Saturday, June 21, 2008

Week 1, Crosswinds

My dreaded stint across town has begun, and as I feared, the drive and the hours are a real bummer. It is a twenty mile drive to Woodbury, which takes only a half an hour or so in the morning, but which takes anywhere from forty-five to seventy minutes at the end of the day. Meanwhile the sun is bright and warm and the days have all been beautiful. I am jealous of my family, who are quickly making my spring tan look pale.

But Crosswinds is fantastic. If it were not so far away (and not year-round) I would be begging for a position there. Being in an English classroom this week has made me question the turn that my career has taken. Originally, I planned to teach literature and writing, not video and editing. I still get to teach creative writing in my screenwriting classes, but it is not quite the same thing. It is exciting to discuss books and teach basic writing skills.

Crosswinds is a product of a lawsuit against the St. Paul school system. It is a district of its own, funded by the St. Paul school district, created in order to provide quality programs for kids who live in (mostly poor) areas that were at one time (and perhaps still) offering less quality education than the schools in other districts. It is a 6-1oth grade middle school and is arranged into numerous houses in order to create a sense of a smaller community within the school. Each house is comprised of the four pieces of core curriculum, Language Arts, Math, Science, and Social Studies and contains around eighty students.

As I said, Crosswinds is located in Woodbury, Minnesota. It is as close to St. Paul as you can get and still get an "in the country" feel. The school was built in the middle of a farmer's field, literally. The closest neighbor is a full-on farm with tractors and sheep and a guy in over-alls. It is an absolutely beautiful spot, especially for those city kids who get little chance to experience green spaces outside of city parks and lakes. Yesterday, when I arrived, I was greeted by a giant snapping turtle, laying her eggs in the garden in front of the school.

At Crosswinds, classrooms are all open; you can see above the half walls right out into the hallway and into your neighbor's classroom. Teachers do not have desks in their rooms, but rather an office shared with each other, which results in a massive amount of communication between the faculty and other staff.

Crosswinds employs the responsive classroom design. They have a homeroom everyday where students group up for announcements, sharing, and games.

They use an especially effective system to deal with behavioral issues. When a student first gets out of line, he/she is asked to "take a break." Students go to another part of the classroom for a moment to regroup and rejoin the class when they are ready. If the discipline needs to go further, students are sent to the "buddy room." Each classroom has a partner room to send students to. When a student is sent to the partner room, he/she fills out a form detailing the situation and his/her plan to amend the situation. When the buddy room teacher has a moment, he/she speaks with the troubled student. By this time, the student has had time to cool down and is able to communicate with a staff member who was not part of the problem, but who has a close relationship with the child. It works remarkably well.

I'm really enjoying my time in the classroom at Crosswinds. The students, all seventh or eighth graders, are a very diverse group, both economically and racially. They are very comfortable in their surroundings and the sense of a trusting, close-knit community is strong.

My supervising teacher, TL. has turned out to be just the kind of educator I respect. He has nine years of teaching experience, is thoughtful and calm in the classroom, has a passion for the kids and the job, and a keen interest in education in general. We've already spent a great deal of time discussing the philosophy and the future of the education in the U.S. We need more teachers like TL., far too many of our colleagues are ignorant or disinterested in anything save their immediate classroom needs.

I am already beginning to take over portions of the instruction and have received positive and constructive feedback from TL. As I watch him effortlessly and calmly manage twenty to twenty-five junior high students, I recognize that his patient, but insistent, brand of classroom management is a skill I need to observe closely.

I've come a long way from my first year teaching, when I frequently engaged and argued with students, constantly losing the battle, but I have a long way to go to catch up to TL.

It is Saturday today and I find my thoughts drifting back to the faces of the kids that I met during the week, a sure sign that I am quickly becoming fond of them. Despite all my moaning about this assignment, I am already sure I will miss it when the term is over.

1 comment:

  1. You make some good points above.
    However, I also think that this can be helpful to you:
    Go to: http://www.panix.com/~pro-ed/

    If you get this book and video: PREVENTING Classroom Discipline Problems, [they are in many libraries, so you don't have to buy them] email me and I can refer you to the sections of the book and the video [that demonstrates the effective vs. the ineffective teacher] that can help you.

    [I also teach an online course on these issues that may be helpful to you at:
    www.ClassroomManagementOnline.com ]

    If you cannot get the book or video, email me and I will try to help.
    Best regards,

    Howard

    Howard Seeman, Ph.D.
    Professor Emeritus,
    City Univ. of New York

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