Sunday, November 16, 2014

Who Do You See?

Of all our course readings so far, this "Citizenship in School: Reconceptualizing Down Syndrome" by Christopher Kliewer has been the most challenging for me. My brain was firing back, "Yes, but..." the whole time. My brain had a hard time making sense of the logistics of this ideal. How would this work in my classroom? Reading this seems to have made me aware of the detriment of those systems which have been "cultural sorting machines" that "justify a competitive ethic that marginalizes certain students or groups of students... [that] legitimize discrimination and devaluation on the basis of the dominant society's preferences in matters of ability, gender, ethnicity, and race...and [that] endorse an elaborate process of sorting by perceived ability and behavior" (73).

As we mentioned before, it is very hard to find a teacher who enters the field with an openly racist, sexist, homophobic, or anti-social justice attitude. I think the same goes for attitudes toward students with disabilities. I am very careful to use people-first language and have the same conversations with my students who say "That's so retarded" that I do with "That's so gay."

However, I also have a long way to go toward the inclusive, participatory, democratic classroom that Shayne is described as having.

This year I have more students with special education needs than I ever have before. My school very much aspires to a full inclusion model. Granted, these are considered "mild/moderate" needs and nowhere near as "severe" as some situations described in the article, but as a beginning teacher, my lack of experience with these students makes me feel very inadequate.

But as I am writing this I am seeing, too, the way that my brain has been trained to think about students with disabilities. Classifications and categories. Putting students in such boxes makes things "easier." Having separate classrooms makes things "easier." I found an article from the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition that elaborates on this idea, explaining the two models of disability: the medical model and the social model. While the first model asserts that "disability results from an individual person's physical or mental limitations"  the second argues, "that disability stems from the failure of society to adjust to meet the needs and aspirations of a disabled minority." They compare the social model to the "doctrine of those concerned with racial equality that 'racism is a problem of whites from which blacks suffer.'" They also provide an example, "If a wheelchair user cannot use a bus, the bus must be redesigned." Sounds like something Johnson would say.

All of this leads me to the John Lubbock quote: "What we see depends mainly on what we look for." If we as teachers look only for kids doing exactly what is instructed and has been said is typically accepted as "proficient" we might miss out on the opportunity to see (Gardener's) multiple intelligences. Rather than "entreprenuerial individualism" (72), we need "a set of values based on respect, humility, and creative listening" (73). The story of Shayne's creative listening to Isaac affirms the necessity of an asset-based lens. Her classroom started from the viewpoint of valuing something very different, which was a "distinct shift away from mere school tolerance of diversity defined by resignation and benevolence," instead "recogniz[ing] diversity as the norm" (79).

Throughout this school year I have said several times how unprepared I feel to work with the special education students in my class. However, I need to recognize that "We have our basic core in common" (88) - yes, our "common core" - and it is not a matter of being unprepared to work with them, but rather unprepared to see them.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Passing notes, passing ideas. That's Power.

Remember the long ago (or not so long ago for Tina and I...) days of practicum? The first time you referred to yourself as Mr. or Ms.? The worries about filling the time or not filling enough. What if they don't talk? What if they're confused? Or bored? Or tired? Or the computer explodes?

Okay, well maybe not the last one, but all of those feelings of uncertainty ran through
me as I planned and prepped for facilitating class this week. I was brought back to my memories of spending waaay too much time finding waaay to many resources that I wasn't going to get the opportunity to use. Yup, as an undergrad I definitely spent weeks planning my micro-teaching lesson that lasted 30 minutes.

Though the task was a bit easier now that I have almost a year and a half of teaching under my belt, I have to make a connection to the English language learners that we read about this week. As Collier explained, students "do not automatically develop the academic language skills needed to compete" (225). I certainly did not automatically develop the pedagogy skills needed to compete. Being a good student doesn't mean I am automatically a good teacher. Just like being a good speaker of a second language doesn't mean that person is automatically a good writer in that language (as Ken pointed out in his blog and our discussion). There are explicit theories, skills, and codes of power that need to be taught in order to be most successful. It was important that I had a professor who respected and affirmed and helped clarify the ideas I brought to the table (well, GoogleDoc). Because even though I teach everyday, the experience of leading a group of seven adults is different from leading a group of 20 eleven-year-olds.

You were awesome as students in the foreign language lecture, working so diligently at the task. You showed empathy for your own students and realized how you might make adjustments for ESL students (or otherwise), ranging from prompting prior knowledge, to slowing down, to providing a list of key words and definitions. The note passing was a better experience for some than others, which, again, put us in the shoes of our students when we ask them to do lots of verbal processing. If I were to teach this again, I might put the quotes on large poster papers, increase the time with each pass, and maybe have fewer passes. This way we could get out of our seats or get deeper. As Tina mentioned, I loved that the connections to other authors went beyond the author that I had listed in the prompt. It's cool to see the conversation among ourselves grow. I think my favorite part was sharing the spoken word poems ("Duality Duel" by Daniel Beaty and "I Can't Read" by Lamont Carey) and crafting our six word memoirs. You all provided me with a richer understanding of how similar/different the two poets' pieces are and Melissa's question, "Where does Rodriguez fit?" really made us think. The six word memoirs then allowed us to show off our creativity and the learning that we were taking away.

My Six Word Reflection:  Passing notes, passing ideas. That's power.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

"Safe Spaces: Making Schools and Communities Welcoming to LGBT Youth"

Growing up, one of my uncles had a "friend." I knew that they lived together and I didn't really think too much about it.

Then I learned that my uncle's friend got sick and passed away. That was that.

Then my uncle got sick. And passed away. That was that.

As a sixth grader, I didn't ask questions. I didn't even know what questions to ask.

Now I know that my uncle was gay and had died from AIDs.

I don't know much of the story of my uncle's experience and I certainly wonder about how "erased," "invisible," and "kept outside" of the curriculum (and society itself) he felt.

As a college student, I was finally exposed to LGBT issues. In the first weeks of my Western Lit seminar, we learned about Whitman - but in the "exploration-of-the-poet's-not-so-oblique-references-to romantic-relationships-between-men" sense (86). Then, I participated in the Emerging Leaders program where we learned about our own privileges (including my own heterosexuality). A short time after, I became a Resident Assistant and learned about "Words that Hurt." In this training session, we brainstormed all the words we know that have hurt us or have hurt others, consider why they might be hurtful, discussed intent vs. impact (which is similar to Patrick's story on 97-99), and prepared ourselves to create safe spaces for all of our residents. As a second-year RA, a friend and I hosted a Tunnel of Oppression event where we created a tunnel exhibit in one of the common areas with various sections exposing various injustices that people experience everyday - including biases against sexual orientation and gender identity. My hall council created quilts in memory of those who have died because of AIDs. In our practicum class, Dr. Cook and Dr. Johnson used Andrea Gibson's spoken word poetry (I think Swingset is one of my favorites - and is a good representation of what she speaks for) as a mentor text for our own poetry.

 I think all of this has prepared me to be an ally for LGBT youth in my classroom and beyond. I feel comfortable addressing students' use of "That's so gay" in a way that educates, rather than silences or shuns (and have had to do so many times - and I might even ratchet it up with a lesson like this one from GLSEN on the famous phrase "I was just kidding"). I came into teaching knowing that "LGBT students need advocacy and protection, not neutrality" (84). Vaccaro, August, and Kennedy's problem with saying nothing is the same as Armstrong and Wildman's problem with colorblindness - all it does is perpetuate the SCWAAMP status quo.

Instead, I'd like to take Megan Boler's affirmative action approach (90), starting first with visibility and normalization (94). As I plan for the Language Arts elective that I am teaching 2nd-4th quarters (I'm calling it Media Busters), my goal is to "teach students to critically examine all texts for bias, whether in the form of LGBT exclusion or negative stereotypes" where I can "encourage students to talk back to the curriculum, to look for assumptions, and . . . to examine what they see and hear (and what they don't see and hear)" (94). If I encounter problems with this, I know that Shor will back me up on the importance of this curricular choice.

I agree with Vaccaro, August, and Kennedy's assertion that "words are sticks and stones. And those sticks and stones can either build bridges or break bones" (95). In his spoken word poem, "To This Day," Shane Koyczan explains how much worse words hurt than literal broken bones. Not only as a lover of language and teacher of English, but as a human who cares about the world and its people, it pains me to see the way that words are used (consciously or unconsciously) as verbal assaults. Or how silence spreads our biased phobias.

As my favorite vlogbrothers explain, Human Sexuality is Complicated, and I am not aiming to have discussions about anatomy and reproductive processes or religious beliefs. I just want my students to have the eyes to recognize injustice, ears to hear injustice, mouths to ask the difficult questions (including the ones I never knew to ask about my uncle), and hands to create safe spaces for all.