Wednesday, July 15, 2009

[We chose a line from a poem, "How to Like It," by Stephen Dobyns:]

the place where the answers are kept

[and we wrote from that, so i went on...]

has smooth walls. answers don't stick
but slide around; it's so easy to pick
one that doesn't seem to fit
my question.

my questions are many, and they breed, they squiggle, they reproduce: myriad questions like tadpoles in the shallow pond out back. if only the answers were developing as their tails dissolve. i scoop up a couple with my net of sentences, hold them up, examine them, and continue to be overwhelmed by sheer numbers. i pause to build a small nursery pool from the clay that lines the pond, to catch some of these questions so i can really look at them.

every once in a while i look up from my page, away from my computer screen, where i have scrawled my scrawny thoughts. stars swim in my feverish vision. oh, no...some of them have gotten away.

smooth walls, glass ceilings, prison cells that don't appear to be prisons...my classroom teacher status was becoming a prison for me. i was understanding why the caged bird sings: i wrote poetry and blogs and political rants never read by politicians, but the time was coming that i would have to move, change, grow, pick a new career, not just write about my dissatisfaction. i couldn't see a way out, though. i had been teaching so long that i was only suited to employment in a public school, was making too much money to go to another district (not that things would really be different if i simply jumped to a classroom at another school), didn't handle the new technology well enough to find a job in a related industry, say, a book company like Scholastic, or, god forbid, a testing company or, the horror, state ed department which does in fact have job openings in the Albany area, i know because i checked. what was left for me? a writer, a thinker, a teacher, a learner...a learner...

i had recently met a young woman with a doctorate who taught at oneonta, preparing young pre-service teachers for the classroom. i remember thinking to myself, at the time, "i could do that." we were at the state conference for english teachers. i was on fire again, a condition that often afflicted me when i went to a conference, like the national one in new york city a couple of years back. i was afire not just with ideas but with the chances i had to make meaning in collaboration with other readers, thinkers, writers, teachers. into the heady brew of carol burning, stir my involvement with the new national writing project site, 7 valleys, out of cortland. a score of like-minded reader/writer/thinkers, reading and talking and writing in a building in cortland every week day for twenty days -- it was an accelerant to the fire of my burning questions, my aching dissatisfaction, my struggle to burst out of a self-perceived prison cell.

they encouraged my rants, my questions, my anecdotes about years as a workshop teacher. they encouraged my growth, when i feared there was no direction to grow in. later that year, i met my friend from oneonta, and talked to her about preparing teachers, about her experience at binghamton university.

i interviewed the director of the program at BU's school of ed. he encouraged me and answered questions about finances and future. i wrote the essay that introduced me to the panel that accepts or rejects, not entirely aware of what an important document it was. i met with my superintendent and very candidly told him that i wanted to study full time and i wanted time off to do it. he couldn't get me a sabbatical (listen - you can hear nbc's brian william's saying, "in these tough economic times...") but he got me a two-year leave of absence, so there was a plan B if i needed to come back to a classroom job. BU got me an assistantship, so important bills would be paid while i was studying. my partner assured me that every thing else would be taken care of, at least for the two years of coursework. a doctoral candidate was born.

now i pick the brain of every fine teacher/student/tech nerd i can find: my son ty, my friend (doctor) david, and i take notes and i go over the notes and i read articles and books every day and i blog about them, i recall classroom situations and i blog about them, ending always with questions, always asking more questions, reading more and finding out that i have more questions, that other people are asking them, did ask them, too. it is a wonder that my brain doesn't shut down from lack of answers. some questions simply have to be answered, you know, or the brain suffers from a lack of firm, solid, grounded information.

ha. i wouldn't be a teacher if i really believed and relied on that. tom newkirk, in his new book, Holding on to Good Ideas in a Time of Bad Ones: Six Literacy Principles Worth Fighting For, likens teachers to doctors and nurses healing the sick. they are faced with new situations constantly, medical emergencies or conditions that are like textbook cases EXCEPT for one aspect. therein lies the task of the medical help - to problem solve on their feet, to move beyond the rules since the casebook didn't have a ruling on this one or that one. we teachers do that every day, every class, every child in our positions. asking the right questions can help us help children. so developing this questioning ability may be very helpful to new teachers.

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