Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Influences—Positive vs. Negative

At the end of my first week here, a former Wingfield student (dropped out in May) killed himself playing Russian Roulette. I was talking to a student a few days later, and she told me they all knew him, and that another one of her friends got shot in the head the same weekend. Today, I found a small bag of marijuana on the floor during the middle of class. I’ve been thinking about all of this lately and this is what I realized:
It’s all about influences. We can either influence students positively or negatively, but they will be influenced. I was visiting Jim Hill High after school the other day, and I saw some Sigma Betas. Sigma Beta Club is a high school brotherhood that my fraternity (Phi Beta Sigma) sponsors. I thought to myself, “Why not use organizations like these to create a positive influence?” Anyway, Sigma Beta is set up to inspire young men ages 6-18 to be productive, and to go to college. I read the other day that such organizations are banned in JPS ( I’m not sure if this group had found a way around the rules).
I think high school fraternities/sororities are exactly what JPS needs. If watched carefully (to prevent hazing and gang-style problems), these clubs would lead young men and women in the right direction. Observing handshakes, slang, jewelry, and clothing, I know that the school has a gang issue. I was talking to a student about his membership in GD (Gangster Disciples), and he seemed to think it wasn’t dangerous. I couldn’t help but think, what if he had chosen to embrace a group with positive goals?
I know fraternities/sororities could lead to hazing and other problems, but I think they could also work to change the gang/drug culture to one with college as a goal. After all, JPS is in a city with several colleges and a university. Why not use the available resources to at least try to change for the better?

A New Day—A New Experience

The new school year has started, and I’m at Wingfield High School in south Jackson. I left the Delta (Simmons High in Hollandale) in search of a new experience. So far, I’m definitely seeing a different side of education in Mississippi schools. Last year, poverty and teen pregnancy seemed to be noticeable characteristics; this year it’s gang culture and profanity. Fortunately, I feel like I’ve developed skills that help with my classroom management. As a result, I don’t feel like I’m as overwhelmed as last year. Of course, there are those days when I say to myself, “ I didn’t sign up to be a babysitter!” However, most days are good ones that inspire me.
The teaching load is a lot different this year; I only teach Spanish 1 this year, as opposed to Spanish 1, English 3, and Drama last year. I feel like I can prepare myself more adequately. Even though JPS has tons of district-wide rules, policies, and requests, I’m slowly finding ways to mold the Spanish classes to my personality. I’m not a big fan of block scheduling, but I have decided to make it work for me. I will use the first hour to discuss and practice grammar. We will use the last 30 minutes to analyze and discuss issues related to culture. Based on last year’s classes, I think topics such as bilingual education, the future of Cuba, and illegal immigration will be interesting and relevant to the students’ lives.
Probably the best part of being a 2nd year teacher is not being a 1st year teacher. I have more confidence in myself and in my abilities as a teacher. I think this confidence has an impact on the overall atmosphere of the classroom. I’m far from perfect, but I can definitely see myself getting better.
One last thing about my new experience is the irony of class size. In a school and district that’s heavily overcrowded ( a school originally built for 700 hundred but expecting 1300-1400 this year), I actually have small classes. My classes range between 18 and 24, and if things stay the same I’ll be counting my blessings. I definitely can’t complain this year because for the negatives, there are just as many positives.