Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dreams of the Coming Year

I had a wonderful dream last night. I was teaching in a half-classroom, half-auditorium type room (dreams...who knows....), and I had my new class of freshman language arts students. It was the first week, so they were all timid and polite. And for some reason, a number of other students were coming into my room to do things like play basketball, jump rope, and just hang out. In my dreamy auditorium classroom, this seemed perfectly normal to everyone.

Toward the end of the lesson, I began talking about a book I would have the class read together. As we began discussing it, and reading it, the kids from around the room began turning their heads to hear what I was talking about. They left basketball, jump rope, and social conversations to engage in academics. I was in paradise.

Sadly, I woke up moments later.

Most of my teacher dreams are not so positive. They usually involve me wildly disorganized with twenty children calling my name simultaneously while I'm watching three or four students have a fight that begins in the classroom and rolls out the door like in a cartoon. My stress level is about to burst through my head, and if one more kid asks for a pencil....

I don't mind teacher dreams when they're nice. They're almost desirable. I did get into teaching for a reason after all. And I think I had this good teacher dream because of the plans I've been formulating for next year.

Toward the end of last year, I began thinking hard about ways to make school more relevant for our students. I've been thinking mostly about involving their cultures and lessons around what it means to be human, and how their cultures all teach similar lessons about humanity with only slightly different stories.

As I think about this, I think we have to help students find ways to teach us, a mostly middle-class white staff, more about who they are.

Last semester, one of the most positive things our school enjoyed all year was a talent show in which students and staff performed mostly song and dance representative of their culture. After a long year of testing and parent conferences, it was a welcome relief. Thank God.

As I reflected on the talent show, I realized that the students, as a whole, contain a vastly larger set of knowledge than the staff. If you added all the experiences and languages among our students, I bet they would a hundred times outweigh that of the staff. Our school's population comes from across the world. A number came leaving war-torn countries like Sudan, Iraq, El Salvador, Liberia, Bosnia, or Somalia. We have a large number of students from Mexico and American Samoa. And then there are Indians, Russians, Filipinos, Chinese, Hondurans, Kenyans, Eritreans, Ethiopians, Laotians, Vietnamese, etc...

As a small school born seven years ago, social justice was our school's original theme. But how is it that our school is not also themed around the immigrant experience? Why are our students not telling us more about their cultures, languages, and customs daily? We're bogged down with testing, IEPs, covering content, and parent phone calls I fear.

During lunch or after class, I often find myself learning far more about other cultures at my own school than I do traveling abroad. Our Punjabi and Arab students are more than happy to talk about their alphabets, which most of them learn in cultural (often religious) schools they attend on the weekends. I have a few students who speak four languages!

Another teacher, a few students, and I began a Spanish club a few weeks before school ended this past school year, and it was a phenomenal experience. Some of our Mexican and Salvadoran students took on the role of teaching their language and culture to other interested students and teachers. This is why people teach!

So this summer, I've been reading the banned books list from the Tuscon Unified School District (another plug on my blog for Precious Knowledge - PHENOMENAL DOCUMENTARY) to get ideas for materials to use in class that might engage students. So far The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea is number one on my list to use in my economics class. I also picked up a few books I found at school that are also about the immigrant experience and HIGHLY engaging: Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario, The Circuit by Francisco Jiménez, Fifteen Candles edited by Adriana Lopez, and The Chalupa Rules: A Latino Guide to Gringolandia by Mario Bósquez.

The books above are all about Latino immigration, which is what I know most about. Now it's time to start digging into some phenomenally engaging literature that, ideally, teaches us about culture, human nature, and immigration from some other ethnic groups' perspective. We have many Samoans and Somalians, so I'm particularly interested in something from those perspectives. Please, please, please - if you know books, movies, shows, or comics - leave a comment at the bottom of this blog post.

I'm looking forward to the coming year. I'll be far better prepared to manage the challenges now that I'm familiar with the community and staff, unlike last year. If we can make the instruction more relevant, and engage more of the students, maybe I'll have more of those positive teacher dreams. I'd sure prefer them.

2 comments:

  1. There are 2 other books that are related to Fransisco Jimenez's book The Circuit. The other titles are Reaching Out and Breaking Through. When the 3 are put together they form a chronological journey through his life as an immigrant. These are great books for both students and teachers to read. I have used them with reluctant or struggling readers in grades 6-8 with success.

    Although it doesn't connect directly to any of the groups you mentioned in your post, I highly recommend the book Bury Me Standing. It is an incredible view into the lives of the Roma people (Gypsies). It is well-written and extremely eye-opening.

    Dave Egger's book What it the What is also an amazing book. It chronicles the life of Sudanese boy who forced from his village because of war and sets out on an unfathomable trek to freedom.

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  2. Daniel - Thanks so much. I will definitely check those books out. I have read What is the What. There's a good movie that goes with that one (not a movie made on the book but about the same topic). We showed it during one of my former school's multicultural weeks, but I can't remember the name. It details the trials of some Lost Boys attempting to deal with their new lives in the United States.

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