Monday, November 30, 2015

Johnson & Richer - Rhode Island Teachers Respond to PARCC

In their 2015 piece, Johnson and Richer sought to discover how teachers and students from different Rhode Island communities responded to the last year's PARCC test. The researchers administered a survey in order to "discover how teachers perceived the test and its effects on student learning and well-being, their own teaching, and school climate."

Last year was my first year as a teacher in an under-resourced public high school in Rhode Island, and it was also the first year that my school administered the PARCC test. Although I was not a part of Johnson and Richer's survey, I shared many of the same experiences as those who were.

I find myself at a crossroads in regards to standardized testing.

On one hand, I think standardized testing is a necessary reality in our society. I remember being in a boarding school and working into the early hours of the morning to try and earn a B+ on a paper, when some of my friends at the local public school were doing less rigorous work and earning 4.0 GPAs with ease. This never sat well with me, because it seemed unfair that colleges could look at two different transcripts, and, at least on paper, some of my friends at the local public school looked like much better candidates than I did. For this reason, I was glad that we had standardized testing like the SAT - it "created an equal playing field" if you will.

On the other hand, I am also sympathetic to the MANY problems that standardized testing creates. Because I was the teacher in the classroom, I saw first-hand the achievements and struggles that my students experienced throughout the year. I saw many of my students come to the US for the first time with little to no English ability, and celebrate their progressions in learning a new language. One of my students had not been in formal education since she was 8 years old, yet she was able to grasp concepts from basic multiplication to solving simple equations. Unfortunately, the PARCC test did not capture these stories. My students were given scores on a number scale - and, in almost all cases, they were labeled as failures. Many of my students struggled with the long math passages, the computer usage, and the pressure of it. As a teacher, I felt horrible that my students were not up to the standards that the PARCC wanted them to be at. This is not to say that there was not real teaching and learning going on during the year, but again, the PARCC test did not reflect this.

Ideally, teachers - the people who are in the classroom - should be the ultimate evaluaters of their students. There are many educators, including Johnson and Richer, that support this idea. In an ideal world, I would as well. We as educators can evaluate our students' abilities better than any standardized test ever could. My only concern with this notion is that there is no way to account for differences in opinions, standards of success, and biases (not that our current system isn't bias already!). For instance, I currently have a senior in my freshman Algebra I, and he recently asked me to write his college recommendation letter. For lack of better words, this student has not been the "ideal" student - he often does not do her homework, he often comes to class with an attitude, and he has struggled on assessments. Still, I find myself almost obligated (perhaps because this is my first college rec!) to "fudge" a bit when I describe this student in my letter. If I am having these thoughts, who is to say that other teachers don't as well?


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Pecha Kucha Thoughts

This class has been a whirlwind of thoughts, ideas, and emotions for me. I know it's going to be extremely difficult for me to try and sum it all up into just one 20 slide x 20 sec presentation. I really liked the example that Professor Bogad shared with us. The speaker did a great job by seamlessly going from slide to slide. Each slide was important, connected, and relevant, but they did not take from the overall message - they enhanced the speakers words without being too distracting.

Some ideas that I want to focus on:

What is our role as educators? Is the idea of teaching a curriculum, the culture of power, and affirming our students' backgrounds too daunting or do they go hand in hand?

Is equality the goal?

How do my students perceive me? Am I the math teacher or am I the person who helped challenged them to be critical of the society around them?

Monday, November 2, 2015

"Tongue Tied" Chapters - Review

In the chapter, "Aria", Richard Rodriguez offers a personal narrative of his acquisition of the English language. Rodriguez explains how learning English effected his public confidence, his family, and his own private and public identity. Almost in contrast to Rodriguez's piece, Virginia Collier's "Teaching Multilingual Children", offers seven critical measures that ESL teachers must take in order to best teach students who are learning English.

Some of Rodriguez's account resonated with my own upbringing. The author eloquently describes how his family interactions changed when he and his siblings became more proficient in their English ability. I have seen this with my own family; my father, whose English is limited, is a much different person at events when speaking in Portuguese is the norm, than when we are in an English-speaking environment.

What I found most interesting about Rodriguez's account was his final remarks on bilingual educators. I am really looking forward to better understanding this passage in class, but it appears as though Rodriguez is critical of bilingual educators who propose that children lose a degree of individuality by becoming assimilated into public society. Rodriguez suggests that while these children may lose a bit of private individuality by becoming better assimilated into public society, learning English allows them to achieve public individuality. Perhaps the most depressing reality of Rodriguez's account is that his family interactions were changed as a result of his improvement in English; dinner conversations were muted and his parents became less involved in their children's day to day experiences.

As I read this, I could not help to think about my own students who are English language learners. I have some students who have really committed to learning the language; they fearlessly insist on speaking English in class and with their friends. More often than not, these students learn English quickly, and they are essentially fluent by the end of a year. Still, I have some students who have not been successful in learning English even though they have been in the country for two to three years; I attribute this to the fact that they primarily speak Spanish in with their friends in school and with their families at home. I do not teach in a bilingual school, and I always wonder why all of my students do not commit to learning English as strongly as some others. I always argue that it is too easy for many of my students to not have to speak English; learning a new language at age fourteen is hard, intimidating, and not necessarily that important in the near future when all of your friends and family choose to speak Spanish. After reading these two pieces, I wonder if this push back is too simplistic though. Do my students consider their private and public identities? How has learning English effected their relationships with their friends and families?

While I was reading these pieces, I thought about the Delpit reading we discussed earlier this year. Delpit argues that it is our duty to teach our students about the dominant culture that we live in, and more importantly, about how to navigate in that dominant culture. Although Delpit was primarily speaking in regards to race and social class, I find her remarks to be interesting when thinking about students that are learning a dominant language. Is it our duty to say "we must bring both languages/cultures to the classroom" or are we as educators expected to only teach the dominant culture? I have been reprimanded by my principal because I am not allowed to speak Spanish or Portuguese with my ESL students. She has informed me that because we are not  bilingual school, I cannot assist my students in their native language, even if it will help them to better understand the material. I always thought this was harsh, but after considering Delpit, maybe my principal has an ethical point?

Sunday, October 25, 2015

August - "Safe Spaces"

Dr. August's piece, "Safe Spaces" really made me reflect on the day to day proceedings in my own classroom. Dr. August explains that marginalization often comes in the form of messaging. This messaging refers to the verbal and nonverbal communications that LGBTQA youth receive from family, peers, teachers, the media, etc that indicate what is supported and what is not. 

During passing, I must admit that I do hear many students reference homosexuality in derogatory manners by saying expressions like, "that's gay" or call another student "a fag". While these are blatant expressions of negativity towards homosexuality, Dr. August notes that we do not necessarily have to use overt language to show our acceptance and promotion of heteronormativity.

I, like most teachers, hope that my classroom is an open and safe place for my students. While it is difficult to moderate all of the language used in the hallway, I always make a point to stop my lesson and ask a student to "watch his language" if he uses a derogatory term that refers to someone's race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. I often see many teachers at my school who do not address these commonly used phrases, so I figured I was doing something right to help my underrepresented students. 

While I do think that it is better for me to say something rather than remain unconcerned when I hear these phrases, I am starting to realize that I too take the "path of least resistance" when I work with my students. For instance, if a student is late to class - she gets a detention. If a student says "that's gay", she gets a stern look and a "watch your language" warning from me. What kind of message do these two differences in punishments portray to my students about what I value? Likewise, part of my school's mission is to "value all students", but what do we tell out LGBTQA community members when we punish students for having cell phones in the hallways but we act like we do not hear the derogatory slurs and homophobia that endlessly persists in the same hallways?

So why don't more educators try to consciously take a stand against this marginalization? Dr. August suggests that it is because we often fear repercussions from parents and administrations. I have no doubt that this is what prevents many teachers from doing more. Personally, I think many educators hear their students say these phrases and they think "oh, they didn't mean anything by it" or "that was harmless." Admittedly, I do not think that all of my students who use these phrases intend to ridicule those who identify as LGBTQA. That's not the point though. The fact is, these small messages prevent us as a school and as a society from truly accepting all persons in our society. By not saying anything, we are part of the problem. We need to take an active stance to support all members of our schools, or else our passive stances actively support our culture of marginalization. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Reflection on "Introduction to Rethinking Popular Culture and Media"

The introduction to Rethinking Popular Culture and Media focuses on the commonly held notions surrounding children and popular culture, and then it makes us reconsider these beliefs.

I loved the quote that described talking about popular culture as “getting the fish to think about the water.” Popular culture is something that we are so immersed in that we often fail to recognize it; it surrounds us on TV, billboard ads, clothing, toys, the internet, and even the phrases we use. Although it affects us so much, we fail to address it. As teachers, we do often notice the popular culture that our students engage are a part of, but we do not speak of it. Indeed, we often try to go against it. We ban cell phones from school, look at texting like its the worst thing to happen to our youth, and we think that popular media is in opposition to our classrooms and our curriculum.

One issue that the authors bring up is that we as adults often dismiss youth popular culture. While this may simply be because of differences in tastes, adults often view youth culture as inferior or in "opposition to the good values of adults." I see this all the time in my daily life and in my own school. Teachers are not often "into" the same popular culture as their students, so we teachers make make fun of or make remarks about trends, clothing styles, and the music that our students enjoy. We often describe our students or even youth in our own family as "going through phases". The authors note that it is more interesting to consider how our youth are using popular culture and media. What are the implications that come about in areas such as citizenship, agency, and consumer action? If we choose to not actually focus on the culture itself, we should at least consider its effects on our students and their autonomy in navigating a heavily branded world. 

As I reflect on my own practice, I must admit that I too have failed to embrace the benefits of working with my students and their popular culture. I find this interesting because I am only six years older than many of the students at my school, so my popular culture often blends with theirs. Still, my students will tell you that I am quite strict about cell phone usage in my classroom; I follow the school's "no cell phone policy" very strongly. I do play popular music during work periods in class, but I do not talk about the issues brought up in their  music explicitly. I hope that I can incorporate more of these creative discussions in my classroom. I know it would be an interesting area to examine, but I think I need to work on how to structure these types of discussions if I want them to be meaningful.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Class Facilitator Reflection

Overall, I think that today went well. I was really nervous about facilitating today. When I first started teaching, I remember always feeling flustered in front of the room; I was constantly wiping sweat from my forehead and, no matter how much I prepared, I went into every lesson assuming something would go wrong at some point.

Considering this, I have to give a huge thanks to my classmates and Professor Bogad for all of their cooperation, insight, and hard-work during class. The class was structured in a way that it would only be successful if everyone was engaged. Even with a large paper due the same day, it was evident that everyone had deeply engaged with the rather long text, and everyone was willing to reflect and be vulnerable in our discussion.

I was excited to see how the class would play out given that we each have very unique backgrounds and educational experiences. I do not think the class would have been as interesting if we all came from the same area, taught the same number of years, and taught in the same school district/grade levels. I really did not know what results would be of our gallery walk. I thought it was great to see the differences between how we were taught, how we are supposed to teach, and how we actually teach today. I think this activity was in line with Anyon's findings; for instance, new teachers who work in lower-income public schools reflected what she saw in the working class schools so many years ago.

I was also very pleased with our discussion following our viewing of "Tammy's Story". I really wanted to show this video because I think it shows many interesting dynamics in low-income household. While I was eager to show the video, I was also a bit hesitant because I did not want the conversation to simply turn into a sympathy session for Tammy and her sons. Undoubtedly, we all were touched in some way by this video, but I wanted to focus on the implications of this family's situation, the vicious cycle of poverty, and, of course, what does it mean for our role as educators? I was very happy that we were able to connect this story back to Finn's text. We were able to see the need for conscientization and dialogue in our classrooms - two aspects that are often lacking or not sustained.

Ultimately, I think the class was a success because we came to the session well prepared with ideas and opinions, but I expect that most of us left with even more questions and ideas that we had not thought about before. And that's a great thing. We may not have been able to wrap a bow around the discussion, but we have initiated a dialogue that may lead to some real change - for us and our students.

Some of you may be interested Part II of Tammy's story, or any of the other PBS "People Like Us" videos. Although they are somewhat dated, I still think there is a lot of value in them.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Critical Response to: "An Open Letter to Teach For America Recruits" - Katie Osgood

I recently read Katie Osgood’s An Open Letter to Teach For America Recruits. Osgood, a Special Education teacher in Chicago, writes an open letter to new Teach For America (TFA) recruits, urging them to not join the national organization. While Osgood tries to belittle and attack the organization using several personal and general examples, she fails to address the true problem that persists in so many urban school districts across the country: minority children do not receive the same educational opportunities as white students in wealthier school districts.

I am a TFA corps member – there, I said it. I am sorry I cannot give you a story about how I knew that I always wanted to work in education. Indeed, I never thought I would be in the classroom two years ago. The son of two immigrant parents, I grew up speaking Portuguese in a lower-middle class household. I earned a scholarship to play soccer at a prestigious liberal arts college in Massachusetts. Much to my parents dislike (and apparently Osgood’s as well), I decided to join TFA instead of pursuing a lucrative job on Wall Street.

I thought I was doing a good thing at the time. I was going to be a mirror that many minority students in urban education do not have. I was not going to “forget where I came from”, join the “evil one percent”, and never look back. Yeah, about that…

As you can imagine, my fellow corps members and I have read dozens of articles like Katie Osgood’s during my time with TFA. Regardless of the work I do in my classroom, the successes of my students, or my volunteer work in the community, I must seemingly forever hide the fact that I am a TFA corps member publicly unless I want to hear a rant about how horrible I am. Even as I type this, I find myself in fear of ostracizing myself from my grad school professors and co-workers. The fact is, TFA gets a bad reputation in the education community. My question is simple: why?

Is TFA the solution to the “achievement gap” that persists between inner-city and suburban school districts? No. Actually, contrary to popular belief, the organization does not expect to be the solution either. TFA’s goal is simple: one day all children will have the ability to receive a quality education. We are not here to spread “right-wing propaganda”. I do not have a poster of Walmart above my bed, and I do not have a “vested interest in the status quo of inequality, breaking unions, and keeping wages low and workers oppressed.

The fact is, TFA would not exist if there were no inequalities and deficiencies in our urban school districts. Instead of focusing our energies on solving this persistent and institutionalized dilemma that has existed for over a century, many seem more preoccupied with debating about an organization that has been around for 25 years.

With every article I read, the arguments against TFA become seemingly more and more intense. In accordance with Osgood, I want to highlight a few common themes that I hear:

“Teach For America corps members are unqualified, untrained teachers who cannot adequately serve our most deprived students”

Every TFA member has heard this one: “How can we put so much faith in these new college graduates who have no prior teaching experience?” Yes, it is true: I attended that “horrible” five week training program that uses students as “guinea pigs”. Of course, anyone can frame a story like this. I can also say that I took twenty sixth graders that had failed math the year before, taught them the key points of a curriculum in four weeks, and saw twenty children pass a New York state exam that allowed them to pass onto seventh grade. Osgood notes that “regular teachers” undergo extensive training prior to entering the classroom. This is very true. Traditionally, teacher hopefuls spend several years learning theories, observing teachers, and finally doing some instruction themselves in front of a classroom. Unfortunately, many student-teachers are not trained in urban-school districts. In my school’s 15 year existence, we have never been asked to support a student-teacher.

Interestingly, Osgood attempts to discredit TFA for being “too data-driven”. Yes, TFA does focus on data-driven results (is that bad??). Indeed, if districts are going to bring TFA in, and if schools are going to hire us - we better produce results. For “unqualified teachers”, TFA Rhode Island produced very positive results last year. Over 73% of TFA Rhode Island first year teachers received a “4 - Highly Proficient” rating on the state-wide evaluation, with 100% of first-year teachers receiving a “3 – Proficient” rating or higher. Even in a national, independent study, TFA faired extremely well; TFA members  “who average just over a year and a half of teaching experience, were aseffective as their counterparts in the same schools, who averaged 13.6 years ofteaching experience.” Not bad for a bunch of “unqualified teachers.”

In many developed countries, the teaching profession is as highly reputed as that of becoming a doctor or lawyer. Unfortunately, this is not the case in the United States. Trust me, teaching is hard – really hard. Still, there is a negative stigma that surrounds the profession: teachers are lazy, they get summers off, it does not pay well enough, etc. Needless to say, the woman who says she’s a doctor gets a lot more respect than the woman who says she’s a teacher. As a result, many of our top students in the US grow up wanting to become engineers, doctors, lawyers, nurses, and bankers. In Finland, almost every teacher was in the top 10% of their graduating high school class. This is not the case in the US today. If nothing else, TFA has opened thousands of eyes to the injustices that persist in our most deprived schools. For 25 years, it has taken some of our nation’s most successful graduates and immersed them in worlds that they most likely would never have experienced. For those that argue that TFA members are notorious for leaving the profession, over two-thirds of TFA alumni are still involved in education. Personally, I would never have considered working in the classroom had it not been for TFA. To those who knew that they always wanted to work in urban schools, I want to say, “Thank you for the work that you do. I’m sorry that I didn’t know as early as you, but I am glad to be here now.”

“TFA corps members taking over districts and taking jobs that more qualified teachers should have.”

There is a surplus of teachers nationally. Unfortunately, many of these teachers have been forced to lose their jobs. Although TFA has experienced a decrease in applications over the past two years, many onlookers were enraged when they discovered that TFA was growing in numbers, but more and more teachers could not find work nationally. It does seem rather peculiar, right?

In all of the research that I have seen, almost every major urban school district experiences teacher shortages – especially in math. Indeed, my own school has been unable to hire a math teacher for three years; the position is repeatedly filled with a long-term substitute or a displaced, forced hire. We also have two open science positions that are “taught” by a different 
substitute each day. If you look at the composition of TFA Rhode Island, all of the teachers that we provide are certified in “high-need” positions. So, when someone says, “I wouldn’t want my kid taught by a TFA corps member”, I always ask them to consider the very real alternative.

“TFA is the problem in urban school districts today”

Alright, this is just ignorant. As a member of TFA, it almost seems like I cannot catch a break against the onslaught of negativity that comes with this title. An abundance of research has been done to show that students in urban environments need “teachers that look like them”. This is a call to try and end the common dilemma of black and brown students in urban schools potentially never seeing a role model in the classroom that “looks like them”. Currently, over 82% of teachers in the United States are white. Yeah, 82%. Currently, over 50% of TFA corps members identify as persons of color, 47%identify as coming from a low-income background, and 34% were first-generationcollege graduates.

Similar to Osborn, I can sit here and rattle off a number of grievances. I can tell you that even though my students improved 2.9 grade levels last year, a school mentor of mine still refuses to talk to me ever since he found out that I was part of TFA. I can tell you that it angers me to see my students have no biology or history teachers because two “more qualified” teachers are using 160+ consecutive paid “sick days” the year before they retire. I can be just as ignorant as Osgood and say that all traditionally trained teachers are horrible, unions are the worst thing since the ice age, and every TFA teacher deserves to teach at Harvard.

I won’t though.

The fact is, we should not be having a back and forth about this. Whether you hate TFA or you want a Wendy Kopp mug for the holidays, you have to remember what really matters: our youth. Face it or not, the system is broken. It’s about time we did something about that. If you don’t like TFA, that’s fine. Let’s create a world in which our most deprived youth can get a quality of education, regardless of where they live. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Armstrong & Wildman - Deconstructing Privilege

Article I: "Deconstructing Privilege: Teaching and Learning as Allies in the Classroom" -Armstrong & Wildman

Article II: "The next time someone says 'all lives matter,' show them these 5 paragraphs" - Roose

Armstrong and Wildman's piece was very eye-opening and relevant for me as a public school teacher in Providence.

The authors focus on the issue of "colorblindness", its meaning and the detrimental effect this way of thinking can have on our society. The authors argue that this now widely accepted term is often used by people (often white people) to show that they are not racist or prejudice - indeed, they are "so not racist" that they apparently do not see color in people's identities. To be "color blind" is a common them across all levels of education in this country; students are taught that "we are all the same" and no one person is better than the next based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Armstrong and Wildman flip this common idea, and argue that to be "color blind" is to be ignorant; indeed, the only way to break down ever-present societal barriers is to acknowledge our differing privileges and disadvantages - a process called "color insight". The authors argue that color insight provides an appropriate antidote to color blindness.

If being "colorblind" is so bad, why is it ingrained in us at such an early age. In kindergarten we are taught that "everyone is the same" and that we shouldn't focus on attributes that make us different - ultimately, this will make the world a better place. In theory, it sounds like a great idea. I must admit that I even felt like this not too long ago. I have definitely moved against this way of thinking. The reality is that we do not live in a society where all persons are treated equally. If we are "colorblind", we are basically saying that we are ignorant to the fact that these privileges and disadvantages exist. As Armstrong and Wildman propose, we as a society need to recognize these differences in order to potentially eradicate the constraints that hinder all of us in some way.

Armstrong and Wildman note that teachers, especially college professors, have the responsibility to teach their students "color insight" instead of "color-blindness". We often do not see this. Many colleges preach "diversity", but in a way that says "we are all the same". I wonder how Armstrong and Wildman would feel about the common, staged college pamphlet photos where seemingly every race and disability is crammed into a room. Do these photos suggest "we are all welcomed here" or so they support the common trend in colleges where one black student suddenly represents all black students (and white students should "learn diversity lessons" by having lunch with him or her)?

While the authors suggest that this education should happen in colleges, I would take this a step further and say that this education is imperative and should be taught at an earlier age. Perhaps early elementary school students are too young to understand these implications, but students should have our unbalanced world explained to them by middle school at least. While Armstrong and Wildman offer some great ways in which teachers can inform their students, I believe that many educators would struggle to teach these lessons to their students. For one, many educators will become defensive - they did not create white privilege, we have a black president now, and now its time for us as a society to move on. Of course, many of us know that we still live in a racially biased society, but I have my doubts that many teachers would want to teach these lessons to their students. I say this because race and racial biases are difficult issues for teachers to talk about. It is easier to just "play it safe" and teach a curriculum, then to discuss racial privilege and potentially anger an entire class, administration, and a group of parents.

The authors also explain that we should not be afraid to talk about the personal "me" in relation to society. As illustrated by the "koosh ball" example - everyone has privileges and non privileges. We as educators should not be afraid to tell our students about our own personal "me" - our story and our positions in society. I do this in my own classroom at the beginning of each course. I explain that I went to college, but both my parents are both immigrants and my dad is a construction worker. This allows me to relate with my students more. Still, I do not allow my students enough space to explain their own personal "me". I stress that this will take away from the curriculum. I should allow my students this space to acknowledge their own positions in society, as well as their peers'.

Kevin Roose's article on "All Lives Matter" was very eye-opening. Over the past several years, the movement "Black Lives Matter" has spread throughout the country, calling for media, police, government officials, and society in general to recognize that black lives are just as important and deserve the same privileges as those more fortunate in society. In light of this, many people have become defensive or looked down on the movement, calling it seclusive; many opponents have suggested that "All lives matter" would be a better alternative. Indeed, there was recently a large sign posted here in Providence seemingly mocking the :Black Lives Matter" campaign; the sign said "Brown Lives Matter" with the Brown University crest just below it. I found the Reddit  user GeekAesthete did a remarkable job explaining why "All lives matter" is not a proper response using his analogy to the dinner table and food. He explained that yes, all lives do matter, but the point of the movement is that black lives matter too. I think this was a very clear explanation, and one that really helped me to understand the slogan as well.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Problem We All Live With - This American Life

This podcast from This American Life was both very interesting and sad. The overall theme of both parts of the podcast is that while there have been many attempts to try and "fix" underperforming schools and school districts across the country, most districts fail to do the one thing that Brown vs Board of Education was supposed to do in 1954: eliminate "separate but equal", and establish integration in schools. Both parts of the podcast explain that impoverished, underperforming districts continually try to "fix" their schools by using a variety of techniques: hire new teachers, increase after-school activities, re-design curriculums, etc. Indeed, we continually see this in Providence public schools. Several high schools here in the city are using outside consultants to redesign school instruction, organizations such as Teach For America and City Year have been brought in to try and assist schools across the city, and the state/city has spent large sums of money on teacher development over the past several years. The podcast speaker notes that underperforming school districts are trying to decrease the "achievement gap" that persists between white and minority students, but these attempts will never be successful. She argues that the only way to fix the ever present achievement gap is to integrate these school districts with wealthier, "whiter" ones. I agree with the speaker on this point. Numerous studies have shown that if you integrate lower-achieving, minority students with high achieving white ones, the minority students' academic achievement increases significantly. Still, I believe she was too dismissive when the superintendent of the normandy schools explains that he wants radical change. Integration is the utopia, but given societal constraints, it is important that these under-resourced schools do look for radical change because the old system is clearly failing.

Additionally, in Part I, a researcher focuses on an "accidental" integration that happened to some students from the Normandy school district in Missouri. After the Normandy school district became unaccredited, the state allowed students to attend another school district, Fall Hollow, that is 45 minutes away. Roughly 1000 students decided to switch from the failing school district to the more resourced, almost entirely white suburban district. The most disturbing part of this podcast is the recorded statements from the parents of Fall Hollow following this decision; many of the parents expressed their desire to leave the school district, their concerns of violence, and their concerns that the quality of their children's education was in jeopardy. Although I cannot argue whether these parents' concerns were entirely based on race, I can understand why many would be concerned. I do not have children of my own, but I hope that one day I can move to a town that has a strong academic reputation. Indeed, I feel that most parents, just like the parents who sent their kids to Fall Hollow from Normandy, would and do the same. It is easy to see why many parents would be concerned about over-crowding, or lack of resources (but I do think some of the concerns suggested were completely racist and absurd). So, if I do decide to send my kids to a private school or live in a wealthier neighborhood with great schools, am I only supporting a cycle of racism?

Another point that resonated with me came at the conclusion of Part II. One of the guests, a white woman, explains that white people "don't want to talk about school integration as a race issue". Instead, she argues that white people often center their arguments against school integration around issues of "poverty", "lack of funding", and "lack of resources". The speaker notes that opponents to school integration do not want to admit that this is a race issue, so they tiptoe around the issue using other excuses. While I do believe that racial prejudices are often sadly at play, I do not necessarily believe that opponents to school integration are simply opposed because of race. If there was a school that was comprised of 70-90% black and/or Latino students and the school was performing well (plenty of resources, high graduation rates, a history of graduates attending great colleges, etc), I do to believe that white parents would be opposed to sending their children to such a great school. Perhaps I have too positive of a look on this, but I like to believe that parents from predominantly Caucasian communities want their children to go to a good school. If that good school is comprised of predominantly minority students, I would be surprised if white parents would be so strongly opposed.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Education Other People’s Children” - Lisa Delpit

“The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Education Other People’s Children”  
- Lisa Delpit
I found Delpit’s piece “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” to be a very interesting and potentially controversial one.

Delpit focuses on the common disconnect in education between people in power (referred to as “liberals”) and their minority students. Although she does not focus her argument around quantitative research, Delpit uses personal examples and conversations to demonstrate that middle to upper class whites often fail to understand and provide what their minority students want from them.

On many points, I agreed with Delpit. Most of my students are not part of the “culture of power”, and I often ask them to share their opinions on what “good” teaching looks like, what I can improve on as a teacher, and their opinions on growing up in the Providence public school system. In many ways, my students’ opinions coincide with the examples that Delpit provides.

It would come to no surprise to Delpit that my students dislike and lose respect for teachers who do not “control” their classroom. Often, teachers try to teach the way they were taught in suburban communities, but this fails minority students who come from a different, more authoritative culture.  I also agree with Delpit that teachers should be honest with their students. Teachers should try to develop interpersonal relationships to garner student respect, and push their classrooms to integrate student proficiency in conjunction with teacher expertise.

While I agree with Delpit on many of these aforementioned points, I also found some of her points confusing or in opposition to what teachers are commonly taught to be “best practice”. Delpit notes that she is not simply in favor of the process method or the skills method, but rather, she feels teaching should be a blend of the two. However, she seems to be more strongly in opposition to the process method. For instance, she notes that many students complain that “lazy” teachers are not “doing their jobs” when they have students work in groups and edit/correct each other’s’ work. Perhaps I read this wrong, but this “student-led” teaching is what we teachers are told to do. Indeed, my principal even told me that to earn the highest rating on the state teacher evaluation, she should be able to walk into my classroom and see me saying nothing – my students should be leading the classroom. Perhaps Delpit would argue that this evaluation is reflective of the “dominant culture’s” influence.

Additionally, my grad school certification classes and training taught me that I should present rules and consequences as a choice. Students should recognize that they face consequences if and when they choose to break rules. I was taught that I should not tell students what they should do if they make a mistake, but I should say things like, “what are we supposed to do when we enter the classroom?” etc. Thus, I was very surprised when Delpit states that we should be more authoritative and demanding with our instructions. I found this especially interesting because Delpit argues that this is what these children are used to at home, and we should mirror this. She also continually argues that we should be preparing minority children for life beyond school. I would go against Delpit and argue that giving students choices and not always giving direct instruction is better preparation for life outside of school. Delpit argues that these children expect and desire to be told what to do by people in power. This is interesting in context of many of the excessive abuses of power by police in recent times. Additionally, I would argue that the real world does not have people always telling us what to do. We have to make decisions and face the consequences of those decisions. By not allowing our students to make their own choices, are we not failing them for life beyond school? 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Johnson Reflection

I found this reading from Privilege, Power, and Differences by Allan G. Johnson to be very enlightening and pertinent given present day issues of racially charged violence and debates.

Johnson speaks about the discomfort that individuals experience when they discuss issues such as "white privilege". Throughout the piece, Johnson takes his readers through his own journey of discomfort, and he remarks on the common trends that occurs when people try to have these discussions. 

Although I technically am a "person of color", I also struggle through this discomfort as a Latino. For instance, I often feel very connected with my students given that I share similar backgrounds and experiences with many of them. More than 85% of my school identifies as Black and/or Hispanic/Latino. Whether it is the way I look, my age, or even the music I listen to, I can often relate to my students in many ways. However, in many ways I cannot. I was fortunate to be born into a family in which my parents stressed the importance of college. I was given an opportunity to go to a boarding school and play a college sport. While we never lived a glamorous life, my parents made sure we always had food on the table. On the other hand, many of my students have never had the opportunity to leave Providence. College is not a reality for many of my students. In many ways, I can be a role-model for my students, but I often feel disconnected from them in others. 

Additionally, Johnson speaks about the “defensive” reaction that many Caucasians feel when the conversation about “white privilege” comes about. I have been in numerous conversations and seen these responses. More often than not, one group feels that they are being attacked. “I didn’t create this system,” and “I worked hard. I had no privileges,” are common responses. In order for these conversations to create meaningful change, I believe that all participants need to be more reflective. If we realize that we are not attacking a specific individual and that we are all a part of this societal problem, then we can try to resolve some issues. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


My name is Dan. I was born and raised in Connecticut, and I moved to Rhode Island just last year. In my free time, I love to play soccer, go running, dance, and listen to music. Both of my parents are immigrants, and my Brazilian and Portuguese background is very important and relevant in my life.

I am a second-year teacher at E-Cubed Academy High School in Providence, RI. Although E-Cubed has a "charter-like" name, it is actually a small, traditional public school in the north end of the city. After graduating from college in the spring of 2014, I started my teaching career last year. I am certified in secondary mathematics, and I currently teach Algebra I.

I decided to pursue my graduate degree now in hopes that I will be able to use these skills and new-found knowledge in my classroom.