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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Conferences: 1

Conferences were a lot of fun. I really enjoyed them. My interpreter decided my Spanish was too good, so left me for the majority of the conferences. She stayed to help with a few that required more in depth discussions of issues.

One parent brought up an issue that I had not previously been aware of at all.

The child, like all but one of my students, is Latino - Mexican specifically, but has a very fair complexion. His brother calls him "el güero," (meaning, essentially, "one with a fair complexion") as do other students occasionally when not in the classroom. I was under the impression that this was generally a form of endearment or a statement of fact. (In Mexico, my host mother often refered to that fact that I was very "güera," like her daughter, so needed to be sure to use sunscreen or wear a hat. There were other times, too, that my classmates would be talking about something and simply state the fact that I was "güera," because it is true. I am fair skinned.)

His mom said that the other kids make fun of him for being lighter skinned and having green eyes. She said they tell him that he's not really Mexican, that he can't really be Mexican with his pale skin and lighter hair. They accuse him of being too American (in a bad way). She thinks this is related to the other children's parent's resentment of white people because of their racism toward Latinos/as. (Many of the conservative whites living here in the desert are very anti-immigrant.) She's afraid that he is starting to resent his own Mexican/Mexican-American culture because his peers are pushing him away and establishing him as an "other," not one who belongs with the rest of them.

She said he wants to be a police officer when he grows up and she is afraid he is going to unfairly take out his anger/agression on people (Latino/a people, I think she was insinuating) due to his growing anger and resentment now toward his peers. This last part I didn't entirely understand, but I do get that she is worried that whatever is going on now is going to have a lasting negative impact on his cultural pride and own well being.

I want to do something about this, but I'm not sure what. There were many issues brought up in this conversation, but dealing just with this child's feeling of exclusion is my first goal. There are several other students who, like him, speak Spanish at home, come from Mexican or Mexican-American households, and are fair skinned. I'm not sure why the students would be picking on him in particular as opposed to the others. I also have not seen this happening at all in the classroom, though that doesn't mean that it is not happening in the classroom. Just that I haven't observed it or picked up the students' possibly subtle actions. (Though really, they're 6, so their actions can't be too incredibly subtle.) While this could be happening in the classroom, it's probably happening more at lunch and recess when there is less supervision.

I can't think of any book or song that says, "I'm a fair-skinned person, but I'm still Latino and proud!" There are plenty of materials that I could find that say, "I'm Latino and my skin is brown and my hair and eyes are brown and I am proud."

And it's ironic (maybe?) in a way because, well, it tends to be the fair-skinned people who get the prominent roles in Mexican film and television. There are plenty of famous Latino/a actors and singers who are fair-skinned. And of course, many of the Mexican politicians are fair skinned too. Like in many countries - the few who are pale, who look more "European," are those who tend to control the country (economically or politically). So, where this child to live in Mexico, he might have an advantage. Fitting in with his classmates though, he feels like an outsider.

I'm basically at a loss as to what I should do about this. I will keep my eyes and ears open for other students saying or doing something like the mother described. It very well could be happening. But at the same time, it also could be that he said something to her once, and she read a lot more into it than really existed. The mother made it sound as if everyone was ganging up against him. If that were true, wouldn't I have seen something? There could be a few students though, saying things to him, accusing him of not being Mexican enough to really be Mexican.

I've been thinking about this for a week now, trying to figure out what I can do about it - how I can help. This feels different to me than a standard form of exclusion because it is someone being excluded from a group that he is part of. It's not a white student not being included because he/she is white and comes from a different cultural and linguistic background than the majority Latino/a and Spanish-speaking students in the class. It is a Latino student feeling excluded from the group he is a part of. Really, it shouldn't be that different than any other type of exclusion, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what to do about it - how to go about developing a lesson or a series of lessons dealing with this type of issue.

Coincidently, I was talking with someone the other day about young children's perceptions of race and gender. This person is a PhD candidate in education, and is teaching an undergraduate class to elementary education program students. Her undergraduate students didn't believe that young children should be or could be exposed to social justice issues. Having never really worked with young children (she has worked with mostly college-aged students) she thought and believed that even primary-school-aged students should be exposed to discussions and lessons on social justice, but didn't have any concrete examples of how or why. I gave her a few examples to share with her students, but I think this is another strong example. As I said to her before, children - even young children - can see race and gender the same way high school students and college students can. Even six-year-olds have misconceptions, can be influenced by their parents, and can develop misconceptions of their own. Because of this, even first graders (and younger, too) can and should be exposed to both tangential and deliberate discussions of race and gender.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

One way to make this week more exciting than the last...

I have conferences coming up, as I'm sure many of the other teachers do too.

Luckily, my first conference will be my absolute easiest.  This child is perfect in every way.  S/he always listens.  S/he participates not excessively, but often enough.  S/he is doing quite average in literacy and math.  S/he always wears a wonderful grin.  Some days, s/he ends up with too many stickers to fit on his/her shirt.  

I have interpreters for most of my conferences with families who speak no English.  However, there are a few that I think I'm going to need to do on my own.  I made sure to get interpreters for any tricky conferences though.

I have a few conferences that are going to be a challenge.  I was told by my AP to ask a series of questions to one mother, culminating in the question, "Have you discussed [you child's] difficulty with focusing on any one thing for any period of time with your doctor?"  This will be made especially tricky by the fact that I told the students to come along for the conference - I want to have it be a goal setting conference as well as showing the families what we have done so far this year.  I'm not sure what to do with the child when I am asking this question (and others) to the mother.  Should the student be there listening?  Should I tell the student to go look at a book for a minute while I talk to the parent?

The majority of the conferences will be fun (though a bit stressful).  My students are a wonderful bunch and I enjoy them all immensely - even those few boys (and the fact that it is all boys says something to me about my teaching, I think) who have recently been receiving way too many "red" days on their behavior charts.  Like I said when I was talking about the Family Subject Night, I truly do enjoy talking with parents/families.

So, this week will probably be even worse than last week, due to the conferences and the testing (which I failed to finish on time, so will continue throughout this week) and the insanity that is first grade.

I have to just keep telling myself that I can make it through the week.  I can make it through the week.  I can make it through the week.  And when Friday comes along, I will reward myself with the gift of pan dulce and going to sleep at 7:30.  (I live a sad, boring, wonderful life.)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Overwhelmed to the next step, I guess.

My classroom is covered everywhere in layers and layers of papers.  I spend 12 hours each day at school.  I am usually the first one to get there and the last one to leave.  During those 12 hours I get very little planning done.  I'm mostly just trying to catch up on the paper, which doesn't stop multiplying, seemingly exponentially.  With all the papers, I loose everything.  It's not funny anymore.  I loose papers that the kids can't help me find.  They're there somewhere, in some pile, but I haven't a clue as to the exact location - I don't even know an approximate location.

I forget to do things and I'm always one step behind where I think I'm supposed to be.  I don't know how to catch up and restore my sanity.  I'm too confused to feel very effective, or even a little effective.  I'm trying to get it all done more efficiently, but that's not working.  

The fact that I learned to educate using theory books (my cheerleaders, plus Vygotsky and Freire and folks like them) as opposed to practical books (none of which I can even cite) is, I think, part of the cause of my absolute cluelessness.  I don't know how to teach! I don't know anything about teaching.  And, yeah, there definitely is a difference.  I do know about education.  I know a lot about education and can pull out articles and research without much of trouble.  But when it comes to practice - I've got nothing.

I've been told by some of the people who observe me that I am a "natural" at teaching, which is ironic since I don't believe in such a thing.  However, their notion of my competence is, I think, covering up the fact that I feel that I am not teaching much of anything to the children.  I may look good when they come in with their notepad and watch, but I haven't a clue as to what I am doing, what I am supposed to be doing, or how one teaches.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Instances in which I may be sorely lacking in sympathy.

Student: "Teacher, sometimes I cough so hard I think I'm gonna throw up."
Me: "If you think you're going to throw up, please do it over the garbage can."

Me: "For homework tonight, I need you to read. You all have plenty of books I have photocopied and sent home with you, so you all have something to read."
Student: "Teacher, I moved."
Me: "If you move, you need to make sure to take your books with you."
Student: "But Teacher, they're in a box."
Me: "You need to find them.

Student: "I'm bleeding."
Me: "Oh, it's not that bad. Just go wash your hands with soap (to get the blood off) and I'll stick a band-aid on it."

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

They come and they go.

The class list gods must have heard me griping about getting another student, because one of my students left without warning.  Today when I went to take attendance, the online system told me that "I-- F-- has been dropped from your class.  Please press OK."  I didn't want to press OK! But, I needed to take attendence, and it wouldn't let me do so without pushing OK.  

This girl was the absolute worst student to leave because she was strong in Spanish and English, and she could read (she was one of the very few students already reaching my principal's reading goals), and she was an amazing model and teacher for the other students.  "Remember Teacher, if you want us to calm down go like this," she would remind me.  Or, during reading groups, "No, Miguel, you have to read a sentence, and then stop to make sure that the words match the picture so that you understand.  Then take a breath.  Then go on."  She memorized exactly what I would say, and then would MAKE SURE her partner was doing exactly that.  I always strategically partnerered her with a few kids, and I was really starting to see improvments in the work of her seatmate, a very quite student who, while testing "proficient" in English is still very much developing, and also struggles a bit academically.  Sitting beside someone who could always explain and understand what was going on was fabulous for I--'s seatmate.  

Some other teacher will be very, very lucky to get I-- in his or her class.  

Does it ever get less sad when students leave from your class without being able to say goodbye?  I know it happens with some frequency - it happened when I was student teaching, too.  But it's simply so sad.  One day the student is there, and then *poof!* he or she is gone forever, hopefully off to experience success in another classroom somewhere else.