Saturday, August 22, 2015

Multiplication is For White People: Chapter 1

Once in a while you come across a book and think, "I just HAVE to read that."  When I came across Lessons With Coffee's proposed book club, I jumped right on it!  As I mentioned in my previous post, I am a teacher in downtown Detroit and my student body is a little different than the sunshine and rainbows you see plastered all over back to school advertisements.  The book we're reading is called "Multiplication is for White People" Raising Expectations for Other People's Children by Lisa Delpit.  After reading up on it, it seemed like a book that could easily benefit me in the teaching position I'm in.  One of my biggest complaints about my college experience is the lack of preparation there is for teaching students in urban environments.  It needs to be addressed - but that could be an entirely separate post.  ANYWAY...

The first chapter was an incredibly easy read and is now filled with plenty of my annotations and side notes.  I am big on "talking to your text" with my students, so it only makes sense to practice some of it myself, right?  Plus, it makes referencing back super easy - which I will be doing a lot of here.


There was a portion of the chapter that was filled with quotes (some old and some very recent) and they were all linked with a common theme - that African American's are inferior to others.  One of the most recent quotes, by the former secretary of education, William Bennet, went horrifically like this - "If you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in the country and your crime rate would go down."  Even typing that out made my stomach turn.  I will not be displaying an image of my annotations on that page and I am sure you can imagine why.  

A lot of the chapter discussed how society has set up our young black students to fail and that we as educators are often not hitting the mark where we should be in order for them to succeed.  I am such a liberal you guys and I just want equality in such an imbalanced and disgusting society.  Each year that I teach, I talk with my kids about their future and, I mean it when I say it, I am genuinely concerned about where the road of life will take them.  Doesn't any decent teacher feel that way?  Knowing the odds are stacked against them can keep me awake at night.  I am that type of person.  The fixer.  The one who cares so much that I want to solve all the problems.  Can I?  No, but if more people had that mentality, could we?  I think so.  

For this chapter, we had a scenario posed to us...
Imagine a little black boy, like millions around the country, who goes to the community center after school to shoot hoops. The first time he shoots 20 times and misses 20 times. Still, he comes back every day. The next week he might make a few baskets. After a few months of daily attempts, some days he makes 7 or even 10 out of 20 attempts. Other days he makes only 3. After a year or so, he makes more shots than he misses. Despite week after week of relative failure, he continues to try, until he eventually finds success.
The first thing to think about is why the boy doesn't give up - but why would he?  It's a sport he loves and kids love to get it right.  That is until an outside force says "no you can't!"  Then the road is split - the boy could prove them wrong or he could give up all together.  Too many times we see kids give up because society has taught them that there is no point in trying.  People have created the harsh environment in which people live in - do you think people really wish to be that way?  Think about it.

If we want students who engage in the practice necessary to achieve, if we want students who persist in the face of failure, if we want students who want to come to school, then how do we need to change the way we teach in order to get kids to view school failures the same as basketball failures?
- newmediaandmarketing.com

I don't know who told me this, but I know it came from the time I was in high school, but someone told me that the most important thing you can do is know your audience.  It doesn't matter if they are friends, colleagues, buyers, or anything else - just know your audience.  I know that with the beginning of each school year I question how I can become a better educator for my kids.  How can I get them where they need to be?  What steps do I need to take to make sure that I am doing the absolute best of my ability?  KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!  If you don't start at day one and get to know your kids, all of them, then there is no possible way you can cater to all of their individual needs.  It's just not possible.  Someone will fall at the wayside and that is doing them a disservice.  I talk to my students a lot about my personal live and in turn they love to share any bit and detail about their personal life in return.  We have conversations.  I'm not the boss and I never refer to myself as anything like that (okay maybe we do a class example of branches of government I may have once..).  We are a community of learners together and I am learning from them while they are learning from me.  


Have Fun Teaching (YouTube)

We like to take dance breaks in my classroom and sometimes I like it to have an educational swing to it (don't think we don't GoNoodle a ton, we DO!) and skip counting is always a task for my kids.  In my first year, I found the silliest songs and my kids wanted no part of it.  When we started to use the skip count set from Have Fun Teaching on youtube, skip counting became a lot easier!  It's not a baby song, it has a beat they can move to and it's right in their interest level.  In this case, knowing my audience was the biggest piece of the success puzzle.  I knew what kinds of music my kids liked, what they needed to work on, how long their attention span would hold, and how visual they are.  This will be my third year using these videos and we start from the beginning of the year and go all the way until the end of the year.  They always get better at it and they've never grown sick of it.  They have always jumped and screamed when I put it on - which I don't mind because their excitement is important to me.

In the end it's society that creates the achievement gap and as educators, we have to stop letting that happen.  Can I do it by myself?  I don't know, probably not, but for the sake of optimism on a Saturday night...  However, can we make that change?  Absolutely.  Make what they're learning about what they love or already know and I promise you things will get easier.  It's a constant cycle and I know I have to continue on it, but I will continue to you do it because I have to know my audience.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Inner-City Teaching

Talking about this has been a long time coming and it’s something that I have been questioned about many times over the last year – especially when interacting with so many teachers/bloggers/creators.  First of all, I am an elementary teacher at a charter school in downtown Detroit, MI.  Saying I teach IN Detroit often leaves a certain kind of look on someone’s face, but before we make any judgments, let me explain.  I love my job!  Is it stressful?  Yeah, I’m a teacher!  Am I faced with circumstances that are unique or different from those outside of inner-city teaching?  Absolutely.  However, none of these things have ever made me consider leaving my job.  I am going into my third year at the school I am at and I am excited to start the new school year and meet my new kids!’


Teaching inner-city is not for everyone and I know that.  I can’t say that I ever imagined myself teaching downtown, but I always knew the demographics I wanted to work in.  Poverty and inequality have always plagued my mind.  Even as a child, I didn’t understand why these things existed or why they still have to.  That feeling, or that spark, is part of what drove me into the desire for teaching students that come from low-income communities.  I could get into statistics and numbers about what the outcomes typically are for these kids, but this isn’t a college course and I’ve already written that paper.  





I'm sure we've all heard the popular Gandhi quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world."  It's always been a favorite of mine - I even had this phrase on a pair of TOMS at one point in time.  Such a simple concept pushed me to where I am today.  I don't like the idea of knowing something exists and not doing anything about it. It's a constant internal battle not to speak my mind sometimes!  While in college though, I really started thinking about kids who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and the statistics in the paper I previously mentioned.  I couldn't help but ask myself, "How do I see change if I'm not part of making the change?"  It's as simple as that.  If I want these kids to have a better future or outcome, I want to be a part of getting them there.


My students come from a wide variety of backgrounds.  Believe me, they aren't all bad!  However, with inner-city teaching, there are students who don't have a consistent place where they feel safe, secure, welcomed, and sometimes even loved.  One of the best parts of my job is that I get to be a part of that place for my students.  Sometimes students see a loved one get killed, sometimes students are homeless, or sometimes students are just struggling with a million little things at home and I can make our room the place where all of that goes away.  Is that an easy task?  Nope!  However, it's part of the challenge and struggle (see below).


I have taught in the suburbs and it was great and fun, but it was just different.  Was it easier?  Oh yeah.  The kids are different in inner-city areas.  They have a spark and personality like none I've ever seen.  There are times it can drive you crazy, but more times than less, it's the greatest thing in the world to me.  They have an appreciation for opportunities and being exposed to things for the first time that I've never seen in other kids.  Many of my students are mini-adults and have adult personalities.  Pulling them from that cloud and back down to kid land is tough, but so rewarding when they get there.  Are my kids a little wild?  Yeah, but they aren't bad kids.  Most don't have the fun play dates in the park or sidewalks to run down and play tag on.  That desire and energy for play has to go somewhere.  Is my classroom loud?  Almost always.  And almost always it's perfectly fine with me.


This is my favorite part!  I was a social studies major in college and I am still fascinated with history, geography, cultures...you name it!  I'm in!  I love studying people and the ways they do things.  Working in an urban environment provides me with the chances to learn so much about so many different cultures.  I have always been fortunate this way though.  Living in the Detroit area provides the opportunity to be exposed in a cultural melting pot.  It's great and I embrace learning more about anyone or anything I can.  We even study local cultures and beyond in my classroom - that's how important celebrating diversity it is to me!  Intolerance often comes from a lack of understanding and exposure.


I'm sure some people love that easy breezy lifestyle, but it's just not for me.  I like to be challenged and I'm the kind of person that when told "I can't," I am determined to prove that "I can!"  Each day in my classroom is a challenge.  I don't think that's a bad thing though.  I face struggles that most teachers do, but there are added bits and pieces of interesting moments that always make me say "Wait...what?"  I had another teacher (from another state) say, "Oh, don't do that, have parent volunteers do it!"  I instantly wanted to reply with the laughing/cry face emoji because I do not know what that is.  I've never had that happen.  If I can get a working phone number, I'm pretty excited about it.  If I can get 25% of the class to bring in their school supplies, I'm pretty excited about it - that means I only have to buy for the rest of them and not the WHOLE class.  The struggle is VERY real.  Should I have to buy supplies, shoes, clothes, etc. for my students?  Maybe not, but sometimes they need it and when it comes to items that go home with kids - I always check with parents first.  I don't want to overstep boundaries, but ultimately I am there to help my students in every way I possibly can.

...................................................................

See?  It's not so bad!  It's actually really wonderful!  I don't have to worry about being laid off at the end of every year and I'm not told at the end of the summer I'm going to be teaching a different grade.  I don't have the stresses that many teachers do because their administration doesn't engage that conversation first. I LOVE that and I love my administration for that.  I have a principal who is so easy to talk to about anything.  She's wonderful and she supports her teachers. Do I love everything in my school?  No, but who does?  Do I agree with everything in my curriculum?  No, but who does?

A college professor once told me that teaching one year inner-city is like five years in the suburbs.  Maybe she was right, but I don't feel like I've been teaching that long.  It's hard work, but for those people who really want to be the change, I highly recommend you try it.  

A couple great articles on inner-city teaching to get you thinking!

Survive and Thrive: Why Some Inner-City Teachers Don't Leave

A Day in the Life of an Inner-City School Teacher

Monday, August 3, 2015

August Pick 3 Link Up!


Welcome to the August Pick 3 Pinterest Picks!  I am so excited to be linking up with some really incredible blogs (that all of you should follow) and I hope we're all getting a little bit of information that will help us with the back to school madness.  I don't know where everyone starts, but in my school, teachers report back for two weeks of PD starting on August 24th.  In other words, I have 3 weeks to live it up!  (By live it up, I obviously mean set my new classroom up and move tons of furniture haha!)

Every year I'm looking for something new to make my life a little easier and a little more organized at the beginning of the year.  This year, I found a few hot ideas that I think are going to be worth my while and hopefully yours, too!

 This year I am handing out flip books to parents with tons of classroom info that they will likely ask throughout the year.  I usually send home tons of paperwork and hand outs, but think seems a lot easier because it puts it all in one place.  
Click the picture to link back to Pinterest!
There are tons of variations of these flap books out there and al over Pinterest  but I am a teacher and I know how it goes, sometimes we are on the hunt for a good freebie!  This lovely at Mrs. D's Corner linked this beautiful (and editable) flap book for FREE!  Since it's editable, you can really make it your own and apply it to your classroom the way that you need it to work!  
All I have to do is cut and staple?  I can handle that any day of the week!  Plus, the brightly colored papers make it fun and friendly.  It's a different way to get all the B2S stuff in without it being a boring packet of white papers.  

Because we live in a time when people are SO connected with their phones, I try to always find the best ways to keep parents informed on what we're doing in our room.  Sometimes parents need reminders about upcoming tests or events going on in the school that they may have forgotten about.  This is where Remind 101 comes in!
Click the picture to link back to Pinterest!
I have used Remind 101 in my classroom before and I LOVE it!  You can even create printouts for parents that let them know exactly how to sign up.  It's Thursday night and we have a test the next day, and I'm sure ALL of my students will remember to remind their parents they need to review, but in case they don't, I have Remind 101.  It's great to set up on Back 2 School nights or to send home with the beginning of the year items.  I like to keep in touch with parents as much as possible.  It's quick, it's easy, it keeps your personal number private, and it's so beneficial!



Okay, so heres's the thing.  I LOVE taking pictures.  It doesn't matter where or when or why or how - I just love doing it!  I have always taken pictures on the first and *close to last* day of school.  I say close to last because where I'm teaching doesn't allow me to run to a one hour photo place on my lunch break to let kids take their pictures home.

This year I am really pushing myself to expand my use of portfolios in my classroom.  I want this to be a way to showcase how much my students have grown throughout the year, but I also want it to be something that they can take with them when they're done.  We've done memory books in the past, but with their portfolio, we can see just how much they've grown academically and even physically with the added photos.

Click the picture to link back to Pinterest!
The amazing Jennifer White over at First Grade Blue Skies comes up with some of the CUTEST things I've ever seen.  She's absolutely amazing and if you aren't following her yet, do it!  I love that she has this cute bulletin board up that works perfectly as the backdrop for a first day of school photo.  Seriously, SO CUTE!  I like the lake of color because it makes the student pop out in the picture.  Sometimes when it's too colorful or busy, the eye misses the subject of the photo - our kiddos!

There are so many inspiring things we can find on Pinterest, I know that we could go all day, but there's lots left to explore, so make sure to link up!