Monday, July 11, 2016

CURR 501 Final Reflection

Just this past week, I have listed to our 19-month old foster daughter ask one of the most important questions a person could ask, "Why?"  It is this very small but hugely impactful word that brought what I have learned in this class to a culminating experience for me as a learner and a teacher.  When working with my students, I always impress on them that they need to ask "why" and in doing so, they will likely uncover more information but also raise more questions; that is what happened to me in this course.

In unfamiliar social circles it is likely you will be asked, "What do you "do?"" [for a living.]  When asked, I tell them that I am a teacher.  I find it interesting that the usual follow up question is, "Where do you teach?"  When I tell them that I teach in Central Falls the responses vary from disdain to pity, none of which are appropriately applicable to the students that I teach or my feelings about teaching them.  I also find it curious that very rarely am I asked, "Why do you teach?", to which I would respond, "I teach because I believe all children can learn and I want to be a part of that process."  Although, that very thought still rings very true to me, it was during an exercise in class prompted by watching a TED talk featuring Simon Sinek that I began to examine my why a bit closer.  When I first began teaching, my why mirrored a quote from Nelson Mandela, "Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world."  It was this quote that motivated me to become not only a teacher but one who wanted to work in the urban school setting.  Sadly, with all that education has become (and failed to become), my original why got lost in faculty meetings, Common Core, IEPs, RTI, standardized testing, data and other facets of teaching that has less to do with teaching children how to learn and more to do with passing along knowledge that may or may not be learned much less creatively applied.  My new (secondary) why was fueled by teaching in Central Falls and led me to my response to the "Why do you teach?" question.  Yes, I believe all children can learn; however, that does not imply that all children learn the same way and so learning needs to be inclusive; by inclusive, I mean that students are not expected to participate and conform to society but rather share in the same opportunities as all other students.

As a mother of two small children, I am very aware of the privilege that they unknowingly possess (although my 9-year old son is catching on).  They are white, they attend private school, they participate in a number of activities, their teachers hold advanced degrees, they have both parents in the home, they have a deep rooted family with deep roots in tradition; the list is exhaustive.  Privilege can be viewed as the luxury of choice and it is bothersome to me at a deep level that many children will not be afford the opportunity to be the recipient of such a luxury.  That being said, I am also very aware that despite the above referenced privilege, my son and daughter may not be exposed to the same opportunities because of their gender.  This is deeply troubling to me both as a mother and as a female.  In my presentation, I noted that blatantly and subliminally, our children are subjects of stereotyping at a very young age.  As we looked at in class, according to Unlearning the Myths That Bind Us by Linda Christensen, my children have received a "secret education" courtesy of Disney and Mattel in the security of their home, while sitting in the laps of my husband and myself.  The course anchors in this education however, include: racism, stereotyping, superiority, and "domination of one sex, one race, one class, or one country over a weaker counterpart."  This is unacceptable and places a new responsibility on me as a parent to teach my children as they grow to critically view what they are exposed to in order to create an environment of awareness and equity.  It is not enough that Disney has "heroes" and Tonka manufactures pink dump trucks rather than their signature yellow, the message needs to include that it is fully acceptable for boys and girls to play with a dump truck regardless of its color.

A child needs an environment that is nurturing and creates a sense of safety where educational risks (and mistakes) can be made with out persecution. Once in such an environment, most students are able to trust and are more willing to share their feelings without the threat of exclusion, they learn compassion, form friendships and cultivate a sense of respect for each other.  During my Pecha Kucha presentation, I mentioned that in order to help facilitate full inclusion regardless of gender, race, economic status, age, etc., there are a few standards that I build my classroom environment around:

These are a sampling of the standards what we strive for in our classroom but it is only a starting point.  I believe that once there is a shared, mutual respect in a classroom, most everything else falls into place with a little direction and a classroom becomes a home to some.  Once this type of environment is cultivated, students' minds open and teachers can teach students how to move beyond just learning facts and learn how to think. (Albert Einstein)  Critical thinking is essential in helping students understand what is fundamental and how to shape a logical and informed opinion supported by evidence.  This type of thinking is essential when coaching students to acquire a sense of awareness, especially those relating to global issues such as the environment, racism, war, respecting different cultures and social classes.

I have worked in Central Falls at various grade levels for ten years and communication with our families has been an area of concern across all grade levels.  I have often wanted to improve communications as I feel that a student is more likely to succeed when parents, students, schools and teachers alike are all involved in children's academic lives.  I want to make connections with families and have them know that although they are not the student sitting in room 306 at Ella Risk Elementary, they too are members of our classroom community.  One of the reasons I teach English as a Second Language is because it promotes communication.  Having grown up in Cuba as an elementary student, I know the concerns of an ELL and I want to bridge that gap for those children that step into my classroom not knowing English.  I have always wanted to build my own website and this course offered me that opportunity; prior to this course, that desire would have always been something I would get to and now it has actually come to fruition.  I spent many hours researching other teachers' sites, YouTube and asking peers.  Sadly, this did not appear to be a viable option for me and so not to become too bogged down, I sought an alternate avenue of communicating with my students, a blog.  I capitalized on the micro-knowledge I had gained in our course and decided to build a blog.  Not having much experience, my comfort level was quite low as I advanced through my project but I forged on to build a blog that I know, having taken break, I will continue to tinker with and use in my classroom.  Most of my students' parents/guardians work at least one job and find it difficult to take time out of work to ask questions of the school or teacher, I want to have a place where my students and their families can find resources that they need;  I want them to be able to peek into our classroom via technology that they may have or have access to.  I want to provide a means for my families to have access to their children while they are in school and parents are at work; I want them to feel involved and connected as I do with my own children and their schools.

As a parent of young children, I often find myself in awe of how quickly they learn of and apply their knowledge of new materials.  My children and students will grow to be considered "digital natives" where I will always be viewed as a "digital immigrant" (although I consider myself somewhere in between).  I am at peace with that definition; however, do not be fooled into thinking that because of my antiquated digital status I will not continue to move forward in seeking out tools necessary to improve the practices in my classroom.  If the divide is between being knowledgable and knowledge-able, then I consider it my charge to do what I can to help bridge the gap for both myself, my students and my children.

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