Friday, July 10, 2015

Promoting Foreign Language Education

As mentioned in a previous post, this week I took a weeklong workshop on multicultural education at the University of Utah, a workshop I'm taking this for teaching licensure points, although I'm not really interested in going back to teaching at the secondary level at the point. On our first day, we were given a questionnaire that would provide some background information for our workshop leaders to understand us more. I'm the only college-level teacher in the group.

One of the questions we were given was to discuss what "diversity" means to us, and what we hope to get out of the workshop. I tend to think that diversity is often narrowly defined as that relating to racial identities, and believe cultural identity is just as often linguistic, religious, or socioeconomic.

A few days ago someone from the University's Global U program gave a short presentation about the U's foreign language department, and told us about the federally-funded Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. This led to an interesting discussion about English Language Learners, teaching English to speakers of other languages, and foreign language education. Apparently there are no foreign language requirements for graduation from high schools in Utah, yet there are foreign language requirements at the college level. Getting students to want to take foreign languages in high school is difficult (often getting high school students to want to take any classes is difficult), and the foreign languages that are  seen as "worthwhile" are limited, for example, to Spanish and Chinese. (I also learned about heritage language programs in which students with some proficiency in the language of their parents or ancestors take courses in this language to maintain and improve fluency and literacy skills.)

It's therefore difficult to get district funding to find and pay teachers of foreign languages that aren't Spanish or Chinese, which means few students see the need for learning a foreign language that isn't Spanish or Chinese, which means that few students choose to learn any foreign language at high school or college, which leads to students not majoring in any foreign language, which leads to a shortage of teachers capable of teaching any foreign language. And the teachers who might be certified and otherwise capable of teaching any foreign language have trouble finding a teaching job because there are no openings for foreign language teachers, which leads to difficulty in getting district funding of creating more foreign language positions (because students and parents aren't interested in their students learning foreign languages), and on and on. It's a vicious cycle.

Pushing Students Through the K-16 Pipeline & College Readiness

Today is the last day of the weeklong teacher education workshop on multicultural education I've been taking at the University of Utah. I'm interested in multicultural education insofar as I realize there are student populations I could probably relate to better, although at the college level students do (need to) learn to be more proactive about their education and how to navigate post high school education, regardless of race. (That's something I can try to help them with.)

One of the guest speakers we had this morning talked about students going through the "K-16 Pipeline," meaning that students are now being highly encouraged to think of their lives after high school, that college is a possibility, but it is not the only possibility. While I strongly support students getting additional education after they graduate from high school - and I do think that post-secondary education is necessary - only talking to students about going to college can lead to students thinking that if they don't want to go to college (because they're not sure they want to; because they don't have the finances to do so; because they have no support in doing so), or don't go when they're 18 and finish within four years, or stop halfway through, other options should be discussed.

For example, it hasn't been true for decades - if it ever was - that if you don't go to college at 18 then there must be something wrong with you. If you need a break from school, if you don't have the maturity to attend college (I certainly didn't when I was 18), if don't know what you want to study, if you need to stop part of the way through for whatever reason, if family or other circumstances prevent you from attending, if you simply want to work first* - the student is not necessarily a failure. 

The student is not a failure for not completing a two-year degree in two years, or for not completing four-year degree in four years (immediately landing the job for which their degree has ostensibly prepared them, and/or immediately going to grad school), or for not going to college at 18, or for going to a vocational school, or a community college, or for completing a certificate program.

This is the message, though, that gets inadvertently stressed to students: It's either college or nothing. Complete it "right" the first time. The conversation is sadly lacking. A fuller range of options are simply not discussed, 

This led to a discussion on college readiness; we were asked, among other things:
What are some examples of college readiness skills taking place in your school and classroom? What kind of support do you need as teachers to prepare students with college readiness skills?
"College readiness" is a tricky concept to define. I'm not sure what that means (rather, I know what it's "supposed" to mean - a very narrow definition of academic skills that "everyone is supposed" to have), and I'm not sure that it's a distinct concept that's equally defined to everyone.  "College readiness skills" implies that everyone will have been recently taught a certain subject at a certain skill level and have used that skill recently. It implies that if individuals have never been taught those skills, or if they've been out of school for a number of years, then they're probably not what's thought to be academically ready to be at college. It's an extremely narrow individualistic view.

The more I think about it, the more I think what one needs to be "college ready" is a willingness to learn and the maturity to complete the work.

* Yes, college is work, but I'm talking about non-college work here.

Packing Strategies

This morning, before the start of the last day of this weeklong workshop I've been attending this week, the people at my table were talking about their luggage packing practices. One woman was planning to go on a cruise that apparently stopped on at least one island; she talked about bringing five swimsuits, extra shoes (and by that she meant heels), plus more formal wear for evening activities. She was really stressing out.

I was relieved that Ed and I have enough practice traveling that packing has become a non-issue. We don't bring formal clothing because we choose to forgo more formal activities (for my part, I simply don't like getting dressed up - not my thing); formal clothing takes up a lot of space for minimal use; t-shirts and jeans we would wear many times throughout a trip, while formal clothing we might wear for part of one day. Plus, you know, we haven't traveled anywhere yet that doesn't have laundromats somewhere.

In terms of shoes, whatever we have on our feet is what we bring, most often just sneakers or boots, which are good for walking over uneven terrains, through grass and fields, that won't lead to soggy feat if it rains a lot.  (On occasion I've been known to bring flat sandals - something akin to Tevas - that can be placed against the sides of luggage.)

Ed and I pack and bring carry-on luggage; if it doesn't fit, it doesn't come. We also tend to pack fairly quickly, and don't find packing especially stressful (probably the result of having done enough traveling to know what we need). How or why people feel the need to pack multiple bags with multiple pairs of shoes - unless you're moving or traveling for months at a time. Most of our packing mentality is the result of nearly always flying standby. If we check our luggage, there can be a good chance that our luggage will travel interesting places without us. (Plus we don't have to wait for our luggage at baggage claim.)

I think people make travel harder on themselves than it needs to be. There are certainly stressful aspects of travel, and one can't control everything, but packing does not need to be the difficult part.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

"Pioneer" ≠ Pioneer

In order to maintain my Professional Educator License, which needs to be renewed every three years (at least if one has a level one license, as I do), one needs to accrue 100 points' worth of activities which can include teaching at the college level, substitute teaching, teaching at K-12 school, taking classes towards an advanced degree, etc. One of these options includes participating in workshops which may range from a day or two, be weeklong, or meet once or twice a week - either in person or online - for several weeks. I'm taking a weeklong teacher workshop class sponsored by the Latin American Studies Program this week at the University of Utah's Tanner Humanities Center. The workshop, appropriately titled, "Multicultural Education," provides:
an introduction to the changing demographic population of K-12 students and provide participants with models and strategies for effectively teaching minority students that create classroom and school atmospheres that are accepting of diversity. Topics of investigation and discussion will include: the causes of migration and of settlement patterns in the United States; schools as key locations for integration and/or marginalization; challenges and opportunities diverse classrooms pose for students and teachers; culturally appropriate curriculum; deficit vs. asset perspectives on students and communities.
In preparation, I was reading through the two articles that will be central to tomorrow's discussion. The second article ("Closing Educational Achievement Gaps for Latina/o Students in Utah: Initiating a Policy Discourse and Framework") is a bit on the long side, but I came to a mental halt when I read this statement:
Recognizing that the recent and increasing trends toward diversity enrich the lives of every student, we nonetheless recognize and embrace that Utah’s history began with indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries, and that when the Mormon pioneers arrived in the land that would later become Utah, they were in fact entering Mexico. (Alemán and Rorrer 11)
What I thought was interesting was the use of the word "pioneer" in conjunction with Mormon settlers. I've heard the phrase "Mormon pioneers" previously and it always stuck in my throat, metaphorically speaking, and this evening I realized why: I would disagree that the Mormons were in fact pioneers if there were already "indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries." I remain unconvinced that they were even among the first to develop a new knowledge of the area; not by a long shot were they the only group: The Spanish explored southern Utah in 1540; European trappers and fur traders explored some areas of Utah in the early 19th century. And, as the authors note, "indigenous peoples who were residents of this land for many centuries." How does that make later populations pioneering?

The Mormons were certainly colonizers - a word with not altogether pleasant implications. Describing Mormon settlers as "pioneers" is at the very least reminiscent of an colonialist mindset, reminiscent that an area or people need to be contained and "civilized."

Friday, July 3, 2015

Never Attribute to Malice...

I've been on the receiving end of some downright hurtful comments lately, but I can't tell if these comments are being said by people who are being intentionally hurtful, passive aggressive, or simply the result of people being unaware of how they sound. Hanlon's razor comes to mind: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity."

For example, I was recently told, "Oh, I'm so sorry you don't have any children. My life didn't have any purpose or meaning until I had a child. I finally understood what love is. Jesus really does grant all desires!"

This, of course, is simply ridiculous on multiple levels. If one's life has no meaning before having children, then perhaps one needs to find a way to add meaning to one's life that isn't related to having a child. I understand that having a child can add a depth of meaning that wasn't there previously, but such comments negate any meaning that people gain by cultivating other relationships and experiences both personal and professional. Jesus does not always grant you every desire you want, otherwise we'd have a lot less poverty, a lot less war, and those of us who wanted children would have them easily.

And of course such statements negate my experiences of love. I can and do regularly experience love without having a child.

I'll admit it makes me sad to think that the only way one experience meaning is to have a child. I don't believe this to be true, and I wish those whose lives haven't any meaning in them otherwise would realize that there are so many other ways to have a meaningful life.

On an only slightly related note, a few weeks ago I went to a graduation party for an acquaintance who had finished her nursing degree. I introduced myself to another person there who happened to be an adjunct in the math department. I asked her if she was teaching this summer; her response was, "Of course I am. I don't have a husband to support me." I don't think I responded to her statement - to be honest, I was so surprised at her statement, I just blinked at her. My knee-jerk reaction was to say something like, "Me too!" or "My husband supports me, regardless of the semester," thereby intentionally misunderstanding her. This is unkind, and I'm glad I kept my mouth shut. I'm trying to be kinder in how I react to people. It's a process. (I'm a bit on the snarky side. I am not snarky to my students unless I'm teasing them, but I have a difficult time otherwise.)

There are many assumptions to be made here:
  • I assumed that this particular teacher was making a dig at me in terms of having a husband who financially supports me.
  • To me it sounded like she was assuming that no teachers anywhere make enough to take the summer off (although many teachers do work during the summer for that very reason).
  • There's the assumption that a teacher can't support her family on her salary, or contribute equally.
Of course, she didn't know that last year I was working two jobs while completing my Master's degree; that the sum total of these three jobs was more than 100% (60% time at one school; 60% at the second school; 33% at the third school); that Ed and I had talked about this, and he fully supported my taking the summer off from teaching because how hard I worked last year. This conversation also happened before I scheduled 14 interviews in the past six or so weeks. Looking for full-time work can itself be a full-time job. Goodness.

One can't control what other people say; I'm trying to control my own reactions, not to take everything personally, overlooking the (often temporary) stupid or careless things people say, and not taking everything as a personal affront or critique on what happens in my life.

I can't control not having children - some people can and do control their fertility, but others among us don't have that option, nor can I control a birth mother not having chosen me to be an adoptive mother. I can't control not having been offered a full-time job despite my best efforts; I can only keep looking and making myself available. That said, I wish I were less bothered by others' off-the-cuff remarks that I know aren't specifically a response to my life.