How Stories Shape Our Lives Part One

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The New Teacher Book

Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual

By: Gregory Michie

            This article starts off with an anecdotal analogy about fighting against the undertow. As a teacher, especially a new teacher, it is extremely easy to lose sight of what you deem important and to, instead, conform to the social conventions and expectations teachers have placed on by the people that surround them. One of the best things you can do as a new teacher is creating supports and alliances both within the school and throughout the community, and by doing that, resist the negativity that may encompass you. When teaching for social justice, it is imperative to start small – remembering that the environment you create is just as necessary as the explicit lessons you provide – focusing on the details. Creating an open and democratic environment will help initiate the encouraging environment for social justice. In order to have such an environment, you must first be thoughtful and purposeful in creating structures that support the way you plan on running your classroom. Keeping informed around social issues such as race, culture, poverty, gender, and many more, is only one of the many steps needed to be taken when beginning as a teacher. In other words, self-education is key to a successfully run class focused around social justice.

Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club: Raising Issues of Race with Young Children

By: Rita Tenorio

          Tenorio suggests that teachers should start educating children in terms of race early into the students first elementary years. This opens the doors for future social justice educational practices. Through a series of lesson activities throughout the year, Tenorio’s students come to realize that skin colour is not bound by societal assumptions. Even at an early age, students are resistant to talking about race and view it as a controversial and taboo topic. Moreover, they would rather avoid and at times ignore race, while being subconsciously aware of a skin colour hierarchy. One of her aims was to have the students recognize both the similarities and the differences between their genetic makeups.

What can I do when a student makes a racist or sexist remark?

By: Rita Tenorio

          Tenorio argues that the sexist or racist remarks made in the classroom can catch us off guard and our first instincts to either respond in a negative way, or ignore the comments all together, are both forms of hidden curriculum that send strong messages to the students. Tenorio suggests that instead of reacting to such situations, teachers must explicitly educate the students with the skills and strategies they will need to counteract such behaviour such as racism, or sexism, and learn how to take action against unfair behaviours, actions, or opinions both within and out of school classrooms. She proposed that counteracting put-downs, or derogatory comments towards others, should be an ongoing process within the curriculum both implicitly and explicitly.

Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers can be Sensitive to Students’ Family Situations

By: Sudie Hofmann

          Author Sudie Hofmann conveys many interesting points throughout this article – one of which being that many families today are non-traditional families which is a fact that teachers often overlook while creating lesson plans. Hofmann argues that children come from all different types of families and backgrounds that may face challenges at home, school settings, as she says, should be the place that offers comfort, support, and should definitely validate all family structures. To counteract such ill-conceived notions, the author suggests that both parents and teachers work together to challenge activities and school events that might otherwise make children or parents feel uncomfortable. Further, she offers using nonspecific open terms to include a wide variety of families to avoid any feelings of insecurity or anguish. In conclusion, Hofmann shows that if we attempt to engage with our students and get to know each of them on a deeper and more personal level, as well as other teachers, we will find new information about other people’s realities as well as discover new information about ourselves in the process.

Heather’s Moms got Married

By: Mary Cowhey

           Author Mary Cowhey, a teacher located out of Northampton, Massachustetts, writes a great article describing in detail the LGBTQ issues that resonate within the society. Massachusetts was one of the first states to recognize the rights and needs of the gay and lesbian youth in schools. In Cowheys classroom, she says that issues of family diversity often rise spontaneously within the room, but continues on to show that even as young as grade 2 children understand the difference between fair and unfair, and further, understand and are open to any type of marriage including LGBTQ marriages. Cowhey uses both hidden and explicit curriculum not to impose certain ideas onto the children, but instead to open their minds up to different views and perspectives, which, in turn, opens up many opportunities for class discussion and therefor, a deeper understanding of the social issues that people face every day.

Out Front 

By: Annie Johnston

          Annie Johnston, author of this article, shows that identifying LGBTQ individuals are still being targeted both within the school and around the society. Homophobia is a constant struggle in schools, and even though as a society we have come a fair ways towards ending homophobia, there is still a long ways to go. Johnston states that students face constant ridicule and harassment – especially in regards to students who are viewed as ‘different’ in terms of what is deemed the norm for gender constructions created by, and within, society – and it is getting increasingly difficult for students who are unsure of their own sexual identities to either take the step to come out, or to stand up for what they believe in. Johnston goes further to suggest applying the anti-slur policy regarding language and behaviour. Teachers taking the first few steps, even if small, to create a safe and inviting environment, is a great start, but is not enough for the ever changing and developing society we have today. To take the further step, Johnston continues, teachers need to start implementing social justice issues such as LGBTQ rights, into the classroom and curriculum both implicitly and explicitly. Further than that, she shows that we, as teachers, need to be role models for the students, and actively pursue lessons and actions that resemble your ideas, values, and beliefs in regards to any social justice issues.

Curriculum Is Everything That Happens: An Interview with Veteran Teacher Rita Tenorio

By: Rita Tenorio

          This article takes form of an interview with Leon Lynn (the interviewer) and Rita Tenorio (a teacher from Milwaukee) focusing on new teachers just staring out in their profession. Throughout the interview, Tenorio notes that although new teachers are well educated, they are not educated fully into what is really needed as a teacher. She goes further to say that as a new teacher, it is extremely important to not only keep an open mind but to also be willing and ready to learn new things such as social justice issues like racism, or the political and social effects that take place outside of the classroom that affect both the environment as well as the students within the classroom walls themselves. Tenorio implies that as a new teacher, it is important for teachers to know, and understand at a deeper level, the students in their classroom. She notes that curriculum is everything, not just the lesson plans and activities, but the social interactions, the building of relationships, attitudes, feelings, interactions, and life lessons. It is imperative, therefore, to make the students feel safe and secure. By creating a healthy, and positive, environment, students will be more susceptible to learning, and express their enthusiasm around their education and learning process throughout their experiences. Tenorio enforces the idea that teachers need to decide what is, and is not, important for the students, and although – as she notes – it may seem overwhelming at first, it is a necessary uncomfortable-ness that should be faced. For people who are new in the profession, making connections with other teachers, parents, and people in the community, and creating networks in general, will help with tackling issues such as social justice.

Working Effectively with English Language Learners

By: Bob Peterson and Kelly Dawson Salas

          As Bob Peterson and Kelley Salas would note, it is the teachers responsibility to deliver instructions to every student in a way that is relatable and understandable. As a starting point, the authors recommend looking into what services your school offers in regards to ESL students as a basic starting point. From there, they expand their knowledge to suggest several strategies to improve instructions to meet the students’ needs such as speaking slowly, using visual cues such as videos, posters, slideshows, using plays, and so forth. The authors also suggest becoming more culturally competent by learning the language, or even just a few words to show that you care about the student. Learning the culture of the students creates not only a bond with the students, but it also creates a more fun, open, and inviting environment which is crucial for students to learn. It is important to note, as Peterson and Salas show, that working with ESL students and learning the cultures is a lifelong process that not only benefits you as the teacher, but the student’s as well.

Teaching Controversial Content

By: Kelley Dawson Salas

          Kelley Salas wrote an interesting article that concerns most of the new teachers today in regards to teaching controversial content within the new classrooms. The article starts with revealing many of the fears new teachers have such as being fired, being isolated, parent confrontations, and so forth. Salas notes that although the fears are a reality that we all must face, there is a good chance that educating students around social justice movements is better for not only the students, but for the teachers and community as well, and with each year, it will get easier to teach against the norms. Simply put, after Salas had asked around the school about who had the authority to decide what to teach and what to leave out, she came to the conclusion that we, as the teachers, have the right to decide what we want our students to learn and take away from the lessons and apply it into their lives. Salas states that even though we may have the right to decide what we teach in the classroom, we also have to be prepared to explain our curriculum and methods to the school and the community, or even better, inform the parents and principal about what you will be teaching and explain how it ties into the curriculum standards.

Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year

By: Dale Weiss

          Author Dale Weiss experienced firsthand the conflicts that arise within the staff room regarding social justice issues such as holiday decorations within the school, library, and classrooms. Weiss starts her article with a brief summary of who she is and what she believes in – that being a political activist counteracting the biases and injustice and having an open mind embracing any challenge that comes her way. The article moved forward to her realizations within the school, where the majority of the teachers were very rooted in their traditions and conservative beliefs. Unfortunately, Weiss suggestion to become more culturally aware of other traditions that occur in December had a negative effect on the other staff. Weiss notes that misunderstanding – especially as a new teacher – can have extremely dissenting outcomes leading to outcomes and, at times, outrage and alienation. Weiss suggests that as a new teacher, one must first get to know the staff, and understand the values and beliefs of the school environment. She also shows that as a new teacher, it can be incredibly difficult at times to stray from what is viewed as the norm, but in the end, change – even if a small change – is a good thing. Keeping an open mind is a key aspect to have when becoming a teacher.

Works Cited

Cowhey, Mary. “Heather’s Moms Got Married.” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 103-110. Print.

Hofmann, Sudie. “Framing the Family Tree: How Teachers Can Be Sensitive to Students’ Family Situations.” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 95-99. Print.

Johnston, Annie. “Out Front.” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 111-121. Print.

Michie, Gregory. “Teaching in the Undertow: Resisting the Pull of Schooling-As-Usual” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 43-51. Print.

Peterson, Bob and Kelley Dawson Salas. “Working Effectively with English Language Learners.” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 183-187. Print.

Salas, Kelley Dawson. “Teaching Controversial Content.” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 199-205. Print.

Tenorio, Rita. “‘Brown Kids Can’t Be in Our Club’: Raising Issues of Race with Young Children.” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 83-91. Print.

Tenorio, Rita. “‘Curriculum is Everything That Happens’: An Interview with Veteran Teacher Rita Tenorio” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 163-167. Print.

Tenorio, Rita. “Q/A What can I do when a student makes a racist or sexist remark?” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 93. Print.

Weiss, Dale. “Unwrapping the Holidays: Reflections on a Difficult First Year.” The New Teacher Book. Ed. Terry Burant, Linda Christensen, Kelley Dawson Salas, and Stephanie Walters. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools, Ltd, 210. 317-326. Print.

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