Hey, it’s been forever.
I work at the Brooklyn Public Library now, as part of Brooklyn Connections, an awesome program that (for FREE) brings the library to classrooms around the borough. We give teachers packets of primary sources from our archive and teach the kids how to do research and hone their research skills – come up with questions, make note-cards, annotate bibliographies and just analyze sources.
I currently work with seven different schools in Brooklyn – all over. I spend a lot of time on the subway. I am only supposed to see each class roughly 4 times, and then they are supposed to come to the library for a tour of our archive.
It’s a noble program that has a great desire to make kids connect to their city and to their history, while also pushing them to do something creative outside of the (awful) NYS curriculum requirements. This is part of the challenge though – we are visitors to classrooms where 30 6th graders have spent 2 months prepping to take a standardized test most of them know they will not pass. They see us, they know instantly that we’re there to do something fun and different, and if the teacher is not strong enough, they go berserk.
I work with some great teachers. They have good relationships with their students and their students work hard for them. This means I can go in and teach a lesson properly, with structure and full intent. I can throw in activities and do things to make it more fun. I can take my time to explain things and make them sound interesting and clear.
I also work with some teachers who are not good. They do not have control over their students. When I visit, I spend most of my time waiting for silence, and have lost my temper with kids because they refuse to be quiet, and I see no recourse. So much of behaviour management comes from training and consistency, as well as weight. I have no weight with these kids – they see no reason that they should listen to me. I do not grade them, I cannot punish them, and any rewards are ‘silly’.
These classes are so detrimental to my thinking as a teacher. I shout (I never used to shout). I give up and talk over kids who refuse to shut up. I will walk from one table to the other and repeat the instructions because they were not heard the first time. I glower. Well, I’ve always had a good glower, but I feel like I use it too much these days.
Mostly, I don’t get to teach. I tell them “Take out the packet and lets read it together and answer the questions.” ALL THE TIME. I can’t blame them for being bored, seeing as I am bored of it. If I was their teacher, I would be changing things up and running activities with the sources. I’d hopefully have them better trained so that we could do multiple sources in a day and then be done and able to move on to other stuff/activities. But I’m not their teacher.
In this one specific school (can you tell it’s one specific school?) I’ve decided to start treating it as though I am their primary teacher. I see them more than their normal teacher does, and I”m more firm with them than she is. I gave them a quiz today. I stamp their answers when they do good work. I brought in cookies for the kids who did really well today. I stand and chat with them while they work. Things went successfully today because I managed to hold their attention for an extremely dramatic explanation of why an action shot of Jackie Robinson stealing Home from Yogi Berra during the 1955 World Series was SUCH AN AWESOME PHOTO TO LOOK AT.
Mr Hansberry, if you read this – I told the kids I got goosebumps from how exciting the moment must have been for little kids all throughout Brooklyn. I wasn’t lying. And they were quiet and listening. They got it.
Then I told them how much time they had and left them to work. And most of them did. I felt so much relief. It was so much better than other classes I’ve had which were such bigger struggles. I hope I can repeat the experiment next time.
I won’t give up. These kids are going to produce something by the end of my time with them. They are going to be proud of it. I am so damn determined to make that happen. I won’t let their teacher get in the way of that.
Anyway. Rant over. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything, and a lot has happened, so maybe I’ll write more soon. No promises.