I was standing in line at the school cafeteria the other day. There was a student in front of me. The cafeteria server was asking the young girl to choose an option. From behind the serving line, I hear a familiar mantra: “this or that, mija”. Mija. Four years of elementary school lunches came rushing back with such force that I was nearly swept away with the flood.
There was a whole line of sweet women who knew me by name and took special care to make sure I had food on my plate. As I stopped for steak fingers, just before sliding her spatula away, she would whisper, “mija”. The next woman, presumably someone’s mother, too, would scoop a vegetable and repeat the word. “Mija”. I’d get mashed potatoes, and a roll, and then slide my tray and pass the last lady my lunch card. Mija. Mija. Mija. I remember the day that I worked up the courage to ask what it meant. And I remember the warm feeling of family that overcame me when the lady replied, “daughter”. This elementary school had a population of 97% Hispanic students. 1% Caucasian. For years, I had been one of the few people in the line who didn’t know the word, but had instead felt it.
Years later, I learned Spanish. In the family unit, we learned “hija”. I was confused, and lost, and I remember saying, “No.” I brought up the word. My teacher was kind enough to explain that mi hija shortened to mija because the first word and second word begin with the same sound. I was at home again.
I talk a lot of about the women who have mothered me in the absence of my own mother, but these women are different. My mother was alive and well during these years. My mom even subbed at my school. She spoke Spanish and knew these women. One of them was our neighbor across the street. These women represent motherhood in a different way, in the way that all of us do when we work at a school. Whether we whisper “mija” to a student while we guide her through the lunch line or we speak life or encouragement or correction to a child as we guide him through learning, these are the weighty tasks of a motherhood of sorts. And kids remember it. And it matters.
This made my day today. Our superintendent gave us each our salary statements in Manila envelopes. Each envelope had a label. Each label has a tag line. She thought of a tag line for each teacher/ employee.
We have a small district. I’d guess we sit right at 20 employees total in the entire school DISTRICT. It is small and sweet. We are each well known one to another.
I have worked in small schools and districts before. I have attended tiny schools as a student. This is different. Very different. I can’t emphasize that enough.
I started a new teaching job. This year I’m teaching English, Spanish, and Theatre Arts at a small school. I’m mostly teaching 5th-8th grade, though I do have a specials rotation with 3rd abs 4th grade.
Every year I start my classes out basically the same way: students fill out info and goals sheets as bell work while I do first day attendance and housekeeping. Next, I do a basic introduction presentation and go over my syllabus. If there is time, we do the name game, and class promptly ends. Seven years. ~1000 kids.
This time, I did something different. Year 8 began with stations. I said hello, we made name tents, and off they went to 5 different stations. (1) student info and goal setting, #goals, (2) syllabus puzzle (using block posters) and syllabus quiz, (3) book tasting from my classroom library, (4) a reading survey, and (5) write a letter to yourself.
Doing something different has already changed everything about my class. I was able to teach my expectations by showing my students instead of telling them. They were able to experience my procedures for grouping and moving around the room. And, I got to see how and with whom they interact. It was a success.
This is the question everyone asks me. They all want to know what I did. Did I help someone? Did I build a house? Install a well? Teach English? Teach in a school? Well, the short answer is that I didn’t do much–but in truth, I did quite a lot. I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I visited. I learned a whole lot more. And, the only actual product I made were some lessons, along with the other teachers there on the trip. Here is what I wrote upon coming home:
It was definitely NOT a mission trip! haha! I tried my best to share that as much as possible. It was an educational trip for teachers who have worked with The Pulsera Project in the past. We learned more about the organization, the other partnerships they have, the people they work with and employ, and the culture, economic systems, history, business climate, and language nuances. Then, we took that information and collaborated on lessons that will be used in nearly 2000 schools here in the United States that participate in the project. It was a whirlwind, entirely exhausting, and completely exhilarating.
In a conversation I had after returning home, another person observed that it was nice that we made lessons that would be used in Nicaragua. I corrected him by saying that The Pulsera Project believes we are the ones who have much to learn–and that the lessons would be used here in U.S. schools. He replied by asking, “And after your trip there, do you still believe that?” I gave him a resounding YES.
What more do we need to learn?
All of us need to continue to be educated on other cultures, languages, and economic systems/ realities.
All of us need to develop continued competency in Global Citizenship.
We need to develop an understanding of poverty and a better definition. Poverty is NOT the inability to get what we want. It is the inability to get what we need on a daily basis. Not one time. On. a. daily. basis. I guess we could start by defining “needs”.
We need to realize that we are not God’s gift to the developing world. We are not the solution to their problems. In fact, they have solutions. And in fact, often times, we are the problem.
Along those lines, we need to understand that just like someone cannot walk in and solve all the issues in our classrooms or in our marriages, we cannot walk in for a week or a month and solve all the issues in a person’s life, community, or country. These people are capable and willing, and they are often hindered by their economic or legal realities.
We need to be educated on responsible consumer practices. We should all know where our products are made, to the extent possible. We should be concerned that the people making our products are fairly compensated and work fair hours. We should be aware of the environmental impacts of our products and companies that produce them.
We need to contrast simplicity with poverty and critically examine consumerism and materialism.
Most of all, we need to be taught to think critically. Looking at another culture and the realities they face forces us to examine our own culture. In a global reality, we have to realize that while you and I do not directly create issues in other places, our actions are intimately tied to the system we participate in that does directly impact their realities.
One thing we shouldn’t be doing is focusing on how poor other people are so that we can revel in our own comparative richness. Humble gratitude is something we could all stand to continue developing, however focusing in on the lack of resources that other people have as a method of producing gratitude is sort of a sick twist on that (in my opinion).
I’d like to show you what I mean by this.
These two houses are right next to each other. The woman in the photo owns them both. In fact, the mud and bamboo construction was her original home, until she received a grant through the housing project at the Pulsera Project (available to the people employed by them as an employee benefit), which she used to build the brick home she is pictured with on the right. The grant has to be used for housing, but it is up to them what they do. They can improve their homes, buy land, add walls, add windows, or build a new structure. She chose to use the money to build this brick addition. I want you to notice something here. She did not tear down her mud and bamboo home. SHE ADDED TO IT. She did not tear it down. I’ll repeat myself again here: she did not tear it down.
I’m guessing here, because although I asked her a ton of questions, it did not occur to me to ask this one at the time. But, one thought I have is that she isn’t ashamed of the house. I took the picture because I was amazed and impressed with it. I was in awe of it. She talked to our group about “re-taking” her heritage when she started weaving as a young woman, and re-taking is right! During a previous repressive government, indigenous traditions, including the style of weaving her group is renowned for, were not permitted. This home should not be the backdrop of some fifty-cents-a-day orphan commercial. This is a source of pride for her family. And I look at it now and I am amazed by the intricacies and skill it took to build.
I don’t feel sorry for her, nor do I feel sorry for a single person I met while I was there. I did not come back and hug my leather couches, though I thanked the Good Lord for air conditioning, because I’m a wimp. Rather than looking down on someone for what they don’t have, or giving others our pity, maybe what we should feel is righteous, justified anger that perfectly capable, well-educated humans don’t have access to the resources they need to implement the solutions they already have.
One of the Pulsera Project staff members related his experience owning a restaurant in Nicaragua and struggling between the “western standard of hospitality” and the Nicaraguan standard. He realized that the goal shouldn’t be to provide a western standard of hospitality, but to provide the appropriate cultural standard to their guests unapologetically. He said that when he stopped trying to fight the culture, his job got so much easier.
I believe we can all learn something from his story. We can’t fight their culture, and it isn’t our fight anyway. Our standards don’t apply, and they really shouldn’t. While we can all learn from each other, it should be just that: learning. What they do with it is up to them. And, in the end, we should be focused on helping capable people have access to the resources they need to create their own paths, not the paths we think they should follow.
So, 1200 words later: what did I do? I listened. I learned. I built relationships. I worked on some lessons designed to help students think critically about language, culture, and global citizenship.
I’m back from Nicaragua, and I promised to write about my trip, so here it goes. On Thursday when I got home, I posted this:
Goodness, this word has so many different meanings. I’m at home now. I’m with my family. But, I wasn’t not home before. In some ways the trip to Nicaragua was like returning home to where I really belong. Home isn’t always a space we occupy or the people we occupy it with. Sometimes it is what you do or the language you speak.
Tonight, I’m home. I’m back from a long trip away from where I desperately wanted to be, in profoundly more ways than one.
Of course, I’m home now. Being away from my boys for 8 days was difficult, especially with a busy schedule and limited access to internet. I missed them so much. I missed how my sons crawl into bed with us every night. I missed how my husband and I banter and discuss the details of our day. I missed how my pups only listen to me and no one else.
But, being away also brought me home in ways I can’t ignore. This last year has taken me on a long journey away from things that are essential to who I am. I never imagined an entire year where Spanish was not a part of my daily life. I never imagined feeling like an island. I never imagined I’d long so much for professional relationships and space to collaborate. I never imagined that after a year away from home, I’d get to go back by going away.
I went on this trip with amazing professional educators and Pulsera Project staff members who were dedicated to their values and ethics. An idea that came up over and over was the idea of “doing it right”. I felt like a starving bear at a buffet. I loved that my ideas were challenged and changed and valued. I loved learning and growing. I loved the validation that comes from dialogue. I loved being home for a little while.
I can’t wait to continue sharing more about this trip in the coming days! Stay tuned.
NO. This isn’t a sappy list about hoping all kids will learn and have a warm jacket for the winter. I DO hope those things, and I pray for them daily. But no. This isn’t that list. This is a real list of stuff you should buy the teachers in your life. Really. For real. Do it.
If you have a teacher in your life, here is what (s)he wants for Christmas:
-A large amount of pencils and pens. Don’t go all out, we are planning to give these away.
-GlueSTICKS. Liquid glue is of the devil, but even high school teachers need glue for their classes.
-Scissors. These little devils grow feet and walk away like none other.
-Scratch and sniff stickers. WE NEED SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR.
-Stamps. Kids will do anything for a stamp, and, apparently, so will we.
-Expo markers and dry erase supplies. Not black, please not black. We need to see color, considering 90% of us don’t have a window to look through.
-Red and/ or colored pens. Nothing gets us going like a new color to grade in.
-Giant Sticky notes (17″X25″) . Most teachers don’t know these exist, which means they don’t know that this is truly the desire of their souls. Help an educator out.
So, if you are wondering, YES. I do want all these things for Christmas. But so does every other certified educator ever. Feel free to share so teachers all over the world can have more than a Merry Christmas, but also a stocked-up New Year.
I’m not sure other professionals are as qualified to discuss and analyze e-portfolios in the same way that educators who have graduated college (of any level) in the last ten years are uniquely qualified. During my undergraduate degree I went through a number of e-portfolio initiatives put on by the State of Florida in an attempt to ensure we were actually educating our preservice teachers. Now, in my Master’s degree here in Texas, I am going through it again. I have an e-portfolio for the university, and separate e-portfolios for different classes, and one that has run the course of a few classes with the same professor.
And of course… there is the e-portfolio that never died. This one. That is right! This blog began 6 years ago as part of an e-portfolio initiative in a class I was taking at the University of South Florida. What it turned into is even more than what was intended, I’m sure. This blog has turned into my teaching happy place. This has become a place that I voluntarily go (at the bequest of no one) to reflect and vent and innovate.
At the creation of this blog, I hoped no one on the internet would stumble upon it. Now, I check my app every day to see if anyone did. I’m not famous. I haven’t gone viral. However, I’ve had views from all over the world and I’ve had amazing conversations with students and teachers who found my blog while scrolling on social media. Not only does this blog serve as a learning tool for me, it serves as a piece of authentication to the students who may come across it: Mrs. W is a real teacher, really trying, really learning, really failing, and really continuing on the path. I’m not there for the paycheck. And, I’ve got a weekly post to prove it.
All these thoughts bubbled to the surface this week while reading over a section on authentic assessment and the use of e-portfolios in Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools. E-portfolios can (and should) become more than just a collection of worksheets and assignments. As in the case of educators, they can become a useful and fluid curation of resumés, philosophies, unit plans, resources, ideas, and more. The idea behind authentic assessment is that our assignments lend themselves to real life, or in my case, my actual classroom setting.
More importantly, e-portfolios in a Web 2.0 world have another capability: they can aid the learner in reflection. While my blog does curate some of my trials and failures, it mostly houses my reflective practice. This space holds me accountable to my integrity both as a teacher, and as a life-long learner. Creating spaces where learners can authentically showcase their work, fluidly revise and edit that work, collaborate with others on it, then return for reflective practice… this is the gold standard in learning. How can a learner who does all of those things not learn at a high level?
Fullan and Stiegelbaurer (1991) summarized this by saying, “Nothing has promised so much and has been so frustratingly wasteful as the thousands of workshops and conferences that led to no significant change in practice when the teachers returned to their classrooms” (p. 316).
-Web 2.0 New Tools, New Schools by Gwen Solomon & Lynne Schrum, page 101
There are a few things that both blow my mind and frustrate me:
I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
I am reading a book written almost 10 years ago, that quotes something written 25 years ago that STILL hits the nail on the head.
Education hasn’t changed at all.
That’s right. For all the hype and the memes on social media informing us of the changes in the role of the educator, the change of the student and the family profiles, and the changes in educational theory… We still have nearly identical problems set in new contexts.
The problem is simple: we have new information, we have new resources, we have new systems, and we have an ineffective delivery method.
Actually, I’ll correct that: We have effective delivery methods, that many districts refuse to implement. Or, they try, but they aren’t really trying–because they are not on board with the philosophies themselves. Instead we spend millions of dollars (maybe billions?) doing things described as:
“one-day program” (p.101)
“pray and spray” (p. 101)
“4 hours right after school” (p. 101)
“entire staff is required to attend” (p. 101)
So, what are some of these more effective delivery methods?
It is pretty simple really: teachers need support. Actually, something I’ve been saying for a while now is that teachers are students. In fact, let’s take a detour to think about how we teach and reach students, and what we expect of them.
Do we instruct them one time, never revisit it, and the hold them accountable for learning? No. (and if we do, please fire this person, ‘mkay?)
Do we casually mention information here and there, tell them “no pressure to know this now”, then test them on it and blame them when they don’t know? See answer above.
Do we give the information, provide them no support, no authentic practice, overwhelm them with 4-8 hours of single subject information with no breaks, no collaboration, and no clear expectations? See answer above.
The answer is: I certainly hope not!
In order to truly “develop” teachers, we need to focus on really teaching the new ideas, the new tools, the new resources, in the ways that we know stick in the brain.
We need learning communities. (Web 2.0 Tools, page 103). Actually, what we need is TIME to actually engage in these communities. I am (personally) sick of seeing schools add classes to the schedule to accommodate Athletics programs (YES! I said it!), rather than giving teachers a “learning” period to really engage in professional practice.
Someone will argue that 2 “off” (hahahahahaha) periods a day costs schools money, because they have to hire more teachers. However, better test scores, higher graduation rates, and actual utilization of the devices and software schools pay so much subscription money for doesn’t “waste” money. It saves money, or at the very least, prevents the waste of money.
We need peer coaching and mentor programs. (McREL Technology Initiative, Pitler, H., 2005) I was astounded to find (read sarcasm here) that when teachers are supported with coaching and mentorship, they use technology resources at higher rates and have more success in their classrooms doing so.
The best teachers are constantly giving their students time to learn, time to apply their learning, time to compare learning, time to reflect on learning, time to collaboration on new learning and support to re-learn old concepts that need to be retaught. But, for some reason, the classroom teacher is not afforded those same opportunities herself, and yet, is still equally (if not more) accountable for the learning.
That is my two cents. (Mic drop.)
P.S. I will end with this thought: many schools will say they provide all of this, but they do it outside of the work day. You know, when teachers are responsible for grading, planning and creating all of the content for their classes. It is ENTIRELY unreasonable to assume that time provided primarily “outside of the school day” is effective. While a few online PLCs can find an effective niche there, that won’t be what turns a school around.
As I was cleaning the kitchen, a thought occurred to me: “Write me a problem whose answer is 4.”. What an amazing application this type of backwards learning has in math.
Scaffolded: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1.”
Scaffolded again: “Write me a polynomial which can be simplified to 4x + 1 in more than 3 steps.”.
Again: “Draw me a line with a slope of ___ and write the equation (f(x))”.
You may have noticed that I’m not a math teacher. But I am. And, if you are a language teacher reading this… chances are, you are too.
I hear from parents (and students) all the time: But, my child is SO good at English! Well, that’s great, I reply, but the problem is, learning a second language has more in common with Calculus and Algebra, than it does with English Class.
Sure! I teach transition phrases and how to write a paragraph or how to write a sentence instead of a fragment (where is your verb?!?!?!?). Sure! We read literature and analyze it and look for cultural connections. Sure! We do all of that. In Spanish.
BUT, you see, we also look at grammar. Sometimes, explicitly, sometimes implicitly. Those explicit moments are sometimes needed, but often, they are the reason kids end up hating their language class as much as they hate their math class. And, they can’t figure out why.
This is why. A new theory is on the rise in the world of linguistics, that, as far as I have researched, I happen to agree with. It is the mathematical analysis and comparison of linguistic structures to the math of the world. You see, math makes the world work. Science is math applied. Math makes it all make sense. Languages have to end up making sense in order to communicate a message, and it turns out, that is a job math can do. Grammatical sentences are complex formulas, and just past that equal sign (=) is the message you communicate. When your formula is bad, your message is too.
All of these revelations and random thoughts of math while I clean my kitchen, bring me to a few points.
Just as language teachers are moving away from the explicit teaching of Grammar… and seeing amazing results… math teachers are going to have to do the same. Unfortunately, this means that this change will need to be reflected in the standards as well. Just as language standards have become communicative (answer based), math standards will have to do the same. Instead of process based, we’ll need standards like, “Students will engineer a bridge… ect.”; because they can’t meet that standard without implicit math. Math standards will need to be results based.
Language teachers need to be cognizant of their students who struggle in math and communicate with these students’ parents. This will prevent the poop-storm that ensues when said kid struggles and their parents are blindsided–because they thought Spanish was an English class.
The example problems I mentioned above are similar to the ones language teachers use in their classroom every day. Compare:
“Tell me 2 things you like to do.”
“Write me a paragraph explaining what you would do if “X” happened.”
“Tell me your favorite memory as a child.”
In each of the above examples, we give the kids a product, and they must fumble with the pieces to come up with an answer. Like in math, we give formulas, functional chunks, that kids use in the gap to achieve the task.