Sunday, June 15, 2008

Course Feedback

1. What was most helpful for you in terms of learning about urban schools and working in urban communities?
It was helpful to write and read several blogs about people’s assumptions about an urban community/education. As teachers I think that it is important to identify some of the assumptions and even prejudices that we might encounter while teaching. This is valid not only for an urban school but for any other as well, there are assumptions based on almost anything that we do, so that there would be assumptions about the schools and children going to a private or catholic school, just as there would be assumptions for students from rural areas and even suburbs. Learning about the urban community was one more step and one more opportunity that I could look into in terms of educating others. As a teacher I would like to make a difference, to cause an impact in my students, teach them to care about what they are learning and not just learn to pass a test; and teaching in an urban district may make this idea more meaningful and identifiable. I liked the fact that there was one course solely dedicated to instruction about urban education; I liked the straightforward style in which it was thought and the fact that everyone’s opinions were respected.

2. How might the course be organized differently? Think in terms of length of time for course, placement of activities, use of technology?
The course seemed packed with materials in the beginning, but then the readings dwindled. Though the syllabus had many pages, the assignment portion was left blank in the second week. It seemed that the readings were too close together at first and then none at all. Since there was a 15 blog requirement, I would have like to see more readings, or more opportunities for discussion.
The visits to the schools were great, my only complaint is that there were not organized ahead of time. Also since I was taking another course in the afternoon, I wasn’t able to attend all the schools I would have liked. Maybe the visits could be more spread out or an opportunity to visit the schools at different times. Though the presentations were nice, the most useful parts for me where the actual classroom visits, the opportunity to see teachers and students interacting; what was being used, how they were learning and how they were divided or grouped. I feel that the material that was presented could have been provided in a packet with more time dedicated to classroom interaction / visits. Maybe during the fall or spring semester there is more time for this, but nevertheless, it would have been nice in the summer as well.
I really enjoyed using the web as a tool and learning how to implement it as a tool in my future classes as well, especially the blogs which students are often already familiar with and will like the opportunity to create their own for a class. I am prone to say that technology is an integral part of life, you can’t move away from it; and teaching students how to use it effectively, properly and to their benefit is an excellent tool regardless of which subject or setting you are teaching. I had other courses that had placed readings on blackboard, and I found this useful since we did not have to purchase books.

3. What readings were most useful? What readings should be replaced? What types of readings would you have liked to have read?
I liked the readings on Teachers and Monday morning as well as the Hollywood article about the preconceived notions of urban education and what appears to work as effective methods. Both of these opened our eyes to what teachers are or are not aware of, what is missing and what could be included in educating future teachers. Additionally the Hollywood article played into many assumptions that either we held ourselves, or were familiar with from others around us and prior readings or encounters.
I would have liked to read more about teaching techniques, about what should be taught to future teachers. I would also have liked to read about success or failures in urban education; both from students and from the perspective of educators. I would also have liked to discuss the readings more in the classroom, especially since towards the end there weren’t as many readings, I would have like to have them more spaced and then have the opportunity to discuss them or interact with them during our class time.

4. What could I have done to make this a more valuable experience? What teaching styles worked for you? What could have made the learning experience more accessible for you?
I enjoyed your teaching style, open, informative, providing your doubts, your agreements or disagreements with education in general as well as sharing your experiences. I also liked the ability to read your blog with your insights, opinions and projects. The open classroom with chances to interrupt, ask questions or provide feedback was a comfortable setting. I must admit though that I liked the traditional lecturing or information providing as well, especially when we went over the politics in education. I was not aware of all of the layers or of all the differences in types of schools and funding, so that class really helped me. The only other aspect as I mentioned before, would have been the opportunity to visit the other schools at another time.


Self Reflection
1. What were your expectations for this class? What did you hope to learn? What did you learn?
To be honest I registered for this class because it was a requirement in the program. I went to an urban elementary school for two years then on to the first year in high school, both in Newark. I had good experiences in both schools, that is to say, I like most of my teachers who had a positive attitude towards students, believed in us and pushed us to the limit always saying that we could do anything we wanted to. I won’t say that all of them had this attitude, unfortunately a few did not and actually told us that they saw no point in our continuing to go to school since most of us would not amount to anything. Take these so-called teachers and combine them with the Hollywood depictions of urban schooling and you have a nice ugly picture, but again Hollywood is Hollywood, it is making money, selling to the masses, and the masses like to think of themselves as correct and the worst the picture, the better. So when I entered a course on urban education I had actually expected it to show those schools that was most in need. I was actually delighted that after all the incorrect assumptions and readings, the class had a chance to see urban schools, much like the ones I attended, that did work, that had caring professionals.
I hoped to learn more about teaching in general and also about techniques or methods that work more effectively in an urban setting. I did learn quite a bit. Mostly I learned about how people’s misconceptions and about the politics of education which like all politics serve to push forward only those on the inside, while leaving those most in needs, our children, where they were originally – still in need.

2. What was your biggest personal challenge in terms of the themes and content of this course? What was your greatest accomplishment?
I don’t know that it was my biggest but certainly one of the main challenges was to keep a blog for the class, where I could put my reactions and opinions and where not only the teacher, but also all of my colleagues could read and give me feedback. I was very self-conscious and apprehensive in the beginning, but found it really rewarding and an excellent experience overall. It was great to receive comments regardless of them being positive or negative, because it made me reconsider my thoughts, and my writing. It did not necessarily make me change my mind, but it opened me up to a bigger picture, especially after reading some of the other blogs. I saw it as a great tool, one I intend to keep using it for my future educational classes and possibly into my teaching career. I also hope to have an opportunity to demonstrate this to my students and invite to share the experiences in a closed setting within the school or classroom only.
My greatest accomplishment was learning the methods and techniques that can be used by any teacher, not just in urban education. By that I mean that I saw my initial assumptions about a good teacher materialize, namely if you want to be a good teacher, you have to care about your students, your subject, your methods, you have to give more of yourself not just expect students to step up to expectations. Learning like trust works both ways, you have to give in order to receive and having students want to learn is something you earn not something you can force. I would also say that coming up with a website focused on urban education and on our subjects was one of the biggest accomplishments so far in my studies as well. It was a great opportunity to work in groups, to gather material and to learn from the entire class about different subjects within the urban setting.

3. Based upon what you’ve experienced this semester, what do you think are the most important skills, knowledge, and dispositions that teachers need to develop if they plan to work in urban schools? Where are you on this journey? Even if you have decided urban teaching is not for you, what will you bring with you as a teacher?
I think the most important skill / disposition for an urban teacher is the knowledge, belief and drive to make urban students as successful as any student. Urban teachers need to know and be prepared for entering a different environment, but above all they must be open to embrace the diversity in all senses of the word among their students. As mentioned several times in our classroom, the teacher must teach, he/she must leave behind the bureaucracy, the paperwork, the impediments that pop up wherever he/she turns, and teach with his/her heart and soul, believing that the children are capable of learning and doing / exercising any profession they choose.
I think that I am on the right course of the journey, but not yet fully ready. I have learned about urban education, have experienced it first hand as a student, have also had experience as a suburban student, but now I think that what is missing is a “how to course,” where I can learn to develop effective lesson planning. I am aware that different students learn in different ways, at different paces, but I would like to be exposed to different techniques, possible ideas, what doesn’t work, what could work, etc.
Though I attended an urban school, like the ones we visited, it was more or less the same inside and outside. To be frank, I haven’t yet decided if urban teaching is for me, sometimes I think it is, that I would like to be part of one of those schools and try to make a difference, push students, show them what they are capable of and may not be aware of. At other times, I am not sure, and my biggest fear on that is not being brave, strong enough to be there for them all the way (by them I mean ALL students). This will be a factor in any school and I am counting on my future courses, fieldwork and student teaching experiences to push in the right track.

School partnerships with the University

The participation of two of the persons responsible for the partnership program in the university in our classroom was very informative. Not only did we learn more about the partnership program, what it entails, the benefits for both sides and the differences that it is making in the schools in question, but we also learned more about the politics and what goes on behind the scenes in the education world. I think that good teachers should also be aware of this backstage information, of the political aspect of education, of ways to improve their classes, their school, and their own education.
I had some previous knowledge of the types of schools that exist, but their clarifications and examples really helped to clarify the status of the different schools, the choices of parents and students, the money, the budgets and the qualifications of students and teachers, in some of the cases. It was also interesting and hopeful to learn of the schools where administrators are open to new ideas, improvements for their students and educators, partnerships, where the focus is on student achievement and progress rather than on discipline. I was particularly interested in the parental involvement factor in the schools, and the contrast between schools with and without parental involvement; the tremendous influence it has on student’s learning and willingness to learn and succeed; as well as the teacher’s relationship with parents and guardians. One of the ideas I took from the visit as well as from our classroom was that of speaking to parents either before the start of classes or during the initial week, with a possible visit to their houses, to show interest in each student and a commitment to help them learn and succeed. I also liked the idea of calling parents to let them know of the progress of their children, of something positive that happened, rather than calls simply to talk about issues, problems, and misbehaviors.
The last bit of acquired information was the idea of the culture of the urban schools (and this will apply to any school actually). But specifically related to schools where there are metal detectors and other security devices. I had never stopped to think of their impact not only on students but in teachers and administrators, and the way in which they are presented, tolerated or ignored plays an important part on the behavior of the students and how they perceive themselves and their environment.

The role of the media

The media plans an important role in people’s lives, either by providing actual news, or by portraying realities and even fantasies in movies, dramas, sitcoms and others. Although many reports and news are delivered in a seemingly plain and effective manner many appear to be embellished or built-up to cause a greater impact on the public.
I notice this especially when there is a report on someone who became successful. It is always portrayed as a bigger accomplishment if the person came from an unfavorable background and even more if that person came from a known urban area in great need of improvement. Although it is important to note that there are many success stories from all over the globe, I think that the main point should not be and the person came from an urban area, as if he or she is the only one that could overcome obstacles. I think that in order to diminish and hopefully end assumptions and negative receptiveness to urban areas, the pieces should say another person who succeeded among many doing great things in urban areas. I think that singling out is exactly what the media does best, selling the news and furthering the misconceptions about urban areas. The media is not showing the potential of the areas, rather it is distancing them even more, making them seem worst so that the individual’s accomplishments will appear greater.

Culture Project

I see culture as an element that embraces the individual, for instance it can be summed up into what makes someone, and his/her features, behaviors, habits and even choices. Features, sexuality, gender, language and religion are all parts that help build us into who we are and influence, reflect or go against our culture. As an example, a Muslim woman may have one view on people from her own culture and from the world around her, while a Buddhist monk may have another perception and behave completely differently. I know these are extremely examples, but they serve the purpose of illustrating the differences that are in the world and that often can be seen in classrooms. Certain nationalities and religions use silence as respect, acknowledgement and acquiescence, so that a child may simply listen to the teacher while glancing down and not answer back, as a sign of respect, not of ignorance, misunderstanding or negative attitude as would often be assumed by someone in the US for example. Teachers must be aware of the diversity among students, learn about their customs, their cultures in order to provide them with the assistance needed without confrontation or embarrassment.
The US is home to many cultures and beliefs while at the same time fostering its own. From the poles and readings, we learned that the majority of teachers are white females. To follow along this idea, I would venture to say that many of them are unfamiliar with other cultures, and may not know where to start or how to address different situations. As white females, they have views on sexuality, perhaps liberal, perhaps not, but some of which may not even be considered possibilities in other cultures. In the same token they may have their own assumptions about their students, their behaviors, their potential, their knowledge, as well as about the area in which they will be teaching; all of these are shaped by their own culture, by what they are familiar with, have experienced or seen. It is difficult to separate experience and belief from reality; just as it is difficult to set aside wrongful assumptions about someone, or a group of people from another area, another country, another religion, another culture.
I tend to tie or make a link between one’s culture and one’s nationality or heritage, because in my case since I am Brazilian, but with heritages from Portugal and Italy, my culture is shaped by all of these countries and their cultures and customs. In my collage I tried to make sense of who I was, where I came from, how I got there, my goals, my experiences and my future as a teacher. When I first read about the project, I didn’t know where to start or what I would include, as I started to look through photo albums however, I couldn’t decide on what to include and by the end there was so much I would like to have included that there would not have been enough space; so I left many things out from the collage but which I tried to include in the presentation and which I hope to include here as I reflect on my culture.
I started with the people who influenced me and who I am, by placing two very distinct pictures, which reflect my Italian and Portuguese heritages as much as it reflects the poor side of the family with the affluent one. The happy picture of the entire family on my mother’s side is at my grandparent’s house, a simple house made by my grandfather through much struggle but a home to the entire family and the friends seen on the right side as well. What they didn’t have in currency they made up and doubled in love, affection and support; we were all together, crammed into the tiny kitchen with a table filled with the best food, from their mini-farm. To the right of that is a picture of my parents in my paternal grandparents’ dining room, the fancy room, in a fancy house and a dysfunctional family. My parents are total opposites in everything, from their personalities to their physical traits: my father is tall, and my mom is short as you can see they are very happy, not. They were divorced when I was eight years old and only posed for this picture because I asked them to, about 15 years after the divorce, when we returned to Brazil for a visit. For those cultures where women play minor roles, usually victimized, oppressed and without their voices, I respect but feel badly for them at the same time. In our culture, women are equals and for me specifically my mom was my pillar, she is someone I aspire to be: strong, willful, hard-working, sincere, honest and someone who supported me and still does no matter the consequences. Their divorce is the reason I came to the US, hence the airplane where I made my long journey, and there is me a 10 year old on New Year’s Eve seeing snow for the first time; my milestones.
The picture in the center is me now, married to a wonderful husband (who unfortunately is not in the picture) and mother of two beautiful daughters, my life and joy. They are among the many reasons why I decided to become a teacher. I want to be able to take part in their education and help other children, perhaps children like me when I arrived here learning English and struggling to be a part of this culture. At the top right is a phrase I use often and truly believe in Tomorrow begins today. My culture, or I should say the Brazilian in me, says that we have to live today like there is no tomorrow; there is no point in just waiting for the future and not enjoying or living the present. There is always hope for the future, for a better education, for the end to prejudices of all types and the embrace of diversity, but it must be accomplished one step at a time, and it has to begin in the now. This is also something that is part of the motto or the hopes of the group Olodum, whose CD cover I have attached also. They are a Brazilian Samba-reggae band that plays several types of drums, there are about 40 of them, and they have many social projects, among them taking children off the streets, placing them in school and teaching them to play instruments; and one that is aimed at ending racism and prejudices of all types in Brazil and around the world.
On the right, I also attached a memoir I submitted for an English Writing class which focuses on my studies in the urban school when I came to the US, the teachers I encountered, good and bad and my struggle to learn a new language and culture, as well as the reception from students and professionals. I also attached a critical thinking paper I wrote, actually it is the first chapters of a novel on an American ambassador’s family who travels around the world, learns new languages, learns about new religions and cultures and then returns to the US to share their experiences while trying to fight against prejudices and negative assumptions. This is a project I would like to continue and which I think can be expanded with the classes I am currently taking, including our Urban Education class. Above this piece I included the words Meaning and Diversify, because I think that it is important to make meanings out of personal experience and above all it is important to diversify and embrace diversity. I also attached to it as representing this idea a map of the world filled with opposites, and representations; and a picture of colored pencils to show the differences that exist and the fact that put together they create a beautiful rainbow.
I was a good student in Brazil; I went to a Catholic school and was among the top students of my grade. When I came to the US, I entered a public school in an urban area and although I excelled in other disciplines, I was placed in an ESL class. I was in a Portuguese dominated community where the dominant view was that Brazilians were ignorant, lazy, and any other negative connotations you may imagine. My goal was to prove them wrong, to defend not only myself and my family, but my culture and country as well. Yes, I think that my culture played an important role in which I am, and how I got here, my struggles and my accomplishments. I left for a suburban town at the end of my freshmen year, but I had certainly proved to them that my culture also had intelligent and hard-working people; I was 4th among over 400 students. What I take from this into my hopes as a teacher is the idea that all students are capable of excelling, it doesn’t matter where they are from or where they are living. I see them all as equals, because that is how I wanted to be seen. It doesn’t matter what nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, what culture a person is from, they are to be respected, given incentives and praise.
I want to be an English teacher for middle school or high school and I would like to be able to include readings from foreign authors as well as American and British literature. I think that this would give everyone a sense of what is available, differences in style, writing, and even cultures. I would also like to include this collage activity to introduce students to one another, or to introduce the diversity and culture themes into my classroom. I think that it is an effective and fun tool, one that gives all students a chance to participate, to show their abilities, their talents and their struggles.

Day Two, School Two

In this school there wasn’t a lot of presentation, there was a short and sweet introduction to the school, information on its being one of the largest in the district housing children from Pre-K through 8th grade; overall pretty standard information, just as my school years. The school’s surroundings were more typical of the idea of where urban schools are located, near a highway and taller buildings.
This is the school where I had the longest amount of time where I visited classrooms, and spoke to teachers at greater length. Though there was a brief itinerary, visiting three classrooms, we toured almost the entire facility, dropped in on several classes at random, from language arts, to technology, to science, to a contained classroom. Teachers shared with us ideas of what worked in their classrooms, of different types of approaches with different types of students. We also went into a Read 180 classroom where students where using the computer to assist them with their English assignments. As a future English teacher, this really caught my attention as I learned the benefits of such a program and what could be done with the right resources and the right attitude.
I was impressed with all the schools and happy to see the environment in all of them. I liked the openness of the teachers, and the interest of the students in whatever class we went into; this I credit teachers for, making the subject interesting, making it matter to them and captivating their attentions. With all we have learned about the difficulties in urban education, and setting aside all the myths and assumptions, these schools were great examples of what can be accomplished in any school.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Second Day, First School

This school was a little different than the one in yesterday’s visit, not only in terms of the grades that it housed, but also of the diversity of the students. There was still team spirit, enthusiastic and extremely happy students, younger children with big smiles and huge inquiring eyes. This vision makes me recall another class I had last semester where the professor made the comment that in the younger grades students seem happier, willing to go to school to learn, it is when they are getting older that the interests seem to shift or the desire to learn seems to decrease. His next comment, all the more interesting because it really is something to think about, was: What are we (teachers, school personnel) doing wrong? What has changed?
As I walked through this school I kept reflecting back on these two questions. I am not saying that the other schools did not have happy students, often outgoing and very intelligent. I am just commenting that it was noticeable. These were just questions, maybe the younger students in the other schools, with whom I did not have contact where just as happy, maybe it is nothing to do with educators, it could be a specific group, a specific place. Either way I believe these questions are important for all schools and teachers in all areas urban or suburban and in all grades pre-K through college and beyond.
One of the aspects that I thought was very interesting was the ethnicities in this school, mostly Hispanic. A positive outcome we learned was the multiple ESL classes and bilingual programs put in place to assist all students. Not only would those students who were learning English as a second language be benefitting from such programs, but the native speakers would in turn be learning a second language at an early age. I saw these programs as truly valuable for all students as well as for teachers, administrators and even parents. To run along on this point, this school seemed to have, or at least mentioned more parental support than the previous one. The school had parental meetings and even volunteers.
Finally, close to the end of their presentation, we were told that for many of these students, they would be reading books for the first time when they entered into the school. They may have no previous reading or being read to experiences, so the school, these teachers would be the first ones to introduce them to books, to the knowledge and the fun one can achieve by picking up a book to read. I thought that their gift of a book of stories that their children often read was one of the most thoughtful presents I ever received. It illustrated so well the commitment of the school to the students and their families as well as the devotion of the teachers.

First Day, First School

As I entered the first school we visited on Monday morning, I felt as if I was back in my elementary school. It had the same outside look, the same stair cases (floors and floors that you had to run up and down on), the same hallways, and once inside the classrooms, the same classrooms. A few of us mentioned how the windows, the blackboards: old and almost unworkable and even the same back closets decorated with colorful collages reminded us of our own elementary schools, at least two decades ago. Yes the building was old, but the teachers and students seemed as fresh as the spring. We were greeted by students nicely dressed in jackets, proud of their responsibilities, mainly escorting us the visitors into the classrooms and the gathering sites; their pride was palpable as was the pride of the teachers for their students.
Was the visit what I had expected? Yes and no. Yes as far as the building and conditions, mentioned also in the Power Point presentation, mainly lack of enough resources, struggle to achieve parental involvement among those frequently mentioned. I was lucky enough to have attended an urban school for a couple of years so I knew or hoped to prove myself right, that the students would be working just as hard, proud of their schools and responsive to the teachers, just as the teachers as in any other school, or to correct myself, as any good teacher, would be doing their best with what they have available. Both of these were evident as we walked into the school, listened to the presentation; spoke to a few teachers and even students.
No it wasn’t, in terms of the conduct of the classrooms, classroom size, teachers or even the inside of the building. When I attended school the regiment was pretty authoritative, teacher as the center of attention, individual work and total silence. What I have learned in the MAT program so far are the techniques to implement group work, teacher as facilitators rather than strictly authoritative and use of creative and critical thinking rather than simply repeating back material. In most of the classes we went into, children were working in groups, teachers walked around for assistance but there was no silence, and there was complete interaction. Did it seem real? Did it seem like a show for the visitors? Those are tough questions to answer. I think a little bit of both, but the students were familiar with the structure and adapted to it quickly, so that may count as evidence that it had been done before. The size of the classrooms was smaller than what I had but within the limit of what we are told is good, about 16 students. I will say that all of the teachers seemed very in tune with their students, showed care and concern. For the inside of the building it was colorful rather than the dull beige or gray people are used to seeing in schools. Additionally all the walls were decorated with works from the students, papers, drawings, and pictures. The school looked alive and happy.
One disappointing element was the series of answers to what was being implemented out of a trip that several of the educators had taken to Japan. Their description was impressive, they seemed to have grasped a new culture, a new diversity, but when it came to what would be done to imitate the successful school system; the answer was implementation of uniforms and a focused awe on cleanliness. I apologize but that seems a bit absurd! It was great that they noticed that everything was clean and that students took part in helping. What was more impressive was the individual discipline of the students. The fact that they were conscious of others, such as the example of someone on the bus assisting an elderly unknown, or more closely related to the school: the fact that students don’t need to be assigned homework since they are all expected to go on to college and will therefore review and study themselves without having to be told. None of that was part of something they would be working on for their students. I understand that they did not have an opportunity to sit down with teachers to go over lesson plans to construct their own, but wouldn’t their observations suffice to brainstorm a lesson plan, a structure of their own?
The visit was very valuable in terms of leaving any preconceptions behind, of reinforcing existing knowledge of urban schools from prior experience and above all to see what a school can be like with positive teachers and students. Unfortunately nothing is perfect and this was a big letdown of sorts as far as new techniques and ideas within reach that would not be implemented.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Memorial Day and Urban Education

“Memorial Day is not about division. It is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those who gave their all.”* The quote refers to the establishment of Memorial Day in the 1800’s and the honoring of US fallen soldiers only by the Northern States rather than by the entire US. At its beginning the holiday still held the resentment of families of soldiers from the South who had fallen and lost; while the North celebrated not only its soldiers but the fact that they had contributed to the winning of the Civil War.
This quote taken from a website on what is Memorial Day can be connected to urban education. It seems that teachers, students and anyone involved with urban education is constantly fighting against typical beliefs and stereotypes, trying to come together to end any and all types of division and segregation between their school and a suburban or rural school. The holiday took years to be recognized by all states to encompass all fallen heroes. How many years will it take for stereotypes to end regarding urban education and for those who have the power and ability to make necessary changes to take action?
* David Merchant "Memorial Day," January 2008.

Hollywood’s Middle-Class Fantasy

As I read the article, I kept thinking about the movies that were mentioned that I had already watched. I saw the pattern that was mentioned, the stereotypical troubled kids, in drugs and gangs, waiting to be rescued by someone from the outside who came in to prove they had a chance and could make a difference. I saw all this but as with many of the movies I saw, I didn’t see it as the norm of the urban schools; I saw it simply as Hollywood making movies to make money.
In the same token I don’t know how much of the article is valid and how much is overstretching to serve a purpose: the article’s insistence that urban education’s problem is seen by the masses as a problem with the attitude, morals and behavior of the students, not as lack of funds and a responsibility of government and offices in general. It was interesting to note that of the films mentioned, there are differences between urban and suburban schools, teachers, students and administrators, all of which are what people normally consider stereotypes. I am not agreeing with Hollywood’s depictions; nor am I entirely convinced that the public will see the movie as a reality or a true depiction of reality. Aren’t stereotypes present in almost all movies, plays, and acting in general? Isn’t stereotyping used for a point of reference, so that the public will perceive or understand what is being portrayed? By the same token, isn’t the public aware that they are shown stereotypes?
It was amusing to read of the teacher/principal rescuer figure as the cowboy of these films, the lone person with his or her own methods, discipline and of course past. What I thought was most interesting and this relates to the urban schools being fixed by these figures was that they are depicted as coming from a suburbia, a middle class sometimes, yet their unconventional methods are embraced, tolerated and supported since they appear to be serving a higher purpose. The bothersome whether this is just movie making/money making is that all of the movies depicted really did show problems as just individual or morally based. Again the article mentions that the few exceptions to this rule where movies that did not earn as much money, therefore, were not seen by as many people and as such can be argued that they were not adhering to the stereotype or were in fact more threatening to the middle and upper class perceptions of urban education.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll

I am not inclined to like any type of poll and with this one it was no different. The poll seemed to tend or be biased by lumping similar responses together to appear to be a majority answer, when in fact if looked at separately they were not.
What I did find interesting and a repetitive factor in several readings and even in class discussions, was the observation that the more information or the more familiar people in general became with the NCLB law, the more they disliked it or saw it as ineffective and faulty. The initial idea behind the law seems to be solid and even noble, but unfortunately instead of opening doors for everyone to learn it is acting as a barrier for those with any type of difficulty, whether they are students with disabilities, foreign students or simply those who are not as privileged as others. It’s not concerned with students’ abilities, it is concerned only with whether or not they can pass State designed tests in select areas. The poll mentioned NCLB’s requirement of students being taught by highly qualified teachers. I would like to ask the same question that it asks: what does it mean to be highly qualified? Does it mean being certified? Does it mean having a bachelors in the discipline to be taught? Does it mean having a masters, or perhaps a PhD? Are those the only requirements? Does being a highly qualified teacher have to do with sincerity, willingness to help, openness to new approaches, new techniques, diversified teaching and learning, does it have to do with honesty? Is good character a part of a highly qualified teacher? None of these questions are answered, but I believe that they are important especially to prospective teachers who wish to make a difference, to help students not only in school but in their lives.

What Teachers Should Know

After reading about the lack of knowledge from teachers on the diversity of students across the nation, I reflected back on this article which I viewed as attempting to explain why there was confusion on diversity. America has always been a diversified country, unlike the old European countries, the US was discovered and populated with people from all over the world. In the past predominantly the trend had always been for more whites than other races, but as the article suggested, there is no more clear cut race, indeed how could there be? People travel, merge and separate, travel again in a never-ending cycle.
I remember one of our classes where there was a discussion on how to decide the number of students that graduate from a class; which was reported as percentage graduated in the high schools. It involved the same concepts addressed in the article, namely that of transiency and racial and economic segregation. The discussion also touched upon aging and the fact that most voters for school budgets are retired and less than likely willing to support budget increases and improvement in the school systems, since they don’t have children going to the schools and do not wish to spend more from their own often limited income.
To me the most important point of the article was the idea of “switch[ing] from race to national origin.”* I agree with the article’s statement that it is more beneficial to the teacher and to the students to know more about one’s country of origin than to simply focus on race. I say this in order to embrace, expose, learn and teach other students about the differences, similarities, facts, and beliefs present in all nationalities. By learning a student’s origin, researching and then interacting with the student and his/her family the teacher will be able to break through myths and preconceptions, find the strengths and struggles, hence be in a better position to assist or bring out the best in his/her students.
*Harold Hodgkinson "Educational Demographics: What Teachers Should Know" (2000, Educational Leadership, vol 58 no 4, p. 10)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Preparing Teachers for “Monday Morning”

I thought that this article provided some interesting points especially the statements of educators learning more themselves and having a positive attitude towards urban education in order to be able to pass on or instruct future teachers about urban education and about the potential of their students. How can educators prepare future teachers in a field they themselves are unfamiliar with? How can they show teachers the values, benefits, the richness of urban schools when most of them are unaware that these exist?
An interesting fact that I had not noticed was the article’s pointing out that these urban areas that already receive less money because of devaluing of property, families of lower income and deterioration, are the homes of universities, hospitals and museums, none of which pay taxes. In other words they are valuable resources to have but unfortunately they contribute to the cycle of low investment in the schools. Even more disturbing is the article’s statement that although these places are in urban areas, many urban students may never enjoy any of them nor will they attend these universities as students but rather as low-skilled workers. It is no wonder that stereotypes about urban education and students are so difficult to break.
As we have learned in class, there are many preconceived notions about urban education, many myths, but also many realities, not pertinent to all urban communities but present in many of them. The article highlights the lack of resources, of materials to teach, of a proper gym, of air conditioners, of textbooks; as well as the difficulties students may be facing such as racial or cultural discrimination, health issues such as HIV and most predominantly poverty levels, sometimes with no roof over their heads. In the face of all of these challenges, the article’s response about what can the teachers change struck me as realistic and worth pondering: “Our only recourse is to change ourselves: our preconceived (conscious or unconscious) derogatory perceptions about our students and, most important, our will to effectively educate our students.”*
As I had mentioned before I am a believer that one person can make a difference and as such by throwing away wrongful perceptions and by placing responsibility and high standards as goals for these students, educators are making them aware that they too can accomplish their own goals, they have a future and the teachers are there to help them on their way. Educators should provide examples of pedagogy strategies that prospective teachers can use with their students. These models may or may not work for all classes or for any class, but at least they are possibilities, ideas.
According to statistics the majority of teachers are white females, that is not surprising given the culture of the country, but what was surprising and very disturbing to read is the fact that a great majority of these teachers are unfamiliar and worst unaware of the diversity in the US and ultimately in the schools and classrooms where they will be teaching. True that statement seems far-fetched to me, as an immigrant, and as someone living in the East Coast, most specifically in the Tri-state area, but I would not doubt that this is true in other areas of the US where the immigration trend has not expanded as much to the proportion it is here.
*Jennifer E. Obidah and Tyrone C. Howard "Preparing Teachers for 'Monday Morning' in the Urban School Classroom: Reflecting on Our Pedagogies and Practices as Effective Teacher Educators" (2005, Journal of Teacher Education, 56, p. 251)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Pedagogy of Poverty

I think that this article spoke directly about the myths and beliefs that people in general have about urban education, namely that teachers must spend most of their time simply monitoring and disciplining their classrooms, rather than teaching. It referred to the pedagogy of poverty as appealing people who “did not do well in schools,” to “those who fear minorities and the poor,” and to “those who have low expectations for minorities and the poor.”* Though it provided these examples, I don’t see it as helping to dispel these incorrect notions. Additionally it contributes to the notion of urban students as incapable of learning, of reading for themselves, of willing to improve. It was interesting to note that the article described commonplace activities such as parent conferences, not as opportunities to share positive elements about the school and children, but rather as another way to tell parents about how poorly their children are doing, behaving, etc.
The ideas about the reform of the pedagogy of poverty were a bit confusing. There are always those who hope to improve education, those who say they have a method that will work. On the other hand are those who feel helpless and powerless to effect changes and those who make a change and are pushed back into the norm by students themselves. As such, according to the article, it is always the teacher who is held to blame for the students not learning. But what student involvement and interest? The issues of learning critical thinking without knowledge of the basic skills are also part of what should be added to the pedagogy of poverty. But I agree with the article in that all students should know basic skills prior to or simultaneously with learning more complex process that will be essential to their growth, development and well being outside of the school environment. Finally I agree with the statements that good teaching can only occur with student involvement. What is the point of providing a great lesson when students are not listening, paying attention or interested?
*Martin Haberman "The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Assumptions about Urban Schools

I’ll begin by saying that of the six years I went to school in the US as a teenager, half of them took place in Newark, NJ; currently designated as an urban school. I say currently because since I studied in the Ironbound section, I had never really considered it an urban school until I reached the high school freshman year. My assumptions then are based somewhat on past experience, what I can recall from it and how it was over 15 years ago, as well as an aggregation of bits and pieces I have heard, seen or read from unreliable sources. Fortunately some of these erroneous and absurd assumptions are beginning to dissipate as I read more for our class about today’s urban schools.
It was during my freshman year at East Side High School that I saw more diversity between students and teachers; since in middle school most of the students and over half of the teachers were Portuguese. It was also at East Side that I felt fear, I felt threatened or oppressed depending on which building I was going to or which staircase I had to take between classes. I will note that in this case I don’t recall being afraid of Portuguese students, though some were not very innocent to say the least. What I feared was the rivalry between the ethnicities, the veiled and outspoken hymns of which nationality, race or group was better, smarter, stronger, etc; it became steadily worse after that. Here is a question for myself or an assumption of sorts: Was I not afraid of the Portuguese because I was a descendant, could speak their language and had friends among them? Did I think that if I did get into some sort of problem, that I could count on them (this group) to help me out? Why?
Recalling my behavior and what I felt is almost like watching a scene from one of the movies that always portrays urban schools as bad, as dilapidated and beyond repair. Do groups always stick together and is that something just from urban schools? Doesn’t suburbia have its own groups, just as tight, strong, rivals, dangerous? I will answer my own question, yes it does. I moved into a suburban school, a mostly Italian neighborhood where though I was a descendant from Italians as well, I was still an outsider. There was no more fear of walking in the hallways, but there was also no group there that would come to my aid if necessary. I had escaped the urban pressures, but I was not home free. My assumption is that not all urban schools are the same, some systems work better than others, some may be more oppressive, have more violence while others have innovations and programs in place yet are still labeled urban because of their geographic location and lack of resources.
I had some great teachers who cared about every one of their students, about their progress, their improvement, their well being within and outside of the school. I also had some terrible teachers whose style was to lecture to the walls, without paying attention on whether any of the students were learning, had questions, paid attention or were busy throwing flying airplanes across the class. My initial assumptions about urban teachers were: 1. that they really liked teaching, used innovative / creative methods and wanted to make a difference (the good ones); 2. Had begun working there, had done it for so long that felt stuck or simply didn’t want to move on, while at the same time didn’t care whether students were learning or not (the bad teacher); or 3. Were there as a starting point, to gain experience or eternal fear of the profession (the teacher that could go either way).
So far I am still inclined to go with these assumptions but I have added a few more to my list. For example, I don’t know if I could teach at an urban school right now. I say this because I sincerely hope to be a good teacher, and to do that I believe that the teacher has to care not only about what he/she is teaching, but about the students as well. The teacher has to be able to identify with the students as a whole and to all the baggage that they bring with them: their knowledge, their fears, their backgrounds, their culture, their environment, their families or lack thereof. I think teachers have to possess a hard coat and a soft touch; they must be able to withstand pressure not so much from students, but from the parents, the school and the system, but they must be soft or show their care and concern; their will to teach and their openness to learn.
As far as the students from the urban schools, my assumption is that they could all improve at different levels with the right teacher, method, system, and safe / orderly school environment. In the last articles we have come across, many of the concerns about urban schools are the buildings themselves; how they are falling apart, not functioning properly and acting as a distraction and impediment to learning. When I went to East Side, there was a pool on one of the buildings on the top floor which had not been working for years. Do I think that some students might show more interest if they could use the pool; if it was an option in gym class or if a team were put together? Yes, I do. Would it have made a difference for me, not particularly, I can’t swim; but not all students are wired the same way, that is not all of them have the same reaction or receive their incentive from the same place.
I don’t see urban students as inferior to other students just because they live in an urban town; they are not less capable of learning. My assumption is that if they are inferior it is because of the type of education that is available to them at that school. At the same time, there may be students who will look for ways to learn outside of school by going to a library, museum, or tutor. Just because they are there doesn’t mean it is by choice, it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable or willing to improve and do better; but may be just lacking an opportunity. I don’t think though that all urban students intend to graduate and go onto college or other scholarly professions or schools, just as not all suburbia students intend to go on to college; but that is not to say that they cannot aspire to do better just because of where they are.
When we were talking about urban schools and towns, some of our assumptions were that people who live there are poor or at least at a lower income than those in the suburbs. There may also be people who are there because they are close to others of their ethnicity or culture; those who live there because it is closer to where they work, or more convenient because of transportation, and commodities (shopping district, supplies). Often it may consist of people who do not speak English well, who are immigrants, often in an illegal status, who have an easier time finding manual labor or jobs without skills in the centers. My assumption is that people do tend to live in niches, and these are often found to a greater extend in urban cities than in suburbia, unless these niches are more prominent.
I honestly don’t know how my interaction with other teachers in either setting would be. I would be looking for a mentor or someone I could identify with, someone I saw as trying to make a difference for students, a positive influence. My assumption is that there will always be bad teachers who can be found anywhere not just in urban schools. Actually my assumption is to the contrary. It is that currently many good teachers are going into urban schools to attempt to change the system, to break the molds and stereotypes. I would often question the system, the methods, and the changes that are slow at being proposed and even slower at taking place, so that I don’t know if the bureaucracy would win over the willingness to teach.
I want to conclude with some questions, some of them to myself, to try to decide if I could be an urban teacher. Did my experience in a Newark High School over 15 years ago really count as an urban education? As an aside the year I left was the year they placed metal detectors on all the entrances. Did living among those who spoke my language make it easier to study there at the time, because of culture and ethnic similarities? Would that still hold if I were teaching in another urban school? Just because I am from a different background and culture, does that help me to understand all other cultures, backgrounds, beliefs? Is it more difficult for me to let go of some of my assumptions because of having experienced an urban education or should that make me struggle more to disprove them?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Urban Schools Articles and Citations

Calderon, Margarita. “Staff Development in Multilingual Multicultural Schools. World of
Education Library. July 1997 May 22, 2008
The article describes the increase in multiracial and multicultural students in classrooms, while the majority of teachers remain white; it also states that teachers should learn how to deal with these students in order to foster a healthy environment. It explains the gap and lack of understanding that has emerged between bilingual and mainstream teachers; the lack of assistance in the development of a better program for bilingual teachers and their accountability in bilingual student’s education. Most importantly it discusses the needs of bilingual teachers, their knowledge, and change in methods and pedagogy that would be needed for improvement.

Desimone, Laura. “The Role of Teachers in Urban School Reform.” World of Education Library.
July 2000 May 22, 2008
This article speaks of the need for a CSR (complete school wide reform) to change both teaching and learning; one that should have the participation of teachers for its selection, development, and evaluation as well as implementation. It also refers to the time that is needed for effective planning and development of curriculum and lessons; mentioning the success of teachers who are provided with more time versus those that struggle with the time they have.

Schwartz, Wendy. “Family Diversity In Urban Schools.” World of Education Library.
September 1999 May 22, 2008
This article described the differences in students’ homes, which are no longer the traditional models. Children’s families may consist of only one parent, divorced parents, same sex parents; children may be in foster care or living with a grandparent or other member of the family and may come from multiracial backgrounds. Its main purpose is to educate teachers to be considerate and attentive in addressing student’s homes; rather than the traditional “father” and “mother” denominations. Additionally it is important for the teacher to acknowledge the family’s or caregivers wishes whether that home can become public knowledge or not.

Weiler, Jeanne. “Girls and Violence.” World of Education Library. May 1999 May 22, 2008
This article cited examples of girls’ violent acts, distinguished them from the typical acts committed by boys and commented on the increase in violence among girls as well as an increase in arrests and punishments for these crimes. The article proposes a correlation between violent women and their troubled home environment; as well as one between girls who come from different ethnicities, races, and lower income backgrounds. One finding that I was not aware and that was cited was the possible correlation between girl’s lower achievement in school and their tendency to violence as opposite to boy’s behavior, where higher grades lead them towards “acting out.” The article ends with a brief description of programs that aid girl’s tendencies towards violence.

Schwartz, Wendy. “The Schooling of Multiracial Students.” World of Education Library.
November 1998 May 22, 2008
This article centered on the definition of what is considered “multiracial” and what educators can do to make their subject matter to multiracial students. It begins by mentioning the increase in the number of “multiracial” students and families in the US and indicating that the term multiracial will be used to define “individuals of mixed racial, ethnic, or cultural ancestry whose lives reflect multiple heritages.”

The article explains that some multiracial students may or may not identify themselves as multiracial, in fact, they may either opt for only one race, culture or ethnicity, or as the article blatantly states the student may opt simply to be “classified solely as human, asserting that any designation other than ‘white’ relegates them to a lower status, given existing racism.” On the other hand, there are those students whose parents teach them to be proud of their heritage and demonstrate such pride openly.
Although the article was not as “illuminating” as I had hoped, it did shed light into how educators should conduct themselves, how they should assist all of their students regardless of their background and how they can ensure a safe, tolerant and respectful classroom environment. Most importantly it instructs educators not to group students because of their appearances or ethnicity since everyone has different cultures, aspects which may or may not be observed; additionally a student, his/her parents may choose not to demonstrate that ethnicity. Educators should speak to students and their parents/guardians; find out more about them, their ways of coping with stressful, racial situations, rather than assuming.
As I had mentioned before I am originally from Brazil but I came here when I was 10 years old. Until my first year in high school I lived in the Ironbound section of Newark, which was then predominantly Portuguese, with some Brazilians and even fewer Hispanics; where my experiences were passable since many of the teachers were also Portuguese and familiar with our culture and of course language. I then moved to Belleville, a predominantly Italian town, where resistance, skepticism and rudeness was unfortunately not limited to students, but openly engaged in by teachers as well. I know that the view on non-American families in general has changed somewhat with the increase in immigration, but racism is still very much a part of our lives. It is sad that even after reading this article, after attending several classes in the education department, there is so much that could be done for all students regardless of their race, ethnicity, culture that is not done because of the system and because of those who could make a difference but stand in the sidelines instead.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

the Promise of Urban Schools

I guess the first thing that came to mind as I was reading this article is that many people take for granted the differences among schools and education in general. It seems that it is assumed that all students should learn the same material, pass the same tests, meet the same standards,yet if we are to look at schools, urban schools as they said in the article, we will notice that this task becomes almost impossible in some areas. It is discouraging to enter into the field of education full of hope and ideas, and then encounter an article that shows the harsh realities we may be facing depending on where we will be teaching.Diversity exists everywhere. I personally see that as something valuable, something that can teach, provide a lesson in itself, instead of being ignored, run over or disregarded.
Unfortunately the article shows that often the population of urban schools is mostly minorities and lower income, students who are not appreciated, nor will have the opportunity that every student should have.Whenever we think of education, we think of homogeny, of everyone being on the same page, everyone being able to learn the same things at the same pace. Too often, people in general, and even educators forget about those that cannot keep up, because of where they are, their school, a learning disability, a lack of knowledge not only of content, but also of the English language. Though the latter is associated with immigration, it is not necessarily a rule. One of the sentences in this article that illustrated that was "all too many schools lack all-day kindergartens, reading resource teachers, science labs, small classes, art and music, state-of-the-art books and materials, culturally relevant curricula, and other important material and human resources for an enriched and engaging education." Senior Fellows in Urban Education "The Promise of Urban Schools" (2000, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, p.9) I thought the quote was a perfect example that many times it is neither the students nor the teacher's fault that they cannot pass a test or are not up to standards but the fault of the system, a system that is nowhere near perfect.

I kept thinking about Ron Clark, a North Carolina teacher who decided to teach in New York after watching a program about Urban schooling, the lack of teachers and the struggle of students in the poorest neighborhoods. Clark described driving by several schools and stopping at one where he saw a fight between a teacher and a student; he broke it apart, talked to the student then to the principal saying he wanted to teach there to try to make a difference. He won teacher of the year award and is currently traveling to research other schools in need of improvement as well as other teachers who have taken on an innovative approach.
As I read about innovative methods of teaching, of success not only in including the students in decision making and in reaching out to them in terms of responding and incorporating aspects of their daily life and interests; I recalled my readings of Ted Sizer's book Horace's School where he emphasizes that students should take part in decisions about their studies, in the creation and implementation of their curriculum. He also stressed the importance of having what he called exhibitions, basically interdisciplinary projects that would enable students to "show" what they had learned, apply the theories, and incorporate their creativity as well as critical thinking skills.

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