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Why Diverse Texts Are Not Enough

NOTE: This post was originally published and written for Literacy Today, a publication of the International Literacy Association (ILA). Click on the image at the right to download or print a PDF of the original article (and click here browse the entire issue).

In May 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its Hate at School report. Using information gathered from teacher questionnaires and news media reports, the SPLC found an alarming uptick in the number of incidents of hate and bias occurring in U.S. schools. Teachers reported that the most common driver of these incidents was racial or ethnic bias, with anti-LGBTQ bias a close second. Furthermore, a majority of these incidents occurred in spaces where adults were present: 32% in classrooms and 37% in shared spaces such as hallways, bathrooms, or other parts of the building.

Think about what that means. The majority of incidents of hate and bias occur in the presence of adults.

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Building blocks for online learning

This school year will be my 20th year in the classroom.

For the past 19 years, summer months have provided necessary respite—the quiet pause—I’ve needed to refuel for the coming school year. To refill my cup so that I can arrive well and whole for my students in September.

But during a pandemic that continues to rage—and with racial inequities (which have always existed) laid glaringly bare yet again—this was not that kind of summer.

Instead, much of my summer has been spent in constant, alternating states of fear, anger, and anxiety, as many school reopening plans ask teachers to put themselves at risk by returning to potentially unsafe buildings and working conditions. How can schools enforce physical distancing? Will students be required to mask? Can they wear masks for hours on end? What about ventilation systems? What happens if someone gets sick?

And how can I teach under these conditions?

Like many teachers, I spent this summer, losing sleep, trying to answer this question. And for many of us, this also means figuring out how to teach in entirely new or modified schedules. Based on conversations I’ve had with teachers across the country, these schedules may also not be in the best interest of kids or supported by research. Compounding all of this is the fact that delayed reopening decisions have left many teachers with inadequate time to fully prepare.

We are going to have to save ourselves.

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Connect the Dots

Last year, in my first post for this series, I asked, how do we show up? 

What does it mean to “show up” in anti-racist work? What does it mean to “show up” in educational spaces—educational spaces which (of all places) should be inherently anti-racist but are often not?  

One year later, I’m still asking the same questions.

Part of me hates that I am even writing this post. I want to write about the joy of being who I am and the joy of loving the people I love. I want to write and imagine worlds, as shea martin has said, outside the confines of Whiteness. I want to write about giving my boys haircuts yesterday in our backyard, as streams of sunshine filtered through tree branches that sheltered us.

But here we are. Read More

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Guest Post: Many Ways of Giving

This is a guest post by Michelle Martin, PhD, for the #31DaysIPBOC project. Dr. Martin is the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children and Youth Services at the University of Washington Information School.

When I was five years old, two different relatives gave me the same doll for Christmas, a Black Baby-Go-Bye-Bye and a White Baby-Go-Bye-Bye.  Both of them had a little pink car to ride in, and both had curly hair—black and blonde, respectively. As is often the case with “cookie cutter” dolls of the 1960s, 70s and sometimes still today, the toy company hadn’t given a thought to the fact that facial features of the Black doll should be different from that of the White doll. Hence, the only difference between the two was the skin and hair color. Read More

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Signs and signals

With the primary season in full swing and still more than eight months away from November… I’m already exhausted. Actually, I’ve been exhausted. Every day feels like a hundred.

This post isn’t really about the election, but politics is always personal and local. And so recently I was reminded of a Twitter thread I wrote a few months ago that I thought I’d revisit and share in this space.

For more than three years, we’ve had the sign on the right on our front lawn. (I’ll let you do that math as to when and why the sign went up.) We had a few neighbors who also had them on their lawns. Most came down after a while, but every time I drive by the few neighbors who have kept theirs up, I give them a high five in my head. I see you, good neighbor, and I appreciate you.

Now, I know a sign is just a sign. And I know that a lawn sign, like a bumper sticker, might be more performative than anything, a way to virtue signal your beliefs and morals without actually doing anything.

And yet—as a person of color, as the daughter of immigrants, I appreciate the public display of solidarity. It means something, even if it’s a small thing, a place to start . . .

(Or maybe I’m just desperate for any sign of hope.) Read More

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Beyond either/or: agitate for change

Advancing the false idea that teaching through an antiracist lens and developing students’ reading and writing skills are mutually exclusive is a gross misinterpretation of the work I see many teachers do—teachers who engage students in deep learning and support them in developing the skills necessary to be active, informed participants in a democracy.

Excellent teachers know how to help students to develop the reading, writing, and communication skills they will need to be successful in the world and how to put those skills in service of a more just society.

These are not mutually exclusive.

We teach more than skills. And furthermore, we teach more than content, too.

After all, currently there are many people in power who have rich content and disciplinary knowledge. But what comprises that content? What types of knowledge (and whose) is deemed valuable? There are also many people currently in power who also have excellent reading, writing, and communication skills. The question is: how are they using those skills? To what ends? For whose benefit? And at whose expense? Read More

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How do we show up?

“Your racial consciousness determines how you show up.”

A few weeks ago,  a small group of teachers—all of us teachers of color—gathered for dinner with Tony Hudson, an Equity Transformational Specialist from the Pacific Education Group (PEG). This year, our district partnered with PEG to facilitate the courageous conversations about race that our schools—and really, all schools—need to have in our classrooms, buildings, systems. During our conversation, Tony pointed out this simple truth: “Your racial consciousness determines how you show up.”

I wrote that line down and have been turning it over in my head ever since.

What does it mean to “show up” in anti-racist work? What does it mean to “show up” in educational spaces—educational spaces which (of all places) should be inherently anti-racist but are often not? And why not?

As long as teachers continue to show up in classrooms racially unconscious, educational institutions will continue to be spaces that perpetuate racist systems and inequities.

Because your racial consciousness determines how you show up.

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Summer, home: A Poem by Joel Garza


Daniel was the son
raised in the valley. A bucket for a
swimming pool. Air conditioning was
hosing down the cement porch,
waiting for a breeze. Him and Mom,
Granny and Papá Romulo.
Then Dad returned from the war. That’s all
I know of the war.
__________His return.

Raul was raised in San Antonio.
Daniel & Raul,
speaking Spanish, singing boleros,
eating raspas, and parting their hair on the side.
Los hijos de Junior y Noelia.
Tan joven, tan guapo.
They knew the valley, they knew
the language.
__________I came late. Learned late.

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Dear Students

I ended our first full week of school by writing, and reading aloud, a letter to my students. There’s so much more to say, but it’s a start. This weekend, they write back. 🙂

August 31, 2018

Dear 10th graders,

One question that I often get from students is why I decided to become a teacher. I’m not sure, but I think kids ask this question because maybe you’re at a place in your life where you’re starting to wonder what you’ll do with your own, what college you’ll go to and what you might want to study. And maybe even if you have no plans to become a teacher, maybe when students ask, it’s because they’re curious about what goes into making a decision like that. Why do people choose what they choose? How do people end up as teachers, accountants, doctors, business people, sales workers? Read More

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Slice of Life: Making Amends

This summer, when writing’s been challenging for me, I’ve started to use Twitter as a place to draft my thoughts in series of Tweets and then revisit later as blog post. There’s something about limiting myself to the small writing of just 280 characters that makes it feel a little more manageable.

Yesterday, my friend Julie Jee Tweeted about her teaching life, specifically how her concerns as a teacher have changed over time: Read More