pregnant woman and her wife shopping for baby items

So what did I learn:

  • Set up routines.  It was clear from the get go that this class had developed a specific agenda and today was no different.  They knew where to be and what was expected before I even read the sub plans.
  • Let your students rely on one another.  Students spent the majority of the period memorizing lines.  They helped each other and were dependent on one another in order to be successful.
  • Trust your students.  As the kids went off into their small groups, many used smaller rooms and corners of the building for a quiet space to get into their character.  The end result will be a memorized script for rehearsal. Which leads to my next item…
  • Give the students meaningful projects.  There is no way to “cheat” on developing a dramatic character.  There is no way to “copy” the memorization of lines vital to acting them out.  But every student in this class was engaged in doing both of these things because being the best character they could meant something to them.

At the end of the day, I left that drama room with a lifted spirit and joy in my heart.  I also left wondering how I could develop that kind of excitement over learning in my own mathematics classroom.  I still covet my prep time, but I’m grateful to have gotten this opportunity to see this different student learning world on the other side of the building.