I’ve never read anything by Paulo Freire. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed is on my list. That list includes a subcategory called Books to Eventually Read. That subcategory includes The Stranger by Albert Camus and Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre. What all this means is that I’m likely to learn about student-teacher dualism (Freire) much sooner than human consciousness (Sartre). On the topic of student-teacher relationships, I’ve realized, being a tutor, that there is a complex web of relationships in any classroom. In fact, in a class of 30 students, a single teacher must be aware that what they are teaching is being understood in 30 different ways. This sounds overwhelming. It is. I am aware that my position as tutor in a classroom of thirty diminishes the class size by two. Add three more tutors to a classroom, and suddenly there is a 6-1 student-teacher ratio. Having tutors is not a viable option for every class, however, redesigning the power structures in a classroom is. I do not believe students are an empty vessel. Therefore, I do not think the teacher’s role is to fill young minds with knowledge. I’ve learned Freire thinks the same.
I think students, if instilled with a desire to learn, are prepared to explore, create and discover new things in every class period in every type of subject matter. I think a balanced classroom roles that resemble a teacher-learner interacting with student-teachers. More thoughts on all this to come later. Meanwhile, the following is a brief reflection on the past few months I’ve spent as an AVID tutor at Walla Walla High School.
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I am a classroom specialist. I have occupied nearly 70 classrooms in a span of seventeen years on the job. For most of those seventeen years I performed tests. How many handouts could I spread out on my miniscule excuse-for-a-desk (four and a half), how far away from the board could I sit before I needed binoculars (still in process), how could Mrs. Lolax tell who was talking when she had her back to the class? Years later, after a quirky encounter in the dairy aisle I realized she has eyes in the back of her head. Most class periods, I spent a few bored minutes counting things. I counted the tiles on the ceiling, the light bulbs in the classroom, and days until the weekend. About two and a half months ago I took a position learning about classrooms at Walla Walla High School. After spending seventeen years in classrooms I realized there are shortcuts and ways to advance in the field of classroom specialists. I learned that each student that enters, sits in, and leaves a classroom is far more interesting than the actual landscape of the room. In fact, they change the classroom from its unoccupied state as a creativity wasteland filled with shrunken desks and the migraine-inducing sound of constantly grinding pencil sharpeners to a festive atmosphere where diversity and resourcefulness reign in the interactions among students, teachers, and knowledge.
I work as a tutor in five AVID classrooms at Wa-Hi with 140 different students ranging from freshmen to seniors. Each student has a life goal of going to college and many of them could be the first in their families to do so. Each student fascinates me. Here are some of my observations of the students, the classrooms, and the AVID program.
Many students are consistently inconsistent in the art of writing down important things the teacher said (also called note-taking). I’ve found that the shy ones take immaculate notes and the loud ones take sloppy notes and that there are exceptions to this rule. I’ve found that a lot of students in AVID struggle with one subject or more. Some struggle with a handful of subjects, but I know they’re smart. I also know that it takes patience and persistence to raise a grade from a C to an A. Many are learning that it takes perseverance over the course of many weeks to raise a grade. Many junior AVID students grasp the importance of keeping grades up over raising grades up. They say it saves energy and is less stressful. I’ve found that, regardless of neatness and organization, all the students want to learn, they just express that energy in different ways. AVID may mean Advancement Via Individual Determination, but I’ve found that it also teaches students how to ask for help when they are confused. It teaches them how to collaborate to solve problems. I’ve found that moments when students ask me for help are times when I must be as teachable as I want them to be. In these teachable moments I see the true inquisitiveness of each student and I am delighted by their curiosity.