Monday, July 18, 2011

The Ruleville Mural

About halfway through Institute, I started realizing that while I had a pretty well controlled classroom as far as no running around and throwing desks goes, the kids didn’t really respect me. They followed the rules but mumbled under their breath or made faces when they thought I wasn’t looking. Lots of passive aggressive things that, as a rather passive aggressive person myself, didn’t slip past me.

I knew I needed to do something fast to get them to realize that while I could be super strict and mean (You’re probably thinking I can’t be mean, but totally not true. I must have tapped into some hidden reserve or something, because I was the meanest, no-nonsense teacher in my room), I really did care about each of them individually as a person.

So in a flash of optimism, I decided that I’d teach painting in the morning.

Then in a flash of reality, I realized that that’d be a logistical nightmare.

So I guess I decided on something in between. My kids and I would paint together, and I’d teach little things as the opportunity arose. But otherwise we’d just paint and chat and I’d clean up after them and things like that to keep it simple.

The end result was a mural that three of my students and I worked on every morning for two weeks. I wanted it to be something that they cared about, so on the back of their end-of-class assessments for a week, I had the kids draw what they’d like their community to look like someday.

Then I compiled their drawings into one and created a little mural (about two and a half feet by four) of Ruleville in the future – complete with a community center, movie theater, church, and snow cone stand (all their ideas).

It was a really fun project, and completely supported by the leadership at my school. In fact, the principle of the actual high school told us that we could just pick any place in the school and he’d hang it up for the kids. So now as they enter 9th grade, those girls will be able to see their mural up in the 9th grade hallway every day – something they can be proud of.

I think the plan really worked. I was able to get to know two of my most challenging kids (as far as attitude goes), and knowing them better helped me so much when it came to teaching and disciplining. And it was just fun to talk with them and learn more about the 8th/9th grade mind (it’s been a bit since I was there).

And, as I mentioned before, the cherry on top was our shout-out at the Teach For America Closing Ceremonies. When I told K, her eyes got huge and she just stared in disbelief. She didn’t believe me, and once I convinced her of it, she just smiled and shook her head. Then, when we had three or four visitors come in that morning to see the “famous mural everyone’s been talking about,” K. (maybe the shyest person I’ve ever met) absolutely beamed with pride as she explained to everyone what everything in the mural was.

Maybe my proudest moment ever, to see her come out of her shell like that and really own the project she’d been working on that summer. Those moments, to me, are what teaching is all about.

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