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25 in the collection  

    The Hole of Discouragement

    I'm discouraged.

    By many things.

    Coincidentally I posted about martyrdom ...thought a bit more about being a woman in teaching and polarities this sickness week as I led 6 year old kids through 3 hours of Theme Skill testing, (think worksheets in a heavy book), in my "designated, Adopted, Mandated" curriculum in an Under performing School in CA on a day I tried too early to return to work after suffering pneumonia.

    Also in my "other" life started a new series of drawings this week, waiting to see if this gets "legs" â€Â¦..I'm thinking of illustrating a book my husband wrote twenty years ago called, "The Hole." It's a story of a hole kids fall into after being mean to each other. It's a "morality tale" he says, set out in a big vacant play yard, not so subtle, suddenly you are down the hole. Funny in some ways. Drawing a parallel, there are times when it would be nice to think this is how it goes. Opps, down the hole, see ya.

    Not a subtle story at all actually, The Hole, but using cooperation these kids have a chance to grow up a little. In the story they invent the notion of mutual goals and respect. And climb out making a kid ladder. Unlike Lord of the Flies, they eventually work together, but like that book it is a world without adults. There is much, much trial and error to get the cooperative piece in place. Jack wrote his story in reaction to gang cultures we taught within in another part of the state. The needs we saw teaching social skills he answered with tales that might help children with life. The interesting thing was children who were cooperative or bullied often liked the thought of others going down a hole while those with issues seemed to connect to getting out. I used it for years as an activity where they drew the pictures to illustrate, because how to visually see this "hole" and the cooperative and naughty preceding pieces were images the students drew with fascinating variation. The scene is set on the play yard where in play too often resolutions are based on size and pathology. Now I suppose it's my turn to draw.

    I've illustrated another story from our teaching, The Little Red Hen Thinks Again, written by a friend, Steven Clark a fellow teacher, about a hen who decides her perception she did all the work might have been a tad over-stated or at least over-felt. Perhaps, she thinks, the other animals fulfilled other functions she did not fully appreciate. In the story she is additionally missing company in her life. A story of looking at things in another way, in another's shoes. Very hard to put on someone else shoes. Ever actually try itâ€Â¦..it's one of the most uncomfortable things to do. Besides drawing shoes, which is a phenomenal art experience, just switching shoes with another student can create a visual way to address in a classroom the idea of looking from another's perspectives. Something right now fairly challenging to me on an adult level.

    But as I was saying today,
    I am very weak and discouraged. Tummy blown out.

    "Contexts" often mean a great deal in our perceptions. I'm ill a good bit these last few years and it's a context I work to off-set. But at times it creeps all over your being like a vortex or hole and also your work like a form of moss..my husband calls this the "recurring self pity strand". I am fortunate in his zero self-pity tolerance policies and tendency to refocus me on something like crocheting some hats or going for the nightly walk or just watching the sports highlights and chill. Listen to the Joni, pull out the cat. Get over it already and do something.

    My students looked older Thursday. Going in to work finally. Really good to see my kidsâ€Â¦Ă˘€Â¦they acted very well, were loving and happy I was back. No child had a complaint about their subs. They were positive, good work was left, if a bit seat-worky. Nothing was hurt or damaged. They had a great fieldtrip to a zoo while I was gone and drew phenomenal pictures of four memories for our "Memory Albums". So I could see what I missed. From these I do feel the trip. Especially the monkeys. I should post these but I left them at school. The monkeys were very active drawings with the animals across the entire pictorial plane with overlapping, fascinating positive and negative space. So essentially I had very affirming day working with very positive and earnest students. Talking to peers at lunch was wonderful. I forgot how much I appreciate them. They were very supportive.

    And yet the "discouraged".

    It might be my bronchial and other meds. I'm very susceptible to meds. Maybe the prolonged absence from my routines, maybe â€Â¦..a part of a personal growth phase as I sort and consider what I do in teaching. I've journaled for 24 years my school days mostly the issues just for personal reflection. In 132 posts here I've put some of those thoughts into bloggingâ€Â¦it maybe reflected out in this material is a juncture time is needed. What is a routine teaching process for me, I'm sure needs form. My time to make some decisions is necessary. But it is not completely here yet in my headâ€Â¦. I may be overwhelmed.

    But I am discouraged and for a readerâ€Â¦it seems something I'll lay out like all else. A piece of a day's life. It's nothing but this.

    I began to comment and read blogs because I was home in the last two years thinking about teaching over 24 or so years, recovering from cancer surgeries. It kind of propels you into risking saying and reflecting aloud having several intestinal cancer surgeries. It's rather freeing in that way. Why not, you know? I did not know so much extraordinary writing existedâ€Â¦and I'm still amazed by what is on-line.

    Lots to try to filter.

    I really don't like to look only from one place...and I think in the main if all my stories were actually read it might be obvious that I'm not completely sure what is going on ever....but I know it's valuable to discuss something going very wrong. NCLB changes have been less than positive in my context.

    I recall the efforts to silence from times when silence served ends.I wasn't happy remaining silent and find I'm discouraged trying to articulate what teachers do and what seems unproductive in these changes.

    Looking now at the role of women and teaching I think....ummm....what exactly did women do in the 20th century in teaching. They educated our young at a lower wage and with lower esteem. It's not excusable under any gilding of the lily is it? And I feel now they are being "blamed" and scapegoated in another way. If nothing else NCLB certainly made it embarrassing to say you worked in a certain school. And that happened coincided with poverty areas where the job is harder. Way too much correlation. It finally hit me, this occupation is one in which women had the field, and now is strongly under attack. And it just may be worth understanding from a gender perspective. I certainly intend this month to focus on women and teaching. But like many things I may be wrong...I need to look.

    I am very discouraged because I do "care" and I do work hard and I do "sacrifice" to a great degree doing this job, and I'm not reframing that for others as ....well maybe she cared a lot but she wasn't really "getting results". That's unfair. In fact my anecdotal look, as well as many other ways of looking at that work , shows results. Whatever that "means". The smoke is screening the real reasons for the achievement gaps with this kind of discussion.

    But I believe not enough students from my schools went to college, not enough out of tough situations. Not 100%. That's awful. But if money gets you in, and data indicated affluence does is it fair to assert poverty schools can get you in with methodology? Wouldn't money really do it? I don't know if I can post the stories where my students died in gang issues, or were hurt by systems, neglect or simply tell about things through time like that, but they are stories of everything gone sour. I wasn't a movie nor the savior of everyone. Nor did I vision my role that way. And at times I'm indicted by my failure to figure out better ways, or justâ€Â¦it couldn't work. So I learned to teach by teaching.

    Much of the last five years all I've wanted to say to so many was if you were in my shoes you might understand it's not working here. What NCLB initiated here did not lift this. It was not creative, elevating, joyous, positiveâ€Â¦.it was not an improvement. And it's not meant to work. It's really not meant to work out. When you have at the core the idea of 100% success flying in the face of human possibility coupled with the inane notion of punishing the people willing to do the work, you have a very clear desire to turn it into farce. · A ludicrous, empty show; a mockery. You know that is a burden that I do carry along with my peers.

    I don't carry it lacking hope or desire to do things differently or well, and it's very difficult inside of this to contextualize that. I kept my logs, work, looked reaching out trying to see if I could look more broadly at where kids "got to" after our work with them in school. When they come back, and many have, I hear what came next. To me that's the REAL DATA SET.

    A student wrote me on-line at Christmas who graduated from a prestigious university and is now working in design:

    Dear Mrs. Puglisi,

    Where do I even begin? Well I graduated in June from UCSB. I entered persuing Computer Engineering, but I think a seed you planted in 6th grade bloomed my junior year and I took up Art Studio. I emphasized in digital media. An example of what that is my senior project, where I made a mouse-like USB device that used accelerometers inside a glove. So by the wave of the hand you can control anything a mouse can. I also took a great interest in photography I am putting together a portfolio at (deleted)and since I have such a high regard for you here is a preview to a shoot I did this past week. (also deleted for his privacy)

    During the summer I was working on campus doing computer consulting work, mostly supervising (I had been with this company all through college). Now I am on an indefinite vacation. I'm thinking I will have all my life to work why not take a little break. Financially sound. I definitely need one after my college career. Plus it's has given me a little time to do things like this. Well, I think this is a good start.

    I haven't done this with any of my former teachers. It was not until college that I had a teacher as influential as you, and that still leaves you in pool of just a hand-full of people. I know I may have not conveyed that to you the last time we met, so I thought it was pertinent to let you know that now. Thank you for everything.

    I never figured this student for design either. I thought he would be a lawyer. I developed a model economy in the room for him. We ran "Starville", even had courts and a stock-market. He was so entrepreneurial and wanted to understand how the world worked. It helps fight discouragement these kinds of letters because he had the potentials and I tried to give him a year with future. One to last a lifetime. I so enjoy this. It is not something I can defend with assessments like state tests though this student did wellâ€Â¦it was something else. It was â€Â¦.a value additive experience. Evidentially that year mattered to his peers as so many have contacted me over the years too. The year I taught a 6th grade how to build a model economy from a Harvard Ed article that inspired our vision for constructing another layer over top of what we were doing already. Value additive.

    In part you teach through commitment.

    It's not a factory production of a new car. It's not a superior design factory for a technologically sound engine. It is a work to produce happier people. Effective people, people who have the legs to go that mile and a half.

    I may be perceived or framed or occasionally unable within the limits of my writing to talk to teaching as it exists in my real world.... there is so much I read in these blogs which is not sounding like actual classrooms.That worries me.

    So I write my broccoli story about seeing the end of a man's life on the highway. I don't "know" the meaning completely. One might read it in a million ways, ecstatic, as a sign of God, as a spirit, as the nothingness of an inconsequential moment in the middle of nowhere, the meaning meant to be contextualized by the one experiencing the moment and then using it to construct their meanings. But just the same as I listen and hear.....I do not find this belabored "why" of schools a really great way to go....it's as if one answer is desired .Again it's too far away from school "as it is". It's as if there is a perception that we are able to believe there is a Star Trek place where school and learning is a perfect construct of everyone in their role, accountable, efficient, operating with all the tools and the systems all go ready for the galactic journey. Warp speed. A possession of stream-lined efficiency and expertise turning work with children into scientific study and laser vision. I find this discouraging.

    A school teacher at my level in 1st grade is many things, nose wiper, arranger of lessons, listener, care giver, caring nurturing has been, also a significant and valued part of the work. Wanting to explain that and using words to do so carrying emotional impact is not a lesser form of discussion, nor is it less Trek....it's a way of seeing the things inherent in helping children mature in a classroom context. It is a very human and humane activity. It is about the nature of human interaction. It is not digitized nor Standardized. Not really and not fair enough to the work to see it this way.

    Because I do place construction of meaning at the individual level, in a person, because I see the need for each child to become personally engaged in their learning, I gravitated towards looking at each child, each day, each situation, each teachable moment. As anecdote. Working on a still life or a drawing say of a flower or a portrait is somewhat comparable. What is here in this moment, in this particular piece, what has impact, what conveys meaning, what is superfluous, how can this be more valid and child driven? How can excellence evolve from this? And this led me in teaching decisions to looking at how much in a day was taught to a child not yet ready to learn that, not able to connect to your vehicles or already able to do something, looking how to elevate the situation into one where the child had context and ability to then...go beyond the transmission into higher order work. Themes help children do this. Integration helps them. When a teacher is empowered she is teaching empowerment. I can't answer "because they told me to", I need to answer because the square root has value â€Â¦.or let's see if we can find time to answer that.

    I suppose as I taught reading in smaller groups, trained with skills to diagnose what that particular child needed next, as I watched the child do better in that context, or do better in contexts where we did in fact make the subject more relevant through themes and setting up classroom situations aimed at meaning, I saw and gained personal teaching power.

    Maybe that's a poor written articulation of moves I made in my personal growth instructing. I know it was always all about ways to better assist students in finding abilities, talents, in learning something they were struggling to get. I looked at my data (and I kept more than anyone I ever met....)and I organized around thinking of what in the days of school they would need. Where are they going, why are they going there...what matters. Student doing poorly traditionally do not get the concepts of higher performing peers introduced to them a ridiculous barrier for them, this was a key issue for me and why I want that literature piece so firmly in place. It is about bringing Shakespeare to the hood. You need to be able to visualize, you need a very high standard for yourself, you need to work very hard to get especially what you don't find easy, you need math conceptual thinking, you need to read for meaning, you need to be able to compensate, you need to feel your individual strengths and I guess learn to operate as a good person. Your teacher has to help get you there. The teacher has to believe. I think actually that preoccupied some of my work as I taught in gang areas and found forces working against children very difficult to off-set.....

    ....and I began to think the last year or so having faced personal issues in cancer and living perhaps what often helped me was other older teachers, self reflection, reading, reaching out to understand, standing up when it mattered, the arts, trying to say something through one's inadequacy because in the end as I was in art I'm so very far from the best me, or the perfect artist or the Star Trek being...but just the same it might be better to talk about the situations.

    This all said I am discouraged. Discouraged by watching things in the job now devolving, discouraged by people in their competitive ownerships, discouraged by the cultural situations I'm seeing...some tell me this is middle age, it is a cycle of something very much a part of the facts at 47. I see the truth in this. At 47 you do switch from mother running the house for the little ones in to someone finding yourself again. A self needing personal meaning making....but just the same...I find it discouraging to hear so little joy in the world of teaching. It is so joyful a place potentially. It should be the Nell Noddings vision. . So little happiness I hear in the doing with kids. I find it discouraging, this might seem second place or in the way of achieving to some. I think it's the all of it . And that I find odd frankly to think joy and excellence are not hand holding partners. I hear so much leading me to wonder.

    My daughter Sylvia is a Merit Finalist, probably was a better writer at 9 than I am at 47. She is deft, hard working. Perfect, perfect in scores in all the ways our economy, schools, world deem "proven", maybe partially a product of my work as teacher, of my schools, of my orientations. Product of the contributions of others, but actually her own product. And yet right now accepted by so many school, receiving so many offers she is so upset, worried unhappy. Unhappy in hours of homework, controlling directed instruction, teachers with negative attitudes and tons of confidences that they know education...her relief in several teachers that inspired and were actually in love with their subjects and able to relate to her, challenge her, create context. Take the subject and make it zing.

    I have to answer to her for the why of those assigning her 8 hours of homework a night. It's not that she needs it...whether or not she has the concepts often beside the point. The issue so often one of doing more to prove we are doing something of value. Testing and testing and testing and testing eliminating so many of her peers from opportunities to get to the schools she gets to go to...it has been an experience of watching sorting...I'm discouraged because the tenor of all of it is in my view skewed. And for so many complicated reasons...reasons too much for a single time to try to address...discouraged I could not make this a world with less of this and more of that...this morning she and I discussed the coming of a "silent age" generation. Surely I see this...compliant, needing to produce, oriented toward money, production. Its the most interesting thing for me to watch her unable to act out, go out with friends and blow off a test, unable to not spend a thousand hours outlining a book she comprehended in 8th grade because Mrs. So and So took trainings and built her career on the idea outlining with various markers and making text notations and endless underlining and marking somehow gets you to the meaning of Lord of the Flies....it's discouraging to watch details replace rules and testing and rigidity replace something Mrs. So and So can address because she can't do deep meaning or create herself. She is a person who lacking content creates compliance. I think that'll be the issue of the coming age. Enormous sophisticated ways to sayâ€Â¦.what? Because creating meaning is not a rigid, controlled test based process.. . In a very real sense this is what I think is happening in schools so much assuring of our doing it right that we are forgetting to do it.

    This of course will be called intellectual shallow water.

    But anyway long time until we got out of the valley. It's the part of Lord of the Rings as I read when I thought...oh my this is getting to be so long and tedious and so tiring. I maybe will quit reading. And because I know humans are involved that humans have capacities, surprises, righting or as Jung write about these forces that shift and reorient, I know that I can't take this discouragement as a real thingâ€Â¦. It's a place of wandering into darkness.

    I have to recall that to the unborn sheep the spring is unfathomable .

    I'm very discouraged in the ways teaching, improvement, accounting, what is going on is sounding....but I know these words form my life spring.

    "they could not grasp it if they knew what so soon would wake and grow, utterly unlike the snow."

    And as a teacher I 'm ever called to believe in spring .


    First Sight

    Phillip Larkin

    Lambs that learn to walk in snow
    When their bleating clouds the air
    Meet a vast unwelcome, know
    Nothing but a sunless glare.
    Newly stumbling to and fro
    All they find, outside the fold
    Is a wretched width of cold.
    As they wait beside the ewe,
    Her fleeces wetly caked, there lies
    Hidden round them, waiting too,
    Earth's immeasurable surprise.
    They could not grasp it if they knew,
    What so soon will wake and grow
    Utterly unlike the snow.

    2007-03-05 05:34:12


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