“In the spirit of community”: How Cornell College fails students of color

I am writing this post because I refuse to go to a school that tolerates hate speech and I am not leaving.

Cornell’s administration acknowledges discrimination only in its most extreme forms: swastikas, nooses, and slurs. What message does this send? It means Cornell is all about image and appeasing the majority. The aforementioned forms of racism are so extreme Cornell is forced to speak out against them (and label them as hate speech). But when it comes to all other transgressions, Cornell shrugs and basically says, “Americans will be Americans.” Cornell ties their own hands with the first amendment and claims innocence.

As a result, they have left many students (myself included) feeling isolated, uncared for, and disposable. While I believe Cornell fails all minority groups, today I am focussing on racial minority groups.

I will begin by reporting on the incident that occurred, the student response, and the administrative response. And I will end with a personal reflection on the aforementioned events.

Continue reading

Condor Class Libraries: Fahrenheit 451 and a love of reading that rose from the ashes

As student teaching winds down I am saddened by fact that I got to know some students more than others. And even though there are only two weeks left, I’m still working on building rapport. One student in particular has been on my mind this past week: *Angelo (*pseudo name for student confidentiality). In terms of turning in work and positively adding to the classroom, Angelo is my worst student. In a class of over 2 dozen kids he was the only one on his phone when we were reading aloud. Angelo is missing assignments for me and many of his other teachers (and is failing most of his classes). Angelo will make derisive comments towards me sometimes. When I check in with him he will tell me how much he doesn’t care and how boring whatever we’re doing is. Angelo has also been disrespectful in the college and career center and has a generally negative outlook. Continue reading

Reflection: Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair

As part of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest’s Urban Education Program, I was required to attend the Teachers for Social Justice Curriculum Fair (TSJCF): which took place Nov.21st at Kenwood high school on the South side of Chicago. This was my first time attending TSJCF but it certainly won’t be my last.

This year marked the 14th annual TSJCF put on by Teachers for Social Justice, an organization for educators of all kinds (ex. teachers, administrators, pre-service teachers, alt ed teachers, professors, etc) who believe in social justice education. Continue reading

Student teaching midpoint

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Those of you who know me know that I am student teaching in Chicago this semester. While I go to Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa I am to student-teach in Chicago through ACM’s Urban Education program. Getting into this program was a dream I had since I was a freshman in college and I’ve been lucky to have been given an incredible placement.

I teach English 4 regular (high school seniors) at a school on the South side of Chicago. My department team is full of experienced and helpful people. And most importantly my mentor teacher gives me the help and freedom I need to grow as a teacher.

In my head, I planned on blogging every 1-2 weeks about my teaching experiences but between all the lesson planning, grading, weekly reflections, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and general unwillingness to make time it.. not much has been shared. Now that I’m over halfway through with my student teaching (5 weeks left!) I figured now would be a good time to reflect on some things in a more public setting. Here are some big picture take-aways from my time student teaching: Continue reading

Dialect Privilege: grammar correction as a microagression

I’ve been wanting to write this post since last may when I completed ENG 311: Grammar and the Politics of English. Before I took this class I never thought of grammar correction as anything more than being an annoying stickler. Now that I realize the implications grammar “correction” carries, I see it everywhere and cringe every time.

A page I used to “like” on facebook, Grammarly, shames grammatical errors.
People on the internet will use someone’s grammatical errors/typos to discredit what they’re saying.
And on a much larger and disturbing scale, school and society will teach you that certain dialects and slang words are “improper” and denote a lack of intelligence/refinement.

“I been here.”
There are textbooks that would label the above sentence as “grammatically incorrect” but every dialect has its own set of grammar rules. This sentence actually IS grammatically correct in the dialect of African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Thus, labeling a sentence like this as “incorrect” or “improper” is a akin to labeling anyone who speaks AAVE as improper. Language is a huge component of identity so you’re rejecting more than what they’re saying; you’re rejecting who they are. Continue reading

The fine line: deficit perspectives in education

supply_chain_risk“Just know what you’re in for”, the qualifier often attached to teaching low-income students, at risk-students, urban students, phrase it how you like but it all means the same thing “black, brown, & poor”. And of course there are white students who are at a socioeconomic disadvantage but the numbers don’t lie–minority students make up a large portion of the pie chart.

The problem with constantly adding these qualifiers isn’t that they’re completely unfounded. Schools with low SES students will face different challenges than schools with high SES students. But the fact is, every school will face different challenges; every school has established its own culture that students will react positively or negatively to. Thus, when you make it a point to warn me before I teach minority and/or low income students you are merely reinforcing stereotypes. And, on an even more frustrating level:

You are warning me of myself.  Continue reading

Talk This Way: unpacking the slang stigma

Tomorrow I will be beginning my “Grammar and Politics of the English Language ” class which will be:

An examination of the structures and forms which currently govern standard usage of the English language. Encompasses a broad view of grammar as a subject by a wide-ranging investigation of the history and development of the language. Examines the social and political implications of the development of English as a global language.

Surely ebonics/slang will come up in this class, so before I begin taking this course’s info and (re)forming my opinions I thought I’d make this blog post as a sort of “preflection”.

Defining Ebonics/Slang

WEB-SlangFlashcards2My understanding is: ebonics is a form of slang. Slang being “a type of language that consists of words and phrases that are regarded as very informal, are more common in speech than writing, and are typically restricted to a particular context or group of people.” I use ebonics and slang interchangeably but people tend to say Ebonics is, more specifically, African American Vernacular. I don’t know about the history of Ebonics enough to comment and, growing up, Ebonics was very much a part of the latin community so I hesitate to say Ebonics is black slang.

One thing the general definitions of Ebonics and slang do have in common is that both are “regarded as a language in their own right, not just a dialect”. The vocabulary of Ebonics/slang is always changing for instance, some of the words used in this Big L’s “Ebonics” song (in which he defines dozens of slang terms) are out of date but others are still used.

Cringe, confusion, or camaraderie: my experiences using Ebonics

I’m a lover of language and I love using slang; it’s what I grew up with. Slang was in my neighborhood, in my grade school cafeteria, in my home, and in my headphones. It’s something I hold dear. I still use it today, in casual conversation and even during class discussion (albeit sparingly). My use of Ebonics/slang isn’t as predominant as others: I rarely speak with double negatives or any of those grammatical hallmarks of “Ebonics”. But I use a lot of “slang” terms ex. janky, can I live?, real talk, so I know its real, I feel you, hella, hater, go in, come up, werk, salty, fuckery, grind, etc.

When I’m talking to someone who also uses Ebonics I tend to use more Ebonics than usual, I feed off their linguistics. There’s a comfort in that cultural connectedness. And I’m eager to learn the slang of other people/regions, for instance one of my good friends uses: “I support” as an interchangeable phrase for “I feel you”.

But more often than not, my use of Ebonics/slang is met with cringes or confusion. I use slang and then have to translate it for my peers. I’ve talked to non-Ebonic speakers about this: when I use slang they are unfamiliar with they either use context clues to figure out what I’m saying or they just don’t understand it. Occasionally someone will ask me what I mean when I say “____” but more often than not they don’t ask at all. I only find out they’re confused when I check in: “wait, do you know what ____ means”? followed by a “no”.

I’m always trying to build my vocabulary, so when one of my peers uses a word I don’t understand (slang or not) I will ask them what it means. I feel like people aren’t as willing to ask or research an ebonics phrase or slang term because that language is not seen as valuable. It’s deemed “improper English”. And while it’s true that “standard English” is the language of power, one that’s necessary to master, it’s also true that Ebonics/slang has a lot of cultural value and is not as “other” as society portrays it.

At worst, I’ve had people deny my slang, telling me “that’s not what ___ word means” thus my slang “does not make any sense”. To everyone who has ever made these statements, or something similar, do no deny what you do not understand. Don’t belittle part of my culture just because it’s not part of the accepted mainstream.

Speech Shaming 

Slam poet George Watsky said it best: “If you suppose your speech is normal it’s cause your impediment is listening”. No one constantly uses standard English in their day to day speech, only more socially acceptable slang (ex. gonna, crash, crush, drop by, take a hike, cool it, touch base, take a raincheck, I’m down, I’m game, selfie, etc).

To quote my brother on this subject: “Ebonics is an emic term. Emic being an anthropological term used to describe knowledge you can only obtain by being in a certain place or community”. So before you *speech shame people who use ebonics, think about what you’re really shaming. Is it really a matter of “proper grammar” or are there other social constructs involved that make us–as a society–see Ebonics as the language of the uneducated. I, for one, believe it’s the latter.

(*Note: I’m not saying that slang should be accepted in academia. Just that Ebonics should not be banned or looked down on any more than words like “gonna” are. And when it comes to the classroom I believe Ebonics should be affirmed, not stigmatized, and used to help children acquire fluency in Standard English. But that is a discussion for another blog post).

Large tables, early mornings, and a lot of coffee.

One thing I’ve learned upon completing my 200 level ed classes is the importance of environment when it comes to learning. Arrangement of desks, temperature, wall decor, etc–it all plays a roll in one’s success (or lack thereof). Another thing I learned is that becoming a teacher means committing to being a lifelong learner: not just from your students and the latest pedagogy articles, but from yourself. In order to teach, one must understand who he/she is as a learner. And that, in itself, is a collection of ever-changing facts; a constant process of discovery and revision.

A big part of my educational philosophy is that I believe, in the right setting, anyone can achieve greatness. While my professors and my peers craft the classroom setting for 2-4hrs of my day, 5 days a week, the rest is largely up to me. And I think I’ve finally figured out what works…

While last year I spent hours at my desk, this year I find it repugnant. Aesthetically,  I love it. It’s full of with knick-knacks and mementos. The cork board is covered with motivation, reminders, and artwork. And it’s equipped with my favorite school supplies: index cards, mechanical pencils, notebooks, and a plethora of post-it notes. But even so, it feels too enclosed. I need kitchen tables and large desks; my ideas need leg room.

I need early mornings. I need to go to my Saturday meeting with a few hours of work already under my belt. This isn’t always something I pull off. More often than not I stay in bed too long, half asleep. I dawdle to get dressed and pack my bag. The sand in my hourglass of a schedule fills the bottom container until there’s really no point in trying to get anything done. But on days like today: I am better. I am early to bed, early to wise, productive, healthy, and happy. Nothing satisfies me more than scratching things off my to do list early in the morning, making the afternoon so much more peaceful. And most of all, I need coffee. This is the one constant in my life.

Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 11.24.45 AMAll of these facts about myself as a learner accumulate to one perfect setting: a morning trip to the coffee shop. To me, the coffee shop isn’t just a great place to get things done. It’s a hub of positive vibes emanating from steaming hot mugs and the denizens who choose to spend their Saturday mornings  in pleasant conversations, with their noses in a book, or their hands racing across  keyboards. It’s the hum of alt and indie rock, the clanking of spoons on coffee mugs, and the murmurs of conversation–it’s the soundtrack to an excellent Saturday morning. And just like that the large to do list I have to tackle doesn’t seem so bad. My work becomes associated with positive things.

This is what your workspace should do. It should be a space where you are both focussed and at ease. Productive and happy. All at once. And as I sip my caramel machiatto, polish off my sugar cookie, and prepare to finally hit the publish button, I wonder why I ever settle for anything less.

Documentary Review: American Teacher

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American Teacher (available on Netflix) uses a combination of statistics and case studies to argue that if teachers were paid a higher wage the education system would retain more teachers and draw more talented people into the profession. With a higher wage (and other benefits) it is assumed that teaching would become a more respected profession (alongside medicine and law)–this would also increase teacher satisfaction/retention. As we gain insight into the careers and day to day lives of teachers Erik Benner, Jonathan Dearman, Jamie Fidler, and Rhena Jasey we also feel our share of sympathy for the financial struggles–even with the tremendous workload–each of them face.

While the documentary makes an alright case for why teachers’ salaries/benefits should be increased it fails to mention unions at all. However, I believe this short documentary (only 80 minutes) was aiming to examine the problem at a more intimate level. I very much enjoyed the diversity of the teachers–a harvard graduate, an african american male teacher, a second gen educator/expectant mother, a male texas history teacher–who all seemed to face a similar plight. Still, to me this documentary better serves viewers as an examination into the struggles of teaching rather than a silver bullet solution to fixing the US education system. While teacher Amanda Lueck’s video diaries were a very small part of the documentary they provided some of the most interesting/honest snippets. As a prospective teacher, and with only 80mins in this documentary, I would’ve preferred if this documentary focussed more on the daily grind of teachers than on proposing a solution for the system as a while.

I wouldn’t say American Teacher is groundbreaking, but it’s worth the watch. I’d give it a 3/5.

Reflection

I am always fascinated, impressed, excited, and (most of all) intimidated by the daily grind educators go through in order to be effective teachers. When I visited my high school my former teachers were excited for me to join the ranks and when I asked them how in the world they managed to get it all done they scoffed, told me not to worry about it. And guaranteed that I will love teaching just as much as they do–after which they struggled to figure out how to design their seminars more efficiently and how to find time to do the endless programming that needed to be done.

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I guess I’ll have to take their word for it.

I like to think that all the hard work and passion I put into my undergraduate career is preparing me for the grueling hours that come with teaching. But I’d be lying if I said a part of me didn’t fear “burning out”–that I’d reach my dream job only to realize I’m a crummy teacher who is sick of slaving over mediocre lesson plans.

But a larger part of me believes I will eventually become the teacher I want to be. The kind of teacher who can make an impact on a student’s life–the way so many teachers have for me. Most of all, the thought of so many hours and not enough pay vanishes as I realize that teaching being “my life” is not something to fear but something to embrace. That’s not to say that I don’t believe teachers are underpaid and under-appreciated. That’s not to say that I won’t be struggling through the situations faced by the teachers in this documentary. I’m just saying that I plan to enter education with nothing but love and commitment. And much like many of the educators in American Teacher, I will do whatever it takes to–not only remain a teacher–but to be an effective one.

If anyone else has any EDU documentary suggestions I’d love to hear them!

All that jazz

Recently, my brother and I were discussing education and at one point he implied that teaching English is more impactful than teaching music. He said, “you don’t have to know jazz to be a good person” meaning that an understanding of jazz isn’t a fundamental life skill–the way english is. And while my well rounded philosophies were dying to argue against his statement, I had to admit he had a point.

That’s not to say that music isn’t important or meaningful, just that not everyone will stick with it as they age. Additionally, music’s elective status even allows some people to avoid it all together. While English’s common core status and universality (essays, projects, job applications, interviews etc) means it follows you forever.

So when edutopia tweeted “What do jazz, literature, art and vulnerability have in common?”, I had to click the subsequent link. The article, Count Basie’s Blues: Literature, Art and Vulnerability, was  a teacher’s narrative about a student connecting with literature and jazz (and the emotional aspect of teaching). It was a good read. While it was mainly focussed on pathos, I found the answer to my question upon reading this quote:

“…my trick for engaging students was to give them the arts. I learned it from my principal, Ms. Mitchell, who encouraged us to take our kids out of poverty and into theaters and museums — and to bring that richness back into the classroom. It was, after all, a universal language that could touch and inspire.”

To me, an ideal class does more than stand on it’s own–it compliments the other subjects students are taking. One of the goals of eduction is to get students to draw connections: ultimately using their knowledge to develop an understanding of themselves and the world. In order for me to “bring richness into the classroom” I can’t be afraid to branch out into other subjects. So maybe my brother is right, maybe jazz doesn’t reach as many students as English does; but maybe I can change that. What I’ve realized is that all teachers have the ability to bridge the gaps between subjects and that the best way to make my students well rounded is to be well rounded myself.