The power of the fork

"A fork in the road. Which way should I go?" by Nicholas Mutton via geograph.org.uk CC ShareAlike 2.0

“A fork in the road. Which way should I go?” by Nicholas Mutton via geograph.org.uk CC ShareAlike 2.0

The fork is thought to have originated in Ancient Egypt. However, the proverbial fork in the road probably originated with Eve.

How many times in a day are we met with such forks, decisions that need to be made, usually on the spot, especially if you’re a teacher?

“May I go to the bathroom,” says the student suddenly standing in front of me as I’m moving around the room helping the class with the writing assignment.

*Quick calculation: How far are we into class? Is this a student who takes advantage of me for bathroom privileges? Has she already left class more than once this week? Am I about to address the class with instructions? Make a decision. Yes or no.

I am approaching a student who is not on task for writing assignment.

*Quick calculation: What was his topic? Had he started already? Had he run into interviewing obstacles? What was the last interaction I had with him? Is he prone to accepting feedback or prone to frustration and potential meltdown with too much pressure? Make a decision. Gently ask about status or demand he get back on task.

That last one, I feel I’ve dealt with dozens of times daily the past couple weeks with a newspaper staff mid-production cycle and a yearbook staff sitting on one publisher deadline while another peers over the horizon. And with two intro to journalism classes learning feature writing and the art of interviewing, I’m checking in with all temperaments of students all day long.

Those are little forks. We also have bigger forks, forks that have the potential to make or break us.

Our district just hired a new superintendent. Those of us at the classroom level of the hierarchy wonder, how will this change things in the coming year(s)? Will this person be a top-down mandate maker, establishing rules and sending memos from headquarters like we see at government levels? Or will this person go into the buildings where the children and teachers are, see how things are going, build relationships and really get to know the people and what their needs are? Will this person fight the mandate-makers for what is right and best for the children? I’m hoping for the latter.

The law and mandate makers are so busy from their place on the hill, out of the trenches, trying to find ways to test and make sure teachers are doing their jobs (though no testing of students can accurately do that), make sure students are doing their jobs, that they are not only taking time away from teaching and learning, but they are taking the joy out of teaching and learning.

Students these days barely know anything but drill and test. I have found that students in this atmosphere largely fall into one of three categories:

There are the rebellious, who are tired of being told what to do, how to do it and what they are to think of it. They are given so little choice or voice in the place where they spend the majority of their day growing and developing, they are angry at the world and they are in your face about it.

There are the apathetic, who have given up. They’ve tried to be creative and let their inner artist have a say, only to be shut down and told they’re wrong. So left thinking they are inadequate, they’ve given up and do nothing.

There are the compliant who have followed the rules, studied, memorized, or marked C when they weren’t sure, they’ve colored in the lines and maintained their 4.0 to the best of their ability, but it’s done nothing for them. They await the next instruction because without that, they have no clue what to do next. The world will crush them.

We need that leader who will come in and see what is going on, who will ask those of us in it every day – and I mean everybody, from teachers and staff to students – what needs to happen in order for all of us to be successful. We need someone connected to other successful educators from around the nation and the world.

So I’m at one of the bigger forks in the road. I can worry and look for all the ways things are going badly and could get worse. Or I can keep doing my best, lifting up students while still trying my best to hold them accountable, and looking for all the ways things are going well. I can put my faith in the future and things improving in my district and in my state. It’s tough, sometimes, when all the other forks in the drawer get tangled, but I’ll do my best.

What fork in the road are you currently contemplating?

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About teachjournalism
I am a high school teacher of journalism, technology and reading. I advise the school's newspaper and yearbook, both student-led publications. Documenting and sharing my experiences is a way of reflecting to improve my own work and and inviting commentary so that we might all benefit. I believe, as I tell my students each year, that we all learn from each other.

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