Saturday, January 7, 2017

The More Things Stay the Same

I've been gone for almost 3 years- That seems like a long time. But it's not. Not when it comes to the business of educating kids in the United States. Things I'm shocked to still see:


  • Debates about how to address the diversity in our classrooms.
  • Endless articles on what works best in educating "urban" students. Newsflash- this has been researched extensively from Dewey(1933) until now. We already know what works. I believe we choose not to do it for population of students that are deemed not worthy.
  • Sit- and- take professional development is still a thing. Seriously? I researched this as part of my dissertation. It does not work. Teachers are learners and experts. Why are we still spending millions of dollars bringing people from outside our profession into our schools to lecture us about what to do with our own students?
  • Testing is still big business with no end in site. Read Diane Ravitch's many publications about this. I am really afraid for our children at this point. Testing is not the only valid measure of student progress and learning, yet we still have large corporations making billions of dollars selling these materials to school districts across the country with promises of guaranteed success.
  • Public v charter school debates, as if there is one answer to our complex educational issues in this country. Listen, I've worked in both settings. Amazing public schools exist. Amazing charter schools exist. The problems arises when corporations and organizations with no real interest or background in education are allowed to treat our students like chattel for the sake of a profit. A toxic school is a toxic school and this is usually a direct result of leadership, funding and curriculum decisions that do not center children. Period. 
Rant over.

Nitty Gritty & Nuts & Bolts – On Looking Culture Issues Directly in the Eye



So in my last post, I reflected on the experience & challenges of teaching in another culture which I had never done in my entire teaching career. I decided to try to capture some Nuts  & bolts types of things that helped me get over the hurdle for those of you who may need some actionable strategies that you can apply right away.

Here are a few things I found and/or learned>

Name it-  I was different than  my student in the Middle East. This may seem simple but failing to do this caused my lots of problems early on. Stop saying “I don’t see color” if your students have different backgrounds and ethnicities than you do. It’s not only insulting but it’s a disservice to both them and you to ignore this simple fact.

Learn the language, even the local slang or dialect. This helps in 2 primary ways. First, it helps in building community when you can share moments that are not always about the “curriculum”.  It allows you to laugh and identify with your students. Second, it reinforces that their language, slang, dialect etc., is not wrong, just different than the King’s English and that’s okay. The minute I showed authentic interest in what my Emirati girls were saying and how they related to each other, my classroom management issues began to fade away. It’s that important.


Read. Read. Read.  Even when I worked in schools on the southside where students looked and sounded like me, books like Marva Collins Way, Nothing’s Impossible and Other People’s Children were like my bible.  Recently, I’ve added The DreamKeepers, For White Folks That Teach in the Hood and revisited classics like The Miseducation of the Negro.

Make sure your classroom libraries are stocked with books that reflect characters that look like all of your students. There should be a healthy mix of backgrounds represented in the stories you share. This will make all the difference in reaching your reluctant readers and improving your classroom community overall. Students want and NEED to see themselves reflected in your classroom literature. Short on funds? I regularly trolled library sales, salvation army & stalked retiring teachers for access to their books.  I prominently featured books on UAE culture and famous figures to keep my girls interested in reading & writing.

Seek out guest speakers and field trip experiences where students can see themselves reflected in a wide variety of career opportunities.  I cannot scream this one enough from the rooftop. My girls’ group on the south side included regular field trips to local, black-owned business and guest speakers from every field. I still remember my students’ sense of awe when they realized there were Black women engineers, scientists and FBI agents. They could not fathom it previously since they had never actually MET anyone in these fields that looked like them.

Utilize people in your school that can help. Teachers tend to isolate themselves which is a grave mistake. In Abu Dhabi, I would have lost my mind had it not been for other teachers who were able to help me navigate complex cultural issues and just listen to me vent & scream. 


Well, that’s all for now. I’m adding to this list as the “aha” moments continue to appear.