Thursday, April 26, 2012

Burro Genius

I just finished reading the book, "Burro Genius" by Victor Villasenor. It's a memoir of his childhood and schooling - not surprisingly an "English only" education. However it wasn't a policy, it was prejudice. The belief by teachers, community members and church leaders was that Mexicans are stupid, lazy and not worth much. It's heart-wrenching to hear Villasenior's childlike thoughts as he tries to figure out what is wrong with Mexicans. His family is warm, funny and wise and gives him the foundation to keep going. As an adult Villasenior was diagnosed with dyslexia and suddenly all the years of pain and insults about his inability to read were put into a new context. Finally Villasenior could fully understand the cruelty and injustice of his "education.". I have never seen such open prejudice and cruelty by teachers, but I couldn't help wondering about my students' experiences outside of my accepting ESL classroom. It breaks my heart to think that they would ever be devalued as a human just because of how they look or sound. I want them to believe that they are smart and kind and important. My goal as a teacher is to teach them in ways that show them they can meet academic challenges and that they have more not less and that's why sometimes it's hard.

Friday, April 20, 2012 feels like a prison

Ah... April. Sweet rain showers, the smell of budding leaves and flowers and the ever reliable arrival of testing season. I haven't seen my students in a week because of state testing. Schedules have been flipped, hallways are as quiet as a church sanctuary with big signs posted, "Quiet. Testing." I finally saw my group of 3rd grade ELL boys. We work on academic language and since they had just finished their first MCA test I asked them how it went. They told me the test was okay and then went into great detail about who got in trouble, couldn't sit still, made noise, and had to be disciplined. This was very interesting to them and they were all very glad that it wasn't them that got in trouble. So I asked them what they would want to say to the testmakers - to tell them about the experience. They did some brainstorming and then began writing. One student used the most descriptive language. He said, "It felt like a prison. My but heart from sitting on the chair. My hand was sore like I put it in cold snow." Wow. So this is testing culture. I asked the students what kind of questions were on the test and what was difficult and easy. They couldn't really remember, but they did remember how it felt in the classroom that day.... I long for the days when April showers brought May flowers and children had time to learn.