Monthly Archives: February 2013

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?

wall
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 :]