Man in the Mirror (Starting with…)

Looking back over my six previous blog posts, there are two major themes that emerge under one umbrella, and that umbrella is really personal connection.

The personal connection plays out in two ways.  First, I continue to return to the importance of keeping my content relevant to my students.  This probably comes up for me a lot  because I taught in a school that was mainly composed of immigrant families, and for whom typical canon-type material was often difficult to for students to understand.  Years later, I still suffer from memories of the frustrations I encountered teaching standard texts such as To Kill a Mockingbird.  My largely Latino population just didn’t “get” these books at all.  I didn’t have much choice in which novels I taught, but my greater latitude in areas such as poems and short stories is a way in which I might have increased relevancy for my students.  I did try, at the time, but you can only do so much on the first and second and even third pass at this job.  If I were to teach these classes again, I would try to improve in that area.  This theme of relevancy probably resonates more strongly with me than with some other class members who have students more familiar with white culture and American pop culture, as well…and who speak English!

The idea of making a connection plays out for me, personally as well.  I consistently write a blog entry that draws upon something we read that week and then finds some personal connection to a key concept or idea.  In her book Talking From 9 to 5, Deborah Tannen explains that, unlike men,  women tend to show sympathy with another person’s problems by listening to them complain and then telling about a matching problem of their own (she calls this “Troubles Talk”).  If that’s true, then I definitely fit the model!  My way of connecting with the suggested classroom practices is by digging into my past as a teacher and finding an example where that practice came into play for me – either when I tried to use it (such as the attempt to get my students to re-read texts) OR when I might have had better insight and unsuccessfully did something else (such as my recurring issues with teaching Jane Eyre).  Some of my blog posts are a reflection upon past practices that I enacted as an inexperienced teacher who had very little formal training or support.  In the case of Sonny’s Blues, this craving for connection manifested itself in the form of my personal link to Sonny’s experience.   During Gee’s week, I drew upon my own experience of playing the September 12th game.  In all cases, I would rather think about how the readings relate to my own experience than talk about sticking with theories or ideas I haven’t yet tried out.

What do I think of this obsession with personal connection?  In many ways, I’m still trying to recover from three very tough years in a failing school, where I received little support and a lot of responsibility. I remember a few sweet victories, but I am still trying to find a way to once again believe that success is possible with most students.  I am trying, through my discussion of past failures and personal feelings, to find new ways to attack problems that still haunt me.  Hopefully, as the class continues, I can continue to envision new and positive ways to get back to the business of teaching.