I finished Christenbury, and I am astounded that this woman had the courage to “retrace” her journey and recognize, what she deemed, her few successes and many failures after returning to a high school classroom. Further, I could continue to empathize with the trials and tribulations she encountered, because she acknowledges many of my fears as a pre-service teacher: That I won’t get kids engaged. That they won’t be motivated to do the work. That they will be products of the standardization of our education system, etc.
Although Christenbury had one particularly good experience with her class, while reading Death of a Salesman, I recognize that the classroom she describes doesn’t sound like a classroom community. Rather, it seemed to lack trust, respect and unity and I think this was an ongoing and a huge reason why this experience wasn’t as productive as Christenbury would have liked. In the text she even admits that “the class did not discuss well or productively…the cliques ruled” (25). Obviously this scenario isn’t ideal, and we need to confront the possibility, the likelihood that some of our classrooms may be similar to Christenbury’s. Further, I wonder what you all think regarding how much of a role did her being an outsider play in this experience? Although she does check in with the actual teacher of these kids and they can commiserate over some of their mutual experiences, I still think her being a guest to this classroom influenced this situation.
I was shocked when she described the absent work ethic of her students. Granted, many of them were facing more important issues, such as motherhood, but work ethic is a reflection of one’s character, and this a “real world” characteristic that individuals and need. Further, for those who have read work by Friedman and/or Pink, work ethic is something these adolescents will desperately need in the future, when they will be competing with people from all over the world to work and therefore, to survive. Further, I think Christenbury was doing some extremely interesting projects and assignments with these kids, and I think that the work was very meaningful. For example, she gave them research projects with several different choices, many of which I found very interesting and will consider for future potential projects, such as movie trailers, reading individually selected YA books, doing research on family histories. Yet many of the students still didn’t care, or cared temporarily, but were not permanently invested in their education, their personal work and achievements. It was tragic for me to read this. Did you feel the same?
PS: I will post on the Conference ASAP.