This summer I had the opportunity to attend The Reimagining Education Summer Institute run by Teachers College thanks to the Barnard NOYCE scholars program. In addition, I took the class Racial Literacy in Digital Spaces taught by Professor Detra Price-Dennis. I am in the process of getting my Master’s in Computer Science, but in order to continue teaching I must also take Education or Math courses. This course helped me with that requirement.
Throughout the course and institute I reflected on how what we learned connected to my practice. I learned a lot about the importance of being racially literate, how students need to have a voice in the classroom, how students’ interests need to be centralized, how an expectation of excellence for all students is key, and how racial and digital literacies connect to these ideas. After these experiences, I was able to connect the main ideas of racial literacy, personal narratives, expectations of excellence, and digital literacies to my personal teaching practices by looking at past incidents and planning for the future of my classroom.
When I came into the Institute, I thought that my school didn’t have many issues involving race. Our student body is comprised of almost all recent immigrants. Since they are new to the country, I assumed they didn’t have the prejudices that seem to be ingrained into people born in the US. However, there were a few students and incidents that I kept thinking about during this conference. One scenario was between two Dominican students, Rafael* and Henry*. Rafael is white and Henry is brown. The two tend to play around, but in a recent incident they went too far and yelled slurs at each other. I pulled each one out to conference individually to figure out how it started, but since the door was open, they both kept yelling. I called the deans for assistance, but the problem, at its core, was never addressed. In the workshop entitled Facilitating Dialogues on Racial Microaggressions, I learned from Mariel Buque that what I was witnessing was an instance of microaggression. To address it, I should have stopped the class immediately and had a conversation about how it made them feel. This is in contrast to what I did, which turned it into a “he said” conversation, only making it worse. If I had talked about their feelings, it might have resulted in a better resolution. This case is an example of how issues of race should be addressed in the class: allow students to communicate their feelings and tell their personal sides of the story. This in turn increases the racial literacy of all students.
Another student I thought about was Lin*. She was the only Chinese student in our school throughout her 9th-11th grades. She hated being identified as Chinese. She once unexpectedly ran out of class. When I asked her to explain, she said that there were things that teachers do not see, but she didn’t want to tell me what happened. Two years ago, two more Chinese students joined in the 10th grade. Lin did not want to publicly associate with them. I learned from Race(ing) stories: digital storytelling as a tool for critical race scholarship (2011) by Rolon-Dow and Digitizing Race (2007) by Nakamura that lots of Asians experience racism. I was struck when I read another student’s account of how she was called a “fake Asian” because she only got a B on math and prefered humanities. Maybe this was also bothering Lin. I am now more aware and my racial literacy has expanded. One way I can address this is by having students write their own narratives and share their stories. In my computer science class, I can assign a similar project as done in the papers by Hall (2010) and Rolon-Dow. Both allowed students to share their counter-narratives. In my curriculum I already have them make an animated short movie - I can tweak the unit so that we learn about counter-narratives as well. I can challenge them to create a script of their personal experiences and then make the animation based on the script. By creating this project where students tell their personal narratives, I would be utilizing digital media to allow students’ voices to be heard inside the class and contribute to growth in both their digital and racial literacies.
Communication of high expectations was also a big takeaway from this institute. One idea I appreciated was revolutionary love, in particular Erica Walker’s ETTA principles. ETTA stands for Expectations of excellence, Transformative teaching, Tasks + talk, and Accessible opportunity. One practice I have that lives up to the ETTA principles is creating stations with student leaders for in-class preparation before tests. Station leaders are in charge of making sure everyone in their group understands their station’s topic. I rotate the station leaders for each unit so almost every student in the class is held to this high expectation and forced to communicate. This has had a transformative effect. One student, Melany*, had a 70 in my class. Once I made her a station leader together with another student, her average rose closer to 90. However, there were a few very low skilled students who I did not make station leaders. It is probably because I did not truly believe they could succeed. Next year, I will make sure even the lowest skilled students have a chance to be station leaders, even the ones who don’t know how to read in any language. As Vanessa Siddle Walker said, anyone who has a language can learn. I will just have to give them more support to make it more accessible such as extra help for two lunch periods before they are station leaders. By communicating these expectations of excellence, students will have more confidence in themselves which will transform their personal narratives and they will start to believe that they are “math people.”
Another key takeaway I learned from my experience is the importance of being racially literate. My racial literacy grew when listening to Enrique Aleman and hearing the story of the movie Stolen Education. The movie shows how Mexicans were segregated - they were not allowed to go to the same schools, barber shops, or seats of a theater and that students used to be hit if they spoke Spanish. Thinking about my own school, we limit the amount students can speak in their native languages. About half of our students speak Spanish and our Spanish speakers often take the longest to learn English. To address this, our principal told us to make sure students are speaking English in class. (To her credit, she also hired a Spanish teacher and started cultural assemblies where students can share their cultures with the entire school.) In Laura Ascenzi-Moreno’s workshop, The Multilingual Classroom, we learned about translanguage, which encourages students to express themselves in whichever language they would like. I often let my students write in their own languages, but only if they don’t know how to write it in English. But I am still questioning how much I should let them speak in their native language. If I limit it, am I demonstrating that I don’t care about their language? If I let them speak and write in their own language all the time, am I not doing my job as a teacher of Emergent Multilingual Students? These are not simple questions - I must reflect on them and delve into how my policies are formed from racial bias.
As is evident, the class and institute taught me so much. By analyzing instances of microaggressions, delving how I can incorporate personal narratives, taking a closer look at my expectations of excellence for all students, and growing my own racial literacies, I know my classroom practice will improve. Thank you so much to Professor Rivera and Melissa Flores and the entire Barnard NOYCE Scholars program for a wonderful and transformative experience!