Reclaiming the Classroom

            “Reclaiming the Classroom”: three words that are seemingly unimportant, but when looked at closer, pack a powerful punch. Just what is the meaning of this three-word clause, or is it a phrase? Are English Teachers supposed to know this? You might get a visual of a kindergarten teacher calming his wild students down after a recess break. What about the picture of a teacher taking over a class discussion that has gone awry between her ninth grade students. It may even mean a principal taking action against a teacher who shows little interest in the failing test grades of his students. Are you beginning to see the power behind these three words? I’m an aspiring English Teacher so looking at the influence of words over the mind tends to get me hyped-up like a six-year-old boy on Mountain Dew… Forgive me in advance.

            In Mike Rose’s book Lives on the Boundary, a chapter titled “Reclaiming the Classroom” strikes a chord with me. In the context of the novel, this title refers to Rose’s experience teaching veteran students. Not only does the word ‘reclaiming’ refer to teaching in new and non-traditional ways for the benefit of these students, but also a more metaphorical meaning in reclaiming the lives of the students who seem to have fallen from being ‘accepted’ by society. The demonstration of Mike Rose’s passion for teaching evolves in this chapter. It can be seen in his ‘above-and-beyond’ work with individual students and the willingness to work for hours to restructure his lessons to ensure understanding.

            In taking classes to become a future educator I have picked up on some ideas of what it may look like to be a teacher. One idea that seems to be an umbrella, so to speak, for the rest of the characteristics is the idea of potential student ability over student placement. If I am getting anything from my classes I am realizing that seeing a student’s abilities and knowledge as set-in-stone is absolutely wrong. Not that I have ever believed this myself. We are being taught to ‘see the future’, in essence, in being able to motivate, encourage, and believe in students and push them to a destination we, with our specialized teachers’ goggles, can see on the horizon. This destination, especially if the student has been deemed ‘unteachable’, ‘dumb’, or ‘lower level’ cannot typically be seen by the student. It is our job, therefore, to see it for them and to get them there.

            I think Rose does an amazing job of living this out as an educator. Nowhere in his writing does he explicitly state this philosophy of teaching, yet he does it in excellence. My favorite part of the chapter is when Rose uses the poem entitled Butch Weldy to show one of his students the importance of giving information and detail in his writing. Nowhere in Rose’s novel do we see him as the author or as an educator deeming a student as unteachable or with zero potential for the future. I love that this theme runs throughout his book, especially in this chapter, without so much as a word to explain it. So to end on a ‘get up and do it’ kind of note, let us be teachers who reclaim our classrooms from the traditional ways of educating and see our students as vessels of potential. Push those vessels into the sea and on towards their educational destinies! 

 

-Alex Reynolds

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