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Showing posts from 2018

Sumando con Dinosaurios!

I have friends (Mexican citizens) who run an orphanage in Reynosa, Mexico. It’s called an orphanage but many of the kids there are not orphans, but kids whose parents cannot take care of them for a variety of reasons. I first visited/volunteered in the summer of 2000, as a new teacher, helping some kids get up to speed before the school year started in the fall. I quickly learned much more from any of them than they learned from me, and try to go back every year, keeping in touch when I am not there.

This orphanage is called Pilar de Esperanza (pillar of hope) and it truly is a hopeful place. It is set up to be a family, with some of the original kids now staying on as young adults and helping out. One of the other adults running the place is from Holland but has lived in Mexico for 20 years, calling herself now “Dutch-Mexican.”

The kids at Pilar mostly go to school in the city of Reynosa (the orphanage is a few miles outside the city limits), but some of the youngest or most academi…

Teaching is More Exhausting Than You Think!

I’m often asked why teaching is so exhausting. Since I’ve left the classroom, I often tell people how much less tired I am than when I was teaching. With private tutoring I have one, maybe two, kids at at time. There are weeks that I work all 7 days, with 5 of the days being 9-11 hours days. I have many fewer days/weeks off than I did when I was in the classroom. On paper, I work many more hours. And it is SO MUCH less tiring. 
So, why is teaching so tiring? This list will not at all be exhaustive and I’d love to hear from other teachers because I’m sure I have forgotten some important reasons.
First of all, we’re always “on.” Teaching in front of a classroom is a performance. I don’t mean it’s insincere, but you are definitely performing. Keeping the attention of 20-36 students is no joke! I knew a first grade teacher who, when he sensed that he was losing the attention of his students, would walk into walls, in his own slapstick routine. No kid fails to find that funny, and he would…

Family Giving Tree!

I had such a great time speaking to the Drive Leaders for Family Giving Tree last week. This organization provides back-to-school backpacks and holiday gifts for under-resourced children in the Bay Area. Rather than re-explaining everything I like about them, I'm just going to quote from my own speech! Please check them out at their website or on Facebook!
Think of yourself as a student, or a parent of a student, at this school. Think about all the things I’ve just mentioned, and the financial stress that comes with trying to keep your family housed, safe, clothed, and fed. Now imagine that you’re getting ready to send your child to school with the feeling of shame that comes from not being properly prepared – not because you don’t want to do the best for your child, but because you literally can’t afford to.
In many more affluent schools, parents and PTAs join with teachers in providing books and supplies. Our school didn’t have a PTA and most of our parents couldn’t help out much,…

Just be Happy to See Me

I often tell that 90% of good teaching is just being happy to see the kids.

Sure, the teaching methods are important, obviously. Subject matter competence is essential. But none of these matter if you're not happy to see the kids.

Kids are smart; much smarter than many adults give them credit for. They know if someone is honestly happy to see them or if they're faking it. And they learn better if they are wanted and welcomed.

As a teacher, this can feel like just one more chore. We have so much to do; we are so overworked and underappreciated. But nothing else we do will make a lasting impression if we don't care about them.

I wish the politicians making the tests and setting terrible teacher salaries could see how wonderful the kids are, how hard we work, and how much we need to give to them. Then things would actually change.

The Bittersweet

I love keeping in touch with former students. I love it. This is one of my favorite things about social media. I love celebrating joys with them... but of course, there's also major sorrows.

Today was a roller coaster of emotions.

I started by meeting with Jorge's Abuela and explaining to her why a lawyer that I talked to thinks we shouldn't open up Jorge's case again, and that he probably will have to serve the majority of his sentence.

She's a strong woman, but she's also very lonely and very sad. She's had more heartbreak in her life than I can imagine and she's done almost all of it alone. My friend Mitali and I sat with her (it was so hard not to just keep talking) and watched her cry and listened. Half the time, I couldn't understand what she was saying because it was in Spanish and more importantly, she's very soft-spoken. But she just needed someone to listen.

I'm hoping that having people with her on this journey helps, but I want …

Children Rising: Hope For Children Now

I was incredibly honored to give the keynote address for Children Rising's annual gala earlier this month. I have been working with the staff of Children Rising (formerly known as Faith Network of the East Bay) to try to get out the stories of these amazing kids in Oakland and to come alongside them.

Quite a few people have asked me what I talked about, so I'll share here. I mean every word of it from my heart.

*****

I am so excited to have this chance to tell you about our kids, these wonderful kids in our community who have so much potential, and who flourish they’re provided with the love and support they crave and deserve.
Let me tell you about my experiences teaching in Oakland. I taught at Lockwood Elementary School, in East Oakland, right by the Coliseum, for eight years. This school was in a particularly rough part of Oakland. I didn’t know this before I taught there but the police called this neighborhood the “killing zone” due to the high number of murders that took…

What it Means That They're Still "My Kids"

When I was teaching third grade, I told my students that they would always be "my kids." I didn't really think any of them would remember, but I'm so glad they did. I am hesitant to list the time I've gotten to spend with former students because it wounds like I'm bragging, but believe me, every single one of these interactions has been more of a gift for me than for them.

In the last few weeks, I have been able to help find a criminal lawyer for a former student (a wonderful woman is paying for it) and take his grandma (along with a dear friend) to get proof that she is the legal guardian of her granddaughter.

I was honored to give the keynote address for Faith Network of the East Bay's annual gala - talking about my experience teaching and all the wonderful work that Faith Network has done to support kids and teachers in Oakland.

I heard from a former student who's going to be a dad and asked me to knit a blanket for his baby daughter. He didn'…

Miracles and Warrior Women

I have been trying to write a post about Abuela, the grandmother of my former student, Jorge, who's currently incarcerated. (Read the links if you want to catch up!)

The reason it's been so hard to write is because it has been so incredibly discouraging. Abuela has been trying to get custody of her granddaughter and it has been a mess. The social worker didn't give her the right paperwork, then the social worker quit, she's been calling and no one spoke Spanish, etc. etc. It felt hopeless.

She asked me for help and THAT felt hopeless because I don't know the first thing about the legal system. In addition, I don't have the Spanish vocabulary to deal with "legal guardianship"and "foster care."

But our friend Mitali and I prayed and researched and asked for help. And help came.

First of all, an extremely generous person, who I don't know well, has offered to not only connect Jorge (in prison) with a good criminal lawyer, but to pay for it…

When One of "Your Kids" is Locked Up

Since I've written Literally Unbelievable, I often get really uncomfortable with people thinking that I'm a really wonderful, caring, selfless person... all the time. I'm really not. I definitely love my students and former students, and I'm passionate about giving them a better chance at life, education... everything.

But of course, I'm still human. I still get frustrated with kids. I still get impatient and try not to yell and feel lazy, just like everyone else.

So I thought I'd share my process of making appointments to visit my former student, "Jorge," in prison. When I'm not in the process of making the appointment, I'm very excited to see him! I think about how wonderful it will be to catch up, how excited I am to be able to give his grandma the chance to see him, and what a relief it must be for him to get out of the cell and have visitors. I will admit, I do sometimes feel a little self-congratulatory and maybe grateful that I have th…

Needs Vs. Wants

Most people have an idea of what they consider to be basic human needs. In an excerpt from my book, Literally Unbelievable: Stories of an East Oakland Classroom, a classroom of first graders had a surprising take on "needs versus wants."

Like many people, I sometimes overuse the word "need." I have a tendency to say that I need the new iPhone or I need a pedicure, even though those are clearly just things that I want.

My greatest lesson on distinguishing between wants and needs came with my first grade class during my first year of teaching. Volunteers from the business world came to our school through the Junior Achievement program to teach for a day. As a new teacher, I was overwhelmed and relieved to not be responsible for lesson plans for one day. However, I was nervous about how an idealistic businessperson would deal with twenty extremely needy first graders living in one of the most violent parts of Oakland.

The woman who showed up at my class was clearly u…

“If Their Parents Really Cared...”

This is a sentence I have heard from many, many people with regards to my students.

“If their parents really cared, they’d come to parent-teacher conferences.”

“If their parents really cared, they wouldn’t let their kids join gangs.”

“If their parents really cared, they’d feed them better.”

I’ve heard this from very well-meaning people, including co-workers. We all want our students to have what they need, and to have the best chance possible in life. But this particular phrase makes me angry, and it has since the first time I heard it.

When I was a new teacher, I was in a collaboration meeting with the other third-grade teachers and one of my colleagues was talking. I had some excellent colleagues but this guy was not one of them. Actually, he was an excellent teacher to a certain group of students, but only those he chose to teach. He frequently tried to trade his Black students for my Asian students because he was “supposed to” be the teacher for the immigrant kids. I often let hi…

What Kind of English is "Correct"?

First of all, if you search Google images for "ebonics," this is the only thing that comes up that is not totally offensive. I don't recommend doing the search.

The ebonics (more correctly called African American Vernacular English or AAVE) debate started when I was in college, and wasn't talked about in those terms when I was teaching, but was definitely discussed, usually in derogatory terms.

"Why can't they use proper English?"

"I'm so tired of hearing "axe" instead of "ask"!

"It's not "bafroom," it's "bathroom""!

Usually there was some eye rolling and muttering about how uneducated people were, and even sometimes the expression "those people" which I hate.

I'm not going to explain how AAVE evolved but if you're interested, check out John Rickford's work, which is fascinating and very informative. Even a quick search on Wikipedia can acquaint you with the histor…