Why *am* I here?

I’m reading over one of Dan Meyer’s blogs. The post explores what differnet mathematics bloggers are interested in and care about and testify on behalf of. The question(s) at hand is “Why are you here? What is your project? How do you testify on its behalf?”

I’m struggling to come up with an answer. On the one hand, I’m not 100% sure what my project is. On the other hand, I have some ideas that are very unfleshed out.

One of the things I find myself wondering about (and to some extent, exploring in this blog) is all the things that prevent our kiddos from accessing and learning mathematics. To some extent, this feels largely influenced by my context (all recent immigrants, many with interrupted formal education), but also feels like a question that all teachers struggle with.

Part of this struggle is that these stories are not mine to tell. Legally, I don’t want to share too much about my kiddos’ lives, especially names and sensitive information. That being said, there are certain trends, situations and traumas that surface and it feels important to recognize them, think about them, and honor that our kiddos are dealing with (and persisting through) them.

Another part of this struggle is that it sometimes feels like I’m making an excuse. So many blogs focus on all the amazing resources that are available to students of mathematics and the amazing work that they are doing. So thinking about why students aren’t learning feels like a copout (sometimes). “Such-and-such student is dealing with (XYZ situation) outside of school, so how can I expect them to be paying full attention today?” One of the things that I’m trying to push myself on this year is recognizing that kiddos need a moment and also helping them to realize that, if they take that moment and are able to get “back on the horse” (0ne of my favorite expressions from Joyce Dorado), they can (and are expected to) finish their work.

Trying to find this balance is hard. Many of our students are dealing with gaps in learning (among other things. Among many other things). At the same time, there is a (much needed) push for asset-based thinking at our school and recognizing that our kiddos can do many things. So when we run into situations like “Gordon can’t read” or “Sara doesn’t know how to divide”, what do we do? My current approach is to name and honor things that kiddos are struggling with (backed by evidence, not just my own subjective wonderings), but recognize that there are ways to get them to where we need them to be (Side note: Gordon read part of the objectives last week, which is a nice reminder that things improve with time and effort and that 9th grade at a school for emerging bilinguals can be hard).

So that’s my project for now. Exploring things that stand in the way of our kiddos’ learning and thinking about how to get them over that bump.

Related but unrelated: Schools are looking at different ways to respond to student trauma in an effort to reduce suspensions. The article looks specifically at training teachers in de-escalation techniques and more pull-in support. Article here.

Context: The Mathematics Twitter Blog-o-Sphere – a group of mathematics teachers who share their practice on the internet – is dedicating the month of August to writing a blog a day. It’s spearheaded by DruinOK. If you’re looking for ideas (and who isn’t?), prompts are here.

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Blog Catracho

Honduras has been in the news lately, especially as it relates to undocumented immigration. A lot of our students, quite a few who are undocumented or have Interrupted Formal Educations, are from Honduras.

God Doesn’t Live Here: Written by Cristina Silva, a writer who lived in Honduras, for about a year, to be nearer to her husband’s family, but eventually returned to the United States for safety reasons.

“The wave of migrant children made me think about my nieces and nephews in Tegucigalpa and their many cousins. I remembered how despondent I felt when I learned that their parents never took them to the park because they were too afraid. It made me angry that my 3-year-old nephew could nonchalantly recount the story of his favorite uncle’s murder. I  worry about what kind of men the boys will become when they live in a society where educational and professional success does not ensure personal or financial security.”

The Children of the Drug Wars: An article by Sonia Lazarro, who wrote “Enrique’s Journey” about the drugs and violence causing children to leave Latin American countries and how the US should respond.

To permanently stem this flow of children, we must address the complex root causes of violence in Honduras, as well as the demand for illegal drugs in the United States that is fueling that violence.

In the meantime, however, we must recognize this as a refugee crisis, as the United Nations just recommended. These children are facing threats similar to the forceful conscription of child soldiers by warlords in Sudan or during the civil war in Bosnia. Being forced to sell drugs by narcos is no different from being forced into military service.

Why the Border Crisis is a Myth: Written by a county judge in El Paso about how communities along the US-Mexican border have, are and should respond to increased immigration.

“This effort to take away rights that were granted when there was significantly less anti-immigrant fervor isn’t just shortsighted and expensive, it’s un-American. We can debate the wisdom of providing greater protection to Central American children than to Mexican children, but there can be no doubt that giving safe haven to a child facing violence in a country that cannot protect its most vulnerable citizens is what a civilized country, with the resources we possess, should do.”

It’s funny, in a way, that these articles are over a year old (yes, I am the slowest poster), but still seem relevant today.

To balance out heavy news:

Dando Buenas Noticias: My friend’s orphanage made this awesome video about HIV/AIDS prevention in Honduras. It’s amazing to see how much these kids know and how accessible health care is to them (when I worked in Ecuador 7 years ago, antiretrovirals were supposed to be free, but were not accessible).

What have you heard about Honduras?

What I’m Reading: Undocumented in San Mateo and Cambridge and the Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

These days, I get most of my news from Twitter and Facebook. 3 interesting reads that popped up (all on Thursday morning, I believe):

1. Facebook pointed me to The Transition Continues: Teen Migrant from El Salvador Tries to Fit in At School (from KQED). An article on a recent immigrant from El Salvador and her transition to life in the San Francisco Bay Area (not the school I work at). The issues she’s facing are similar to the issues many of our students face. A quote that stands out to me:

“Even if she were fluent tomorrow, Jennifer would not be able to graduate. School officials say that because she turns 18 next year, she will not have enough time to satisfy all the high school requirements in time. Jennifer will have to enroll in adult school or find work at the end of next year.”

2. Facebook also pointed me to The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace (via NPR), which is an account of a young black man who grew up outside of Newark, dealt drugs, went to Yale, returned to the neighborhood he was from and was eventually shot. I broke down and bought a copy on Friday. As far as I can tell, the book tries to cover all aspects of Robert’s life rather than framing him as just a Yale graduate or just a young man from Newark or (just a insert-your-own-soundbite-here).

Excerpt (of an excerpt, ha):

“The father-son bond is big stuff, of course, and particularly here. Rob really revered his father, who was sort of the “mayor” of the neighborhood, as I gathered — had a kind word to say about everyone. They would leave the house and go eat full meals at seven different friends’ houses over the course of a day. He was very active in Rob’s academic life — drilled him with good penmanship, the importance of memory, and continued to do so from prison using the prison phones once or twice a week.

I think it made him a leader. Also, I think that experience really built his incredible capacity for friendship, particularly with friends in his school and around his neighborhood, many of whom shared this plight of fatherlessness. And that’s how they processed together.”

3. Twitter pointed me to: I Told Harvard I was an Undocumented Immigrant. They Gave Me A Full Scholarship. Written by someone who’s now a junior at Harvard who is undocumented about what the college application process was like. I kind of want to pass this on to our senior teachers.


“Still, I realize that my privileges and challenges are rare in the undocumented community. There are students whose parents have never filed a tax return and so cannot provide proof of income to qualify for scholarships. There are students who are here without their parents. There are students who do have to hold down a job if they want to go to college or even high school. Most undocumented immigrants are not nearly as lucky as I’ve been. And with the immigration stalemate in Washington, it’s unlikely that life for those in the shadows will become easier anytime soon.”