Thursday, June 2, 2016

Reality and Actuality

South Side Chicago - May 2016 - C. Mirus
It was a cool fall day in my classroom on third floor. We have clear windows that look out over our school’s courtyard, and the view includes a pleasant landscape of the south side. The window was cracked, which allowed for a monotonous drone of traffic and pedestrian chatter. We were working independently. Students were typing, writing, reading, otherwise in a stupor with the Wednesday workload.

It was pleasing. We were safe and comfortable. We knew what we had to do and what we were expected to do. I love that about the classroom. There is a procedure and expectation for both student and teacher alike. Sometimes, it can run on autopilot. This was one of the moments. I was working with a small group on a chapter of a book we were reading. I had asked a question, and they were off to look for evidence before answering. It was a moment of quiet, again. I was in the middle of one of the most dangerous areas in the country, and at that moment I didn’t worry about a thing.

Then, reality made me feel actuality. During 3rd period on that Wednesday there was a gun shot. Through the sliver of a crack I had opened the window it leaked through. I knew it wasn’t immediately close, perhaps 2 or more blocks away. The proximity was enough to be startled, but not enough to be scared. I saw some student’s heads perk up. I saw some not move an inch. The range of experience. I made eye contact with a group across the room. I said something about a car backfiring, or maybe a fender bender in front of the newly minted Dunkin Doughnuts one block away.

I lied. They knew I lied, but drank the lie anyways. They laughed about someone’s crappy car losing a bumper. Someone pretended to be driving and then bumped in the back. One boy fell off his chair, yelling “I have no insurance!” They made a few more jokes, and I let them have the last 10 minutes to joke and talk. I needed them to have that time. Not because what we were reading was less important, but because their childhood was important.

I let the world into my classroom one sliver of a window break, and they handled it better than I could.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Treasure of Knowledge

Silent Hallway / Winter 2014 - C. Mirus
"A treasure I have never learned, lost in the distance of knowledge."

This is a line on a student's paper, from some forgotten homework assignment. I don't remember which student, and I don't remember the context. I don't think it matters. What does matter is the message of the quote. What matters is the feeling the student had when she wrote it. I choose to analyze this line and apply it to my experience and knowledge of the students I have taught and interacted with.

The latter part uses traveling and journey metaphors. A student in a classroom knows what knowledge is. Every student has been exposed to a variety of other students. The outliers of a class consist of both the top and the bottom of the spectrum. With some classrooms moving towards inclusion, and some maintaining tracking, this exposure has changed throughout a students' school life, starting from kindergarten, through high school, and to some, college. Knowledge is the smart kid in the front, the one you aren't friends with. Knowledge is the teacher in a class where no one thinks they are smart. It is the lecture you don't understand. It is in the books the worm reads instead of playing video games. Knowledge is classified as book or street smarts. I have street smarts, that's enough. I've got it figured out. Knowledge is unnecessary, it isn't present on the block, in the group, or the corner you know. It is a foreign land spoken with a foreign language. Knowledge is a culture that is different, and therefore scary. I'm not scared, I just don't care.

By high school, however, the distance is so vast that you can't point fingers. Students enter 4 or 5 grade levels behind in most subjects. They are lost. Standards put a baseline up for everyone, and that causes the distance to grow. In a foreign land, lost, everything seems further away, safety seems distant. All the streets look the same and are confusing. People walk with purpose, imposing even more fear and disorientation. You grasp on to common images and ideas, try to survive by making sense of what you learned in the past. They keep your head afloat, sometimes, but not your mind.

All of this because you never learned that treasure, that pearl, that nugget of something. It may have started as missing one idea, day, word, sentence... but cultivated into something more. To develop a skill takes practice, as does the opposite. You learn how to be helpless: a learned helplessness. It is easier to give up, to fit in with the crowd and their average, then it ever would be to stand out in a positive manner. You pretend to fit in and go along with the traffic. You act like everyone else. You belong. You move with the flow and only stand out when you are accused of not fitting or targeted for being different. You are still lost, even if you pretend otherwise.

The treasure becomes something difficult to obtain. It is the grass piece in a puzzle of a prairie. It is something missing, but it is so much more. It is the missing link. It creates a connection between where you are and where you can be. But, the treasure can be more than even that. It can be the grit that you need but never worked on. It can bring you to where you need to be. Or, it can make you struggle more, become frustrated more, and lose yourself further in the distance.

The answer is ominous. This sentence can be applied to all students. It can be laid on the brightest students. This is the recognition that there is more to life, more knowledge. It is floating in libraries, books, lectures and lands foreign in many ways.

This quote reminds me of Plato's cave. Few escape the cave, even though all had the opportunity. Those that did escape felt changed from where they were, and from the people there. They couldn't go back without regressing. Those in the cave found anyone that left to be different. This quote extends the allegory by including the heavens. I can escape the cave, you can too; but then we put a man on the moon, and we realize there is more.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Am Ready

My Classroom / Summer 2013 - C. Mirus
I sit in my classroom, finished and ready to teach. Students come tomorrow and I sit today. I'm anxious, nervous, excited, and happy. I love teaching. I love teaching where I am and whoever walks through the door will receive my best.

This may change tomorrow, I may drive home, after school upset, sad, and in a rush to sit on my porch and reflect. But, right now, I sit here and look around with hope.

I can remember being a young child and craving to go back to school. To fill my head with as much information as possible. To take my homework to my room, sit and study. I crammed my brain for so long, so hard, that I lost the enjoyment in education through high school. It came back in my 3rd year of college. It hasn't left yet.

How do I recreate that feeling in my students, some of whom checked out far earlier than high school? Last year I saw glimpses of it through books. Independent novels that students could take home. I hope this year, to create a space in the school, in the city, in the world of these students, that is safe, friendly, and welcoming. This year my goal is to make my room that one cool place that anyone can go to, and not be afraid of learning, not be afraid of raising your hand and shouting the right answer.

As I type this, I hear a song playing through the speakers in the room: "I am ready, I am ready." I don't know the song, artist, or purpose, I just hear the chorus: "I am ready." Tomorrow, I will open my door, and teach whoever walks in.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Helpless Evil

South Side Chicago / Winter 2013 - C. Mirus
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. - Edmund Burke

I don't claim to be a good man. I teach. I don't have the luxury of showing the difference I make to people. I don't rub in their faces the dilapidated state of the inner city. I don't give stories of the lives I've changed.

I teach. I do my job, and do everything else as well as I can.

Edmund Burke may not have been referring to society, instead he used this phrase as a political statement- but the phrase translates. In modern society the idea of change, the definition of evil, and "do nothing" are all relative depending on the many viewpoints of society.

I may see a problem in one of my students, I may confront it, but it will be hell changing it. There are too many other factors impacting that student, the problem, and the relationship between those things and me. The same change that society has made, allowing the incorporation of evil to permeate into more than the enemy, and into a way of thinking, or a stance, is the change that keeps me from interjecting myself into situations I have to sit idly by.

How am I supposed to teach the difference between a dependent and independent clause to a student when they were just kicked out of their home the night before?

The sun touches all of us, none of us are different. I treat everyone as though they know the difference between good and evil, and make choices to pursue one path or the other. They do not always choose the same path every day, but if they can see the paths, and the choices others take, then maybe they can have influence for the better.

I speak in general terms because that is the way academia writes now. Unless you have research, facts, and a ton of statistics, you better not be accusatory. I just reflect on what I observe. I look for patterns. I teach, based on those patterns.

I don't claim to be a good man, but I do try and instill that drive in others.

Sunday, June 30, 2013


Madison Library / June 2013 - C. Mirus
A City by the lake
State street
A happenstance of meetings
Friends and hotels
A slate cleaned
Basement spinning with Hallelujah
Peddlers and madmen
Summer dresses
Short times - short decisions
Terrace and a sunset
A dock in motion
A hill, Forever
Falling Slowly