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Field notes- 2/5/13

Laura H's picture

Sorry these are a little late! I had my first field placement today.

The school I am at is a 9-12 public magnet school in Center City. I am with Mr. T's 10th grade English classes, and beginning next week I will also be with Ms. R's 11th grade American History class. 

The first thing I notice when I walk into this school are the colors. Every wall is a bright shade of orange, green, yellow, blue, or purple. I come in during lunch time so all the students are out of class. As I walk to Mr. T’s class I see students hanging out, eating lunch, and walking around in the hallways. I do not see many teachers, and the students are not supervised. I walk into Mr. T’s class and he is having lunch while a technology class goes on. This particular room has big windows, bright blue colored walls, and five tables instead of desks. On the walls are various posters about the core values of the school, inspirational quotes, project instructions, and more. Immediately, I can feel the culture of this school is very warm, safe, mature, and fun.

The students in this technology class are making podcasts and videos about the Arab Spring. Mr. T has his student Ben take me on a tour of the building. The facilities are clearly very nice. Ben shows me the classrooms, the video production room, the art room, the biochemistry room, the drama room, the offices, and the college center. He tells me, “We’re kind of like a family here. Kids can hang out in the office with the teachers and stuff.” I find it interesting that Ben did not say much about the school as a whole besides this one statement. It shows to me that what stands out most to him is that the students are close with their teachers and it feels like a “family.” Everyone I speak to in the first few minutes are very friendly and talkative.

At school, every student and teacher gets a Mac laptop. I also see that students have phones out. I ask Mr. T about this, and he explains that they give the students freedom and responsibility, but also hold them to high standards. He says they don’t block any websites, but Facebook has to be blocked by a city law. He says, “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t even block Facebook. They can learn to regulate themselves. If at the end of the day they haven’t produced what we asked them to they will face the consequences.” It is interesting that this reminds me of Haverford in the way we are treated like adults and expected to take that privilege seriously. When I tell Mr. T about our Honor Code, he asks, “And that really works? Students don’t cheat?” It’s interesting because I had the same thoughts about having this type of system with younger high school students.

The school also has a “Student Assistant Teacher” program, where seniors work a teacher aides in classes with freshmen or sophomores. The SATs go around during activities and help the students, but they have a much more casual relationship because they are closer in age. It is clear that this program is beneficial both for the SATs and the students they work with. One SAT, Brad, was asking me all about college because he is waiting to hear back. It seems as though college is definitely a focus of the academic experience and goals here.

The core values Tech Prep are “Inquire, research, collaborate, presentation, and reflection.” I saw aspects of all of these values in Mr. T’s classes. In both his 10th grade English classes, the students had just finished reading Passing, which addresses issues of racial and gender identity. Mr. T has the students split into their groups and practice for their presentations. Some groups go in the hallways to practice (another example of their freedom). When they come back, groups of 4 perform short “skits” or interpretations of scenes in the novel. Then they ask the class questions as general as “What does it mean to be true to yourself?” and “Is it ok to help someone who doesn’t want help?” and as specific as “Why does Clare seek attention from others?” I am truly blown away by the maturity and sophistication of the class’s discussions. Students talk about the way Clare’s father was an alcoholic and didn’t give her enough attention, so she seeks attention from men to compensate. Even though some students have their phones out on the tables or in their hands, the majority of them participate and speak about sensitive issues with deep thoughtfulness. Mr. T sometimes chimes in to keep everyone on track or add in a thought, but for the most part the students lead the activity while he jots down notes on the board. Each students in the “audience” is also taking notes in a journal and planning for a more formal “Lit Log” due at the end of class via Moodle. At one point during a skit, the principal comes in, watches for a few minutes, and then leaves. No one really reacts to him being there.

Mr. T’s second English class is slightly ahead of the first class, so they begin by preparing for their final writing assignment on Passing. They start by talking about what privilege is and how it exists in the US. Then they all open up an article on Moodle called “Racism and White Privilege” which is actually a text I read in Multicultural Education at Haverford. The students go around and read aloud, and then they each pick three lines they agree with and three lines they disagree with. They begin talking about this, and the conversation gets somewhat tense. Many students agree that white privilege exists, but some students says that the majority of the population is white so you would expect to be that way. Some students says that racism and discrimination go beyond what the author even mentioned, and because the author is white she will never understand what it is like to be discriminated against on a daily basis. Jen, who is half black, says she relates to the point in the article that when she goes to a hotel she can’t use the shampoo they offer. Ana mentions that because her dad is Iranian, he gets stopped at airport security. Taylor, who is white, says that she doesn’t really agree that those are examples of racism, because she can’t use the shampoo in hotels either and her dad gets stopped at airport security. Jen gets clearly frustrated by this statement and Mr. T steps in and says that this is a good productive conversation and there will inevitably be things we agree and disagree on. I think one thing that made this discussion productive in many ways is the fact that there was a diversity of experiences and opinions in the classroom.

In terms of the use of technology in the classroom, there were definitely times when certain students were watching YouTube videos or browsing Twitter instead of doing their assignments. Yet overall, it made it much easier for students to access material, engage with the material either through reading or writing, and interact with one another. They are constantly using Google Docs and e-mailing each other. Mr. T uses it to communicate with his students and SATs if they are not in the room. Furthermore, I noticed some students listen to music when they are doing work, which I know helps some people focus. When people start to talk too much during silent work, Mr. T reminds the, “Your friends are writing can you please be quiet for them?” The students do seem to truly respect one another and because they collaborate so much they are all very comfortable in the classroom.

Questions I am left with:

At what point does technology detract from the educational experience? Should there be designated “tech-free” times? Has writing by hand and reading on paper become obsolete?

Clearly this school has an incredible school culture. How can this be replicated? Does that fact that it is a “magnet school” where students have to test in make it automatically have a culture of high expectations and hard work? How can teachers facilitate positive relationships between themselves and their students, but also among their students?

How much responsibility and freedom can we give students? Does freedom promote self-motivation?

How can we encourage discussions about these issues in all schools? Do teachers feel comfortable talking about them? What do you do when a student says something controversial?