It is around 8:30 in the morning and it is Friday. I have just arrived at Lincoln Continuation School in San Leandro, CA. This is, as of this year, my place of work. I am here to facilitate a class for the students in the ACE program at Lincoln. The theme of this class: Success. I, and one other co-facilitator, are here to expand these young people’s definitions and perceptions of success.
At 9:05am, not particularly promptly, the students begin their entrance into their Friday class, Success Stories. As they find their seats I ask them to open their Success Stories class journals and begin the usual free-write (as open as it sounds). From here we move into their weekly journal entry on a recent experience of success. Next, my co-facilitator and I ask them to stand and greet each other with eye-contact and a handshake or some form of respectful acknowledgement. Their grumbles float across the air, as much a routine as their cause.
This is how my Fridays begin these days, however they do not in any way blend or melt together. Excepting those first few classroom motions, the rest of the class is completely reborn every session. As this is a pilot program our lesson plans must be both well prepared and highly adaptable. Who knows when 30 minutes of the periods planned activities have to be thrown out due to shifts (mental or emotional) in our student’s attention/participation.
Here on this Friday, in this classroom of young often disgruntled students, I am just as much pupil as instructor. In our activities and discussions ranging from proper interview etiquette to filling up a bubble person with the needed components of success (as seen by our 10-11th graders) there is constantly gifted to me the unexpected, the unprepared for, the enlightening. Not only are we facilitators expanding a group of students ideas and definitions of success, we are facilitators having our own ideas, perceptions and definitions expanded. What great fortune!
In my experience, it is the sad side-effect of teaching that you begin to think that you can predict what will happen in classrooms within certain perimeters. They will like this, they won’t like that, they will understand this, they will need to be walked-through that. This is being re-reminded to me as a faulty assumption in our Success Stories Project. We thought that most of the kids would define success as a wholly financial endeavor. Many of them however are assertive that it is family and friends that truly makes one successful. A step ahead of where we thought they would need to be guided to. We expect them to be hesitant and closed-lipped in the implementation of interview skills. Many of them instead, need to be asked to slow down with their rapid-fire follow up questioning.
Now, I came into this expecting the unexpected. I have experience with continuation schools and their student body. I am well acquainted with the fact that quite often these young people have never been given either the chance or the resources to see education as a viable path to embark upon. However, this half a year with these Lincoln students has proved an immensely expansive experience for all involved. Though quite often reluctant in doing so, the students are being drawn out of their comfort bubbles in the practice of self expression. As well as the practice of learning to ask the most efficient questions to procure desired answers. We facilitators in turn, are once again re-learning to listen and actually hear. Re-learning to appreciate what may have been taken for granted and re-evaluate what might have seemed concrete.
All in all, I can unwaveringly say that I am greatly looking forward to the continuation of this year’s continuation school experience. I am truly grateful that I am able to offer my services through Story Bridges to those who truly need them. I am truly grateful that I am able to go into classrooms and for what often seems like the first time in my personal (and not what most would refer to as smooth) school career, actually learn by way of teaching.
Success is a constantly growing, constantly re-birthing entity, it seems.
Jelal Huyler is a Poet Educator born and raised in Oakland, CA. He teaches the Story Bridges “Success Stories Project” and facilitates writing workshops across the San Francisco Bay Area. He performs at a wide range of venues as well. Contact by email: firstname.lastname@example.org