Reflections


If you are reading this, you likely started reading my writings because of my reflections on student teaching. Some of you may have found me because of the recognition I received from Scholastic Magazine for “Best Student Teacher Blog” back in 2009. Others seem to have been sent here by teachers in education programs, possibly as part of your coursework in such a program. (If so, I’m extremely flattered that I was recommended to you, and I apologize that I left my humble blog in such disarray in my long absence.)

When I last updated this blog, I was still in my second year of teaching. I am now about to finish my fifth – and final – year of my teaching career. This is the epitaph of my time in the profession, my moment of grief for a vocation I loved and could not stay in, what happened when I told my students that I was leaving teaching, and ultimately a defense of why I am getting out now.

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One of the most interesting years of my life is coming to end now: the posting of final grades this morning marked the near-official end of my first year of teaching. It has been quite a ride, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible. Despite not keeping up with my reflections like I had hoped (sadly), it’s time again to reflect back on what went well, what went wrong, and what went…well, crazy.
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Our last day of school before Christmas break has just started a few minutes ago, and I am feeling pretty good. As of this moment, I’ve graded all of the exams I’ve given – only two, unfortunately, although the non-exam equivalent in another class (a persuasive speech) has been graded in full as well – and I have this hour, which is my normal prep period, to do several things: get my room more organized, think about what I’ll teach when we come back from break in early January, and – of course – reflect.*

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Disclaimer: For those of you who are used to my edublogging, this is a brief respite. Every so often, I need to blog about myself as a person, without my “teacher hat” on. If you don’t care to continue, I won’t begrudge you that.

Ever since my elder son’s diagnosis in November of last year – almost a year now, which is unfathomable to me – the subject of autism has been on my mind frequently. Okay, it’s probably been on my mind longer than that, since the diagnosis was no real surprise to us: all the stereotypies were there, as well as the developmental delays. I had done a fair amount of research on autism and its symptoms, having done a presentation on the subject in college for my special education course, and the speech therapist working with him had talked to us about it, since she had worked with several children on the spectrum. Since the diagnosis, I have tried to stay apprised of happenings in the autism community, most specifically the crazy antivaccinationists that use autism as a vehicle for their crazy conspiracies about “Big Pharma” and the evils of vaccines (like those dreaded “toxins”). In my time on the Internet, I’ve run into more than a few people who have made wild claims, and I keep up with them so that I can be prepared to counter them when I encounter them, just like I do my research on crazy ideas like FEMA death camps. (That’s not a joke, either; I had a student seriously ask me about these, his only evidence proffered being a YouTube video.)

But autism for me is a bigger issue than nutjobs like this. It is something that I live with daily, and not just in my son.

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I always seem to find myself in weird places when it comes to generations: I obviously fit into the Generation Y timeframe (mid-’80s) but have some of an appreciation for both the old and the new. I have a soft spot for tradition but embrace progress and change – it’s a somewhat bizarre mix at times.

Since becoming a teacher, I have found certain things causing me to engage my place on the generational fence, confronted on one hand by some of my older colleagues (although there are a handful who are roughly my age) and on the other by my students, who have their own ways of making me feel old. My own stance provides me an interesting position, though, to engage the thoughts of both the older Generation X and the newer Generation Z.*

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One of my students writing a college application essay about wanting to be a teacher (yes, I have one) used this quote:

Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.

— John Cotton Dana

It’s so great that to see my motto so widely accepted.

Bigotry has been on my mind a lot this week. Several days ago, my mother was talking about her concern that a “Middle Eastern” man* had recently taken ownership of our local gas station, and she backed away from really speaking her mind (I think) after I showed how apprehensive I was about the sentiment she was saying, which was ultimately that some foreigner had taken over, and why couldn’t the station stay in the hands of a local owner. One for xenophobia.

Then I saw the somewhat comforting tribute to Alan Turing.

Then I saw this sign and was sickened at the unadulterated racism that popped up during the recent 9/12 march.

Today, I was talking with a coworker over lunch before the rest of our lunchmates came in about a sign in a local Wal-Mart that read “Formula maybe purchased at aisle 18”. (My response: “What, you don’t know?”) I suggested that it could have been put up because this particular brand of formula had been shoplifted often, or it could have been racism (this Wal-Mart is in a moderately large town with a significant African-American population). I did put a caveat on my statements, though, saying (and I quote), “I’ve learned not to make any assumptions about bigotry because when I do, I’m generally disappointed.”

Then the rest of our colleagues come in, and the topic turns from a student who is now pregnant (who I have in class) to the welfare mindset, and quickly…well, I don’t think I even need to go much further for you, thoughtful reader, to finish the story.

In an amazing twist, I was proven wrong (or my point was made, whichever you care to look at it) within mere minutes, and by the very people who I work with to help our kids become upstanding members of society who understand and care about the diversity of human life.

I don’t really know what to say other than the fact that I am deeply saddened. I am utterly opposed to racism, xenophobia, and any kind of bigotry, and I make no apologies about it. It is not something I am comfortable with or will ever be comfortable with, and the only consolation I have is that I have a chance. A chance to help instill positive values that will impact the world positively.

I just hope that I can take advantage of it.


*I say “Middle Eastern,” but I’ve also heard that he’s a Hindu, which could mean that he’s Indian or some East Asian nationality. The point stands regardless of the specifics.

The name of the late Alan Turing has been popping up in a number of places lately, with a coalition of computer scientists, historians, and LGBT activists coming together to petition the British government to issue an apology for what was done to Turing. See, Turing was a brilliant codebreaker and the man most responsible for cracking the Nazi Enigma code, which undoubtedly changed the course of the war in favor of the Allies; his work with theoretical computing (such as his thought experiment, the Turing machine) is directly responsible for the rise of computers as we know them today. Turing was also gay, and he was subjected to chemical castration when this fact was discovered. Turing committed suicide two years later.

British PM Gordon Brown did issue an apology, and it’s a pretty good one as far as that goes (Geoff Pullum notes here that it’s remarkable to see a politician utter the unambiguous words “we’re sorry,” and I tend to agree). The fact that an apology was issued is remarkable and a worthy tribute, but I rather like the tribute that poet Matt Harvey gave to Turing (HT: Geoff Pullum at Language Log):

Alan Turing

here’s a toast to Alan Turing
born in harsher, darker times
who thought outside the container
and loved outside the lines
and so the code-breaker was broken
and we’re sorry
yes now the s-word has been spoken
the official conscience woken
— very carefully scripted but at least it’s not encrypted —
and the story does suggest
a part 2 to the Turing Test:
1. can machines behave like humans?
2. can we?

Can we, indeed.

I’m in the midst of grading autoethnographies, and I’m taking this very short break from grading to reflect on one specific paper. (After I finish with them, I intend on returning to the assignment to gauge its efficacy and my efficacy in teaching it.)

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I’m out for Labor Day, but if any of you are around, enjoy this post and the holiday! – Mr. B

I’m pretty well used to driving a fair distance to work these days. For the past five years or so, I’ve been driving half an hour to both school and work (which were in the same town, fortunately) and only slightly less to my student teaching placement. It’s the peril of living in a small town that doesn’t have very much industry (or at least not really anything for me to support a family on). I also knew that I wouldn’t be teaching in this district, where I graduated from, for several reasons (see here for one), and we had no plans to move when I was looking for a position (because our eldest son is in a special ed pre-K program that we are currently considered in-county for), so a commute was pretty much in the cards for me.

You’d think that this would be a problem or an inconvenience, and there are elements that aren’t very pleasant – gas expenses, for one. The school I teach at is about 40 minutes away, so I have a little bit of a trek before and after school.

But I have to admit that I like the commute. It’s some time for me to sit back and relax, reflect on what’s happened or what’s coming, think more about what I can do to make things better for myself and my students. Some of the country I drive through is the classic corn and soybean fields of the rural Midwest, but there is a stretch of about 7 miles or so in the middle of my path that is green and winding and just beautiful. I turn up whatever CD I’m listening to obsessively at the moment (the only way I ever listen to music), and I enjoy it.

One of my colleagues, who’s also from the area and lives only about 5 miles from our school, noted once in conversation that he misses the commute for many of the above reasons. There’s something about driving a familiar path that can make you think about where you’re going and where you’ve been, and I think that the human mind benefits from putting things in order like that. Having the time of solitude for reflection is absolutely necessary for me to have the clarity of thought that I must have to survive in the classroom.

Maybe eventually the commute will diminish; there’s always the possibility that we’ll move closer to my district at some point in the future. Until then, I can deal with paying for the gas and with the time on the road, for the time that it affords me to take a critical look at my life and my work and to get everything straight. It’s well worth the price.

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