How Stories Shape Our Lives – Part 1

1)   Gregory Michie addresses the struggles and stresses involved in teaching by using the representation of a powerful current underwater. Self-educating and connecting with those around you, both colleagues and the community, were highly recommend by him to ensure a successful experience. Michie advises us not to dwell on implications we encounter or  to obsess over control but to make sure to recommit ourselves to our passion in the end. Most importantly, he suggests to “choose your battles early on, pace yourself, swim with the current when you have to, and never lose sight of that spot on the shore” (51); restating to not always fighting against such forces but to stay strong and keep in mind what you believe in.

2)   In Rita Tenorio’s story “Brown Kids Can’t Be In Our Club” she discusses situations that  occur with diversity in our classrooms. She provided age-appropriate activities to highlight similarities and differences amongst everyone and ideas on how to exercise comfort and safety in the room. These various activities hold a great deal of potential to allow our students to listen and communicate openly amongst everyone and to feel welcome in doing so. She also emphasized the importance of sharing our own personal stories with our students as well; if we can’t open up to them, how do we expect them to open up to us. Lastly, Tenorio states that the acceptance of these diversities are not simply there to make our year go by smoother, but to prepare the students to improve our society in the future.

3)   Throughout “What Can I Do When A Student Makes A Racist or Sexist Remark?” Rita Tenorio outlines the fear and uneasiness of discussing racism and sexism. She puts emphasis on how we cannot assume our students do not understand the realm of these topics and to ensure we do not shut down its existence if it is brought up. The quicker educators push this discussion aside the sooner the students will pick up that it is not important; if we choose to respond they will listen, if we choose to forget about it nothing will be fixed. Most importantly she states that we cannot sit and scold the individual who made the comment, yes we must take into consideration the person who said it, but also the person(s) who felt it, how we personally felt it, as well as how we need to respond and discuss this issue with our class. These conversations will open up the door for our students to get to know themselves and each other on a more personal level.

4)   Sudie Hofmann’s “Framing the Family Tree” emphasized the need for awareness of our students, not just their favorite hobby, but more so their backgrounds and families that support them. The realization that not each student lives that status-quo lifestyle where they go home to both mom and dad everyday. There are, more commonly than not, families who are single parented, split families, extended family members as guardians, gay, lesbian or bisexual parents and sometimes have no recollection of their actual parents at all.  As educators it is our job to be sensitive, to provide a safe, comfortable place for all students, regardless of their at-home lifestyle, to come each day and feel accepted. We must practice inclusive language, show media and images of family diversity but should also avoid the assignments that focus on parental celebrations; do not alienate individuals who may not have that parent. We want all of our students to feel appreciated, accepted and loved, no matter who makes up their family.

5)   In “Heather’s Moms Got Married” author Mary Cowhey outlined basic diversities in schools such as sexuality, language and races. Her main focus was on introducing new family structures and lifestyles to her students by experiencing these themes throughout the curriculum (video, pictures, books). Cowhey explains that family is “the circle of people who love you” (108), which is the most inclusive and accurate definition you could come across. Teachers need to exercise these equal rights for all orientations otherwise it will show kids that their families are not ‘as good’ or ‘as normal’ as everyone else’s.

6)   Annie Johnston’s “Out Front” deals with an incident of homophobia in schools and what society’s  gender expectations are. School environments need to be safe for our students, especially for those who need that extra support of an unsure identity; both sexuality and color.  An excellent way to begin removing homophobia is by decreasing the amount of antigay language in our schools; enforce that it is school wide, not just in a few classrooms as students will not always adjust to the rules of one room. Teachers need to be role models, sometimes even psychiatrists in this case, whether they are gay or straight, and to provide this support and encouragement to all of their students regardless of orientation as well.

7)   “Curriculum Is Everything That Happens”, an interview with Rita Tenorio, highlights the fact that learning never stops and that we cannot give students the impression that education is academic-based only. Learning continues years after we graduate, in our daily lives, and as teachers we need to prepare out students for those future years as well; continuing to learn and continuing to practice social justice. Tenorio recommends that we follow the curriculum as expected, but to always be willing to go above and beyond to enhance our students’ learning. “Curriculum is everything that happens. It’s not just books and lesson plans. It’s relationships, attitude, feelings, interactions. If kids feel safe, if they feel inspired, if they feel motivated, if they feel capable and successful, they’re going to learn important and positive things” (165) is an incredible quote showing exactly how and where our students are learning from, but also through the hidden curriculum; they notice and learn to neglect what we push aside and see as unimportant.

8)   Bob Peterson and Kelley Dawson Salas discuss the variety of English as a Second Language programs available in “Working Effectively with English Language Learners”. Through incorporating visuals, speaking clearly and audibly, we can slowly create an inclusive classroom for all different language-speaking students. The authors emphasize that teachers should learn their students’ cultures and languages, be willing to allow them to practice their native language within class when required and use these skills towards them so they feel appreciated. By performing skits, plays, participating in choral readings or partner readings, these ESL students will slowly gain confidence to step out of their comfort zone and continue to improve. Working together and learning each other’s language will enhances our skill levels as individuals but will strengthen the relationships we share with our ESL students even more!

9)   In “Teaching Controversial Content”, Kelley Dawson Salas shares how fearful and insecure educators can be when approaching discrimination topics. It is our job to bring other staff onboard and to build a supportive team for our school. To avoid ‘permission’ conflicts, feel free to go to your principle, explain the importance of this subject and how it fits into the curriculum at the beginning. Engaging our students in social justice content is essential, so strive to include it but do get to know your community inside and outside of the school; do not assume there won’t be a problem. As Salas points out, “teach first, answer questions later” (203); provide your students with necessary facts then deal with the altercations and questions after.

10)  Dale Weiss’s “Unwrapping the Holidays” covers the yearly issues with the diversity of holidays and traditions. He shared his experience of trying to integrate other beliefs into the holiday season instead of assuming every student celebrates Christmas. Introducing these alternatives is beneficial for our students to learn about, it is not suggesting that they should change their beliefs; some staff won’t always see this two-way street. Older staff can also be shy of change and may go against your suggestions in fear that you are a ‘new teacher’ and will be unwelcoming to these new ways. If we choose to stay focused on one tradition we are deliberately hindering students’ knowledge growth.

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