As a unionized charter school teacher in the State of Wisconsin, I’ve had about 12 different blogs in beta-draft mode. I’m not sure if it’s a lack of courage, moment of tact, or sense of being on an island that’s caused me not to hit the ‘Publish’ button. It sure has been an interesting few weeks. Last week over 30,000 colleagues were protesting at the Capital in Madison. Over the next several weeks, I’m committing myself to writing about the profession I love and all the great things that I see happening. I want to write about the change agents. Who are the people doing big things and how are they getting things done? I’m calling this the Spotlight Series.
Marcia Van Hout
I’m in my fourth year working with Marcia. She’s the Credit Recovery Coordinator at CORE Charter School (full disclosure: I’m actively recruiting her to be the Building Coordinator and Community Outreach Specialist at Kornerstone School). Marcia has a skill set that cannot be taught. She’s raised three very successful children who are also good human beings. She is able to connect with any student. Right now, we work in a credit-recovery charter school located inside a 1300+ student high school. We have between 16-20 students at a time. I am the bad cop. Marcia is the good cop. Her ability to connect with students led to an incredible project.
Over the last few years, our community has had a dramatic increase in teen pregnancy. From what other colleagues across the Midwest have told me, our community is not alone. Teenage girls are having babies at a rate higher than they were a few years ago. I don’t have stats to back this up, and I’m not going to Google Scholar to find it (sidebar: will Google Scholar ever come out of Beta?). I’m telling you what I’m seeing at the local/micro level.
Around Thanksgiving, Marcia told me of an idea that had been running through her head. She told me something like this…
I want to do something for the young moms who already have their baby. You know people like (insert former student’s name here). They get a whole bunch of stuff right away, but what about when they’ve had the baby and the baby gets a little older. Everyone gets stuff for Christmas. Why don’t we do something for after Christmas when people are running out of stuff.
My response: go for it.
And she did. Marcia opened up the project to the students of CORE Charter School. Two students jumped into the project instantly. They made blankets for the infants. They created a promotional video which aired on the announcements to the entire high school. The two students created several posters to advertise their project. The project was called Tender Loving Care.
When the students returned from Christmas Break, they passed out grocery bags to over 100 classrooms in the high school. My main concerns was about getting supplies. What if these two students and Marcia put in all this work and nobody contributed supplies to the project. On Monday, February 7th, I walked into my room and my fears were met with the this reality: people do care. In fact, they care an awful lot.
All of the products above were taken to Family Services, Parent Connection. I should have taken more pictures. Diapers, thermometers, and a whole bunch of other necessities were located on the floor in grocery bags.
One person had an idea. She shared that idea with two students. Student voice and student choice took over. Think about all the different content areas covered with this project? Marketing, Health, English, Social Studies, Family & Consumer Science, and Art. What was most intriguing to me as a teacher was the level of engagement by the students. It became their work. The pride. The time on task. The thoroughness. All of those facets that I desperately try to create in my own units were present at never before seen levels. And this wasn’t my unit. This was an idea of someone who works with kids and knows what people need.
It’s great to have ideas. But I get sick of my own ideas. It’s even greater to see other people carry out their ideas.
I’m in start-up mode for a new charter school. Our mission is to prepare students for their profession of choice. Our pedagogy: combine student directed Project-Based Learning with Service-Learning. I am running on low in so many areas. I need a team. I need thought partners. I need to be told I have good ideas. I need to be told I’m an idiot. I need to be asked, “How will that impact the kids.” See, I get all of that feedback on a daily basis from two places. 1. Marcia 2. Coaching. Marcia always keeps me on my feet. She constantly challenges my ideas and forces me to be kid-centered when my big ideas get too big. I know my team will be assembled in just a few months. I know I’m forming new thought partners, it’s slow and not fast enough. I want to flow now, and that’s just not how professional relationships are formed. That’s not how K-12 public education works.
Right now teacher morale is very low. People are scarred. It’s a late to work early to go home time. Motivation is low. What will our Governor do and how will it affect me? My district has layoffs for economic reasons for the first time. And for some reason, I’m not as worried as I probably should be. This State will always need great teachers. And while I’m far from that (far, far); I would put myself in the ’emerging’ category. I teach for a living. It’s the only thing I know, and while I’m only in my 4th year, and I haven’t hit my 30th birthday, I’m sure as hell happy I was lucky enough to land at place where this Spotlight Series will take place.
Next week – Coaching with champions
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