A kindred soul in our school

This afternoon, after lunch (and those who teach will tell you the vagaries of THAT particular time) we gathered about 25 school staff and students for a chat with an interesting guest speaker via Skype – Ira Socol. If you don’t know Ira I recommend you check his blog and/or connect with on Twitter – you won’t regret it.

I didn’t want any long convoluted introductions of Ira, just a few factual ‘hooks’ about him (can’t read or write ‘properly’ as many would have it, hated ‘normal’ school, called ‘retard and dumb’, used to be a cop in South Bronx and similar) to start the questions going. This was always going to be a two-way street, not a one-way delivery.

It was wonderful to be a part of the conversation Ira had with our kids. First, he disarmed the initial posturing many would find offensive and rude with simple “yeah, that’s what I was doing when I was like you, I’ve seen it all”. Huh 😀

Ira's skype-in ...

He introduced himself and told us about himself a bit, showed on Google Maps where he worked, grew up, attended school. Of course, being a cop in Bronx was a cool thing to explore. Did you get shot? Did you get to shoot anyone? Did you see any drug deals? and so on were begged to be asked and answered. We also touched on his difficulties in dealing with dyslexia and ways in which people have helped Ira out and the ways he has had to ‘strategise’ to do things he really wanted to do all along.

Among many things, Ira also spoke with deep respect for the late Alan Shapiro as the teacher or rather a person who has affected his life so strongly and things he had done for him. One of our students asked, insightfuly: Where would you be without that person? The reply was vintage Ira: “I would  at best be a pre-fab concrete operator, do drugs and die young. Nothing wrong with concrete operators but only if by choice not as the only option and aspiration one has in life.”

The hour was at times chaotic, at times engaged, funny, noisy, thoughtful, with questions, big and small, exchanged both ways. We kicked a couple of kids out before they literally had a fight, a few left on their own, but towards the end, half a dozen moved closer to the screen and had a more personal chat with Ira. It was wonderful to see …

Through stories and anecdotes, the skype-in was laced with and concluded with Ira’s battle cry for education and life in a broader society – find what you really want to do and work out what is getting in the way of it, strategies to get it and deal with obstacles and successes along the way. Chase your passion and give a damn about yourself and others around you!

And speaking of passions …

Earlier today, I had the first student not just in our class but in the entire school present his first exhibition (a presentation of a project to parents and anyone else invited by the student, a prominent feature of Big Picture model)

This wasn’t a full term’s work or some deep exploration of a topic, it was more of a warm up to many of these in the future. The student spoke very confidently about the topic he chose: comparing parts of scooters, materials, prices, value etc. He acknowledged that there were many things he could explore further if he wanted (for example, materials in alloys scooters are made of, ways of welding, design of wheels etc…). Magically, we got to the point(s) where “I don’t know” did not make him sound stupid but more like an invitation for further exploration, if chosen.

I thanked the student not only as his advisory teacher but as a person wanting to buy scooters for his kids in the future. I genuinely learned A LOT from this young expert. And it was so damn fantastic to see this kid who has been ‘no good’ in so many places come alive as an expert, with confidence in something. His parents beamed with pride and promised to work together even closer with me and their son in the future.

Yes, passion and interest change things. And they are starting to change things for good at our school, despite the mountain of obstacles we as a community of learners have to overcome.

I think we’d make Ira proud 😀

PS Ira, thank you again for the ‘visit’ and apologies about the ungodly hour (1-2am).

14 comments

  1. Catherine Cronin

    What a wonderful post. How lucky you were to have Ira “visit” your classroom. Thanks for painting a picture of what an impact these kinds of visits can have. Best of luck with the rest of your teaching year. 🙂

  2. Catherine Cronin

    What a wonderful post. How lucky you were to have Ira “visit” your classroom. Thanks for painting a picture of what an impact these kinds of visits can have. Best of luck with the rest of your teaching year. 🙂

  3. human

    Indeed, it was great to have Ira drop in. We didn’t make a big pomp and fuss about it though, Ira was just ‘an interesting stranger’ to talk to. I think many kids found him and his stories very interesting. And we’ll never really know where he/we ‘made a dent’ anyhow. Doesn’t matter that we know, it matters that kids do. Cheers and thanks for kind wishes.

  4. human

    Indeed, it was great to have Ira drop in. We didn’t make a big pomp and fuss about it though, Ira was just ‘an interesting stranger’ to talk to. I think many kids found him and his stories very interesting. And we’ll never really know where he/we ‘made a dent’ anyhow. Doesn’t matter that we know, it matters that kids do. Cheers and thanks for kind wishes.

  5. Pam

    Tomas and crew,

    It’s so darn hard when you are 15 or 16 or 17 to think about the future, no matter what anyone has to say about it. What I’ve learned in life is that we all get a shot at choices- even when we think they don’t exist. Nothing else matters. I’ve also come to appreciate this about Ira – he doesn’t play old tapes- not about about what or could have happened differently, by his choice or someone else. I’ve learned that from him. Take care on the far side of the world… would love to see the scooter project if you ever decide to publish it online.

  6. Pam

    Tomas and crew,

    It’s so darn hard when you are 15 or 16 or 17 to think about the future, no matter what anyone has to say about it. What I’ve learned in life is that we all get a shot at choices- even when we think they don’t exist. Nothing else matters. I’ve also come to appreciate this about Ira – he doesn’t play old tapes- not about about what or could have happened differently, by his choice or someone else. I’ve learned that from him. Take care on the far side of the world… would love to see the scooter project if you ever decide to publish it online.

  7. Malyn

    Fabulous post. My favourite parts are these:

    Through stories and anecdotes, the skype-in was laced with and concluded with Ira’s battle cry for education and life in a broader society – find what you really want to do and work out what is getting in the way of it, strategies to get it and deal with obstacles and successes along the way. Chase your passion and give a damn about yourself and others around you!

    This resonates so much with my own philosophy and perhaps why I have a huge dislike (hate?) apathy. Care about something, someone, everyone.

    and also…

    … this kid who has been ‘no good’ in so many places come alive as an expert, with confidence in something.

    I pointed you towards Kathleen Cushman’s work. I’m reading her book, Fires in the Mind (same title as her website), and among her messages is precisely that – kids can be expert. and when they are confident in being an expert and aware of the processes to be one, there is hope that they can transfer such processes to other areas in their lives….a life with more meaning and direction. I haven’t finished the book yet I’ve already got so much out of it. Try to get hold of it here’s how it came about

    Personally, I’m considering going into Learning Support – a lateral move I’ve been toying with since becoming a teacher. I’m applying for a spot next year so wish me luck.

    All the best. I’d love to see a post regarding what is a normal day in your school like.

  8. Malyn

    Fabulous post. My favourite parts are these:

    Through stories and anecdotes, the skype-in was laced with and concluded with Ira’s battle cry for education and life in a broader society – find what you really want to do and work out what is getting in the way of it, strategies to get it and deal with obstacles and successes along the way. Chase your passion and give a damn about yourself and others around you!

    This resonates so much with my own philosophy and perhaps why I have a huge dislike (hate?) apathy. Care about something, someone, everyone.

    and also…

    … this kid who has been ‘no good’ in so many places come alive as an expert, with confidence in something.

    I pointed you towards Kathleen Cushman’s work. I’m reading her book, Fires in the Mind (same title as her website), and among her messages is precisely that – kids can be expert. and when they are confident in being an expert and aware of the processes to be one, there is hope that they can transfer such processes to other areas in their lives….a life with more meaning and direction. I haven’t finished the book yet I’ve already got so much out of it. Try to get hold of it here’s how it came about

    Personally, I’m considering going into Learning Support – a lateral move I’ve been toying with since becoming a teacher. I’m applying for a spot next year so wish me luck.

    All the best. I’d love to see a post regarding what is a normal day in your school like.

  9. Peter SW

    Great post Tomaz! Inspiring to get the kids hooked up with Ira.
    I bet that was their first video conference opportunity and it makes the world smaller and larger for them.
    The “other” becomes real and tangible. People over there really exist and the world is a place we share with others.

    Very inspiring bit about the scooter kid.

    Best wishes to you and the kids you teach.

    PeterSW

  10. Peter SW

    Great post Tomaz! Inspiring to get the kids hooked up with Ira.
    I bet that was their first video conference opportunity and it makes the world smaller and larger for them.
    The “other” becomes real and tangible. People over there really exist and the world is a place we share with others.

    Very inspiring bit about the scooter kid.

    Best wishes to you and the kids you teach.

    PeterSW

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