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TOUGH GIRL, FUNNY BOY …
2. In pairs, discuss the problem of choosing the most appropriate style of teacher behavior. Is it easy or difficult to find one?
3.In small groups, recollect your experiences of conducting classes for the first time ever. Was it easy or difficult for you to find the “right” language with your students?
4.Read the beginning of the excerpt from Letters to a Young Teacher (2007) by Jonathan Kozol. Please, explain what the word “chemistry” means here. Why is it necessary to establish one?
Establishing the Chemistry
You asked me how I felt the first day that I ever taught within a public school.
The truthful answer is that I was terrified, even more than you were, I suspect, because I’d had no preparation as a teacher. (…)
5. Read the excerpt to the end now. Describe the 1964 public school situation in Boston, Ma.
From LETTERS TO A YOUNG TEACHER
by Jonathan Kozol
(…) I had gone to Harvard College, where I was a literature major, then had studied briefly as a Rhodes Scholar in England and had lived in Paris, where I'd studied writing in the company of older writers who were living there.
When I came back to the United States in 1964 and decided I would like to teach in public school, I knew nothing about teaching and had never had a class in education. But my lack of qualifications didn't seem to matter to officials in the Boston Public Schools, who were so desperate to hire almost anyone who would agree to teach in one of Boston's poorest neighborhoods that my application was approved without much questioning.
I found myself, within three weeks, assigned to teach a fourth grade class in Roxbury, the section of the city where the black community of Boston was confined to live, a pattern of confinement, as you've noted, that exists unaltered to the present day.
My school was in a ghostly looking, badly overcrowded, and physically decrepit building where my students couldn't even be provided with a classroom of their own. We had to share an undivided auditorium with 35 other children in another fourth grade class, and with a choral group, and sewing class (fifth grade girls, all black, were taken out of academic classes for an hour every day to learn to sew on old machines like those my grandmothers had used), and with a group rehearsing almost all fall for a Christmas play that somehow never was produced.
One windy afternoon that fall, a rotted frame of windows in our make-shift class collapsed. I was standing close enough to catch the frame before the glass could shatter on the children sitting just beneath it.
Some of the children seemed to have accepted these conditions or, at least, did not appear to feel they had the right to question them. Others did not suffer these indignities so passively but seemed to simmer with hostility toward many of the teachers and the principal. When the anger of these kids erupted, they were taken to the basement of the school, where whippings were administered by an older teacher who employed a rattan whip which he first dipped in vinegar in order to intensify the pain that it inflicted on a child's outstretched hands. The year before, one of the students in my class landed in the hospital after one of several whippings he'd received. His right forefinger had been permanently distorted as a consequence.
In the spring, the principal assigned me to another fourth grade class that had a classroom of its own but was in an even worse condition than the class in which I had begun, because the children in that room had had a string of substitute teachers almost the entire year. In the course of the preceding months, twelve different teachers had appeared and disappeared.
One of the most unhappy of these teachers, an emotionally unstable person who had no experience in teaching and an oddly frenzied look within his eyes, seemed to be a kindly man, but he could not control the pent-up anger of the children. One very cold day he made the bad mistake of stepping outside on the platform of the fire escape to clap the chalk erasers. One of the children slammed the door shut while he was outside. He banged on the door and shouted warnings at the children, but they wouldn't let him in. A teacher, alerted by the noise, who came into the room at last, said that he was red in the face and stamping his feet until she opened the door to rescue him.
That was his last day at the school. Seven additional substitute teachers came and went during the next ten days. At that point, the principal told me this would be my class for the remainder of the year.
As you can imagine, I began my first day with those children with the deepest trepidation. I knew how angry and distrustful they'd become — rightfully so, in view of all the damage that the school had done to them by now. But I also knew it was essential for me to suppress the self-doubts I was feeling and do something, anything I could contrive, to give the kids the confidence that a new beginning had been made.
It wasn't easy at the start. I literally had to shout the children down during the first few days in order to be heard. I think they were shocked by this, because I'd worked with some of them in small groups earlier that year, and they'd never heard me raise my voice like that before.
Once the class calmed down a bit, I sat on my desk and made a promise to the children: I told them that they would not be abandoned. I told them I was there to stay. I don't know why it is that they believed me. They had no reason to accept such promises from yet another teacher. I do know that, from that point on, I did my damnedest to exploit every bit of personal theatricality I had at my disposal in order to infuse that room with energy and, as best I could, with the exhilaration that might bring some smiles to the very sullen faces that had come to be their adaptation to conditions that most children, rich or poor, in any school or district would have found unbearable.
Francesca, I don't want you to imagine that I was immediately successful. There are too many stories about "super-teachers" who walk into hopeless situations and work instant miracles. Those stories make good movies but don't often happen in real life; and I know that, in my own case anyway, I did not work any miracles that spring. Some of the kids remained resistant to me for a long, long time, and there were two or three who never really opened up to me until the last weeks of the year. But I did discover — and I still don't understand the chemistry that made this happen — that most of the children seemed to trust me, and one reason for this, I believe, is that they could see that I did not condemn them for the chaos and confusion they'd been through, because I told them flatly that they had been treated in a way that I thought unforgivable.
Then, too, because I've always had a tendency to say exactly what I think to children, but to do it in a way that isn't too discouraging and gloomy, trying always to extract some kind of humor or sense of absurdity out of a situation that appears like an impossible calamity, I think most of the children actually got to like me, which, as in the case of almost any first-year teacher, is the kind of unexpected blessing that we pray for.
6. Work in small groups. Decide where the teacher’s unexpected blessing came from. What was the main reason for it?
7. Work in small groups. The word ‘anger’ is recurrent in the above excerpt. Brainstorm the problem whether it is typical for adolescent kids to be angry. What are the reasons for it? Do they exist, ‘teen anger management techniques’?
8. Work individually. Write 100+ words giving recommendations to a Young Teacher Who Is Just Starting a Glorious Career at School.
9. Work in small groups. Share your ideas. Choose the best written pieces.
10. Discuss the problem of teachers’ writing skills. Do you think it’s worthwhile for a teacher to be able to write well?
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