Our Mom-in-Chief Can’t Do It Alone: There’s Still Work to Be Done

I think everyone who cares about what women think and feel breathed a sigh of relief when Michelle Obama, self-described Mom-in-Chief, stepped up to the mike to excoriate a certain coarse, bullying, misogynist just the other day.

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Michelle, who ordinarily takes a back seat to all things political, felt so personally wounded by Trump’s recently revealed attacks on women that she felt the need to protect all women and their daughters from the salacious remarks made the Republican candidate for President.  Michelle Obama’s reaction reminded me of two familiar sayings: “Don’t ever get between a mother bear and her cubs,” and “Don’t rouse a sleeping giant.” I guess Trump never learned the wisdom of these adages because now he has done both.

Frank Bruni, an openly gay op-ed columnist for the NY Times, was so moved by her message he entitled his Sunday column, “The Authentic Power of Michelle Obama.” Unlike Trump, Michelle has no need to explain or defend her authenticity.  She has been an amazing role model for young women throughout the nation for the past eight years and an amazing Mom who has raised two lovely daughters in the glare of the White House media.

In addition, Michelle chose not to just protect black women in her latest speech; instead, she speaks for the dignity of all women.  She  has chosen to “go high” once again (as she put it in her convention speech), high enough to transcend the ongoing mess that has become our politics. Bruni further states she “has staked her claim as the most earnest guardian of our most important values.”

Sadly, however, there is much more work to be done.  In the same Sunday Review section, I read another article that immediately made me feel worse.  The article, ” ‘Only White People,’ Said the Little Girl,” written by Topher Sanders (a reporter on racial inequality for ProPublica), was about an incident he witnessed on the playground while his five-year-old son played with some former friends from day care.  When his son attempted to join a group of kids spinning on one of those wheels that kids love to jump onto, one of the little girls said to him: “Only white people.”  Sanders overheard the remark, but noticed that his son was not daunted by it. “When the little racist girl reached out to touch him, he moved out of the way and laughed.  He kept right on playing.”

Like Michelle Obama when she heard the recording of Trump’s remarks, I felt sick to my stomach about this incident.   I am very aware that racism is alive and well in America, but to read about it being directed  at an innocent five-year old by another five-year-old is disheartening.  Sanders devoted the rest of his column to talking about how paralyzed he felt to take any action lest his intentions as a black man be misconstrued. In effect, because he is a black man he felt helpless to defend his own son by showing either the parents or the children any displeasure. That made me feel very sad for him and for us all.

Michelle Obama can’t fight both racism and sexism  alone, effective as she may be when she does speak her mind. A former teacher,  I thought about how most teachers try to fight racism and bullying in our schools every day.  Their efforts are admirable yet often ineffective because children return to their homes where they learn to be racist. But teachers can be racist, too.   I remembered an incident I experienced as a teacher that almost made me feel hopeless.  The day Obama was elected President, most of the 70 or so teachers in my elementary school hid in their classrooms and acted like it wasn’t so.  There was no mention of the new President that day or any day by the teachers or the principal  because he was black and they didn’t approve of him. That day, it was the teachers and administrators who  failed their students because they failed to “go high.”

Like Sanders who wrote about how helpless and paralyzed he felt when he heard that racist remark directed at his son, I, too, felt helpless and paralyzed in my own school building.  I said nothing that day, like that black father who was fighting his instinct “to make the white folks feel comfortable enough to keep us around.” I am white, but I knew I had to work in that school for another eight years and understood the repercussions (shunning) I would experience if I dared speak up about the refusal to recognize our new President.   Although I celebrated Obama’s election with my students in my classroom, I did not “go high.”  Instead, I played it safe.

I am not proud of my lack of response that day, and I have thought about it many times since.  My decision to not take a stand and remain silent is not unlike those who now still refuse to stand up against Trump. They are playing it safe.  If we grownups don’t stand up to racism and sexism, how we will protect  children from another generation of bullying and assault?

The Gifts of Sight and Insight

Today I woke up very early. The reason: cataract surgery in my left eye. I did not sleep a wink, but this is not unusual for me before a big event. I thought I was handling it well until I went to bed, which is when I began ruminating. Otherwise known as worrying.

A newly retired senior, I’ve been having an extremely hard time driving at night and have stopped doing so except for short 5 minute rides nearby. The lights from other cars are so blinding I cannot see well for a moment or two when a car with its brights on passes by. I knew it was time; I wanted to be more independent

But here’s the thing. I am a recently recovered cancer patient, and I just did not want to have any new medical procedures done. Then I got the news: there’s pressure in both my eyes otherwise known as glaucoma. The opthalmologist/surgeon is sure that once the cataracts are gone the pressure will be alleviated. Let’s hope he’s right.

So I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate the importance of vision. Even though we think we understand and appreciate our vision, it’s just like anything else we take for granted most of the time. Just like I took my life for granted before cancer. Well, not really…I was always appreciative of my health when I had it. But vision is so essential to our well being that we cannot imagine not having it, so we don’t, most of the time.

I am being promised much better vision following surgery in both eyes. (I’m having one eye done at a time, which is typical.) I am trying to imagine seeing clearly for the first time after decades of needing eyeglasses first for reading, then for both distance and reading. If it all works out like it’s supposed to, I’ll be seeing quite well without glasses, except for reading. This, in my book, is a miracle.

In my career as an ESL teacher I encountered many children who were having difficulty seeing either close up or distances. I was often the first teacher to detect the problem since I was able to meet with my students in small groups in my pullout program. I could notice things that mainstream teachers often don’t “see” when they are faced with a room full of students, each one needing attention.

I’ve been reading a lot of complaints about the “integrated model” for teaching English as a New Language (ENL), part of the new regulations for teaching ENL under CR Part 154, but until now I hadn’t given much thought to how this would affect ESL students other than giving them less optimal conditions for learning a new language. In my ESL classroom, where I usually sat right next to my students, I have found marks on children being abused, identified communicable rashes and diseases, noticed children who were listless due to hunger, identified children who need eyeglasses and even one child who was nearly blind but hadn’t been identified as such by second grade, and scores of children who are not sleeping properly due to less than perfect home lives.

With so many children coming from homes where resources are few and often strained, these children need the extra vigilance that an extra pair of eyes can provide. Mine were the extra pair. Now that ESL teachers are having to run from classroom to classroom to co-teach in mainstream classrooms, who will be that extra set of eyes?

There is so much to “see” when you are teacher. Let’s not forget that as we continue to struggle with our students’ academic success, we need to “see” them as children whose physical and mental well being is just as important, if not more so.

Has the World Gone Mad? Thoughts On Co-teaching ELLs in the Mainstream Classroom

Yikes!!! Things are happening in the world of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), and they are NOT ALL GOOD! I’ve been reading and hearing bits and pieces about how the new CR Part 154 regs have changed (they determine the rules and parameters for ELLs and ESL teachers), but never did I imagine the current scenario: ESL teachers are now required to co-teach in mainstream classrooms on a regular basis.

Before I retired a year ago, after 22 years as an ESL teacher, I taught a mostly pull-out program. Although I often wanted to collaborate, I co-taught with only one willing co-teacher every day for three years in a third grade classroom, and occasionally I co-taught a special unit (ex. Chinese New Year) with several other teachers in the building who sought or welcomed my input. For the most part, all the teachers I interacted with preferred the pull-out model for their English Language Learners because they knew how “out of synch” the ELLs were in their classrooms, and how much they would benefit from differentiated instruction in my classroom. Whenever possible, I tried to support the work that the mainstream teacher was doing in the classroom while I had his/her students in my classroom. This, of course, was not always possible and never with Beginners, but everyone understood that. Usually they expressed relief when I came to collect a Beginner.

Here is a quote from an ESL teacher commenting on the new regs
(from a NYS TESOL listserv)that require ESL teachers to co-teach in a mainstream classroom:

“Here are my thoughts regarding CR Part 154: As a result of these changes, ESL teachers have lost their independence. We’ve been reduced to classroom aids at best. What a waste of talent, experience and instructional time. ESL is a discrete subject, with its own goals, knowledge base and methodology. All the good ESL teachers I know have a well-ordered system for imparting the English language to new learners, and know which materials are most effective and when to use them. Many of us have spent years collecting and developing these materials. Thanks to CR Part 154, all of this is out the window: We’re part of the regular ed. classroom now–too often in the same sense that the furniture is. None of the classroom teachers I know have training in ESL. None of them are aware of the revealed wisdom contained in CR Part 154. Even if they were, and cooperated fully, there is not enough time in a day to for me to stay abreast of the goings-on in five or six different classes and come up with lessons relevant to ESL students and everyone else. It is now impossible to work with beginners in any meaningful way without disrupting an entire class full of kids. More advanced students no longer have a sheltered environment where they can practice their developing language skills, or have a difficult concept retaught in a way that they can understand. Students with no English whatsoever are now forced to sit through lectures on Hamlet. Regardless of what the studies say, this is not what the parents of ESL students want. They simply want their kids to learn English in the most effective manner possible. For newcomers to America, mastering English is critical to success in school and in life. It is imperative that ESL be taught as a stand-alone class by people who know what they are doing and without unnecessary distractions.” (Comment by Stephen Blanchard: sfblanchard@yahoo.com)

I completely agree with everything this teacher has said. Are you experiencing these changes in your district? As a mainstream or ESL teacher, how do you feel about them? It took me nearly three years, including student teaching for the second time in my life (I have a degree in teaching secondary English), to fulfill the requirements for my certification in TESOL, and even so I felt it was really challenging for the first several years. Based on my 22 years of experience, without that kind of preparation, no one is qualified to teach ELLs.

What I would rather see happening is encouraging teachers who would like to collaborate,giving them some common planning time and making sure they have compatible schedules. There are times when it makes sense for co-teachers to be in the same classroom and times when the ELLs need to be taught separately because of their special needs. They are, after all, learning a new language; something that seems to have been forgotten by the policy makers

During the three years I co-taught with a mainstream teacher all our planning was done during our own lunch breaks, before school began, and often after school. Without this kind of support from the administration, co-teachers eventually become exhausted and stop co-teaching. Now teachers are being told to do this, still without the necessary support, causing resentment from both sides.

Would love to hear your comments….