Some call me "Flem"

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B.S.Ed | M.Ed | Passionate | Compassionate | Purpose-driven | Public school teacher!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Always be behind? I disagree.

The following is an email I sent in response to a statement made about a {former} student of mine. Only small portions  of the email were redacted, although the information redacted is public information. The redactions do not change the essential message. No person is publicly identified in the email since the purpose was to generate reflective thinking about the students we teach and with whom we work on a daily basis and not to humiliate. This email is several months old, but it's perfect timing as we head back to school. Please forgive any typos/grammatical errors. My thoughts were racing a mile a minute months ago when I sent it. Read. Reflect.

Hello All,
You've seen the emails/texts. Lots going on this week.
Colleague to colleague, I love it when teachers/staff move to make changes within the school! I really do!! Adding a parent piece would be great and I'm sure it'll come in time. I'm hopeful!!

As we are coming together to address the myriad issues around the health/safety/cleanliness of the building, I'd also like for us to look introspectively at how we perceive our students and the great potential that is in each and every one of them, even the ones that tap dance on our nerves!

It matters not that this may not be received well, but from where I stand, not as one who is perfect, but as one who keeps trying and trying to be better than I was yesterday, I feel as though the elephant in the room needs to be identified.

I was recently told that one of my students will "always be behind". I'm trying to leave room for the possibility that such a statement was a slip of the tongue and doesn't represent actual beliefs of any colleague with whom I work. For if the collectively "we", believe that students will "always be behind", then what are we doing? Do we not belief that with extra effort and hard work that they'll eventually catch up? Do we not believe that they are capable of doing "it", whatever "it" may be?

No need for an undergrad reminder on Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development, but I'd urge all of us to rethink how we teach and what we believe about the students in our charge. They cannot rise to low standards. Whether we get support from the office or not, it doesn't matter! Let's do our part to hold our students to high standards of excellence, academics, and behavior.

Providing them with the right level of support, showing genuine interest in them as individuals, complimenting them even when it's hard, you'll be surprised how they'll rise to the occasion! Yes, they'll work a nerve. What relationship are you in where everything is peaches and cream?! Do a PD and I'm there!! These are the dynamics of working with people and not robots! They still deserve a chance, however!

Let's watch what we say and reexamine our beliefs. My Pastor used to say, "the mouth is the meter of the heart." What you believe will come out of your mouth or by your actions.

While it may not be "fair" to bring up issues of race, I'll do it anyway. The make-up of our student body is as follows:
88.2% Black
.9% While
.1% Asian
1.3% Latino
9% Other
https://webapps.philasd.org/school_profile/view/6470

100% of our student body is considered "Economically Disadvantaged"
https://webapps.philasd.org/school_profile/view/6470

If any of us believes that certain students will "always be behind", one could perceive that to be an unfair declaratory statement with racial, classist, and elitist undertones. That perception may be incorrect, true. However, perception, incorrect though it may be, is reality to someone.

Our kids CAN do it! They CAN rise to the occasion! They CAN succeed! They CAN behave! They CAN learn! They CAN do anything they set their minds to do and need a few adults who will not coddle them but will challenge them, providing them with adult guidance, love, and direction all along the way! I don't attribute some of the kids' success to medication, but to the structure, love and support that majority of us provide for them every single day!!

So as we address certain building issues, let's reexamine what we may not know even existed in our minds about what the young scholars of John B. Kelly Elementary School are able to do!

Success is my only option!
Failure is not an option!
In order to be successful, I must work hard!
No excuses!

I see quite a few former students on a daily basis and they still quote this "Flem" mantra. One even said, "Yo Flem, I LIVE by that jawn!!" and proceeded to give me an example of when he wanted to give up on a particular goal. He didn't. He was accepted to collegeS with money to pay for it!!

Don't tell me what's not possible!!

Flem

P.S. If you are offended, please see me and let's chat.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

A Parking Epiphany!

(As seen on pinterest...)


A "Two weeks ago..." experience...

A few minutes ago I parked my car.
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Big whoop!! lol

Except that, it was on a city block and between two other cars, with cars on both sides of the street. Because I'm a seasoned driver, I knew there were certain maneuvers I had to make considering the space on either side of my car so as not to side swipe the cars on the either side of the street.
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Flem, what's your point? There are certain ways of thinking and ways of knowing that come with being seasoned. The idea that some education DE-formers endorse either in word or in 501(c)3 formation, that certified seasoned educators are dead weight, is a dangerous, reckless a fallacious narrative.

What if the world were full of 16-year-old drivers?? In 2016?? With all that we have?? Phones?? Social media?? #iShudder

What if all physicians were interns? No residents. No attendings. All interns.

What if all plumbers, electricians, and carpenters were apprentices? No master plumbers. No master electricians or carpenters. No master barbers. WHOAA!!!! I gots to have a barber that knows wassup!! (ahem...'what's up')

They're new, these teenage drivers, interns, and apprentices. There's nothing wrong with that. But new must be developed. As with teen drivers, interns, or apprentices, you get better (in theory) with practice. The longer you stay with and really work at it, one should improve. How is it that this is OK for nearly every other profession on the planet, but the narrative towards veteran teachers is different?

When schools have a healthy mix of novice and veteran teachers, I'd like to believe that some natural collaboration and growth will occur for both the novice and the veteran. The novice can teach the veteran what the "latest" is in technology, apps, and research while the veteran can help situate these "latests" within the context of sound pedagogical principles and practice.

To think I got all of that while parking my car!


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Unseen Real: The Artist

I've blogged recently about real life teacher/class/student scenarios where there was more going on than what could be seen. I call it the "unseen real," situations where I appeared to be more than a teacher, but a surrogate father or brother or listening ear; where some change was taking place or some need was being met.

Truth be told, many teachers are surrogates of some sort. I, however, can only speak from the place and space where I am.

The story behind this pic? A young brother was struggling in his classes, behaviorally and in a major way! There were times when his teachers needed a respite and asked if I could provide it. Once or twice turned into about 3 months. It became apparent where some of his problems originated. He struggled academically and the space and pace at which I taught were perfect for what he needed! In addition to having those very 'real' chats I've been known to have, his teachers and I along with another key individual came together and developed a plan for him. I discussed it with him and he was willing to make it work! He responded exceptionally well in the classroom of an older "brotha".

Can you hear the critics? "You're coddling Flem!" "What good does that do? You need to teach him some respect, no matter who it is!!" "You're just giving him what he wants! That's not helping him!"

To the critics I'll give you this much attention. Ready? Wait for it! Here we go! OK that's it. Hashtag #done

The difference was dramatic! He went from being a very foul-mouthed something or another, to be a very respectful, very helpful, very polite, gentleman and everyone noticed! His teachers noticed changes in him so much so that they didn't recognize him anymore....in a good way! It wasn't simple at first, but it happened.

Academically, there were still struggles we were working through, but the rapport was established, the teacher/student relationship and trust were established. We can work from there.

But,
he left the school.

So, the pic? One day I noticed him drawing and asked if he'd drawn the picture above the text of this blog. He had. Pleasantly surprised, I asked if I could have it. He said yes. At this point, I asked him to autograph the back of it, with a note "To Mr. Flemming". He did. Excited, I went back to his teachers and informed them of his talent. We began to incorporate that into the academics. But again, and rather abruptly,  he left the school.

We found out where he was attending. We prayed and hoped he'd continue the growth we saw in him!

Every child has a story. Each child tells it differently. Are you listening or do you just want to write them up?

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Unseen Real: Nobody Else


Several years ago, Earl Brown (pseudonym) was a young man in my class. He started cussin' and swearin' before storming out of the classroom. Realizing that Earl had never done this before, I did not get upset. I did not write him up for the infraction, nor was Earl suspended or otherwise disciplined. The next morning before class, Earl made his way to our classroom and read to me a letter of apology that he wrote the previous night. He said that it was easier for him to do it this way. (And if memory serves me correctly, he apologized to the class later.) But in the letter that he read to me he detailed the enigma that was his life experience.

I sat in melancholic astonishment as he listed event after event, situation after situation that occurred in his life. I was also astonished at his level of trust in me to hear him out. He ended his letter with, “Mr. Flemming, you the last one I got left to look up to.” That messed me up! Badly! I kept it together until he left for the school yard, but I had real bad "allergies" that morning before class (3 minutes until I had to pick them up) and on the bus ride home that afternoon. The events of the previous day, his explosion, was a tipping point!

Now, Earl’s blow up and storming out could have easily been noted on a pink slip with some form of school discipline to follow. That would have been the logical next step for any school personnel who would have been in that situation. I get it. My exhortation to my colleagues around the nation, but especially those of us who have the privilege of teaching in urban areas and with boys who share my hue, my advice is to push the 'pause' button. Take a step back and listen to what he may not be telling you. The thing is, he may NEVER tell you. And that's ok. Just know that Tylenol isn't a panacea. Pink slips and suspensions aren't always the answer. Each situation is different and may require a different approach. So before you pick up that pen and pink slip, push pause.

The Unseen Real: 2k16

The kid was throwing a violent tantrum, insolently incorporating single-syllable four letter words into a diatribe directed at a staff member who had just rejected his request. What I heard in my ears was louder than this profanity-laced vitriolic tirade, however. What I heard was a kid who was sick of adults making promises they, for whatever reason, did not or could not keep. He said as much. But before he indicated what the real issue was, I heard and saw that there was something deeper than what I was witnessing. So I sat and watched as he did....'him'. Another staff member stood and did the same. Just chilled.

Some teachers would have gone straight to labels, medicine, psychologists, psychiatrists, blah blah blah. After a few minutes, he turned on NBA 2K16 and invited me to play. I just messed up someone's theology with that one right there!! A game?? After what he did and said?? Yes. I cannot discuss it further.

But yes, he said, "Ayo Mr. Flemming play me!" Huh? Who me? Ha!! The last system I touched as Super Nintendo and before that, Atari!! Needless to say, I was a little intimidated. He offered to teach me, though. I sat. We switched roles. The teacher became the student and the student became the teacher. But there was something unseen going on. There was something more real than the obvious; the switching of roles and me learning how to play NBA 2K16 with this 14-year-old master teacher in charge. Unseen though it may have been, real nonetheless. This kid didn't need a diagnosis and subsequent prognosis. He needed calm-osis, listening-ear-osis, strong-older-brotha-osis! Before I left, in less than 15 seconds I encouraged him to "be cool", "chill", and to try not to explode like that again. He understood and in his way consented.

I wonder how many of our Black boys are being pushed through the school-to-prison pipeline because adults are being Tylenol, only looking to address symptoms.

Are you a Tylenol teacher?

A $4 Classroom Rebirth!



After several years in 6th grade and a quick stint in 5th grade, this past year I taught 3rd grade for a second year. I learned a lot about this age group AND about myself as an educator.

Reflecting on the year gone by, I found myself in a labyrinth of sorts, what seemed like an endless search for effective teaching and learning experiences. It was a challenge for many reasons. It also sharpened me as a teacher as well. One evening while picking up items in Dollar Tree, I had an epiphany. Stuffed animals. Why? I don't know. I think it was that inner teacher voice that said, "Now try this." I had in my mind a particular student who I thought could use it as a reading buddy. I thought that having something to hold on and/or read to would help that particular student.

After a couple of weeks I incorporated them into the class by just putting them in a neon green basket in one of the class library areas. They were a hit!!! (FOR EVERYONE!!!)

That particular child and other kids would come in and grab a stuffed animal and just hold it while reading. They'd be more engaged in their pleasure reading. Even the boys would run and be sure they got a stuffed animal to hold on to.

Not only during times of SSR* would they go for them, but everyday after lunch they'd be a hit too. Each day after lunch, I allotted 20 minutes of "Quiet Time". Lights off. Classical music in the background. Sleep. Draw silently. Read. Think. Or just sit. The stuffed animals became silent play buddies, sleeping buddies, or just a buddy to hold on to while reading near the window.

I could've kicked myself. WHY didn't I think of this sooner?!?
The one change I would make would be to get MORE of them so that every child who wanted one, could get one.

I'm moving back up to 5th grade next year. Do you think they will like a stuffed animal to hold when they read? We'll see...

*For my SSR beliefs click here

Thursday, July 21, 2016

It's Been a Minute

It's been a long time
Since I posted on here, do
I post now? Not yet.

(ID the form of poetry.)