Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 19 2011

One Day… (Left)

In honor of the LAST DAY OF SCHOOL TOMORROW (WHAT?) here’s another diversity reflection. Not only is tomorrow my last day with my awesome students, it’s also the day my licensure binder is due for TFA.. which has been a bit stressful, but it’s DONE!
In other news: MY KIDS MADE THEIR BIG GOAL (80% mastery) on their final district assessments. Actually, they blew it out of the water. I love them. Despite their craziness, I am so so proud of them! I cannot wait to celebrate and talk with them about their summers, goals, and any worries for next year.
  1. Describe what you have learned about your own diversity/identity. How does this impact the way you learn and the way you teach?

As I wrap up my first year, I find myself feeling more and more comfortable with my own identify and diversity. I was having a conversation earlier this week with another teacher about how I rarely see blatant racism at my school. This shows that the immersion of these students into such a diverse background has helped develop a strong culture of racial awareness and respect. As I reflect, I am confident that a similar upbringing was what fostered such a racial awareness and responsibility and has led me in my own cultural comfort into my adult life.

I know that my cultural background has also molded the way I learn and teach. As a student, I am an extremely visual learner and remember things best if I write or draw them. I do not like getting up and doing kinesthetic activities to help learn; I think this is a direct result of being brought up in schools with a high culture of achievement, in which students were expected to sit in their seats quietly every day at school. While I teach, I weave a lot of my own learning styles in (e.g. tons of visual notes), but I am much more outgoing and boisterous as a teacher than in a normal interaction. I find that to grasp the engagement of young minds, I must first engage them and then keep that engagement consistent in order to ensure learning is occurring. In order to keep myself a “real” person in their eyes, we consistently have discussions about race and racial identity and address stereotypes that may have been brought up in the classroom. Overall, I have a strong sense of awareness and strive to include this mentality within my own classroom as so many of my teachers did for me.

2. How are the instructional methods you use similar and different to the instructional methods you experienced as a student? For any differences, why do these exist? Do you think the education you provide should be different than the education you received? Why?

Throughout this semester, I have worked toward more inquiry-based science instruction. This was something I only experienced in my senior year of high school in Physics class. From piles of research along with data from my students, I have found inquiry-based learning to be a more effective means of helping students understand science concepts. I did, however, luck out with many incredibly effective teachers while in school, and thus have come to use several of their strategies in my own classroom. I have used large-scale projects to reinforce concepts (and ensured they have been broken down into manageable steps, just like my fabulous teachers did), dressed up to help students remember notable scientists, and used many visual techniques to help all students, but especially my ELL and SPED students. Though so much of my education was fantastic, I am convinced that to maximize students’ learning time and mastery, learning must become more of a discovery process and pass responsibility to students to collaborate, research, and compile their learning to show mastery of a concept. This increases accountability and allows learning and creation to happen in several forms, which can enable students to push themselves to increased rigor in a multifaceted way.

3. List 5 words that you would use to describe low-income schools, students, and families.

Flux, resilient, change, dedicated, incredible.

4. What are the challenges you will face in low-income schools? What resources can you utilize to meet these challenges?

One of the biggest challenges I have faced is a lack of responsibility in students. Since students have not been given much responsibility in the past, objects become worthless and students do not treat many things with respect (be it their peers, teachers, or materials). I have struggled immensely with spending money on lab supplies (as there is no science budget) and having students break them purposely or in a careless manner. It’s difficult to step back and find a productive way to mediate the situation, as it involves giving students more responsibility rather than taking it away entirely. I have recently brought up establishing a science lab fee at the beginning of the year (for those who are able to pay it), as well as a small science department budget for the future. I have also reached out to mentor teachers about how to keep classroom supplies in better condition. As I go into next year, I would also like to reach out to Teach for America to best support me in establishing norms at the beginning of the year that support this vision of a responsible classroom that takes care of everything within it.

5. If you know and use culturally responsive pedagogy, please describe briefly.

Cultural responsive pedagogy is a term to describe the lexicon and culture teachers built in which diversity is seen as an asset, in which every student has high expectations, and teachers give any needed support. This is an essential focus of my classroom, and has become more so in the past few months. Students have started to become comfortable bringing up different types of learners and cultures within our classroom. We have related these discussions back to science, as they ask questions such as “how did we get different races?” or “what does it mean in your body systems if you are slower than other people?” These questions have brought out mature 7th graders that are highly curious of other learning styles and respectful of others’ opinions. As students become more aware, they have started to compliment each other on their successes, and correct each other in the classroom when a peer slips and uses a culturally insensitive phrase.

6. What have you learned about your students and community already and how might that impact the way you teach?

I have learned more this year than any other. I tell my students daily that I learn more from them than they do from me. I have learned how resilient my students are. They come to school, ready to learn despite molestations, relatives that have recently been raped, parents that have just had both limbs amputated, or moving foster homes because the most recent foster mother is in hospice for cancer. Hearing these stories from my students shows me how strong, truly amazing people they are and inspires me for who they will become. Despite growing up in some truly terribly situations, they persevere. They grow to trust their teachers and their peers.

This resilience only makes me raise my expectations for them higher. They need teachers who believe in them and are willing to realize their full potential. Of course there are the days that I feel like no matter how I try to teach, they are not listening or being active participants in any way. I continue to modify my instruction to meet their needs for the day (be it a video, a hands-on experiment, writing, notes, mad minutes, or any number of other things) to ensure their success. At the beginning of the year, I jumped in with trying to invest students in their grades. I didn’t think it was working at all. Students did not care about the big goal of 80% mastery on every objective. I called home to share positive news and was hung up on. I realized I had to absolutely start from the beginning and build students up on their own, so that they could set their own goals, make a plan to meet them, and celebrate their achievements. As students came to my class from other schools, telling me “I’m stupid. I came from Carmel and I get ‘unsats’ on everything” I knew I had to break down these misconceptions. Though day after day, I felt like I wasn’t making headway with this way of teaching, I have been proven wrong. As students continue to surpass their goals and surprise even themselves with their knowledge, they begin to come out of their shells and show their happiness with themselves. As I see this happiness (and sometimes disappointment), I can’t help but join in on their emotions. Because really, if the teachers around them don’t believe in them, who will?

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