Friday, July 21, 2017

The Workshop: Part 1 - The Lunch Break

“I’m not here to make friends,” I thought to myself like a good contestant on Survivor as I sat in a desk in the far back corner. The other thirty-some educators in the room were walking around introducing themselves to each other. I opened up my laptop and tried to look busy as I browsed through my social media accounts.

As the class began, I scanned the room. I was getting a sense of the gender ratio, the age breakdown and the racial make-up of the classroom. Why? Thinking about these categories and representation is one of the things that you do when you are a minority, racial or otherwise. When there are three women in a room, they often notice this while the men often do not take note of this. People who aren’t minorities don’t take notice of this, because it doesn’t affect them as often.

When I’m uncomfortable in a room, and I identify that I’m the only minority in the room, it helps me realize process my feelings. These questions and this information are critical to social interactions and understanding experiences as a minority. There’s nothing racist about realizing that you are the only person of color in the room. Not noticing this, ignoring the race of people around you, making that facet of their identity invisible to your eyes propagates a damaging ignorance. As long as your observations lead to more questions, and openness to understand, noticing diversity creates a more equitable environment for all.

She stuck out. She may have been the one of the few or the only person who identified as African-American in the class. She was younger than a fair amount of them and she had awesomely colored hair. More than appearance, there was something in the way that she responded and took notes that showed me that there was was something interesting and significant going on in her head.

I pushed these thoughts aside and for the rest of the morning focused on the discussions and the music that was being taught.

We broke for lunch and many of the people in the class formed groups. I got out of the room, avoiding conversation and started heading to where I thought there was some food.  And then here she was walking in the same direction. I asked her where she was heading, she sounded like she had an idea of where she was going, so I asked if I could join her. With a nod and a “let’s go,” we were off.

As we walked we did the normal get to know you verbal dance. As we revealed things about our school and our values as teachers, I decided to take a chance. I began dropping thoughts and anti-racist education in my teaching practice. She confirmed over and over that she agreed with me, I got a little braver and a little deeper. Before I knew it we were going full in talking about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion and our experiences as teachers of color.

We didn’t make the most direct route to the restaurant and we got a little bit lost on the way back to class. We also barely made it to class on time and had to eat during class when we got back. (Bear in mind we had a solid hour for the lunch break). But it was a blast and really cool to connect with a really cool teacher.

No, I didn’t come to make friends or meet new colleagues, but something felt different and necessary with this other teacher. When you are a teacher of color, you are likely in a minority in your school as you are in society.  Being with another who shares your values and your experiences gives the strength and hope to work through the moments when you feel most lonely.

Taking a chance to make these connections was worth getting out of my shell, for myself and later, I would find out for her as well.

That lunch break was an important reminder that while I wasn’t at this class to make friends, that didn’t mean that I couldn’t or I shouldn’t.

It didn’t end with just her, as I find out later from the Asian-American teacher, who reminded me a little bit too much of myself. . .

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Parenthood: Week 213 – What’s fun about age 4?

Ollie has firming transitioned in my mind to being a 4-year old. While this change was gradual, it has taken until the past couple weeks for me to really see what is different and unique about this age.

My time with Ollie as a parent seems more focused on helping him learn how to be with the world around him. When he was a toddler, there were conversations about taking turns, but they didn’t go very deep because he was often satisfied with parallel play, which isn’t the case anymore. When Ollie’s verbal skills were first beginning to develop, we didn’t focus on what Ollie said and how he said words and phrases. Now we are teaching him explicitly how to use words to utilize social norms and self-advocate. He reached beyond the layer of differentiated between a dog and cat to understanding that there are different types of dogs.

We are moving past exposing Ollie to books to explicitly helping him learn how to read and draw letters. We aren’t being too pedantic, but as his awareness of the English language grows, it’s important that we help him interact with English in deeper and more meaningful ways. Ollie enjoys this for the most part like when we were in an elevator today and told him to find the letter “m” for the main floor. He found it after a couple seconds and enthusiastically pressed the button.

There are some parts of this work like doing handwriting worksheets that he doesn’t love, but it’s good for him to do the work. While I don’t want to make him do things he doesn’t like, it’s important that he is pushed to challenge himself, which sometimes means he has to do things he doesn’t like to do. This isn’t anything new. He didn’t like taking the bottle initially when he was a baby, but I taught him how to do that (which I explained in this post) and he was better for working through that process.

Ollie’s more advanced ability to understand the past and the present means that we can better use the past to bring him comfort and the future to motivate him to move forward. Along with this comes more stalling tactics, but overall this awareness helps him see that the important interconnections between the people and events in his past, present and future, that makes relationships and experiences more memorable and meaningful.

What is most fascinating and most rewarding at this age is helping Ollie work through and understand his own emotions and the feelings of other people.  Ashe experiences the world and feels things in deeper and more complicated ways, helping him work through these nuances is more challenging but very rewarding.

Ollie is still my special little guy.  The one who wants to make people smile, who sometimes is hesitant to jump in until he figures things out, and who is fascinated by the wonders of the world.  While the facets of his personality have not changed, the way these parts of himself are expressed continue to evolve.

I've loved every age, and developmental stage of Ollie's life.  Four feels different, but after having gone through each stage, it's a challenge I'm excited to face.  As hard as each stage has been, each one has brought me and my son closer together helping me know my son and myself and grow together in our relationship as father and son.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Inclusion From Special Ed To All

I first learned about inclusion in education during my special education course in graduate school. We were discussing mainstreaming, the change from having students with special needs be in completely different classrooms the whole day to being in the classroom with other students who do not have special needs.

I experienced this first hand as a teacher, when I had students in my classroom who had aids to help them participate. Later I experienced this from the other side as one of those aides who made inclusion and mainstream possible.

Separate is never truly equal. Including students with special needs addresses their right to an equitable educational experience. The feeling of being included is powerful for students with special needs who were once separated. This inclusion is also critical for the students without special needs to have a better understanding of their community, the human condition and diversity.

Inclusion in education has grown to address the many different facets of diversity by creating an education environment where all feel valued. A community can be diverse racially, but unless a school actively works to make sure that the school embraces these racial differences, it won’t be inclusive.

Students feel included when they see teachers who mirror parts of their identity. This is why many Asian-American students like to come up and chat with me, even if I’m not their teacher. I saw this in the excitement in the eyes of a girl who was dealing with Crohn’s disease-like symptom, when I told her that I myself had Crohns. I experienced this first hand when we worked on a song about the Civil Rights movement in 8th grade and had students who previously seem uninterested in music class, want to perform solos.

Inclusion is also in the things we say as teachers. When you refer to a mix-gendered group of students as “guys,” girls feel less included. Students may not explicitly noticed this but gender-biased language does have an effect on how people feel valued. When you refer to parents as mothers and fathers when there are students whose guardians are aunts or grandparents, this makes students feel excluded.

It’s the pictures on the walls, it’s the books on a shelf, it’s making sure that boys aren’t called on more than girls. It’s providing students of color with affinity groups. It’s about reaching out to those who feel excluded by society and actively making sure that a school environment does better than the outside world.

Inclusion is about helping students understand the value of other’s diversity. It’s about seeing how different people in the community through feeling valued can enrich the experience for all.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Monday, July 10, 2017

Parenthood: Week 212 - (Grand)father Of Mine-Part 2

As a teacher, one of the things that helps me understand my students is when I meet their parents. Often students share rhythmic speech patterns and hand gestures with their parents. My students just make more sense, just like anyone you meet when you get a sense of where they came from and how they came to be the person that you know.

In a similar way, seeing my father as a grandfather has helped me understand myself as a father.

I see it in the way that both my dad and me love trying to make babies laugh (he was one of the first people to get Ollie to laugh). There’s the determination I saw recently when he worked for a long time with a lot of patience to get my newest baby niece to go to sleep. I was similar when Ollie was a baby, refusing to give up on trying to get Ollie to sleep, even when the best call would be to let Diana tag in and give it a try.

I get my sense of humor from my dad and Ollie experience the same silliness, the same kinds of jokes from both of us. The pride that he has in Ollie, and the fascination he has in Ollie’s development, perspectives and who Ollie is as person mirrors the love I have for my special little guy.

Ollie sees the similarities in us as well and looks to both of us for similar things. When we are eating dinner, Ollie is more than happy to sample our food, sometimes eating half of our plates. While I get more annoyed at my father about this because it happens more often to me than my dad, we both end up sharing what we have with Ollie. My dad often finds Ollie watching him brush his teeth. Ollie wants to join in with my father and like Ollie watching me get ready he is fascinated by this process.

I remember my father teaching me how to ride a bike and how to drive and many other things. He’s a great teacher and I get many of my instincts as a teacher from my dad. However, my dad never explicitly taught me how to be a dad, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn how to be a dad from him.

I know how I feel about my dad, because of how he loved me and how he raised me. I want my son to have that same feeling. Something deep inside of me knows what my father did to foster that feeling inside of me.  That knowledge no longer a memory in my head, became an instinct in my heart.  When I see my father make the same silly face that I do to get my son to laugh it all comes together in a meaningful feeling of completeness. Through the love I see my father express to my son, I get a glimpse into how my father loved me as a child.

This is an incredible view into my past, my present and my future.  I have my son to thank for all of this and so much more.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Equity Over Equality

I was born left-handed. Instead of going through the incredible amount of work that my mother did (who is also left-handed) to learn how to write right-handed, I embraced the fact that I was left-handed. When I walk into a classroom with chairs that have built in desks designed for right-handed people I am experiencing equality. This “fairness” puts me at a disadvantage. For me to be as comfortable and successful as other right-handed people in the room, I need something different, a left-handed desk. I need equity.

Equality and equity are two different interpretations of what it means to be fair. Equality means that everyone gets the same or are treated the same. If there are ten pieces of candy and two students, each kid gets five pieces of candy. Done. Equity means that people are provided with what they need to be successful. If a parent gives one of his kids glasses because that child is near-sighted and doesn’t give his other child glasses who isn’t, that is equity. The parent is treating each kid differently, but this assures that time they see a movie, both children can enjoy watching it.

Equality makes perfect sense in a situation where everyone is the same and gets the same things in life. If two people are the exactly same intelligence level, and have the same personality, and are treated by their parents and other people in their lives in the exactly same way, equality works. Giving them exactly the same thing in this case would make sense because sense they are the same in all ways, they don’t need different things to be successful. In other words, if people start in the same place, they need the same things in life.  However, no two people start in the same place.

If people are the same, then we treat them same.  Equality works. However when you embrace the many facets of diversity I discussed last week in this post (otherwise known as reality), than equity becomes the essential paradigm.

Equity in many situation is in our lives without much thought. People are fine with handicap parking, many restaurants clearly label vegetarian dishes on the menu, and motorist wait patiently when elderly people cross the street. These are accommodations, ways we treat people differently so that they can be included in our society. These are points of diversity, physical difference, diet and age that most people don’t have any issue acknowledging.

Where things get difficult, where equity becomes challenging is when we start treating people more equitably because they are not starting at the same place because of their race, socioeconomic status, gender, sexual identity, and gender expression.

Example: women on average have hire health insurance/health care cost because of childbirth and other procedures and care related to reproductive health. In order to prevent women from being economic disadvantaged, men pitch in with part of their insurance payments so that women pay for insurance/health care at a cost closer to men.

To accept this level of equity, it requires that you acknowledge that there are differences between women and men and that these differences have given men an economic advantage. Once you’ve come to this understanding, conversations around equity can move forward.

The same goes for race. There was a generation of people who were taught that being “colorblind” and not openly acknowledging issues surrounding race was the right thing to do.  If we can reject this notion, see racial diversity, understand different of layers of racial privilege, and systemic racism, than we can work on racial equity.  However, these things are not easy to do.  For some, being told about their white privilege is akin to being told the sky is green.  This is not a reason why we shouldn't do this work, but this is important to understand as we move forward.  

There is insecurity and skepticism around the topic of equity, because so many want to hang onto the notion of the American dream, this idea that all it takes to make it in this country, to rise from being poor to rich is hard work. It’s a great dream, and it’s something to strive for, but it’s not a reality. People have advantages and disadvantages in our country as a result of parts of their identity that they cannot control. We can get better at making this inequity less, but only by acknowledging that this inequality exists.

Equity doesn’t mean that we have to give up on the American dream, we just need to think about it differently. It’s a dream where everyone, because of how we embrace diversity and treat each other with equity, that hard work can lead to success for all.