"This is a community of learners, and you must treat everyone with respect and compassion- especially when it's hard to do."
How poignant this quote from William Ayers is for me! In this segment of a comic within a comic, Ayers grabs a few sage words of wisdom from his son Malik's fifth grade teacher. In a flashback frame on page 38, we see a kind looking mustached-man - Malik's teacher - addressing an astounded group of ten-year-olds as he establishes three rules: 1) you can chew gum; 2) you can wear hats; and 3) the aforementioned quote that will be posted prominently in my own classroom this year.
Chapter Three calls for taking a step back from the daily grind; the constant interruptions from the intercom, unexpected walk-throughs and technological glitches, and general classroom management. Rather than focus on the negative, says Ayers, we should take into account the positive message that we as teachers want our classrooms, our daily mantras, and every single interaction that takes place within our classrooms to reflect. Ayers challenges us to find strengths in all of our students, and to utilize those strengths to make the community within the class cohesive and high-functioning. He uses a metaphor of an empty box, which symbolizes a void that can be filled with life. His empty box represents the unlimited possibilities that I have in making a comfortable niche for every one of my diverse learners.
There are so many heartbreaking images in the first five chapters of Ayers' graphic novel; we see parents on the edge of their seats anticipating a horrible report about their "troubled" child; we see administrators shaking their heads about poor lost causes, and we students being unfairly labeled by other students in the classroom. Every teacher has at least one of "those students"; the troublemakers, the unseen, the "at risk," or more aptly coined by Dr. Janet Johnson "underserved" kids. Ayers implores teachers to find "spaces that speak and work for us," and in doing so, to create safe and comfortable environments so that EVERY child has a voice.
It is so hard at times to treat everyone with respect; especially in a classroom full of 30 students, 7 or 8 of whom are traditional "troublemakers." There are invisible students, highly visible students, academically outstanding students and academically poor students in any mix, but as teachers, we try to reach all of them. I have always believed that we must work to find the good in all people, but Ayers challenged me to take this goodness to the next level. He calls for action; he shows how we can utilize every student's strengths and talents to promote student-to-student teaching. It seems so simple- so obvious, even- yet, somehow, I missed it! I want to draw on my students' interests to encourage creativity and spark new lesson ideas. I hope to use my students' strengths to help them find a valuable role in the classroom.
That being said, there is always a fair share of heckling and animosity that I detect from student to student, year to year. This is why this quote speaks to me.
On Friday, I received my first email from guidance asking that I not seat Student X near Student Y in one of my classes. This email didn't sit well with me when I read it on Friday, and after reading Ayers' graphic novel, it infuriates me even more. Of course, I will honor the email for the time being, but I will be focusing some of my attention on team building among X and Y. I want X and Y to treat each other with respect and compassion, ESPECIALLY BECAUSE IT'S HARD TO! I will be actively working to create a respectful, kind environment where every single student brings value and a voice to a table. I will be focusing on these two kids and looking forward to any ideas and suggestions from our cohort!