What Am I Doing Here?

Today’s Contributor: “Classroom 2”

I am standing before a small group of students detained in our juvenile justice system. They are all wearing grey slacks and maroon polos, but each young person comes with his own ideas, experiences, beliefs, and unique baggage. They are between 15 and 18 in age, some of them have been in the juvenile system for years.  What should I be teaching these four young people, who have found just about every other school experience a dismal failure?  If I were to neglect to ask myself this question on a daily, period-by-period basis, I am assured that one young gentlemen will certainly pose the question to me in some form.  Today I am trying to give them the skills to create their own beats on the professional music production software (Ableton Live). The project is to add a music track to the animations they created last semester. This class in front of me created a claymation parable.  “What goes around comes around.”   ( https://vimeo.com/252216905 )  Another class created “Boat Lesson”(  https://vimeo.com/252216725 )

Eugene (name changed to protect privacy), whom every other teacher describes as sweet and compliant, but challenges me on a daily basis begins, “What do I need this for. I’m going to play soccer.  I don’t need to know computers. I hate computers.  Why are we learning this?”  Mr. P, the county staff in the room, offers me support, and tells his charges, his dream of becoming a baseball player was crushed when he got injured. “You need a back-up,” he tells Eugene.  

There is at least one county staff in every classroom, sometimes more. Staff are there not only to ensure the residents’ safety, but also to ensure respect for rules that are in place to help them heal and develop the skills to negotiate their lives when they return to ‘the free’ as they refer to the world outside these walls..

Eugene appears certain that he knows exactly what he needs in his life, and appears not to consider his staff’s comment valid .  More accurately, though, Eugene probably doesn’t believe that there is any chance of success for him, so how could any of this matter.  I need an answer for him, but more than that, I need something interesting enough that the answer doesn’t matter.  The question comes up most when we hit a difficult patch that requires the student to put himself out there just a bit, make some mistakes, and struggle to find success.  This is basically every week in this classroom.

I teach a sequence that begins with Principles of Art Audio Video Technology and Communication. We use professional graphic audio and video software.  It isn’t easy, especially if you didn’t grow up in a home with a computer, have cameras available, and access to  enriching experiences in life from which to draw inspiration.  I call the class I teach ‘Media Production’ and believe that means I teach anything digital media related that can capture the interests of my students long enough to a create a sustained learning experience, and perhaps spark the beginning of some passion deep inside that could comfort them or empower them.  

Today, I am teaching them music theory.  They have finished short animations (link here)  expressing simple parables and are now working on creating a music track for these creations.  I knew little about audio production when I started here, but soon found this was an amazingly engaging topic/activity for them, so I’ve been learning fast.

Over time, my students begin to engage reluctantly.  Perhaps it is because if they don’t, staff will take their points which allow them certain privileges.  One point for me; however, because one student did not stop working when it was time to go. He was so focused, I’m not even sure he heard his Staff.  Today that student wasn’t Eugene, though. Eugene stopped as soon as he heard the message from Control over the Staff’s radio, “Start wrapping it up,” indicating students were about to move to the next classroom.

Still, I have begun to suspect that Eugene seems to be engaged in challenging me, and won’t want to let on if we are making progress together.  I’m resolved, I tell myself.   We’ll both be back tomorrow.


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