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

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.

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

Teaching Children about Columbus Day in an era of Contested Knowledge and Truth Formation

This past Monday, October 13, 2014, was Columbus Day, when America remembers Christopher Columbus. So, my first grader and I engaged in a learning session about why every second Monday of October is a [Columbus Day] public holiday, when government business and public schools in the fifty states take a day off. I told him that on October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed in a boat across the Atlantic from Europe, to find out about the Americas. According to official pronouncements, Columbus’ voyage instigated European settlement in the Americas. I showed him the world map on my computer, and together, we located the Americas – North and South. I asked him to point to North America, the United States and Pennsylvania where we live, which he ably located with much success and delight. I also showed him the European continent and Italy, where Columbus originated, and the big Atlantic Ocean that he crossed to come to America. I explained to him that after Columbus, many more Europeans followed to settle in America.

Yet at the back of my mind, I knew this story of Columbus Day is circulated with varying degrees of truths, controversy and contestation. So, how does one teach children about Columbus Day in an era of contested knowledge and truth formation?

Here are some versions of the “Christopher Columbus Discovery story”. The mainstream hails Columbus for ‘discovering the new world’ also known as the Americas, including North America and the United States of America where we reside. This version credits the arrival of Columbus to the official beginning of European colonialism and exploration of the America. As well as paving way for European exploitation of the Americas, the extermination of pre-existing indigenous populations commonly referred to as “Native America”, disenfranchisement of their property and land, and pushing many into reservations.

Some contest the use of ‘discovering’, arguably because it wrongly assumes there were no people living in the Americas prior to the arrival of Columbus. Another view emphasizes that Columbus was not the first European explorer to arrive in the America; many more had come before him, but possibly never settled permanently or actively sought to colonize the Americas.

Yet, the most under-asserted version of the ‘discovery story’ profiles the arrival of Africans and black people before Christopher Columbus set foot in the Americas. Black people from present-day Africa sailed across the Atlantic as far back as 445 BC, and during the 19th century (1292 BC), engaging in trade, contributing greatly mathematical scholarship, writing, the calendar, shaping the political and religious systems, and the architectural structures of the Americas by importing their pyramid technology from Egypt. Indeed Columbus’ own writing cited by renowned American historian and linguist, Leo Weiner of Harvard University, acknowledged the pre-existence of the ‘black-skinned peoples’ in the Americas, arriving in boats in the South East to trade in gold-tipped spears. The story about the existence of black-skinned peoples in the Americas prior to Columbus seeks to refute the prevailing privileged knowledge that black presence in the Americas started with the Atlantic Slave Trade post-Columbus.

But this is all a mouthful for my First Grader! While I seek to ‘emancipate’ his learning, knowledge formation and creation, I strive to make it as simple and appropriate for his developmental stage. Here I am assuming I really know his developmental stage, although sometimes he speaks and acts way much wiser than I can fathom!

For our learning about Columbus Day, I told him how Christopher Columbus’ settlement in the Americas opened up mass migrations from Europe into the Americas, and later from other parts around the globe. Thousands of years after Columbus, I, like many Africans migrated to live in America, changing the peoples of America. United States now has people from all over the world, including Uganda, my country of origin.

While learning about Columbus Day, I showed my first grader google images of Native Americans, and asked him if he had ever seen such people – the most prominent images featured people with piercings and sticks through their mouth, nose and ear, wearing different kind of colorful clothing and some half-naked. He said he had never seen any such people! And yes! This from a child who spent the last three years and a half living around Africa [goes to tell, not all Africans are the stereotypical “Masaai, Karamojong or San” popular on many postcards and TV documentaries popular in the United States!] I explained that the reason he does not see such Americans very often is because when Christopher Columbus arrived in America, they were pushed into reservations and forced to change their clothing, culture, language and look. They were forced to speak English and other Europeans languages, dress and behave like Europeans.

I also showed my First Grader pictures of ‘The New Americans” dressed in business suits, swimsuits, shorts, jeans, t-shirts and baseball hats, and asked him if he had seen that kind of America? Yes to all, except to  my surprise, not the ones dressed in business suits, not even at his school! Then he said that he had seen Captain America before, one of images on the page we googled. His focus diverted to Captain America, and he inquired more about why Columbus not Captain America saved America? I had to tell him Captain America is a fictional character, developed to allow kids and adult dream big, wild, and to entertain. We spent sometime on CA and other fictional characters.

Then he asked me why Columbus did not walk from Europe or take a plane? I told him that one cannot walk across the Atlantic Ocean to North America, and planes were not invented then. Beside, Europe is too far and would take many days to walk. We recalled our return journey from Uganda to America that took several days, stopping over in Scotland, then England, until we finally crossed to Atlanta by plane.

Talking about Scotland, we saw a picture of Scots wearing Scottish skirts, then he asked me why men wear skirts? I explained that just like women wear pants, men can wear skirts. I showed him pictures of men wear mandresses, shuka/sheets, long skirts, jeans and shorts.

“Do men dance ballet? That’s weird!” he asked upon seeing a picture of male ballet dancer. “Yes bebe, men can things women do, just like women can do things men do.” I told him there is no dance that men can dance that women cannot dance. Similarly men and women drive cars, cook, and fly a plane. Then he recalled, “In my Karate class, there are girls and boys. We all do the same things!”

Mission accomplished! Lesson learned in a very relatable style! 😀💪🙌 At the end of it all, I was proud that we had achieved the goal of the lesson: “To diversify my First Grader’s classroom learning, beyond the usual subjects of English, Maths, Science, by including current affairs, history and important national events. We learned about the world and the different peoples, different cultures, and different activities that exist. I stimulated his curiosity to seek new knowledge, and emancipated his brain to see things differently, create meaning and relate the learning to his own experiences. I let him wander off to different topics, then bring back the conversation to why school was on holiday on a Monday, which according to him is a school day.

As a global citizen, it is very important to me that my son learns beyond the little ‘country world’ in which he rotates. Most importantly, as a very open-mind person, dedicated to “love for humanity first”, I want my son to know the different peoples and experience that shape our world, controversial or not, real or make-believe. I want to allow him better prepare for a world beyond his childhood experiences and imagination. Whenever he brings me knowledge I had not introduced to him yet, like the time he asked whether, “A child can have two fathers but no mother?” as Adam [his classmates] told him, I bounce the question back to him. “What do you think?”Then we handle it according to his responses.

While I am pretty much open and tolerant, I am also conscious of the world we live in. I do not want to shape his mind with hard facts about things I do not believe or care for. I will neither knight Christopher Columbus as a “savior” nor malign him as a terrible man. I will openly explore his question whether a child can have a two fathers or two mothers, similar to how we speak about living with a single parent. And yes, he is allowed to continue thinking of mommy as chocolate, others as dark chocolate, and himself as white!

In Praise of Teachers

I recently resumed private coaching, and it occurred to me that it is as well, I give a shout out to teachers!

The not-so-highly sang heroes! Without teachers, there would not be plenty of us! Teachers are pretty much held responsible for all things gone wrong in the school system, for students learning, poor school district performance, graduation rates, post-graduate career misfortunes and even market absorption of graduates! Too bad they do not have the fortune of economists and meteorologists, who no matter how many times their forecasts are wrong, they will never lose their job! Yet, teachers will be fired way before their welfare at school becomes a topic of concerted discussion. Nobody wants to talk about how salaries [or lack thereof] for teachers affect the classroom and school academics. Instead, many teachers are losing even the basic good of year-round employment as teachers.Thanks [again] to economists, plenty of our teachers are increasingly on “pay-per-hours worked. Never mind that teachers did not design the “summer vacation”, a fixture on the formal school calendar for generations immemorial! Do not be surprised when you run into your teacher, who is laid off in the summer, bagging groceries at Walmart, bursting tables at Red Lobster, delivering pizza from Pizza Hut or entertaining tourists in Time Square. S/he is trying to make ends meet, chasing the American Dream!

The truth is, it is not easy being a teacher! Since becoming a parent, I am now more than aware that it is not easy teaching learners, particularly early learners! So a shout out to teachers is long overdue! And I have plenty of my own – right from Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten, Elementary School, Junior High, High School, College, Summer School and Graduate School, apprenticeship, lifelong, personal and home improvement and the list goes on. I love all my teachers!

To that, I add my son’s teachers – I love them all so dearly! Yes! Mommy was the first teacher, right when child was still in the womb. “What to Expect When You Are Pregnant” became my household #1 best seller, read in the car, on the train, on the couch, at the midwife’s office, in bed and in the bathroom. It was everywhere. Yes! I read it to the child too, plus many other books about “bunny in the oven”. As a bonus, I had my Birth Coach, a professional school teacher and a mother [then] of two boys, a beautiful soul and formidable friend that made “becoming a mother” seem like a walk in the park! Post-birth, child had daddy, plenty of aunties, great gran, grans, friends and strangers. They all read or wanted to read to him. They taught him a lot -all about burping, tummy time, sitting, and following objects. Moments playing with Great Grandma, and getting lessons on reaching objects afar, were priceless!

At ten months, my ‘teacher’ friends convinced me to take child to a babysitter, for a couple of days a week, to allow a smooth transition if and when I went back to work outside the home. Our babysitter [bless her soul] taught him how to survive a few moments without mom. Given that she had more little ones to tend, she also equipped him with more skills in independent living, Skills that were contagious, and taught me to let go of my son, sometimes, have some “me-time”, and take care of myself. Moreover, those lessons come in handy, when after his first birthday, we shipped off to Norway, to start my graduate research scholarship at the University in Oslo. I felt quite comfortable dropping him off to pre-school every morning, assured his ‘separation anxiety’ would have waned off, into happy moments with his classmates, by the time I picked up every afternoon. Kudos to our teachers at Kringsjå Barnehage, who took on the child with ease, taught him to eat meatballs (even after telling them Child does not eat meat), took him out for a daily stroll in the brutal winters, played in the sandpit and gave him a chance to enjoy painting and coloring! Bless their pretty souls for putting up with his constant constipation, patiently waiting, sometimes 30 minutes before Child finally released #2. Until that one time when all had failed, and they had to pick up the phone, to tell me, we needed Emergency Room intervention to get #2!

Half-a year-later, we were in South Africa, with another daycare and another group of teachers in Cape Town. I still remember the daily smiles on their faces. If they had any bad days, they did not show that to me. They were happy and excited to receive the child everyday, and always assembled the entire class to sing cheerful songs to the ever so crying child every morning! Lucky for us, we shared the adrenaline of #WorldCup2010 with them, right in Cape Town! Until we left for our next stop in Kampala, Uganda, where the most transformative experiences happened. The child grew up in age, and had the most amazing teachers! Initially doubted doubted when they told me that the child would stop crying every morning Child got to school. I had come to accept it as “part of his growing up”, perhaps until the ‘age of maturity’, whenever that would be. But, “Teachers Know Best”, and t it came to pass. They taught child to learn to learn and enjoy doing it, rather than regurgitate. They prepared him to be the unsolicited but every-so willing “Teacher of the Day” in his classes, and outside school to his little cousin in Uganda and the US! The Child learned to read, to write, to sing, to dance to Taekwondo, to cub scout, to swim, all happening at school. While Child was the youngest in all the classes, Child excelled, thrived and grew in each class, from Playgroup -Nursery-Kindergarten-Pre-Primary! Child did not just have teachers, but parents and friends.

My mom who is a teacher agreed, “they mastered the art of Early Childhood Education and Development.” I had no regrets for any penny that I invested. The child learned phonics reading, which has been a great asset going forward! The child, previously scared of anyone but mom taking off his pants to potty train, finally subsequently allowed class teachers to help out, so Child would not come back home again with a bladder full of pee. The Child learned to trust others in my family taking him to school when I was not available. And child thrived in Uganda, and onto Edinburgh, Scotland where we were shortly before returning to America. The Child’s Kindergarten experience at the new US school, SEC, added to the memories of the school experience; we loved our teachers and classmates! The transition was not too bad; handwriting improved, learning to write both last name, as well, and becoming a Ninja with plenty of magic tricks. Moreover, Child now has a larger teacher network, who include cousins, who are sometimes more exciting than mama. No worries, if the learning continues with lots of playtime.  And Child has never stopped teaching; for which I say, “Thank You Bebe for all the lessons you have and keep teaching me, for all the experiences you have allowed, and allows me time to sink myself into the places we have never been. The adjustments to my life and the words you have inspired me to say or not to say because of you.”

No doubt, all this was made possible with the opportunity of walking and working close to Child. Thanks to a strong foundation of teachers who came before Child, before me and ingrained in my the value of teaching.

1) My Kindergarten Teacher, Ms. Nak; wherever you are – I do not know how you taught me to learn. For I do not remember anything about phonics, but you brought me this far.
2) My Mother was my first teacher from womb to birth to growing up. She still is, I guess, through plenty of inspirations and lessons learned, plenty I am passing on to Child. Most vividly, I remember you reading to me, including that one day when government soldiers found us sitting outside the house, led themselves into our house and robbed everything they could lay their hands on. You also taught me the love and value of healthy living: Natural is best for cooking, eating and treatment of ailments. Yes! I feed the Child Aloe Vera juice made straight-up from the plant. Ginger, lemon and honey treat coughs in our household too, combined with plenty of fruits and veggies. My foods are eaten raw, boiled, steamed, grilled or baked. Stir fry is the ‘special treatment’, sometimes! Most of all, you are my #1Super-Teacher for Mothering and Hustling for a living!
3) My Best Friends Forever, I have two. One passed on in 2012 (R.I.Eternal. Peacefulness), but left a permanent seed of forgiving and loving endlessly and unconditionally implanted in me and her ever-so jovial godchild. I still catch myself saying, “No! You are still here!” You were the epitome of humanness! The true human spirit! My living BFF in Edinburgh, SCOT, a university teacher herself, and a great writing and publishing partner. We share many fond memories spanning over fifteen years, of fights, make up, but never had a serious break-up!
4) My College Professors, most memorable is one at the School of Law’s Human Rights and Peace Center. Gave me my first career, trained me as a human rights activist, allowed me to turn my dreams into reality, as the Founder of a students human rights advocacy project for prisoners, and gave me the professional backing to solicit funding, free legal services and free media publicity and entry into national human rights programs. I was the name to reckon with, back then! All the opportunities to traveled the world free, learn to write fellowships and grants requests, meet with high-level staff at various institutions around the world, my professor passed onto me. I also learned to write and publish academically.
5) My American Employer, founder of the refugee studies center at the University of Oxford, the first refugee studies program in the world! My professor, who got me into the world of refugees, broadened my scope of understanding and engaging with human rights. Yes! Taught me and afforded me the ability to get published, as well as continue to travel and discover the world. Introduced me to people from all walks of life, that for a long time were [and some like my BFF still are] part of my “inner scholarly circle”.
6) My graduate school professors of Micro Economics, Petroleum in the Global Economy, Law & Development and International Human Rights Law, still remain memorable to this day. I should add my professor of Minority Groups & the Right to Self-Determination, who had great memorable things to say about me, high compliments! I appreciate.
7) Who could I forget my Writing Tutees, who trusted that I could teach them all about Graduate Research and Writing Methodology. They were great students! Plenty from Japan, with super mastery of the English language. All they needed was editing their essays. I learned a lot from them.
8) Facebook deserves a mention here, as my teacher of “Speak Your Truth Quietly”, “It is not about being right all the time”, “Silence is Golden”. I have learned to diffuse many fires in me, thanks to Facebook! I close my mind when opening it might injure a soul.
Obviously, because

And a lot of learning has come with being a mother, being a parent, and being a part of my child’s family by default. I have learned to teach the Child, learn the way Child learns, and inspire other kids to learn. I have now learned, even more, not to take for granted that children learn or mature at the same level. I should already know, right? After all, I am not at the same ranking as all my peers. I guess, being a parents makes it surreal, when you have too many expectations from your own child, and think everyone around is doing much better. Yet, interacting, exposure, homeschooling and coaching other kids has taught me that some kids require much more extra effort to perform and function. Third-graders cannot spell simple words like “pail”, when my Kindergartner was moving on to Chapter Book words! Kids his age cannot focus

Letting children learn the way they read! Lessons in Parenting and Homeschooling a Toddler

Call me a terrible mother! But I am a self-confessed Uganda-Chinese-French-America parent, and in that order! Uganda, because that is my country of birth, where I was raised. Chinese, because the parenting style  of, “Spare the rod and spoil the child”, is a lot similar to Uganda.  French has the “hand-off child. Adults and children belong to separate spaces at playtime, meal time and leisurely”, and I am a big fan of that! America, you probably figured that out already. Yes! my child is American and we live in America, my country for over fifteen years. So, we have to follow the rules about American parenting, and adopt the socio-cultural upbringing of children growing up in America or as Americans.

In many ways, the last – American – is the most difficult for me to abide by. The lassez-faire attitude has just about been converted into childrearing! “Let children rule” and “Give children whatever they want”, at least looking around my most immediate examples. Obviously not all American parents treat their children as “spoilt brats”, but there is a lot of pampering, “parents play with their children”, “children rampaging the dinning table at a restaurant or throwing tantrums”. Children just about treated as ‘brainless’: all they do is wake up, eat, go out to play, come back and eat, play and go to bed. I watch some of the kids my son’s age and older, who cannot pick up their trash, cannot put their plate or cup in the dish after a meal but they can reach out into the fridge and get themselves a drink or something to eat. I remember at six years of age, already washing dishes as my house chore before going out to play. Not only did I put away my plate after eating, but all other adults plates; and nobody waited on me. I have tried to impart those skills into my son young-self. He knows to put his plate in the sink after eating, and washes dishes sometimes. He knows the bathroom sink is his to wipe clean and dry every morning after brushing his teeth. He knows to put away his clothes in the laundry basket. He knows to take off his shoes when he enters the house. He knows to say “Thank You”, “Please”, “I am sorry”. For the most part, he knows to create his own play, not expecting mommy to play with him all the time. I grew up playing with fellow kids not adults.
N’way! While I impart plenty of lessons into my son’s head, and drill him to learn and practice what he has learned, I also realize there are limits to everything. That includes reading, reviewing books and retelling stories. I have noticed, just like his K-Class teacher said, he loves to read what catches his fancy. Anything out of that, he is not too keen about. If a book is of a subject not within his interests, too wordy or cumbersome for him, he turns off immediately. I keep telling him that, “sometimes we do things we are not interested in, but because we have to do them. I give him the example of letting him eat ice cream now and then, even though I do not really like ice cream.
So, with reading comes struggles to keep the focus, especially with books not so exciting to him. I want to adopt my “Ugandan-Chinese” drill surgeon style of teaching, “read read and read, until you get it.” My mom, an Early Childhood Education and Development Trainer would disagree with my style. “Let children enjoying learning,” she will say to me. Plus, I realize working with my son that sinks the ship, wears him down and eats his ego and his little heart. He feels so intimidated and underachieved.
I decide to take him to the Library, so we can together pick out books that interest him and reflect his hobbies and desires. One is Champions! of NASCAR by K.C. Kelly (2005).
Once he is done reading, I give him time to relax and do something else. Then it is time for the book review, starting with a couple of questions:
1. Tell me about the book you read (if responses are not forthcoming),
2. What is the title of the book?
3. Who is/are the author(s)?
4. Who is/are the illustrator(s)?
5. What do you remember about the book you read? (Again, not much response)
6. What are some of the words you remember? (Nothing still)
7. What is this book about?
Then, I prompt him sentence by sentence, allowing him to recall what he learned. When it seems that he is still stuck or ‘prefers’ not to remember, I ask him to tell me some of the words that appeared in the book.
Of he goes:
1. First
2. Championship
3. Races
4. Line
5. Car
6. Competing in races
7. NASCAR
Excellent! I compliment him.
That brought a smile to his face and a feeling of accomplishment, “I think I remember something!” he said The grouchy, teary and visibly tired and check-out child is once again alive and ready to roll.
Next up, I use illustrative questions.
For instance,
1. When you race, what happens?
Ans. Champion
2. What is a champion called?
Ans. A winner
Then he begins remembering facts about the book on his own.
“Mummy, I know another word that I remember in this book, “born”.”
Then he flips through the pages, and goes straight to the sentence where the “born” is, “NASCAR was born….” And more words start coming out…..
So, I tell him, “You know why I am typing this? I am going to put it online, so that other parents can read this and read to their kids. They will learn how to teach their own children, when they are having trouble getting them to learn.” That excites him.
“I just can’t believe I am doing this!” he said
That earned me a hug and a kiss and [Ms. Bankabale’s] smizing eyes!
Then he suggests that we create steps that other people will follow.
Off he goes:
Step One: Biko writes down the words
Step Two: Mummy shows them the book
Step Three: Biko shows them the “Title”
Step Four: Mummy shows them the “Author”
“Good job! Team Work,” he said with a Hi-5!
By now, his umph is back! He feels very achieved and accomplished, and empowered to contribute and lead his learning.
Lesson for me: Allow your child to enjoy the reading experience. It is ok, if he interrupts mid-way. Put a pause and let him ‘ride the show’ for a while. If he adds something that does not relate to the reading, like when he said, “Make special things out of paper to give to people.” Ask him cleverly, “how does that relate to the reading?” He will catch his mistake.
If it seems really hard getting him to read, start the process by reading to him a couple of pages. Keep him engaged by asking him back and forth question of what you just read to him. You will notice that he starts recollecting terms and phrases. He might also ask you a couple of questions and clarifications, or interject with his own interpretations.
When it seems like he is getting really engaged, ask him to read one or two pages. Let him lead the reading, but offer to help him pronounce new and cumbersome words. With my son, I taught him a “cover-and-read” trick. He cover all letters of the word with his fingers, except the first two, reads them in syllabels , as he progressively reveals subsequent words. Once he has pronounced the entire word, he reads it all out aloud. He is super excited to hear mummy say, “good job Beeks”.
In the end, we are all Happy People! Super Readers and Co-Teachers!
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