Monday, March 23, 2015

A Long Thoughtful Day

I started off my morning feeling like death. I suddenly came down with something on Sunday. I could barley walk, had a fever, and my throat was so sore. However, I knew I couldn't miss a day so I forced myself to get out of bed and take my medicine. I got ready for school and opened my door to my new and improved classroom. I stayed at my school till 9pm on Friday to update it and make it as effective and student-friendly as possible. I smiled at my hard work and was happy much of it was behind me now. I started getting organized, had a meeting for a student, and then was getting ready for the day. However, one of my students came in crying. I know this student usually gets upset easily and I asked her what is wrong. The student told me her uncle got arrested and went to jail before she went to school. My heart sank because I know her father has been in and out of prison her whole life.  I found out everyone else was busy that could talk to her. Then, I put on my counselor hat and told her that it's okay to be upset, but not to blame herself. I told her how amazing of a person she is and that she wont be going down the path of her family members. Finally, after about 20 minutes of healthy conversation and building her back up, we go to class together. I just think to myself, so many of our students go through so much. We as educators can't change the lives of our students. We as educators can only support them, love them, and be there for them when times get difficult. Everyday, I see so many students doing fantastic things and I wonder what might be happening in their lives. How can they push through such challenges and arise to educational demands. As soon as  our students get to school we start working and activating pervious knowledge. I guess I learned and am happy I try my best to say, "hello, how are you today" to each of my students before we get started.Today was a long and thoughtful day. I left work around 7pm, last in the building and walking like an old granny. When I reached my car, I just stared into the sky being thankful for what I have and the stability in my life right now.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

American Inequality

It's interesting to think about inequality in America. America is known to be the richest, most powerful, and democratic country based on freedom in our planet. However, vast inequalities exist among our society at almost every level of our economy and social structures. Today, in the year 2015, millions of people still yearn for basic principals of equality and dignity. Inequality takes form in an array of shapes. Subpar educational opportunities, modern slavery in our agriculture industries, ignorance in human slavery throughout black markets, and wage differences among blue and white collar workers are just a few. Inequality hits home when I think about the school systems in our country. Why are some schools racially and socio-economically homogeneous in urban districts, while suburban districts more heterogeneous student populations. I wonder what might be the impact of students missing the opportunity to work with classmates that offer linguistic capital, culture awareness, and life experience richness. The repercussions of inequality and segregated schools based on socio-economic and race factors hurt overall academic achievement and career and college readiness. The world human population is not homogeneous. Schools should send a message that inter-connectedness, effective respectful collaboration, and cultural awareness are essential to college and career readiness in the 21st century. As a teacher, I try my best to bring culturally responsive teaching to my classroom, but peer-peer cultural sharing and collaborative structures would be far more beneficial. Many people still talk about race and socio-economic exploitation based mostly on African-American and Latino populations. Impoverished minorities in the American population have been exploited for economic and discriminatory reasons based on ignorance and bias. Schools must fight everyday to give students a chance to prepare themselves academically and personally to rise above the normed statistics and defy deficits and hardships. All children have the capability to grow academically and personally, however limited language exposure, limited educational resources, and limited pro-social instruction can result in the child being far behind in education and socially acceptable behaviors. Schools must have enough financial resources to drive reform programs aimed and designed to target children who come from disadvantaged homes and arrive to school far below grade level. Historically, these kids would be put into intervention, disproportionally put into special education, or be failed. We as a nation owe it to our country's principles, our children, and our future to be proactive in reforming policy, actual school based programming, and demographic zoning of schools to ensure our students have a proper education. Financially, our country spends over $600 billion on the overall military. I wonder if we increased federal funding to title 1 schools and ensuring more heterogeneous populations occur in schools by $10 billion a year, what might be the result? I'm sure the overall future economic impact would be far-reaching and be positive. Globalization and rise of other state superpowers will continue to fuel market competitiveness and call for more stringent educational backgrounds to be considered for a job. The United States of America must take a stand to fight for it's children, it's future, and it's premise of being a beacon of democracy, equality, and freedom. No one can predict who might be the next Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., president, or great innovator. We must treat all our children with the respect and dignity they deserve. We all have a duty to advocate and encourage our community members, politicians, and educational stakeholders to take the responsibility of equality seriously. I am committed to work towards this dream and hope. America must not inevitably fall prey to it's dishonorable past of slavery and disguised equality. We must as a country, push for social change, provide the adequate resources to implement change, and monitor the field to ensure transparency and equality are upheld. Our kids, our future, and our legacy are at stake.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Uncommon Techniques for Unique Challenges

We know more challenging students are present in school systems and individual schools with a high concentration of students that come from impoverished homes, minority races as a majority of student population, and difficult backgrounds. However, how do these schools put systems in place and have constructive conversations to pursue the idea that all students are expected to succeed and do better? How does capacity trickle down from leadership to individual educators? How is parent involvement or voice being used? Are community resources being utilized? Is the school aware of home-life issues or events?  Do teachers/ multi-disciplinary teams have tools and strategies to deal with uncommon problems and situations?  All of these questions are important and must be dealt with if we hope that ALL students, including challenging ones succeed. I personally believe these students just need some extra love and creative student-centered support. All kids want to be heard, cared for, and know they are seen as important in someone's eyes. A person must be willing to have patience, listen, counsel, and provide effective support systems to guide and ensure that the student makes progress. It's been a while since my last blog post, however my students come first and we have been very busy at school. I have been very occupied the last 2 weeks trying to make sure some of my 8th graders have a smooth transition to high school. It is very important to me that my students know I care about their success in high school and I am willing to support them in the future. I have worked so hard to get one of my 8th graders to change his behavior and participate in his future high school's football program. I finally got him playing after calling the coach 3 times and offering to pay his fees, get his sports physical done, and I bought 3 fund-raising shirts. I guess I'm trying to send the message that I am willing to do anything to get him connected and be successful( even if that makes me broke). I told him that I want to attend all his games as best I can and want to check-in with him until he graduates. Some students really do need extra love, tough conversations, and support. Without a doubt, I try to support all my students, hold high-expectations, and have all parents as allies in their education. However, some students really do need something extra. Relationships and taking the time to get to know the student, the student's family, and the student's perspective on life is crucial to helping that student reach their academic potential and harnessing their inner best person. Some kids have gone through very traumatic life experiences such as fathers/mothers being deported, witnessing family violence/drug abuse, and living in poverty. All kids need to know they are cared about and know they have a consistent person to depend on when times get difficult. I want all my students to know I am willing to be that person. I have a student who wouldn't work for me for anything. However, after taking some time to reflect and assess the situation, I was determined to really get to know this person. The student now comes early in the morning ( sometimes before I walk in the door) and we share breakfast and talk about life or school. I know some people might think offering used Jordans might be too much of a reward, but I urge them to think about what their life was like. Not all kids have the same life experience. Some kids have nothing to look forward to at home, at school, or outside of both. I wanted this student to realize that life has wonderful opportunities and he can access these rewards by doing good in school and maintaing a positive behavior. So far, I am happy and satisfied with his overall progress. I know I have to use a variety of techniques to get buy-in from students. I differentiate supports like instruction with my students.  Some students play basketball after doing well and others just draw and use their artistic abilities to calm them down for 10 minutes. Each child has an unique interest and personality. We as educators must recognize these personal characteristics and utilize them to harness and motivate the students. After all, we can't instruct and engage in rigorous material without the student willing to participate and be authentically engaged. Also, we are going through PARCC right now. These tests are college and career ready ( obviously because they are some of the most difficult tests I have ever seen for public schools). My students are in special education, and therefore people already know that this test is going to be an extreme challenge for them. I tried my best as a first year teacher to prepare them, and knowing that most of them are severely below grade level. I knew it was going to be a very tough mountain to climb and overcome. However, I do not accept defeat. I am proud of my students overall, because 90% of them put 110% effort into the tests and tried their best. I only ask my students to do their very best and use the resources and strategies they learned/have. I already have a lot of new ideas to make next year even better! I want my students to work on computers more often and save all work to a classroom drive where I can see their work/add academically focused descriptive feedback. Additionally, I want to cheer them on to do even better and get them to respectfully critique each other's work! My students need more time and involvement with computers and use their strategies on rigorous assignments that add to their preparation and exposure to PARCC like questions/simulations. Additionally, if students actually showed evidence of building their strategy toolbox and using them all comprehensively, then they would internalize it and use it on the next test. I don't feel like I would be teaching to the test, because I want to make sure all my lessons are culturally relevant and connect to my student's interests. Finally, I'd like to add on a high note that I am proud of my middle school team. We collaborate a lot and it is so easy to communicate with my fellow co-teachers. Although, I think we could have more cohesiveness and cross-curriculum alignment, I am proud that we really do talk everyday about what is happening in our classrooms and share ideas. Next year, we are already preparing to ensure we have similar strategies/documents on our walls/with our students to make sure our students use them effectively in a variety of settings/ways. Here is to another week of testing and another chance to build relationships/set up our students for success!