Adventures in Career Education: Clear Eyes

Nothing is as important as football in East Texas. And when I first moved out here, I was judgmental about that.

I’m over it. I’ve realized that Friday night at the stadium is an authentic assessment of so much student learning. I watched kids who were sleeping through my classes lead their football or dance teams, drum sections or picolo players to victory and I thought, “I want some of that.”

I don’t know from football but I loved Friday Night Lights, so I’ve adopted the show’s catchphrase for my second year as a rural Texas teacher: “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!” Here’s how the first part of that challenge I set for myself has been going.

Clear Eyes

Practically speaking, my first commitment was to SHOW instead of TELL. My Career Education class is project-based (we’re not gold-standard yet — that’s next year’s commitment) and I have managed to create an example for all of my projects this semester. I’ve also incorporated much more in-class practice for our performance-based assessments.

Ad used in our entrepreneurship project.

Outcome? Success! Students with less out-of-class experience with printed or English material have turned in work much closer to that of their peers, and my A+ kids are less anxious about getting it right.

The questions I have about this practice is whether I’m limiting their imaginations, or how I can move towards more open-ended projects without stressing these same two groups out.

The second part of my Clear Eyes commitment was to set clearer, easier-to-follow, more positive behavior expectations. I’ve still got the five rules that my education professor signed off on before I left Baylor, but I’ve expanded my procedures list.

Procedures allow me to offer reminders, like, “Hey, that’s window weirdness. Remember, we don’t announce who’s outside to the class,” instead of having to give consequences all the time. Hat tip to Edutopia where I always find great suggestions for classroom management.

The last part of Clear Eyes has evolved for me this semester. In Career Education, my students are opening their eyes to all the ways they could have a life they can enjoy and respect. I’ve had to become clear on a couple things:

  • a lot of my kids of color and poor kids have very limited pictures of what someone like them can do/would enjoy doing because our economy out here has been so limited and historically segregated
  • my assumptions about my kids’ goals and background are often misinformed

I invite speakers to talk to my classes about their jobs, but it is not easy in rural East Texas to “be deliberately anti-racist” and find speakers who reflect the diversity of my classroom. When I taught ESL, I remember telling colleagues who needed to get a message to my kids that, “There’s always an auntie or brother who can help.” It was true: kids come with families.

In my new context, I am just now starting to find the aunties and brothers and grandmommas and pastors and community leaders who can help me translate what’s important about their contexts and my program. It’s a joyful journey, but I recognize that I am essentially still on square one.

In fact, I’m still at square one on a lot of these issues but my commitments to transparency this semester seem to have brought more trust into my classroom. My kids seem to think I will do what I can to help them learn. I’ve been doing this teaching thing for a while now, so I know what an honor that is.