Sunday, September 29, 2013

"When Are You Coming to Visit?" by Elizabeth Schlessman

"When Are You Coming to Visit?" by Elizabeth Schlessman was in Rethinking Schools from the Winter of 2012-2013 issue. The article speaks about a teacher who took on the heavy task of conducting home visits with her students. The visits are short, 10-15 minutes, and are meant to make the family feel comfortable, and for the teacher to learn something about the student and their home life. Through her visits, Schlessman learned more than she could have ever learned about her students from just classroom interaction. This was especially important for her and her interactions with students because many of them were bilingual, or in some cases even tri-lingual. She also got to have great interactions with parents, which sometimes never happens. Or if it does, can often be in a negative light. For me, parent-teacher conferences are a source of anxiety, rather than a time to form relationships with parents. 

"Social justice curriculum is grounded in students' lives. Yet what are our students lives? How do we know them? How can we push beyond our own unspoken norms and assumptions-for me, white and middle class-to see and listen and learn and create space to understand the lives of students?" This quote, I think, ties into exactly what we have been talking about in class for the last few weeks. If we, as educators, can truly see our students, all facets of them, then I think we will be able to truly teach them as whole individuals, and not just as a student in my class, because they are so much more than that. I try and see my students outside of the classroom as much as possible. I am constantly going to games, and events after school so that I can see them in other places other than the desk in front of me. I also realize that this is easier for me because I do not have a family of my own to take care of yet. I do not have to rush home and make dinner, or pick up someone from a bus stop. I can only imagine how difficult it is to attend extracurriculars for the students that you teach during the day and then also take care of biological children. 

Schlessman goes on to talk about how interactions with families are often agenda driven. She writes, "Whether families come to school for a game night, a young authors celebration, or 10-minute conference slots, school-based family interactions are filled with agendas, information, and activities." The reasoning for home visits would be to go against this notion of agenda driven interactions. The San Juan Unified School District has begun to do home visits, and have found that the relationships formed between parents and teachers are priceless. They allow students to feel comfortable in their own homes, and allow for personal dialogue between teachers and parents. 

I wish that there was an opportunity for me to visit the homes of my students. At the high school level, I feel as though this could be impossible. I simply have too many students. But, this is when parental involvement starts to wain because they feel like students should be responsible for their own work.Also, where would this fit into the busy lives of other teachers? Many teachers are already stretched to the brim. Schlessman says at the end of her article that "Home visits taught me humility. They taught me to wonder." I think parental involvement is really the key to many of our students success. There is so much research to support this idea. The National Coalition for Parent Involvement in Education is an organization that is working to promote just that. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Time to take off the sunglasses...

Armstrong and Wildman have much to say about color blindness and color insight and a quote that resonated with me is "Society cannot battle a phantom that it cannot recognize by name."(67) I feel like too often we try and sweep certain issues "under the rug" because they make us uncomfortable or we do not know how to respond to them in a 'politically correct manner'. This way of dealing with issues is not helpful to us or our students. I spent a little bit of time reflecting on colorblidness, and how limiting it must be to not see color. So much of what I think is beautiful in the world is color filled, so why would a different attitude be adopted for my outlook of people? Trying to take race out of everything makes the world bland. So much of our richness as a country and society is based around our differneces and embracing them. If we aim to take color out of the world then we will end up with a society of robots. Cookie-cutter adults who have trouble thinking for themselves, and acting like themselves because they have been told what is "right" their whole lives. I think Armstrong and Wildman give us as educators practical strategies for activities with our students. "No person is purely privileged or unprivileged; we are privileged in respect to some categories and not privileged in respect to others."(71) This is a statement that I have been thinking about since our first week of class. It has been unsettleing to me to think that just because I am a white "I have it easier" than someone who is not white. I like the image of the koosh ball as a center object with all things that come out from that center to make it work and look as it does. The pieces of the ball are different, but without them the koosh is not anything out of the ordinary, but rather just an ordinary ball. I feel like I am not making any new observations or thoughts as a result of this reading. I feel like the discussion is very similar to that of Delpit, maybe I am missing the mark...I can't wait to hear thoughts in class tonight.

Monday, September 16, 2013

They are my kids too...

The book "Other People's Children" by Lisa Delpit raises an interesting arguement that we as educators may not have been atuned to before reading this selection. Delpit writes about the "silenced dialogue" and the power that language has over our students. I have to admit that I read this same article when I was an undergraduate and at the time felt no real connection to the material. But now, after having been teaching for a few years, my feelings are very different. Right off the bat, the wording of other people's children put me on guard. When I think of my students I do not think of them as someone else's child, I think of them as my own child. I try to treat them all as my children. Reflecting on and thinking about dialogue in my classroom, it is a place where I try to make everyone have a voice. I was shocked by the many student reflections in the article about not being heard. It made me wonder if my students feel that way too. Am I hearing their real voices? Or am I hearing the voice that they have been taught to share? I love the explanation of ethnographic analysis, the giving voice to alternate worldviews. This I think is crucial in the classroom. Listening to the experiences of different cultures and ways of life enrich my classroom tremendously. Yes, I teach Catholicism, but hearing about the religious experiences of my students who are not Catholic make my class so much more interesting and full. The five aspects of power were interesting to me for a few reasons. I want to talk about a few of them. "There are codes or rules for participating in power; that is, there is a "culture of power."(25) This is a reality of the society and world that we live in. I understand that the culture of power may not be the culture that our students are accustomed to, but I would argue that if we do not teach them within the constrains of this culture of power than we are doing them a disservice. We are not preparing them for success after they leave our classrooms. If my students lived in the bubble of my classroom for the rest of their lives and could be successful without every leaving my room, then yes I would say that I could teach to them in the culture that they were accustomed to. But because that is not reality if I do not speak to them in the proper manner, or expect them to speak in that way, I feel as though I would be setting them up to fail in a situation in the world outside of school. Delpit speaks about this when talking about the Native American student and her writing.She writes that "to bring this student into the program and pass ehr through without attending to obvious deficits in the codes needed for her to function effectively as a teacher is equally criminal"(38) So where is the line? How do we gauge between allowing our students to speak/write/communicate in the way that they are most comfortable with and teaching them the "proper" way to speak/write/communicate? The next aspect, "The rules of the culture of power are a reflection of the rules of the culture of those who have power" (25). While I agree with this statement, I find it interesting that Delpit speaks about middle class children and the structure of teaching geared toward them. I would argue that if the middle class is shrinking then they are no longer the majority-so shouldn't the structure change to reflect that? "Teachers do students no service to suggest, even implicitly that "product" is not important. In this country, students will be judged on their product regardless of the process they utilized to achieve it" (31). This statement spoke to me as a result of our conversation about SCWAAMP. Being an able-bodied member of society, one that can contribute goods and be productive is important to the culture of power. Thinking about this culture speak in language makes me think that instead of making the classroom more inclusive of difference it just sets up an even bigger segregation or divide. I also feel like it could be insulting to a student to speak to them in the same manner as say a parent. I feel like acting in this way could just set up more stereotypes toward a certain culture or race. In my reading, I subscribe to a magazine called "Teaching Tolerance". They also run a website version of the magazine. In the issue for this month, there is an article called "Is My School Racist" Intereseting read, along with the other resources on the website.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Round and round the wheel we go...

In his book, Allan Johnson discusses the issues that surround us as a society regarding race, class, sex, age and other prejudices. He states that in order for society to rectify the issues that plague us we need to recognize that they do in fact exist. This is the crucial first step in working toward change. If we are stuck in the mindset that racism is no longer prevalent in society because slavery no longer exists in our country then we are stuck in a place where there is no room for change or growth.  Johnson writes about different types of privileges that we have simply because of our state of being. He gives numerous examples of this and how we can see it happening in our society on a daily basis. Things such as whites not beings arrested as often as people different races, and even if they are arrested, often not convicted when brought to trial.

I would argue that Johnson's main point for his book surrounds working toward recognizing inequalities that maybe we would not recognize normally because we are so used to seeing them. I am not sure if Johnson's repetitiveness in stating that he is a heterosexual white privileged male was meant to make me feel uncomfortable or not, but after awhile it did. I am not used to directly labeling myself and others in that way...or maybe I do but do not state it out loud and in context of conversations. Maybe that was his have us recognize that we do label like this all the time, just quietly or to ourselves and to make us uncomfortable with that notion. 

I spent some time talking with my students about racism in society today. I asked them if they thought it was the most prevalent prejudice that we are facing today, or if it was something else. Some of them said that racism was still a huge prejudice today, and others interestingly enough said that they are not racist at all, but then followed up their thoughts with a stereotype of a certain race. One of my students said it well when he said, "issues of race are not black and white anymore, but really shades of gray". I thought this was interesting, so I had him explain his thoughts. He went on to talk about how so many jokes and slang revolve around racist comments that they are not seen as very offensive anymore, as just jokes...but that deep down at the heart of it he knows that they are wrong. 

I loved when Johnson said "It doesn't seem unreasonable to imagine a school or workplace, for example, where all kinds of people feel comfortable showing up, secure in the knowledge that they have a place they don't have to defend every time they turn around, where they're encouraged to do their best, and valued for it."(7) This is the type of classroom environment that I try and create in my classroom. A place where every student has a voice, and is not afraid to let their voice be heard and not afraid to make a mistake. He is rights, it does not seem then why does it seem so hard for society as a whole to get this right? It just brings me back to the Golden Rule. Religious or not, treating people the way you want to be treated can translate in every language, culture, and way of life. 

" A trouble we can't talk about is a trouble we can't do anything about"(13) Johnson is right, but if we do not have difficult conversations with the students in front of us, and their parents are not having them either, then who is? I understand all about curriculum and standards, and test scores, and that is all great, but if we do not have conversations with our students about real life, and the real world and their actions in it, then how can we expect them to live in it properly. I think sometimes it is assumed that parents are playing a bigger role in the lives of their kids than they actually are. Difficult conversations are just as relevant as difficult math problems. 

"Privilege has become one of those loaded words we need to reclaim so that we can use it to name and illuminate the truth".(23) Johnson is right when he writes about privilege being a word that we shy away from because we are afraid to sound exclusive. Being entitled to something has gives a certain level of prestige or power. Also, words that sometimes are used in a negative light or way. 

I struggle with labels, even though I know they are a very real part of life. Just because I am a white woman does not mean that my life has been full of these great entitlements and privileges. But, not recognizing that they are there would be ignorance. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013



My name is Allison Amodie, and I teach at Saint Raphael Academy in Pawtucket. I decided to do my masters in ASTL because the program seems very interesting and accessible to me while being a teacher. In my spare time (ha! what is spare time?) I play softball, read, work part time at WEEI sports radio, crochet, and plan and attend many extra curricular events at Saints.