Posted in English escapades, professional development, Spanish relapses, teaching, Tech-ventures

Going Places

It’s funny. When I was a kid, relatives would constantly tell me that I was “going places”. They assumed my smarts and demeanor would take me away from my family and rocket me down some highway to Harvard. They weren’t wrong… but they weren’t right in the way they thought they were going to be, either.

highway

Many teachers face the constant questions about why they became a teacher instead of something else… you know… something that could “take them somewhere”.

I’d beg to differ with them on the point that teaching can’t take a person to new places.Teaching is like learning in that it expands the mind, and it expands perspectives. Teaching takes my mind somewhere new, every day.

In 6 years, I’ve taught at every level of K-12 education. I’ve taught everything from 2nd grade (all subjects) to Beginning Spanish, to AP Spanish Literature, to English, to Math, to basic twitter use for teachers! I’ve done the math… and I’ve taught nearly 1000 students (including my final internship).

I’ve also literally gone places, of course…like the Spanish Spelling Bee in Tampa FL, where my 4 students got completely creamed, but they were ecstatic to go and compete. Like Oak Cliff (Dallas), where I never could get my second graders on a bus to take them somewhere, so I walked them outside to do a lesson on the lawn and shake things up a bit. Like Fort Worth and Desoto, where I took buses full of country kids to read to bilingual students. Like the entire stretch of 287, where I made a 250 mile drive (one way) into a day-trip, just for the fun of it, for a group of seniors who got to see a play–live on stage, and experience a protest, and see modern art.

You know… I don’t always take the kids with me, though.

In San Antonio, I changed direction as a teacher, and it changed my life. I gained a PLN I haven’t let go of since when I joined #langchat. I went on numerous adventures, professionally, and personally–as I took my first solo trip post-motherhood to attend the ACTFL conference in 2014. I ate breakfast tacos, and I didn’t have to share. I celebrated birthdays with friends from other countries. I walked alone down the streets of San Antonio, in the rain, just for fun. I discovered the Pulsera Project and it changed everything. 

In San Diego, I presented at the ACTFL conference. My session didn’t go as planned, and when I started to roll with the punches, the attendees opened up and shared their needs. I threw out my whole plan and started from scratch right there, on the spot. We had an amazing time, and they told me it was the best session they attended that day. I took the fairy to my sessions, and I walked to the convention center each day. I spent my lunch hour at the beach. I got way too close to a seal. I watched a man build the longest hot wheel track I’ve ever seen, while my eyes kept glancing at a homeless man, who was searching a nearby trash can for food. 

In Austin, my face melted. The world is so much bigger than we can imagine, and it is even bigger than ACTFL could help me see. Seeing what was “new” and “next” changed my praxis. Much of what I saw didn’t directly apply to me, but all of it applied to my students. So, instead of trying to jam it all into my class, I came back and tried to share what I could with those around me. I got lost in the convention center. I got every free t-shirt available in the expo hall. I managed to get a free light saber, 2 selfie sticks, and 73 free pens. I tried fried avocado. I made a point of stopping at every Buc-ees between Dallas and Austin. I made life-long friends and true collaborative relationships. 

In Nicaragua this summer, who knows what I’ll experience. I know this for sure: it will be an adventure. 

So. To that person in your life telling you that teaching won’t take you places: they’re wrong. Teaching will expand your mind until it hurts. It will explode your heart until you can’t help but feel every. single. thing. It will challenge your thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, until you become a person who can see many sides to a single situation. It will literally take you outside the four walls of your classroom on many occasions, if you are willing to invest the time it takes to walk out those doors. If you let it, teaching will take you all over the United States, and beyond. If you let it.

-CL

FYI: The picture of the overpass at the top of the post… is from that time I decided to walk from to the airport to my training, just because. Because if you are willing, you can find adventure anywhere. 🙂

Posted in Spanish relapses, teaching

Teachers have many names…

I posted 2 days ago about the amazing opportunity I have been given to travel with the Pulsera Project this summer on their Spanish Teacher Trip to Nicaragua. On my GoFundMe page, I wrote

Teaching, in and of itself, has made me an advocate of all my students, and especially, as a Spanish Speaker, an advocate for my Hispanic students and their families.

Advocate. 

See, teachers have many names. There are posts all over the internet, and posters plastered on many classroom walls about all the roles that teachers play, including: nurse, counselor, parent, judge, comedian, party planner, etc. But the most powerful role I fill is that of an advocate for my students. 

This year I’ve made the strange transition from actively teaching Spanish as a Spanish teacher, to teaching High School English. I have maintained that I am still a Spanish teacher at my core, and this is certainly still true, but being in a core-content area classroom has taught me a lot about what goes on outside of the Foreign Language hallway.

I have always had all types of students in my classroom, but their goals, abilities, and interests were diverse, and the flexible nature of language allowed me to adjust to their needs very fluidly. Teaching a course associated with a State Exam, surrounded with these same students, but with much of the flexibility reduced (not gone) and time constraints imposed,  has opened my eyes further to the needs of my students–especially my Hispanic students, Spanish-speakers, and ELLs.

Before, the very culture of my classroom generally meshed with theirs. The assignments we completed were valuable, even if they came with the native speaker and heritage learner “growing pains” many of us language teachers have to overcome with these kids.

Now, I’m faced with a language of instruction that, in itself, imposes dominance. I can throw these kids a cultural bone with relevant readings or topics, but I can’t fundamentally change the elephant in the room.

I spent five years helping English Speakers understand the concept of the other. 

Now, I’m reminded that the other still exists, and many of my students are part of it.

This whole issue came to a head for me today during a conversation about English Language Learners with a colleague. We discussed the intricacies and complexities involved in deciding if an English Language Learner is Dyslexic, or even in need of Special Education Services. There are so many issues here that I’d need a whole separate space to write about them. I’ll do my best with some bullet points:

  • A test for disabilities given in English to an ELL is inherently flawed, because it would be near impossible to tell if the deficit is cognitive, or linguistic.
  • Tests like these given in Spanish to Native Speakers are often flawed as well, especially if: (1) they are written, as many Spanish Speakers were not formally educated in their country, so they are not literate in the language and (2) the test was written in a dialect other than their own (ex. Spain vs. Mexico).
  • English tests are often given to ELLs because they “speak English”–which is usually not broken down between their BICS (skills for everyday conversation) and their CALP (academic or technical language skills).
  • “Speaking English” is very different from WRITING and READING it. Many student compensate verbally after many years, but remain years behind in writing and writing, which makes them “appear” learning disabled on paper.
  • Placing entire generations of ELLs in Special Education and 504 services is institutional racism, because it equates their language deficit with a cognitive deficit.
  • These students are often underserved. WAY. Underserved.
  • Many students come to school as English Language Learners, but are not able to be identified because their parents are afraid to admit Spanish is spoken in the home.
  • Schools exasperate the problem when they do not have the foresight required to provide community liaison support for these families.

I’m going to have to stop there. I really am. I got pretty fired up today, because while I tried to explain all this, the other person understood, but didn’t really understand. The person cares, as much as I do. But the misunderstandings prevail, and kids get lost in the mix.

So, today, and every day, I’m an advocate. The biggest job of an advocate is to educate. Not only do I educate my kids about the content, but I also work to educate them about themselves. I work to educate those around me. And, I keep repeating myself until someone listens.

I am a teacher. I am an advocate.

-CL

p.s. If you are reading this, please consider supporting my trip with the Pulsera Project, while I seek to continue learning how to best advocate for my students and community.