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Lovely bit of wisdom from the National Gardening Association.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was mulling over how to teach my New American students about MLK Day and all the history that that implies, I found an email in my inbox from the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. They were offering a teacher workshop with Damien Sneed, who was performing with his group. If I paid $20 for a teacher workshop after school, they would give me 2 tickets to the evening performance, We Shall Overcome, for free:

Join visiting artist Damien Sneed for a workshop inspired by the words and actions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Sneed is at the Flynn presenting student matinee and evening performances of his work We Shall Overcome,  which ties together a living lineage of music and culture that includes traditional and modern gospel, classical, jazz, Broadway, and spirituals, all interwoven with excerpts from Dr. King’s speeches. Fee includes two free tickets to see the evening performance of We Shall Overcome. This workshop links to civil rights, activism, music history, African-American culture/tradition/history, voice, expression.

I thought, “Why not? I need a date night. And maybe I’ll learn something” So I emailed my partner, secured a place on the calendar, and planned to go.

And then I totally forgot about it. And my partner got confused, because I also that same week had asked him to get tickets for me to see Dr. Ibram X. Kendi who is speaking as headliner this week for UVM’s 2020 MLK series. He wrote the book How to be an Antiracist, which is on my list of things I need to read, ever since I heard about in during the #leadingequitysummit at the beginning of the year. But I have a conflict with my afterschool commitments. So I told him that I didn’t need the ticket after all. And my partner thought our date night was off the books. But I did register to see Damien Sneed; our date was still on, even though I had forgotten.

Wednesday morning, I looked at my calendar and realized that my evening plans needed to be altered. I wouldn’t just be going to bed early. We had a concert to go to, and I was going to make it happen.

I am so glad I went.

In case you’re interested, here’s an interview in which Damien Sneed talks about the tour:

The first hour of the workshop was all about his story and how he got here. I wish that were something my students could hear in a language they understand. He spoke of his adoption, of his parents, particulary his mother, dying, of the power of music and of opportunities lost and gained, struggles and triumphs. And, yes, of music.

The second focused on what we might hear that night and how it connected with moments in history. We sang and marched together. He remarked how lovely the people of Burlington were (which we are) and said he really needed to look at properties. 🙂

Then he asked if we had questions.

I asked how to make this relevant to students of color who did not grow up with this historical context.

I struggle with this, being white.

In my last blog post, I talked about my approach to teaching MLK for real, that instead of reaching for elementary-school-aged materials, which consists of the kumbayaya that we settle on for kindergartners (I have a dream… people couldn’t sit where they wanted to on the bus, so Rosa got arrested and Dr. King fixed it), I wanted to help my students understand why they might feel uncomfortable today, about our country’s more than checkered past and present when it comes to race relations, and about why many people just prefer not to bring up those uncomfortable ideas of race and racism (because of course, we in our white fragility do not have a racist bone in our bodies) and prefer focus instead on images of MLK preaching love and unity and celebrating identity. I want them to understand that claiming colorblindness is not OK.

So how do I get there? How can I take this rich history of music and turn it into something my students can sink their teeth into, in a way they understand?

I told Damien that recently resettled refugees have to live with the stigma of color without having the context of history. This is really hard. And it shouldn’t be a one-day introduction to Everything Black U.S. History. So how to I teach them? How do I make them understand that sometimes they might be watched in a store, just because they are African? How do I explain why white people might not sit next to them on the bus? How do I explain that just by walking with a group of friends, they might be perceived as “dangerous” or “suspicious”?

He found my question “interesting” and asked the person who was documenting to film while I asked my question (which I pushed back against because I was emotional, as I always am when I talk about things that fire me up) so that he could think about the answer a little later.

For me, this has become an issue of necessity, of security, of safety. My students need to know. And we can’t just celebrate the positive and paint pretty pictures.

He talked to us about resources offered by the Smithsonian Folk Ways resources, about Eileen Southern and her research on Black American musical history. But he said that he liked my question. He liked a challenge. And that he would be in touch through the Flynn.

So I’ll wait for more answers.

But in the meantime, I went back to the Flynn to listen.

The Burlington Ecumenical Gospel Choir sang backup, announcing they would be reviving GospelFest this year, which had taken a hiatus.

And the concert was outstanding. Music blended with historial speeches. We listened to music from the past, from gospel standbys to pop hits. The group of singers who traveled with Damien were artists worthy of headlining their own concerts, including all these amazing people. My partner, a lover of all things musical, nearly jumped out of his seat when Damien announced that one of the singers, Linny Smith, had won a Grammy for his work on The Greatest Showman. “Can we hear that?” he whispered.

Damien Sneed’s style was one that left all of his compatriots guessing. They didn’t always know which direction he was going to go next. He’d play a few notes, and they would stare at him until they finally nodded with recognition at the song he wanted them to croon. And he made his keyboardist get into the action a bit, sliding in to take his place on the keyboard has he handed him the microphone and asked him to scat. This fly-by-the-seat-of your-pants performance made it all the more real. You had to pay attention. Damien told the audience that the elementary and middle school crowd from that morning had danced in the aisle, then they challenged us to dance.

And we did.

We didn’t really have a choice. But it was delicious to be invited to jump up and move. It was exciting and exhausting and lovely and beautiful.

I’m excited to see if I actually will hear back about how I can connect my students to this rich musical history.

But in the meantime, I will rejoice in the fact that I spent a glorious Wednesday engulfed in music and story, and be forever grateful for my opportunities to connect with such amazing people.

Thank you, Flynn Center for the opportunity and the tickets. And thank you Damien, et al. For everything.

La Vie Mathématique

First, if you haven’t heard of the Mathematician Project aka Not Just Dead White Dudes from Annie, read this here: https://arbitrarilyclose.com/2016/08/21/the-mathematicians-project-mathematicians-are-not-just-white-dudes/

I think this project is super important and I’ve tried to incorporate it in a number of ways. I haven’t gotten the chance to actually have my learners do the project, but I’ve done it where I present mathematicians for a warm up, where I had a bulletin board of it, and where I used them as table/group labels after seeing them from Pam on her blog here: https://pamjwilson.wordpress.com/2018/01/05/table-labels/

But then I moved to a new room with desks instead of tables and got the idea from the teacher who had been in the room before to have colored tape on the feet of chairs to label the groups. So I put the 8 table labels (A-H) up on my wall to display since I wasn’t using them…

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Psyched about ACTING UP!

dramaThis past week, my good friend Tracy Martin came to play with my students and me after school.

Last year, I started this amazing group called Acting Up! It’s for English Learners to practice English while working on fulfilling community service requirements. Each year, students at my school must do 10 hours of community service, or 40 by the time they graduate.

The problem is, my students don’t really understand what community service is, or why you would want to take time out of your day to go pick up trash or give out water at a 5K or sort through donated clothes or the like. Why would you do that when you have so much to do at home?

And, my students don’t understand much of what I’m saying.

So, I decided to create this group to make it a little more fun to get done what needs to be done and to help them move forward quickly in their English acquisition process.

Week 1, we tried to look at multilingual stories. I’d love to have students bring to life stories they heard from home. We tried reading Going on a Lion Hunt. But those students didn’t feel excited about this. So they didn’t show up for week 2.

Week 2. New, smaller crowd. We read the Three Little Pigs, which none of these kiddos had heard of before. We talked about sound effects and what kids would like to hear. We talked about how we could make our voices funny in a script.

Week 3. Tracy. We played this FANTASTIC game that combined so many games we had played before. We made shapes while saying our names. Others mirrored that shape. Then we added feelings to that shape.

“What does my shape look like?” Tracy asked.

Students shouted out possible responses:

  • Bored
  • Tired
  • Sad

We voted for the one we thought fit it best, then we moved on. The chairs we sat in then became the “stations” for those emotions.

We practiced moving across the circle in different ways that reflected the sounds we would hear in Going on a Lion Hunt by David AxtellSwishy swashy, swishy, swashy! (mimicking the sound of grass, pantomiming pushing the grass aside). Splish! Splosh! Splish!Splosh! (mimicking the sound of splashing through the lake). But each time, we’d get to our chairs and go back to those emotions we defined at the beginning.

It was such a beautiful experience, bringing to life words students were encountering for the first time… words like PENSIVE and DEPRESSED. So lovely!

Finally, we read the book. And those words truly came to life. I can’t wait to see what tricks Tracy has up her sleeves this time. And I hope that my students bring back friends.

For teachers of English Learners, our lives are not always predictable. One of my families might be moving, and with that, they will take just about half of my club. It makes me sad. I’m so happy that they are finding a better apartment to live in and that their opportunities may be growing.

But if they leave, I will be sad. And I will have to work to get more students to come in and work with me on bringing this project to life.

 

Happy November!

Bitmoji ImageEvery year, I find myself wanting to restart my blog… I have so much to share with my fellow teachers! But life gets in the way. And so does the sun.

Today starts daylight savings.

I took Thursday and Friday off from school to provide myself a little bit of a respite from life and to gather my inner strength.

I went running, I visited with friends. I got the winter tires on the cars. I made plans for future professional engagements. I did all sorts of things I don’t usually take time to do.

And it was glorious.

I feel much more ready to go back and take on life.

But as Sunday wears on, I wonder whether anybody discussed with my students (all of whom arrived in country in the past few months) anything about the time change. I’m sure it happened. But I always worry…

So I just want to put some good karma out there into the world even as my brain tries to drag me back into a perpetual feeling of trepidation.

Have a fantastic day. And take some time out to smell a flower or two. Particularly while the sun is still shining brightly.

I’m taking a wonderful class offered by Peace University. Here’s a recent assignment, in which we thought about how the Earth Charter intersected with our everyday lives:

There are several schools in my city that are not ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant. To get from one end of the high school to the other, one sometimes has to go outside. And it some climates, that may not matter, but we often have below freezing weather in Vermont.

For the elementary and middle schools, the solution the city has adopted is to send students with disabilities to other schools that are ADA compliant. But there is only one public high school. It has ramps that are too steep, as well as buildings with no way to get from one floor to the next.

We now are instituting restorative practices districtwide, but up until very recently, students of color and students qualifying for special education services were suspended at a higher rate than white students and students without disabilities. Many decisions on educational services for students are based on whether it’s convenient to provide them. We don’t have enough para-professionals hired, so students who should have 1:1 help oftentimes don’t get the help they are by law supposed to get. And unless there is some oversight from the state, it will not happen.

In this political climate, where more emphasis is placed on the bottom line instead of what is best for students, the oversight is not happening.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that no person shall be denied a nationality. The majority of the students I teach are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese. And although this is not happening in my region, the fallout from what has happened in Bhutan has resulted in hundreds of people being resettled in Vermont because they have, in effect, no nationality. If these teens make decisions that pit them against the law for any reason, they could potentially be deported. Some of the cultures my students bring with them are in direct violation of U.S. law, and because these communities are separate from the mainstream, issues are not recognized, and so little is done to stop practices such as female genital mutilation, forced arranged marriages or polygamy.

There are also many hidden ways that people are discriminated against, ways that often are not in public view, such as sexual discrimination (#metoo movement), hiring and rental decisions and more. In the video, there were examples of inequality in racism (Muslim ban), war, marriage equality, environmental devastation and more. People are rising up and protesting.

In Vermont, people are very politically active. They march in protest. The city has decided to be listed as a sanctuary city, despite national threats to funding sources. The state is working on phosphorus and clean water issues despite the trend for deregulation at the national level. Our state long has been focused on issues of drug addiction and abuse. And we’re beginning to realize more fully the issues facing elders. And still, there is more to be done.

Inequalities disrupt peace because it’s difficult to find happiness when the state is not supporting equality for everyone. The issue I deal most directly with is poverty, which then leads to a host of other maladies. My students’ parents work in jobs with no sick leave, and so taking a day off of work could potentially put their income levels at risk, making it impossible to pay rent or get food. Drugs and alcohol potentially dull the pain of dealing with money issues or unresolved post-traumatic stress syndrome. Anger can lead to fights; loss of income can trigger thefts. And that could lead to deportation. And this level of unease spreads to the children, raising their defenses, making it less likely that they will do well in school.

So can there be peace with no justice? My answer is a resounding “no”. The ripple effect makes life difficult for everyone surrounding the person facing difficulties. And then we all pay the price.

Acting locally…

What are the #globalgoals? The full list is here.  http://tinyurl.com/nwo6s5o

I’m taking a class on sustainablity @UPeace with the support of @KappaDeltaPi. And it’s what I DON’T think about that is gnawing at my brain this week.

There are so many ways that the things we do locally have a global impact. And we don’t think about that when we’re going through life, dealing with our day-to-day stress…

sdg-banner

The above diagram looks at the 17 Sustainable Development Goals through the lens of the World Health Organization. One of my colleagues in my class shared this, and I thought it was so amazing, I just needed to share it.

One of our assignments last week was to think of one way that we could help society progress toward these sustainable development goals.

My answer:

I believe I am fighting poverty every day (goal 1). By moving my students toward graduation, I am helping them reach a higher income bracket. At school, we feed (goal 2) and clothe students who don’t have the resources to do so themselves. I just gave out five pairs of gloves and more than a dozen pairs of warm socks just last week. I strive to get my students to see themselves as scholars, worthy of every privilege their native-English-speaking colleagues have (education, goal 4). I also advocate for them on many levels, inside and outside the school, including in court (goal 16) and in finding work (goal 8).

But in taking a class like this, it makes me wonder what more I could do. And what could I build into my lessons. How can I make the world a better place?

Thinking of TESOL?

The early deadline for #TESOL18 is coming fast…

I’ve been studying the lineup, and I’m so excited about the sessions on my list. Catch up with me at #myTESOL18!

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