Monday, November 9, 2015

The Single Story of Dr. Q and Others

TED talk about the "single story" - great video, from a Nigerian speaker

When I read the description of the video, I first assumed that a “single story” referred to larger-than-life persons such as Dr. Q. I just read his story for a book study in my county.

I immediately concluded that the message would be to avoid basing opinions of all immigrants, for example, off of the one incredible story of Dr. Q. Instead, I learned that the definition of a “single story” is quite different, standing for an all-encompassing narrative. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns of seeing foreigners /others as the latest incarnations their country’s one, most common stereotype. Mexicans are poor immigrants. Africans are war-torn and starving in the dirt roads. The British are drinking tea and chatting about the weather. 

I really appreciated Ms. Adichie’s disappointment in hearing that her characters were not Nigerian/African enough because they were instead middle class people dealing with personal and family problems. This, in a country where the government is failed and so many live precariously. Yet the story was genuinely Nigerian, just not one focused on the country’s most salient (and lamentable) features. In that way, Dr. Q. is a single story. “Oh, yeah, poor Mexican immigrant. His country is in turmoil, so of course he crosses over illegally. Oh, but wait, this one is so gifted and hard-working, he makes it as a neurosurgeon! Dude, AWESOME!” Despite all of his success, his still tends to be a single story because the book (even an autobiography) looks at him first and foremost as a poor Mexican immigrant. The book is clearly marketed that way.

His many qualities are very pronounced: extreme empathy, humility, and probably more than anything, an unrelenting desire to achieve more and more. It’s not in a greedy way, just in the ambition of always improving.

Interestingly, Ms. Adichie did not have a single story of America. Her reading on the USA involved many authors, and so she understood that the country was a place of diverse individuals. Does this openness suggest that education is the way to avoid a single story, or does it instead/simultaneously suggest that a robust marketing scheme is necessary? I don’t know.

I don’t feel that as an educator I make my students a single story. For one thing, it is usually only after I get to know them that I learn origin stories such as how they came to the US. To put it in terms of the issue at hand, it is only after I make a human connection with them that I learn about what some people might use as a source for stereotypes. By that point, therefore, I know a human person, not a stereotype, and so I think I evade the risk.

Some stereotypes, however, hold true and can even be helpful. Many adult Latino immigrants have a low level of education, and may even be illiterate. This deficit would normally pass down to their children, my students, so it is important to know about and address. We need to make sure all schools foster a love of reading. As an educator, I have to be ready to teach the child that enters Kindergarten knowing how to read, as well as the one who is not familiar with books at all. This isn’t a single story about the child or the family, but it is definitely part of the bigger story of who they are as people. Once we get to know a person, we see that there are so many stories. And an essential part in understanding a story is appreciation for the main character.

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Recent History with Tech in School

Much of history isn't pretty. This year I was part of a tech cohort for iPads. I was hoping (and explicitly asked for) lots of hand-holding to make sure I got the most out it.

We're all busy. If something seems only moderately interesting, then it risks getting tossed to the side. Anyway, I'm a teacher. I know how to run lessons no problem. I don't “need” to incorporate any specific newfangled tech.

But I don't want to stagnate, either, so I signed up. It's pretty exciting to get the toy that everyone dreams of.

Good things:

  • cool
  • from Apple! Apple's cool, right?
  • (?) it takes videos...that's amazing, right?
  • decent way of navigating the web for a tablet
  • a few worthwhile apps

Bad things:

  • I had to use my home wifi connection in order to download any app whatsoever
  • I found out about that after wasting tons of time trying to use school internet
  • same with updating apps
  • and dropbox doesn't work
  • and I could never get a cable to connect the iPad to a projector
  • and for paid apps you have to submit a form and send it to central office
  • and for most any app you have to ask special permission to download
  • I never liked Apple in the first place

Okay, I'm bitter. I'm disillusioned. Plus (to add one more item to the list above), most of the resources we worked with in the cohort were just for websites, no specific device needed!

I don't want to finish sounding whiny and beaten. And I appreciate the opportunity. But I needed some serious hand-holding. Without purpose, technology goes to waste. And half (or all) of a tablet's appeal is its convenience, which was reduced to negative one million by all of the county tech policies.

My biggest takeaway: get your own Kindle Fire HD. It's awesome.

Oh, I edited the picture with Google's Pixlr app. That's awesome, too.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

To a Great New Year!

The past few years have had lots of downs and ups, but something tells me 2014 is going to be BIG.

I'm rich! I've got millions of dollars coming my way. Well, the lottery group I had didn't turn out that well – after five months we won $2 (minus the cost of the tickets). But now the odds must be in our favor – that's why everyone wants to do it again! After losing, you're more likely to win, right?

Espen is awesome! He just is. That's not new.

I'm a writer! Maybe. Basically, all of my life I thought I was good at writing and wanted to write a bunch of really awesome novels. In 2011 I started a YA novel, which I finished at the beginning of 2013. The book was bad. The biggest problem is that over the entire course of writing, It was the first time where I felt like I had enough time and enough constructive feedback. In other words, I had everything I needed to do my absolute best... It still was horrible. So, my failing despite all of that effort made me think that my dream would never realize. However, I never completely gave up, and my writers group (Columbia Writers) has breathed new life into the novel. It could actually be a good book! Hopefully I can finish by the end of 2014.
whatever the quality of the book, I know the cover will be good

I'm writer! Really! Plus, this year I'm going to self-publish a book related to education. Natasha is helping, too; she's the illustrator. The novel I mention above has issues, but this education book will be AWESOME.

I won't look like a monster! I've had really crazy irritation in both lower eyelids, making me look like an evil monster. Last week I started an extreme action plan with a new eyelid specialist, who will in two weeks remove the nastiest part of the problem. This time I really have confidence that the efforts will work and I might look like a regular human again. Then I'll only be ugly on the inside.

My arms are made of iron! Really. Touch them. You might be surprised.

Here's to a great 2014, everyone!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Santa and Christmas

Why I tell my Child THERE IS NO SANTA CLAUS:

Just kidding. It's Christmas. I don't tell my kid there's no Santa. I'm not a jerk.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Why I Play the Lottery

It's not about the money.

Okay, okay, that's a little simplistic. Playing the lottery, naturally, is about the money. And it's common knowledge that when someone says it's not about the money, it's precisely about the money. And, strangely, people use the same expression about teaching.

So I'll try again. It's not about striking it rich. Hmm... Yes, that's about right. I don't definitely don't have some pressing need to buy a million things and go crazy (like most every lottery winner tragically does).
What is it about, then? Why throw away that dollar? If you're looking for a sense of financial security a dollar spent in any way whatsoever is bound to disappoint you. If you're looking to buy interesting things that ordinarily we wouldn't consider, there are plenty of Dollar Trees around. No, the whole motivation is something different entirely.

More and more, I want to feel that I don't "have" to do these things at my job. I like my job. Actually, this year, SLO's aside, I can even say I love my job. But there is so much hassle, enormous amounts of paperwork that only satisfies state and federal requirements with realistically 1% of all of that effort in some way getting back to helping students.

What would I do if I won the lottery? I would like to think that I would stay at my job. I love my school and believe in the mission of working with children to help them achieve a better life. So I'd like to think I would stay. In all of this, though, it would be nice to have some sense of security. It would be nice not to be 99% sure that the state pension is a lie that will be revoked from teachers 15 years down the road. It would be nice to earn a wage in some way commiserate with how much I work, how much training I've had, and how important my job is.

Sadly, though, I will probably never get those things. But the thing I would like most of all is the assurance that, of all these tedious things our school systems cook up, I don't have to them. Don't get me wrong - I do them. Sometimes I want to cry about doing them. What I mean is that I would like to not feel so compelled, that I don't have to do them. That I don't have to spend countless hours on documentation no one will view,that I don't have to attend meeting after meeting when I'd much rather be preparing my classroom, and - our favorite this year - that I don't have to write SLO's.

Instead, I would like to have the feeling that we did when we first entered teaching: I do these things - sometimes plenty of extra things - so that I can work with children. If I do all of these things, then I can make a difference in someone's life. We made plenty of sacrifices just to get in to teaching. Somehow I kind of expected them to stop after a while, but no. There are more than ever.

So I play the lottery to remind myself that working with children is a gift that I chose. Everything else that goes with teaching is a shame for sure, but at the same time, it can act as a reminder of how special the profession really is.

That's how I win.

Monday, September 23, 2013

MUSIC - Good Listening Through the Year

We've had a few cold spells, and even now the nights are chilly. On those stiff mornings, I put in one of my favorite albums. The days are warm, but once the sun has set we need more than shorts and a tee-shirt. So I put in Revolver.

Every Beatles album - each one of course one of my favorite albums ever - sounds that much better if played during the appropriate season. Please see my musical calendar below.

  • Summer days: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  • Long, hot summer days: Yellow Submarine (the album, not just the title track)
  • Long, hot summer days, after sunset: the “White Album”
  • Summer turning into fall and fall days: Revolver
  • Fall before sunrise or after sunset: the “White Album” (can be listed here twice since it’s only a nighttime preference)
  • Fall turning into winter: Let it Be
  • Christmastime and before or after winter parties: Abbey Road
  • Dead of winter: the collection of singles (Past Masters, really Volume 2)
  • Winter into spring: Rubber Soul
  • Spring: Magical Mystery Tour
  • Spring turning into summer: Help!
  • When you’re just really bored: Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, and Beatles for Sale

Try it out this year and let me know what you think.

Friday, August 23, 2013

TEACHING - that warm, back-to-school feeling

Why is it that at the beginning of the school year, everything has such a rosy glow?

You get all revved up for the start of the school year. You rush and stress and work super long hours the first week of school (after having worked during the summer) in order to throw yourself into that first week of students. More long, stressful hours. The coffee helps, but it’s really the positive vibes that keep you going.

Then, the crash.

Reality sets in. The drawbacks of the job stand out. I don’t know why, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Everyone in November is basically the same as they were in August, but something has changed. You start asking yourself questions, questions that don’t necessarily make you happy. It can really mess with your mojo. I don’t even think that it’s anything bad about the job of teaching. Maybe it’s just that adrenaline can only last so long.

Don’t get me wrong. Right now, a few days before students, there are plenty of questions.
Are the new evaluations fair? How many hours a day should I be working? What was (insert name of department) thinking in writing its new curriculum? Why does the teacher’s union have a cookout? …on a military base?

That’s the magic. It’s August. It’s okay not to have satisfying answers. Okay for now. During the grind of the school year, these kinds of questions would probably have me shaking my head ruefully. Now, though, I think I’ll go eat a hotdog. 

It's going to be a good year.