A Mosaic In Progress

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 19 2013

Mo Cheeks in My Classroom

On August 2nd, 2006 before tip-off of an NBA game, Natalie Gilbert was scheduled to sing the national anthem. She had the flu that day but she still decided to sing before the Blazers and Mavericks played to determine who would advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. The anthem began and it seemed like all would go well however it was clear that Gilbert forgot the lyrics of the anthem in the middle of the song. She stops, tries to recover, but then she drops her head down to her microphone hand as if embarrassed to continue. It was at this moment that Blazers Coach Mo Cheeks walks up next to her and begins to sing the words where she left off.

If anyone had an excuse not to intervene in the game introductions, it would be the Head Coach who would be more concerned with the game itself. It was also a playoff game when every win counts! Yet here was Cheeks who decided the right thing to do was to ease the burden of this young girl by singing along with her and finish the anthem. I had to watch the clip again after writing about it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4880PJnO2E.

(Note: Normally, I only use initials of my students to protect their identity. To further protect the student in this post, I substituted his initials with two other letters.)

It’s no secret that there are students who end up in classrooms all over America behind grade-level in spite of the hard work of those in Education. One of these students, XY, came to the high school grade-levels behind in reading. Here’s a list of things that I have seen teachers do (and, in some cases, I had to do myself):

  • Read questions, answers, and problems on most assignments and assessments
  • Define and explain what words mean in context
  • Spell words, even if the words only contain three or four letters
  • Help write e-mails and spend extended amounts of times on even just a couple words in the subject line

You can imagine the amount of work it takes to handle these students while meeting the needs of the rest of the classroom. As an aside, I applaud those teachers who have demonstrated perseverance by doing this for years! You can also imagine how hard it is for XY who probably draws a lot of negative attention as a result.

In the last Science and Technology project of the school year, Ms. R and I created a project to help lock down the school from a cyber-attack. We asked the students to create a security awareness newsletter to help inform next year’s students on what they could do to protect themselves. Afterward, they had to deliver a presentation on what they would recommend to the school to help prevent a crisis in our Information Technology (IT). For this project, I had the help of a close friend who now works in Washington D.C. to grade the newsletters. Then for the presentations I asked my former professor from my Master’s program to judge.

By this time, the 7th Graders have made several presentations in other classes including Math, another class I teach. In talking to several students, I noticed that it sparked some friendly competition. “Mr. E, you know who’s going to be on top of this project too!” said one of my students with a grin when we started the project. Needless to say, I was getting excited to watch them as well. On presentation day, there were a variety of recommendations including fingerprint scanners, ID access cards, and anti-virus software. There was even a recommendation for a moat (somewhat my fault for mentioning it in the beginning =)!

Eventually, XY came to present along with two other 7th Graders, CM and MT. While looking at the presentation, I was pretty impressed with the content. However, it wasn’t until I saw XY walk up next to slides on IT Security that I started getting nervous for him. How would someone be able to handle complex IT terms? The first slide on physical controls came up and he looked back and cocked his head to the side. It got silent. He started to sound out the words, “Physical … controls … gives access … to … factories.” I could hear a smattering of laughter in the back. Then I heard MT say, “Facilities.” XY continues presenting but all the while I see MT and CM walking through the presentation with him. They start anticipating the difficult words – “Cameras”, “Fingerprint”, “Scanner”. He wraps up and before MT begins her part of the presentation she looks at him and tells him, “Good job.” It was barely audible but genuine.

I couldn’t help but form my mouth into a smile at this entire scene. Here is a student that struggled with reading presenting in front of 45-50 students on IT security. At a moment when the class could have publicly mocked and laughed at XY, two of his peers help guide him through the presentation by reading with him. In his feedback, my professor ultimately chose this group as the best presentation after watching a recording. “The content was well-laid out,” he said as he gave the feedback, “and I thought the team looked very cohesive and encouraging.

I am excited to show my professor’s reactions to my students. In that class period, I had incredibly talented students. There were star presenters who didn’t need the slides behind them to present. Students also combined research with experience to generate creative recommendations. Yet it’s a fitting end to the year that the team who won the class presentations displayed concern and encouragement. I had a couple “Mo Cheeks’s” in my classroom =).

My last post I talked about the restraint of some Seniors in refraining from hacking a teacher’s Facebook account. I am incredibly thankful that my 7th Graders have the potential to display the same consideration of others.

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    Midwesterner being thankful for every written experience … even when it hurts =)

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