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Showing posts from 2020

A Message from Jorge

I am so grateful for everyone who came to the virtual book launch for Letters From the Inside: Hope in the Journey Beyond Classroom and Cell. In conversation with author Mitali Perkins, also a friend of Jorge, my co-author, we had a conversation full of hope and promise.If you missed it, you can watch the video. Of course, there was a very important person missing from the celebration: Jorge, my co-author. He will be incarcerated for at least another eight years. He wrote this message to all of you:  Although I cannot physically be present to discuss this book and my life, I hope you all can understand a life of a boy who was traumatized, hurting, and craving love and affection from those who were around. Growing up in the environment I was raised in was not easy and until today it is not easy. It’s been told that people like “me” who were in the wrong path, are set to fail. Most children do not get a fair chance to succeed, often times they are judged. But before judging a struggling …

An Anti-Racism Journey, Part 2

Part 1 is here. I feel like this could be as many parts as I had time to write, and I really hope that people offer some feedback.

After I started teaching Black and brown kids, I quickly realized the work I needed to do, and in fact that all white educators need to do. Realizing that we have work to do, however, is a lot easier than doing the work.

If you've never thought about it, take a minute to consider how public school systems are entrenched in white culture. The hand-raising instead of calling out, looking adults in the eye, lectures, sitting still... many of these are not necessarily best practices and are not what many non-white people do at home, but we force kids to adapt to this mold. I remember when I first thought to question this. I was a student teacher in Sacramento and didn't think twice about asking a child to "look me in the eye" to show respect. A Hmong parent gently pointed out that, in their culture, it was extremely rude for a child to look …

An Anti-Racism Journey: Part 1

This is a slogan that I'd love to adopt. However, I don't think it's accurate. Because there is no time in the history of America when everyone agreed that racism was wrong.

It's easy to see it now: Trump is stoking the fire of racism and bringing racists out of the woodwork! Why can't things just go back to the way they were before him?

The problem, of course, is that racism was still around before that. Yes, even when Obama was president. It was just easier for white people to ignore. I know it was easy for me to ignore, right up until I started teaching Black and brown kids and saw it up close. And I will always regret not realizing sooner that not only was racism still present, but that our country was founded on it. That this IS who we are and always has been.

I found a picture of myself during my first year teaching. I was 24 and looked about 15. I was surrounded by five boys: three Black kids and two Vietnamese kids, all in my first-grade class. I had a bad…

I Know Why We Learn History!

I was tutoring a high schooler a while back, when we could still see each other in person, and he was reading Night by Elie Wiesel. If you aren't familiar with this book, it's a memoir of Wiesel's time at Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps. It's obviously horrific and very hard to read.

The student had some learning differences and struggled a bit with many academic tasks, and Night was a challenge. The copy he had was printed with a small, old-fashioned font, and much of the writing is old-fashioned, so he was struggling. In addition, it's one of the hardest subjects possible to read about, and Wiesel does not hold back but tells the stark truth.

As we were slogging through this, my student was really doing his best, but needed help on most sentences, as well as a lot of the context of what was going on in the world in 1944. He kept asking me if this was really true, and I hated answering yes.

At one point, he was quiet for a long time, after a particula…

A Kid's Argument for Pets in Class

Pets in classes
By Symphony R, age 10 I believe that there should be pets in classes. Not class pets.
Let me explain. I think kids should bring their pets into class,
as long as they behave, so you could see a new one each day.   You’re probably thinking, “ What about allergies? This sounds
like a bad idea.” Well, I have a solution for that. You could have
everyone in the class write down their allergies, so you can’t
bring that pet.

I read something that said watching fish is calming, and petting
a cat lowers your heart rate, and I would be sad and lonely if I
was away from my cats ( Also, my friend’s cat just died :(. ) .
Being with pets makes you calmer!

Something teachers would likely support is that when an animal
came, you could study its behavior. Or do a report on it! 
In conclusion, I believe bringing pets to school is a good idea, if
they behave well. 

Fun Writing Prompts!

I know many, many parents struggling with distance learning, also known as the worst type of homeschooling ever. I wanted to make something for them, for when they just do NOT have time. Here are a list of story starters and writing prompts that you can adapt. If they're typing, just give them a word count: "Pick a topic and write at least X words on it." If you or they aren't feeling decisive, just have them pick a number without looking, and that's the one they write on.

If you or your kids have further ideas, please comment! I'll add ideas.

1. I woke up and my dirty sock started talking to me.

2. I didn't mean to do it!

3. I never would have believed it could happen, but it did.

4. They said it was haunted but I didn't believe them until...

5. The island was totally deserted.

6. I started getting used to the pirate life after a month.

7. I opened the door and...

8. My parents wouldn't let me use screens today so this is what I did instead.

9. The most an…

Guest Blog by Symphony (My Niece)

Distance Learning By Symphony, age 10

Distance learning has flaws, but it’s kind of the best we can do right
now. I’m in fourth grade, and I go to a French school. My class only
has three and a half hours of school each week, and this is a problem.
I’m not saying I’m a superfan of school, which I’m not, but because
my teachers don’t have enough class time, they give insane amounts
of homework. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but just yesterday
I had to do 6 or 7 things for school. (Some things I did procrastinate,
but still.) It took over an hour. 
I’m okay with the balance between class time and homework, but it’s
still sort of a problem. I understand the teachers’ job is to educate us kids,
but they don’t get the time to do so, so they give us a whole bunch of
homework instead! Just this week, I probably did over ten things for
homework! I can’t imagine the horror college students must be going
through. In high school and college, they already have about 3 hours of
homework a d…

Grace for the Parents

OK, let's be honest. Distance learning during a pandemic is not fun. None of us were prepared for this: not the schools, not the teachers, not the students, and definitely not the parents.

Over the last few weeks (feels like years!), I have seen many parents say that they're failing, and I want to ask them this:

Are your kids alive? Do you love them? Then you haven't failed.
I don't care if you've gotten dressed, if they've been on screens all day, or if they've eaten ice cream for every meal. You are trying to deal with your regular routine/work PLUS HOMESCHOOLING YOUR CHILDREN plus money worries plus isolation.

Almost none of you were trained to teach, you didn't decide to homeschool, and many of you are having to do it WHILE working full time.

This is impossible. And you are doing the impossible.
As for academic achievement? DO NOT WORRY ABOUT IT.

You can catch them up later. I'll help you if you need it. Right now, just survive. Snuggle them if…

Distance Learning and Profound Sorrow

Well, teaching during a pandemic has proven to be very interesting as any teacher or parent can attest to right now.

(my new teaching setup)
Let me start with a few points of gratitude. I am extremely fortunate to still have income and thankful for all online platforms. I am also very grateful, from the bottom of my heart, to all the teachers who are turning themselves inside out to throw together some sense of normalcy for the kids and parents who need it, even as they're homeschooling their own kids.

Also.

I didn't become a teacher to sit at a desk job.

I'm trying to hold my gratitude along with the sorrow and it is hard.

As most educators tend to think, I have the best students ever. I left the classroom almost 13 years ago and do private tutoring now, so I have kids of all ages.

The teenagers I'm working with now think this tech is no big deal. They're bored and grouchy and EVERY one of them thinks that their parent is the meanest parent in the world if they&#…

Amplifying Their Voices

I am so emotional right now. All the emotions.
My co-author, "Jorge," wrote his part of the afterword, which just needs to be edited. It is not long but it is SO powerful. I am crying typing it in for our editor.
I can't wait to share all this with you. I'll give you a taste:
"... they [kids like him] feel as if nobody is going to care about anything they have to say, and to be honest, that's where it all starts."
Then, this is the part that really got me. "If it wasn't for my 3rd grade teacher [me], I wouldn't be here talking about my life story. She told me my voice needed to be heard, so here I am."
People often, OFTEN, thank me for giving my former students a voice.
I say no, they have a voice. It's just that no one is listening. My goal is to amplify their voice.

Wearing a Stranger's Boots

I went to visit Jorge again earlier in the month. The visit went well. Jorge looks really good and is happy, and we got to bring his girlfriend (that’s another story about how he reconnected from somebody from elementary school and they are engaged).

There was a quick moment of worry when we didn’t think his sister could get in with a belly button piercing but she did.  This is also the closest I’ve ever come to having a panic attack at the prison. I went through the body scan machine and the metal detector, and took my shoes off, took my ring off, emptied my pockets, and had my hair felt to make sure I didn't have anything hidden in it. I got my wrist stamped and started to feel everything closing in. I had to focus on breathing and try not to think about the institutional walls, the COs who were being rude to me, and most importantly, the razor wire surrounding everything. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to go in but eventually diminished, although didn't go a…

Tamale Fundraiser!

Hi everyone! I wanted to invite anyone in the area (East Bay, California) to this delicious & fun fundraiser on Sunday, January 26, in the evening!

(short version): Tamales for a great cause!! Check out the three options and please please buy tickets through the eventbrite links!

Pilar de Esperanza is a Mexican orphanage/group home that Bronwyn has been volunteering at and visiting for 19 years. Like every orphanage in Mexico, it's affiliated with a local church, but receives all its funding from donations, and is in need of help fixing up the van that transports the kids to school and paying for one of the older kids' college education.

Pilar is a wonderful place and the staff and kids act as a family. Many of the kids came from living on the streets, abandoned or abused, and they have the chance now to get education and grow up in a family setting.These are awesome kids to support!

The orphanage is located in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, just south of McAllen, Texas.

TH…