Reflections on 2011 and Beyond

Reflections on the year entire and milestones reached, and a special goal for the oncoming year shared.

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It’s the end of another year, and rather than compile a numbered list of the best of 2011 or make predictions about the year to come, I’d like simply to reflect on what this year has been, and ruminate on what my goals might be for the oncoming year.

My sense of this year–in the traditional sense of a year–is somewhat skewed, since January through June was still “last year” as far as school life is concerned, and that last school year was vastly different than my current school year. So I’ll start there. For that stray, wonderful soul out there that already knows this information, just skim over it.

I am now in my third school year of teaching special education at an elementary school in the Bronx. My first two years, I was in a self-contained setting, which meant that I was the sole teacher with the assistance of a paraprofessional in a classroom of up to 12 kids (I think my first year I had 9, then last year I had 8, so I guess I was fortunate in that sense; though something you quickly learn in special education is not to gauge solely by numbers) some of whom were undergoing acute emotional or psychological stress or dealing with early childhood trauma. So at the beginning of this year, 2011, I was struggling with meeting the needs of my second class of students. Compared to my 1st year, these students were collectively less aggressive and they were generally a pleasure to be with, though we certainly had some rough days. I had two very challenging students in the emotional sense, though they all presented great challenges in the academic and social needs sense. Some refused to do any work at all, and some worked very hard, yet demonstrated little progress.

I obtained my master’s degree in June from The City College of New York. Not really an accomplishment in and of itself, but an accomplishment in the sense that I was taking those classes on top of the already plentifully demanding work as a full time teacher in a high needs school. So that’s my first personal milestone of 2011.

My second personal milestone is that during the summer, I got married to a wonderful broad from New York City who crossed my star out in Lake Tahoe 5 years ago, and who ended up lugging me out here to the East Coast. We were fortunate enough to get the chance (thanks to my parents) to honeymoon in Kauai. Truly a marvelous cap to a challenging 3 years since moving out here to NYC.

Then I commenced my 3rd year teaching. In all respects, it’s been something of a honeymoon there, too. I was shifted from a self-contained setting to an inclusion setting, where I now am a co-teacher in a mixed classroom of 19 special education and general education students. These students might be far behind academically speaking, but they do not have the kind of aggressive behaviors I was dealing with prior. I have not been assaulted, and they only rarely get into verbal tiffs with each other. They are truly sweet, lovely children to be around (though they can’t stop talking), and I know I am lucky this year and I try to cherish it as much as I can while in the thick of things.

Working with another teacher presents its own set of challenges, but it provides a relief from administrative burdens. I’m not good at communicating with parents on the phone, and she’s great at it. She helps plan lessons and grade assignments. I also learn from my co-teacher and appreciate the perspective she brings to our classroom, given that she grew up in the same neighborhood as our students and can tap into that experience to connect with them. We have lunch together and I learn just from listening to her crazy stories. All in all, I get the impression that the South Bronx today–though it certainly isn’t topping any Yahoo lists of best places to live–ain’t nothing like it used to be.

My third personal milestone this year was that I turned 33. Nothing special in particular about that, except that 3 is my lucky number. Hoo-rah!

But now it’s a new year (almost), and I know that I am not the best educator nor person that I can be. I feel like I’ve reached some sort of plateau, in which I am in danger of falling into complacency. If I am not challenging myself, nor being challenged, then I question my purpose, my identity, my integrity.

So I enter the new year with some trepidation, but also with the firm resolve to do better. Better for my wife, better for my students, and better for myself. I’m not going to burden you with a laundry list of my personal or professional goals, which I’ve already done plenty enough of throughout this year, but there is one goal that I would like to share with you:

This year, I am going to write a book. You heard it here first.

Happy New Year to all.

Author: manderson

I live in NYC.

5 thoughts on “Reflections on 2011 and Beyond”

  1. You should definitely write a book! If it’s on education I would enjoy reading it–even in draft form. All your posts of the last few months resonated with me because they stressed the critical role that schools and teachers can fill to encourage students in all the right directions–such as looking for the best from each child, employing sports and coaches’ insights, demanding practical hard work (cleaning toilets?) and offering equal praise to all forms of effort. The main benefit to authorship is the process of refining your thinking, organizing all the resources, and sorting out the wheat from the chaff–But, if it’s non-fiction, you should have a grand goal in mind.

    Three years ago I became so disillusioned with the emphasis placed on tests and school grades that I wrote a book to vent those objections to the advancement of “superior” kids based merely on their memorization and algorithmic skills. And I too liked Gladwell’s books–especially his Canadian hockey story–of how almost all NHL players were born in the first four months of each calendar year! Turned out that the selection process was faulty–based on the size advantage of Spring babies among each new group of 8 year olds! Super athletes born in November-December had little chance to be selected even though they might have ended up better players. But, once the selection was done, those selected got the extra training to actually hold the top NHL positions. And those skipped over were neglected, ignored, their potential genius wasted. That is why every student should be considered precious, with the potential in some field or other, to attain his or her maximum worth.

    The same Canadian hockey inequity is demonstrated every year when America’s prestige colleges select their entering class from a pool of the highest school grade point averages. Many of those top Ivy League geniuses are then ushered into the venerable offices of such instituions as Goldman Sachs where their complex and fraudulent derivative speculations brought on the destruction of our country’s finances. Meanwhile, the dropouts like Dave Thomas create successful businesses that serve the public and employ tens of thousands of workers! Go figure!

  2. Bill, thanks for your support and encouragement. I’m still forming the outlines of what I want to write about, but it’s definitely going to be about public education, and it will be oriented around some of the very issues you investigated and are raising here. I’m interested specifically in applying ecological principles and perspectives to education, in order to better recognize that “every student should be considered precious,” as you stated above. At the very least, I’m looking forward to refining and organizing my thinking through the process of authorship. Thanks again for your encouragement, it means a lot to me!

    1. Could you elaborate on what you mean by “applying ecological principles and perspectives to education, in order to better recognize that ‘every student should be considered precious,'” Would you make them plant gardens or clean stables and pig pens??

  3. I read your ecosystems series, as suggested, and made some comments there. I wonder if the KIPP charter schools create an ecosystem you approve of? They follow Coach John Wooden’s basic foundation of requiring everyone to be nice, play fair, be respectful, and strive to be the best you can be–at whatever you are motivated to be. Both seem to develop a community of shared objectives and cooperative behavior. But I also like the idea of work experience out in a real world setting as a supplement to and a break from academic work. Children’s brains develop primarily between 10-16 years of age, and sitting in a classroom deprives them of learning experiences.

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