from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The last day before Spring Break - some rambling thoughts 

This is it. As of 3:05 this afternoon we will be done with classes until April 19. The is the last time off before things like AP examinations, senior examinations, and state examinations. Although anyone who can remember high school will realize that many of our students are mentally on vacation already, and more than a few will risk the unexcused absence today to have a slightly longer break.

The student teacher who has been handling half of my classes has commitments at her university and will not be in. Those 3 classes are working on projects, so I will be babysitting them. My 3 AP classes have a ton of work before they come back, so today will be a day to wrap up what we have been doing recently. Immediately after school I will referee the annual student-faculty basketball game (were a near-60 man to play and actually score or steal the ball it might be very embarrassing for the students).

So this morning I want to offer a few thoughts, some related to school and education, some to broader topics. Indulge me.  And if you like, continue reading..

As I have continued to blog about education, I have forced myself to examine a variety of viewpoints about schools and education. My blogging has led me into many dialogs. not all of which have been productive. But some have challenged me, forced me to reexamine some of the premises on which I base my thoughts. That is good. I have also been fortunate to increasingly be able to engage in exchanges with people in positions to affect some level of change in how we do education. That presents me with a responsibility far beyond my usual role of throwing out provocative ideas to stimulate the thinking of others.

I am far from systematic in either my thinking or my writing. I tend to write most fluently in response to a specific stimulus, perhaps it such suddenly causes the various inchoate thoughts that have been rambling around my brain to come together in a somewhat coherent way - it gives a focus to an intense period of writing that may be of some value to others. I also have a wide variety of interests, and thus even in my preferred domain of writing about education I tend to bounce around from topic to topic without providing readers with clear connections to my thoughts. As a teacher I know that can be exceedingly difficult for some of my students, and in class I try to provide more structure, nothing too rigid, but at least a framework upon which students can base their own organization of material if they so desire.

I do have an overall educational philosophy, and I recognize that I have a responsibility to present at least the outlines of that in a coherent fashion, if for no other reason than it would allow casual and occasional readers of what I write to evaluate more fairly any influence that might have on how I describe, analyze or react to the material of others. And so one possible task during the break might be to draft such a statement. I have many at least partial attempts on which to draw. I have been forced to write about my approach to teaching as part of my graduate studies in education, in applying for various fellowships, seminars, and now awards (yes, I am applying for the award for outstanding civics and government teachers, although I do not realistically expect to be seriously considered). And I do reflect upon my teaching constantly. Of course, the time taken for this will be time taken away from other things I would like to be doing - I have a stack of 15 books I hoped to get through. I really want to spend some time doing some volunteer work for Jim Webb for Senate (his headquarters is only a couple of miles away). And I need some time to take some long walks in the woods.

But I cannot reflect only on my teaching. It is the most important thing in my life, and that also requires some explanation. I will for the rest of this diary offer a few glimpses. One readers, Joseph Rainmound, has recently told me that he uses some of my diaries as meditations. That both honors and scares me. It reminds me of the power of any word we release into general circulation. We can never know who will encounter the word, and what impact it might create. I can remember telling one political candidate who tried to justify an action with which I disagreed that it was not the person to whom the action was dedicated that mattered so much as who else might be observing. As teachers we never know what lessons students will draw from their encounters with us, positive or negative, and thus even as we challenge and if necessary discipline them we must also reaffirm them.

I am almost painfully shy. I am very lacking in social skills. I was a happy child but as I entered adolescence things began to change. I was very sick during part of my 13th year, and although my Bar Mitzvah on my 13th birthday was a happy occasion, I was already beginning the first of my many journeys into depression. It was partly because of a very unhappy home situation, with tow parents with alcohol problems. It was also that I couldn’t figure out who I was, what I should be. I ran away from some gifts that I had (music for example) because I didn’t want others telling me how I should live, to what I should aspire.

I have been more than a bit of a butterfly. I used to regularly have to change something “external” in my life as if that would clean up my mess, enable me to make a fresh start. I would shave if I had a beard, or grow a beard if I didn’t. I would move, or change jobs, or change my primary social relationship -- dropping, changing or adding a girlfriend. It was a way of avoiding confronting the reality of my internal sense of emptiness. Oh yes, and periodically in my search for meaning I would change my religious orientation.

I said it began my series of encounters with depression. I have at in the past attempted to address my tendency towards depression with medical treatment, counseling, and the like. I have tried monitoring my food and beverage intake. None of these approaches has ever made a significant difference. What has is letting go in a positive sense. And that is very scary, because I can be more than a bit of a control freak, wanting nothing to surprise me. Which in a sense is strange since I am actually fairly good at reacting to situations, even those for which I have not prepared.

I often give my students less direction than perhaps some think they need, precisely because I recognize my tendency towards control. I am trying to encourage them to develop the confidence and skill to shape and direct their learning without a lot of direction from me. Some struggle for quite a while, but most eventually begin to grasp the importance of not letting one’s life be controlled by external forces. This is also a relevant lesson for me.

I said that I needed to learn to let go. I agonize at times that I have not done something as well as I should. As a result I have real trouble accepting any kind of compliment, because I feel like a fraud. At the same time, because I am not only shy but also very insecure, i can swing wildly to pointing out to others things that might be worthy of notice because until someone else tells me it is good it is hard for me to believe that what I have done or said has any value. Regular readers here can probably point to examples of that in my writing. From this I hope I have learned the importance of giving recognition to other people, to let them know that something they have done is good, or inspires me, or even makes me smile.

This is my 60th year. I have, as I said last May, chosen to take this year for some serious reflection, appropriate as I approach a major life milestone. I have indulged myself by sharing some of these thoughts online, in the belief that they may be of some value to others in their own wrestling with life. It is not that my writing offers any great perception, because it is drawn from the very limited experience of one exceedingly flawed and limited person.

I have few close friends. I have many relationships that are cordial and even more. What has sustained me, and at times possibly kept my depression from spiraling down so deep that I would be suicidal (as I have on occasion been in the past), has been a few sources of constant affirmation. I have a Shetland sheepdog for a number of years who was absolutely unjudging and loving. When I was unhappy she would leap up on my lap and lick my face - she knew. We have 5 cats now, we have had others -- and their solution is to crawl on my lap or next to me and meow. And I have - since September 21, 1974 - had a relationship with Leaves on the Current. At times it has been tense and tenuous, as both of us can be difficult (me exceedingly more so). But the simple fact that nothing I could do would ever stop her from loving me also provides a point of sanity.

And I have music, and poetry, and nature (as I listen to our neighborhood aviary as I write this). And most of all, I have the delight of encountering other people, of watching them in their manifold and varied shapes, sizes, personalities, abilities -- some drive me nuts, although I am sure that I more than reciprocate.

I have to head to school shortly, for this the last day before Spring break. I know that I must in some way thank all of my students for letting me share part of their lives. And I also realize that I must now thank you who have read this for letting me entire your lives this morning, in whatever small way I have.


Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
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