December 28, 2010

Racism in the classroom

Is the topic I'm supposed to be writing about for a class essay.  Racism is without a doubt an extremely complex issue.  My school is very mono cultural, and I'm told that the few students who are Aboriginal don't openly want to identify as such either (and they don't "look" it).  We've learnt a lot about how these social issues translate into the classroom: same-sex attraction, family change...  There's not enough time to fully understand their implications.  And I suspect 90% of how I'll learn to deal with it is in the classroom.  But I'll have at least some awareness and basic tools for understanding that the most important thing is having a functional classroom environment.  I'm going for absolutely a zero-tolerance, consistent approach to handling racism issues (as well as bullying etc.)  It's super easy to say this now of course.  I imagine when I start teaching it'll be pretty overwhelming.

Already I'm on complete information overload.  My brain is having difficulty handling everything I'm learning.
My brain right now: information overload
To set the context of where I'm at - Teach for Australia (TFA) has an initial intensive which is a 6-7 week program before associates go into schools to begin teaching.  It's going on right now.

Over this period, we're cramming more than a third of a Dip Ed from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, as well as additional TFA training courses at night.  We also have a 2 week summer school which we need to design, run and organise for about 20 kids.  That's happening in a week (!*#@%(!) So to say it's "intense" is rather an understatement.  Classes run from 9am-9pm+.  We break for lunch and dinner and recently I've been using the 1 hour lunch to nap.  Then I do homework until 1am.  I haven't had much chance to see any friends in Melbourne.  Well if it's supposed to be extra training for the exhaustion, unpredictability and chaos that will be my first year of teaching then at least I'll be a bit more prepared :P  But it's what I signed up for and it's what I'm mentally prepared for (as much as I can be!)  

And I'm not complaining at all.  This is an amazing period where I'm learning and trying to absorb so much each day.  We've met Brendan Murray who co-founded the Pavilion School, all the inspiring and helpful associates from TFA Cohort 1, David Faulkner who's an advocate of rural teaching and improving indigenous education, the Australian teacher of the year 2010...  Plus being surrounded by 40 other diverse, talented and brilliant people in my cohort and getting to know them has been saving my sanity knowing we're all in this craziness together.

Over our 2 year contract period, we continue studying and have an 80% teaching load.  By the end, we're a semester away from a Master of Teaching and can become registered teachers with the Victorian Institute of Teaching.  It's an alternative into a teaching career, and I think it's attracting a lot more people who wouldn't otherwise have though of going into teaching.  

I think this can only be a good thing, especially for trying to raise the status of teaching in Australia.  There's more to life than working in an investment bank/corporate law firm/management consultancy/the UN, but for most high achievers it's difficult to think outside of those boxes especially if everyone around you is going into it (or studying at the world's best universities/creating amazing companies/excelling at their Brilliant Careers).  Certainly when I was unhappily working at a law firm and trying to think of escape routes I was very narrow-minded with my options.  Teaching wasn't my first choice initially.  Suddenly realising I'd spent 7 years studying/working in a field I wasn't particularly enjoying - it's hard to give that up.  I looked into Masters of Laws courses and felt my heart sink.  No matter how wide-ranging a law career can be, it's still the law, and for me it became... boring, unsatisfying, draining.  I wasn't suited to dissecting and drafting contracts, studying hundred-page legal documents, scanning and reviewing evidence for litigation.  

You might not believe me, but some people are actually very, very, very good at these sorts of things, and love the thrill of negotiating technical legal points of billion-dollar infrastructure deals, hammering down the other side (and earning millions of dollars each year).  But working within the adversarial nature of the legal system, while promoting the ideals of justice and fairness, was just not appealing to me in practice.  In practice, it wasn't like that at all.  There's a reason why Danny Crane and Alan Shore smoked their cigars on the balcony of the Boston Legal set late at night, one of them lived in hotel rooms and the other had lots of ex-wives.  I could probably talk at length about this, and the high rates of depression for lawyers, or the business of law and mega law firms, but I think I've suitably expressed my bitterness enough as it is.

Bottom line:  I'm out of that now and I am loving the teaching gig.  It feels so right for right now (or for the rest of my life) and there are lots of exciting times ahead.

If there's one video you watch this whole week, you should watch this one.  It's Taylor Mali, on what teachers make.  WATCH IT!      

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