My Life Untranslated

The Secret Adventures of an ESL Teacher in NYC

Archive for the category “NYC DOE”

Master Teachers, now in NYC: Helpful or Snitches?

So, I recently got an email suggesting I apply for the new Master Teacher and Turnaround Teacher positions created in NYC to supposedly help troubled or “failing” schools. Normally, I would jump at the chance to work with other ESL teachers to help improve practices. I have done some things to that affect in my own school. However, I had the sinking feeling these jobs were not only asking the applicants to put their careers on the line for a school the DOE are inclined to close (since guess who would also likely lose their job if the school was closed), but they are essentially asking teachers to enter new schools to become the snitch everybody hates. Or maybe even the patsy for lame government attempts to help schools in need.

My mind started to whir after a blogger I admire sent me this Washington Post piece by this teacher-blogger who was among those fired in DC. There is no amount of speculation and lip-flapping that can replace hearing from the teachers themselves, so I encourage you to read it.

Reading and relating to teacher blogs like the ones linked above are crucial for everyone who cares about education. They’re like the warning bells before the tsunami reaches us.

Protected: A Constant Barrage of Injustices

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why i could not write about test prep for my ELLs

he crept through borderlands, twists and turns of thickets and
dust where
mothers and fathers
had
crossed before
his
had crossed before
sleeping with sinking sideways glances
in shadows his life
this cautious yet treacherous
desperate yet hopeful
journey that spans 3 countries
on foot for days
through rivers
this journey; illegal
All ready but
for what—
hiking for days
to find his parents
illegals
already and
for what
With belly hungry,
mind full of
8-year-old determination and
wonder
thorns of uncertainty scrape at his
being
relentlessly
and now this new tongue, new name
so strange in his mouth
down his throat
where errrres used to rumble
now tongue brushes between teeth
pushing air thhhhrough in unfamiliar ways
but excited for it
fighting for it
making it his own
feeling thrown
uncoordinat-
ed
stumbl-
ing through changing—or is it shanging?
sounds, new
upon old
making the familiar so strange
And
now
today
barely 2 years after he’s made it here
survived that walk trek impossible journey that has
killed
thousands and still returns
en pesadillas
nightmares, a flimsy unknown word that means nothing to him—
pesadillas
hang heavy, never leaving. not only coming at night.
After all this,
you want me to tell him his life
the
whole measure of it
of his work
his now 10-year worth and future
will be
scrutinized and
criticized
and then determined
by
you?
you
who will never
grasp sus
esperanzas ni
angustias

translating his feelings and hopes
into
numbers?
1
2
3
4
(so that one day he can go to college
graduate
and be told he can’t get a job because he doesn’t have those
ever more
important
9-digits).
All he’ll ever be
—to you—
which is why you lose
more than you’ll ever be able to
quantify

Setting Kids Up To Fail

“I started to wonder whether our beliefs about struggling readers had inadvertently given students permission to give up. I know from experience that when people believe in my abilities, I work harder to prove them right. When colleagues ask me for help with reading instruction, I know they trust me to know what I’m doing. This belief encourages me to produce and perform. [….]

Just like this process made me—and everyone else—aware of my technology shortcomings, our focus on standardized testing during the past 10 years has made students aware of their reading shortcomings. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, we have identified struggling readers as early as 1st grade and have shared with them the cold, hard truth about our perception of their abilities. It’s no wonder that by high school, they have often given up on themselves. Special reading classes just give some kids a better place to hide.” –from Educational Leadership:Reading to Learn:I Got Grouped.

I couldn’t agree with this more! Like most teachers, I have seen how standardized tests and a constant focus on things like reading level just creates a different kind of “class” system in schools. Kids start to believe they are their reading level or test grade, and believe that’s all they’re capable of. I know I’m not saying anything new, but it deeply saddens me to know that President Obama’s plans for NCLB will do nothing to improve this situation. In fact, it will reinforce much of the same horrific policies we’ve been teaching under, only now the distress teachers have been teaching under, out of anger at the limited, cookie-cutter curriculums we’re forced to teach with, now we’ll also be teaching under an increased fear. Because if these curriculums fail our students, and the tests “prove” it, it’s the teachers who will be held to task for it and fired, sometimes at the rate of an entire school at once. And it’s getting worse, state by state.

These views of children also infect some teachers. My fifth grade students are always given third grade test books, or sample tests, and they asked me, when the advanced ELL students are removed from my class, if it was because they were smarter. They believe our class is not as smart as others. And I feel sometimes like that sticks with them more than anything I say or do to counteract that because it’s so much a part of the school culture to think about students and classes as “some are good, others will never be good enough.”

Right now in fifth grade, you need to be reading a level S to be on grade level (3, or 4). If you read P or below, you are a 1. My students have almost all been in this country for less than two years and are about that far behind in grade level. Yet, I have students who came into 5th grade reading a level E (first grade) and are now reading a level O (third grade). That’s 10 levels up that they moved. And what grade am I allowed to give them? 1. The work they have done, the immense strides they’ve made, do not count — that’s what they’re told by these grades, and by standardized English and Math tests.

What does it even mean to be an educator any more? Well, in the Chris Tovani piece quoted at the top, she may not address the dire educational system overall, but she does give great insight into what teachers do when *we* group children based on such assessments:

When we group strugglers together, all the experts except the teacher are taken from the mix. So learners become even more dependent on the teacher. The teacher has total control of the group’s learning because he or she is the one who holds the information. When there are lots of learners whose needs are great, taking away other possible “teachers” isn’t an efficient way to meet needs.

How many times do I do guided reading and implicitly teach the kids that they are dependent on me to become a better reader?

Protected: Screw the State Tests, The Real Learning Is Online, Kids!

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