Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

While I pride myself in running an efficient and persistent Mommy School, I have also made peace with the notion that, “Homeroom Teacher Knows Best,” in Child of Mine’s word. No, he has not said that to me directly; he has made me aware, just about each time I labor to teach and work with him on academic learning.

I understand that Child of Mine [who I prefer to call COM] is not unique in his thinking.

My mother says, “What goes around, comes around.”

OR, as I would say, “The apple” and “the tree,” are geographical neighbors.”

Put more crudely, Every dog has its own day!

Karma is, indeed, a female dog!

Very often, while helping out with school assignments, it is not uncommon for COM to tell me, “But my teacher said….” OR “My teacher does…” I have learned not to fight it outright, but try to influence and expand his thinking and conceptualization beyond what and how he learned from his homeroom teacher.

It does not help that I did not obtain my early schooling here in the United States, but in a totally different education system in far-flung places across the big pond. Uganda, my country of origin and a former colony of Her Majesty, imitated the British education system. The formalized national education system was initiated by European missionaries, predominantly British missionaries, later supported by the British colonial government in pre-independence Uganda. Everything, including phonics and phonetics, mathematical problems and sounds, are taught and conceptualized differently from the American education system.

So, I signed up to become a Substitute Teacher in the K-12 school system, to gain a deeper practical insight into the US education system. Hitherto, my teaching experience in the US was limited to college and graduate schools. I had vehemently sworn off teaching “children,” from Pre-K to 12. I was comfortable to appear in such classrooms as a guest parent or guest instructor, but not command an entire classroom as the sole teacher.

That all changed, when COM became of school-going age, and returned to America, after three years living and studying abroad. Well, he still went to school in all three locations we lived: Norway, South Africa and Uganda, and I enthusiastically participated in his learning and academic schooling.

Perhaps not too actively, but I participated in “guest parent programs,” to read to his classmates, fundraised for donation of books and medical instruments, and never missed a parent-teacher conference, or an opportunity to share my opinions on the school curriculum or learning environment.

And just in case he forgets, “All your other teachers come and go, but mommy will always be your main teacher,” so I tell him. Yes, COM has heard me telling him a couple of times, that I was his first teacher, and will always be his most consistent teacher. Evidentially, since we part ways with teachers, whenever he moves geographically, or up another grade.

Moreover, I would like him to accept my engagement in his learning, and understand that schooling does not only belong to “structured classroom buildings”. He now knows that, Mommy School does not close, even on snow days, when there are security concerns in the school district, or on national holidays. Most importantly, Mommy School exists to reinforce what he learns at his general school, and because mommy went through elementary school.

Fortunately, signing up as a Substitute Teacher in the school district has proven strategically empowering to myself, and reassuring to COM. He realizes now that, perhaps mommy knows something about my classroom activities and assignments.

“My mom is a teacher, too,” he often boasts to his homeroom teachers.

I am cautioned, by fellow moms and friends that, he is still at that age, where he is not ashamed of his mommy teaching at his school, hugging mommy in the school lobbies or kissing mommy as he gets on and off the school bus. And I am loving it! Until the day it unravels!

Still, mommy is yet to win the battle of Who is Smarter than the Homeroom Teacher? Not that we are actively fighting to overtake the ‘super-know-it-all’ homeroom teacher(s); I am in full support and enhance the homeroom teacher(s), in true PTO spirit – Parent Teachers Organizations.

Teachers appreciate parents who are supportive, participate in their classroom activities, and engaged with their children’s homework. Not so sure whether COM feels me like his homeroom teacher(s); sometime — maybe; all the time — mommy don’t know it all!

Take for instance yesterday, when COM was doing his ELA assignment on  “Vowel Team”. The instructions required to, “Write words: sweet, sleep, meet, sheep and more — breaking them up into syllables, then underlining the phonic pattern.” COM on First in Math

He said he had to “syllable loop,” by breaking the sounds independently. I explained that the assignment required him to break words into syllables….and to me…they were all single syllable words. He got frustrated that I was using the word “break,” not “loop”,his choice word. I told him, I was reading the words, per teacher’s written instructions. Him and I went back and forth, asking him to say out the words and hear the syllables. He insisted there were more than one syllable, three in some cases!

I suggested to him, to write his way, then hand in his homework, and wait for the teacher’s feedback tomorrow. I told [bribed] him that, if I had to do his assignment, I would ‘loop’ each words into a single syllable! He became more frustrated. I suggested that we consult the online syllable dictionary. Each word had “one syllable”. Still, not fully convinced!

Thankfully, he and I come from families of teachers; both his grandmothers — my mom and his dad’s mom are teachers. Thankfully, daddy-grandma was listening in. She suggested, similar to what I had read online, “Clap the word and make out the syllable(s).” That he did, and it was “one syllable.” I asked him to clap the word “Purple”; that was two syllables. Phew!

At last, mommy seems to be getting somewhere! Maybe she knows something about homeroom teacher’s assignments; and can be respected and trusted to help out! We still working on it. Until then, surely the Homeroom Teacher Knows Best!

Advertisements

Of puppy crushes and hard-on – Let’s Talk About “S” Bebe

Parents, guardians and educators of young minds, let’s imagine this happened to any of you. I will not disclose my sources…but as a mother of a seven-year old, it gives me cause to worry.

Here we go…retold in [first person]

“I am wounded. Terribly wounded!!

I just had a talk with a six-year old about sex, crushes and hard-ons. Can you believe it? No! I cannot. I am crying, internally. My tear glands are not doing me a favor; I want to sob.
M. I still have butterflies about Leigh [Not real name].” [Followed by shy giggles.
“How do you feel when you have butterflies about her?” I asked
“When I think about her, my pee pee gets hard. Right now, my pee pee is hard”

That’s the moment I panicked, and realized that I need help. 
“Well, I am not a man, and I do not know what to do when your pee pee gets hard,” I responded to him. I am going to ask a friend, who is a man and a teacher for advice on what to do.”

Hitherto, I was playing it cool and silly. In fact, I might have stirred him up on his ’silly’ infatuation, and resultant “hard-on”. For one, he’s had a ‘girlfriend’ since pre-K, that he dropped for a new one in Kindergarten, I bet there’s gonna be one from 1st Grade. 2) I imagined, his ‘love story’ was similar to mine back when I was five.

When I was in Kindergarten, I got myself duped by a grown man that he was going to marry me. The next day, I came home from school, took a shower, packed all my bags and waited outside our family home for Mr. Y to pick me up and take me off to his home, our new marital home [Never mind that he was probably over twenty years of age]. Not only didn’t he show up that day, it took a while before he showed up again on our block.  So, I had to face repeated humiliation from my bigger brother and sister, mocking me for dropping out of school in Kindergarten, and going off to get married. I bet Mr. Y did not even give [the marriage] a second thought, because it was joke to him. He probably forgot his “proposal” as soon as he’d stepped away from our neighborhood.

Interestingly, I grew up without a love for men or marriage, not because Mr. Y stood me up. My own family drama speaks volumes about this. But that is a story to be told and re-told many times elsewhere. 

Anyway, this time I freaked out, and wrote to a friend, who is both male and a teacher. A bonus, he is an American, with a multi-cultural background, who has lived and taught in several countries outside the United States. I feel he would be best positioned to give a male opinion, but also with a cultural context to it. I do not have personal experience of little male boys  talking about “crushes and hard-ons” to their parents.

As someone from a different generation, I am quite slow to catch up with this seemingly “hyper-sexual” generation. Young minds of today know a lot about sex than I knew at their age, and perform more sex than I did back in the days. Thanks to the abundant ‘open’ and [il]liberal media, which is exposing to children as young as three to daily love stories – watch Madagascar, The Lion King, Lego Movie, Incredibles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Frozen, you name it! There’s a love story with someone getting married, heartbroken or kissing, followed by eewws and eewws, from the young watchers.

I know a thing or two about what goes on in the Elementary School System, where kids express or act out their crushes with classmates, or tell their friends, who often tease them about who they have a crush on. Unbeknownst to me, the teasing can grow into infatuation and feelings of love and desires for kissing their crush!

As I waited for “expert advice” from my friend, I decided to engage my six-year old into a “Let’s Talk About Sex, bebe”

Mom: “Do you know what sex is?”
6-yr-old: “Yes. When people lie on top of each other.”
Me ; [oh oh TMI -internal panic]. “Where did you see that?”
6-yr: “On TV, one of the shows. Even Simba had Nala [in The Lion King.] They loved each other and made a baby.”
Me. “Uhm! But the people you saw on TV were not young, right? They are adults who are married or living together?”
6-yr: “Yes. But some kids also talk about sex [coyly answered]. Even my classmates.”

Overwhelmed, I could not run away from the talk anymore. I had to break the ‘innocence’ to protect the ‘innocence’. Does that even make sense?

I told him it is normal for pees pees of young boys to young boys to get hard. I let him know that, it is ok to have feelings for girls. It means we appreciate others.
I asked, “Does she feel the same about you? Does she want to be your boyfriend?”
“She did not say that to me,” he responded

I told him, “It is important to be careful because if the girls does not feel the same, she could tell her mother and her mother may not like it. Then she would tell the teacher, and you might get in trouble. I might also get in trouble for exposing you to movies or TV that have sex.”

I went on, “Plus, you are still too young to focus too much on sex and loving a girl. You have many years to go. You should wait until you are an adult, then you can get married and have a wife and then you can start engaging in sex. It is a huge responsibility for a six-year old like you.”

Yes, I mentioned that some young boys have sex with girls, get them pregnant and then have to take are of them. So, they drop out of school to start working for their family. Sometimes it does not work out, and if they cannot afford to take care of their family, they could be sent to jail. 

At that moment, I realized that he was scared. “I won’t talk about sex anymore,” he told me.
“It is ok to tell me how you feel,” I said. In fact I am glad that you told me, that means you trust me. But don’t think about sex too much. You are still young.” 
Another thought occurred to me, to ask him how he feels about each of the girls who were in his Kindergarten class. 

Ki- I don’t really like her because she cares a lot about fashion, make up, and sometimes she is mean. She also likes to sit next to K all the time
Vi – She gets in trouble so much. Other people, Q, A and E say mean things to her like, she has sludge on her hands (the things you have in the nose) 
Bri and Eli- They have too much braids! 
H – She’s kind of shy, like Jac
Ab – Her eyes look big when she has glasses on
Gr – She’s kind of weird. Sometimes, with her right eye, she’s looking left, and with her left eye she’s looking right
Ch – She’s mean. Remember when you were teaching in my class, and she was being mean to some people!
Ln – Too much K! She always wants to sit next to K. I sit with all my best friends, A, J, V, E, But she wants to sit only next to K.
K – She’s a good person, she’s good in school, beautiful, stylish and nice 

Then, I suggested that we check the internet for guidance, “What to do when your six-year old has crush?”

We read all info together. Most of the information we found reiterated what I had told him: that all young boys experience erections; they also get infatuated with girls. But I also learned that it is important not to make your child feel guilty about their feelings, and not make them feel it is wrong to share how they feel with you.  It was good for him to hear a written opinion from the authority even kids like him know, “Google”.
http://www.steadyhealth.com/topics/erections-in-young-boys-is-it-normal

Moreover, my “expert teacher/guidance counselor” wrote back to reassure me that the body is taking charge, and he has no way of controlling it. He told me it is good to let him know that it is natural for an erection to happen when he gets the butterflies, but he should keep his private part private. Like me, my “Expert teacher” agrees it is great my six-year old trusts me enough to confide in me.” 

There you have it! How I dread this story happening to me, with my seven-year old! That one day, he will come to me, crying about his crushes, at this tender age. I would want to tell him, you still have all the way to college before you start worrying about girls. You should wait until you get married.

Interestingly, last weekend, COM asked me, “how does one pick the girl they wish to marry. How do they decide on the one?” I had to tell him about meeting somebody, getting to know them, their family and friends, and treating them nice. Then you can ask the person, if they will marry you?

“Then, how do you meet the people who you went to Elementary school with, when you are grown?”

Sometimes, people keep in touch. That is, keep communicating. Sometimes we lose contact. Many people do not marry the people they new from elementary school, but meet people in other places like college, work, gym, community, on the bus or train.”
“Once you are married, I continued, then you can have sex with your partner and have children, if you like.” [I hope against hope that he would not ask me, but why did you and daddy have me without being married…]

Just as I was getting to pat myself on the back, he told me, “Mommy, I know you can be married and still not have sex.”
“Really? Why? I asked.
“Co’s dad and mom do not have sex,” came his response
“How do you know?” I am getting freaked out.
“Co told me!” COM says.

Oh well! It is really about time we have the “BIG TALK”. One of these days, I will sit down COM And tell him, “Let’s Talk About Sex, Bebe”

Re-Learning to Write Academically

I am still trying to write an abstract for an academic conference paper! Since January this year; you better believe it!

I don’t know what has happened to my intellectual ingenuity, my art of writing, my academic genius, and my conferencing skills, especially academic conferencing!

IMG_3535I started presenting at international academic conferences in college, and inspired plenty of colleagues at higher academic levels than myself, in graduate and post-graduate studies, to engage in presenting papers at academic conferences. In fact, I got the titled “Dr. Lwanga”, way before I became one. I had to correct the conference organizers, panelists and co-participants several times that I am not officially Dr. Lwanga; not a PhD, yet.“You should enroll in Doctoral studies!” they often said.…  I am yet to become “Dr. Lwanga”, but that is a story for another day.

Here I am, umpteen years later. I cannot gather my thoughts intellectually together to construct an academic paper abstract! A painful reality. Not because I am lost for topics to write about, or have no computer, sick fingers, lost my head or eye sight, or cannot squeeze in a tit bit of time, for a few lines.

I am struggling with how to put together an intelligible argument. How do I talk about Teaching and Learning”, which is the topic I would love to address for the conference on “Education”? How do I construct arguments on learning to learn from Young Learners? How do I investigate teaching multicultural children in a predominantly monocultural education setting? How can I address Teacher’s welfare in a student-biased education system? How about interrogating that holy grail “Gifted and Talented”, or the “Different Shades of Special Needs Education”.

Bet, you have a little understanding why I am conflicted about what to write. I am still trying to figure out which topic works best, which I could expound on and give plenty of meat.

So, here I am, close to six months, and still without an definite topic. Still contemplating, what the Topic or Title is going to be? Or the gist of the argument? I am not sure whether the paper format will be: 1) a poster presentation; 2) work-in-progress; 3) fully argued out research paper or; 4) research proposal/abstract? I know I am leaning more toward, #2, with a better potential of allowing me expound on it for future post-graduate studies. Yes, that “Holy D” is still on my head-roof, Ensh’allah!

Learning to Teaching from How Children Learn. OR Children Teaching Teachers how to Teach or Teaching a Multicultural Classroom in a Monocultural Schooling System. Yes! Yes! I think I finally got something there. And Curriculum, Research and Development sounds like great forage for me. Three topics already! Viva procrastination; that allows me to switch off for a while and turn on again.

Now, onto thinking about the thesis…What is the conference theme again? zzzz

Meeting the “Gifted and Talented”: No Nigerians Here!

Finally, I met the “Gifted and Talented” aka G&T. I am still questioning what that means. When my son was in Kindergarten, he got tested for inclusion in “Gifted and Talented”. I received feedback from his Guidance Counsellor that his scores were way above expectations; should I say, outstanding!  He still gets plenty of those outstanding reviews, including from the most recent reading seminar organized for parents at his school. I was a very proud momma.

Yet, as his major teacher, of course according to me (he would vehemently insist his school teachers as his main/all-knowing teachers), I am always demanding more from him. I call him out when he slacks, and engage him with more learning. To me, he is not doing great because he is G&T, but because he is exposed to plenty of learning resources and the support of his dedicated mother and teacher. True, I am highly tickled by his reasoning, many times, his wits and comprehension. Maybe he is quicker to learn [than others of his age], I do not know. What I know is, he reads fluently for his age, because I have exposed him to books since before he was born, and we have read on since then.

Then I met the G&T, who are not related to me. They were also much older than my own. I am sorry to say that the two hours I spent with me, nothing about them sparked me as “Gifted and Talented”,. I saw a kids enjoying doing things other children do, like building cars, bridges, playing with legos, making stuff and rolling on a ball. I talked to kids who seemed to enjoy what they were doing, some with hands-on engagement, while others contributing verbal ideas.

I could not stuck away that miseducation I have regurgitated for generations since I began learning in the world I live, that “all smart people are white; all white people are smart.” I was surprised to learn that plenty of the G&T had, what we call in America “Hispanic Names”. They were children of immigrants from South America, two with parents from Colombia.

One told me visibly terrified, “My father was born in New York but grew up in Colombia. His mother took him back and left him there!” I explained that, sometimes parents have to make difficult choices to raise their children. For a single mother, which I learned her grandmother was, it can be difficult raising a child in New York without family support. Yet, her family in Colombia could easily help out.

Another myth buster – Not all G&T are children from rich and wealthy homes. Some are children of truck drivers, such as Aei. Another told me s/he lives in a single parent household. What is true, though, the “nerdy” stereotype was there. I could relate to those kids from among my school circles. I know exactly kids like them.

Sadly, there were no Blacks among the G&T kids I met. Yes, it does matter; here in America, race is one of our greatest preoccupations. My conclusion was, there were no Nigerians in the district! (smile:). If we go by the ‘great discovery’ of The Triple Package, the one Black group profile among the “super powerful/highly successful cultural groups” in America is Nigerians. Add to that, pretty much every story featured in the media about a black genius nowadays seems to have Nigerians roots. Not in this district, though!

Especially, surprising since there is a significant number of black kids in this particular location compared to other schools in the same district. Should we really care? Does it really matter, you may ask? Of course it does; just like having a G&T kid whose father is a truck driver, or the immigrant from Colombia, so should there be a Black G&T. It is inspirational, and these kids should have an avenue to talk to their classmates about the kind of activities they are engaged in or what makes them academically “different” from others.

While I am not totally blown away, yet by the group of G&T I encountered, I enjoyed supervising them as they worked on their projects for a regional STEM competition. More exciting because they were working with Legos, one of my son’s favorite play-toys! I told them, he would be thrilled to watch them build stuff. They suggest I should bring him to their STEM fair, so he can see their final products and much more from other competitors. Another thought crossed my mind, LegoLand Discovery! Thereafter, I can get him bumped him up from 1st Grade straight to 3rd Grade G&T class! 😉

Surviving a 4th Grade Class!

Whoever coined the phrase, Never say Never”? Google tells me this phrase was first recorded in Charles Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, 1837.

Still, have a beer on me, and pass on the check! I am a living testimony of my contradictions!

Once upon a moon, I said, I will never teach elementary school! Did I tell you that, already? Well, I was comfortable with my college, graduate school and adult students. I did not even want to try High School; I imagined all those kids would not take me seriously, ‘hit’ on me or play foolery with me. I imagine them trying to give me a run for my investment in their learning. I did not want to test humiliation.

I swore off Elementary School, as well; I wanted no more responsibility with little ones ever again! Don’t get me wrong, I grew up around little children and did a ton of babysitting for my family. As the last-born girl in my family, I was still young when my siblings had babies. Being a socio-culturally grounded girl, I did not have the luxury of saying no to babysitting for my family. I invested fully in my little nieces and nephews. Yes! I cried whenever my niece cried, played with those little munchkins, and entertained them lavishly. I had my fair share of ‘babysitting’, to blissful satisfaction, never again clamored or desired!

Well, that was before I birthed my own, and all the sworn off ’No more babysitting’ flew right out through the window! As a parent, I embraced my new responsibilities as smoothly as I did for my siblings. I learned anew the meaning of taking care of children, more than I did before. Soon I realized that, while I could bail out on my siblings, I did not have the same with my own. Fortunately, the experience raising my child stimulated my eagerness to learn more about Early Childhood and Elementary Education. It sparked my interest in entering the classrooms to learn how children learn, and to augment my own knowledge and expertise.

Recently, I began teaching in the Elementary School Classrooms in my school district. I started out with pre-K, K and Special Needs classrooms, and have since upgraded to higher levels. I am really enjoying the experience as “Commander in Chief” of an elementary school classroom.  I have since gained a new-found appreciation for teachers, teaching and young learners.

Last week was my first experience as a Sole Substitute Teacher in 4th Grade. All my full fears and anxieties were put to rest, because the kids were not as terrible as I had imagined; they were just being kids. I am thankful for the experience of parenting my son, because it has given me a lot of perseverance, education and new perspective on children’s education and development.

As a Substitute Teacher, I had to follow the class teacher’s schedule. Still, I found an opportunity to engage the kids in learning about myself. I was excited to find kids open and friendly to their ’strange teacher’, especially in our America of “Do not Smile with Strangers”. One of the kids told me she is on the same school bus with my son, and had seen me at the bus stop. The other kid said his brother was my son’s best friend in Kindergarten! Awesomeness!

To break the ice, I asked them, if they could guess where I was from? Many guessed all the countries associated with majority black immigrants to the United States: Caribbean, Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Africa, and surprisingly Kenya and South Africa.

When I asked them if they thought I was from London, almost everyone said “No”. Why? “You have an accent?” So, I asked, “Do you think people in America have an accent?”, Some said no. Then I asked, “Do people from Pennsylvania speak the same as people from New York or Georgia, Tennessee or California? Then they began to engage with the question about “accents”, acknowledged that even Americans have accents, and different parts of America have different accents.  One said, “People in Tennessee speak like country.”

I told them I was from Uganda, but literally none had heard of Uganda. Except one girl who said, she watched on Disney TV show called “Jessie”, with a character from Uganda. The one who guessed Kenya said, it was because President Obama’s father was from Kenya. [Impressive!]

I then asked, if any had parents born outside the United States, which was easier understood than asking them, “who had foreign-born parents]. A couple of hands went up, with parents from: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad, Albania, and two Africa. While everyone else said the specific countries where their foreign-born parents came from, the ones with “African parentage” did not have a clue about the specific countries! When probed further, they didn’t seem to have taken an interest in finding out their parent(s) country of origin! I gave the kids a lesson that Africa is a big continent with more than 50 countries, just like the 50 united states, a shocker to many!

Overall, it was a great classroom experience! I managed an entire day with 4th graders with no major incidents. They were eager to help, some more than others, and eager to learn and participate in classroom activities. They were just young kids, like my six year old. They helped with the schedule, especially classroom recess and play activities. I even had the chance of engaging in more responsibilities outside the classroom, including managing the kids at fire drill and taking them to gym class. Let’s do it again!

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.