I’ve stared at this page for quite a few minutes, trying to think of how to approach this blog entry. It’s the first time in some time I have been at a standstill. Usually I have thoughts spilling out, and my fingers can’t type fast enough to capture them. Please bear with me, I may approach this blog differently–
The Day Mr. Shank Went Crazy
When I was in 7th grade, I had an art teacher named Mr. Shank. Like some people in life, for example Charlie Sheen, I didn’t particularly like Mr. Shank until the day when everyone started hating him. This day was known throughout the 7th grade, as the day Mr. Shank went crazy.
It was a seemingly ordinary day–November 1st, 2003. After recess, my 7th grade class filed into the art room, chattering about Halloween festivities. Mr. Shank usually didn’t allow this kind of distraction from art, but for some reason he tolerated it today. We got our art supplies (we were painting that day), and began working on our pictures. Our tables were positioned in a circle, with Mr. Shank seated at the front of the room. Mr. Shank seemed to be in a good mood, and he began to join in our conversation. He asked one girl, let’s call her Kathy, what she had dressed up as for Halloween. [Let me give you some background information about Kathy. In middle school, especially in 7th grade, there are the popular kids. Kathy fancied herself popular. Despite her horrible personality, everyone liked Kathy. Teachers liked Kathy, students liked Kathy, pretty much everyone liked Kathy. I did not particularly care for Kathy, actually.] Kathy shrugged, and remarked casually “I dressed up as a fag.”
I can still remember the perfect arc Mr. Shank’s paintbrush made as it flew across the room, splattering paint on students, art projects, and everything in between. Mr. Shank’s face was as red as the paint he had expelled everywhere. For a split second everything and everyone was quiet—- and then Mr. Shank erupted. “YOU CAN’T SAY THINGS LIKE THAT! YOU THINK THAT IS FUNNY? MAKING FUN OF SOMETHING JUST BECAUSE IT’S DIFFERENT THAN YOU? THAT IS NOT OKAY. YOU CAN NOT USE THAT LANGUAGE HERE.” Everyone was still; shocked completely. No one said a word for the rest of art class…when we finally left, the halls were a buzz with the chatter of “Mr. Shank freaking out.”
Mr. Shank’s outburst really resonated with me. It was the first time in my life an adult addressed sexual identity. In middle school, an ignorant remark was often made and over heard by teachers. Teachers always hushed it up, telling students to watch their language, but never addressed the real issue. Mr. Shank wasn’t willing to sweep the issue under the rug— and that is why I started to like him. He let us know not only was there nothing wrong with different sexual identities, but also that ignorant attitudes towards those different identities were not acceptable.
When I read the blog prompt, I immediately thought of Mr. Shank. This situation taught me two things about presentations:
1.) Don’t be afraid to challenge others perceptions or thoughts
2.) BUT– be careful how you send your message
Throwing paint at students and yelling probably was not the best way to challenge our 7th grade class. Every message you present, you have to be conscious of how it is being interpreted (part of inclusive language). If you present a challenge in a certain way, sometimes your message is completely lost by your method.
My Approach to Group Facilitation
I’m a big fan of circles, I always have been. I love polka dots, protractors, full moons, pita pizzas, and pressing the button first on the elevator. (Disclaimer: I do not like donuts, coffee mug stains, or that terrible moment when you realize you have been driving for the last ten minutes in a giant circle.) So, it makes sense that I approach group facilitation by encouraging circles. I feel like it’s more personal, and encourages discussion more.
About half way through last summer, I started using the “Think, Pair, and Share” technique. I used this when discussing the freshman reading, or before an ice breaker. This was really effective in improving discussion about the freshman reading. Not all students had read the article, so pairing sometimes served as a peer education technique. It also got new students interacting and talking.
Roll with the Punches;
But don’t get Crazy.
One day, I had a very anxious student to student group. They had heard a lot of myths about IU, dorms, University, professors, etc. I decided to try something new– I asked them to call out rumors they had heard about IU, and I wrote them on the board. We discussed each one, dissecting the origins of the rumor, and debunking stereotypes. It was one of the more interactive groups I had, and at the end of the session, I really felt I had eased many of the worries those students had.
“Rolling with the punches” allows you to accommodate the group. Student groups are really like snow flakes; no two are alike. Sometimes switching up your presentation style or group facilitation method is really beneficial. But, don’t get too crazy. Remember that every student should be given the same great experience. Also, there are messages that need to be given to every student group, always, regardless, forever.
On a Personal Note
I’m very frustrated with this week being called “Dead Week”. It really gives students false hopes. As I’m sure many will agree, this week is anything but dead! I have a lot going on….but as always, I’ll get through it quicker than I think. I’m looking forward to summer days, and closing my books for the semester.