On Thursday Angel took one of the classroom laptops, flipped it open and took a picture of his butt. But then he inadvertently printed it to the computer next door. So the students standing there waiting for their stuff got a pixelated image of Angel’s butt and gave it to the teacher who then brought it to me since I am the principal. Our first reaction (after we laughed) was… “now what would possess Angel to take a picture of his butt? He is three weeks from being promoted to the 9th grade.”
Angel is a great kid. Funny, intelligent, charming. But, man, he does some dumb things. (We had to suspend him for bringing a knife to school a month ago and for punching Roberto in the head a few weeks before that). “Think Angel! Think!!!” OK… so if his teacher had assigned him to take a picture of his butt he might not have done it because Angel does what he feels like doing. Or more accurately, he does what seems relevant in his world. So he might not do his algebra homework and he might not finish his research paper on the Mayans. I wonder… how do we connect with what Angel wants to do so that what he wants to do is consistent with the pro-social behaviors that will help him succeed and get along with others? And how can Angel’s motivation to do stupid things be held in check? Especially when the stupid things he does are just stupid to us? Because in the culture of 8th grade students at Mueller Charter School, it was adjudged that 1) Roberto had it coming, 2) the knife thing was just an accident and 3) nobody really wants to see Angel’s butt anyway. And when you strip away the cosmic trappings of academia, that’s how the forces of motivation work in classrooms every day.
I wondered what the big deal was about the new computers with the Apples on them. And I wondered how I could use them in my classroom…and to my credit… I knew they had a place there. Then Apple created a smaller computer called a 2C. Then a Macintosh. Then color screens. Then new peripherals and applications and programs. And then it wasn’t the 1980’s anymore. Though my instincts were always a little bit ahead of my technical expertise… I just kept building a technological infrastructure in my teaching repertoire. I didn’t see the internet coming. But as soon as I saw it I integrated that into my bag of magic tricks too. I do magic tricks. There is still room for more stuff. Like IPods and cell phones and Garage Band and video. And blogs.
I’m not in the classroom anymore but that doesn’t stop me from teaching. After 30 years I have learned two things: 1) I don’t know a freakin’ thing… and 2) You teach more by asking skillful questions than you do by telling people your version of truth. Nevertheless, I am going back to teaching. Right here. Right now. When I am not leading El Milagro… I want to teach. Blog. Learn something before the most extraordinary teaching tool in the brief history of technology development is invented and I am left scratching my head and wondering how I’m going to squeeze it in the bag much less figure out how to turn the power on.
At Mueller Charter School we take pictures. We capture the moment. Our students are so photogenic that you just point the camera and shoot and their extraordinary natural beauty will do the rest. When you walk on our campus the photos are everywhere. They are who we are. As if by magic, they bring the spirit of this place to life. At all hours. At 3:00 when our students are going home. At 10:00pm when skateboarders are diving off of our lunch tables and trampling the corners of the flower beds. At 2:00am when teenagers drink their 40 ouncers on the play structures and you wonder where their parents are. In the summer months when schools sit quietly and breathe the silent air. Their photos remain. Ubiquitous. Maybe haunting. Punctuated by the gentle wind which you would not notice if it were not for the steady rhythm of a tetherball chain banging against the pole.
You can learn a lot about a school even when the children are gone and it seems like years since you’ve last seen them. Some 7,000 photos later we are all reminded that you can not separate them from our mission. They are, after all, El Milagro…“the miracle”.