I have always been wanting to cause a movement. I like to watch people and observe how the interact with each other. I guess that's why I enjoyed my undergrad education in Sociology. I saw that there were clear problems in the world, and I wanted to study them and try to find a solution.
Really, there is a long list of things to change. One would become exhausted quite easily if she sat down and listed everything that could be changed in the world. I know that change needs to first happen on a small scale. And if I want something done, I need to start it myself.
Today was a most fantastic day in my career of teaching, but it really started a few days ago. Every school has a couple of students that are seen as "trouble." They clearly stand out for their repeat performances of mayhem and time spent in the office. These kids are ostracized by others and loathed by authority. It's not because they are bad kids--it because they create a hiccup in the norm. They are a nuisance, and they keep others from learning.
This isn't always the kids that clearly seek out trouble. Sometimes it is the ones with intense apathy. They are only in school to breathe the free oxygen, and it seems that they move through the halls in a zombie-like trance. There is not really a direction to their actions, and this causes the entire group to slow. Again, an annoyance for teachers and other authority figures.
I went home and thought about this, wondering why these kids were causing so many problems. I wondered what was causing the apathy. I am a goal-oriented person by nature, so the idea of meandering through life is foreign to me. I look around the town that I teach, and I see that it is an absolutely charming environment. It is also quiet and calm, and not really conducive to motivation. There aren't a lot of people hanging around, ready to give these kids the kick they need. Teachers are exhausted after teaching, planning and bowing to procedures. Dealing with discipline and apathy is just another headache.
I thought about leadership and group dynamics. I thought about each of the students, and decided to watch them for a few days. I noticed very clear personality traits that would be very beneficial to a group, and would even help a group thrive. I knew I would eventually tell these students about my observations, but not yet.
This whole project came to a head a few days ago, when one of my morning students pointed out something interesting. She said, "I noticed there are a lot of problems going on with __________." I asked her what she meant, and what she thought about the whole ordeal. This student looked at me and said, "she lacks purpose. She doesn't have clear goals. She's bored to death, and that's why she doesn't care. And THAT'S why she gets in trouble."
Perhaps she was paying attention to me more than I thought...
So, I decided this morning that it was time for my plan to unfold. I singled out each student on my list and met with them. I told them about my plan to create an after-school program to motivate kids, to set goals, and to teach them skills that they will be able to carry back into school, and into their interactions with the community.
I will never forget talking to the first student. I walked through the cafeteria during breakfast, and saw him sitting alone, eating his breakfast. I came over and sat beside him. He looked startled, which may have been because I was not his teacher. It also may have been because he had noticed me watching him for the past few weeks, and now I was right beside him.
"Uh... do you need something?"
Me: "Yes. I need help on a project."
"Uh... why are you talking to me? You are not my teacher."
Me: "I know that. May I speak with you later today?"
"..... uh.... yeah..."
And that was the beginning of a memory that will be forever etched in my brain...
Later, I took him out of ISS to sit in the grass and talk to me. Actually, I sat in the middle of the grass while he stood on the sidewalk and stared at me. He looked around, and seemed pretty uncomfortable about the whole ordeal. I asked him if he minded talking to me, and he said it wasn't a problem. I understand it is scary for a feisty educator to pluck you from in-school suspension so you can go sit in the grass with her and talk about a "project." I am grateful he even gave me the time of day.
I asked him what his goals were. He looked at me strange, and told me he didn't really have any. I asked him what he liked to do when he had time, and his face brightened. He told me he liked cars and computers. He went on to tell me that he has a number of computers at home that he works on, and would love to learn how to build computers and even program them. He began to inch over to my patch of grass.
I told him that I had indeed been watching him. I noticed that he is a dedicated follower, and is very loyal to his group. I told him that I noticed he is enthusiastic, and is able to make other followers obey the leader. I also pointed out that in most scenarios this ends up in trouble.
I asked him if he was bored.
He just nodded and stared at me.
I wondered aloud if he had activities that would interest him, if maybe that would make him less likely to follow a group that caused trouble. I told him there were high school seniors that were trying to start a program. I told him that he had skills I could see beneficial in the planning of such a program. I asked him to think about joining me and helping the team. I told him he could take the weekend to think it over.
He squatted down in front of me and looked up at me.
"I already know. I'm in."
I hopped up and yelled "FANTASTIC!"
This happened with four other students I pulled from classes or in the hallway. I took each student out individually to tell them what I had noticed, what very specific traits they had to offer the program, and what I could see as a change for the school and community. I told them that their behavior until now has clearly taken the wrong turn, but those same characteristics can be used to achieve great things. I tried not to be preachy. I tried to be realistic. And I was honest--I really did see these kids as having the capability to make great change and provide leadership to their peers.
I remember reading the quote about the fact that there are people that build things, and people that tear things down; the task was deciding which side you are on. These kids can either be the destroyers or the builders. Anyone really has that capability.
So now, I am sitting here wondering how I am going to take this enthusiastic outburst and keep it moving. I want momentum. I want positive social change. And I believe wholeheartedly that these kids have the power to achieve any goal they can dream. I definitely believe they can change the learning and social climate of the school.
Until now, my task on this blog has been solely to report on my project of things to do before I turn 30. I want to take this post to take a stand and make a change.
What can you do to help? Read the post. Send the post to other people to read. Comment, email, or mail words of encouragement. This is an incredible group of students that are going to beat some amazing odds. They need your support and thoughts. I need your help as well. I believe there are people all over the world that think a small town with only two schools in the county can make an incredible change.
Do me a favor: repost or retweet this post. Get it into the hands of readers that wouldn't normally come across something like this. I want schools and communities to hear about a group of middle school students that were brave enough to make a choice that they wanted a change. And I want them to hear about a soon-to-be high school senior that wants to make all of this change possible. He didn't come from a perfect background, but he desperately wants to be a leader. He's about to lead a major change.
This is our information. If you feel like sending a note of encouragement, we would greatly appreciate it. :-)
1502 Lynchburg Hwy
Lynchburg, TN 37352
You can also email me and I will print messages to hand to the students. Comments on this blog will be shared as well.
Please consider following this project. The students are meeting on Monday afternoon to decide what needs to be done. They are looking at project ideas, fundraising, and learning important leadership and business skills in the process (negotiating, team-building, time management).