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I remember the first time my parents tried to explain to me that we were moving to a new country. I was only three years old, but I remember my father teaching me the pronunciation of “hello.” Close enough to the Romanian “alo,” I was able to repeat it incessantly as we waited to leave Europe.

It took us a little over two years to finalize our immigration papers and get through the Communist requirements that left my parents unemployed for so many months that our family lost everything but each other. In April of 1982, we arrived in Houston. The sheer joy that my family felt when debarking the plane continues to this day every time we speak of our tribulations to get to America. Little did I know I would have many more ahead of me.

Like many foreign students entering American society, I set foot in the public school system unable to speak any English besides “hello.” Yet, experiencing such an overwhelming obstacle was a privilege, because it framed my empathetic nature in low-socioeconomic classrooms. While I was not the only non-English speaking student in first grade, I was the only one who did not speak Spanish in the English as a Second Language classroom. Learning to use cognates from Romanian to Spanish and English helped me later comprehend how to teach language arts to English Language Learners. When comparing current educational settings to my public education, I consider myself lucky in several respects.

The public schools I attended encouraged me to think abstractly, taught me to analyze using higher level thinking skills, sponsored my individual talents, and engaged my multiple intelligences. From these elementary experiences, I took away not only mental dexterity, but also memories that have defined expectations of successful school environments. Via my personal experiences as an ESL student, I know public education succeeds when school culture and curricula lead Americans to pursue their highest goals.

My foremost goal in life has been continuous education, whether it consists of life-long learning or discovery through teaching others. Since my parents never had the opportunities of higher education while growing up in a communist country, they instilled the value of education in me as I progressed through school in America. I have developed a deep respect for learning throughout my life, realizing that an education can never be taken away. For this reason, I look back on one of my most prevalent hurdles in life with sincere gratitude, knowing that I have maximized its moral while educating others.

 
 
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This week, as part of a class I'm taking for my Reading Specialist credential (sounds much more formal than what it really is, doesn't it?) my professor asked the class to read and respond to this article published by Learning Point Associates. If you know anything about LPA, they "help" Program Improvement schools get out of the standardized test-score gutter. I'm not biased against or for such programs, but I always wonder how much magic they can actually work on all the problems that plague American public education? Since I work in an 80% poverty-level school, I'm skeptical-- what can I say?

Several key points stood out for me when reading this article. First and foremost, the following quote completely hit home with me because of the reality that it illustrates:
"Why are we evaluating? What are we evaluating? How are we evaluating? How well have we evaluated? Instead of being used as a process for judging and improving program quality, evaluation becomes something teachers or administrators are required to do in order to satisfy externally determined needs. When this situation occurs, teachers have no ownership of the evaluation plan or the generated data. The result is that often no one seems to know why the assessment information was gathered or how it can be used to improve instruction."
Teachers don't feel comfortable with walk-throughs, coaching, or observations because of the lack of investment they have in the whole process.

Another quote that I agreed with, but was disappointed to see marginalized was the point made about socioeconomic status:
"Children from families of low socioeconomic status often attend schools facing other problems attributed to at-risk students. These schools typically have many students with high mobility rates, severe behavioral and emotional problems, and limited English proficiency. In addition, children of low socioeconomic status may come from culturally diverse backgrounds (Knapp & Shields, 1990)."
Teaching in one of the most disadvantaged school districts in the state has made me realize that no matter how much effort a teacher puts into her teaching, students and parents will always decide if that effort will be of use or go to waste. It is quite unfortunate that such a decision can make or break a student's future, an educator's career, and a school's budget.

It is unfortunate that admin doesn't understand how to create a school climate that encourages higher level thinking, character, and parental involvement. One of the most important parts of student achievement is high standards, yet when parents complain that students are being held to standards that are higher than what they were held to, or what they are comfortable with, then admin backs down from those high standards, appeasing parents. This is one of the big mistakes I see in low-performing public schools. This is not the case in schools which may have low socioeconomic students, yet require students to perform at a certain level if they wish to stay at those campuses. I've seen several charter schools (Yes Houston, KIPP, Achieve, Inc., etc.) in high-poverty areas that require contracts from parents and students, and I feel this is one of the best ways to maintain high standards. If we are to hold teachers to specific performance levels, then all parties, including parents and students, must be held accountable for their learning and education, as well. Otherwise, the three-legged stool that holds up public education in America will be left to stand on one leg, and teachers are exhausted already.
 
 
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A couple of weeks ago, my fifth and sixth grade English Language Development (ELD) students read an article in the Merced Sun-Star that made them realize, sometimes, news stories don't always tell the whole truth. So, what's a group of 30 students to do when they realize they have been marginalized? Write letters to the editor, of course! Here are some of their responses to the Dec. 1 article.

Don't forget the real problems behind this lesson-- childhood obesity and a lifetime of health problems. In the end, there is no contest between brain v. body; both must be used vigorously to maintain their abilities and skill-sets, while each reacts to the other's activity level.
 

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    cristina

    educator, student, yoga enthusiast, roller derby girl

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    The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect those of my employers, colleagues, friends, family, or pets. Thanks for visiting!

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