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

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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

As my colleagues' responses to the previous prompt about race and teaching continue, I would like to continue sharing them with you:

"As has been mentioned in other posts, at [our school's] professional development efforts have often been made so that we are made more culturally sensitive. I have also had similar professional develpment efforts from in other schools. At [our school], I feel that we do apply this knowledge in very professional ways. Frankly, I think the article in examining 'common nonproductive beliefs' uses generalizations and applies these to educators. This is what the article is trying to encourage educators not to do to students. I, too, feel that we need to be culturally sensitive so that we can develop a positive and productive relationship with students, but we must treat each as an individual first and use the cultural considerations as a means to interpret the paths with which the relationship can take. What I found intriguing was the consistent mention of flexible groupings.  I and my many of my collegues here at [our school] do this. The groupings and regroupings help students and teachers to differentiate and help students to be exposed to the rich diversity within our school."  

"What resonated with me from this article was how much teachers and administrators can learn from their students. A culturally aware school should be a place where adults are learning from their students as much as students are learning from their teachers. Each students brings a different cultural view and experience into the classroom that can enhance and enrich every student's education. I believe that if teachers, administrators, and students are constantly learning from each other that we can make everyone aware of our assets instead of dwelling on the deficits. I also think that [our school] does an excellent job of being culturally aware through trainings for staff and for clubs and activities for students."

"I find it difficult to add any new salient points, there have been so many thought provoking things written here. I will try to add my two cents. I think that many times teachers use their own background experiences as their take on race and ethnicity. Someone who grew up within an area with a diverse population may be more aware of their students culture and include their experiences to allow them to connect with the instruction. One of the things I had to learn in my years (many!) of teaching was how different my students perspective was when discussing events in history. A simple activity such as beginning a unit of study and having students share their experiences in that area can empower them to make a connection. I feel that one way to actively improve our school environment is to come up with new ways to engage parents to become more active partners in our school environment. Parents are our most powerful ally in helping our students feel that they matter and that they see education as something that will give them opportunities for success."

"I agree with what people have stated about the staff at RMS and how we interact with students and that race impacts teaching and learning at RMS 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 PD 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."

"Moving here to Maryland from the Midwest, I half expected a bit of a culture shock. After growing up, living, and finally teaching  in what is referred to as the most segregated city in the country, I knew  what my beliefs were  and why I enjoyed teaching in Tier I schools even though they were stressful. Teaching here I have found that students are students are students no matter where you go.
The life experience for my present students is no different than the ones I have had in the past. The exception would be my former students would say: “Snow day? What’s a snow day”? But seriously it requires that the teacher be responsive to the diverse cultures that exist in a school. It took me a while after being a manager in the business world to recognize that today’s school generation needs to be shown, in their eyes, respect by the teacher before it is given back. Not a hard thing to do but certainly contrary to when I was growing up. Things to try are treating each individual student as a gifted child. As elementary as it may sound, each one needs to be praised and listened to.
I do feel that [our school] community does maintain a responsive environment for the continued excellent education for the students. The parent meetings of students on the cusp are a huge plus which I have never seen utilized to this extent before. The cultural recognition is also recognized."

"Race and ethnicity impact all that we do, either directly or indirectly and must be considered overtly. This is critical in practices of grouping/regrouping students for activity in classrooms. This became remarkably clear in a conversation I had with a friend. She is an African-American woman with whom I have had several classes. We were discussing dream places to relocate to. Stowe, VT came up as one of her places. In a  subsequent conversation she stated that she had crossed Stowe off the list. Essentially, her action was a response to the scarcity of people who were like herself.

Could this same overt sense of belonging relate to our students? Absolutely! Balancing classes on race and gender has as much value as balancing for skills. People must feel welcome when they enter an instructional space.
We have postmodern examples of persons who are not stopped by race and ethnicity…pop culture has now lifted the stories of Nelson Mandela in Invictus, Leigh Anne Touhy and “Big Mike” in The Blind Side and Greg Mortonsen through Tea for Three and Stones to Schools.
Let’s focus on building relationships with all our students, plan mindfully incorporating all the gifts and talents our students bring to the classroom, including their culture, and be open to activities that are beyond paper and pencil."

"Two things that stuck with me throughout the article was “ maximizing learning opportunities” and “ more conscious of race is not discriminatory ; its realistic. I believe that we have had many trainings to help us be more open as a school community about race and culture. We have discussed common roadblocks such as “I don’t see culture” and impacts beyond our control. Each of us has a story that impacts our belief system and our work with students. I feel continued self reflection and modeling of practices will continue the level of responsive teaching to our students. We have started this with our last meeting where we watched our teachers in action. Having an opportunity to learn from staff members who are making connections with kids on different levels will give us the ideas, practice, and motivation to continue to grow ourselves.
Making authentic cultural connections for students is important yet I feel it is often a struggle with curriculum and the level of testing to think out of the box that way. I am also trying to work on my own thinking of how to highlight achievement or accomplishment for more than a designated month. After taking a training this summer my eyes were opened to missed opportunities. We were asked to identify 10 pop culture African American icons.  Pretty easy for a group. Then we were asked to identify 10 alive doctors, Phd’s, poets, CEOs, etc. No one in the room could do this."

"Here at [our school], we are always looking to add new teaching tools to our toolbox. We try to take what we learn from our various professional development opportunities and plug them into our teaching right away. However, the teaching practices and theories that Hawley and Nieto describe in this article, “Another Inconvenient Truth” cannot be so simply incorportated into everyday instruction. This article is about creating a culture within the school that promotes individuality and celerates differences. 
A teacher recently approached me and said, “I have this new student in my class named Charlie (pseudonym) and I know absolutely nothing about where he comes from. What do I do?”
I tried to explain to this teacher that you don’t have to be an expert on every culture’s history and traditions. The aim is not to attempt to be an expert on the thousands of different traditions and holidays practiced by all the students in the school. Instead, the goal is to create an environment in the classroom that encourages students to express their individual differences in a risk-free learning setting where those differences can be celebrated instead of criticized.
When people go through training to become ESOL teachers, they don’t study to become experts at Spanish, French, Italian, Chinese, etc… Instead they work on becoming experts at the process of language acquisition itself and they learn strategies for helping their students reach their English language goals.
As teachers of an increasingly diverse population of students, it’s critical that we don’t get caught up trying to merely become knowledgable about various racial and ethnic differences. Our focus should be directed to creating a positive, respectful, and risk-free learning environment where students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds can feel valued."
Let's keep the dialogue going, friends.

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