On Reaching the Kiddos

I’m a bit late to #MTBoS12Days, led by Druin and Pam Wilson. The goal is to post 12 times over break,  possibly in a response to a series of prompts. We’ll see if I make it; we go back on Monday.

Prompt: What are your strategies to reach “that kid”?

First, I gather all the information I can on my students. I have my advisory fill out forms about themselves. I look at the scant information the District sends us (all our kiddos* are recent immigrants, so, to be fair, the District doesn’t have a lot of information to send us). I observe them in class. Looping, or teaching many of the same kiddos 2 years in a row, is a huge help. Kiddos who I taught the year before help establish norms and smooth over rough patches (I distinctly remember a kiddo my first year of teaching tell another newer, more rebellious student “You need to do what he says!”).

I listen to what kiddos say and do in class. Even if they aren’t 100% into the math, they talk with friends. I hear about everything from hobbies and social media usage to relatively confidentialish stuff like immigration status.  Sometimes this gives me an in to connect with them or gives me an insight into why they might not be participating as much or how I can better frame things to them. (Side note: I speak Spanish, so I can eavesdrop on about 2/3 of our kiddos. At least one student has reacted to this with some mortification: “%$!& I’d forgotten you speak Spanish!”)

If that doesn’t work, I ask other people at school. I work on a(n amazing) team of teachers who teach the same students, plus an advisory (also consisting of our kiddos). Generally, one of these teachers will have suggestions or insights and we’re lucky to have time built into our weekly team meetings to talk about this. Our (amazing) paraprofessionals are also a great resource as they see our kiddos in various settings at various times of day and they often connect with kiddos in ways that don’t include yelling at them to get seated and take out papers (granted, this isn’t the main way I intend to interact with kiddos, but generally the ones I don’t have great connections with are the ones who I end up yelling at, so). Our (amazing) Wellness Center staff is key here, too. On more than 1 occasion (twice), I’ve had meetings with the Wellness Coordinator where she has basically asked me what my goals are, then facilitated a meeting between a student and me to get us both where we want to go. (Side note: This was also a great way to show a new student that I anticipated struggles with that I was invested in his time and his learning. It helped a ton that our Wellness Coordinator is the person he trusts most at school).

Something that I don’t consider particularly special, but has proven to be helpful is calling home. More often than not, families want to know what’s happening and want to get involved. It’s both surprising (and sometimes heartbreaking) the number of times families will echo the concerns of our teaching team (because so many of our kiddos are recently immigrated and/or reunifying with their guardians for the first time in ages, this situation can be especially complicated). If the guardian doesn’t respond (or responds, but there’s no noticeable follow-up), that’s at least another data point for the puzzle. Side note: Teachers frequently express surprise at how ready I am to call home. I…don’t really have an answer here, other than to say that guardians tend to be the experts here. And if I had a child who was not doing well and their teacher didn’t call me, I’d be a bit peeved, too.

Sometimes, I’ll ask another student (always a trusted student, generally one of my advisees who (mostly) trusts me) what to do. Something along the lines of “I’m trying to get better at helping Gordon** with mathematics. But I’m not having any luck. He likes working with you. What do you suggest?” I’d approach this one with caution, since there’s a ton of status and feelings involved here. I’ll sometimes ask the student in question a similar question, though I need to be careful about framing (this tends to work better with kiddos I’ve taught for 2 years, but are going through a rough patch).

2 quick points: #1: This was one of the interview questions I had to answer for my current job. I didn’t remember at first (I was probably in a state of panic), but one of my interviewers reminded me of it after the fact.

#2: My mom made a comment to me over break that one of my cousin’s kiddos was in a class with lots of “bad kids”. This is a fascinating comment to me and we had a long talk afterwards about how, if adults can identify kids as “bad kids”, how must those students feel about themselves? Adults are really good at subliminally (or not subliminally) showing what they’re thinking and kiddos are really good at reading it. And if a kiddo doesn’t feel like they’re accepted or have status in the class, why should they make an effort to belong in a system that has already, pretty clearly, showed them where they think they belong? So I guess my point, and I’m seeing it a bit this year with kiddos that I struggle to connect to, is that kiddos can be really sensitive to being “that kid”, no matter how much they try not to show it.

*Our principal says “kiddo”, so I say “kiddo”. Force of habit.

**not their actual name. Or an actual kiddo that I have in mind, really.


Why Deporting Parents of Unaccompanied Minors is a Horrible Idea

I’m grading unit tests, so today involves a lot of heavy sighing.

Then I read this article, about 2 draft memos signed by Secretary of Homeland Security on Friday that could prosecute parents of unaccompanied minors (youth who emigrate from their countries by themselves, without an adult) for smuggling.

Much more sighing.

Let’s talk about why deporting or prosecuting parents of unaccompanied minors is a horrible idea.

A bit of background: At least in our district, many parents emigrated long before their students, most likely hoping to establish themselves or find a way to send money while their children were younger. Then, for a number of reasons (violence in the home country, wanting to be closer to the family, etc), they send for their children to come later. These children are the unaccompanied minors.

First, these youth and their families are often fleeing horrible conditions (like ones in Honduras and El Salvador). I heard of one student who wasn’t able to get a transcript from his home country to get credits for his prior studies.

“It’s fine,” I said, “we’ll just Skype the school.”

“No, mister,” he said, shaking his head. “They shot the principal.”

Another student arrived at our school after the semester. Shortly after, she found out that one of her closest cousins had been murdered back in her country.

I can’t imagine a family who would choose to stay in those conditions and subject their children to them if they had another option.

Second, these families are already facing so many issues upon reunification. I have one student who hadn’t lived with their mother for 8 years. Now, they are here, trying to figure out how to live with someone who they, on the one hand, are so overjoyed to see (“All I want is for my mother to be happy and say good things about me,” this student has said repeatedly) and on the other hand, feel (rightfully) abandoned by. Side note: Very few of our family meetings end without tears on someone’s part. Other side note: This isn’t actually one student. It’s four students.

And this is to say nothing of dealing with issues that typical families go through (discipline, puberty, grades, etc) let alone immigrant families (discrimination, culture shock, etc).

For teachers and community members, these issues are further complicated because we don’t know who these issues apply to. After a few years, I’m beginning to notice patterns and find ways to see trends (I’m also gutsier about just asking my advisees, though I 100% recognize that this is due to an amazingly positive, trusting culture that our school has worked hard to create). But it’s not always easy to know who is undocumented or who may be an American citizen with undocumented parents. I say this, not to say that we should label people, but because, in order to support undocumented immigrants and connect them with the right services, we need to know who they are. I fully understand that undocumented immigrants are afraid of disclosing their status, but we have to figure out ways to help them.

Needless to say I’m upset by the possibility of these draft memos. I can only imagine what our kiddos and their families are thinking.

Post-script: People seem to be reflecting on a Day Without an Immigrant. This article about how some teachers responded (hint: not positively) fills me with rage. One of my classes was pretty much unaffected, one was 50% empty, and the rest were somewhere in between.

Confianza and Documentation in a Time of Trump

Concession: I am not an immigrant. I am not a lawyer.

I teach at a school where all the students are recent immigrants. My best guess is that at least a quarter of them are undocumented. As this is only a guess about extremely sensitive information, I’m assuming the actual number is higher. At one point, one of our counselors said that almost all of our recent arrivals from Latin America (Honduras, Guatemala, Salvador) were probably undocumented.

Most conversations about work, with non-coworkers, begin the same: “How are your students taking the election?”

I usually shrug. The answer is complicated. Our older students have been here longer. They are worried. Our 9th and 10th grade students are still adjusting to life in the United States. Most of them have arrived within the year. But they are also worried.

Conversations with teacher friends are different. We usually talk about mathematics and students who are struggling.

We rarely talk about the election or immigration status. If anything, I’ll bring it up with other teacher friends who teach at schools with lots of emerging multilinguals that likely have undocumented students.

Many teachers don’t know which students are documented or undocumented. “We don’t ask,” they say.

So here’s my push: You have to ask. Or at least know your students well enough to ask. Because, for newly arrived students (and I’m guessing with students who have been here longer, too), the legal system that they must navigate is massive. And it’s in Legalese English.

Which brings me to the second part: when you ask, you need to have options ready. You may not be a legal expert (I am certainly not), but you should absolutely know where to turn if a student discloses information about their documentation status. Our school counselor and our Wellness Center are a wealth of information on this front.

Some of the (amazing) teachers at our school had lawyers from a local clinic come to our school to talk about immigration status. We won’t know what to do until January 20, the lawyers said. He’s a loose cannon and unpredictible. [Edit: Sounds like things are happening. And they sound not great for immigrants.]

I’ve often been told that the structures and strategies that support emerging multilinguals support all students. So it’s fair to say that teachers should know all of their students well enough to support them through (and therefore inquire about) sensitive issues. But especially with so many unpredictible potential changes and consequences on the horizon, educators need to be able to ask and while they may not have the answers, they need to at least be able to point students in a solid direction.

(written over the course of several months, initially right after the election. I finally gave in and hit publish. Drafty and subject to revision, as is this entire blog)

WCYDWT: 200 Years of Immigration to the US

Math teachers (and I suspect other teachers) love to find interesting images and then ask each other: “What Can You Do With This?” It prompts a lot of good questions and gets people to engage in ways that a drafted, scripted curriculum often can’t. (As an aside, we often prompt our ELL kiddos by asking them “What do you observe?” “What do you wonder?”)

So, I ask you, “What Can You Do With This?”* “What do you observe? What do you wonder?”:

Captura de pantalla 2015-04-15 19.53.14

Useful phrases: “I observe _____.” “I wonder ____.”

I obviously have my own observations and wonderings, which I can share later.

*Images and data from Natalia Bronshtein, who credits them to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.