Wednesday, May 11, 2011

My Freedom Writers

An ongoing discussion in our house (and in my mind) is whether I should keep teaching in the classroom.  There's always something in life that makes it seem too complicated, too unnecessary, and almost frivolous to get the kids up early, feed and clothe them, bring them 40 minutes away and then head to teach.  If there were all in traditional school all day, it would make more sense.  But we've chosen a logistically complicated schooling path (for another post).  We've had so many babysitting ups-and-downs, sick kids, and other Very Good Reasons why I should just stay online.   More convenient.

But convenient is "convenient" for a reason, and that lack of complexity really isn't a bonus.  I keep seeing that again and again.

I have a very complicated teaching arrangement this 8-weeks.  I teach the earliest class on Wednesday morning, pick up the kids from Jackie's and come home for a couple of hours, and then teach until 10 at night.  Long day.  Good day, but long.

In this morning's class, we watched "Freedom Writers" in the last half.  It's a 4-hour class, and I was pretty sure they'd get sick of my teaching after that long.  So I'm going to mix things up a bit and watch some movies about writing.  What a movie.

It was likely particularly powerful because I'm the Hilary Swank character in a very racially and socio-economically diverse classroom of freshman composition students.  So we were watching ourselves on screen, and we all were very aware of that.  We don't have fist-fights....everyone is an adult...but racial topics can and do exist and come up often in writing and discussion.  The life stories within my classroom are fairly similar to the ones on the screen.

I loved how the movie showed the classroom becoming a family, because that really does happen.  I've seen it in yearlong courses...semester-long...and 8-week ones.  Handled right, the classroom becomes this safe haven of discussion and depth that some students don't have anywhere else in their lives.  I read papers about things they've never shared, they open up in peer discussion about some very deep-seated longings in their life.  And (most of the time), each ending of class seems like a loss of a good friend.

That doesn't happen with my online courses.  I believe in online learning, and I believe that the level of education is amazing.  The students are getting one-on-one teaching, in many ways, because of how much email and individual conversation there is between us about their work.  But that family dynamic isn't there.

Maybe I do need to re-apply for classroom teaching next fall, after our move to Williamsburg.  I keep wanting to clear out the space in my life, create more breathing room.  Or at least co-exist more of my schedule, like teaching at the boys' co-op like I've done this year.  Teaching is teaching, and I love all of it.  Whether it's Playdoh Economics for 6-9yo, or advanced college economics, I derive a lot of life energy from all of it.

But I would miss seeing my adult learners, having the courage to come back to the classroom.  Feeling rusty and lacking confidence when they sit in the classroom that first night.  And then seeing them emerge from that fear, and becoming empowered learners who seem on fire about the potential ahead of them.  Seeing that connection between us all, as we grow as a unit throughout the class session.

The character's father said to her: "Your blessing is your burden."  And for now, perhaps I should make peace that classroom teaching is not going to leave my life.  And while there are burdens about it, it definitely is more of a blessing and a positive in my life - and I need to find some way to protect that part of my life. 

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