Monday, November 28, 2005

Unruly classes and first class blues!

I got a link to this really cool extract via Kitabkhana.
Professors of education at New York University never lectured on how to handle flying sandwich situations. They talked about theories and philosophies of education, about moral and ethical imperatives, about the necessity of dealing with the whole child, the gestalt, if you don't mind, the child's felt needs, but never about critical moments in the classroom.
Petey said, Yo, teacher, that's my sandwich you et.

Class told him, Shaddap. Can't you see the teacher is eating?

I licked my fingers. I said, Yum, made a ball of paper bag and wax paper and flipped it into the trash basket. The class cheered. Wow, they said, and Yo, baby, and M-a-a-a-n. Look at dat. He eats the sandwich. He hits the basket. Wow.
A certainly-not-to-be-missed piece. It has its hilarous moments (like the one about the suicide note). But it is also full of wisdom:
They were high school department heads or had other important jobs and I disliked them the way I disliked anyone with power over me, bosses, bishops, college professors, tax examiners, foremen in general. Even so, I wondered why people like these examiners are so impolite they make you feel unworthy. I thought if I were sitting in their place I'd try to help candidates overcome their nervousness. If young people want to become teachers they should be encouraged.

That is what I felt at the time but I didn't know the ways of the world. I didn't know that people up there have to protect themselves against people down here.
The classroom is a place of high drama. You'll never know what you've done to, or for, the hundreds coming and going. You see them leaving the classroom: dreamy, flat, sneering, admiring, smiling, puzzled. After a few years you develop antennae. You can tell when you've reached them or alienated them. It's chemistry. It's psychology. It's animal instinct. You are with the kids and, as long as you want to be a teacher, there's no escape.
This is where teacher turns serious and asks the Big Question: What is education, anyway? What are we doing in this school? You can say you are trying to graduate so that you can go to college and prepare for a career. But, fellow students, it's more than that. I've had to ask myself what the hell I'm doing in the classroom. I've worked out an equation for myself. On the left side of the blackboard I print a capital F, on the right side another capital F. I draw an arrow from left to right, from Fear to Freedom. I don't think anyone achieves complete freedom, but what I am trying to do with you is drive fear into a corner.
In spite of that killing price of nineteen pounds, I would still love to own a copy if the extract is any indication. Next time I should remember to check the book and browse through it - in Strand may be.

By the way, take a look at this extracts page of Guardian and Happy Reading!


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