Near the end of December 2011 when I graduate from TC, I plan to post and share:
I have grown so much as an educator since I taught on my Fulbright Fellowship in Taiwan in 2008-2009. I have learned a lot and am excited to share my thoughts and criticisms of what I have learned.
Thank you for your patience and I look forward to your comments in the future!
My long long overdue update from my trip to China. I went to China in August 2010 intent on finding a special needs school or any public school to visit. I was, and am, still curious about the education system in China. However, there is not a lot of research being done on special education pedagogy or policy, a specific interest of mine. On my trip, I really wanted to talk with some local administrators, teachers, and parents, to see what their experience has been like in China. It was not until the last day of my time in China, did I find a school nearby still in session. I was lucky enough to organize a trip to the school Beijing Xing Guang Road Development Center with my friend Xiao Ai.
THE ATTITUDE IN CHINA
From speaking with the parents and teachers, one thing is for certain, China's emphasis on special education is not nearly as strong as in the United States, for various reasons. Disabilities in general (learning, behavioral, emotional, physical, etc.) is very much looked down upon in China. There is a very strong social stigma against people with disabilities. China is a society where guanxi, or who you know and who is in your network, is one of the only ways to climb up the social ladder and get out of your impoverished or difficult living conditions. The rung you step on, isn't made from your hard work, it's the shoulder of another person that you are stepping on. Understanding that Chinese society is structured around relationships of people using each other to gain leverage or benefits in society, whether it means getting a job in government or an inside acceptance to Beijing University, helps us understand why it is that people with disabilities are shunned and literally hidden from view in society. It is a prevalent idea in China that people with disabilities have no immediate benefit to society; it is argued they harbor no political connections to let people in on certain jobs or positions and thus, people see no use in getting to know them or understanding/improving their conditions.
Chinese people with disabilities from an early age have grown up with this idea that they do not belong in society, that they should stay hidden if guests come over. This marginalized reality, I'm sure, is not just isolated to China. Depending on how society is structured and the openness of that society to talk about disabilities regardless of stigma can affect policy and how families get services.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
In China, there has been some improvements in helping finance the education of kids with special needs, according to the administrator I spoke to at Beijing Xing Guang Road Center. There is not enough funding, however, to support para professionals, social workers, physical therapists, and other various support staff at special ed schools. Much of the 1-1 individual work that students benefit from in the United States from social workers and physical therapists, is work that teachers have to do in the classroom in China. The teaching responsibilities are much greater in China because there is less staff to help.
Parents want to be proactive and improve, so many families have been reaching out of their shell to help their child. In a society where disability is rarely talked about, the government is at least issuing disability certificates that will allow families to get some special services for their kids. According to the administrator I spoke to, most special ed schools are in the form of after-school programs or all-day schools.
These classrooms, though, are not integrated with the mainstream population of kids. In other words, they have no inclusive classrooms where both special ed and general ed students work side by side. Taiwan and the United States have integrated classrooms, but it is only slowly getting started in China with a special needs class visiting a general ed classroom once per week, at best. I asked how the general ed students reacted to new students coming into their classroom and the administrator said that although their aim was amicability, there were some hostile reactions by both groups of students. As you can imagine, many students did not know how to interact with students who were very different from them. I hope that the teachers held discussions with the students about different and inclusion that would have eased misunderstanding, but it's very hard to operate in a society that still holds a strong stigma against people with disabilities.
TEACHING AND PEDAGOGY
Eventually, after touring the school and having long discussions with teachers and administrators, I gave a presentation on teaching methods that I have observed as a teaching assistant in a Kindergarten CTT (Cooperative Team Teaching) class in New York City.
The teachers were particularly fascinated by the "body breaks" and "use of pictures" as strategic tools for helping students. Body breaks, which I will also include in the "Teaching Special Education" part of my website, are essentially 2-10 minute breaks that students can take out in the hall where they do three physical activities like pushing a heavy object up and down the hall, a hand stand, crab walks, or pushing against the wall for ten seconds. These "body breaks" let students release the extra energy they may have. Body breaks interrupt the classroom and are seen as ways to help a student's body calm down.
Pictures are used in special ed to help the student identify with either themselves or friends doing the activity. By visually seeing themselves and others doing the task, they are more able to identify with doing it. There are many activities that can be constructed around this idea, which I will write about more later.
The presentation was informative to the parents and although I do not consider myself an expert on special education, an ever changing dynamic field, I told them what my experiences have been with special ed and teaching techniques I have seen work.
The teaching at Beijing Xing Guang Road School is primarily 1-on-1. The school is primarily geared for the younger grades, Pre-K to first grade. As such, parents will spend either the morning or whole day with their child, teaching them how to write and how to behave. Most classrooms have a 9:1 student to teacher ratio with parents allowed in the classroom. Many of their students need support (hence the presence of parents in the classroom), especially since there are no extra support staff. One area the school would like to improve upon is professional assessment of students, or writing Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for their students. The next time I return to this school, I will bring sample templates of IEP reports for them.
The families, teachers, and administrators were very curious and it was interesting to see what their opinions were on special ed. Despite their being an even bigger challenge and hurdle to overcome in a country that does not support financially or philosophically people with disabilities, everyone at that school was hopeful. Hopeful that things would change and hopeful that a better future could be built that improves the education of their students, an under-served and alienated group.
Here are a few films on the system of education in the United States, especially in New York, to watch or put on your film queue.
Waiting for Superman and The Lottery.
After watching these films, read some of these counter-narratives to get an overall perspective on the education debate (taken from my program blog at TC):
“Waiting for Superman” site and trailer http://www.tc.columbia.edu/news/article.htm?id=7655
TC article on the screening of “Waiting for Superman”
Rethinking School’s “NOT Waiting for Superman” movement
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/08/opinion/l08educ.html?_r=2&part Series of letters to the editors entitled "Who Will Rescue America’s Schools?" http://neatoday.org/2010/10/05/waiting-for-superman-resources/
National Education Association’s collection of resources http://nycpublicschoolparents.blogspot.com/2010/10/were-still-waiting-for-superman-here-in.html
“We’re still waiting for Superman here in Charterland” (A charter school parent speaks out)
DemocracyNow! analysis of “Waiting for Superman”
Coalition for Public Education/Coalición por la Educación Pública response to the film
The Nation article on the film
Trailer for “A Community Concern” a documentary on the power of community organizing to improve public education. Offers one counter-narrative to “Waiting for Superman”
Trailer for “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” offers another counter-narrative to “Waiting for Superman”
I am currently in Beijing and just had an interesting conversation with a local family regarding the education system and parenting practices in China.
The family I spoke to has one daughter who is currently 3 years and 8 months old. They told me that as parents in China, they are pulled in two different directions regarding what is best for the education of their child. In one direction, they are pressured by the test- oriented society to place their child in cram schools, or "buxiban." These cram schools, or intense after-school programs where students study one subject intensely for at least three hours, give students the opportunity to get ahead in society by learning the material (arithmetic, algebra, biology, English, etc.) earlier. Unfortunately, so much time spent studying hardly gives the child time to explore, create, and play on their own accord--skills crucial, I argue, in developing their motor control and social skills. Playing and being able to have good hand-eye coordination is not only important in learning how to throw a ball, but also in being able to hold a pencil comfortably to write, using scissors to cut, coloring pencils and markers to draw, etc. Being able to use and manipulate these tools require control of the mechanics of your body that are developed in child's play where they are uninhibited and free to explore their abilities and push their limitations. Eliminating play from a youngster's childhood not only severely limits their potential to grow and understand their body, but it also stunts their growth as social beings who need to learn how to negotiate, play fair, and peacefully resolve conflicts. Additionally, isolated in a room to study hour after hour, day after day, is not conducive to a happy childhood.
The family I spoke to was well aware of these issues. On the one hand, they wanted to preserve the happiness of their child and allow her to naturally develop an understanding of her abilities. However, in an ever mounting competition amongst Chinese families to let their child be number one and improve the family's social standing, it is hard for a family to go against the norm and not give their child the opportunity to "get ahead" by going to the cram schools. The pressure to succeed is so great that parents are willing to sacrifice the happiness of their child just so they can get into a top elementary school.
The top elementary schools in China are feeder schools into top middle and high schools. It is quite sad that a student who has a lower entrance exam score at eleven years old cannot go to a good school down the road. Their life trajectory is mapped out just by how well they score on their exams. Furthermore, without money you cannot have access to the cram schools, which cost a tremendous amount and without "guanxi" or connections, it is very hard to get ahead politically and socially. To climb the social ladder is to step upon the shoulder's of another.The pool, then, to obtaining a good education is already sharply downsized.
As parents who have their daughter's happiness in mind, they tried to give her time to do what she wishes, to explore her own interests to maintain an inner drive and motivation. But in the end, they had to succumb to the pressures of society and family to give their child opportunities to succeed.
The family said that China is facing a shortage of school facilities to house their already bulging population. Attempts to control the population like with the One-Child Policy have only caused more of these families to spoil the one child. As the only child in the family, they also face overwhelming pressure to do well. Such pressure undoubtedly is not good on the psychology of the child.
So, as a working parent, what do you do? You know the benefits of a happy childhood, but the entire society is participating in a race to get ahead . Do you pay additional fees to give your child the rote memorization and practices he/she needs to quickly learn the material before others? Or, do you let them play, daydream, imagine, create, and come to their own independent thinking free of at least some pressure from you and wider society?
What would you choose?
I just finished my job as a teaching assistant at the Hollingworth Science Camp. This year's camp-wide theme was Astronomy. My group of co-teachers focused on teaching flight and aerodynamics to third-fourth graders.
It was a great summer and I miss all of my campers! Have a great summer and see you next year!
At camp, the students engage in lots of science explorations and experiments. They go swimming at least three times a week and have outdoor play (organized outdoor activities) everyday. There is also a parade of their art that each grade has been working on throughout the month. Our art that we made for the parade were hot air balloons (See pictures above). I think it's pretty neat because it combines both science investigations with physical activities, which is distinct from summer camps that only focus on physical activities.
The camp has a lot to offer and I've copied the link to their website for parents of students looking for a great science camp for their children below.
Hollingworth Science Camp: http://www.tc.columbia.edu/centers/hollingworth/index.asp?id=Hollingworth+Science+Camp
I found this through a fellow teacher's website.
Florida Teacher's Essay Becomes Rallying Cry for Respect
I've pasted the teacher's essay below:
I am a teacher in Florida.
I rise before dawn each day and find myself nestled in my classroom hours before the morning commute is in full swing in downtown Orlando. I scour the web along with countless other resources to create meaningful learning experiences for my 24 students each day. I reflect on the successes of lessons taught and re-work ideas until I feel confident that they will meet the needs of my diverse learners. I have finished my third cup of coffee in my classroom before the business world has stirred. My contracted hours begin at 7:30 and end at 3:00. As the sun sets around me and people are beginning to enjoy their dinner, I lock my classroom door, having worked 4 hours unpaid.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I greet the smiling faces of my students and am reminded anew of their challenges, struggles, successes, failures, quirks, and needs. I review their 504s, their IEPs, their PMPs, their histories trying to reach them from every angle possible. They come in hungry—I feed them. They come in angry—I counsel them. They come in defeated—I encourage them. And this is all before the bell rings.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am told that every student in my realm must score on or above grade level on the FCAT each year. Never mind their learning discrepancies, their unstable home lives, their prior learning experiences. In the spring, they are all assessed with one measure and if they don’t fit, I have failed. Students walk through my doors reading at a second grade level and by year’s end can independently read and comprehend early 4th grade texts, but this is no matter. One of my students has already missed 30 school days this year, but that is overlooked. If they don’t perform well on this ONE test in early March, their learning gains are irrelevant. They didn’t learn enough. They didn’t grow enough. I failed them. In the three months that remain in the school year after this test, I am expected to begin teaching 5th grade curriculum to my 4th grade students so that they are prepared for next year’s test.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am expected to create a culture of students who will go on to become the leaders of our world. When they exit my classroom, they should be fully equipped to compete academically on a global scale. They must be exposed to different worldviews and diverse perspectives, and yet, most of my students have never left Sanford, Florida. Field trips are now frivolous. I must provide new learning opportunities for them without leaving the four walls of our classroom. So I plan. I generate new ways to expose them to life beyond their neighborhoods through online exploration and digital field trips. I stay up past The Tonight Show to put together a unit that will allow them to experience St. Augustine without getting on a bus. I spend weekends taking pictures and creating a virtual world for them to experience, since the State has determined it is no longer worthwhile for them to explore reality. Yes. My students must be prepared to work within diverse communities, and yet they are not afforded the right to ever experience life beyond their own town.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I accepted a lower salary with the promise of a small increase for every year taught. I watched my friends with less education than me sign on for six figure jobs while I embraced my $28k starting salary. I was assured as I signed my contract that although it was meager to start, my salary would consistently grow each year. That promise has been broken. I’m still working with a meager salary, and the steps that were contracted to me when I accepted a lower salary are now deemed “unnecessary.”
I am a teacher in Florida.
I spent $2500 in my first year alone to outfit an empty room so that it would promote creative thinking and a desire to learn and explore. I now average between $1000-2000 that I pay personally to supplement the learning experiences that take place in my classroom. I print at home on my personal printer and have burned through 12 ink cartridges this school year alone. I purchase the school supplies my students do not have. I buy authentic literature so my students can be exposed to authors and worlds beyond their textbooks. I am required to teach Social Studies and Writing without any curriculum/materials provided, so I purchase them myself. I am required to conduct Science lab without Science materials, so I buy those, too. The budgeting process has determined that copies of classroom materials are too costly, so I resort to paying for my copies at Staples, refusing to compromise my students’ education because high-ranking officials are making inappropriate cuts. It is February, and my entire class is out of glue sticks. Since I have already spent the $74 allotted to me for warehouse supplies, if I don’t buy more, we will not have glue for the remainder of the year. The projects I dream up are limited by the incomprehensible lack of financial support. I am expected to inspire my students to become lifelong learners, and yet we don’t have the resources needed to nurture their natural sense of wonder if I don’t purchase them myself. My meager earning is now pathetic after the expenses that come with teaching effectively.
I am a teacher in Florida.
The government has scolded me for failing to prepare my students to compete in this
technologically driven world. Students in Japan are much more equipped to think progressively with regards to technology. Each day, I turn on the two computers afforded me and pray for a miracle. I apply for grants to gain new access to technology and compete with thousands of other teachers who are hoping for the same opportunity. I battle for the right to use the computer lab and feel fortunate if my students get to see it once a week. Why don’t they know how to use technology? The system’s budget refuses to include adequate technology in classrooms; instead, we are continually told that dry erase boards and overhead projectors are more than enough.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am expected to differentiate my instruction to meet the needs of my 24 learners. Their IQs span 65 points, and I must account for every shade of gray. I must challenge those above grade level, and I must remediate those below. I am but one person within the classroom, but I must meet the needs of every learner. I generate alternate assessments to accommodate for these differences. My higher math students receive challenge work, and my lower math students receive one-on-one instruction. I create most of these resources myself, after-hours and on weekends. I print these resources so that every child in my room has access to the same knowledge, delivered at their specific level. Yesterday, the school printer that I share with another teacher ran out of ink. Now I must either purchase a new ink cartridge for $120, or I cannot print anything from my computer for the remainder of the year. What choice am I left with?
I am a teacher in Florida.
I went to school at one of the best universities in the country and completed undergraduate and graduate programs in Education. I am a master of my craft. I know what effective teaching entails, and I know how to manage the curriculum and needs of the diverse learners in my full inclusion classroom. I graduated at the top of my class and entered my first year of teaching confident and equipped to teach effectively. Sadly, I am now being micro-managed, with my instruction dictated to me. I am expected to mold “out-of-the-box” thinkers while I am forced to stay within the lines of the instructional plans mandated by policy-makers. I am told what I am to teach and when, regardless of the makeup of my students, by decision-makers far away from my classroom or even my school. The message comes in loud and clear that a group of people in business suits can more effectively determine how to provide exemplary instruction than I can. My expertise is waved away, disregarded, and overlooked. I am treated like a day-laborer, required to follow the steps mapped out for me, rather than blaze a trail that I deem more appropriate and effective for my students—students these decision-makers have never met.
I am a teacher in Florida.
I am overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most. I spend my weekends, my vacations, and my summers preparing for school, and I constantly work to improve my teaching to meet the needs of my students. I am being required to do more and more, and I’m being compensated less and less.
I am a teacher in Florida, not for the pay or the hardships, the disregard or the disrespect; I am a teacher in Florida because I am given the chance to change lives for the good, to educate and elevate the minds and hearts of my students, and to show them that success comes in all shapes and sizes, both in the classroom and in the community.
I am a teacher in Florida today, but as I watch many of my incredible, devoted coworkers being forced out of the profession as a matter of survival, I wonder: How long will I be able to remain a teacher in Florida?
In schools around the world, it is not uncommon to find students wanting to be rid of their differences and just "fit in" with the crowd. A student may internalize, "Why would I want to stick out of the crowd with my holey trousers and shirt that smell of the herbs and spices my family cooks with?" or "I'm the only student here that speaks Spanish. I wish I didn't have an accent." And the list of self-reflections/criticisms about their identity continues. School is a place where students are still learning how to negotiate the social terrain and be respectful, fair, and friendly. They are still learning who they are, what they like and dislike, and how to communicate in a way that is not rude but is clear, concise, and respectful. Students' characters are still developing as is their sense of self-dignity and ethics.
The desire to form bonds of friendship through similarities rather than differences is something all students go through. One thing I encourage my students to do is to embrace and find pride in their differences. Yes, it is a big risk to stick a limb out and say loud and proud that you like the color orange when everybody else likes pink and purple. Yes, you may encounter people who may tease you for being different, for being poor, or for being part of a different ethnic group. But, that does not mean you will not find people who also cherish the same things you do. Yes, you will find solidarity and respect no matter how much you think you are alone.
From an early age, children should recognize that there are many different kinds of people, ways of life, and values. When they take that first risk of recognizing and being proud of who they are, where they come from, and the type of person they want to be, that is the first step in building self-confidence.
A good read aloud to explore the idea of difference and similarity is the book People by Peter Spier. I recommend it here because I encourage all educators to read it to their students.
I took a language policy course here at Teachers College, Columbia and we studied bilingual education in different parts of the world.
This is a really interesting video that I think everyone should watch. It's only fifty minutes.
BRIDGE OVER THE WADI FILM (50 MINUTES)
Here is my response (Read after you watch the video because there are spoilers)
Bridge over the Wadi is a film that leaves me a bit bewildered. The film captures much of the angst and frustration families and teachers experience in a bilingual and binational school. In fact, it captures so much of the tension in the families, communities, and teachers that I actually thought that the school would not continue. At the end of the film, though, the text tells us that everyone thought the school was a success and enrollment doubled the second year. The director sends mixed messages though, which makes me feel very frustrated with how he presented his material. The text at the end tells us it was a success. However, the two scenes preceding the final texts of the film are of a Jewish girl feeling guilty all alone because she claims her people took the land of the Arabs and a scene in which boys are talking about bombing each other when they get older. It is frustrating for the viewer because the film leaves many questions unresolved and ends the film with a brief texts saying it was successful and enrollment doubled. Perhaps the director intended to capture the inherent unanswerability some of the issues brought up.
An idea I want to focus on from the film—that I think can be answered—is how teachers deal with balancing the views of clashing cultural histories. As a bilingual school, the Jews and Arabs have a different set of historical facts that each believe is true. The Arabic teacher insists that the Arabs were “uprooted” from Israel when the Jews began the war. When she causes the Jewish children to feel guilty and sad for removing the Arabs, the teachers hold a meeting to discuss their and her teaching. A teacher points out that when teaching the meaning of the Jewish Independence Day, it is important to remember that “there is a distinction between our pain as adults and the children.” This was a particularly salient quote for me because it brings up the idea that in a classroom, even bilingual classrooms, whose history we teach must always be presented in an objective, safe space, where all children feel comfortable enough to discuss their ideas without becoming too emotionally involved. Important to the question of creating safe spaces and whose history we are teaching, is the question of how we are shaping students’ identities. We discussed in class that the model of teaching at this school can hopefully give the student’s a space to reimagine their current and future reality, to see new possibilities and opportunities for peace. The teachers intrigued me because they spoke mostly in Hebrew; Arabic, despite being the predominately dominant language in the community, was only spoken during the Arabic lesson.
The school is distinctly characterized by the language of those in power, Hebrew speakers, and Arab, just seems like another foreign language being learned, and not necessarily a supplementary language of instruction. The film addressed how the school included texts in bilingual format, Hebrew and Arabic, so the Hebrew students could help the Arabic students and vice versa. The underlying tension, though, between what the Arabs and Jews think of their history and right to Israel seem to influence the tone and attitudes of the teachers. It seems that Hebrew as the medium of instruction is tolerated now. This film really brought to light how bilingual education affects the communities and families. One father said that while he would like the school to be bilingual, he does not want it to be binational. By already demarcating the limits of how he views the schools, the father is setting parameters up for what should be taught and what should not be taught, something that is still under debate by the teachers. Other parents scoffed at Jewish parents letting their children bow to the chant of Allah. These scenarios brought to mind the difficulty of catering to a diverse student population when one is trying to be more deep and real about teaching another culture, rather than being superficial. It is about respecting another culture, but just as the Arabic teacher released her frustration, she has been so self-conscious about her mannerisms and attitudes that she’s tired of being so respectful.
My question is how can you establish a safe classroom environment to discuss/explore ideas that may be conflicting if you do not respect all parties involved? Bridge Over Wadi left me frustrated; while it was interesting to get a glimpse of a bilingual/binational school, the problems that arose in school and the presentation of those problems in the film were left unresolved. Even if they were resolved, the film does not show its audiences the potential that these schools have.
I now have my CPR, Choking, and EPI pen training certificate. I attended a nine hour workshop with EMTs and am now certified.
I think all teachers, or people for that matter, should get CPR training at the very least. As an educator, it's very possible for a student to have an allergic reaction to peanuts while eating lunch or bee stings while playing outside. Although the training took nine hours of my Saturday, I feel more equipped and ready to handle emergency situations.
They taught us the 1,2,3, A, B, Cs. For any emergency, you should always follow these steps:
1) YOU. Scan the area to make sure the area is safe for you.
2) THE VICTIM. See if the victim is conscious and responsive by tapping both shoulders of the adult and yelling "Wake up!" or by tapping the feet and hands of the infant/child while also loudly asking them to respond to you.
3) 911- Tell a nearby bystander to dial 911 and that you have a non-responsive, unconscious (adult / child) who needs an ambulance. Tell the bystander to also grab the AED defibrillator at the security desk (or nearby) and come back.
A) AIRWAY- Check the victim's airway by listening for a breathe and watching the chest
B) BREATHE- If the victim is not breathing, give them two breaths
C) CIRCULATION- Check for a pulse. If there is no pulse, begin CPR
It was a very good workshop. I took the workshop with Lifesaving Enterprises (212-579-CPR7) through my work. (firstname.lastname@example.org).
It has been forever since I've updated. My apologies. In April, I attended a NYCore conference.
NYCore is a group of "radical educators," but do not be mistaken by its name because it isn't a group of crazy, radical, teachers. It's more a group of passionate social justice educators who firmly believe in making the classroom experience multicultural and inclusive.
At the conference, I attended workshops on how to introduce social justice literature to elementary school students. It was a great networking event to meet other passionate teachers in New York City schools.
We had our first annual "Teach-In" conference today at Teachers College, Columbia University. The theme for this year was "Nurturing Activism." It was our program's hope that we connect current teachers with fellow alumni of our program to create a broad network of activist teachers.
There were many great sessions including one that discussed how to create a thought-provoking and critical curriculum that culminated into a puppet show at the end of the year for students.
Mary Cowhey--author of Black Ants and Buddhists, a community activist for 14 years and a teacher for 12 years--gave opening remarks at the conference. I loved her book which talked about integrating activism, creativity, and responsibility into one's teaching.
In her talk, she stressed that teachers should focus on the three Rs:
Teachers, when teaching lessons, should always think about whether this is rigorous? Is it putting high expectations on the student? Is it relevant to what they are doing in the classroom? Relevant to the education standards set forth by the state? Relevant to the diverse backgrounds and cultures of your students? And finally, is the lesson fostering relationships? Is it fostering a community besides just your classroom?
I thought her talk was excellent. Below is a picture of me with Ms. Cowhey.
From the New York Times:
I really love this website. It keeps me updated on new literature I can introduce into the classroom.
Social Justice Literature for the Classroom
Over the past few weeks, I've been reading articles on gang violence, watching videos on people with disabilities, and discussing misunderstandings that can happen in the classroom when students encounter difference and do not know how to respond to it. In trying to figure out how to respond to my students' questions about difference, I began thinking about what the teachers role in responding to difference is and what it means to have inclusive education.
The United States is like a salad bowl; everyone brings a unique flavor and taste without losing itself (or assimilating) to the greater whole. We are a nation that speaks English, Spanish, German, Greek, Chinese, Italian, Korean, Navajo, and many many other languages. With so many languages and cultures mingling and interacting, students will definitely notice differences and similarities in the classroom. Whether it be the type of food friends bring in at lunch (rice, chicken nuggets, pita & hummus, etc.) or the way friends dress, students are acutely aware of difference and similarity. In fact, we as educators teach them how to observe, describe, record, sort, and organize at the most foundational level of education, elementary school.
We teach them how to recognize patterns while also helping them communicate what they see. These skills can be applied in nearly every subject, from math to science to social studies. What is crucial at this point in development is how they react and respond to comments and questions about difference.
"Why does Johnny have black, curly hair?"
"Why doesn't Stella celebrate Christmas?"
"Can boys wear purple?"
"Why does she need a translator?"
"Is she hurt because she's using a wheelchair?"
These questions can bring up questions about heritage, culture, religion, gender norms, disability, learning English as a second language, and many more connected subjects. I think it's very important that teachers do not silence questions about difference or turn a blind-eye when students are being teased for being different. The classroom must be a safe learning environment because learning only happens when you know you will not be mocked or scorned for your opinions. The teacher sets the tone for what students will soon recognize is intolerable or tolerable behavior and it is the teacher's responsibility to create a safe environment.
As students forming their values and judgments about the world around them, it's important they have a place to explore their ideas and questions without feeling silenced, marginalized, oppressed, or alienated. The classroom I hope to create is one of respect and care. It will be inclusive of all students and their voices will be heard. Every student is important and teachers should value them for who they are and respect them, their background, and their culture.
Teachers must find a way to promote open dialog to help students understand difference and not fear it. The best way to get rid of confusion, misunderstanding, and mistreatment, is talking about it openly in a way that respects differences and supports understanding of other people's perspectives. It seems simple enough, but it is difficult even for many adults to engage in respectful dialog when so much difference exists.
As a teacher, I help my students be informed, critical, and caring citizens of the world. The first step in actualizing this goal is beginning with the way they communicate and listen respectfully. A small step, but one of the most important steps to get right in education.
I am currently reading Understanding Disability: Inclusion, Access, Diversity, and Civil RIghts by Paul T. Jaeger and Cynthia Ann Bowman.
I'm really enjoying it so far and I highly suggest it for anyone who wants to understand more about the idea, concept, and construction of disability.
You can watch this documentary online for free until December 13, 2009:
The Principal Story
In deciding to go into the field of education, I've received both criticism and praise from people I respect and from people whom I wish had more respect for others. For those who value the teaching profession and see its worth in creating more socially conscious minds, I hope you read this blog and see yourself nodding your head. For those of you who believe that teaching is easy and that only "those who could not do it, teach," I hope this blog gives you a fresh, new perspective on teaching.
Whoever said teaching at the elementary school level, or any level for that matter, is easy, has obviously never had any experience teaching 25 kids coming from diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds with different skill levels and social backgrounds. Teaching is not easy; it's exhausting, you get sick all the time because your students don't know how to cover their mouth (or in Kindergarten, don't know how to keep their hands out of their mouth); you're in an underpaid profession; you spend time at home lesson-planning; you struggle to discipline the students who have no discipline at home; and above all, you do not want one single kid to drop-out or get discouraged about their abilities.
I entered a profession that is one of the most challenging and underpaid. So, some of you have asked why? Why didn't you become a lawyer, a doctor, or even a professor where you can earn more money? My answer to you is this:
For me, going into the teaching profession is not a matter of money. It is a matter of will. I've decided to devote myself to my students because I love what I do, am proud of what I do, and cannot be happier knowing I am shaping the way young individuals see themselves, others, and the world. I want to be a teacher. Did I always know I wanted to become a teacher? No. Like other college graduates, I didn't know what I wanted to do for the next five years. For people who have lots of interests in many different fields, how do you meld your interests together with your skills?
It's about knowing yourself or "Know Thyself" as the Greeks would say. Know what your interests are and know how to prioritize how you want to impact the world; know your values; know what makes you feel so motivated you could work for hours on end without thinking it is a struggle with other parts of your life; know that you must do what will make you happy.
Teaching is never easy because one individual is never simple. We are complex individuals, even more so as children, because we are trying to figure out the world, why things are the way they are, and what we are capable of. Teachers must believe in the potential of their students. The moment a teacher gives up on a student, is a moment when they stop believing in their own ability to help the child. Students have the potential to grow and learn. Teachers must step up to the challenge and think creatively and powerfully to how they can affect and reach that unique student.
I am a teacher because I know I will step up to the challenge.
The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and do not reflect those of institutions, organizations, or employers associated with me, past or present.