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eheller's blog

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LGBTQ teachers

In high school I had several LGBTQ teachers. Some were out and often talked about their sexuality, some were out and never talked about it, and some were out to other teachers but not to students (we found out anyways, of course). To me, having an openly gay teacher was not a big deal and I never really questioned it. However, after reading Blackburn's book, I wonder what the experience was like for those teachers, both those who were open about it and those who were more private. Was the administration supportive? Did students ever make comments? Did parents complain?

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respecting other forms of English

I really appreciated the Paris and Kirkland article "Urban Literacies." Their discussion of alternate forms of literacy as well as alternate froms of English resonated with me because of the students in my Praxis. The majority of them are African-American, and they speak a form of AAL, as described in the article. There is major difference between the way they speak and the way they are expected to write. Little respect is given for the home English that they speak. 

I liked the idea of using books written in AAL to show students that their language is valid and that literacy does not always have to be in standard English. However, my students are in third grade and the texts mentioned are much too advanced for them. I wish there were children's books written in AAL that could be used in elementary schools. I think this would help students bridge the divide between the language they speak and the language that they read in school. I also think using projects that involve alternate forms of literacy- for example, writing a story that inlcludes a text message conversation or doing a project using twitter, would open students eyes to what literacy and literature can be and would encourage them to "learn from vernacular literacies to push against the oral/written and digital/embodied dichotimies in ways that contemporary writing expects and demands" (190).

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Praxis story- motivating readers

My praxis is in a third grade classroom. I come in the mornings, which is when they work on literacy. They usually do PSSA reading prep, which entails reading a passage and answering questoions about it. Sometimes they read a book together. The students in the class are at very different reading levels. Most are average, some are behind, and a few are advanced. One of the students who is the most behind in reading is Nick. Nick lives in a homeless shelter with his mother and does not show a huge interest in school. He reads at about a first-grade level, and gets very discourged when he reads, usually choosing to give up and not finish the assignment. Other students sometimes make fun of him when he pronounces words wrong or gets stuck on a word.

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Response= "innovative voices in education"

I really enjoyed Karyn Keenan's piece on "The Importance of Student Stories." This piece resonated with me because at my placement, the teacher is supposed to have a morning meeting every day. Though she does not always find the time to do it, when she does, I think it is very beneficial. This seems very similar to when Keenan says that "Carving out the 15 minutes for the Morning Meeting can be a challenge with all the demands facing teachers and their schedules. However, this time to share is crucial for students" (64).

The students at my placement love to share their stories, and the teacher carefully listens to each one, no matter how long-winded or irrelevant it might be. I think that it is very important for these student's voices to be heard, especially since as low-income, minority students, their voice is often muted in several contexts. However one thing that concerns me is that though the teacher listens to each student's story, the students don't listen to each other. They often talk over one another or talk to each other when another student is talking. I think that is is important that the students show respect for each other and learn from each other's experiences, but this is not happening in the classroom. I don't know what can be done about this, but I think peer respect is a crucial element for students to openly share their stories. 

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inquiry project proposal

For my project, I would like to look at the issue of culurally-biased questions on standardized tests and how they affect the scores of minority students. This question was sparked when I observed the 3rd-graders at my placement reading the book "100 Dresses", a book I had read in my own 3rd grade class. This book was written in the 1940's and is about a white girl being teased by her classmates because she is poor and wears the same dress to class everyday. The students had trouble remembering the old-fashioned, traditionally white names, such as Peggy and Maddie and struggled with words in the book that had no relevance to their lives. I then called my sister about this and she told me that her urban students struggled with the questions on standardized tests because of their cultural bias. She gave an example of the question "What color is a banana?". Though the answer may seem obvious, some students who are poor may not have access to fresh fruit or what they do have is not ripe, so they may say a banana is partially brown. Some students may be used to plantains instead, so they would say that a banana is green. 

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my placement

My placement is at a public K-8 school in Philadelphia, and I have been there twice already. The first day of my placement was one of the most overwhelming mornings of my life. The school is in a nice location and I had a lovely walk from Suburban Station to the school. The school looks like any other school from the outside, but inside it is rundown and institutional-looking.The school is predominately African-American, and many of the students are low-income.

I am in a third-grade classroom. The class only has 18 students, and I was surprised at how small the class was. However, its small size does not mean that this is an easy class. Several of the students have behavioral issues and some have learning disabilities. The students that act out distract the other students from their work, and the teacher has no productive way of dealing with these kids other than yelling at them and sending them out of the room. The students who are behind in learning cannot keep up with the rest of the class, and the students who are advanced do not get any challenges or any extra attention from the teacher because she is so busy trying to help kids who are behind. Because of the PSSA and the extreme pressure on the school to raise test scores, the teacher is forced to teach to the test and teach them how to answer the specific questions instead of focusing on more general skills or creative thinking. The test has things like plot structure and poetry on it, which is way too challenging for some of the kids who are reading on about a first grade level. 

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the privilege of a small college

In the conversation between Ira Shor and Paulo Friere, Ira brings up the point that in most college classes, teachers "didactically lecture" to students, a "'cost effective' education" with "minimum personal contact between professors and students". She goes on to day that professor-contact and dialogue is reserved "for students at the most costly universities, where money is invested in small classes for the elite." When reading this, I immediately thought of the small classes at Haverford and Bryn Mawr. I always thought of this as a perk of going to a smaller college, but after reading this, I realized that it is a privilege that few students get to experience.

Many of my friends from high school went to UMass Amherst, the flagship MA state school. Though they are still recieving a quality education, I was shocked when they told me about their lectures, which could be as big as 400 people. They can't really ask questions, have no class discussion, and their professor doesn't know their name. They were equally surprised when I told them about my 15-30 person classes, where the professor knows each person individually, classes are discussion-based, and there are no TA's. UMass is a much more affordable option for some people than an elite private school. I am lucky to be able to afford to go to a small liberal arts school, and I have taken the advantages of small classes for granted. 

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alumni interactions

I am a student representive for a committee of Haverford alumni. Yesterday, I sat in on their meeting and talked to them a little bit about current issues on campus. I brought up how many students were upset about the modification of the no-loan policy and how a lot of students would not have come here without it. The alumni were shocked and somewhat offended. "But everywhere has loans!" "They are not that big!" "Why would you not choose Haverford because of money, Haverford is so special!" Most of the alumni were white and almost all of them currently have high-paying jobs. When they were at Haverford, it was a much less diverse place. Also, college in general cost less then. Currently, Haverford costs $10,000 more per year than the U.S. average yearly income. 

These alumni do not fully understand that for some people, $12,000 in loans after college is a deal breaker. For some people, recieving a few thousand dollars more from one school than another is a deciding factor. Haverford is indeed "special", but not everyone gets to pick the most "special" college, they have to pick the most affordable. 

They also began to complain about how students who recieve grants from Haverford don't give enough to the school after they graduate. Since when did financial aid come with strings attached? Yes, it would be nice if everyone gave back to Haverford, but why should students who needed to be on financial aid be expected to give more than other students?

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white educators in urban education

It's that time of year when everyone is scrambling to find internships. I was planning to apply to an internship in the field of education sponsored by Haverford. A few weeks before winter break this year, I had scheduled a meeting with the head of the Haverford program to talk about the internship. I told her my reasons for wanting to apply to the internship. She seeemed to be interested in my reasons and the experience I had with that field, but then informed me that the organization was looking for a person of color, so if I applied for the internship I probably wouldn't get it because I am white.

I was shocked. For one of the first times, my race was a disadvantage, not an advantage. I understood the reason why the organization would look for a person of color- because the intern would be working primarily with students of color, they wanted the role model of a successful college student who was also a minority. In my head, I understood this and it made sense, but in my heart, I was hurt and offended. As someone who wants to work in urban education, it is hard to hear that my race is a disadvantage. I have read articles in my eduation class about how minority students should have a minority teacher and how white, middle-class teachers cannot understand the needs and background of low-income minority students. Where does that put me? Should I limit myself to teaching in a predominately white, middle-class school? Is wanting to teach low-income students part of my white savior complex?

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my multicultural moment

When I was in high school, I took a class that culminated in a group project in which each group had to teach the class about a subculture. One group chose gangs as their topic. They started by showing pictures of different groups of people and asking the class to raise their hand if they though that the picture could be classified as a gang. No one raised their hand when they showed pictures of children playing and happy families, but when they showed a picture of a group of Hispanic men, almost everyone raised their hand. One of the girls in the presentation group then informed us that it was a picture of her dad and uncles at a family picnic.  The whole class went silent. The girl was the only Hispanic member of the predominately white class, and I immediately felt guilty. She showed us our internal prejudices, and it was one of the first times I realized my own prejudices and my white privilege. We did not classify any of the pictures of white people as gangs, but immediately assumed the Hispanic group was a gang. Whenever I think about diversity, multiculturalism, privilege, or prejudice, I always think about this moment and how it made these issues relevant for me for the first time. 

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