Thursday, February 7, 2013

We Bring Work Home

You know you are a teaching artist when you bring your work home. My dog is doing a great job of not stepping on these 70 sunprints drying on my floor.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Making Assumptions

Well, I started a new residency last week. That familiar excitement and anxiety crept up on me. I couldn't wait to get back in the classroom, back into what I enjoy doing, back to teaching art.

This residency was no different from the other schools I teach at. Similar demographic, familiar neighborhood, same grade level. I even worked with this same classroom teacher last year. These are fourth graders in a lower socioeconomic neighborhood. This isn't foreign to me. I teach in the neighborhood I live in and hang out in. These kids could be my neighbors. I treat them like my friends. I try to learn their names. I make an effort to get to know them as much as I can during 90 minutes once a week for 7-weeks. Which, really, is not much at all. Since I don't have a lot of time to get to know my students, I often make assumptions based on prior experiences with other classes. This time I assumed wrong.

Me with too many cameras.
I am a photographer. I teach about photography. Really, the main thing I love to share with my students is how super cool photography is! That sounds silly, I know. But photography is something a lot of us take for granted. We have cameras on our phones, at our fingertips at any moment. I like to start my residency out by visiting that idea. I ask my students to "Raise your hand if you've ever had your picture taken." I assume that every hand will go up because, so far, every hand has gone up. Next, I ask my students to "Raise your hand if you've ever taken a picture." Again, I assume that every hand will go up because, so far, every hand has gone up.

There was a student sitting at the front of the classroom. While all of his classmates' hands went up with pride, his hand did not. Was he not paying attention? Maybe he doesn't understand English? Perhaps he didn't hear me? I repeat the question differently. "So, keep your hands up if you've taken a picture with a camera before". He is staring off and not raising his hand. I assume he must not be paying attention so I attempt some classroom management techniques. I walk up to the table, put my hand on his desk, look at him and ask him directly "Have you taken a picture before or had your picture taken?" He looks at me sheepishly and says "No."

My heart sinks down. I feel guilty. I feel embarrassed. That teacher panic sets in where you don't really know how to bounce back or how to fix the situation. All that internal dialogue is happening. It seems like 5 minutes has passed, but really it's only been 2 or 3 seconds. And I proceed "Well, I am super happy to tell you that you will get to take a picture!" and I move on quickly to the next part of the lesson.

No big deal.
No harm done.
But I can't stop thinking about this fourth grade boy who has never had his picture taken. I find it really hard to believe. I feel sort of shocked. Maybe he was lying? Maybe he wasn't paying attention? Or, maybe he was telling the truth? How has he never taken a picture before? Maybe his family doesn't have a camera? Maybe he is Amish? Wait, the Amish don't live in California...

It's hard not to make assumptions about the students we work with. Making an assumption is an easy shortcut when we are only working with these students for such a short time. I wonder though, if when we make assumptions, we are cutting our students' learning short.