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by Ned the Noodge, The DC area’s premiere pain in the butt educator
The views of Ned the Noodge are his and his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of DCschoolHUB and its employees.
One of my colleagues in the lower school was complaining at lunch about a new parent. She told me that the parent sent her an email 6 days into school with the following message (obviously I’m paraphrasing):
Dear [The Teacher’s Name],
Thank you for a great start of the year! My daughter enjoys your class, but her friends are scattered among the other classes in the grade. Per your school policy I’m coming to you first. I would like to have the following students moved into your class and the following students moved out:
Moved out – I’m totally making these names up
Huey, Duey, and Louie – these are the boys she’s been complaining about as being loud and bothersome.
Moved in – Again, totally making these up
Mary, Kate, and Ashley – my daughter really bonded with these girls at camp this summer.
Then it ended with something to the effect of ‘let me know when we can do this so I can tell my daughter’
Ummmm, where do I start?!? The big part of our discussion was the tenor of the email. Instead of being mean, vitriol, or accusatory it was like asking for a cup of sugar. Do parents know how much time and effort goes into creating a class schedule that works? Do they think we just through half the boys and half the girls in each class?
I know from experience that creating a schedule is like playing chess with your eyes closed. You can feel which pieces are which and generally where they are on the board, but…you get the idea. As teachers, this was our biggest stink.
But as a member of the human race, where does this parent get off thinking that just because her daughter isn’t happy with who is and who isn’t in her class that the school is going to make those changes? Obviously, the email was sent up the ranks. Then a few people popped into her room asking if the email was a joke.
So folks, here’s the skinny: If this kid gets her way she’ll have 8 jobs by the time she’s 30 because there was something wrong at each stop. And of course none of it was her fault.
by Jen Cort, Founder, Jen Cort Educational Consulting
With the start of a new school year, teachers are readying classrooms, engaging in professional development and asking “How can I make this the best year for my students?” There are few opportunities as impactful as those opening moments between teachers and students to send the message “I want to see you and I want to hear you”. Last year I met with a group of students and asked “What is the one thing your teachers can say or ask to start the year off well?” As I thought about their answers and one question in particular, I reflected upon how it exposes socio-economic status, family constellation, values and more. I, like many educators, have asked it and always from a genuine desire to partner with my students but as my student partnerships have become more student centered I realize the import of those opening moments and eliminated asking “What did you do this summer?”
This seemingly benign question puts all students in an position of vulnerability. They risk exposing their family’s socioeconomic background (vacations they did or did not take, camps they did or did not attend and events they were able/unable to participate in), family constellations (needing to stay with family members and/or babysit siblings while parents worked), sexual orientation (discussing a romantic partner) and geographic background (providing insight into to the kinds of homes they live in). When I told a group of students that I asked their teachers not to pose this question last year, one student ‘Ava’ said “thank you” and shared that when her class was asked to write about what they did over the summer, she replaced her own experiences with her cousin’s because she didn’t want to risk saying something wrong and having classmates realize she was a student on full financial aid. When asked if that impacted her relationship with the teacher she commented “she is a great teacher and I learned a lot from her, but…. I don’t think she gets me”.
As students approach the year they all have common needs for the routine of school, focusing on learning, meeting their developmental goals of fitting in, understanding the expectations of school and deciding how to manage their time and energy. Students will discover these while managing a social life, physically growing and cognitively developing. It isn’t true that all of these goals will be met by simply changing one question. However, it is the process of thoughtfully considering the possible impacts of the questions we ask and measuring them against the goal of creating safe and nurturing classrooms that we are better able to send the message to our students we want to truly see and hear you.
So what did the students suggest we ask instead of “What did you do this summer?” How about, “What is a question you have for the start of the year?” “What can we do to help you create a start of year routine?” and my personal favorite “I want to partner with you to create the best year possible, what do I need to know about you to do so?” I am pleased to share, ‘Ava’ facilitated a discussion with her teachers, including the one who “didn’t get” her with prompts including “How can teachers let students know they want to make them feel comfortable in class”. The teacher’s prompt this year….”I hope you all had a good summer and ask you to be in this moment, leave your summer stories at the door and let’s write a 2016-17 story together”.
by Dr. Samantha, C. Sweeney, Founder, Culturally Competent Kids
We all know this one from the end of the school year: “no more teachers, no more books…” So, it would stand to reason that this time of year – Back To School – is when there should be books galore. While many people (myself included) try to make sure that our little ones are reading over the summer, it is rarely as much as we would like. Chances are the amount of reading, and certainly the attention paid to it, increases significantly in early September. Therefore, this is the perfect time of year to get some new books – from the bookstore or the library. When your kids are doing their requisite ‘20 minutes of reading’ homework, having new books on hand really gets them engaged and excited.
Books are a great way to learn about pretty much anything and diversity is a great Back To School topic. Why, you ask? Well, DC is such an incredibly diverse area. DC Public Schools and the surrounding counties have students in their schools of every race, religion, and country of origin imaginable. Private and parochial schools are embracing and promoting diversity initiatives like never before. If you send your kids to school in this part of the country, diversity is unavoidable. And thank goodness! We learn so much more when we have students, teachers, and administrators who are different from us.
To help your children not only notice, but embrace all of the diversity that surrounds them, it helps to actually talk about it. Exposure to diverse individuals is wonderful, but it is not enough. Talking to your kids about the diversity that surrounds them is a must and books are a great way to get started. Below are some suggestions for kids of all ages:
For Little Ones (0-6 years old):
Ten Little Fingers & Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox & Helen Oxenbury
Say Hello! By Rachel Isadora
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch & Michael Martchenko
For School-Aged Kids (7-12 years old):
The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
The Misfits by James Howe
Ling & Ting: Not Exactly The Same by Grace Lin
The Lady in the Box by Ann McGovern
For Teens & Young Adults (13 years old+):
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
Remember Dippy by Shirley Reva Vernick
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger
Good Enough by Paula Yoo
Of course, the ages are just guidelines. Your school-aged child may still enjoy some of the books for little ones and your tween may be mature enough to read some teenage books. No matter the books you and your child pick – just keep reading! The more diverse books that you read, the more your kids will feel comfortable talking about topics like race, gender, and socioeconomic class.
And that’s exactly what you want.
For even more book suggestions and ways to talk to your kids about diversity, be sure to visit my website: www.culturallycompetentkids.com.
Happy Back To School and Happy Reading!