Tagged: ybc

Guitars

I don’t really ‘play guitar’. OK, I know about 15 chords that make me able to rustily strum through a rock’n’roll list but I only grab it a few times a year. My favourite guitar time however is when I do the ‘Wave Hill strike’ lesson with Year 10s, learning about the struggle for Indigenous rights in Australia. We learn about it through Paul Kelly’s classic ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow‘ and the amazing story behind it.

I’ve done this for a few years now and it’s a highlight. Today, I even had my Principal serendipitiously sitting with us during it. We watched, sang, laughed, pondered, discussed … visceral stuff, not a worksheet or a website. Great lesson. But that’s not the main story here.

From Little Things Big Things Grow
From Little Things Big Things Grow

The story are the guitars I brought in today. They were a hit. During advisory time, I found that a couple of my students fancy themselves with a few small riffs. I couldn’t get the guitars out of their hands.

Next period, I left the guitars out, played as kids filed in. A couple of quiet Year 8 girls grabbed them and we played Stand By Me before moving on. Layer of students uncovered, new connections made. Laughter. Genuine enjoyment of music, of trying too, by all.

Then my Year 9 class came in. The ‘bottom’ kids who are ‘not academic’, the self-proclaimed ‘dumb class’. They are learning about something that interests them about Australia’s home front during World War 1. And yes, there’s a few strummers in there too. A kid who has struggled all along (with both the content and playing guitar) pipes up and says he wants to stay in class during the break and look up World War 1 songs. Part of me says ‘yeah right’, a part of me dreams …

I leave the class during long break and allow a few kids to stay in and play. I also leave my laptop in (not deliberately). When I get back, I find my laptop on a student desk, clearly used. I dread a bit. Then I find this was searched for:

Please notice the search item. This was during the break and I was nowhere near. These guys were clearly ready to learn, to figure out, to give it a go. I could trust them, probably learn from them too.

It made my day. It made my week. It makes relationships go. And that makes education go. But you have to “Give [kids] a Chance” … you know that one? πŸ˜‰

Bye Mister

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Last period. Hot. Humid. First part of the lesson falls apart completely, no calming down here. ‘Journal writing’ later? Yeah, right. Plan … P?

“15 minutes to see who can keep a piece of paper in the air the longest? Must let go, cannot touch or be supported by anything, launch with two feet on the ground.”

15 minutes of making mayhem, not one child uninterested, withdrawn. Great atmosphere, humour. Clever designs, different approaches to the problem. After that, 15 minutes of launching and friendly, funny argy bargy whose was in the air the longest. The mighty mess all cleaned up in five.

We have a teen who sits on the couch, always quiet, withdrawn, “no good at anything Sir, it’s all luck” lack of belief in any of his abilities, poor attendance record and diagnosed with things he … certainly ISN’T displaying now! He tests, he shows, he smiles, he tries and … comes second, close to the winner and far from number three. Leaves beaming, “Bye Mister”.

Think we have some material to work with there as far as sense of agency, internal locus of control, self-esteem and desire to be included, doing things that are valued? Yeah, we’ll get to the literacy and curriculum thing, for sure.

Yes, he might be in a complete heap tomorrow, no guarantee. All small steps, small steps. Or as the motto of our school goes: “One student at a time.”

PS One of my ‘aspirations’ this year is to briefly recount these little gems (and flops!) that happen in a place called school. I do so publicly not for admiration nor criticism (believe me, I am NOT a good teacher in many a mind based on this) but to simply add to the rich tapestry of understanding of what is it that teachers do. Because the moment you can ‘define it’ – it changes. And I like that in all its messiness.

What is your fish tank?

Describe

I have a tank in my class. No, two tanks actually. Fish tanks, metre and a bit long each. I found them sitting lonely and empty as I started my work at my new school.

Took the tanks into my class. Asked a few boys who, I have been warned and confirmed, can ‘be a handful’ to fill both one third with sand. Done, with gusto. Β ‘My weakest’ (ah, the labels…) student shows me the best way to empty the crate of sand into the tank without spilling sand. Brilliant, smart, effective.

I produce a bag of toy soldiers, four mini armies in different colours. The glass tanks come alive. Forts, dugouts, trenches are built. Number of boys in different classes just ‘want to play a bit’ with the soldiers. ‘Work and play” take-turn system is born on the go. No walkouts, dramas or inappropriate behaviour when playing with the soldiers. Sharing is turned on.

Strategy to avoid ‘doing work’ ie writing most of these boys aren’t good at? Possibly. Enjoyment from being able to play with toys as something the kid may not have had much in the past? Likely, even more.

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“Play with the soldiers, go for it, 20 minutes. Set a battle scene and then describe it. Tell, write down who is fighting who. What is the commander of the red guys saying to his troops? Take a photo and describe the view of the machine-gunner at the back. What about the guy with the grenade launcher? What do you think he wrote to his family last night, before the battle? Think you can do something like that?”

“OK”

You can’t ‘box’ teaching. It’s too beautiful, too frustrating, too dynamic and complex to do so. Why I teach. Or as one of my favourite authors Arundhati Roy would say

β€œTo love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.”

Teachers, or not, we all have our ‘fish tanks’. What is yours?