A Teacher’s Battle

By Anita Castillo

I have been a teacher for eight years and last school year (2009-2010), while teaching fifth grade, proved to be one of my toughest years. 

In mid-October, I received a new student, who had not been previously enrolled at any other school.  This young student was (at the time) being taken care of by a family friend since his mom deserted him and was living in Mexico.  However, during his fifth grade year he was moved into foster care.

When we received his school records, we (the principal, special education teacher, and I) realized he was a special education student.  He was a fifth grade student reading at a second grade level and working on a first grade math level.  We immediately provided him with the necessary resources.

Before Christmas break, the special education teacher came to speak to me about my student.  I was told immediate changes were required to be placed on my student’s educational needs.  When he entered my class, he was identified as a TAKS-M student.  Now, he was going to be recognized as a TAKS-A student for Reading and Math because our campus had too many students known as TAKS-M.  Apparently, my student was chosen (by the principal and her supervisors) to be changed because he had passed the TAKS-M exams the previous school year.  (He had received the minimal passing score.)  I was totally against this change and I told the special education teacher that I would not sign any papers condoning this change.  I was told that my signature and opinion were not necessary and that the change was already made.  Do you know what they (the principal and resource teacher) told the student’s guardian was the reason for the change?  He has shown great progress and it was time for a challenge.  Should they see him regressing, than he would be placed back as TAKS-M.  Guess what happened?  He totally relapsed in class work, benchmarks, and the TAKS test. You may be asking why?  Since the change, he stopped receiving assistance from the resource teacher.  He was getting assistance from me only.  I was modifying his work and still to no prevail. 

My student was failing.  He had failed both attempts of the Reading and Math TAKS tests.  He was required to attend summer school.   Before school was dismissed for the year I had asked to retain him, so he can truly get the help he needs.  I was specifically told – “You can’t retain him because he is a special education student.  Regardless if he passes the TAKS tests or not, he will be promoted to sixth grade.”

He has failed and it is not even his fault.  It is the state’s fault. It is the district’s fault.  It is my fault.  I did not speak up for my student.  I was pushing him at a level that he could not comprehend.  It was too much for him to handle.  The district is so worried about the “numbers” that they fail to focus on what is best for the student.  Because our campus had too many students identified as TAKS-M, my student got the short end of the stick.  The state fails to realize the unnecessary pressures we place on these innocent children just to satisfy a quota given to us by the No Child Left Behind Law.  Well, guess what?  We are leaving every child behind when we are forced to administer a ridiculous standardized test and promote students when they are not ready. 

But who cares?  The school got its exemplary status, which in turn gives the district a gold star from the state.

I care though.  I have failed my student.  I could not help him because of the restrictions given.  Unfortunately, he was withdrawn from summer school and placed into his mother’s custody.

 I promise to be a better advocate for my students, so that I don’t have a repeat of this again.

Is This Wasted Time?

By Yadira

Some teachers believe that my morning routine is a waste of “quality time” of instruction.  This routine consists of social interaction, independent reading, reading/writing response, read alouds and discussions.  My goal is to provide the students with opportunities to acquire and develop knowledge.  As a third grade, self-contained TAKS teacher, I am expected to work on passages and strategies drilling my students to exhaustion as soon as the children enter my classroom door.  I refuse to drill my students to boredom and nonsense. 

It is 7:45 a.m. just as any regular morning students begin to pour into class.  As part of their morning routine, they take their breakfast, sit at their desks and begin to eat.  As food fuels them up they begin to energetically speak to one another about the previous day events.  They laugh, giggle, gasp and comment as they listen to each other’s stories.  At one point or another, they include me in their conversations.  I laugh, giggle, gasp and comment on what they say.

It is now 8:00 a.m. the students stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance, Texas Pledge, and Student Creed finalizing with a Moment of Silence.  They sit at their desks again; continue eating breakfast while watching our principal give the announcements on TV, ending with her typical, “Hope you have a wonderful day!”  As the students finish up breakfast, they take a glance at the wall where the “Daily Duties” are posted.  Each one has the responsibility to complete their designated task before Silent Sustained Reading time.  Once their task is finished they head towards the classroom library and browse for a reading book of their personal interest.

It is now D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) Time, 8:15 a.m., the students are reading silently at their desks.  As I sit and read quietly at my kidney table, I frequently observe the students.  Independent reading is going well, most of the students are on task, there are one or two students that stand to browse and switch reading books.  Students stop at different times during the reading to get their writing journal.  During the writing I see students scratch their heads as they think, take a peek into their reading book using it as reference to their writing and others simply write and draw nonstop.  As each student finishes with their reading/writing response they set the journal on my kidney table, sit at their desks and continue reading independently.  As I open the journals and read their responses I see the different writing formats used such as letters, poems, summaries, comic strips and newspaper articles just to name a few.  I place a scented, smiley face stamp on each journal entry with a short comment as feedback. 

A set alarm bell rings at 9:00 a.m.  Students immediately stand, place their book where it belongs and line up for a quick restroom and water break.

At 9:10 a.m. our Shel Silverstein daily poem reading begins.  I read a poem aloud then the students and I initiate a discussion.  I find very interesting to see how students agree or disagree using the text and illustrations to proof their point to one another.

It is now 9:15 a.m., after a good, short debate among students, I read a quick story to them.  As I read I look at each one of them at one point or another observing their reactions to the reading giving me an idea of their understanding of the story.  I end the reading by asking students if they have any questions or comments in regards to the reading.  Again, discussion arises when students make comments or question the text and one another.

Time has gone by quickly, it is now 9:30 a.m., my language arts block is about to begin.  It’s time to get started…

This morning routine has helped my students become better readers and writers.  Yes, the TAKS is important, but I refuse to dedicate my instruction to nonsense material.  My students and I obtained 100% Reading TAKS Achievement without having to emphasis on passages, but rather on social interaction, independent reading, reading/writing response, read alouds and discussions.  Is this wasted time?

The Importance of Home Literacies

By Claudia

Last semester I had the opportunity to work on an ethnographic case study.  This case study was intended to help us learn more about the knowledgeable ways children read and write.  We did this by keeping a double-entry journal where we would take notes as to how our participant responded to the reading and writing we were doing in class.   We worked with 10 bilingual books during a period of several months.  We allowed our participants to choose whether they wanted to read or have the book read to them.  They were also given the choice as to what language they wanted to read in.  To get a well-rounded picture of our participant we also collected information about his/her home life.  We conducted interviews with our participant’s family and we also conducted home visits. 

It was during these home visits that I became so much more aware of the importance that home literacies play on our students.  As I spoke to my participant’s mother she began to speak about the negative feelings she felt about not being able to speak English. She expressed her willingness to help her son at home with homework but since it was all in English she was just unable to do so.  She went on to explain that she has tried to find other ways in which to help her son.  She buys him many books that she finds in second hand stores.  She encourages his love for art by buying him art supplies and letting him display his art work all over their house, which I thought was wonderful!  I explained to her that although she does not speak the language she has helped her son become successful in so many other ways.    

She also spoke about how proud she was that her son was doing so well in school but that she was worried about him forgetting his first language.  She explained how she would regularly have him read books in Spanish.  She felt that this was important in order to help her son remain literate in both languages. 

After talking to my participant’s mother and listening to her concerns, I decided to ask my participant to take the next book we were to work on as a home assignment, instead.  I gave him the book Chiles for Benito, by Ana Baca, and asked him to read and discuss it with his mom.  I told him since it was in both English and Spanish he could decide which language to read it in.  He agreed. The next day he came in and told me that his mom had really liked the book.  He said that she had never seen children’s books that had English and Spanish text on the same page. My participant read the book to his mother in Spanish.  He explained how his mom helped him in some words that he could not pronounce correctly.  Overall, it was a positive experience for both of them.  During our class readings my participant would conclude the session by writing and illustrating a reflection based on the book.  Although, I did not assign a reflection for this home assignment he brought one in anyways.  I was pleased that they were able to share this literacy experience together. 

I began thinking that this assignment is something that I could start implementing with my students. Maybe assigning a book each month, where parent and child could read and come up with some type of reader response.  I know that I would have loved to have had this experience growing up.  I always felt very disconnected from my parents when it came to my schooling.  I did very well in school but it was difficult for my parents to really get involved with my everyday learning because of their inability to speak English.  Hopefully, assignments like these will help create a positive home-school connection with some of our parents that sometimes feel like they have nothing to contribute.

Literacy in the Flea markets

By M. E. Guerra

Last semester I completed a literacy project around the flea markets in the valley.  I wanted to see what types of literacies were being used in the flea markets or what types of literacies could be found.  The flea markets that were visited were located in Hidalgo, McAllen, and Mercedes.  I also visited one of my kindergarten students to see how literacy in the flea markets influenced him.

The flea market of Hidalgo had few poster board signs up and if there were any they were mainly in Spanish.  Many of the people that come to this flea market are from Reynosa, Mexico.  This is why most of the signage is in Spanish.  People were mainly talking in Spanish and negotiating prices.      

The flea market of McAllen had a lot more signs in English and Spanish.  Most stands had bilingual signs posted to accommodate customers.  There were a lot of written signs with pictures to go with what was stated.  I also found people who sold books, which I found very interesting.  There were all types of music playing left and right.

The flea market in Mercedes had a lot of professional signs posted up in both English and Spanish.  People were conversing in both English and Spanish.  The music around the flea market was mainly country.  There were a lot more children with their parents at this flea market compared to the other flea markets.

One of my kindergarten students’ families owns a t-shirt stand at one of the flea markets and I noticed how much the literacies at the flea market had a great influence in the student.  The student usually related things to the flea market or had experienced certain things other children had not yet experienced.  This students’ language was well developed for his age because his situation allowed him to observe and listen to his parents constantly 0use language.  When I went to visit the student, he was greeting customers and showing them around the stand to see what art design they wanted on t-shirt or what his father was capable of doing.  Not many 5 year olds would just talk to any stranger but this student was able to talk to individuals as long as it had to do with his parents business.  The parents told me they would allow the child to do this so he would not be shy but that they were able to see how it helped with his language.  They also shared that their kind of business dealt with a lot of writing which helped the student see all these words or messages when customers would request for something to be done. The student also took me around the aisle and read all the signs in the stands and told me what I could find in each stand.  I was surprised to see him saying hi to every owner of the stand and vice-versa; the student looked like a grow-up greeting everyone.

Literacy is all around us and strongly used in all places.  No matter how much education an individual may have or how strong they feel in their literacies; it is shown through different ways.  Visiting these flea markets I found out that bargaining is a great way to show a strong literacy skill.  People use language to get what they want and pictures to show what they are talking about.

Audio Books

By Idalou

One activity that I like to do before we begin our school day is perform a read aloud.  My students enjoy listening to the stories I read to them . Since I teach first grade ,I do small group instruction especially during reading. I divide my students into centers like the writing, math, reading and the listening centers. When I first tried the listening center I thought that my students might not enjoy listening to books on tape, but I was so wrong. As I introduced them to this form of literacy they became very excited to go to the listening center. I could hear them reading along, laughing, smiling, and then talking about the story once they finished listening to it. One story that comes to mind that my students really enjoyed listening over and over again was “The Teeny Tiny Woman’ by Paul Galdone.  The way that the person read this book was so exciting to them and they too even changed their voice like the reader in the book did. When they were done listening to a story I will usually ask my students, who can tell me what the book was about because I have never read it before? You will be surprised how many little hands would go up. There are a lot of books on audio that children enjoy listening to. Dr. Seuss has a collection on audio tape; my students really enjoyed the Green Eggs and Ham. Sometimes I have them pick the book they want to hear as reward. After exposing my students with this type of literacy I noticed a big improvement on their reading skills, vocabulary skills, comprehension skills and on their English language development.  I would really recommend for those teachers who are teaching to try to implement this form of literacy in their classrooms. It is a very good form of literacy to have our students exposed to.

I’m Not a Good Reader

By Rica

I was talking to a friend the other day about reading. The conversation started off by telling my friend about my favorite book. It’s called The Outlander, written by Diana Gaboldon. I told her reading is something that I enjoy doing whenever I have any free time. My friend was astonished that I read for pleasure instead of just needing to read for school or work. She went on by saying that she is not a good reader and has no desire to read unless she absolutely has to.

So I asked my friend to give me some reasons as to why she wasn’t a good reader. She told me that because she didn’t do well in school and did not get a high score on the SAT that she obviously wasn’t a good reader.

After reading Multiple Roads to Literacy written by Yetta M. Goodman, I know that people have a misconception about literacy.  Many people think that they are not good readers or good writers when in actuality they are. People believe that standardized reading tests and how well you do in school measures how good of a reader/writer you are. When in fact there are several different ways of being a well-read individual. 

So I began explaining to my mislead friend that just because she didn’t do well in school or a standardized test does not mean that she is not a good reader. I went on to tell her that she reads the newspaper everyday, which takes a good deal of reading comprehension. She also reads TMZ on a daily basis, which is an online celebrity gossip site. Now, I know many people would not consider reading celebrity gossip something a well-read person would read, but like a newspaper, you have to have reading comprehension and a lot of discernment as to whether you believe the latest celebrity scandal. She also has her own business and has to do her own bills, taxes, PR, and advertising. She loves to travel and find new places to go and visit. I told her that she had to look up flights and hotels and research on new places to see and explore and that takes someone who can read well. She is also an avid “Words with Friends” player. It is exactly like Scrabble; it is an iPhone application that you play on your phone. That game takes someone who has a large vocabulary and who can manipulate letters to make words.

She did all of these literacy practices everyday, but did not recognize them as making her a literate person. After having this conversation with her she began to realize that she was a well-read individual. I could tell I had changed her outlook on literacy. She now saw herself as a smart person who reads and writes well.

The Advantages of Cuentos

By Olga and Mildreth

In the Mexican culture, it is a tradition to grow up listening to cuentos (oral stories) from close family members. For the most part, the children sit around their grandparents to listen to classical or made up stories.  These cuentos become part of their life and as they grow up, they in turn begin to retell them to their own children.  Thus values are passed on from generation to generation in a fun and memorable way.  The children enjoy listening to them not knowing that their parents are using them as a means to educate them.  Numerous studies have shown that cuentos have many benefits in the education and family life of a child.  The main advantage is the capacity that a cuento has to transmit personal values that would raise better citizens.  For example, “The Three Little Pigs” is a classical story that not only entertains,  but teaches children the importance of hard work in order to succeed.  In addition, a cuento can help introduce new ideas and knowledge to children due to their form.  The simplicity of the story allows the listener to memorize and recall details more easily.  A cuento can also help create bonds between the listerner and the storyteller.   A cuento is easy to make up and allows for personalization. The personalization process makes children feel special and the center of attention.   The children can be asked to create their own characters and name them, which makes the information being heard more meaningful.  This can result extremely beneficial to families of working parents whose schedules permits them to give their children very little attention.  Finally, since cuentos are usually told without the aid of pictures or books,  it forces the children to pay close attention to the details.  If they want to be transported to the world of fantasy where the cuento takes place; then they will need to open their mind and center their attention.  Parents and teachers can use this opportunity to stimulate the visual and creative aspect of the children by filling their cuento with colorful characters and detailed events that the children would have to imagine.  It is true that our world is changing, but that doesn’t mean that values should be lost.  Let us use this valuable resource that cuentos are to instill them in our children.  Below are the links to some websites that specialize in the art of cuentos, please feel free to explore them.