Anachan's Corner

One woman's journey through marriage, motherhood, and the classroom…

Doing What I Can

Written By: Anachan - Feb• 26•17

A couple of years ago, I went to a teacher in-service day regional training wherein each of us could select three sessions in which to participate. One of the sessions I chose was about Common Core standards in reading, which was, predictably, rather dry and not terribly helpful. One of the sessions was about integrating vocabulary into lessons. The thing which stuck the most from that was an increase in my awareness of “level 1,” “level 2,” and “level 3” vocabulary, leading to a choice to incorporate more “level 2” vocabulary into my daily student interactions. And the third session was about how poverty affects learning.

The last session was revelatory. I had never previously thought about what poverty was or how it might affect a student’s learning. After all, if someone is willing to work hard enough, he or she can overcome anything, right? While this is true, students in poverty–which means more than just having a low income–often find themselves in situations where they are always having to evaluate threat levels. This means that a student’s mind may be focused on more immediate tangible, physical needs, not always ready to operate on a higher cognitive level. It possibly goes without saying that if someone is constantly worried about the “here and now,” he may not be as concerned or focused on the big picture or the future, thus jeopardizing their chances to “work hard enough and overcome anything.”

I learned some good, concrete ways in which to help students with such issues learn writing skills, such as providing templates for thesis statements or essays, which I now incorporate into my lessons, with some success. But even more valuable, I learned that the mindset of someone in poverty differed so much with my own personal experience as to be almost foreign. When I approach lessons now, I remember this.

This lesson came to mind as I stumbled upon a blog post pertaining to the education crisis in America and poverty: “The Real Crisis in Education: An Open Letter to the Department of Education.” The author points out that the data used to measure the educational situation in the United States has many flaws. For one thing, American data is provided for all students, while data from other countries may only include those who are tracked as college-bound. For another, there is a relatively high rate of child poverty in the United States, yet all students are required to meet the same standards, even with the cognitive disadvantage poverty places upon students. When test scores of high schools are divided based upon poverty rates in those schools, they show that those with a low incidence of poverty–those whose students have the luxury of having developed more fully their cognitive abilities–the test scores are not bad at all, compared with students around the world. However, those schools with a high incidence of poverty–those wherein students may be living with a higher level of “toxic stress”–the test scores are much lower.

Basically speaking, one could say that teachers in this latter category of school are given students who are not ready to exercise the same cognitive abilities and are being required and judged on their ability to raise those students to a level of cognitive development equal to those who do not daily have to worry about where their next meal is coming from or whether or not a parent is going to come home stoned.

As I read the blog post, I found myself nodding along. As teachers, we work to raise our students, wherever they are at the beginning of the school year. But it may not always be reasonable to expect we can raise them to the level of the standardized tests by the end of the year, particularly with the difference in focus experienced by students in poverty.

And so, while I work to teach my students to the best of my ability and prepare them for the standardized tests, incorporating suggestions I find which may make the material more readily understandable or relevant to them, I don’t stress about the tests; there’s not much I can do about them. What I can do is work to improve my students’ reading comprehension and help them learn to organize an essay well, even if the grammar used in that essay may never be perfect. What I can do is drill them on punctuation rules, even if they choose not to use them in their writing. What I can do is correct pronoun usage and double negatives in their speech, even if it doesn’t end up sticking. And what I can do is be enthusiastic about reading and the learning process, hoping that perhaps, just perhaps, a small amount of that will rub off and whisper to them that they can do it, if they work hard enough.

The Sound of Silence

Written By: Anachan - Feb• 21•17

No, this isn’t about the Simon and Garfunkle song, although I really liked that song in college and even had the sheet music, long since lost in one move or other. This is about sound . . . and silence.

Almost two years ago, my eldest daughter, serving in the U. S. Navy, had a headache and went to the doctor on base, who prescribed for her a course of Naproxen. She took it in accordance with the directions given her and, three days later, found herself completely deaf. Tests since then appear to show that her ears are in perfect working order, and signals are being sent to her brain. But there, the link is broken: The brain is not interpreting the signals as sound.

She has had to learn to live surrounded by silence. Because this happened when she was 20 years old, she has muscle memory for speech and so can talk with people. Because she learned something about lip reading while working on stage productions in college, she picked up further skills quickly. But she hears no music or birds chirping or even fire alarms. (Yes, that happened once in her dorm: A fire happened on an upstairs floor, and she slept through the entire alarm.)

There is the chance that, given the fact the problem is a chemical one in the brain, her brain will self-correct, and her hearing will be restored. But as time goes on, the chances of that happening become more and more slim.

When I think of that, my complaint seems petty and trivial. For the past four months, I have lived my world with no silence. One day, I realized I heard ringing in my ears–rather loud ringing in my ears–and since then, it has never stopped. Some days, it is louder, and some days, it is not as loud. Some days, there is enough noise around me that I do not notice it much. But in those moments I have always treasured, the moments of quiet peace, when I would try to look deep inside and ponder or create, read or study, there it is, intruding. And I can’t help but listen to it and wonder and worry, just a little.

I’ve been told that there isn’t much that people can do about this kind of condition. Perhaps it, like my crevassed tongue which denies me comfortable access to the spicy foods I loved for years, is just another inconvenience I will have to learn to live with.

After all, it could be worse. I can still hear voices speaking to me. I can hear birds chirp or caw, and I can hear the various calls of the cats as they express disapproval, contentment, or pride in themselves. And I can still listen to music, even if the purity of that music is tainted by a constant tone which may be off key.

Given the choice of living with constant intruding sound or constant silence, I realize it is preferable to put up with the sound. But sometimes, I would like to experience a few moments of silence, for old times’ sake.