Monday, May 21, 2018

Graduation speech

Some of my friends and colleagues suggested I post the speech I made at graduation when I received my university's graduate teaching award. It was exciting that people really seemed to like it😊.

Here it is:

William H. Riker University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching
Graduation, 2018

Thank you Dean Kearney, Provost Clark, and President Feldman. I am deeply honored to receive the William H. Riker Award for excellence in graduate teaching today. Thank you to Jeff Choppin, Raffaella Borasi, and Brian Brent for nominating me and for marshalling the case through the process. And I thank my students and colleagues who took the time to write letters. Most especially, thank you to all the students who have given me the gift of their trust.

I have had the privilege of working with students from preschool to doctoral study over the course of my career. I currently have the privilege of working with teenagers at East High School as part of our innovative Educational Partnership Organization. Teenagers are pretty cool when they are not your own childrenJ. Teaching is a sacred practice for me. When I am working with students of any age, the rest of the world fades into the background and the human beings in the room stand in sharp focus. We know that human learning is all about relationships and that the relationship between what Freire calls teacher/student and student/teacher is where human learning happens. There is nothing more meaningful and exciting than that look, that spark in the eyes of someone who has had a realization or figured out something they’ve been pondering as part of you working with them. I have been privileged to see that look in 3-year-olds and in 50-year-olds. Nothing is more exciting. I love it when students tell me they couldn’t sleep the night after class because their minds were blown. I do the fist pump dance secretly in my office at East when I overhear my 9thgraders talking in the hallway about something we did in class.

A fundamental principle that guides my teaching is based on the work of Jacques Ranciere in the book The Ignorant Schoolmaster, and that is: all intelligence is equal. This view aligns with what Freire calls the armed love of teachers; an indispensable form of love required of progressive educators. As Crampton (2017, p. 19) suggests:
Teachers can and do choose to view each student as good, worthy, and whole, that staying in a deeply interactive relationship is a choice that requires moment-to-moment action. This isn’t pablum, it isn’t teaching ‘because I love kids.’ Remaining in relationship with students — responding with love, care, belief in their goodness despite evidence to the contrary — requires tremendous energy and work. It is generous, but not for reasons of charity or largesse on the teacher’s part, and, I hope, not in ways that would be considered colonizing; it is generous because it leaves open, over and over, the possibility of ‘shared mutual humanity.’
Taking these principles of love and shared humanity into account, teaching becomes showing intelligence to itself. I try to do this by constructing a safe interactional space for students to take intellectual risks, to challenge their beliefs and ideologies, and to step into unchartered territory. I know when intelligence sees itself when that look, that spark twinkles in their eyes. I am honored to be a part of those sacred moments.

I close by saying it is a special honor for me to be the first faculty member from the school of education and human development to receive this award and the third woman - the first in 20 years. Thank you, Dean Kearney. I see the receipt of this award at this time as an opportunity for all of us to work toward increasing the range of what counts as excellence in graduate teaching. I am honored to play a small role in helping this happen.

Crampton, A. (2017). Mobilizing Love in Literacy Classrooms: Connection, Resistance, and Pedagogy(unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach. Trans. D. Macedo, D. Koike, & A. Oliveira. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 
Rancière, J. (1991). The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

I shall not be broken

People who know me know that I am passionate about justice work in urban schools, that I am impatient with incompetence, that I do not play nice in the face of injustice, and that I am a terrible liar who has no poker face at all. What you see is what you get. I hate playing politics.  And I never give up.

I feel like I'm always in trouble, that people dismiss me.  I am full of contradictions. I try to live a life of love but I hate the evil in charge of the US government and the permission it gives to other evil to spread. I am angry all the time. The #metoo movement has touched deeply into my own history and brought out rage. I fight negativity daily.

I will not stand for sexism but am terrified when sexually harassed in the street. Yes, this still happens, even at my age. Recently a man passed me in the street while saying quite loudly, "I wish I could climb that." My heart racing, I did everything I could to get away as fast as I could. I am 6'3" and this sort of comment has been a daily evil. It still terrifies me.

I struggle with staying optimistic in the face of evil. All that is happening in the US under criminal leadership takes a real toll on my soul. The hope I see in Emma Gonzales (@emma4change), the Black Lives Matter movement, and perhaps the #metoo movement fades quickly when the next horror hits the news.

I cannot stop myself from calling out racism at macro and micro levels. My soul hurts at the constant flow of murdered black and brown men and women at the hands of the police state. As a white woman, I fight as an ally. As a mother of a biracial young man, I am terrified of that knock on the door by the police.

When doctors ask their typical questions about whether I feel hopeless or safe in my home, I can't help but hesitate. I usually make a joke, but it is not funny. As long as we have the government we currently have, the answers to these questions are yes, I feel hopeless. No, I do not feel safe in my home, or the street, or the workplace. The evil that runs rampant in government jeopardizes my life, the life of my husband and son, the lives of my friends and colleagues, and the lives of millions of people I don't know but love.

I try to "stay in my lane" as my dear friend George Moses always says. My lane is education, specifically literacy education. Ah, but what a lane that is. I have the privilege of being a part of something grand in a unique partnership with a Rochester high school that gives me hope on most days. The kids are amazing. We have excellence in teaching and in administration. We have made real and meaningful change for the better. It is good.

It is also terrifying, heartbreaking, and the hardest work I have ever done. People who do not spend their everyday lives in high poverty urban schools DO NOT UNDERSTAND what happens there - the tireless dedication of teachers and administrators to make a small, meaningful dent in the lives of the children and youth they love, only to be vilified in the press.

And it can be crushingly disappointing to work this hard and have the state change the rules. It's impossible to survive under constantly changing rules. Get the numbers! Raise those scores! The threat of state closure looms daily. Everyone suffers. Most of all, kids suffer because they get lost in the battle for higher numbers. It's impossible to do what we know is best practice in teaching and learning when you are under constant threat from state sponsored racism. Add to that state sponsored poverty (e.g. redlining) and what appears to be complete indifference to the plight of millions of Americans living in these purposeful conditions and the impossibility weighs heavy. I believe "they" change the rules on purpose. "They" have no intention of letting urban schools find ways to educate youth. This is white supremacy.

But ...

People who know me know that I am passionate about justice work in urban schools, that I am impatient with incompetence, that I do not play nice in the face of injustice, and that I am a terrible liar who has no poker face at all. What you see is what you get. I hate playing politics.  And I never give up.


Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Refuse to cave

I know it has been a long time since I have posted and there is a lot to catch up on. But...I just had to post today about not being willing to cave. I refuse to acquiesce that students at East don't care about learning.

I have the privilege of co-teaching a high school class that students designed on Hip Hop. It is not a class using hip hop to teach a subject area; it is a class about hip hop. Students proposed it last year and it was accepted as a .5 credit elective. A group of 6 students came to a Young Writers' Camp I ran last August and framed out the curriculum, decided the assignments, and made assessments. It was a beautiful thing. As it turned out, only one of those curriculum writers ended up in the class (long story). We have 17 amazing students enrolled.

The class has only met 5 times, but I have been disappointed because it doesn't seem the kids are as excited about the class as I thought they would be. I rack my brain every night thinking about what we need to do differently. I noticed a couple of things. Attendance is a real problem. This is not news to anyone here or in urban schools generally. I realized there are interpersonal issues the students deal with and it seems like some only come to class when they know another person isn't going to be there. I can see we are competing with multiple other issues the students are dealing with at home and at school. I feel like they are excited but maybe I just haven't learned how to read it.

I say all this because as I have shared my struggle with different teachers and administrators today, the overwhelming reaction is, "welcome to East." Like I am not supposed to expect excitement and authentic engagement from our students!!! This, I refuse to do.

Luckily, just as I was about to finish this entry angrily, I ran into a teacher who talked to me at length about how expectations have been constructed for our students over time and gave me suggestions for where to go next. I was getting really discouraged that all the work we (the University) have been doing the past three years was for naught. It's isn't; I need to see past preconceptions of "engagement" or "excitement" to where the kids live and pull, not push. I knew this, but had forgotten I guess. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Putting a stop to fascism

Many people have recently messaged me on Facebook saying they feel powerless to resist Trump. Some people have told me in person they cannot openly resist due to their jobs or their family situation. This got me thinking about putting together a list of a variety of ways to resist, both openly and clandestinely. The beginning of that work is below. It is by no means complete or as comprehensive as it could be. Please add ideas and resources yourselves. It’s basically in list form. I will continue to refine as you tell me more resources. I’m thinking this is one step in building a coalition of resistance. There are many groups and organizations that are doing this work, some who have been doing so for 50 years. Frankly, the Sioux Nation and other Native Americans has been doing it for hundreds of years. No need to start from scratch.

First, I need to clear up at least one of the many blatant lies the GOP has perpetrated to distract us from facts. There is already a law prohibiting the use of federal money to fund abortions; it's called the Hyde Amendment. It has been on the books since 1976 and was recently codified https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/senate-bill/142/text
Defunding Planned Parenthood is the Tea Party’s attempt to control women’s bodies and to further deny women of color and poor women adequate health care. They are lying when they say it’s about not funding abortions BECAUSE THAT WAS ALREADY LAW!!!

Also, no one who is pro-choice is pro-abortion. The point is that women have the right to control their own bodies. The GOP, conservative Christians like Pence and Ryan in particular, use language about abortion to distract from their real agenda which is to return women to the status of property. This cannot and will not be allowed.

In terms of thinking about organizing resistance, there is the always reliable Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rules_for_Radicals. You can purchase it at https://www.amazon.com/Rules-Radicals-Practical-Primer-Realistic/dp/0679721134 Interestingly, the Tea Party used this book as part of its long term strategic planning to take over the Republican Party. We can use the same strategies to take over the Democratic Party or to put up a viable radical third party. It clearly worked for them.

Here is the evolving list of resistance strategies:

Tax Resistance

·                    Legal ways to resist taxes
o   Loopholes
o   Reducing taxable income
o   Pay under protest - include a protest letter with your payment

·                    Illegal ways to resist taxes
o   Tax evasion
o   Redirection – donate $ to charity
o   Refusing specific taxes like the telephone federal excise tax used to fund war
o   Refusing to pay at all, quietly or by open declaration

 Marches
Phone calls
Letter writing campaigns – swamp them with paper
  • See above for Senate and House info
  • Here is Paul Ryan’s home address:
    • 700 St. Lawrence Ave. 
    • Janesville WI 53545
General strike
Boycotts - hit them in the wallet
Direct action (ex. Bree Newsome)
Donate to activist groups such as:
Boycott corporate media or at least hold them accountable
  • The six corporations are Comcast, News Corporation, The Walt Disney Company, Viacom, Time Warner, CBS Corporation
Find and use independent news sources - use MORE THAN ONE
Participate in citizen journalism - start a blog
Create/Sign petitions
Bear witness – video and post police actions
Develop a rapid response team
  • All you need to do is commit to calling, texting or e-mailing an urgent notice to 5-10 of your friends, family members, neighbors, co-workers or classmates whenever an urgent matter is before us – Michael Moore




Thursday, November 10, 2016

I will not be broken

In light of the terror of the US election and my recent attendance at a talk by my heroine Angela Davis, I have some things to say.

I will not go quietly into the night.

I will not acquiesce, reach across any aisle, or seek to "work together." I will obstruct, resist, and follow the people into the streets. I will stand alongside African Americans, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, Latinx, Black Lives Matter, and Standing Rock to fight oppression and hate. I will not seek to "reform" a system made only for white male property owners that is designed at its core to exclude me. I will not assimilate. I will not allow white men and women to "make American white again."

I will fight to eliminate the electoral college and to build a viable radical third party that is actively anti-racist, anti-mysogenist, anti-homophobic, and anti-xenophobic.

In the past day since the election, gay pride flags have been burned in Rochester, swastikas painted on walls, a hijab pulled off a Muslim woman with the statement "now you can't wear this," men have accosted women saying, "now I can grab your p***." This hate cannot be allowed. I wish a man would say that to me. Watch what I do.

I will interfere, I will talk back, I will put my body in front of deportation squads, I will expose and fight police terror.

I will not go quietly into the night. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Last day!

I can't believe today was the last day of the EPO's first year!! Once my co-teaching got into a flow, time just raced by. Managing the data collection/analysis for the ethnography while teaching made my calendaring a unique experience. For reasons I still can't explain, the closer it got to June, the more intense everything became. There were field trips, parties, awards ceremonies, prom, and all sorts of senior events. With the warmer weather, family groups started meeting outside and playing a huge variety of outdoor games. And the varsity baseball team made the sectionals as the first RCSD team to go in 36 years!  The pace of the everyday left me breathless.

Overall, the critical literacy project went well. There is a lot to rethink for trying again next year. All of us felt like just as the students finally "got it," it was the last day of class. I wish we would have hit stride much earlier. Their projects ended up being very good. We put together a website so they could share beyond the classroom or the teachers. The site, Youth Doing Justice, explains a bit about critical literacy, shows who we are with a scrolling set of photographs, and the "our projects" page is all students. Given the time constraint, I did the first two pages of the site, but the kids did everything on the projects page.

Because this work was called a "pilot" so we could do the work without also having to do the Common Core module, we had to write a report for a meeting where we showed all our unit and lesson plans. Even though I know the chief academic officer well, I forgot to include enough "evidence" of students meeting standards. I think I thought the projects would speak for themselves. Silly me. We did use a portfolio of student writing, their research documentation, daily reflections, and an essay where they talked about what they learned from the project to grade using standards-based grading, but this was not "seen" on the webpage. She also felt that thirteen weeks (how long we ended up doing the unit) was too much time for what they produced. We had an interesting discussion around the difference between what she thought was more something 4th graders could have done and what we found in terms of how much impact being under taught had on what we could do when. Getting to the work of critical literacy to deconstruct text in the analysis of power first took weeks of teaching about audience and purpose of text, how to communicate a message to an authentic audience, revision strategies including peer conferencing, and a basic sense of critical language awareness. This is why we ended up running out of time. However, the fast pace of the last two weeks did get the students digging in to finish.

One of the many things I learned this year being at East full time is that it is one thing to read Delpit's Other People's Children and learn how urban children are under taught and underserved and quite another thing to stand in front of kids and realize they have never done a revision in eight years of school!! We know from over forty years of research that students more often than not only do first draft writing and that teachers think teaching writing is correcting papers. That none of this extensive research on writing has had an impact in classrooms was a shock.

We are working over the summer to design a five-week critical literacy unit that we have gotten permission to do next year. Finding ways to meet external, state mandated requirements remains a challenge. But, we have good ideas and some experience under our belt.

Most of all, the students were amazing and I am grateful beyond what I can express for the privilege of getting to know them. 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Digging out of the rabbit hole

What a week. I needed the weekend and some good news to get my head together after this week. Co-teaching went very well, but larger issues at the school simultaneously broke my heart and pissed me off. 

For class, we have split things more clearly between working on Romeo and Juliet and the justice project. One of the teachers came up with a cool idea to have students text each other in the roles of Romeo and Juliet during the balcony scene, screen capture the exchanges, and send them to his cell phone. Today (a new week) we read the texts as the characters and everyone had a great time. They did a nice job of using poetic language and emojis to capture the nature and purpose of the balcony scene. 

The justice project work began with reviewing and discussing Rochester youth data (homicide as the #1 killer of youth and teen suicide as #3), followed by looking at websites where youth have done projects that are shared globally. We looked at Do Something, the Public Science Project, Youth Speaks, and Kiva. We planned on forming groups last Friday, but we had a circle instead to talk about Thursday’s incident and lockdown. It may be that that conversation deepened our relationships just enough to open them up for today’s work. 

Today went very well! We changed plans again at the last minute (seems the norm) because of an activity one of the teachers had done in another class that nicely scaffolded students’ understanding of topics that are global and local (Rochester and East). They listed ideas important to them and that seemed to get them excited to do something. We watched Lunch is Gross so they could see an action local Rochester third grade students produced that helped change of the food vendor for the school district (the food at East is their number one issue). It feels like we are primed for picking topics and forming groups on Thursday.

Back to last week’s sobering events. Two events catalyzed my emotions. There were two fights, not that unusual in a secondary school I suppose, but one brought outside gang tensions into the building. While Rochester is not LA, we do have gangs that fight over territory and neighborhoods. We sometimes see these tensions play out at school. I was just finishing up an observation as part of my research at East when a lockdown was called so that administrators could get the students who were fighting safely out of the building. It was right at a class transition and a few students stopped by to say hello to the teacher and got stuck. We were there maybe an hour. I had interesting conversations with a few of them and with the teacher. It was those conversations, some conversations with other teachers afterward, and the circle in the class I am co-teaching that headed me down the rabbit hole. 

“We are used to this.” “This is normal.” “You can’t change the violence.” “Parents don’t care.” “It’s just the way it is.” These comments outraged me and sank me into sadness at the same time. Turning numb to injustice and violence seems like a maladaptive reaction that needs to be processed so that people can move out of numbness. Arguments that we can’t change the situation means nothing changes. Someone has to start! That some teachers and students accept this all as “normal” is unacceptable to me. No one should have to accept violence, poverty, and under education as normal. When I mentioned to the students in our Friday circle that the kids in local suburbs don’t have to deal with this, one young woman said, “Because they’re white.”  There you go.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Settling in

I’ve decided to shift to a weekly post about my co-teaching at East. Posting after every session made me more impatient than I need to be. I was feeling a bit demoralized going into Thursday’s class because I thought the students didn’t seem to be connecting what we are doing in terms of justice work to their own lives. I worried that we were making critical literacy just another “thing” they had to do or that we were re-oppressing in unintended ways.

But … then we had class. The teachers shifted our plans around a bit so that there was more of a focus on Romeo and Juliet. They also suggested moving the desks from a circle to small groups of three. Since they know this class better, I figured what the heck. Truth is, just because it’s a circle doesn’t mean more authentic classroom discourse. And, some kids talk more in a small group than in a full circle. It was good for me to remember that we need flexibility in all we do and that changing the desk organization to different formations for different purposes is a good idea. We planned to look through some youth profile data from Rochester, hoping this would help them connect some of the larger issues we were talking about and the social issues in Romeo and Juliet (teen suicide and gang violence) to what we see in Rochester. We ran out of time though so will have to do that work next week.

We showed TURF FEINZ RIPRichD Dancing in the Rain Oakland Street from YAK FILMS and the kids really seemed to like it. They were a little surprised to know that these dancers are doing a political action to take back the streets of Oakland, but it prompted them to put together that all the social actions we’ve been showing them and talking about are “trying to make a point.” Yes! Then one young man said, “this stuff makes me angry” and another said, “I feel sad.” Yes! Yes! These comments led to a discussion about how to take those feelings to actions that would lead to change. Exhale.


Taking baby steps and checking my impatience.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Wishing for the big picture

Day three went pretty well. There was a flurry of planning between the four of us right up to the last minute. My colleagues wanted to spend the majority of the time on Romeo and Juliet so we needed to re-arrange things. The last minute rush is because of how hard it is to find time to plan together. The teachers get to see each other all day and find moments to share ideas as they adjust our lessons for each class. We shared a wish to have a solid length of time to plan the big picture of what we are doing together.

The mini-lesson built on recent anti-immigration sentiment. Students were pretty vocal about their feelings about unfair it was. I tried to connect their feelings to how Native American might feel, but it seemed to go nowhere. We connected this hatred to the hatred between families in the play. I'm still not sure they see the connections, but just because I don't see it doesn't mean they don't. It could all come together later anyway.

We spent over 40 minutes doing a dramatic reading of the end of Act I. It's truly amazing to watch teachers with deep content knowledge work. They basically have the play memorized so when they perform it, the words flow out seamlessly. They do character voices too. Students take turns at playing either Romeo or Juliet. Watching Dicaprio's version on film brings it all together.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Praxis is a bitch

Praxis is a bitch. Reflection and action. Reflecting on day two, I am kicking myself. I talked too much. The more I saw some students start to shift in their seats or look around, the more I talked. It was a rabbit hole. Typical rookie mistake. My co-teaching colleagues were amazingly gentle in telling me about it later. I sent an email in the afternoon to say that I had been worried ever since class. Their responses were kind, but to the point – just the way colleagues should treat each other. I am so grateful for how much they are teaching me.

Re-reading my first post about this experience, I am also struck by how much it sounds like I think I’m saving the day. This could not be further from the truth! Let’s be clear. I am not the first university professor to return to the classroom to teach. Carole Lee, Deborah Appelman, and Mollie Blackburn come to mind immediately. By letting me co-teach with them, these teachers are giving me an incredible gift. The relationships we are developing and the trust we have are sacred to me. Combined, they have 30+ years teaching at this school. We all bring something important to this work. We are not so much seeking a “balance” as we are trying to construct something new that uses all our expertise in the endeavor. Thinking about today though, I feel like I’ve been a bulldozer. Not to mention that I am just teaching one class every other day. They have 3 or 4 more classes, plus collaborative planning time, support, family group, meetings, after school clubs and who knows what else. I’m a bit like a grandparent. I get to come in for the fun stuff and then go home. I was so stressed about this morning that I went home to take a nap, for goodness sake! I am fully aware of my privilege in this situation.

I did get some interesting feedback about my first posting on Monday that surprised me. In no way did I mean to say that everything was terrible before I came in!! True that I noticed a few kids were more engaged than I had seen before, but it is not the case that they were never engaged or that they were only engaged that day because of me. I know that, as a school, we are still working on having teachers use and post plans following the Understanding by Design framework. But, there are teachers who have been doing it all along, including the three I am co-teaching with. I have said many times that there are amazingly dedicated and caring teachers at East. Please don’t read my thinking about what’s going on as forgetting that.


I thought about not posting anymore if what I write continues to get twisted. I’m simply not good at screening my thoughts, especially on my own blog. I hate workplace politics because it’s such a waste of time and it’s not about the kids. I am always in trouble for speaking out on issues I see as problematic. Like I said, I talk too much. Plus, critical literacy is all about exposing power and how it works to discipline. It also produces. So many of the problems we face in urban education are due to silencing. We just don’t talk about it. Whose interests does it serve to stay silent? Not the kids, that’s for sure.

Monday, February 22, 2016

First day co-teaching

Today was the first day of a long-term co-teaching gig I am doing at East with three teachers in whose classroom I've been observing as part of my ethnography. Over the past months of the ethnography I have shared ideas about my observations and given them some critical literacy references to read. They've been really receptive and we came up with a plan to co-teach. I couldn't be more excited.

I felt like I had been doing a lot of "telling" people about things we need to do. Changing the teaching culture at East is going to take way more time than I thought. I have always been a person who tries to walk like she talks, so ... "showing" seemed a good option. Planning with these three very busy teachers has been great. I decided to use the unit and lesson plan formats that East is asking teachers to use (but they aren't). Planning templates are based on Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design. I am determined to show that we can develop critical literacy projects and still meet any demands the school or the state requires (the template has a space for Common Core standards). It wasn't actually that hard to do and I didn't feel like I compromised any critical literacy principals to write the unit plan.

Basically, we want students to understand that literacy can be used to make changes, that literacy has "designs" on us (thank you Hilary Janks), and that they have power to change injustices they experience. The teachers have helped me understand the 9th grade mindset so I can figure out how to plan. I have been trying to have the teachers see that we can work alongside the students in ways that all of us are changed. I'm impressed with their willingness to take risks. Once students figure out what social justice issue they want to address, we will form groups around different ideas, do some research on the issues, develop social actions, and carry them out. We'll document what they do any way the students want. For example, we could produce a YouTube video, write a letter to the editor or an oped piece, have a flash mob, or who knows what else. I'm planning on developing a website where students' projects will be posted.

The cool thing is that we are weaving all this together with the text the teachers need to use as part of the 9th grade curriculum - Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. It turns out there are a ton of justice issues in the play that we can connect to what our students deal with: perceived lack of power of youth, commodification of women as property, teen suicide, discrimination, violence. We'll see how this one goes.

I wanted to also add in some National Writing Project stuff so we opened with a writing reflection. We used Beyoncé's Formation video. They wrote their impressions and we talked about who they thought was her audience, what her purpose was, and what social issues they thought she was focusing on. They were on it. They worked in groups to name justice issues they deal with in their own lives. It took a minute to get them started, but once they got going it was awesome. Even some students who I have seen with their heads down or sitting and doing nothing were engaged the whole 72 minutes. I felt like it went really well. I wondered how the teachers felt about things being much more loose than they usually have it, but they seemed to go with the flow.

The best part ... I asked two young men with whom I have been developing a relationship how I did. They said, "Oh 85-90%."  I'll take that!!

Day two on Wednesday. We're planning on starting with Suli Breaks's spoken word poetry video "I will not let an exam result decide my fate" for writing reflection.

If you have any ideas for critically oriented things to show, read, or listen to for reflections, please let me know.





Sunday, February 21, 2016

Wow, how time flies

I can't believe it's been so long since I posted. The work at East has been wonderful, so so so busy, scary, and heartbreaking. I will never be the same again. So much so that I am already worried about going back to Warner once my sabbatical is over. More on that in another post.

To say that we (the UR) underestimated the problems we would face is an incredible understatement. The longer we were there, the more dysfunction we found. To be clear, this dysfunction is not unique to East; it's endemic in urban schools. It is also crucial to say that we have truly amazing teachers, administrators, and staff at East. And the students are fantastic. These are systemic problems: overwhelming bureaucratic practices, deficit views of students and their families, and a "that's just the way we've always done it" mindset. I can't list everything we found because it's too depressing. In spite of all this, this is soul-filling work and great things happen everyday.

The good news is that a leadership change resulted in Marlene Blocker, formerly the lower school principal, taking charge of the building. She is keeping us breathless with meaningful changes that are dealing with low hanging fruit and with long term issues. I am excited to see what she does next.

One thing in particular has stopped me in my tracks.

As my relationships with students, teachers, and administrators at East deepen, I have come to believe that we have forgotten to address basic human needs for love and hope. We have underestimated the levels of trauma our students come to us with and the impact learning about and working with those traumas has on our teachers and administrators.  Several teachers have told me they have no hope or that hope is for suckers. We just have to get better at dealing with the social and emotional foundations of what it means to be human and what humans need to thrive.

I know that “trauma” has been so overused as to become trite these days, but that does not mean that real trauma has not happened. I know that my own experiences with my oldest son Eric and my youngest son Marcus have traumatized me and have traumatized my family. Eric was suicidal. Watching as he was mental health arrested and hearing him scream how much he hated me while this was happening, listening on the phone while Eric was running from police dogs through Highland Park, seeing Marcus at 10 years old being dragged by four armed security personnel at Johns Hopkins to a padded room where he was given a forced Haldol injection, having to pull over on the expressway because Marcus was so violent I couldn’t safely drive, and watching Marcus walk into an adult courtroom in handcuffs haunt me. None of these traumatizing experiences compare to what our students go through, but they have made me realize trauma is real. I am not the only one with similar experiences. Each one of us has traumatic experiences we deal with every day – loss of a family member, family member mental illness, divorce, children with disabilities, and many other experiences of grief and loss.

Rape, physical abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, witnessing violence, committing violence, daily microaggressions, homelessness, miscarriages, having the power cut off, hunger, incarceration, police brutality, bullying, fleeing war torn homelands … are all experiences students have shared with me. People estimate that 70% of our young women have experienced sexual abuse and 40% of our young men. This on top of all the other factors I just named. Chronic, complex trauma - everyday. This is unacceptable.

Teachers have shared losing students they deeply care about to murder, sexual abuse, prison, or drugs. Teaching is an act of love. But when you love students who are traumatized, that trauma also traumatizes you. And our teachers and students face a society that ignores them, except when scores come out, then they are blamed for the failures of that same society. To be clear, “they” are not blaming suburban teachers and students, they are blaming us.

We have only scratched the surface of what’s wrong in urban public education. East is but one example of profound sickness and neglect. As we dig deeper into systems at East to find dysfunction, put out daily fires that seek to overwhelm us, recoil in shock at roadblocks and an uncaring public, we can’t just respond with old practices of increased policing, stricter mandates, or forcing compliance. I think we need to step back, breath, and remember we are human beings who care deeply about the people we work with and about transforming urban public education so that our students can go forward into productive futures. And then take action. 


I know people will say, “There goes Joanne on another soapbox.” Fine. Dismiss me. But it’s not about me. It’s about our students and what’s going to help them develop into authentic, caring, and productive human beings. What I’m saying is we can’t forget the human for the “student.”