Profiling Kids By What they Write

Profiling carries a negative connotation, and is pretty much a taboo in our society! More scary “profiling kids”, especially within a very diverse setting like a school environment. If like me, you are an educator, you are expected to “keep all personal thoughts to own-self!”

Perhaps there is an interesting angle to profiling?

I very much enjoyed my fifth graders yesterday! They were a great joy! I had the joy of working with them on writing in the ELA class. On one of the assignments, students were required to write about their favorite activity on a hot summer day.Kids activities

Their responses were telling! From biking around the neighborhood -uphill and against the wind, swimming in the pool, going to the beach, fishing, hanging out with friends at a mall, playing indoor and outdoor with friends [jump rope, monopoly, twister], playing video games, sword fighting, yoga and meditation, fitness exercise, taking a walk outdoors, playing basketball or football, going to the field park or waterpark, to season passes to theme parks.

Even without looking at the name, reading through the assignment already gives me plenty of information to ‘profile’, who is: middle class, black, sociable, soulful, outdoor lover, friendly, loner, athletic and fitness lover or family-oriented. Who is on ‘groupon’, who spends summers at the beach, and who likes ninjas.

As an education, this information is not used to negatively ‘profile’ or characterize students. It helps in understanding the different interests, aspirations and preoccupations of your students. It also provides additional information for the support the proper education and development of students, their dreams and aspiration through schooling.

In many ways, I realized that I could place students in the classroom into appropriate skill circles by reviewing their activities and interests outside the classroom. Read together with other assignments of the day, I learned a lot about who is active, playful, enjoys own time or loves the outdoors or indoors. All these translate into their place within the classroom.

Who is enthusiastic to respond to questions in class, who would rather keep quiet until called upon by the teacher, who stutters, and who would rather not respond at all, even when called upon.

The other assignment was on sentence construction using both “prefix” and “suffix”provided. The sentences were hilarious and telling of everyone, as most students placed themselves into their sentences.

One in particular was telling. The “prefix” sentences and short and ‘commandeering’: “Pre-sent it!”De-send!” Onto the suffix sentences: “Did you walk slow-ly?” “Do your parents treat you safe-ly?” All sentences were questions, either cautionary or probing questions. I thought, “This one will make a police officer!”

As I gain more exposure and experience teaching in the K-12, I am looking our for those features and cues that would allow me provide a memorable teaching and learning experience with my students and in my classrooms. After all, teachers learn a lot from their pupils, to help them improve and grow in their teaching and meeting the needs of their entire classrooms.

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Internationalizing Black History Month

I Inspirational_Black_kids_jpgbecame more inspired to teach my six-year old about Black History Month, after I read the February Newsletter from the Class Teacher.  It said,

     “We learned about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We will learn about Chinese New Year, the presidents, …”

Wait, isn’t February Black History Month? I thought I would read about plans to Teach Black History Month? Martin Luther King Jr. is not exactly the full “Black History Month”. He is part of it, not all of it. There is more to BHM than MLK. And since Black History has only one assigned calendar month out of the twelve, wouldn’t it be great if the Class Teacher exposed child and classmate to other historical black figures, black lives, and histories, culture and achievements of Black people? uhm!

Anyway, I had set plans to give Child several lessons about “Black People” and their histories. My lessons are not limited to Black Peoples of the United States, but includes Black peoples of the Americas, Africa, India, Europe and Asiatic subregion. I want child to know there is more to black history and black people than their story in North America- specifically the United States.

Primarily because Child is of two Diaspora Africas: the new [mom from Uganda] and the old [African American father] Diaspora. Child’s history and present is broader than America. My lesson plan explore significant Black people with influence the world over, as survivors, inventors, activists, independence fighters, nationalists, freedom riders, farmers, anti-colonial crusaders, writers, poets, teachers, child prodigy’s.Black_American_Leaders_jpg

I am going to teach him about MLK, Jr. as much as Barack ObamaMalcolm X, W.E.B. Du BoisJames BaldwinHarriet Tubman and Rosa Parks. Mo’ne Davis comes to mind, as does The Kid President and Lil’ Bow Wow. We will cross The Big Pond to learn about Kwame Nkrumah the PanAfricanist, Nelson Mandela and Steve Bantu Biko the Anti-Apartheid crusaders, Sekou Toure who sent colonial France packing from his Guinea, and Patrice Lumumba, assassinated for defending the right of African peoples to govern themselves. African diplomats on the international stage like Kofi Annan, the first Black UN Secretary General, Graça Macel, international elder, diplomat and teacher, as well as Africa’s royalty like Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II of Buganda Kingdom to which I belong.

I want to teach him about luminary continental Africa Blacks who have penned a mark on the world of writing and academia: public intellectual Ali Mazrui (RIP), the first Okot P’Bitek‘s Song of Lawino, Ousmane Sembene’s God’s Bits of WoodWeep Not Child’s seminal author Ngugi wa Thiong’oWole Soyinka’s manifesto in Trials of Brother Jero and cosmopolitan-Africana Chimamanda Adichie’s Americana.The great astronomers of Timbuktu, who existed way before Europeans invaded, colonized and miseducated the African mind, and the Pharaohs of Egypt, who built the world’s most wonders, the pyramids, the original home of the mummies. The first university at Alexandria, Egypt, and the origin of all human civilization, is Africa.

Black_African_Leaders_jpg   I will let Child know that Europe, Asia and South America all have Black population, original inhabitants or shipped over thorough [slave] trade. We will reach back into our history for notable figures like Shaka Zulu, Maummar GaddafiAlice Lakwena who transformed the African landscape, and events, specifically within their geographical boundaries. Additional coverage of Black African children who have overcome war, suffering and economic hardship to headline global news as engineers, inventors, scholars and activists.

I want Child to know that “Black History Month” is not just about Martin Luther King but the Black World beyond one person, and one geographical space. And how about a start with ABC of Black History https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9rQ544fDqI 

African_intellectuals__writers_and_wonders_jpg

Does Anybody Really Care about Teacher’s Welfare…?

Taking on Teacher TenureThe other day I read an article entitled “Taking on Teacher Tenure” by Haley Sweetland Edwards in the Time, November 3, 2014. The gist of the article was Vergara v. California, the court ruling that struck down decades-old California laws that had guaranteed California teachers permanent tenure and other job-related protections. Plaintiffs in the case argued that students stuck in classrooms with poorly performing teachers are denied the “right to a basic quality of educational opportunity”. Since most students cited to be attending bad schools and bad classrooms were Latino and Blacks, the case took a civil rights twist, arguing that those students were denied equal protection before the law.
The plaintiff, under the umbrella of Students Matter had the strong backing of David Welch, a 53-year old Silicon valley businessman and engineer, according to the Time article. Given the obsession with numbers in the Silicon valley, the complaint included a tabulation of  income loss to students in classrooms with poor performing teachers. For instance, that bad teachers undermine lifetime earnings of their students by$250,000 per classroom. Basically, tenure equals bad teachers; bad teachers create bad students; bad students get poor future earnings. The trial court judge agreed with the plaintiff!
Bye bye bad teachers in California! All schools will now have good teachers, producing excellent performing students, and future big money-makers, right? I find the argument simplistic, and Huckin Filarious! It perpetuates the convenient blame-game which posits that students successes or failures in-school and after-school depends primarily on their teachers. Teachers should be the ‘fix-all magicians’ for their students’ in-class learning and post-classroom performance. Teachers should excel at teaching, educating, babysitting, disciplining, guaranteeing safety, security and sound health in the classroom, and imparting exemporary leadership and management skills to their children. The responsibility of creating a ‘successful student’  is hardly proportionately distributed among all parties involved in the students academics -parents or guardians, school administration, the state and federal government and the students themselves.
In this case, as well as existing policy and public condemnation of teachers, the assumption is that those students performing poorly are all receiving poor quality of education from their teachers. Not that they might be bad students, per se because they are not interest, engaged or capable of participating fully in their classroom experiences and excellent learning. Where is the evidence that all students who go through excellent teachers and schools excel in their academics, and/or have highly rewarding post-graduation careers? Shouldn’t all students from the nations top performing schools and colleges, that tend to attract higher performing teachers have six-figure plus earnings post-graduation?

Time, November 3, 2014

Time, November 3, 2014

Undoubtedly, within the same classrooms of bad teachers are students who excellent in their academics and earn high incomes post-graduation. Others excel in their classrooms but do not necessarily enjoy high earnings post-graduations, while others who do not excel in academics may earn highly post-graduation.
Not the same vigor goes into inquiring how “on-the-job wellbeing” affects teachers’ attitude toward teaching, and creating an excellent learning environment for their students. If, as Vertaga v California argues that, good teachers produce excellent student performance with higher financial earnings in the future, shouldn’t it follow that improving teachers’ welfare would enhance their performance and their students classroom experience?
Evidence suggests that the world’s best schools in Finland, Singapore and South Korea seek out teachers from the top third of each graduating class, unlike in the U.S. where close to half of teachers come from the bottom third of the graduating classes (Editor’s Desk, Time, November 3, 2014, 2). An investment in teachers would mean an investment in a good classroom experience and a well-trained student. This requires an teaching environment where teachers are valued, and their needs and welfare respected as much as those of their students. Teacher training is just the first step to ‘moulding’ a good teacher, that should be coupled with classroom support with teaching aides, technologies, school counselors, support staff, other school departments and out of school family support for the students learning.
Time, November 3, 2014

Time, November 3, 2014

Instead, what the Vertaga ruling does is to escalates job insecurity within the teaching profession, already undermined by poor remuneration, budget cuts and politicking. Partly why tenure was introduced, to protect teachers from politicking and short-sightedness about the teaching responsibilities from outside interest groups.
Even without taking away tenure, teachers are already stretched working under unfavorable conditions that have them question whether to stay in the teaching profession and for how long! In our school districts, public school teachers are no longer assured of salaries during the summer when they are not actively teaching in the classroom, even though they are technically active developing creative teaching aides for the next school year. Never mind that they did not request for or have any input in the three-month long institutionalized vacation on the school calendar by national school planners. The intentions are laudable, to give teachers and students a much deserved break from school activities, enabling full rejuvenation by the next academic year. Instead of resting in the summer,  teachers are busy scrounging around for a decent living, taking on seasonal short-term employment as bagging groceries at departmental stores.
Blaming teachers for students’ future earnings is in my opinion insane and mind boggling! How many PhDs, which is the highest display of academic intellect and attainment earn incomes equivalent to what they put into their education? Instead of escalating job insecurity, and chasing away those who entered the teaching profession as their passion and first choice, why not invest in strategies to improve teachers classroom performance and build their confidence in the classroom? Why attack the entire teaching profession with legal sanctions, because of a section of poorly performing teachers?
Realistically, teachers, especially in public schools are among [if not] the most hardworking public workers and a key asset to national development, yet lowly remunerated and under-appreciated. Policy makers, legislators passing legislation, litigators and judges making all sorts of pronouncements against the teaching profession are comfortably seated on their ‘high horses’ of big paychecks and big perks, while throwing teachers further under the bus. It is an easy and fancy privilege to judge a teacher’s performance in the classroom, if you have never been in front of a public classroom. It is also disingenuous to pretend that all students ‘churned’ out of classrooms with excellent performing teachers go on to earn great incomes and perform excellent in the post-graduation employment.
I support every effort to improve the teaching and learning experience proportionately across all public schools irrespective of zip code, but not at the expense of teacher’s job security and protection. Work with those teachers not performing great, rather than a uniform onslaught on the entire profession. Teaching in public school requires the academic credentials at least a Bachelor’s degree for a teaching position, and continued enhancement and refresher courses. More importantly, the learning about teaching comes from the classroom experience, helping to further equip a teacher with creativity, adaptability, thoughtful planning and resourcefulness — much of which is learned from cumulative classroom experience.

Time, November 3, 3014

Time, November 3, 3014

Not Everyone is Sophie, John, Jane or Matt: Diversity Consciousness in the Classroom

Recently, I was at an teacher training workshop, where the speaker for a session on “Qualities of a Good Substitute Teacher” mentioned the importance of identifying and connecting one-on-one with pupils in the classroom. In explaining why a teacher should know her students by name, she mentioned Sophie, John, Jane or Matt, as the four names off-the-cuffs in her classroom example. 

For me, that triggered something about the ingrained assumptions teachers might make about their students profile. Many of the assumptions reveal conceptions and misconceptions derived from one’s ‘comfort zone’ and surroundings. My assumption is the speaker comes from an ‘environment’ where most children are either Sophie, John, Jane or Matt. Or perhaps her education background was filled with students that fit such profile. That in a way creates an “illusive comfort” that knowing the profile of one’s classroom correlates with being in touch with the needs and special circumstances of each student. Yet, in a classroom environment, each child needs to be acknowledged and catered for/ included to their comfort.

How does a diversity conscious teacher make the classroom experience all inclusive for each one of these children? I asked myself the same question during a visit to the area elementary school. Of the two classrooms I observed: 1) First Grade class had one black kid, a young girl called Hannah; all the other kids were visibly white. 2) A Third Grade all-white classroom. Both classrooms had white teachers, as was the School Principal, and all the school staff I came in contact with.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with an all-white school, if that is the general population around the school district. My concern is whether and how children of other colors in the same school are included in a predominantly-white classroom. Particularly given the potential influence of the preschool experiences and home environment on shaping knowledge formation, knowledge generation, teaching aides and one’s comfort with the teaching and learning environment. In many places, the classroom environment has evolved beyond, S, J, J or M, the typical ‘blonde and blue-eyed’ and Judeo-Christian, thanks to desegregation and immigration of the Abequa, Biko, Horacios, Happy, Ijeomas, Lakisha, Özil and Muhammad into the same classroom. Our classrooms today represent children of varied backgrounds as immigrants, children of immigrants, first generation or generations of American-born or native to this country. They bring varied experiences from their homes, communities and experiences, all of which need to be represented for an enriched classroom experience.

Going back to Hannah, the only black girl in the First Grade classroom I visited. She seemed comfortable with her classroom and classmates, but had another story not visibly captured in the teaching aides and classroom environment I observed. While checking on her writing assignment, she read to me her story about her best friend, “I like playing with my best friend Usnuah!” To me, there was a different story with friendships not represented by SJJM. I wondered if her teachers take time to learn about Hannah’s friends, family and neighbors! Or whether she is offered a chance to share her ‘unique’ family and community background in a predominantly white classroom!

That is not to suggest that all white kids have the same family experience, although their differences [while paramount] are not as visible to the eye as Hannah. Moreover, when we got to engage with “disabilities”,  five students with varied developmental disabilities were ‘paraded’ in front of our seminar room, so we could ask questions for ‘our learning pleasure”. Perhaps the intentions were innocent, but the scenario reminded me of times when black people were caricatures of white audiences as, ‘strange’ study subjects, ‘caged entertainers’ [Sarah Baartman aka Venus Hottentot], the “Human Zoo” [most recently replicated in Norway], entrainment at lynching picnics popular in the South. And up until now, through international aid campaigns and hollywood movies that depict “the black victim” awaiting a ‘white savior”. Interestingly as well, our diversity trainer did not find anything controversial with showing a clip from the movie “Blind Side” to make her point about ‘developmental disability.

Which brings me to another topic covered about English Language Learners (ELLs), the now politically correct replacement of “English as a Second Learning”. The change was pre-empted after realizing that while ESL focused predominantly on immigrants and immigrant children, ELL recognized that some US-born children come from households where English is not the first. The basic assumption, as stated during the seminar was that [first-generation/immigrants] children “have difficulty learning not just English but the entire school curriculum.”

Granted there is truth to it, but with misguided assumptions that: 1) Simply because one does not speak English, they therefore, do not understand anything nor have sound knowledge to contribute to their classroom experience. 2) English Language Speakers are conversant with the English Language and do not need enhancement classes, which as a writing coach is not true.

I work with full-blooded American school children, those whose parents, grandparents, great grandparents and great great grandparents and beyond were born in America. Yet, it is appalling that they cannot spell a simple word like “Pail” in Third Grade! I have found out that their school did not teach ‘phonics’, which I believe is great language learning tool. Nor are they offered English Language ‘Enhancement Classes’ at the Charter School they attend. Yet with ‘diversity’ more focused on ‘cultural’ and ‘developmental’ differences, such cases are fall out of the cracks of ‘special needs education’.

A diversity conscious teacher should ably pay attention to the non-verbal cues from their students, cater to their different needs, reach out and appeal to them, to make each one of her/his students feel included. Perhaps it starts with diversity training, which recognizes the changing needs of a classroom beyond the ’traditional’ diversities of “black or white” in America. There are multiple layers of diversity including physical or mental abilities, race, sex, geographical origin, family background, household and cultural ancestry. Today, classrooms composition includes children of immigrants, first generation Americans or migrant workers, Native American children, Muslim children,  inner-city kids.
Continued and refresher teacher training seminars would be helpful, as well as exposure to varied scenarios that stimulate “diversity awareness” and ultimately “diversity consciousness”. I thought for a minute, during my training, “Wouldn’t it be more powerful if the trainer on “diversity” were a minority? Yes, I am aware that white women in White America are included among the ‘minority groups’, but since the session focused on ‘civil rights’ and ‘disabilities’, a ‘racial minority’ or ‘personal with a disability’ as facilitator would have made a greater visible impact.

Diversity Consciousness would enable teachers and school administrators to understand that, immigrant children and children of immigrant parents might not actively engage in classroom discussions due to deferring cultural learnings about social interaction and authority. Immigrants from countries where authority is hierarchical might not engage as much with their children’s classroom teacher(s) ‘out of respect’ for the teacher or fear of challenging what in their upbringing is an ‘authority figure’ and ‘expert’ in their child[ren] education. I learned from working with Japanese graduate students as a Writing Tutor that it is not in their habit to actively participate in classroom discussions because it is considered rude to challenge ‘seniority’ in Japanese culture. One of my students settled for a lower class grade, even when he knew his response on a classroom test was correct because he did not want to challenge his professor that his response resonated with the experience of his home country. Diversity Consciousness needs starts with the school administration, selection of teacher or substitute teacher trainers, program administrators, school teaching staff and all organs in the school system in daily contact with our children.