Wednesday, November 30, 2011

still life with elephants

So. I've been updating about once a month. I feel pretty good about that.

Fall in New England has been lovely, despite often being gray and rainy it's been quite mild - with the notable exception of the six inches of snow a week ago (which has already melted away entirely). My mom and Don were out to visit over Veteran's Day weekend, and while it was nice to see their faces, it didn't feel out of the ordinary - quite the contrary, since, as I realized while they were here, we only really saw each other about every other month back home anyway, so we were right on schedule. After a delayed arrival and a brief jaunt around the central and down east areas of Maine, off they went and it was back to normal around here.

Haha, gotcha. There is no such thing as normal here.

So the month of November has been a whirlwind, mostly because early in the month one of my coworkers tendered her resignation. It's a huge loss for our community, but ultimately the best decision for her. The administration, apparently disregarding the fact that my position on staff up until that point was perplexingly varied and relatively undefinable, felt that rather than continue on that path (or lack thereof), my time and energy ought to be reallocated. After a little thought, I agreed, but with stipulations. So in a somewhat mystifying display of bravado and perhaps insanity, I find myself shapeshifting yet again. And apparently no one is surprised that I woke up on Monday and found that I am a teacher.

Obviously, I am in no way certified to be an educator. My last classroom experience was six years ago, and that was college. I never studied education, or psychology, or child development. Sure, I loved being in school. If you didn't know me then, I'm sure it will come as no surprise to you that throughout school I positively thrived, the perfect teacher's pet. So with these things in mind, when I was offered this position I absolutely refused the title "teacher". I don't want to make lesson plans and grade papers and the like (though I have no doubt that I will still be doing those things). I want to help these youngish humans see the world. I want to get them doing things. I want them to connect the dots. And I've had a lot of little revelations in the past few weeks that are going to fuel this, well, whatever this is. Long story short, I see myself as a facilitator. I've approached these kids - kids who are overwhelmingly uninterested in school, kids for whom just being in school five days a week is actually a great hurdle to clear - as one might approach, say, a wild elephant. If you whip the elephant into submission, you get either a depressed elephant or a pissed off elephant. Angry elephants can be dangerous, and sad elephants are just... sad. So none of that in my classroom. By acknowledging these kids are powerful - kids who have always had to fight for power, or have been told that they are powerless - and showing them that their empowerment can be a tool, a means to choose a life for themselves, a small bit of control in a chaotic world, but refusing to allow them to use their power over or against others... it's been an educational experience for me, I've actually learned a lot about how I relate to people in general. So it's been awakening after awakening being in the school during the day. And it's been three days.

If you want an idea of what I'm actually doing in the classroom, basically imagine me with five elephants, trying to encourage them to all move the same direction at the same pace. And if they move at all, it's kind of a thrilling victory. So far I've managed to avoid being perceived as a threat, as an authority figure. Because, in all honesty, they spook easily, and if you've ever tried to herd elephants then you know what I mean.

Ok, I've taken this elephant metaphor much, much too far. Hopefully soon I'll be chattering on endlessly about our wonderful, engaged community of learners, developing projects to improve the world we live in and engaging others to fight the good fight. Because isn't that the goal, here and now and everywhere and always?

Next update: interns. Oh, it's gonna be good.