Ten days into the 1999-2000 school year, a young man walked into my classroom with administrative paperwork documenting that he was a new addition to Glenbrook North High School and my chemistry class. I introduced myself, as did he. I swiftly recorded the information into my gradebook and announced to the class, “Everyone please welcome Isaac to our chemistry community. He is a new student at GBN, so we want to make sure we make him feel welcome and catch him up with our investigations up to this point!”
The class welcomed Isaac with smiles and a few handshakes. One student pointed to an empty desk and Isaac took a seat. I then moved quickly into the day’s activity. “Okay, I need everyone to move desks so that you each have a partner and you’re sitting back-to-back. Those of you facing south, take out a sheet of paper and pencil. Those of you facing north, I’m going to give you a picture of a sketched figure. You are to describe this figure to your partner in a manner that will allow him/her to draw it. You cannot look at each other. And only the person with the figure can speak. You have 5 minutes. Go!”
As the activity progressed, I noticed that Isaac was not drawing and appeared quite confused. I immediately intervened so that his first introduction to my class would not be traumatic. I soon realized, with the help of another student, Howard, that Isaac spoke very little English, and in fact had just arrived in the United States the night before! So I stopped the activity, asked Isaac up front and announced, “Okay, change of plans everyone. You all are now going to listen to Isaac describe this new figure to you. Draw it as best you can.” I told Howard to tell Isaac to describe it in his native language, Korean. Isaac looked at me confused. I reiterated, “In Korean.” He smiled and began speaking in what I can only interpret as a confident and happy tone, and it sounded swift, too!
“Okay! Time’s up! Hold up your images!” The class smiled and held them up, with every card being blank except three students, who, of course, all spoke Korean. I smiled and said, “Great job, Isaac! From the looks of these three students’ drawings, you gave incredibly good directions!” To the rest of the class I said, “Now we have a better idea of how Isaac feels when we talk to one another during our classroom activities. Let’s make sure we remember that and do whatever we can to stay together, okay?” I then had them journal their thoughts about the activity and strategize ways to work together. It is one of the most potent memories I have with students really absorbing the meaning of empathy. To this day, Isaac writes me to tell me it was an incredibly positive turning point in his GBN experiences and always looked forward to coming to class.
When Dr. Ming Fang He came to speak to my curriculum class, I immediately reflected on this memory. The sense of “in-betweenness” she spoke of is something I do encounter with many of my students in my district. We have a significant Asian population, a large percentage of whom have been in the country less than six months or are first generation. Isaac certainly taught me a great deal about this idea of "in-betweenness" as I read his journal reflections. I learned about his background, culture, home life v. school life, responsibilities, transitions, hurdles, successes, etc. The cross-cultural lives highlighted in Dr. Fang He’s narrative research was quite informative and filled in more of the academic details needed to aid me in my instructional practice.
As I read her stories and heard her speak, I also made an unexpected mental leap with the information. I, too, am living a life of “in-betweenness” right now. I certainly would never equate these feelings with those of Isaac or any of Dr. Fang He’s subjects. However, the parallel idea is quite striking, and a bit unnerving. I am someone who likes to look at the big picture and then figure out the details later, either as a means for building something or deconstructing something. So here are my categories of “in-betweenness.”
Reward vs. Anxiety
• I suppose my thoughts first traverse through superficial waters. I feel quite lucky that I happened upon this program and that I was given the advice to take this course first. I am so glad I did. I realize how much is out there and look forward to digesting more. Dewey, Schwab, van Manen, Noddings, Chomsky, Schultz, Schubert, Kohn, Pollan, Fang He, etc. have all passed through my hands this semester and I find my head spinning. How will I synthesize, process and harness these ideas in both a practical and foundational manner? What will it look like? What will it feel like?
• At the same time, I am incredibly anxious. Will we have the finances to allow me to continue? Will the remaining courses be this inspiring? Or has this been an act that will surely be impossible to follow? How will I ever get through all the readings I want to do since I need to continue to work full time for now?
Happiness vs. Depression
• I love being a student. I love listening to my classmates ask reflective questions on the readings. I love being a member of a community where people are passionate about the world of education and are open-minded to the idea of honestly investigating not only institutional curriculum, but also their own personal curriculum and how that influences what they do.
• I cannot believe I spent so many years directionless. I should’ve listened to my husband years ago and absorbed what he had to say. Had I done so, I would’ve broken free from the feeling of helplessness I felt the last few years. This feeling also took a toll on my family. It’s hard to be a part of the very institutional setting that actively makes poor choices for students and not feel suffocated. But I know it’s not impossible to break free and I should’ve found an avenue. Why did I think I had nothing to offer or feel so down? It is so unlike me…It’s frustrating that I waited this long to act. I’m incredibly upset with myself for not reflecting with eyes, heart and mind more open.
Enlightenment vs. Confusion
• Every Wednesday, I look forward to coming to class to hear stories, process readings, connect with peers and receive affirmation that my experiences and practice are on a good path. It has been such a treasure to have access to some of the most insightful, experienced, intelligent scholars in the area of curriculum. I look at my work through a new lens and see myself doing so much more…
• Every Wednesday, I come to class challenged by a personal or academic puzzle in the area of curriculum and leave with at least five more! I love being pushed into an area of intellectual discomfort and working my way through it by experimenting in class and/or talking with family, friends, classmates and colleagues. It’s invigorating! It’s the foundation for true growth.
Presently, my sense of “in-betweenness” permeates my daily life. I oscillate between illuminating and demanding emotions every moment these days. Suffice it to say, I’m feeling alive and inspired to unfold the next phase of my educational journey.
Educators. Students. Community members. Much more unites us than divides us, particularly knowing we all wear multiple hats. Building relationships. Thinking BIG.
Challenging and supporting one another. Developing engaged, empathetic citizens. Please join me in pondering how best to nurture these common ground connections.