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Showing posts from 2017

Only Allowed One Ring

My friend Mitali and I went to visit Jorge in prison again, this time, much farther away. As I explained before, the visitor appointment system leaves something to be desired. But we finally got appointments and got to bring Jorge’s Abuela also.

The trip down was long. Very long, and very dull, driving down I-5 with nothing to see. Abuela only speaks Spanish, even after over 35 years in this country, so Mitali and I were trying to speak Spanish, which requires a lot more concentration for both of us than speaking English! Probably because of this, we missed the exit.

Unfortunately for us, I-5 didn’t have another exit for almost 20 miles. Fortunately for us, we were running early. But when we pulled up to the guard gate and weren’t sure which yard to ask for, I think we all got a little nervous. I remembered writing “D” on his letters and asked for D yard, which turned out to be correct.


Getting in to see him was more difficult than before as well. They took an inventory of all our jewe…

Prison Visits

The paperwork that I got from the prison where Jorge is incarcerated mentions that visits are essential for inmates' morale and rehabilitation. One would think, then that they might make visits feel a little more... possible.

I've been trying to set up a visit for myself, my friend who graciously drove me last time and will do so this time (3.5 hours one way!! She's a saint), and Jorge's grandmother, who hasn't been able to visit him since he moved to the prison farther away. She was his guardian for most of his childhood and it's breaking her heart that she can't see him.

Trying to get all three of us to visit, I called the prison's visiting appointment hotline. It is only available for three hours a week (Tuesday mornings, 7-10 am) and you can only make appointments two weeks in advance. If you don't make an appointment, you can show up for "open visiting" but it seems to be first-come first-served (I can't get a straight answer on …

Abuela

My student who is in prison, Jorge, has a very dedicated grandmother. We’ll call her Abuela. Abuela took over raising him when his mother couldn’t, and like all of us, she’s made her mistakes and had her struggles, but there is no doubt that she loves Jorge and her other grandkids and will do anything for them.

Abuela came to the United States as a young woman; I believe about 18 or 19, with a toddler. I may be a little off on the ages, but I know that Jorge’s mom would be 38 if she were still alive and Abuela is only 54, so she was a young mother.

I don’t know much about her history before she came to the United States, but I know school was not a part of it. Abuela was not taught to read or write in any langugae. She cannot speak English, although she can understand some, and she cannot read and write in Spanish. She is an intelligent woman who never had the chance to study.

When I had Jorge in my class, he forged his grandmother’s signature on permission slips because she couldn’t…

Talking to Teachers

I had the distinct pleasure last weekend of speaking to the Yuba City area chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma, a professional society for women educators. I was a little intimidated because in this group of mostly retired educators, there were literally hundreds of years of experience altogether. And here I was, only having spent eight years in the classroom, talking to them! I felt like I should have been the one seated and listening.

The experience, however, was amazing. I was so honored by the compliments on my book, because I knew that these people understood. These were not empty words of flattery from people who say, "Oh, I could never do that!" These were people who had been in the trenches themselves, who knew the exhaustion of teaching, the feeling of finally maybe not being tired on your LAST day of vacation before you go back. They understood what it's like to not be able to sleep because you're so worried about a child who's not related to you, or to dream a…

"Grieving Behind Bars"

A friend sent me this article called The Singular Sorrow of Grieving Behind Bars. This friend has been with me to visit my former student "Jorge" who is in prison and knows how much he can relate to this. Jorge's mother, never a stable person, died two years ago at the age of 36. He is in prison for 19 years and could not attend her funeral and could not attend the mass said for her on the one-year anniversary of her death. (I was honored to be invited to that and took pictures to send to him of the altar with flowers and her photos).

It made me think about how hard grieving is. I mean, when a person has support, community, and ceremonies for closure, grief is still really really hard. The hardest thing for humans. Now I try to imagine doing that while locked up, with no family or friends, and no freedom. No closure, no ceremonies, no ability to see the person one more time or be surrounded by others grieving.

I don't know if I could do that. I mean, I don't kno…

Teacher in Training

My seven-year-old niece is practicing being a teacher. Many of us did this to some extent. I'm pretty sure I forced my sister and brother to sit still while I read spelling words to them that they didn't care about.

Later, when I really was a teacher, I would see fifth-grade students come into my third-grade classroom and help kids in that same way, the "I really feel special acting like a teacher," way.

It's really fun to see kids do that. It's very special to see that the relationship is so important that they imitate it and aspire to it.

My niece, S, is very committed to her teacher role, not even slowed down by the fact that she doesn't have any siblings. She has been a teacher for her stuffed monkey, my parents' dog, and lately, a collection of stuffed squashes she was given.

It's really fun to see how excited she gets about playing school. She writes out schedules that are better than any school I've ever seen: "Hello, Drawing, Snac…

Supporting DACA

My latest post on Medium: Why Supporting DACA is the Right Thing to Do

After I wrote it, I was fortunate enough to have a former student named Dat, a 24-year-old Vietnamese American young man, write his own take. Although Dat was born in the United States, his parents weren't and he is closer in age and relationships to many of the young adults who will be affected by this. Here is what he has to say:

I support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy because it presents an opportunity for kids without homes to grow up with a chance. Most immigrant kids have come to the U.S with their parents in search of a better life away from the impoverished country they once came from. DACA individuals are law-abiding citizens, illustrating their commitment and determination to stay in the U.S. To have DACA rescinded is detrimental because these are individuals with no home back in their native countries. They came at an incredibly young age to lay a foundation and…

Letters from Prison

I wouldn't have imagined a couple of years ago, but I am looking forward to the letters I get from prison several times a month. If you've read my book, Chapter 10 is about "Jorge," my former student. If you haven't read it, it's cheap on Kindle right now and you can learn all about Jorge. Skip to Chapter 10; he's worth it.

Anyway, he is a very very special young man who, in a nutshell, had every single thing go wrong in his life that could and (read the chapter!) he's now in prison for 19 years. I've gotten letters from three different prisons. I've been to visit him in prison twice, and I'd prefer to never go to a prison again, but that's where he is. And as I told my students many years ago, they'd always be "my kids."
Jorge is working on his life story. When he read my book, he said that he was surprised that there were people in the world who didn't know how hard life is for people like him. he wants to tell the…

Diversity In Teaching and Passing the CBEST

Three or four times a year, I teach a CBEST essay preparation class at the state university near me. The CBEST is the test require for someone to teach in California, whether substitute or fully credentialed. (There are many many more tests you have to take for your credential, and it ends up being quite a financial burden for a job that pays very little. But I digress)

The CBEST is not actually very hard, on the surface of it, and I know plenty of people who are surprised that I teach a class, wondering why people need help passing it. There are three main reasons the essay portion of the test is hard for people: First, there are people taking it who have just been out of school so long that they have forgotten what taking tests is like and get really nervous. They usually do just fine once they practice. The second group is made up of people who have test anxiety and often the practicing helps much of the time. The third group is those who do not speak English as their native langu…

Celebration

One of the greatest things that can happen to a teacher is to see their student succeed, in any way, no matter how old they are. So you can imagine how excited I was when I was invited to Stephanie's college graduation party! She graduated from Howard University with a double major in biology and sports medicine, and while I couldn't go to DC to see it, I wasn't going to miss her California party for the world.
Stephanie has always been incredibly special: hard-working, strong family ties, and a confident attitude that has ensured her success even when many of the odds were against her. Being a black woman from East Oakland has meant plenty of obstacles, but I have never seen her fail at something she's tried. I've seen her realistically adjust her goals as needed and reach out for help as needed, strengths that many of us older people don't have and are impressive at 22.
Stephanie is now doing a joint masters of public health and teaching program and has jumped …

Facing White Fragility

I am nervous basically every time a person of color tells me they have read or will read my book. That's not fair, of course, as that kind of generalization is never fair, but I am aware enough of my white privilege to know that it probably comes out in my book at some point, as hard as I tried to be aware. Because white privilege is that ingrained.

I was very careful in my book, asking former students and Black and Latino/a friends if certain phrases were acceptable, and having these same friends read chapters or read the whole book. I did my best, and I took suggestions and criticism.

But here's the thing. I'm white*, and the world looks different with privilege. No matter how aware I am, I'm still going to stumble. And that hurts people. And that is really uncomfortable to face.

I was recently called out on something I had said that had an unintended but real impact on a Facebok friend who is a person of color. I'm not going to share any details, because it was…

The BART Mob

I was going to write a really thoughtful, well-reasoned response to the story of the mob of teenagers who robbed people on BART, but then I started seeing the reactions. The knee-jerk, racist, totally devoid of caring reactions.

So this is what I came up with. I posted it to a local Facebook group where it got deleted eventually. Possibly because I called out another local Facebook group that was advocating murdering the kids. I'd say enjoy, but, well....

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http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/diaz/article/BART-attack-brings-out-racist-responses-11108000.php

No surprise here, seeing how some of the other local FB groups are advocating blowing the heads off of these kids" but I want us to think about our knee-jerk reactions. I have worked with "these kids" for years (and by "these kids" I ran nothing more or less than the kids in this particular neighborhood) and I want to point out a few things:

1. All kids in East Oakland aren't black.

2. All kids who…

The Next Generation

One of the best parts of writingLiterally Unbelievable has been the wonderful people I've met. When I was teaching, I was often so stressed out and exhausted that I felt completely isolated, as if I was solely responsible for the welfare of all the kids in my class, and even in the school. I worked with some amazing teachers, but also a lot who were less than amazing. And almost universally, we were all so overwhelmed that, although there were people I would have loved to collaborate with, the feeling was much more one of survival, every teacher for herself.
Now I am starting to realize how many people care about educational inequity and under-served kids and just how many of them want to help in any way they can. The most exciting groups for me to talk to have been college and graduate students. Last week, I was able to Skype in to a school counseling prep program at Sacramento State, and talk in person to future special ed teachers at Dominican University. Both groups left me h…

It Was Already Broken (Originally Published on Medium)

Originally published on Medium.

Let me start by saying that, to my knowledge, I’ve never been more qualified than a Secretary of Education before. I have by no means agreed with or approved of everything they did, but at least on paper, they were qualified. Not so with Betsy DeVos. We all know by now that she didn’t attend public schools, that her children did not attend public schools, and that she’s never worked or even volunteered in a public school. We know that she donated large sums of money to many of the Senators who voted to confirm her. We know that she doesn’t appear to know the first thing about standardized testing, proficiency vs. growth, or whether grizzly bears or guns pose a larger threat to public schools. Remember, though, that public schools needed help before Trump was elected or DeVos was appointed. No Child Left Behind punished the most under-resourced schools and students, and was a major part of why I left teaching, as the job became more and more about teach…