This week so far has been a week of learning. I signed up to be a part of this little cohort that is looking into Agriculture as a focus for learning opportunities within our currently established curriculum. Headed up by a couple of excellent teachers that I have the pleasure to call colleagues we have spent time both working on project development and going on some excursions to really get a handle on what it is we want students to learn and also to understand that Agriculture is so much more than farming. The week has been interesting from discussing Tariffs with Dairy Farms to checking out some animal subjects at a research facility. We have talked Canola, Potatoes, self-sustained farming, the importance of bees and looked at Aquaponics and Aeroponics which are both very cool. Aside from all of this great learning I was able to speak with coworkers, learn and work together and just have some immersive learning in the middle of the summer break. Beyond that, however, I have had some moments of personal learning and appreciations that I wanted to share.
A coworker from our cohort pointed this out to me and I just had to take the shot. This little potato plant just working its way up a floor pipe in search of that warm light. Obviously, there is an analogy here. As teachers do when put on a bus together we talked teaching, sharing stories of struggles we have in the classroom, ideas, concerns for our students. The list of things teachers think about in the summer is definitely longer than this but these are a few of our topics. I thought a lot today about the kids who struggle, the ones that we can’t seem to reach, I want to say that I know the answer to help them, sometimes I do but the teacher is only the hole in the floor the plant wants to grow from, the real effort comes from those students. We provide them with a way, but they must put in the effort to the best of their ability. We are there to move the grate, to open the door to show them the light. I am not sure how we teach students that “grit”, that desire to do their part, whatever that might be, to overcome adversity. But it is our job to do that. To invest in our students without qualifiers, to work through the adversity because it will come but we can not choose to shrink into the hole, we must stretch toward the light.
Life Long Learning
If I could remember this gentleman’s name I would share it. He is a potato farmer and was discussing the science behind potato farming and even shared some words on GMO’s and other topics like trade and the impact different things can have on trade relationships. One of my coworkers asked a question about if after all his years farming anything new comes up, his response stuck with me,
“I have been doing this for 35 years, every year I am learning. We are always learning, you are teachers you know this.”
We are teachers, we do know this but sometimes we don’t act on it. This week has been interesting because it has taught me that I have a lot of preconceived notions about things. Listening to all of the men and women we have talked to this week go into such great detail about the trials and challenges that their jobs bring, the desire to fully embrace technology from some while others are grateful to get to do everything by hand. I am so grateful that I have put myself out there this week and learned things I would never have discovered had it not been for the chance to really listen to those who are living different experiences than I do. Which brings me to my last point of the week. Literacy-related so if you were here for the Agriculture review then feel free to skip it but important info coming up.
Books as windows when we are comfortable in a box
So many of you have heard the phrase “Books serve as mirrors, windows, and doors”, the opportunity to potentially see ourselves, others or even to leave our world to experience and enter another. As a teacher in a small rural community, I see the importance but despite my efforts, my students have not really ventured into the windows and doors portion of reading. Their interests still are very much into that of their own experience. I continue to buy books, talk about them and try to share and I wondered how important it is. This year, for example, I had one or two students that were not white in each of my classes. I don’t say that to downplay the importance of having examples of characters that look different or have different experiences but just to illustrate the demographics. I asked myself the question, “Why is this really important?” The answer came in visiting a post on one of the teacher groups that I am a part of on Facebook. A teacher asked a simple question, “Do you read the N-word aloud when you encounter it in a text?” I assumed this would be a simple topic, “No I don’t” and off we would go. Much to my shock and surprise, this was not always the case. Some teachers defended their choice to read it aloud in their class as a “learning opportunity”, others wanted to “respect” the authors choice and “honor” their work. This blog has not been a space where I tend to get into deep topics like racism, I mostly just rant about AR and talk about things I love. This revelation about the ease with which some teachers use the N-word in class though troubled me. I can’t help but feel if I had a black student in my classroom and chose to read the N-word the only learning opportunity it would be was that my student would learn that I do not respect or honor them, by keeping a word that stands for nothing but hate in our classroom and coming from my mouth. How could these other teachers not see that? As I thought about it I think I figured it out. They had to sit through reading these books as kids, the words were normalized because “it is just in the book”. Their teachers justified using the vile word in the same way they do now, but really they likely had no windows as kids and now have a hard time lifting the blinds. They likely were exposed to books with a lot of “themselves” and only a little of everyone else, if any. It is important to show our students the world around them and at the very least have those examples available. Your students might not read Ghost by Jason Reynolds as it sits on the shelf but you can share it with every student that asks for a suggestion. They might not keep reading Dear Martin by Nic Stone because it does not relate but the chance they might and the conversations that come are worth it, even if it is just a few of your students. Empathy is born from experience. You might not ever experience personally the trials others face in the world but to be able to read about it, connect to it is important if we ever want our students to grow up learning about the experience of others. That is why we have the books, so that when our students decide to look at something other than a mirror the window is there, the door can be opened and hopefully one more student will gain some degree of understanding of the struggles of others and why it is not ok to read the N-word in a class read aloud.