Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Unlocking the Generosity, Collaboration, and Curiosity

The Unknown's picture

          I am in a kindergarten classroom. The teacher in my classroom, but also all of the adults I have met, use a harsh tone with their students. This has been the most difficult and problematic part of my praxis. I was not yelled at a lot when I was a child, and when I was, I did something severely wrong first and often my parents had tried many other options before they decided to raise their voice. Unfortunately, the children have become accustomed to this severe mode of giving directions and often will not listen or follow instructions until they are delivered in this manner.

            The class I am in is part of a new bilingual program. The program is an experiment where the teacher tries to explain as much as she can in English and Spanish, with limited materials. She was given few directions when she began in the fall. Though she spends a long time on her lesson plans, they are often ways to test the waters and expand the students’ knowledge, rarely reaching and intriguing the whole class. Though she works extremely hard and is creative with the resources she has, many children still fall behind and the adults are constantly redirecting the children.

            Though there are many possibilities for growth, I have been inspired and encouraged by how students have worked together to remember or explain a word or idea in Spanish and/or English. Sometimes a student will say something in one of these two languages and either a child nearby will say that he/she/they does not understand or the students will translate the idea without being asked. The students seem to be extremely aware of whether or not people comprehend what him/her/they are trying to articulate.

            The children are learning how to read and personally I am easily frustrated with my lack of knowledge and skills on how to help them. I sound out the letters to make words, but many of the children forget how to pronounce a word after we have moved to the next one. There seems to be a wide range of knowledge, ability, and interest in learning. I continuously try to remember how I learned how to read, but the most I can recall is sitting in my bed and hearing my parents read me stories while they asked me to describe the pictures so I could begin to understand the meaning of the book. I realize that the time and concern my parents put into helping me read and gain other types of knowledge was crucial to my educational, emotional, and mental growth.

            There is a limited selection of books and because of the lack of options; many issues are raised about misplacing books or books being left at home. On the one hand, I completely understand the teacher’s frustration; she is working at an underfunded elementary school, where about 20 children spend almost all day inside a classroom that is half the size of the room we meet in for Multicultural Education, and the few books she has are precious and vital to her teaching. There is no room to breath or to complete different activities, children are constantly on top of each other, and the books are often not intriguing or do not question the children’s or society’s beliefs or stereotypes.

            So many parts of the students’ daily routines are gendered. When the kids go to lunch, the boys and girls silently walk in two single-file lines right next to each other. The girls eat at a different table than the boys, the girls are taken to the bathroom at a different time than the boys, and it is always a boy’s job to close any door that the children walk through to go to their activities. Girls and boys are treated differently; girls seem to be handled more carefully with the presumption that they are more fragile and there is less encouragement for them to run around during their fifteen minutes of free time.

            Lunchtime is the most demanding part of my time at the school. There are about a hundred children who eat together and only five or six people look after them, including me. The teacher in my classroom leaves me to watch over our class by myself while she gets lunch. In a small room, when children have been sitting for many hours and are extremely restless, it is difficult not to lose my patience. The other adults in the room are constantly yelling and grabbing children’s arms to get them to sit down. One man has a whistle and blows it loudly to call the students’ attention. This seems to be a poor form of getting the children to stop “misbehaving” because often they do not seem to know what they did wrong or they just try to whistle.

            Lunchtime is also problematic because people’s socioeconomic background can be most obvious and present itself. Though more than 80% of the children qualify for free lunch, there seems to be a great divide between those who can afford to bring a supplemental lunch or snacks and those that have to eat what the school provides. Lunchtime has also been an opportunity for sharing and collaboration. I realize how grateful I am for this experience when I see children giving the last gummy bear or treat to a friend, but especially when a child gives a treat to someone who she notices does not have extra sweets.


jccohen's picture

The Unknown,

While you touch here on many aspects of your experience at your site, I'm struck by how several involve the children working together.  This is especially striking in terms of language, where it sounds like the classroom is really a collaborative bilingual community with mutual investment in shared understanding.  I'm curious about how this happened, especially since this classroom is part of a new program; what do you know how the teacher has approached/modeled/taught this kind of crossing of linguistic borders?  I'm wondering also how this kind of fluidity with language learning might inform the way literacy is happening in this classroom.  You talk some about frustrations with reading, and this sounds like it's at least somewhat related to resources.  Are the students doing any writing?  What language(s) are they reading and writing in?  Do you see ways in which their capacity for sharing in other ways might support the kinds of literacy activities they're doing?