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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

My passionate liberal idealism is a pain during PD sessions.

I keep being shocked at how well educated/informed I am about certain things.  In all my hours of professional development regarding ELL things, and working with "at risk" student populations, people around me seem to be having "ah-ha" moments, whereas I am just like, "um...I discussed that during college, and did a research project/lesson planning project on the book you give as an example."  I can't tell if I'm being a snob, or if I really did have a wonderfully enriching education, regarding the socio/cultural/linguistic/gender aspects of education.  

When it comes to actually teaching something, I'm pretty clueless.  I had never given a "running record" before last week.  I don't have experience with any specific writing programs.  In the classroom I fumble my way through the day, hoping that my students can feel my idealism (hey! my idealism is back!) and magically absorb that enthusiasm.  I began the first two weeks of school following the scripted curriculum pretty much to the script.  (I'm doing a bit better now.  Not a lot, but a tad bit better.)  When it comes to professional development about how to teach reading, or writing, or math, I'm all ears and my pencil is ready to take notes.  When it comes to professional development about understanding the "culture" of our students, I begin the session optimistic and enthusiastic, and end it kind of disappointed with everyone involved.  How did people not discuss these issues in their education programs?  Was my education program really that different than everyone else's?  (Apparently, I am coming to see, yes.  Yes it was.)  Am I really that much of a flaming liberal?  (Apparently, yes.  Yes I am.)

I feel like that annoying kid in class who can't be taught anything because they think they already know everything.  And I know I don't know everything.  I thought I knew nothing.  But when I compare myself to these other teachers at the PD sessions, I feel so much better informed.  Maybe, hopefully, if I were participating in a graduate level class, I would be introduced to new concepts and theories.  As it stands though, in these PD sessions, I end up frustrated and disillusioned with some of the stated beliefs of the other teachers.  

If one is going to be teaching in a community that is 98% Latino - mostly Mexican, I just assumed that one would work to develop at least a rudimentary knowledge of some of the cultural aspects of their students.  Or rather, to develop a knowledge of some of the emotionally meaningful aspects of culture.  Everyone in this PD session (where my least favorite author was praised, again) was caught up in the "if we have to learn about their culture, why don't they have to learn about our culture" and the "my students just shout out in class, I guess because they're used to just shouting out at home.  Their culture doesn't ask people to take turns when talking."  No one seems to care to discuss what seem, to me, to be the more meaningful aspects of the cultures of our students.  I don't even know what specific examples I am thinking of, something along the lines of the value of family, the fact that immigrants come to the United States because they want to have opportunities that they did not have in the country from which they emigrated - this includes, often in large part, educational opportunities.

I don't even know what the point of this post is, except to kind of rant about the fact that I want to learn more, but I am not comfortable with the content I am being given.  It's probably going to come out all wrong, but I just feel like people should be better informed about some things - which I suppose is what they are trying to do, but it seems very misguided and not very effective to me.  Instead of naming differences and talking about how they are different, why can't we figure out how to use what the students come with to make our classrooms a better place?

Why can't we all just get along?  Let's hold hands and sing, okay?  We'll hold hands, and sing, and eat meals together, and end wars and world hunger, and we'll stop the depletion of the ozone layer, and plastic bottles won't cause cancer anymore and everyone will be happy.


Blogger Profesora de español said...

I feel the same way in my PD sessions. Most, if not all, of what they say I learned in my grad school teaching program. Lesson planning, no. Theories on why it's hard for kids of different backgrounds to adjust to the American schooling systems (amongst other things), yes. I only go because a) they're required and b) the more I attend, the more I can move up the scale. lol. They're usually quite pointless though.


3:26 PM  
Blogger miss bioteacher said...

Seriously, you do probably have a better education that most other teachers. I don't really know how it is in your state or at the elementary level, but I am a first year teacher starting out with basically no prior experience. Today was my first day teaching, ever, and I survived. Granted high school is a bit different as alternate route teachers aren't necessarily a bad thing, in that they generally know a lot more subject-wise, but it was a hell of a day.
In terms of cultural backgrounds and things, I feel that it is mostly intuitive for me as I am VERY familiar with the area and the people there.

This was a long comment and after a long day I forgot where I was going with this.

But good luck! Even though I'm super busy now, I check here super often :o)

7:11 PM  
Anonymous Not Quite Grown Up said...

Profe de español - Kumbayah is right. I haven't even been in in grad school yet, so I feel like I should know nothing. But, I guess when my professors professed that "I didn't learn this/do this/read this until grad school, but I think you can handle it," they were telling the truth.

Miss Bioteacher - You said, "In terms of cultural backgrounds and things, I feel that it is mostly intuitive for me as I am VERY familiar with the area and the people there."

I guess that's part of the problem. I made the conscious and deliberate decision to work in a school with the exact demographic of the one I work in. I applied to work at schools with only this student make-up. A lot of the other new teachers ended up here because it was the only place that hired them (as opposed to being at the top of their application list). A lot of the older teachers began working in the district 20 years ago when the student demographic was drastically different from what it is now. Since I actively chose to work with these students, as opposed to ending up here by chance, the fact that I have a stronger background regarding the culture of the neighborhood and the families isn't entirely surprising. And the fact that others don't come with the same eagerness and understanding that I would expect of them, and that they are completely blown away when they learn that, for example, being called "Teacher" is not a sign of laziness, but is in fact akin to being called Doctor, is because of the fact that so many people work here by chance, and not by choice.

11:24 PM  
OpenID onteaching said...

I'll sing with you!!! :)

Many older teachers are stuck in their routines and have not bothered to crack a book or enrich themselves one bit since they earned their diploma. Therefore stuff that is basic knowledge and common sense to you, who was just "out there," is totally foreign to them because they live in their own little bubble and don't venture out past their picket fences much.

At least they are getting the "diversity training" now, through PD sessions...

(PS - I worked with the rich white kids, and they holler out in class as well. So it's not a "Mexican" thing. Tell your co-workers.)

I think you nailed it when you said you CHOSE to work there, with those kids, while the other teachers either have been there since forever (when the area was much different) and are simply waiting for retirement, or happened to end up there because nobody else would hire them. No wonder they're bitter, disgruntled, and/or apathetic... that is a sad but rampant problem in our profession.

You are a blessing to your students - you treat them with respect, you understand them (or at least are making an effort to - and I'll bet you're succeeding), and you value them and their culture. You are making a huge impact in their lives, regardless of what their reading scores are in May, or whether you managed to check off all the items in the district's madatory assessment to-do list.

11:50 PM  

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