Sunday, December 8, 2013

A dented patchwork circle: new school, new impressions

This was my first week in my new school, which means I've been going through a few simultaneous transitions: (1) from middle schoolers to 11th and 12th graders, (2) from a 15-mile commute to a 1.5-mile commute, and (3) from a high-performing to a very diverse, high-need school.

I could not be more excited.

This first week was challenging because my partner-teacher and I were making a transition we could not inform them about fully until the end of the week. Also, he is beloved, which makes him a tough act to follow. But he is also my friend, so it was good, I think, for the kids to see that even math teachers have math teacher friends and that we are working hard to support them in a difficult transition. We did a restorative circle with Advisory so that everyone could be heard in the process of leave-taking, and we will do a round of circles with everybody tomorrow, Monday, to acknowledge the transition and to embody the process of support.

Our talking piece for circle practice is The Batman Ball — a small, inflated rubber ball with Batman on it that moved around the circle as each participant expressed his or her feelings about our shared situation.

What really struck me was their honesty and their authenticity. They honored the circle and each other. And they were willing to give me a chance. I know I will probably receive some of their displaced frustration and feelings of abandonment over the next few weeks, but they were making positive, honest effort that was moving to witness. For the guys in the class, it was especially hard. Most of them have at least one strong female authority figure in their lives, but for many of them, Mr. T was it — their one adult male role model: a young, whip-smart, kind, funny, warm, math-wizardy hipster with oversized glasses, a ready smile, and a heart the size of the ocean.

"Meetings end in departures," the Buddha said, but the fact that it's true doesn't make it any easier. They're still here, and now with me, but their hearts are going to be hurting for a little while. Plus we have finals coming up.

The other thing that made me happy to see was that they are incredibly capable math learners — more capable than they realize. Our department uses complex instruction pretty much exclusively, which was one of the reasons I really wanted to teach there. These gum-cracking wiseacres some of whom live in situations which are hard for most of us to imagine will sit their butts down in their table groups and do group work. I mean serious, collaborative mathematics.

The fact that they don't yet believe in themselves is a different problem. But that is a workable problem too.

My classroom is across the hall from the Special Ed department's special day class, and they are generous with their chilled filtered water and holiday cheer.

So tomorrow is another new beginning. I am trying to stay open and to notice and not to hesitate as I jump in. I am dressing warmly, drinking lots of water, and making effort to be present with an open heart. Looking forward to seeing what happens next.


  1. I'd say you are well-prepared for your new adventure! Best wishes for a successful first day!

  2. Yay!! What courses are you teaching? My classroom is across from the special ed life skills class and I love it. Quiet hallways and opens my kids eyes a bit wider.