Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, January 10, 2011

How Race Impacts Learning & Teaching at Our School: Multiple Perspectives I

I have been genuinely impressed with the candor, openness, and reflectivity of my fellow colleagues in responding to our recent professional development article on race and equity. We were asked to respond to the following prompt from the article:

Discuss the ways in which race impacts teaching and learning at our school. How can we actively develop and maintain a race and ethnically responsible school environment (classrooms, school traditions, interactions/communication, after school activities, policies, etc.)?

Many of my colleagues had wonderful bits of insight and thoughts, which they shared with the rest of the school. With their permission, I am including some of their posts anonymously below:

"When I think about our school, I think about the attempts we have made throughout the years to learn about race and diversity. I think about the professional development opportunities provided to the leadership team and staff at large. I remember the few who have participated in Study Circles. Through all of these experiences, I know the path that I have taken and know that the learning never ends. I still engage in conversations with those who also participated in the Study Circles and apply what I learn to my interactions and teachings of students as well as my interactions with other colleagues. Some things you here 2, 3, or 4 times but because I believe that it is an ongoing process of learning and doing, I never tire of the next attempt to teach me! I truly believe in that. I hate to waste my time, so I focus on looking at the 'state' we are in and try to see what I can do to make a positive impact or change. 

I think that over time, we have seen [our school] impacted in terms of sometimes lowered student expectations in the classroom or in the hallway. I think and I have heard others say, "I don't see race..." as if it is something bad to do so.....this is even after trainings that we have had over the years. This thinking will continue to have a negative impact. I'm not sure what our current discipline data shows us but historically we have been very off  in terms of students of color. Building positive relationships alone is not the KEY! Positive relationship building can make a positive impact if as adults we can do so considering the lens we are looking through. It IS important to do it through a lens of race and ethnicity. 

As a school, I believe one of the keys to  developing and maintaining a race and ethnically responsive school environment is through developing an understanding what we should be talking about and doing this through PROFESSIONAL LEARNING COMMUNITIES. It is not good enough to just say we do this. In these PLC's what are people talking about, and what are the outcomes of our discussions? What are the purposes of the PLC's?  Until [our school] is able to feel comfortable enough to address difficult issues with a "Let me see how I can do this" mentality, without getting bogged down with worrying what others may think and fearing failure and repurcussions, our PLC's or anything else we do will  not be able to contribute to positive change. If we think we have already ARRIVED.......then there is no where else to go with the students. We need to be open to our areas of weakness and open minded to improvement and that it usually is "What am doing or not doing " that directly impacts student progress."

"I agree with what people have stated about the staff at [our school] and how we interact with students and that race impacts teaching and learning at [our school] by the way we monitor students progress and track targeted students. We are aware of how ethnicity and race impact instruction and learning and incorporate it into our lessons and assistance. The [professional development] discussions we have provide a path and outlet for the teachers to get information about how race can impact learning and improve dialog to impact instruction. 

The article mentioned the idea of shadowing or collaborative study with students to identify what motivates them and what interests them. This might be a good idea to determine what afterschool activities to offer to increase motivation and ownership of the school.  We may be offering ASAs that some groups of students do not find interesting or engaging.  Tuning our ASA might help us with improving the whole school experience to increase motivation and investment in the learning process. This process may also be helpful in building a portfolio of intervention strategies and techniques for ASAs. We may have an increase in voluntary ASA intervention attendance if the offerings were of more interest."

"I agree that we spend a lot of time reading and discussing about race and equity yet the problems persist.  Last week I had to step out on a limb and confront an issue that in the past I would not have done.  A student in my class of African-American descent used a derogatory term towards another student.  He used the term without regard for the feelings of anyone else in the room.  Instead of telling him his actions were inappropriate, I told him that is offended me and why.  I also stated my belief that when people use these terms they are disrespecting their own heritage and I was sure that is definitely not what he intended.

Being a Caucasian female, I made statements that years ago I would never have dreamed of doing just because it makes me uncomfortable.  Today, at least I can confront the issues and be secure that if questioned about my statements, I would be confident in defending myself."

"As an ESOL teacher, I am constantly looking at how students of all backgrounds, ethnicities and languages can work together in one cohesive class.  As the article states we are primarily discussing the differences between black and white.  However, nowadays we also have to identify and work to understand the differences between students from South America and from Spain, French speaking African countries and France.  Even if there is a common language, there are still many cultural differences which often need to be addressed through different teaching styles and strategies.  Whenever possible it is important to try and integrate discussion about holidays or special meals so not only do the children feel involved but they feel that their culture is valued and you appreciate and recognize those differences as opposed to lumping them into one large group.  These students have very different background knowledge than those students who grew up here so they might not have the knowledge to read about Abraham Lincoln, so maybe you have to build up that knowledge ahead of time, or give them a biography about a famous soccer player or another political activist from their region of the world that they might be able to make a connection with.  Plus, they would then (hopefully) volunteer some answers that would benefit the class as a whole."

"I believe that race impacts teaching and learning at [our school] in ways that are beyond a teacher’s control. At [our school] and in other schools that I have been associated with both locally and internationally, I have witnessed how teachers have infused a cultural sensitivity into daily lessons.  I have seen how teachers bring about engagement through successful relationship building with students.  I have seen how teachers bring about engagement through meaningful learning.  I see teachers, my colleagues, unwavering in their commitment to building, maintaining and expanding race and ethnically responsive school environments.
I believe that the impact that race has on teaching and learning can be minimized if parents were involved to a greater degree. “Engaging families directly in their children’s learning.” I feel this is an area which warrants an upgrade. Perhaps this is an area where old ways firmly ensconced are replaced with active involvement by all parents for all students.
I believe that the impact that race has on teaching and learning can be minimized through the revision of county developed curriculum.  …”transform their curriculum and pedagogy”created a curriculum that focused on learning about” This task must be shared among the curriculum specialists and the classroom teachers.  Teachers have been adept at embedding learning relevant to the students they teach but what a wonderful resource it would be if the county mandated curriculum already contained such references rather than having a teacher recreate the proverbial wheel."

Thank you for your honesty and wisdom, friends!

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