Tuesday, May 31, 2005

if you can't fight em, join em

Ruby Payne writes about people from generational poverty placing great emphasis on relationships and interaction. While I'm a little scared to read sweeping advice about a group of people ("the poor", "blacks", "hispanics", "country folk"), I think she makes a good point. Lots of my kids respect the teacher and their relationship with that teacher more than the abstract rules of the classroom. Many of my kids are verbal learners (aka they don't read) and thus our discussions might get lively.

This year I taught one young darling who exemplified what I see as high maintenance interaction in the classroom. Derek responded to everything I said with either an "Amen", "You know it", or "Cuz we pimps like that." And, if I attempted to stifle his expressions, all hell broke loose. This kid had an amazing ability to get your words mixed up and would get very defensive about it. I might say, "Napoleon was a short man," and Derek could respond, "How short? Like short short? Short short short? I mean, was the nigga like 3 feet?" "No," I'd say, "About five." "Well, I'm five feet and I ain't short. I thought you said he was short! Man, you lyin. You lyin to me." I kid you not. Derek is a very sweet kid but he's so low that he gets removed from classes for behavior problems because he can't. shut. the. fuck. up. I know what you are thinking and let me assure that I, and the Special Education staff, tried many interventions.

So, whether or not I deserve the teaching award of the year, this is what I did: I put Derek right in front with me. The very front. While discussing and/or lecturing I incorporated Derek's side comments. If he really started going on about something I'd stop, let him say his piece, join in if I have to, and move on. When Derek would get too defensive or out of control, I might place my hand on the desk and ask him very quietly to calm down. He usually responded, because he felt respected and a part of the classroom.

A typical discussion might go like this:

MH "So, John Locke was an Enlightenment philosopher who wanted what kind of rights? Anyone remember?"
Random student: "Natural rights!"
MH: "Excellent. Natural rights. What does he mean by natural rights? What is a natural right?"
Derek: "Just what it says. A right that is natural, yo! Come on man, we know this stuff!"
MH: "Okay, okay. A right that is natural. What do you mean by natural? What does Derek mean? Or is he just spouting out wisdom up here that you guys can't handle?"
Derek: "That's right yo! I'm smart."
Student: "A natural right is something you get because you are a human being. You deserve it because you are just, like, here."
Derek: "That's what I said! I just said that!"
MH: "Thank you Cindy. And thank you Derek."
MH: "So, what were these natural rights?"Silence.
MH: "Was it the right to chocolate, Game cube, or Starbucks coffee? Think back to what we've been reading about."
Derek: "Yo, we don't know. You gots to tell us. We jus don't know up in here."
MH: "Okay, okay. Anybody? Do you need some help?"
Derek: "Yes, yes. We need help, yo. On the real. Like oxygen and shit."
MH: "Alright. The first one is life. We have the right to life. To live. To be here. Ring any bells?"
Derek: "Nope, no bells. We don't know this Ms, I told you that."
Random Student: "Ms, is it liberty?"
MH: "Excellent! Liberty! And what else?"
Derek: "Aww, she knows it. She's got it! Ask her!" (He's smiling and very excited by now. It's difficult not to laugh because his smile is infectious.)
Student: "Pursuit of Happiness?"
MH: "Aha! You got caught by the old trap! That's Jefferson, my dear. He stole the idea from Locke! We'll talk about that in just a second."
Random Student: "Property?"
MH: Beautiful!
Derek: "Man, that kid is smart. How the hell he know that? So it's life, property, pursuit.."
MH: "Okay, Derek is on a roll. He said that Locke's three natural rights are life, property, and what else?"
Student: "Liberty."
MH: "Great!"

After a while Derek just rolled along with it and I honestly think the kids appreciated that he was incorporated into the classroom--meaning they didn't have to witness tantrums. The kid really is a sweetheart. It's pretty comical when I think back on it.

That's memory number 1 from this year, or rather, Skill #1: Rolling With the Punches. Sometimes I wonder if I should have handled the situation more traditionally. Then again, the above method worked and Derek passed the class because of his active learning. I don't know. I have years to think about it but right now I'm going to bed.


Blogger Megan said...

Well, quite frankly, I thought that was pretty brilliant of you. I couldn't have handled the situation any better (though I could have handled it worse!). I have a whole new respect for you secondary teachers since I couldn't hack it more than a year. You go girl! (Wait, do the kids say that anymore, or is that about 10 years too late?)

8:54 PM  
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