Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Danger of Being "Color-Blind"

 The Danger of Becoming "Color-Blind"

Nakkula writes about the effects that color-blindness has is our schools. He writes that "Research has indicated that endorsement of "color-blind" racial attitudes is significantly associated with greater levels of racial prejudice and a mistaken belief that society is just and fair." (p.125) He goes on to stress the importance of cultivating alliances with our students. Last week I witnessed this first hand because of a situation involving three of my students. On Thursday, some of my students stayed after school to help me with a project that I am running for the school. After they were finished, three of the boys ( who are all friends), wound up getting in a fist fight in the front of the building. Friday, I was was asked to come to the principals' office. Before I was even in the office, I could hear my principal screaming at the boys. I could tell that they were very glad to see me. I asked the principal what had happened and she told me it had been reported that the boys had been fighting on the front lawn after school. I explained to her that the boys had stayed after school because they had volunteered to help out with the school wide project. I told her that they were good boys and that they had made a mistake. The boys were not being forth coming with details of the fight so my principal threatened to call the police and press charges. One of my students is from Syria. He immediately became very upset. He was actually in a panic. Luckily my principal left her office. I told him that I would try to handle the situation. I have had many conversations with this boy and he has told me of the violence that he has experienced in Syria. He has a mistrust and real fear of police and military.
My principal was an ESL student herself and taught ESL students for ten years. However her mantra is that all students are treated the same. She has said that she "does not see color." I disagree with this way of thinking.  My principal believes that what is fair for one is fair for all. This is not seeing each student as individuals. I agree with Nakkula, we need to acknowledge the differences of our students so that we can teach them more effectively. I went to my principal and explained to her the situation and where my student was coming from. She backed off. She realized that she could not treat this boy in the same manner. I told the boy that he was going to have to take the consequences for fighting,but there would be no police involvement. He was upset but no longer in a panic. He knew that his father was going to be mad. I don't know what the outcome was ...I am sure I will find out on Monday.

Nakkula (p. 122) also states that "If we work with adolescents and wish to meet them where they are , we must go there, to where they live racially, even when - and perhaps particularly when - going there takes us beyond our educator comfort zones." I think this is a very important lesson for me as a white middle class teacher to learn. I will never fully understand the hardships that go along with race and to some extent ethnicity that many of my students have had to endure because I have never experienced them. Therefore it is essential that I learn all that I can about my students. I know that it is a big undertaking and I will not ever succeed in knowing all my students, but I hope to know most of them. When I read about the conflict between Antwone and Ms. Petersen, I would like to think that could never happen to me, that I would be better than Ms Petersen. The fact is Ms Petersen is a good teacher and these things are going to happen. I think that if we are reflective in our relationships with our students, we can minimize the conflict. As a white teacher teaching a team full of non-white children, I might not know exactly where my students are coming from but I can provide a classroom where both realness and relationships can abound.

"Could a greater miracle take place
               than for us to look through each other's eyes
                                                                for an instant"?

                                                                                              Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Creating an Inner Sanctum


 Creating an Inner Sanctum

When many people think of "home" we think of a place where  we feel safe and accepted. We have the freedom to be ourselves. There are others who can only wish that home was such a place. Nakkula p. 108 writes about the correlation between identity development and  strong family support.

If kids cannot receive this support at home, it is essential that students have a place at school where they know that their thoughts and opinions are heard and valued. As teachers we can create an "inner sanctum" (p. 108), where our students can grow both emotionally and intellectually. I want my classroom to be a place where we can try to break down the so called"norms" of masculine and feminine behavior that society has deemed acceptable. Pastor, McCormick, and Fine (p.107) define and describe "homeplaces." These are places within the school where kids can feel safe to express their ideas and voice their frustrations. As teachers, we have all witnessed how effective this can be.

Through out the chapter, Nakkula writes about the expectations that society puts upon males and females and how schools themselves are gendered spaces. Skiba (p. 105), found that by high school, there are many more boys that are taking advanced math and science classes. I found this to be true in my own life as a student. When I was in college, there were many more males than females in the more advanced science classes. Only a few years ago I also experienced this when I was assisting a friend in a nearby public high school. I was helping out in an AP chemistry class. One of the guidance councilors came in to speak with the seniors that were in the class. He told them that an admissions officer from a certain college would be coming in to speak with any students who were interested in pre-med. I was pleased to see that most students raised their hands. The councilor then addressed only the girls and said that an advisor from a nursing school would also be coming soon. I couldn't believe what I was witnessing! After the councilor left, I made sure that all students knew that they were all welcome and capable of looking into pre-med or nursing whether they were male or female!


An interesting thing happened in my class this week while I was reading this chapter. I have been meeting after school with some of my students who are contributing to my comic book. My little group has become quite close to one another. It has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold. One of the boys is a very good artist. He once told me that he wanted to be a fashion designer. Last week I complimented him on his drawings for the lab that were were doing. I told him that he would turn out to be a great fashion designer one day. He told me that he had "turned his back on his dream." Apparently his father did not approve and he had destroyed all of his designs. His father did not think that this was a career for a man. I told him not to give up on his dream. The next week my little group was hard at work. He came up and showed me his comic. It was about a girl not giving up on her dream. I asked him if the girl represented him. He said that it was him. Nakkula (p. 115)  expresses how important it is as educators it is our job "to promote learning through safe and enriching experiences." (p. 115) We can accomplish this by creating safespaces for our students. Nakkula also goes on to say that "It is the fight to help our students be fully present as learners, as classmates, as the people they see themselves to be." 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Importance of Building Relationships

 I will admit that I had to read chapters 4 and 5 a few times each. There is so much information in both of them. However, I see one reoccurring theme through out them both. There is a direct correlation between the success of a student and the positive relationships he or she develops within the community.

Although I know that this is true for all students, I do feel that it is particularly important for students from poor urban communities.Nakkula p.66 explains how students, "simply feel depleted by the relentless challenges of urban poverty."

A few years back I had a student. CP was a very shy girl. She really didn't have any friends. Her grades were fair to poor. She was the student who came into your class and did her very best not to get noticed. Her younger brother on the other hand was in trouble constantly. He was suspended on a regular basis. They were also both in truancy court because of frequent absences. Their mom was a drug addict and their father was in jail. One day I noticed bruises on CP's leg. I asked her how she got the bruises and she told me that she got them from dance. I started to keep an eye on CP. I started a little homework club and asked her to join. She started to stay the days that she didn't have dance. One day CP came to school and told me that her mom's boyfriend was abusing her and her brother. The people in my school immediately took action. The team work that is described through out chapter four was in my opinion what saved CP.

That same year, CP's mom died. Our principal, social workers, and teachers worked very hard to place CP and her brother in their grandmothers' care. We met with the truancy judge and informed her of the home situation. Sullivan emphasizs the connection between school environment and students who have tough home lives. He states that "Schooling provides the best opportunities for healing the warps of childhood." This could not be more true in this case. CP went on to high school. She came to Bain, (because of my principal) every week to my class after school for extra help and to talk. Her dance teacher also gave her a job after school at the dance studio. Things were
still very bad at home. During CP's senior year, the Truancy Judge place CP in a foster home. She actually collaborated with the dance teacher to find her a home within the dance community!!

Today CP has graduated from high school, the first one in her family to do so. She still lives with that family and she is going to a technical to become a medical technician. Dance continues to be a big part of her life an CP is now a paid teacher at the dance studio. Nakkula p.83 affirms Sullivan when he writes " We all carry the possibility of transcending or substantially modifying our family histories through extrafamilial relationships, starting with those forged at school with teachers and peers." The strong relationships which CP has forged throughout has helped to change the direction that her life was going in.