A place for educators to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools
America is a place where hard work will move you ahead. Here, you can go further than your parents did and provide your children with more than you had. Few people believe in this dream more ardently than my students. The American dream is what has sustained them through nine difficult years in Philadelphia’s public schools. They arrive at my school with some pride to have been admitted to small, safe, selective school in the heart of Philadelphia’s historical district. They take subways and ride buses (sometimes for more than an hour) out of their neighborhoods and into bustling center city. And they arrive with their grit, a fierce determination to get the grades, no matter the cost. They have their hearts set on college because in America, college is the gateway to the middle class. They have an enduring faith in America and in the transformative power of education.
“I hate Jews.”
That was the sentence, uttered coldly and dripping with vile undertones, from the mouth of a sixth-grader that nearly caused me to let a very powerful teachable moment slip through my fingers.
Thanks to technology, the world is virtually at our fingertips. Global awareness has new meaning for the teachers. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, our students need to go beyond understanding global issues and be able to learn from and work with “individuals representing diverse cultures, religions and lifestyles in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue in personal, work and community contexts.” Using the “new and improved” nonfiction books on the market today is one way to get our students to this understanding.
Like many of us, I sometimes overuse the word “need.” I have a tendency to say that I need the new iPhone or I need a pedicure, even though those are clearly things that I want, rather than need.
My greatest lesson on distinguishing between a want and a need came with my first-grade class when I was a new teacher. Volunteers from the business community came to teach for a day through the Junior Achievement program. As a new teacher, I was overwhelmed and relieved not to be responsible for lesson plans for the day. I was nervous, however, about how an idealistic businessperson would deal with 20 extremely needy first-graders living in one of the most violent parts of Oakland, Calif.
A student pleads with me at the beginning of class to bring an electronic reader to class?
“I’m almost finished reading my book and I want to finish it, but it’s on my (electronic reader name), the students says. “Please? I’m at a really good part.”
At first, this appears to be every language arts teacher’s dream; students begging to continue reading things they’ve read on their own time for fun.
But, then come the problems.
Our cover story, “Possession Obsession,” focuses on teen dating abuse. With almost one-third of teen relationships involving abuse, it is imperative for educators to know how they can help their students avoid or escape unhealthy dating relationships.
We also examine stereotypes about low-income students. “The Poverty Myth” looks at how these stereotypes persist in classrooms, leading some teachers to view low-income students as unprepared and lacking ability. Too many believe “low-income” means low expectations.
Whenever I go into an unfamiliar school, I look closely to see what the walls tell me. I’m not just looking at signage—although that is important—but everything on the walls.
A school’s “cultural ecology” is mirrored on its walls. Of course, some physical features of a school come with the territory, but the important question is, “what have they done with the place?” It starts with the halls. A building that is several decades old may feature clinical tile walls, harsh fluorescents and windowless hallways. Some buildings in that age range look like prisons, with bare, gleaming walls. Others of similar vintage shimmer with colorful student art, invite the viewer to explore ideas through posted classroom projects, or offer information for upcoming games, plays, elections, charity drives or concerts.
In our wide and chilly central meeting room, I find book bags wildly scattered about the room. A mess of teenagers have forgone the neat circle of chairs to convene in the middle of the room.
The mission seems simple; they want to mimic the dance steps Kendra has designed. I hear the simultaneous snap she has integrated into her steps and the bursts of laughter that follow their inability to all achieve the perfect synchronized timing.