Posted in burning questions

The Exploding Mitten, Part 2

Parents and caregivers: I have grown sons, and I’m going to do that annoying thing where an older woman shares an anecdote. I’ve noticed that when young mothers ask for advice they don’t seek me out. I get it. I’m pushy and opinionated. All good. I’ve watched enough episodes of ‘Jane the Virgin’ to understand generational dynamics of motherhood.

Here’s my story: when we bought our first home, and the house we still live in today, my older boy was 3 and the baby 3 months. We had been renting a house in Ballard (a neighborhood in Seattle) and I was in young mom heaven. We gave up a lot for me to be a stay at home mom, and it wasn’t easy. Those financial sacrifices affect us to this day. We’ve never been ‘caught up’ or had any savings (that’s not the only reason, but one of them). Understand, when I had my sons I didn’t have maternity leave for the first one. (But that’s another story for another day. We have never loved children or parents in this country.)

Having a small child in Seattle is a joy–the Woodland Park Zoo was a frequent place for us, and I would take my son to Greenlake for the five-mile walk, and I was in much better shape than I am now. Our landlord was selling the house, and though we made a huge financial blunder by not buying it, we decided we were be better if we bought a house in the suburbs for the same cost. Off we went. I went from mommy playgroups, trips to the zoo, a dear friend up the street with a daughter and son the same ages of my boys, (we’re still friends), and lots of fun things to do to a Wasteland of Mommydom. My parents don’t live nearby, and my in-laws lived about an hour away for a time, but had other things to do. I had no close family or friends. I saw some neighbors walking their kids to the bus stop, and they had children about the same age as my sons. I asked the mom if there were any mommy-baby playgroups available and she said yes. I then asked if I could join. She said no, there wasn’t any room. (I want to name drop at this point because the dad of this family is a famous sportscaster for a local, “regal” news station.)

Think about that for a minute: no room in a mom group.

Okay.

Most families in our nation either are single parent households or two parents who work.

If you want to find the number of working parents just go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This was from 2019, and I am not sure of what the current situation is. The unemployment numbers have exploded, and any financial gains made from Obama’s tenure as President have been destroyed in 3.5 years of our current corrupt “president.”

“The labor force participation rate–the percent of the population working or looking for work–for all women with children under age 18 was 72.3 percent in 2019, up from 71.5 percent in the prior year. Married mothers remained less likely to participate in the labor force, at 69.9 percent, than mothers with other marital statuses, at 77.6 percent. (Other marital status includes persons who are never married; widowed; divorced; separated; and married, spouse absent; as well as persons in same-sex marriages.) The unemployment rate for married mothers was also considerably lower than for mothers with other marital statuses–2.3 percent, compared with 5.9 percent. (See table 5.) “https://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm

Both parents employed: over 60%

Now, I don’t belong to a church, and since my neighbors were less than helpful when it came to sharing and supporting me, some of the reasons I became a teacher was because 1. we needed one of us to have a stable income 2. I would use the summer breaks to spend time with my sons. There are other reasons, too, but yes, between my husband and I, and then preschool and school we patched together supervision and care for our children. And I will stand here today and say if we were in the situation many families are facing now I would be turning myself inside out. My parents were still working with the boys were little, and my in-laws had other things going on. Unlike Jane the Virgin, I don’t have the option of three generations under one roof caring and juggling for one another.

I told my husband about my ideas for this post: that parents should start banding together, form guilds, form unions, reach out to their own churches and demand support (I mean, the Catholic Church just received 1.4B, and is BILLION, dollars), that parents should go on strike until there are better solutions for child care and schools opening (or not) during COVID19, and he said, “Honey, that’s socialism–” Oh. Oh yeah. That’s why I wanted Bernie, or Warren. Oh yeah.

And yes, we’ll vote for Biden. But inauguration day is a long way off.

BUT: these things aren’t going to change. Parents: you have the economic power to insist that schools cannot be your daycare. I am urging you to use your voice, contact your neighbors, your friends, your families, and form a coalition. You are the workforce of this nation. You deserve to have safe, affordable or free childcare for your children. This “it takes a village” is just words on the wind. Contact your senators and representatives, even if you live in the reddest of red states. Especially then. Because this can’t stand. I can still recall the pain of my episiotomy stitches when I had to go back to work after have a 12.1lb baby after one month. ONE MONTH.

It is easy for me to say these words, easy like it was for Hillary to say the ‘village’ thing. I’ve spent money on other people’s children, not because I’m a savior or out of the goodness of my heart. I do it because I know what it’s like not to have anyone help. In the moment. In the urgent, needful moment. And yes, occasionally, sometimes I write these posts and I cry while writing. This is one of those times. We’re the richest nation of the world because the rich got the way from all the free labor. We know this. Parents: the wealthy are building their wealth out of your children, out of you. When will it stop? They won’t. Hold your employers accountable. Hold your politicians accountable. Hold your churches and places of worship accountable. You’ve built their wealth. Now it’s time for them to do the same.

Postscript: I watched a few moments of the NEA’s webinar on what next year might look like. The speaker mentioned the FFCRA

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: Employer Paid Leave Requirements

It’s never enough, and it’s never sustained.

Let’s change that.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Exploding Mitten, Part 1

I used to have a copy of this book for my sons, and I’m not sure where it is now. Jan Brett is a wonderful illustrator, and I had a few of her picture books. When I saw the viral post about “we can do this” I thought of this Ukrainian folktale: the story is a little mouse finds one mitten and makes a home for herself. Other forest critters come along, in succession of size, and ask to join her in her small home. The thematic topics of sharing until the point of destruction, (looking at you, Giving Tree), and sacrifice until no one has what they need, because, you guessed it, the mitten finally explodes from the stress. I feel like that mouse now, and schools are the mittens.

We teachers spend our own money. We buy food. We give up things because our students need it now. We support working parents, understanding they’re stressed and busy, and formed an ad-hoc coalition of support and community. (Well, this teacher anyway, and many of my colleagues.) I ran after-school clubs as a volunteer (that’s over 1000 hours of free childcare right there), and have spent thousands on books, food, and school supplies.

And I can’t for the life of me wrap my brain around why districts simply do not say we can’t reopen now.

I’m reading all I can about what other districts are doing, or not doing. My next post will be about parents. Don’t worry — it will be kind.

Posted in Being a better teacher

Shadow Teaching

To distract us, many teachers created virtual classrooms

The lingering, nagging question during our PLC this morning was: “Are you feeling like you’re really teaching during this time?” and my mind flipped to reframe the question: what are students learning? Because that is what the question should be, always. And acknowledging that what we’re teaching is different in other content areas with more strict guidelines and assessment accountability, too. One teacher who runs the local native tribe’s school who is an important voice in our PLC spoke up about how her students are learning many life skills and contributing to the community. She even pushed back on the notion, her words, “Euro-centric content.” I could have hugged her. Because when she speaks, we listen.

It occurred to me, and I hadn’t given this a voice before, that what I miss is what my students provide to the conversation.This one-way interaction gives me a deeper appreciation and love for what they say and their thinking, when they offer it. I’ve done the best I can with my messages in the bottles, the weekly question and the curated materials to help launch their thinking. It’s like sending a do-it-yourself model kit to them and hoping they make something cool, but after I manufacture the pieces and plans it’s up to them whether or not they construct something of substance. They’re not going to Google Meets for a variety of reasons, and reasons I respect and understand. But it’s not the same, anyway.

But I keep checking the intangible nooks and crannies to see if they’re getting my messages, and though I just put out this survey this morning, already one student replied:

Yes!

So, I’m off to my book stashes and will find some things she might want to read. She can keep whatever I send, of course. We have five more weeks of school. The weird school. The abstract school. The shadow school, where I puppeteer avatars and ventriloquist myself in quick videos. And keep finding ways to make meaning for myself, and continue to rediscover purpose.

Posted in #Deconstruct, #ProjectLit, Anti-racist work, Being a better teacher, Best Practices, Culturally Relevant Teaching, Curriculum Ideas, History, Lesson Ideas, Life after school

reimaginginginginging

How Moderate Teachers Perpetuate Educational Oppression

This is one of the most critical think pieces on education I’ve read in a long time, published in Medium by Lisa Kelly.

A moderate teacher often uses the rhetoric of maintaining high standards without interrogating themselves —holding students to high standards of what? As my comrade G.T. Reyes wrote, “Educators …if you’re still asking about how to “hold students accountable,” I would suggest you first ask yourself — accountable to what? This might sound crazy to some of you, but maybe you are wanting students to be accountable to learn their place within white supremacist, capitalist schooling.” Many credentialing programs teach that it is racist to expect that black and brown children are less capable than white children, which is absolutely true. However, this doesn’t mean that the solution is to expect any student to reproduce capitalism or whiteness.

From school uniforms to accountability, how white teachers continue to uphold white supremacy and colonialism comes in wave after wave. During this time of emergency remote learning and teaching, the number of teachers who are aghast at students turning in blank documents (they did this before, by the way), terrified of students cheating, not being accountable, on and on and on…ladies: you are exhausting. And students continue to act like, well, students. The cat and mouse game of “gotcha” is part of the teacher-student dynamic: but does it have to be?

The first answer that comes to my mind would be — schooling that is centered on relationships. Not relationships that are about getting kids to like you enough to want to produce for you. But relationships built on understanding the unique humanity and the community that each child brings to education.

Every year, sometimes at several check points, I give students surveys to express and provide confidential opinions on my teaching, what they liked, what they wish would change, etc. And overarching themes emerge: they want to wear what they want, and learn about things that will empower them in the moment, in an unknown future, and that feel relevant and worth their time. (Gee, almost like this generation understands existential crisis or something.)

As I continue to grow as an educator, I am mindful that I will always need to push against racist ideas and bias. I am fortunate to have a spot on the Wednesday webinars with Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi on their collaborative book, Stamped. I am going to ask my admin if we can use this as a book study for next year: if not the entire staff, then perhaps my immediate ELA colleagues would be interested.The essential piece of all this is as we’re reimagining schools, beware of who’s trying to hold teachers “accountable” and who is building authentic relationships. Those people service in complicity to hold teachers and students accountable, too. Look for those who include teachers’ and students’ voices, who have experience in making those connections. We cannot underestimate the danger we’re in right now. And personally I am struggling to hold onto hope. As the person said in Samantha Bee’s video, I now consider myself to be, as Meehan Crist quotes, an “Undefeated Despair.”

Keep focused: what brings us to teaching, what brings children to learning, and what are the most critical things to teach? That’s it. I am thinking about entire semester of simply reading critically for argument and bias, and how to have fluency and accuracy in detecting bias and agendas. Looking forward to digging into this resource, too: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/06/qanon-nothing-can-stop-what-is-coming/610567/

PS Something that popped up from the past — it’s a charter school, but am wondering–you know–https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/47694/to-engage-students-and-teachers-treat-core-subjects-like-extracurriculars

Posted in Discussion, Lesson Ideas, Literary Analysis, Poetry

Then and Now: what poets can teach us

I asked the question: was there a scholar who wrote about the 1918 pandemic with wisdom and guidance? I am ashamed that I looked in the wrong place, and should have been looking for a poet.

Kyrie by Ellen Bryant Voigt

From Blackbird Archive, read the curated content: https://blackbird.vcu.edu/v17n2/gallery/1918/intro_page.shtml

Soon it was a farmer in the field—

someone’s brother, someone’s father—

left the mule in its traces and went home.

Then the mason, the miller at his wheel,

from deep in the forest the hunter, the logger,

and the sun still up everywhere in the kingdom.

     ―Ellen Bryant Voigt, Kyrie

https://blackbird.vcu.edu/v17n2/gallery/1918/intro_page.shtml

It’s a hard thing to acknowledge, that the country’s current administration (executive branch) is killing us. This is not hyperbole. At every turn, the executive branch failed and exacerbated the crisis. We could be so much better. We could do so much better. My hope is hanging on by a thread. We need to fight this on so many fronts: the media must do better. We must rethink capitalism. We need to strengthen our communities and love for one another. I do not share Ms. O’Meara’s optimism at this writing, but you might:

In the Time of Pandemic

And the people stayed home.

And they read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.

And they listened more deeply. Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. 

Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

And the people healed.

And, in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

—Kitty O’Meara

Other resources and readings:

“Invisible Bullets”

9 Ways Schools Will Look Different When (And If) They Reopen

Posted in Big Questions

First Days, and First Rejection, Dusting Off

This was originally drafted for one of the best educators, @LarryFerlazzo. He is incredibly generous and collaborative: he shares his platform for a wide variety of teacher-writers and has included me in two podcasts, including this one: https://www.bamradionetwork.com/track/yes-teaching-poetry-can-be-powerful-riveting-and-fun-if-you-do-this/

This article didn’t make the cut, however. (technically my first writing rejection!) And that’s totally cool. I was honest with him and in my writing: it might be confusing, emotional, and rambling. I can’t hit a home run every time, and that’s why I am honored to be given a chance to try. Here it is, and thank you for reading.

The First Days…Teaching 21st-Century Students During a Pandemic

Somewhere in an obscure psychology text, published after the 1918 influenza pandemic, I imagine a wise doctor described the mental health issues that arose after the pandemic was over. World War I raged until November of that year, and the outbreak occurred during the final months. What might the good doctor have written, if such a text exists? Would he have said one might experience shell shock, depersonalization disorder, or depression? Maybe this text exists somewhere with the perfect passage that provides not only diagnosis but therapeutic suggestions. But this wishful thinking won’t serve our needs in the present tense. For someone who believes anything can be solved by reading, I am not finding that answer now. Looking to the past for answers only goes partway.

This time, just over 100 years later, we aren’t in a World War, but we are in a time of crisis. No matter one’s partisan views, there is abundant evidence that the current President of the United States came to power because of deeply racist beliefs. He did not start these, but he crystallized and coalesced the “masterless men” (Keri Lee Merritt). Capitalism, and other “isms,” are not living creatures, but simulate and replicate systems that work for or against humanity. And one of those institutions of civilizations, the education of citizens, (and who has access to that education), is in distress. 

This moment did not come unannounced. The past informs us, just like we use data to inform instruction. And yet, we did not put the “data,” rather the history, to good use. While I amuse myself with thoughts of random 20th-century psychology books, I know it’s just a mental exercise to keep my mind off of the issues in front of me. I, and thousands of teachers around the country, had to say goodbye to our students for the next eight weeks, and perhaps longer. My roster is small but large in need and love. Saying goodbye to those who attend the high school where I teach was as challenging as years past when I had twenty-five or more students, five times a day. The confusion and chaos about what things are going to look like must be answered with 21st-century skills, but I am wondering what can we borrow from the early 20th century to help our students best?

My students are academically fragile: students who attend alternative high schools are in need of safe alternatives for credit recovery and graduation. Each student was given a Chromebook to take home, and I provided a hastily worded letter with my email address, some ideas of things to do, and reminders to please check in with the school website and my Google Classroom. I asked each one to bring home a book of their choice from my classroom library. I’ve been practicing blended learning for years, preparing creativity bundles for kids before breaks, building relationships, and know-how to teach online. But nothing has prepared me for this. I feel that I’ve pushed them into an educational lifeboat with flimsy lifepreservers. 

Keep in mind many of our students around the country are not going to check online for work. They’re just not. And my students are no exception. I gave them what I could. What plans are in place for students who fall off the radar? So, for those of us who teach students who may not be checking in, we’ll just have to keep calling, emailing, and making ourselves available.

What people had in 1918 that we lack one hundred years later is processing time. And that time is what I want for my students: time to create, think, be safe, read, breathe, eat, stay warm and dry. But they weren’t readers before this, and they didn’t write before this: they never saw the value. One freshmen girl constantly chastises me for “wasting money on books.” This must be my focus and responsibility, now more than ever. I am the only ELL teacher on staff and have the honor of supporting students whose middle and high school experiences brought them in my life. I cannot change their pasts but am dedicated to their futures. I will keep sending out messages to them, and keep reaching out and make a schedule of contact with each of them. I’ll provide a daily creativity break, and send reassuring messages, Let’s use the technology available to us in this century to reach out with words, love, and hope, lessons of the past to ease the present and hope for the future. Connect with your students as humans first, not students. Which is what we should have been doing all along.

Update:

I’ve heard from 5 of my 25 students. Some have joined me on Google Meets. I have a plan to reach out to more. I am trying to remain positive, active, and hopeful.

Posted in being a better colleague, Being a better teacher, Relationship Building

The luxury of whimsy (part 1)

Routines of comfort

How do I describe the (odd and inappropriate) envy I feel right now when I read colleagues who teach in other schools/districts about the connections they’ve made with students during the COVID19 crisis? Please don’t misunderstand me: I am joyous that students are reaching out to their teachers at this time, that students want to continue learning and keep connecting with their teachers. At least five of my friends have posted ways their students have connected with them. They instilled a love of learning before the pandemic.

My students this year know I love them, and want the best for them. But they were already on the academic fringes of school, and my concern is that they will be forced to levels of stress that will send them to places, emotionally and physically, where I won’t be able to reach them. I teach in an alternative high school, whose mission is to provide credit recovery as its first priority, and other experiences or creative endeavors may have been a luxury. I love my teaching assignment and district this year –and my colleagues. I am new to the building in many ways, including being the first ELL teacher. They’ve never had a full-time ELL teacher, and it’s difficult to assess how many of my colleagues have delved into SIOP work, but the wonderful part is it doesn’t matter: they are loving, caring, open-minded and seek collaboration. My heart is full. But that is during “normalcy.”

And things are far from normal.*

Time for some magic. And emails. And magical emails.

But now: what to do for my students who many not reach out and connect?

Resources: what my students are currently doing now…

ELA

I have a Google Classroom set up, along with other ELA teachers in my building. I sent them all home with books of their choices, notebooks, a letter, pens, pencils, etc. And yes, a consumable workbook. It nearly broke my heart when one girl asked if she had to do the work on paper and not in the workbook. Think about that for a second: we expect our students to learn but as practice don’t give them the resources?

https://foreshadowya.com/issues/12

My Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCf8jj_d1xZNNagCZ6psPemg?view_as=subscriber

Science

Math

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/geometry

https://www.khanacademy.org/math/geometry/hs-geo-foundations

History

The US History teacher has a comprehensive Google Classroom set up, with weekly notes and Power Points. I wish we had more time during my ELL Study Skills class to dive into topics more deeply, but alas, we don’t. https://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html

Family and Consumer Sciences

https://www.familyconsumersciences.com/

https://www.internet4classrooms.com/ct-fcs.htm

Art & Jewelry

https://www.skillshare.com/browse/Jewelry-Making

There are many artists such as Mo Willems who are providing interactive doodle time and art lessons. I may need to do a separate post about this.

https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2020/03/16/social-distancing-free-virtual-tours/5060244002/

https://www.cntraveler.com/story/all-the-museum-exhibits-symphonies-and-operas-you-can-enjoy-from-home

*Except for President Trump’s continued and overt racism.