Teacher Networks in the Community

It has been my main goal as a teacher to bring the minority parent population of my district into the school community and let their presence be felt by everyone there.  I realized very early on, however, that if I wanted them to come to me, I needed to go TO them first.

I dove into the epicenter of the Hispanic community by seeking out La Comunidad Hispana, LCH, a non-profit human services center located in Kennett Square. What began as a few volunteer hours has turned into a network of resources that I turn to frequently.

LCH’s services that it provides the surrounding community are staggering.  They have an attached health clinic that supports urgent and prenatal care services, mental health services, lawyer services, GED, ESL, and Citizenship classes.  Everything that they provide is free to the community, and I invite you to explore more about them on their website and Facebook page.

I teach basic level adult ESL for LCH in the evenings, and the network of resources I have established is a direct result of my work here.  As one of the ESL teachers, I have gained access to face time with the Hispanic parent community two nights a week, September through June.  Not only do I now have their trust of school community through this, their commitment to their education and vibrancy of spirit reminds me to look past the paperwork and to-do lists and see the true reason of why I do what I do.

Besides serving me as a gateway into the Hispanic community, my bosses and my co-workers are a walking wealth of knowledge of the Hispanic culture.  I turn to them frequently while making plans for events and initiatives to ensure that I am aligning to their culture’s ideas of what is comfortable, appropriate, and familiar.    I take their information sessions and make them my own and use their relationships with outside agencies to find things such as clothing and emotional support for my students.

While the help and support that this teacher network provides would not serve to benefit all teachers in the same way as it does me, I invite you to find culture hubs around your schools this summer.  The idea that effective teaching is bringing the community into your school and into your practice translates across all classrooms, and before you bring culture in, you must first seek it out.

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Tiny Pulses Forward

Before I had even published my last post, I had opened up my e-mail and sent away a message to my mentor before it was an official year school year since I had reached out to her.  In the typical style of my mentor, she replied that day with two resources, a plan to bring those resources to my school, and a PDF of a presentation.

As my students would say, “Duude, sweeeeet.”

I first met my mentor as a bilingual intern who walked into her classroom with a foggy idea of what ESL was.  I was on track to teach high school English.  You know how this story ends.

I have always said that my mentor, an ESL teacher from a district outside of Philadelphia, is a “powerhouse” in our field.  Do you need to know how to complete the FAFSA if you are an undocumented parent or student?  Are you confused about any piece legislation regarding immigration and documentation? Feeling like you don’t know the first thing about research-based practices on closing the achievement gap? I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

I had recently sat down with my district’s social workers and together we had mapped out the topics we wanted to cover in our monthly parent information sessions for Spanish-speakers.  Our program’s mission is to equip Hispanic parents with the information, tools, and strategies to help their student’s be successful in US schools.  A few of the topics still lacked resources and contacts that would make the session valuable.

This is where the e-mail thread below bring this post full circle.

Me: I am working with the district social workers to organize several speakers for next year’s programs.  I am really looking for a speaker on the importance of maintaining the home language.  I am sure you have the same situation wherein students and parents are literally no longer communicating because students go home and refuse to speak in the home language.

It’s become a HUGE issue in the district here.  Any leads I could call? No worries if you cannot think of anyone.

Mentor: Yes!!!  We just did this presentation– Dr.—- and Dr. P—–, both out of WCU. I would email them and copy me.

Here is what Dr.—- and Dr. —– recently presented… they were fabulous!

Me: Thanks again!

Do you see behaviors in your classroom as a result of little communication at home?  In other words, I feel like I see a lot of defiant and disrespectful behaviors come out at school because there is little authority at home (because students and parents have little communication) and I’m wondering if you see the same.

Mentor: Yes, absolutely… but it’s more complicated than this.

These kids are leading double lives with conflicting messages of what is valued… they take advantage though for sure knowing that there is no accountability with their families (who is going to call home, right?).

Parent trainings are going to be instrumental in making progress with your community.  You have to hold them where you have the most chance for attendance (e.g., party?  Kerri said that one), churches, community centers… accessible..

Me: Yes, Ok, so true.

I am in the middle of convincing the others to move our program into town.   Your point is ringing in my ears!

I just need to remember I can’t solve it all in a year.  Tiny pulses forward!  Thanks for bouncing things with me.

Mentor: Tiny pulses ahead.  Well said.  Remember you are trying to change a culture with two sides– the culture of the majority and the culture of the monitory.  Keep building alliances (you’ll find them everywhere!), and reach out any time you need support.  I’m here!

The gratitude I have for my mentor cannot be adequately described.  Sometimes being reminded of the difficulty of what you are seeking to do is just as helpful and invigorating as any resource.

I forgot to use people.

Yes, this was a real realization that I had after hanging up on a Google Hangout session held within the ED676 course last week.  The hangout had me jotting down names of people who I consider to be excellent mentors, but upon leaving the session the thought occurred to me: when was the last time I reached out to ANY of these ‘mentors?’  I’m here counting my lucky teacher stars that I have established so many valuable connections, but I’ve gone nearly an ENTIRE teaching year without tapping into any of these resources.

As my students would say, “Aye-a, Miss.”

I can explain how I allowed this to so easily happen with the help of Jeffrey Mirel and Simona Goldin’s article “Alone in the Classroom: Why Teachers Are Too Isolated” and Adam Grant’s ideas on Givers and Takers.  To start, when I read Dan Lortie’s comment from Mirel and Goldin’s article about “self-sufficient” classrooms I was brought immediately to mine; by the middle of the year, established routine and expectations allows my room to run itself (as seamlessly as any room full of 12-15 year olds will).  In the midst of the fury of the day, I don’t need to reach out for help; my room is running just fine.  However, in reflection, I realize that “sufficient” connotes mediocrity.  If this week’s readings and discussions left me with one take-away, it is that reaching out to a mentor does not have to be in the moments when you need help, but rather in the time you have to collaborate to make yourselves better at a corner of your practice.

On Adam Grant’s website, Giveandtake.com, I took the self-assessment and scored as a 67% Giver.  Not a surprise in the least.  What this means in terms of how little conversation I sought with a mentor this year is that I spent an overwhelming majority of my time being a mentor.  This makes sense considering my position as an ESL teacher; a large portion of my unwritten job description is helping colleagues adapt lessons and materials for our ELLs.  While I give towards this aspect of my day wholeheartedly, I forget that I can turn the table and reach out to them as experts in their content areas.

Using content area teachers as content areas experts… yes, this week’s ‘ah-ha’ moments were extraordinary.

Putting my Giver personality to the side for a moment, I reflect on those mentors who I forgot to use this year: the same above co-workers I have had conversation with all year, ESL colleagues from other buildings and outside districts, district social workers, and colleagues from a community non-profit.  I need to make a commitment to use these people, not because my classroom and my practice are a mess, but because both sides of the conversation can always improve.

Has anyone realized that they have forgotten to tap into the expertise and wealth of knowledge of their mentors?

“Evaluate Yourself.” Give and Take. Napa Group, LLC, 2015. Web. 01 June 2015.

Jeffrey Mirel, and Simona Goldin. “Alone in the Classroom: Why Teachers Are Too Isolated.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 17 Apr. 2012. Web.