James's Dream

The boy had finished the set work – identifying similes from metaphors and coming up with his own examples of each. He was thumbing through a logging magazine when he looked up and asked me if I worked in Wellington, a city about an hour and a half from his provincial town.

When I said I did, he asked, ‘Do you know Rawhiti Terrace? I prune trees there. I am going to be an arborist.’ He tells me that he knows all the ‘specs’ of the machinery in the magazine he is looking at.

‘Really?’ I answered. ‘What is involved in becoming an arborist?’

He proceeded to tell me that he goes into town with his father and already has some clients that he prunes for, and that they really like his work. He has discovered that one can buy a business on the internet trading site, Trade Me, and that by the time he is twenty, he will have a business. The story doesn’t stop there. He went on to inform me that he already has a pulper and a leafblower, and that by the time he is forty, he will be retired with a helicopter.

A classmate who was listening to the conversation called out, ‘Dream on, James.’

‘Dreams are free,’ I replied. ‘What’s going to help you get there? What do you need?’

‘Well, I don’t really need Level One [NCEA]’.

‘It would be useful to have that though, don’t you think? To build some base skills for your business?’

‘I suppose so,’ he replied.

The conversation stayed with me and I retold it to a number of my colleagues. The school this boy attends is in one of the lowest socio-economic areas of New Zealand and its falling roll has seen it on the brink of closure. It has a new principal and senior management team who are working tirelessly to keep the school going. I kept thinking of this boy, in this small town, with his big dream. What struck me as most interesting about his dream was that school did not seem to feature in the plan. He reluctantly agreed with me that it would be useful to have the basic qualification before leaving school but he didn’t see it as necessary.

The experience got me thinking about Glasser’s ‘Quality World’ – his personal picture album of the people, things, ideas that he sees as important in determining the quality of his life. What was clearly in James’s quality world were his pruning work, perhaps his father whom he accompanied to work, his leafblower and pulper, and possibly his mate in the classroom who he said was going to be his business partner. School was not an obvious presence. What could school contribute to James’s dream?

It caused me to wonder more about this boy and his dream, and I thought about what I know about teacher knowledge. Alongside Shulman’s (1986) important areas of general pedagogical knowledge, pedagogical content knowledge, and subject knowledge sits knowledge of the context – which includes knowledge of the learner. What do the teachers of this boy know of his dream, and what is being done to support him in keeping the dream alive? Has he ever articulated the dream to anyone else at school? It may be pie in the sky - he may be a dreamer – but don’t we all need dreams? Dreams and aspirations are the starting place for action and progress. I know that the quest to fulfil a dream has to come from within, but the guidance and mentoring of others is an ideal partner in the process.

So how does a school and its teachers become part of a student’s quality world? What do they need to do to be special and important enough to be considered as worthy of a position in a student’s mind? I suspect it comes from the student feeling he or she is an important part of the school and the teachers’ worlds. And how do schools and teachers convey to a student that he or she is indeed special and important on a daily basis? It brings me back to teacher knowledge again – knowledge of that student and what is important to them. What is that student’s dream and what does he or she need to help achieve it? The work and effort needs to come from within but the school can create the conditions and opportunities in which the student can thrive and gather the ‘bits’ that contribute to the dream.

Tags: students

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