Learning in Publicizing.

Writing and blogging about my teaching (practically and especially theoretically) is very comfortable for me. I am passionate about writing, and I am distanced enough from my viewer/reader/listener that I find it naturally easy to share my professional thinking. I appreciate feedback, but my main purpose for writing has not been to seek this out, and I have processed feedback more as a reflection of my writing and ideas as opposed to of my practice.

Over the past few months, however, I have been forced into the discomfort of being public as a teacher—of exposing my actual teaching practices in action to evaluation and critique. This process has transitioned my thinking in a few ways. For one, I feel much more comfortable now with teaching in front of others (whereas before I would have rather shut the door so no one else can see me struggle through the act/art of teaching my students). I now know that I am able to tune out my observers and still be present with my students (which is very important to me), and the feedback I have received from them has been incredibly valuable, informing my further/future practice in critical ways. That said, this recent experience with publicizing my practice has also made me view my writing/blogging in a different light. Now that I have received valuable feedback from my applied practice, I find myself wanting to take the feedback from my written reflections/ponderings and apply it beyond my writing to my actual teaching practice.

In terms of my digital professional community, I have not made much progress in developing and initiating cycles of feedback and ongoing discussion. However, in my social professional world, I have seen tremendous growth in my openness (and eagerness) to accept and seek out critical feedback. Although this has not transferred deeply into my digital professional networks (for many reasons, time being a primary force), it has transformed my perspective and mindset regarding the value of these networks. I envision myself seeking out participation in professional conversations among digital communities as my practice progresses, and especially as I move into my first year of (certified) teaching.

Learning in literature.

El niño que no puede leer bien.

Desde el empiezo del año,
he estado trabajando en la lectura con un niño del quinto grado.
——–Yo había pedido para trabajar con un estudiante de habla hispana aprendiendo inglés.

Caminé en su salón de clase por primera vez.
——–Me dio una mirada nerviosa, con sonrisita.
Tenía dos libros de capítulos inglés en su escritorio.
——–The Lightning Thief por Rick Riordan y
——–The Book of Pirates por Howard Pyle.

Nos conocimos, y le pregunté si leyera sus libros conmigo.
Abrió su libro de piratas.
——–Dijo que sus libros favoritos tienen historias de piratas.
Pero cuando empezó a leer, las palabras eran muy difíciles.
——–Él no podía leer más de dos o tres palabras en el primer pagina.

Cuando le evalué en la lectura, estaba a un nivel pre-kinder.
——–Sin embargo, él podía entender las historias cuando leí a él.

La próxima semana, traje algunos libros en español.
Cuando empecé con La Oruga Hambrienta por Eric Carle, me dijo,
——–—Mi papa lee esto a mi hermanita cada noche, pero
——–¡nunca lo ha leído a mí!
Le gustó la historia.
Nos reímos mucho.

Entonces, leímos Leo, el Retoño Tardío por Robert Kraus.
——–Olvidé que es la historia era de un tigre que no podía leer.
Cuando se lo leí, parecía más frágil.
——–Hablábamos solo en español.
Leo, el tigre, era él.
Él es Leo.

Antes del fin, Leo lee.
——–—¡Leo puede leer!
Nos reímos de nuevo.

——–—¡Le veo en dos semanas!


The boy that can’t read well.

Since the start of this year,
I have been working on reading with a fifth grader.
——–I had requested to work with a Spanish-speaking ELL student.

I walked into his classroom for the first time.
——–He gave me a nervous smile.
He had two English chapter books on his desk.
——–The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan and
——–The Book of Pirates by Howard Pyle.

We met, and I asked him if he would read his books with me.
He opened his book about pirates.
——–He said that his favorite books have stories about pirates.
But when he started, the words were much too difficult.
——–He could not read more than two or three words on the first page.

When I evaluated him in reading, he was at a pre-kindergarten level.
——–However, he could understand the stories when I read to him.

The next week, I brought some books in Spanish.
When I started La Oruga Hambrienta (The Hungry Caterpillar) by Eric Carle, he told me,
——–“My father reads this to my little sister every night, but
——–——–he has never read it to me!”
He really liked the story.
We laughed a lot.

Then, we read Leo, el Retoño Tardío (Leo, the Late Bloomer) by Robert Kraus.
——–I forgot that this is a story about a tiger that cannot read.
When I read this to him, he seemed more fragile.
——–We talked only in Spanish.
Leo was him.
He is Leo.

Before the end, Leo reads.
——–“¡Leo puede leer!”
—————-(Leo can read!)
We were laughing again.

——–“¡Le veo en dos semanas!”
—————-(See you in two weeks!)

Learning in listening.

Since my first formal observation, I have been actively working to navigate/negotiate my position of authority with my students—establishing my authority in the classroom was one of my goals established during our debrief. I have found my small reading groups to be a great space for exploring/experimenting with this practice (there are two groups I am consistently planning/facilitating, one in English and one in Spanish). While this is definitely still one of my greatest challenges, I feel like I am making strong improvements in balancing my natural desire to be fun/goofy with the kids vs. setting/modeling clear expectations for engaged learning and behavior.

Even still, this has been an extra challenge with a few students.

A couple of weeks ago, I made it a point to play with these particular students at recess, show them that I genuinely care about and want to listen to them. Over the few following days, this seemed to make a world of difference. Nothing else significant had changed in our routines or interactions, yet these students (who previously were the hardest for me to engage) demonstrated a level of respect for me in small group that I had not experienced before. I was blown away! I don’t necessarily expect this change to be permanent, but I do feel like I am developing strategies to help me sustain this mutual respect with my students.

Authoritative discipline is not the only way to demand respect, and it is not the way that I want to demand respect from my students. When I do, the response from my students does not feel authentic, and I feel worn down and discomforted with my practice. I am finding that when I really take the time to listen to my students, and demonstrate that I am deeply listening, they tend to listen to me in response, within class and without. I am also finding that I tend to do the same with my own teachers too. When I feel like I am truly listened to by my teacher, I am more motivated to listen to them in return. In so many ways, what motivates our behavior as adults may not be all that different than what motivates our kids behavior in the classroom….

Learning in question.

One of my first grade students got an iPhone for Christmas. Another student sitting at the same table does not always eat every meal each day. How can we expect to be able to teach our kids without a knowledge of the (seemingly simple) barriers to their learning and deep engagement? How can we deeply engage with(in) these contexts in order to facilitate bridges for these/all students? How do we provide equitable access despite these circumstances?

A section of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border at Imperial Beach, California.

El niño que no comió esta mañana.

La semana pasada, un niño me dijo,
—Me duele el estómago.
A él, dije,
—Hay tres razones posibles:
——–Uno, estás enfermo y necesitas ir a la enfermera ahora.
——–Dos, tienes hambre y necesitas comer algo.
——–Tres, estás nervioso o preocupado por algo.
—————-¿Que piensas?
Me dijo,
—Creo que tengo hambre. No comí nada esta mañana.
——–¿Puedo ir a la enfermera? Ella siempre tiene comida en su oficina.

La maestra dice que los niños necesitan desechar lo que no comen en el almuerzo.
Le dijo al niño que puede poner sus restos en su mochila
——–(cuando la maestra no está mirando).

The boy that did not eat this morning.

Last week, a boy told me,
“My stomach hurts.”
I said to him,
“There are three possible reasons:
——–One, you are sick and need to go to the nurse right away.
——–Two, you are hungry and need to eat something.
——–Three, you are nervous or worried about something.
—————-What do you think?”
He told me,
“I think that I am hungry. I did not eat anything this morning.
——–Can I go to the nurse? She always has food in her office.”

The teacher says the kids need to throw away what they don’t eat at lunch.
I tell the boy that he can put his leftovers in his backpack
——–(when the teacher is not looking).

Learning in action.

You are not here to learn how to be a teacher.
You are here to learn how to be a kid again!

–K (one of my students)

Learning in snapshots.

Often, it is in simple moments and single interactions/exchanges with my students that I confront and confirm (to myself) the importance of the sacred work of public education (and my commitment to it). To explore my core commitments to this critical and challenging project, I am currently writing a collection of (hi)stories from my classroom and student teaching experience. The following is a bilingual story from the section titled, Cuentas de los niños morenos (Stories from/of the brown kids). I am not sure what lessons will emerge from these snapshots, but I do know that collecting them all into a common space forces me to look at and reflect on my classroom and students with a more nuanced vision. Some of the stories (continue to) weigh at my heart, and writing them seems to refresh my spirit a bit.

Little Girl With Yellow Dress
by Patssi Valdez, 1995

La niña que me rompe el corazón.
En mi clase, hay una niña.
Una niña amable y tranquila, que me rompe el corazón.
Ella es de México.
Vino aquí con su mamá, cuando tenía cuatro años.
Una noche,  ella se durmió en México.
Cuando se despertó, no estaba en México más.
——–Cuando se durmió en México, estaba con su hermano y su hermana.
——–Cuando se despertó en los Estados Unidos, sus hermanos no estaban con ella.
Una vez, la vi en el recreo, su pie en la pared del ladrillo.
Ella estaba llorando en secreto.
Le pregunte,
——–—¿Qué pasa?
Ella me dijo,
——–—Extraño a mis hermanos. Deseo que vinieran acá más pronto.
Ella ha estado esperando con paciencia por dos años.

The girl that breaks my heart.
In my class, there is a girl.
A nice and quiet girl, who breaks my heart.
She is from Mexico.
She came here with her mom, when she was four years old.
One night, she fell asleep in Mexico.
When she woke up, she was not in Mexico anymore.
——–When she went to sleep in Mexico, she was with her bother and her sister.
——–When she woke up in the United States, her brother and sister were not with her.
One time, I saw her at recess, standing on the brick wall.
She was crying in secret.
I asked her,
——–“What’s going on?”
She told me,
——–“I miss my brother and sister. I wish they would come here sooner.”
She has been waiting with patience for two years.

Learning in struggle.

This past week, I had my first formal observation. It did not go so well….

I had spent hours planning an original science and math lesson about organic and non-organic produce for our first graders. We collected data from a blind taste taste to see if we preferred an organic or non-organic Fuji apple, and the next day we organized our data into picture graphs to help us make comparisons of our data and draw evidence-based conclusions.

My observation was on a Wednesday afternoon. However, I had not been in class for that entire week. Although we were still at school, we were participating in a GLAD training, so the kids had been with a substitute teacher all week. Then I pop in briefly for one lesson. The kids were really excited to see their teacher and myself back in the classroom. So excited that when it came time to create our picture graphs, many of them felt it was much more fun to dance and play around than actually pay attention and engage in the activity I had planned. I didn’t know what to do. I had led lessons before, and the strategies I had previously used to maintain focus and engagement had really worked. This time, they failed, quite miserably.

This experience taught me three things in particular:

  1. The context of an evaluation can be a very important factor in assessing one’s performance. When I evaluate my students, I need to give them the respect they deserve by taking this into account.
  2. Man, do I have a lot to learn about managing 24 kids, all at the same time. It is a lot easier to sit to the side with a notepad and theorize about my practice than it is to actually jump in and practice it.
  3. I am not a natural disciplinarian, nor do I feel a desire to learn skills/strategies of authoritative discipline. This part of our practice is going to be a major struggle for me.

Although this observation did not go as well as I had hoped, it was a really valuable learning opportunity. Hopefully it will become a marker of “strong improvement” in the future :]

Learning in Resistance.

Last weekend, I was in Omaha, Nebraska for a friend’s wedding. I met many new people, exchanged the normal “get to know you” small talk I have been socialized to engage in. Usually these conversations tend to follow a similar format—this is my job, this where I’m from, nice to meet you. Yet I was surprised to see a new pattern emerge this time around. Upon discovering that I am from the Seattle region and am currently training to become a public school teacher, I was asked many times about my thoughts regarding Garfield High School.

Garfield High School in Seattle has become the subject of both local and national headlines, in response to the staff’s recent boycott against the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) test for students. While many opinions are floating around regarding the ethics and rationality of this decision by the staff at this inner-city public school, I believe the most interesting implication of this phenomenon is the fact that teachers at one school—only ONE school—sparked a national critical conversation about a topic related to our education system and how we should be accountable to our students’ learning.

More schools in Seattle are joining the boycott. There are people organizing on facebook in support of Garfield High School’s staff. Digital Technologies and Social Medias have afforded an incredible opportunity for educators to initiate collective conversations and (potentially) spark mass movements, from within their own schools and classrooms. These viral messages/movements can spread (inter)nationally in a matter of days and weeks (and potentially hours, minutes, seconds). If teachers at one school in Seattle can get people across our entire country talking critically about standardized testing, what else can we push/pull the Public to consider with a critical and creative consciousness?

Learning in dreams.

El sueño en mi pared
por Jane Medina

Tengo un sueño en mi pared.
Lo dibujé durante el segundo grado.
La maestra nos dijo:
_____—Niñas y niños, dibujen sus sueños,
_____dibujen los sueños que sólo ustedes pueden ver.
Casi todos los niños dibujaron
_____salones llenos de billetes,
_____o casas bonitas con flores y chimeneas,
_____o juguetes o dulces o Disneylandia.
Pero yo dibujé un sueño
_____de un salón de clase lleno de niños
_____y una maestra morena bonita
_____muy parecida a mí.

Tengo un sueño en mi pared.
Lo pegué con cinta adhesiva.
Las puntas de la cinta están despegándose ahora.

The Dream on My Wall
by Jane Medina

I have a dream on my wall.
I drew it in the second grade.
The teacher said,
_____“Draw your dreams, boys and girls.
_____Draw the dreams that only you can see.”
Most kids drew
_____rooms full of dollar bills,
_____or pretty houses with flowers and chimneys,
_____or toys or candy or Disneyland.
But I drew a dream
_____of a class full of kids
_____and a pretty brown teacher
_____who looked just like me.

I have a dream on my wall.
I stuck it there with yellow tape.
Now the tape is curling at the ends.

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

What are the implications of an education system where the majority of educators and administrators—those who (theoretically) hold positions of authority and power over students—are White? As a child, I had very few teachers of color. How did this subconsciously impact my own perspectives and prejudices? What possibilities and potentials can arise when children experience and become accustomed to a diverse spectrum of individuals holding positions of power and authority?

What does it mean for me to be another White Man in a position of authority? How can I use this power to play with the power dynamics that have allowed me my own power and privilege in this country, community, classroom? How do I use this power responsibly, and what am I accountable to do with it?