Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tales of a Beginning Teacher

On his first day of teaching, Brendan Clarke entered his southwest Chicago classroom wanting to teach kids to create rather than imitate, to break the line, rather than stand in line. Two years later, Brendan left to study permaculture and regenerative community design. This is Brendan’s story.

Brendan's annoy book and students
Students dive into "Facts to Annoy Your Teacher" after receiving a shipment of books.
Courtesy of Brendan Clarke
As I sweated through my suit in my 95-degree classroom, it occurred to me that I had never been truly nervous for the beginning of school until I became a teacher. As a student, I was always excited. Who will my teacher be? What will we learn? Similar questions stirred in my mind, but now I was responsible for the answers to both. Who will I be as a teacher? What will they learn? It was a case of the blind leading the all-too-closely-watching. Still, things were off to a good start.
The buzz of Spanish that had filled the hallways of this 95 percent Latino school had died down, and the security scanners had been stowed away. The smell of chilaquiles form the staff potluck lingered in the hallways, and even the brick walls seemed to exhale as the commotion of the first moments of the first day of school settled into the morning's work. The kids were listening quietly and attentively; the copy machine had worked without a tantrum in the morning; and my suit added a nice air of authority to my otherwise adolescent appearance.
The door swung open and a young Latino boy with a face as round as a basketball bounced his way into the room. He was Alan. He was late. And he did not close the door.
In the middle of my first few minutes as a teacher on the southwest side of Chicago, as I was spewing off the standard fare about punctuality and attendance, I found my authority challenged. The door swung open and a young Latino boy with a face as round as a basketball bounced his way into the room. He was Alan. He was late. And he did not close the door. I was about to welcome him when he interrupted me, saying, “It’s a dude!”
How to respond?
Somehow, in my five weeks of teacher training over the summer, we had failed to cover the appropriate response to the “It’s a dude!” entrance. Over those weeks, I co-taught high school English to an average of four students, but I never had an Alan. As a new teacher, I lacked the experience to have good judgment, but I made up for it with perseverance. Teaching was not a job, it was an act of social justice, and so I carried on.
“Please t—take your seat,” I managed.
“Oh my god, man. It’s a dude!” said the yet-to-be-seated Alan.
Brendan Chef Fraction
Chef Fraction stands in for Mr. Clarke to teach the students about fractions.
Courtesy of Brendan Clarke
Thus began day one of year one. By my prep period at 10:30 a.m., I was passed out with my head down on my desk and the lights off. By 2:30, when the kids had left, I was passed out again. By the end of the week, I was a rag doll masquerading as a fifth grade teacher.
Around this same time something strange happened to me. For one of the first times in my life, I realized that I was failing. Like me, my students were not where they needed to be. That single fact was the reason I joined Teach For America (TFA): to help kids get a good education and to “catch up.” Suddenly, however, I was confronted by the possibility that I might actually make things worse for these kids.
Fast forward two years, many 90-plus-hour work weeks, and a summer spent creating an integrated curriculum from scratch with the help of two amazing fellow TFA teachers.
As on my first day, I am soaking wet—again.
Despite uncertain beginnings and uncertain futures, something happened here. My students succeeded. Therefore, we succeeded.
But this time, it is not sweat. I have just finished a year-end ritual known as “the balloons” with my students. A dozen staff and parents watched as I read Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go to 26 beautiful, brilliant fifth graders, all nervously holding a colored water balloon in their hands. Shortly after, I asked the students to raise their balloons above their heads, and I popped each one as they shouted our class theme: “Repair the World!” In the end, there was only one balloon and one dry head remaining—mine. My students quickly solved the problem.
Brendan Alan Balloon
Alan cannot hide his anxiety as his turn comes up in the famous "balloons" activity.
Courtesy of Brendan Clarke
Still smiling, still dripping, I sat down at my desk after dismissing the kids for the last time. A slightly taller, slightly less-round Alan, now finishing sixth grade, bounced into the room. After laughing about “the balloons,” which he had experienced as my fifth grade student, we chatted about his future for nearly an hour. It was not so much any particular plan, but his relentless hope, burgeoning maturity, and endless humor that made his lasting impression on me. Despite uncertain beginnings and uncertain futures, something happened here. My students succeeded. Therefore, we succeeded.
To the discontent of my principal and many families, I no longer teach fifth grade in Chicago. Critics may point to me as an example of the problem with TFA: many teachers do not stay in the classroom (though many do).
After two years, I left because I still have similar questions to the ones I had on the first day, but the answers have changed. As a teacher, I want to be the mentor to my students who breaks down barriers, rather than builds them up. I want to teach kids to break the line, rather than stand in line. I want to teach kids to create, rather than imitate.
In the end, my story, like teaching, is about relationships. Absent was a deep relationship between my students and the natural world.
It is not enough to teach kids how to read when the natural world that sustains us is in critical condition. What is the need for teaching addition if there is no clean drinking water? What goal—beyond testing literacy—guides our education system? I left because I am no longer concerned with what my students will learn, but with what they need to learn.
In the end, my story, like teaching, is about relationships. I formed many deep relationships with my students, their families, and my teaching colleagues. Absent, though, was a deep relationship between my students and the natural world. I saw it in the unhealthy food my students were served, and in their ignorance about climate change. I saw it in the rising attention-deficit disorder diagnoses, which may be better defined as nature-deficit disorders.
I have left the classroom to rebuild the vital relationship between kids and Nature. I will be studying permaculture at the Regenerative Design Institute in California. Through this program I will learn how to build sustainable communities that work for both people and the planet.
On the first day of school this year, I will be a student again. Although I am returning to the role of a student, I will always be a teacher. I am Mr. Clarke in my continuing contact with my students, and will someday return to teaching kids, with the forest as my classroom.

Tips for New (and not so new) Teachers
Brendan and Petra in pineapple costume
Courtesy of Brendan Clarke

  1. Teach natural history. Bring the students outdoors. Take on a project that you don’t think you can handle. Just one. Restore a creek, monitor a wetland, inventory local flora and fauna.
  2. Make mistakes. Learn with the students and let them see you fall and pick yourself back up.
  3. Be grateful. Every day you get a new chance when students show up. Take time to celebrate success.
  4. Dress up. A costume and an accent will be remembered well beyond the last day of school. So too will that project or lesson you dress up for.
  5. Let it go. Realize that what you’re working on may never be perfect. Accept the same of your students so that they don’t burn out, and neither do you.

Brendan Clarke headshotBrendan Clarke wrote this story for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Brendan is an educator, yoga teacher, writer, and environmentalist. He is a former intern for Yes! Magazine and is currently studying permaculture and nature awareness at the Regenerative Design Institute in Bolinas, California.

YES! Archive

  • Connect and Engage: Education for Mind & Soul
    Here's a resource to connect your students' learning with their local community, culture, and environment. Also learn how knowing yourself can translate to being an even better teacher.
  • Lessons From Nature Continue
    Counselor Larry Davies turned to nature to help teach and heal troubles of Washington high school students. Twelve years later, he's helping Floridians become better environmental stewards
Connect and Engage: Consumption
Resources to accompany on The Story of Stuff and Consumption: Facing the Future, The Center for Ecoliteracy, UNESCO, and Redefining Progress.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Make Ripples

Amanda Bancroft

As a youth member and supporter of all the great work EC youth task force is doing, and in honor of Moving Planet Day today, our blog, Ripples, has just launched for sustainable community development! Everyone welcome to share resources on our blog. I'm happy to begin featuring your efforts and spreading awareness here:

Ripples connects people and resources while sharing our story of going off-grid in Arkansas.
In celebration of the Iroquois principle of making decisions with the seventh generation in mind,  Ripples is a sanctuary for those world changers and meaning makers who seek inspiration, community, and support; here is the place where we hope our ripples can overlap.
We provide:
Our every effort aims to support as many people and organizations as possible.  A portion of all profits from cookie sales and tech consultation goes to support worthy organizations.
We welcome you into our community!  
Now learn a bit more about the authors:

About Amanda

The Bridge

Amanda wearing ripples.
I am a combination of Pocahontas and Belle; frolicking in nature and books is my cup of tea – which is another thing I can’t get enough of: Chai.  I enjoy hiking, snuggling with my cats, and having picnics with Ryu!
For me, Ripples began when I realized that so much of what I valued was about to be lost.  My AmeriCorps*VISTAservice was ending, and like all VISTAs, I was expected to move on to a new career.  However, doing so would mean that the resources discovered during my service would remain available only to a small number of people. It would also mean losing touch with the local, national, and international networks I had been privileged to participate in, and that these remarkable people would not have easy access to any resources I may discover in the future.  The insights and support these networks provided were so valuable that I felt they deserved a sanctuary online where anyone could be inspired, while sharing what they had to offer.
At the same time, I recognized huge gaps in what I knew, who I knew, who knew each other, and what they knew.  Certain resources were only available in specific parts of my network, and at least half the people in my network didn’t know each other…until Ripples was born!
I want to build bridges between disconnected people, places, organizations, disciplines and resources because I know that these connections are vital to creating a better world.

About Ryan

The Stream

A Stream in the RockiesI am the clear, deep, swift water sluicing over rocks under whose lucent flow soft algae forms.  I pass beneath our bridges’ shadows and watch tadpoles mature in grassy thickets.
I love imagination.  It is freedom and life.  However, I strive for balance and happiness.  A constant question lives within me.  Do I write as clearly as possible, lovingly crafting every element of logic?  Technical manuals, how-to guides, succinct language that sidelines lyricism… do these more than poetry free and inspire?
Or do I select melody over brevity?
To the best of our ability, Manda and I will use this blog to demonstrate the inherent interdependence of all things.  I hope clarity and lyricism, logic and passion, can likewise co-exist.
Techie, word bender, meaning (re)maker, connector of all things – I embrace these qualities and infinitely more.  Since the age of five, I have found the concept of “difference” fascinating, but illusory.  To a friend, I remember saying “I can compare anything to anything else.”  Before I knew of quantum physics, this claim just felt right.
I hope to do everything I can to be the stream beneath Manda’s bridge – to live at the flowing edge of union between traditionally compartmentalized ideas and objects.  Together, we will do our utmost not to dismantle or destroy walls and rifts; this is an unnecessary, often self-defacing act of destruction.  We hope to demonstrate that they have never truly existed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Agenda for a New Economy

How can we build an economy that works for all of us? David Korten lays out his vision in this special serialization of his latest book, Agenda for a New Economy.
The Path to Real ProsperityThe Path to Real Prosperity
by David Korten
David Korten: A new jobs plan is thinking too small. What we need is a new economy.
A Presidential Declaration of Independence from Wall Street—Part 2A Presidential Declaration of Independence from Wall Street—Part 2
by David Korten
What might a truly new economic vision for America look like? David Korten imagines a presidential address he’d like to hear.
A Presidential Declaration of Independence from Wall StreetA Presidential Declaration of Independence from Wall Street
by David Korten
What might a truly new economic vision for America look like? David Korten imagines a presidential address he'd like to hear.
How You Can Get Started Building a New EconomyHow You Can Get Started Building a New Economy
by David Korten
Change the story; create a new reality; change the rules. David Korten’s threefold strategy for change.
Are You a Culture Worker?Are You a Culture Worker?
by David Korten
David Korten: From religion to the arts, we have more influence on culture than we think. How to use that power for good.
How Change Happens: A Three-Fold StrategyHow Change Happens: A Three-Fold Strategy
by David Korten
David Korten: To build a new economy, we must work on three fronts.
Every Great Social Movement Every Great Social Movement
by David Korten
David Korten: The biggest shifts of our time have been sparked by ordinary people rejecting the cultural stories that dominated them.
The Story of a New EconomyThe Story of a New Economy
by David Korten
David Korten: We’re in the midst of a contest of competing stories—one fabricated to serve the interests of Empire; the other an authentic story born of the experience and aspirations of ordinary people.
A Crumbling Cultural StoryA Crumbling Cultural Story
by David Korten
David Korten on the unraveling of the myth that underpins our economic behavior.
The Next American Revolution?The Next American Revolution?
by David Korten
David Korten: What America's current movement against corporate power can learn from that time we overthrew a king.
How the Left and Right Can UniteHow the Left and Right Can Unite
by David Korten
David Korten: If we'd stop tearing each other apart, we might see an opportunity to win back our democracy from the rich and powerful.
Mapping Uncharted Economic Waters Mapping Uncharted Economic Waters
by David Korten
David Korten: We're trying to fix the economic crisis with the same thinking that created it. Next time, we can be prepared with a map to something better.
The Great Stock ScamThe Great Stock Scam
by David Korten
David Korten: Stock sales are supposed to help finance dividends or productivity improvements. But the numbers tell a different story.
But What About My 401(k)?But What About My 401(k)?
by David Korten
Credit cards, mortgages, insurance, retirement: How to fulfill our basic financial needs (and find real security) without Wall Street.
7 Ways to Stop Wall Street’s Con Game7 Ways to Stop Wall Street’s Con Game
by David Korten
David Korten’s suggestions for stopping phantom wealth speculation.

Making a Living (Economy)Making a Living (Economy)
by David Korten

David Korten: We're wasting our resources subsidizing a war economy, sprawl, and consumerism. What we could do differently in a living economy.

The New Economy: Design for LifeThe New Economy: Design for Life
by David Korten

David Korten: Can we design a self-correcting society?

Living Economies: Learning from the BiosphereLiving Economies: Learning from the Biosphere
by David Korten

David Korten: How we humans can redesign our failing systems by turning back to nature—and learning to live by the rules of life.

The World of Our DreamsThe World of Our Dreams
by David Korten

David Korten: Our world is made up of diverse populations—but really we all want the same things out of life. It's time we put our common dreams into action.

Our Human NatureOur Human Nature
by David Korten

People often justify greed as simply human nature. Why our economic policies need to reward our caring, cooperative sides instead.

Greed is Not a VirtueGreed is Not a Virtue
by David Korten

David Korten: Profit-centered market fundamentalism has become a national religion.

The End of EmpireThe End of Empire
by David Korten

David Korten: Wall Street’s days are numbered. Ours need not be.

A System Designed to CrashA System Designed to Crash
by David Korten

David Korten on why a money system dependent on constant growth can't last.

Phantom Wealth and False ExpectationsPhantom Wealth and False Expectations
by David Korten

David Korten: It's time we stop expecting money to grow on Wall Street—and start putting people to work creating real wealth to meet real needs.

On the Origin of CorporationsOn the Origin of Corporations
by David Korten

David Korten: How the buccaneers and privateers of days past came to be the Wall Street profiteers of the present.

War Against the Middle ClassWar Against the Middle Class
by David Korten

David Korten: Why is the middle class shrinking?

Clueless Economists, Smart EcologistsClueless Economists, Smart Ecologists
by David Korten

David Korten: To successfully address climate change and extreme poverty, the ecology paradigm must replace the traditional economics mindset.

A Real-Market AlternativeA Real-Market Alternative
by David Korten

As we look for solutions to our current economic crisis, the relevant distinction is no longer between capitalism and communism, but rather between Wall Street and Main Street.

Good Debt, Bad DebtGood Debt, Bad Debt
by David Korten

David Korten explains the logic behind a debt-based money system—and why it isn't working in the United States.

Money From Nothing?Money From Nothing?
by David Korten

Many economists and financiers believe it's possible. But what looks like magic is really illusion.

System Failure? Look UpstreamSystem Failure? Look Upstream
by David Korten

Why it's important to address our economic problems at their Wall Street roots.

The Illusion of MoneyThe Illusion of Money
by David Korten

Real wealth or phantom assets? David Korten explores the difference between the kind of wealth that makes life better and the phantom wealth created by financial speculation.

David Korten: My Defection StoryDavid Korten: My Defection Story
by David Korten

How I came to challenge the legitimacy of the institutions I once served.

The Missing VisionThe Missing Vision
by David Korten

David Korten begins a blog series outlining his Agenda for a New Economy.

The Big Picture: 5 Ways to Know if You’re Making a DifferenceThe Big Picture: 5 Ways to Know if You’re Making a Difference
by David Korten

In this special pre-publication excerpt of the 2nd edition of Agenda for a New Economy, David Korten explains how we can help live the new economy that we need into being.