How We Talk About It: Processing Parkland, FL

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It was first period. The agenda for the day was displayed neatly on the board, class planned out to the minute.  I had just finished reviewing it with everyone, when a student’s hand shot up in the air.

“Ms. Gould,” he said, “Are we going to talk about what happened in Florida?”

My mind flashed back to my reaction this morning, while listening to BBC, when I heard about the school shooting in Parkland Florida. My stomach sank; my knees went weak. My thoughts jumped back further to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and the last time we discussed gun violence as a class.  I remember that day, I cried in front of my students as we read about it.

I looked at my agenda on the board.  There was so much to get to today.

Then, I looked out at the class of eighth graders sitting in front of me.

“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked.

“Yes!” a body of voices answered.

“It’s one of the most pressing issues of our time,” added the initial student who raised the question.

The agenda would have to wait.


Providing a Pedagogical Framework

When discussing intense current event issues, a conversation with a parent from last year, when I was teaching in McFarland, WI, is always on my mind.  This very wise parent said to me, “My son really likes talking about current events in your class, but sometimes he gets so worried afterward.”

This conversation left me wondering:

How can we give students a sense of agency in situations that are far beyond their control?

How can we discuss tough, complex, and unresolved issues in a way that leaves them better off?

As I quickly pivoted my lesson to dealing with current events for the day, my mind also raced to learning standards:

How can we tie current events in with skills we’ve been working on this year?

Read Aloud

We started with read aloud.  I pulled up the article, “Florida Shooting: At Least 17 Dead in High School Attack” from BBC.  I projected the article, and read it aloud, modeling my thinking as I read.  After each section, students turned and talked, sharing what they noticed, and asking questions.

At the end of the article, I posed the question, “What questions do you have now?”

Students talked in table groups, and then shared their ideas with the class.

After a class discussion, we came to one central question: What problems contribute to gun violence?

Research

Then, we moved into workshop.  Students were informed their job would be to find an article related to gun violence, read it, and take notes on the problem.  We related this back to our earlier learning in the year by reviewing what makes a credible source, and briefly touching base on note-taking strategies.  We focused our attention on our purpose for reading (discovering problems contributing to gun violence), and then students were off.

Group Work

After reading and researching, students came together as a table group to share what they noticed.  As a group, they began to list factors they were noticing as problems.   Their responses included ideas such as school protocols, security, the availability of guns, and gun culture in the U.S.

Then, we moved into problem solving.  Building on the strategies we used to address the problems we were having independent reading, today, we approached the issue thinking about spheres of influence.  Students brainstormed potential solutions that could be implemented on a personal level, in our school, and by the government.

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After this, two table groups combined to make groups of eight.  In these groups, students shared their diagrams, which lead to rich discussions on their noticings, facts they read in their articles, and their thoughts.

Individual Reflection

Finally, students returned to their seat and completed a write-out.  They answered the following questions:

  1. After having this discussion, what is one thing on your mind?
  2. Moving forward, what is one thing you can do today to have a sense of agency in the situation?

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Overall, the lesson wasn’t perfect.  Our knowledge on this topic is only beginning to emerge.

But today, the kids had real conversations.  Today was a day where even the ones who struggle to engage were on task, reading, and contributing.  Today, students left the lesson with a specific action they could take to make our school a better place.

Moreover, the reason this experience happened is because one student braved to ask for what he needed.

Our thoughts are with the families of the victims, and all those in the school and community who are affected.  Our thoughts are with those in the U.S. who are intimately impacted by this.  And our thoughts are with the problem-solvers and policy-makers who we hope will help fix this.

However, in the midst of the devastation, I think it’s also important to check-in and acknowledge what we have:

We have a classroom where we can ask for what we need.  We have a community where we can discuss tough issues, try to make sense of the world, and problem-solve together.  We have each other.

And that, I think, is no small thing.

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Mind the Gap

I sit across from the doctor, a desk separating me from the slight, brown-eyed, middle-aged OBGYN who, moments ago, was examining me. From the Spanish I can comprehend, she had just informed me the prescription I was hoping to get refilled isn’t available in Spain.

Now, she is writing something down and simultaneously giving me oral instructions on how to return for a blood test, in the hopes I can obtain a similar prescription.

I nod along, giving the impression I understand. 

Internally, my mind churns.  I am both attempting to process the torrent of Spanish flying at me and subdue the anxiety I can feel rising in my chest.

I leave utterly unsettled. My unasked questions echoing in my head: My prescription isn’t available?  What’s the closest alternative?  What are the potential side effects? 

And, I need to get a blood test, in the morning, after fasting?  How am I supposed to schedule that with my teaching-hours?

The feeling of disorientation is a mixture of confusion in interpreting details, defeat in communicating my needs, and inadequacy in advocating for myself. 

And the worst part is, this feeling is no longer foreign. 


It’s been a couple of weeks since I last wrote, so let’s take a moment to check-in.  Over the past three weeks, Catalonia and Spain have been at odds. On Friday, Catalonia declared independence, and Spain imposed direct rule.

For those of you interested in a slightly more detailed version of events, here’s a brief overview:

To find out more, check out this timeline by the Independent or listen to the first 5 minutes of this newscast by BBC.

As you can imagine, it’s been a bit crazy here.  Almost every weekend there are protests or some form of organizing in the streets. In fact, as I write this, I hear the drone of helicopters outside. This noise, which I’ve come to associate with demonstrations, media and the police, has been a common occurrence over the past three weeks.


While my region is declaring independence and attempting to establish nationhood, I’ve been studying Spanish (I’m hoping it will still be useful in Catalonia), and attempting to figure out basic life-tasks, like how to best negotiate with my landlord, how to communicate with the bank, and how to navigate the private and public healthcare system (I’m also hoping these will continue to be stable).

These endeavors, which I remember as being time-consuming and confusing in the U.S., sometimes feel near-impossible here in Spain.  Not only am I decision-fatigued from attempting to navigate a new job, a new city, and new roommates, but I am often inundated with information in a foreign language, that I don’t understand well yet. I rely on translations (verbal or electronic) in order to comprehend content.  This often leaves me feeling overwhelmed and dependent on the translator.

Luckily, our school has an amazing Head of Human Resources who is willing to help with almost-anything, and I have awesome friends who are patient enough to help me with Spanish.  Unluckily, no matter how awesome my resources, there are many things I need to do myself.

Which brings me back to my opening anecdote.


I spend the night tossing and turning.  My mind is preoccupied with planning. 

Which day can I miss? We have a six-day rotating schedule at school, and I didn’t know how to arrange coverage for myself yet. How do I set up sub plans?

What transportation can I take from the bloodwork appointment to the school? I normally take the school bus with the kids, and public transportation takes at least an hour. 

If I am getting coverage, will I have enough time?  What time does the clinic open?  I can’t find the information online.

Do I have to call? Attempting a conversation in Spanish is hard!  I feel so stupid because I can’t say what I want.

Finally, morning comes. I get out of bed, unrested but sure of one thing: I need help. 

Cue our amazing HR Head, Ana.  After checking Google calendar, and coordinating both of ridiculously complex six-day schedules, I make an appointment. 

Ana, as always, is patient, gracious, and helpful.  She listens to me, sympathizes, and helps me problem-solve

“Why don’t we just get you an English-speaking OBGYN?” Ana says.

I want to cry and give her a hug all at the same time. 

“That would be perfect.”


In both this situation and many of the other institution/life negotiation interactions I mentioned, I am noticing a common theme:

My lack of agency comes from feeling like I have a lack options.  However, I am realizing there is often a gap between my perceived options and my actual options.  It just takes someone who knows the what the actual options are to show me my real choices.

In this situation, Ana served as my resource to the list of real choices.  She provided me with the name of a medical group that specializes in delivering services in English; she called and talked with them, asking about the doctors available, and then she passed the phone over to me so I could make an appointment. Afterward, we discussed public transportation options, and whom to talk to in order to arrange sub coverage.

What all of this leaves me thinking about is the populations of people who experience the same phenomenon: a lack of agency derived from the gap between perceived and actual options.

For me, both my students and immigrants in the U.S. who don’t speak English well are on my mind.

For my students, I wonder, how often do they feel limited by their options?  How often do they not know how to navigate the school system, and therefore, are unsure of how to advocate for themselves?

For immigrants in the U.S., especially those who do not speak English fluently, I wonder the same.  How often do they feel limited by their options? How frequently do they miss out making the choice that is best for them, because they do not even know that choice is available?

 In Choice Words, education professor Peter H. Johnston discusses the importance of educators providing students with a range of options.  Johnston introduces his own ideas, and then makes a connection to the counseling profession, citing Stanton Wortham’s article, “Narratives in Action: A Strategy for Research and Analysis.”  Johnston writes, “In school, we try to help children open possibilities by restructuring the narratives they have available. This is also part of a counseling practice (Wortham 2001).”¹

As teachers, we have the power to introduce new and different narratives, new and different opportunities and choices, for our students.  We also have the power to teach students how to advocate for themselves, how to identify when they need to advocate for themselves, and who to talk to in order to figure out their options.

Right now, I am in the process of identifying this for myself.  Over here, I’m figuring out who I can ask for help, and when I need to ask for help.

I am continually aware of my privilege in this: Not only do I have my school, with Ana–who speaks  English, Spanish, and Catalan, and helps me navigate everything from banks to my landlord– but I also have Spanish-Speaking colleagues and friends, who understand the systems and are more than happy to help me navigate them.

For a person without a school or company like this, or without a readily-available network of people helping them, or for undocumented people, I am reflecting on how incredibly difficult this process would be. Setting up a bank account, getting a phone plan, registering my address- all of this would be overwhelming challenging if I didn’t have my school helping me.

Tomorrow, I have my new OBGYN appointment.  While I am not looking forward to another physical exam, I am looking forward to being able to communicate my needs and advocate for myself with my doctor.

In this crazy world of uncertainty and newness, that’s about the most control I can have right now.  And I have to say, I feel okay about that.


  1. Worth S. 2001.  “Narratives in Action: A Strategy for Research and Analysis.” In A. Ivey, ed., Counseling and Development Series.  New York: Teachers College Press.   Cited in Johnston, P. 2004. “Appendix A.” Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children’s Learning, pp. 89–90.  Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Catalonian Independence: Current Events in the Classroom

“I don’t think I would even really understand what was going on if we weren’t talking about it in class.”

– Eighth Grade Student, Humanities 8C

The last couple of weeks in Barcelona have been challenging.  We have seen the Catalonian people organize and hold a vote on independence. We witnessed the Spanish police react with violence to the very people it is charged to protect, and we experienced the people of Catalonia respond with a workers’ strike.  Now, we face the uncertainty of whether or not our region will declare independence from Spain.

As a foreign teacher at an American school, I have constantly been wondering:

What is my role in all of this? How do I teach about this?

Current events have always been a large part of my teaching, but in a new classroom, in a new country, most of my knowledge about history and social relations, which made me relevant and interesting in the U.S., has been thrown out the window.  Since I’ve been here, I’ve had a lot of catching up to do.

Following-up with my commitments to learn about and discuss current events, here’s how I am approaching teaching about the conflict:

  1. I am doing my homework:  As I wrote in “You’re doing it now” and “How do we move forward?,” since Charlottesville and the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, I’ve been committed to reading the news, both about the U.S. and abroad.  Accessing U.S. news has been relatively easy.  Thanks to the Internet, I am able to use all my favorite news sources from before.  Accessing Spanish news has been more difficult, however, because I do not know Spanish well enough yet to read or listen to the local news. After scouring the web and asking friends for recommendations, I’ve settled on listening to BBC World Service radio every morning, regularly accessing BBC articles, and reading El Pais in English.  It’s frustrating to me to be getting news about the area I am living in from outside or translated sources, but it’s better than nothing.
  2. I checked-in with my students: As tensions rose about whether or not the vote would occur, I asked my students if they wanted to study and discuss current events relating to the Catalonian Independence movement in class.  Through a written vote, a large majority of students said yes. However, a sizable minority said no.  On their ballot, students were asked to provide an explanation for their opinion. Some students did not want to discuss the news because they felt it did not concern them (remember, about 35% of my students are Spanish, 20% are American, and 45% are International Students). Others were worried it would get too tense.  However, several of the no votes also expressed that although they would prefer not to discuss it, they would be okay with the decision to discuss events in class.
  3. I checked-in with my administration: Taking into account my students’ opinions, I decided to move ahead.  In planning discussions about current events, I always want to ensure I comply with school guidelines while teaching.  I’ve found policies for class discussions around controversial issues vary across schools and districts.  When I checked in, our school director, Mark Pingitore, provided guidance that staff are encouraged to discuss current events in age appropriate ways.  He offered that productive lessons may include teachers helping students learn the main facts of events and provide tools to understand multiple perspectives.  Additionally, Mark instructed that teachers are not to share or advocate for our personal position on issues.
  4. We set class guidelines.  Based on a Positive Discipline training I attended two weeks ago, I set aside time for our class to truly dig into expectations we wanted to hold for ourselves while discussing Catalonian Independence.  We first set a purpose for discussing current events in class.  Then, we brainstormed all the expectations we thought we should have.  I wrote down every student idea that was shared, exactly as they shared it, not editing their words for clarity or concision.  Next, after the brainstorm, we evaluated each of the expectations, comparing them with the purpose of our discussion.  You can see our process below:img_9905-2.jpg
  5. We used current event texts to learn specific, transferable reading, writing, and researching skills.
    Before the vote, we read news articles from multiple sources, using nonfiction reading strategies to gain information from headlines and preview texts before reading.  During reading, we made charts of facts we knew and questions we had.  We discussed the limitation of studying events occurring in Spain through news sources written in English.  We split up into research coalitions, with some students researching events through Spanish-language news sources, other through Catalan-language news sources, and yet others from English sources or sources from their native country.  We discussed source bias, and the importance of evaluating news sources to understand what we read.
    After the vote, we dug into the personal, writing narratives of how the events of the weekend impacted us personally.  We had an author’s chair, and students shared their experiences and opinions.  We studied the structure of police forces in Spain, learning about the different levels of the force (The Guardia Civil, Nacional de Policia, Policia Local), and we tried to make sense of what it means when the police attack the very people they are charged with protecting.  Then, we moved into a larger analysis, looking at global and local factors that affect and influence the Catalonian Independence Movement.
  6. We connected our learning to our current Humanities unit.  And through all of this, our current curriculum continues.  We are in the midst of an Immigration Book Group unit, another topic that is both relevant and timely.  To make all of this fit, we usually spend the first part of class studying current events and the second part of class studying immigration. Lately, a typical class will start with reading a mentor text. We spend about 10 minutes of class studying a news article, watching a video, or listening to a clip from news broadcasts or a podcasts about Catalonian Independence.  Then, I model a reading, writing, or researching skill to help us analyze and understand the content presented.  Next, students apply the skill I demonstrated to their research and reading on immigration, so they can more deeply understand their book book. Finally, students bring what they learn and are noticing both about Catalonian Independence and immigration to their book group discussions.

Yes, we are little behind in our curriculum, but it is so, so worth it. A conversation I had on Friday morning, solidified this for me:

We were on a middle school overnight trip in the Pyrenees.  On the final morning of the trip, I stayed back at the lodge with students who were not feeling well.  After resting, the students and I strolled the grounds.  We picnicked in the grass, and took in views of the mountains while discussing current events.

One of the students is in my Humanities class.  She told a story of WhatsApp group message that included many students from the eighth grade class, and discussed how people were sharing ideas and debating what they thought through messages.  She said she was thinking about the event from different sides, and realizing that she can have her own opinion on the issue.

At the end of this, she looked at me and said, “I don’t think I would even really understand what was going on if we weren’t talking about it in class.”

To watch this student strengthen her voice, realize she can think for herself and form an opinion that is both unique and informed, might be the coolest thing I’ve seen in Barcelona yet.

So, while uncertainty looms ahead, and we’re not sure what country we’ll be living in next week, for now, our classroom is a solace.  It’s a place for us to explore, to process, and to study events as they unfold.   Come what may this week, we’ll have each other to help one another figure it out.

 

No Tinc Por: I Am Not Afraid

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Crowds gather on Saturday for the No Tinc Por Solidary March in Barcelona, a response to the terrorist attacks of last week.

Moving to a new city in a new country where I don’t speak the language has been a lot to navigate.  Moving across the world and then reading about current events in the U.S. and experiencing the terrorist attack in Barcelona has been more than I’ve been able to fully comprehend.

I was home alone when the first attack occurred.  I was sitting at my kitchen table, eating ravioli, when my I received a text from my friend telling me not to go to Las Ramblas because there was a terrorist attack, a car crashed people all the way down.

My heart jumped.  My hands started to shake. Immediately, I checked the news.  Nothing was out yet.

I texted my roommates and all of my friends to let them know.

My mind raced: Is this a real attack?  Or an accident?  I flashed back to September 11th when I questioned the same thing.  It is probably an attack.

I opened my computer and watched the events unfold.

The attacks happened about two miles from my apartment.  I could hear the emergency team responses, but I was safe.

Several of my friends were right there.  They were ushered into buildings, and told to wait.

Friends who lived nearby witnessed the police create blockades, set up checkpoints, and search the streets.

But we were all okay.

Scared, shaken, and saddened, but okay.

The next morning, I had an early flight to Paris.  It felt confusing to be leaving the city in such a time of crises and greif.  Would public transportation be working? Would planes be taking off?  Was the airport safe?  Was it okay to leave?

Ultimately, I decided the strongest act of reclamation against terror I could do was to make my plans happen, as close to exactly as I had arranged, before the attacks occurred.

I called a cab and got on the plane.

While I enjoyed Paris (I was there visiting the city with good friends from the states) my heart was heavy.  There were memorials being assembled in Las Ramblas; there was a moment of silence for those who were lost and injured; there were conversations on the streets, in coffee shops, and around the city talking about what happened and how to move forward, and I was missing all of that.

I was struggling to move forward without being in Barcelona to witness the aftermath of the attacks and process what happened.

Yesterday, I got this much-needed community time.

Barcelona held a “No tinc por” solidarity march.  No tinc por means “I am not afraid” in Catalan.  People from all over the area (500,000 of us according to this Aljeezera news article) came together to march for peace and to show life will continue to thrive in our city.

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People gather at the top of Passeig de Gracia to begin the march.
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Catalonian Independence Flag is carried in the crowd, mixed in with signs calling for peace and the end of terrorism.
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More Youth More Peace, an organization that holds annual summits bringing together youth from around the world, marches in the demonstration.
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View from the Passeig de Gracia.
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This sign, written in Catalan, translates to “We want peace, not to sell weapons”
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Another sign protesting arms sales. People are upset with the relationship Spanish officials, including King, Felipe VI  and prime minister,Mariano Rayjoy, have built with Saudi Arabia.
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Folks who are Muslim speak out about the violence.  In the front, the sign reads, “I am not afraid.  Terrorism has no religion. Islam means peace.  Muslims condemn terrorism.”  Behind this sign, blue signs read, “No to Islamaphobia.”
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Sign reads, “Violence is not a religion.  It’s politics, and it’s the worst.”
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Sign in front reads, “No to Islmaphobia.”  Sign to the right reads, “We are not afraid.”
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A Catalonian Independence and Gay Pride Flag flies with the crowd in Plaça de Catalunyna,  
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The march slogan, “No Tinc Por” translated into multiple languages.
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Police walk through the crowd, and people part and clap.
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A memorial, filled with candles, stuffed animals, and notes, at the top of Las Ramblas to honor the victims of the attacks.
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A man who is Muslim stands in Las Ramblas, holding a sign denouncing terrorism and stating that Islam is a religion of peace and safety.
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View from Las Ramblas.
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Another memorial in Las Ramblas.
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Together, signs send the message, “Racism kills, not Islam.  Islam is not hate, nor anger, nor fear.”

The march left me humbled, hopeful, and reflective.  Peoples lives were lost.  Terrorism around the world continues to grow.  Nations need to figure out how to work together to communicate and address these very real threats.

But for now, we are here.  We are alive.  This is our community.  And we have lives to live, and work to do.


Thank you to everyone who reached out to me during this time.  I really appreciate the support, care, and conversations we’ve had to process these events.  This story wouldn’t be complete without a shout-out to my mom, who called me as soon as she learned what happened and spent hours on video-chat with me watching and processing events as they unfolded. Your hugs were felt from far away.

If you are interested in reading more about the march, check out the article, “‘No Tinc Por’ demonstration fills Barcelona; king and Spanish PM Rayjoy booed” by Marta Lasalas in El Nacional.cat.

How Do We Move Forward? A Classroom Teacher’s Response to Current Events

In the aftermath of the white nationalist rallies in Charlottesville and the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, one thought lays heavily on my mind as I prepare for the school year:

How do we move forward?

After reading countless news articles, listening to podcasts, and having multiple discussions about the events, I’ve decided I’m going to renew my focus on helping students develop a framework for understanding identity.

I’m starting here because I think once we have a deep understanding of ourselves, we can begin to understand the complexity of our communities and make choices that are inclusive and justice-oriented.

For the last several years, a large piece of my teaching with middle schoolers has focused on identity development and specifically, the intersection of identities within an individual.  This concept comes from Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights advocate, professor, and founder of Critical Race Theory, who coined the term “intersectionality.”  In Crenshaw’s work, intersectionality explores how different aspects of identities- such as race, gender, and class- impact and affect individuals’ experiences in the world.

To be clear, Crenshaws work on intersectionality specifically studies black women’s experiences.  Her work critiques the frequent lack of acknowledgment of black women’s experiences as both black and female. As Crenshaw writes in “Mapping the Margins,” “Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices.”1 Crenshaw argues that black women, who have unique experiences because of both of their blackness and femaleness, are often disregarded or forgotten in decisions and movements that are meant to be antiracist or anti-sexist.

While this unique experience of the intersection of race and gender belongs to women of color,2 the analogous experience of being forgotten or disregarded due to the complexity of one’s identity is something many people who hold oppressed identities experience.  Furthermore, for those of us with privilege, it is important to be aware of the multiple areas in which we hold privilege, so that as we move forward, we can do so in a way that benefits our community, rather than solely ourselves.

Translating this to middle school, what this looks like for me and my students is building an understanding of the multiple dimensions of our individual identities, and exploring how these identities relate, intersect, and impact our experience in the world.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain a little about what this looked like in my classroom last year.

Near the beginning of the school year, we started with an identity sort, an idea I adapted from Beth Leah Sondel.3 First, drawing from Crenshaw’s work, I introduced the idea of identity as being composed of multiple facets.  We focused on nine areas: race, gender, sexual orientation, class/SES, religion, nationality, generation, ability level, and a hobby/interest.

From here, students spent time analyzing their own identity in each category.  After creating a list for themselves, students were asked to rank their identities in the order that they were most important to them.  Then, students were asked rank them in the order they felt others perceived them.  Afterward, students compared the two lists and wrote a reflection on their experiences.

While the writing produced in this activity was solely for the students (due to the personal nature of responses, I did not ask students to turn it in), this exploration of identity provided a foundation for the understanding of literature and world events in the year to come.

We transitioned this idea of identity intersectionality to analyzing the identities of characters in books.4  We created identity molecules, in which we placed a character’s name in the center of the paper, and then wrote aspects of their identity (which we learned or inferred from text evidence), around their name.5  We studied how characters’ identities impacted their experiences, looking at the areas in which characters held privilege and areas in which characters experienced oppression.

Soon, students were transferring this understanding of identity and perspective to the world around them.  Our class was asking questions like, “Why would people vote for the candidate they did?” “Whose voice is heard in this news story?” and “Whose story are we missing when we learn history?”

Our understanding of identity helped us analyze current events, make sense of choices, and figure out stories we needed to seek out and pay closer attention to.

Additionally, our understanding of identity helped my students understand themselves. We know that in middle school, students are constantly questioning, exploring and figuring out who they are.  Students are grappling with issues of identity everyday, in the small daily choices, like figuring out what to wear, to big choices, like choosing friends and taking stances and sharing ideas in class discussions and debates.

The importance of developing an understanding of  identity is evident in the reflections of my students.  During a write-out last year responding to our conversations around identity, a student wrote, “I came into class feeling confused about a lot of this stuff.  Writing about it helped.”

I’m with my student on this one: I think writing about it helps too.  And foundational for writing about it is building vocabulary, knowledge, and a framework to help us understand and analyze human experiences in the world.  By starting with identity, my students work on developing a sense of who they are, how they move throughout the world, and where they need to grow.

This won’t solve terrorism. It won’t solve racism.  But it’s a place to start.

For once we know who we are, once we know where we stand- the areas in which we hold privilege, and the areas in which we may face oppression- we can move forward with nuance.  We can listen, we can begin to understand, and we can recognize areas in which we should take up more or less space.  With this knowledge, we can build an authentic community that struggles together, succeeds together, and is a place where each of us, in all of our differences, belongs.


Footnotes:

  1. Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 43, no. 1241, July 1991, p. 1242.
  2. For more on this, read Cameron Glover’s “Intersectionality Ain’t for White Women,” in which she argues the word “intersectionality” and the specific experience of it belongs to black women. If you’re doing identity work, and especially if you’ve been doing this work for awhile, I recommend checking this article out.
  3. Beth Leah Sondel is an Assistant Professor at NC State University.  Previously, she earned her PhD in Curriculum and Instruction at UW-Madison, where I had the pleasure of taking a social studies methods course from her.
  4. Jen Breeze, my previous district literacy coordinator, was instrumental in helping me plan how to transfer this learning to age appropriate text for middle schoolers.  Thank you, Jen!
  5. I adapted this idea from the “Identity Molecule” resource published by Keshet, an organization dedicated to creating LGBTQ inclusion in Jewish Life.

To learn more about Kimberlé Crenshaw, check out her bio page on UCLA Law, her work through the African American Policy Forum, or follow her on Twitter.

To learn more about Cameron Glover, check out her website or follow her on Twitter.

To learn more about Beth Leah Sondel, check out her bio page at NC State or follow her on Twitter.

To learn more about Keshet.org, check out their website.

 

“You’re doing it now”

It was Sunday afternoon, and I sat in a café scrolling through Twitter.  My heart broke and stomach churned as I read story after story about the violence in Charlottesville, Virgina.

Finally, I read this tweet by Aditi Juneja, a lawyer, activist, and writer:

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Answer:  I would have been….. sitting in a café in Spain, sipping a late?!

Not the scenario I was anticipating for myself.

The question of “What does it mean to be an American living abroad?” has been on my mind since I moved here.  Today, at a time when I am simultaneously grateful to be away from the country and aching to be with my students at home, the question sits differently with me.

Today, the question is not just about navigating my privilege or claiming my culture, it’s about figuring out how to exist, teach, and live abroad as a critically conscious citizen. How can I be committed to racial justice from the other side of the ocean?

In thinking about what I can do moving forward, the answer for me, is the same as it was when I lived in the states:  My job is to make a difference in the community in which I live.  Right now, that community is my neighborhood and my school in Barcelona.

So, in these communities, here are some of the things I am doing and can do to make a difference:

  1. Commit to Discussing the US with Nuance:  As an expat, I am often asked questions about the U.S.  Some are thoughtful, others blunt, and others still shed insight on the ways in which people around the world think about us.  A small sampling of the questions I’ve been asked by folks from all over the world include: ¨What is traditional American food, anyway?¨ or ¨Do you like your President?  How did he get elected?¨and ¨What is the difference between free speech and hate speech in your country?¨or ¨What’s the deal with Walmart? ‘Fo Real.¨ While it’s easy to brush these questions off with a joke or sarcastic remark, I want to commit to truly discussing and exploring them with the people that ask.  The truth is, the American experience is complex.  It’s intensely personal. The intersection of our individual identities, our family histories, and our location causes us to have a million different experiences all while living in one place.  And while I understand folks who ask these questions aren’t looking for a lecture on the past 400 years of race and class in America, I am committed to explaining my point of view with a critical and compassionate lens.
  2. Take Stock of My Classroom Library:  Moving to a new school, I am not entirely sure what my new library will hold.  Whose stories will be represented?  Whose voices will be missing?  Can my students see themselves reflected in the material? Or, for the students who always see themselves, can they find books that are windows and doors, rather than solely mirrors? (Thank you Rudine Simms Bishop for that framework.) My task is to figure out the books I have and the books I need to get.
  3. Take Stock of My History Curriculum:  Again, starting a new curriculum, I am not entirely sure what the year holds.  As I gear up to teach eighth grade American History at an American School of Barcelona the questions on my mind are: Whose stories are we telling?  Whose stories are left out?  How can we represent history through multiple timelines? And, as I teach in a school that is comprised of a myriad of nationalities (the student population is about 20% American, 35% Spanish, and 45% International Students), the largest question on my mind is: How is American history relevant in Spain?
  4. Commit to Reading the News…. Now, more than ever before, it is important for me to know the news in order to be able to teach it.  For me, that means reading my traditional American news sources, seeking out world news outlets, like BBC, and also, finding local news sources in Spain and the community of Catalonia.
  5. …And Incorporating Current Events in the Classroom: In addition to reading about the news, incorporating current events into the classroom is paramount.  With student news sources, like Newsela, I am able to teach about world events through developmentally appropriate texts.  My thoughts this year lie with how to layer historical knowledge with current events so students can see build a narrative of past events that impact and affect the present.
  6. Get to Know My Students:  Of course, most importantly, I need to get to know my students.  Their likes and dislikes, their preferences, what makes them tick. I can’t wait to begin to learn the knowledge they come into the classroom with, the values and beliefs they hold, and their understanding of right and wrong and justice. I can’t wait to read with them.  To write with them.  And to grow and explore with them.  For after all, we are all in this crazy mess together, trying to make sense of the world, one day at a time.

What are you communities?  Remembering Mary Ehrenworth’s words, “Social justice is in the small things,” what can you do to make a difference?


Shout out to Aditi Juneja and Rudine Simms Bishop, who inspired much of my thinking in this post. 

If you want to read more from Aditi Juneja, check out her website or twitter handle.

If you want to learn more about Rudine Simms Bishop, you can check out this short biography or read her books, 

Reflections on the National Day of Silence

 

The Breaking the Silence party was over.  Art supplies, half-finished drawings, and dirty paper plates littered the tables.  It was Friday evening, and the students were gone.

In the quiet of classroom, I reflected on the day.  By all measures, The National Day of Silence at our middle school was a success.  Students who took the Vow of Silence wore a black ribbon and remained silent the entire day.  Students, staff, and the administration wore rainbow ribbons in abundance, showing their support.

In my English Language Arts class, students read about the Day of Silence, explored statistics for LGBTQ+ youth in Wisconsin, and connected the day to the essential and guiding questions of our current reading unit, the Justice Unit.

Leaving this day, one student’s thoughts have stayed with me.  This student did not wear a rainbow ribbon.  He did not take the vow of silence.  He sat in the back of the room and chose not to participate in our class discussion. But he was deeply engaged.

Reflecting on the Day of Silence, he writes, “The way society…looks down and belittles LGBT people affects their mental state, brining them into depression or trying to conform to society’s expectations.  This is bad because they lose creativity and self interest.  This means that we lose potential scientists, engineers, and political activists.”

In the muted tones of the day today, that loss of potential was felt and mourned.  My student’s acknowledgment of this moved me and gives me hope.

To read more about the National Day of Silence, check out the GLSEN “Day of Silence” page.