Sunday, December 13, 2009

Start an After School Program

Sometime in early December last year I was having a particularly bad day and was down in the dumps about the fact that many of my high-end students in my classes were standing on the deck watching as I was drowning and many of their classmates were swimming circles around me. They were probably wondering when and if I was going to get it together and start teaching. To say the least, the work load was getting to me and I felt like all of my options for controlling my classes were exhausted.

That's when my assistant principal walked in and told me I should start an after-school program. I' m not sure what the look on face was when he said that. It was probably either blank, as if he'd just spoken to me in Ukrainian, or I gave him a look that sent him the message that he'd fallen off his rocker and smashed his head against something hard on the floor. By the time he was done talking, however, I was on board.

By this time last year I was becoming very cynical and angry about my job. I started an after-school program to help lift up my high-end students as much as to preserve my sanity. I drafted a letter and handed it to the few students doing well in my class inviting them to meet me after school to talk about starting a program. I called their parents to let them know I was creating an honors after-school program and that their child was invited to attend. When all was said and done I had about seven students who wanted to stay/were told to stay by their parents- about half of the students I invited. They stayed with me for the rest of the year, agreeing to do pretty much whatever for the small price of a granola bar or popcorn during the meetings.

By June the group had served many purposes. They reminded me that I love teaching. They taught me about themselves and their peers through conversations I couldn't have during the school day. They also helped me complete my master's thesis by serving as a sample population. In June I wondered how much they really got out of the program, though I was satisfied that it was an academic venture outside of school hours and was more educational than the video games they would have been playing otherwise.

I didn't give the program a second thought after school let out, figuring it was over and done with and that those students moved on to high school (most of them still at our school). It wasn't until several of them approached me in September this year and asked if I was going to have another program that I realized that they even really enjoyed it. One of the students whose parents had made him attend for fear that he'd be jumped walking home after school was one of those really pressing for it.

These students certainly caught me off guard. They wanted me to start another after-school program? What was more, these students were already scheduled to be in school from 8:15 to 4:00PM. Now they wanted to stay until 5PM? I thought they were nuts, but told them I'd think about it and perhaps start one after school got underway and we all were settled in.

After several more requests I ended up organizing and starting one two weeks ago. Instead of seven or eight eighth graders coming to learn how to analyze documents for U.S. history, I now have seven ninth and eighth graders coming to learn German (which is my second, random certification) twice a week until 5PM. I'm not sure if there's a nerdier, stranger bunch of students in the South Bronx, but I'm happy as heck to have them. I wrote a bit about this in my post titled Home Field Advantage. Having students coming back into my classroom on a regular basis to say hello has been an amazing feeling. My relationships with two of the biggest pains in my ass last year have done one-eighties, to boot. While my after-school kids are way too talkative and can also be pains sometimes, they think I have something to give them, which makes me think that I might.

It's incredibly difficult to differentiate if there are any behavioral problems in a classroom. Generally the extra attention and time that would be used to push high-level students is used to deal with the ones who are going nuts, throwing things and attacking your sanity. Starting an after school program provided an outlet for me last year to get some real teaching done for students who were committed to learning. It may be something to consider if you're struggling to justify your existence in your classroom, as I oftentimes did last year. If you're pulling out the rest of your hair right now and wondering what the hell has been going on for the past three and a half months, try taking a step back and finding a way to really teach a small group of students. It may really remind you why you're here.

Today's Wine: Charles Shaw Chardonnay. I used this while making a fancy schmancy wine reduction sauce for some pasta. I generally like to sip whatever it is I'm cooking while cooking. It's pretty standard quality for the 3-Buck Chucks- great value for the price, but nothing to scream from the rooftops about otherwise.

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