Two days ago I sent a message to my partner, "3rd period didn't go well. I'm upset... with myself."
See, what had happened was we were reading a story and I was getting blank stares, mumbles, and I was losing kids who would rather stare at the wall than discuss with me in Latin. While this is not the norm, it has happened a few times in this particular class. I stopped my lesson and asked what was going on. They were silent. I was silent. Finally, they started to speak. What came about was that they didn't understand and I surmised that they were uncomfortable telling me that. What I said to them was, "this my fault." They didn't want to agree, but it's true. I wasn't making what we were doing comprehensible, compelling, or caring.
My colleagues and I have been reading Christopher Emdin's For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood... and the Rest of Y'all Too. In one chapter, Emdin discusses lessons learned from a rap cypher and how one can use that in the classroom for reality pedagogy (Chapter 4). I will admit that I grew up in the 90s when rap cyphers became a part of the popular entertainment culture and I was already familiar with them in that context. What I found quite intriguing and compelling was translating that to the classroom.
I won't go into the basics, as Bob Patrick has already done a great job of that in his own blog series on the matter. I highly recommend you read it and follow it! He and I will be sharing our experience in this journey on these blogs. Instead, I will share my experience with our first meeting.
I had already been wanting to have a cogen with this particular class, but I had been nervous about the whole thing and doing it wrong, when this event happened two days ago. After class I immediately stopped what I was doing and picked out my four students for the first cogen. Following Emdin's recommendations and lessons I spent time considering which students I would ask and ultimately changed my list a few times before feeling like I had a group that represented the variety of the classroom.
The next day, (Thursday - yesterday), I quietly approached each student as they came in and asked them if they'd stay after class for a minute to talk. They weren't in trouble, and that I needed a favour. They all readily agreed.
Now, I must pause here and say, that I was still (and am still) incredibly nervous about doing this. I want to do it right and I have anxiety about messing things up, which often translates to my hiding away and being incredibly self critical. So, when I say I am "following [his] recommendations and lessons" I mean that literally. I have marked pages in the book where I have thoughts and took notes, as well as places where he discusses the cogen and how to have one. Before the end of class, I reviewed his "script" of what to say. When everyone had left, I asked if they'd be willing to meet with me in the morning or afternoon one day to discuss some things that I wanted their help with.
So, this morning I came in with some cinnamon rolls and muffins and I set up a circle of chairs. At 6:55 three of the four students rolled in and greeted me. I welcomed them and invited them to get some breakfast. The fourth arrived shortly after. We sat together and, at first, we just chatted. They talked about food and asked my opinions on coffee. We relished in the fact that we have a long weekend coming up. Once everyone was there and had food, I covered Emdin's three rules, which we all agreed to: (1) we are all equal. I am not above them because I'm a teacher. (2) One person speaks at a time. (3) This meeting was to enact real change in the classroom and that we would hold each other accountable (especially as we are all equal).
The question this morning was "What is something I can do in the first or last five minutes of class to make our experience better". What I found was that, much like Bob discusses, students wanted to continue a 5 minute check in every day and that brain breaks were important.
While nothing "new" came out of the meeting in actual practical practice, what did come out was an agreement that they would help hold me accountable and that I would trust them. Every day we'd continue to check in with each other and build community. Every day, when they said they needed a break, I'd trust them and follow through and they would be honest with what they needed.
To be honest, I really enjoyed this meeting. About 3/4 of the way through, Bob (who is also my department head) came into my room and welcomed them and congratulated them on being my advisers. I immediately saw their posture perk up a little. This was an important moment. We all shared excitement over this cogen and they've agreed to meet with me next week.
As I post about my experience, I will do my best to be honest and as detailed as is appropriate. That being said, there are some resources I also want to share each time: