Danya in Dallas

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 15 2012

Institute, Days 4-5: Discipline and Punish (?)

On Wednesday night, I went to sleep at 1:15AM! This is quite an accomplishment, and I could feel the difference between 5 hours of sleep and 3 hours of sleep as soon as I got some coffee in me. I walked into Dowling Middle School in an energetic, awake mood at 7:30AM. I was even singing cheerfully at one point, something I used to do all the time which I haven’t done since leaving college (aka 1 week).

Shabbat is tonight, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to get anyone here at Institute to join me for any type of service or Kabbalat Shabbat, so I’ll be doing everything on my own. I might drop by the Chabad House here, but I’m not even sure if they have any programming during the summer. However, I am really excited for next week, since I have made arrangements to spend Shabbat with the Jewish community a few miles away :)
This week, we did quite a lot, and I am sorry that I am not posting very detailed updates, but there’s really just so much information to process right now! Here are some main points:
We got our roster and entered our diagnostic scores. My class is averaging around 40% competency, and my target goal is to get the class average to be around 70%. Some students need way more improvement than others, so this will not be an easy summer by any means, but I hoep that I can make a difference in their academic trajectories through the brief set of weeks I have with them.
We also got to decorate our classrooms! So there are six of us to a classroom, and we had to collaborate on classroom norms (basic ones – I have very specific ones that I wasn’t going to try to get others on board with!), a class theme, and to work together to decorate the classroom. Our class theme is “ROCKSTAARS,” combining pop music with the STAAR achievement test that they are supposed to pass in order to move on from summer school. I brought along my college banner, so now there are two University of Chicago banners at Dowling Middle School! Here are pictures from my room:
^I brought in a banner from my alma mater!
 ^I made a poster for the “Room 112 RockSTAARS”
We have also been working on classroom management, and I can’t help think about Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault, especially on 2 things we have been told to do in order to manage a classroom: Enforce a very strict system of posture that is backed by “science,” and use the technique of behavioral narration. Behavioral narration is aimed at describing what a student is doing when they are following directions. Say I have established a class norm that at the bell I want everyone to have their pencil out, and Ronald has his pencil out at the bell. I am supposed to say “Ronald is ready for class, with his pencil out at the start of the bell.” This is supposed to be some sort of personalized internalization of norms thing, and is also supposed to reinforce the “teachers have eyes on the backs of their heads” concept, and create the sense in the classroom that I can see everything they are doing. I can’t help but be reminded of the strict controls on the body that Foucault describes in military drills, and the Panopticon. For now, I am going to try using these management techniques, if only because I have 0 experience in managing the classroom and people who have many years more are telling me to do so, but I am fundamentally uncomfortable with it, and hope I can develop a way to manage a classroom in the next 2 years that doesn’t require this kind of dynamic between me and my students. We drafted our “vision” statement, and one of my visions is to transform the teacher-student paradigm and provide my students with a liberation-based approach to their education, but I feel like that will require plenty of more research, and having my own classroom instead of an institute classroom. I just want to reassure my friends that are reading this that I’m not doing any of this, or anything that I am doing at Institute or Teach For America uncritically. All week long I have been asking tons of questions about why and how we are doing what we are doing, and for the most part people have been very supportive and willing to engage in these conversations, which is a huge relief.

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