Voices from a Teacher’s Summer…

I have been meaning to write this post for over a decade. But I am a slow learner and it has taken that long for me to figure out how to respond to people who still believe that teacher’s get 3 months off. Well… it doesn’t quite work that way. When we stop teaching for the summer (which many of us are actually teaching summer school) we begin some intensive learning. Not that we are not learning during the academic calendar year as well but… let me explain.

Almost every teacher I know right now is working on something. Whether they are attending mandatory or voluntary professional development, teaching other teachers, attending, presenting, or organizing conferences… Teachers all across America are LEARNING how to become better teachers, better people, for our students.

Some examples.

A colleague of mine is facilitating working sessions at UCLA for teachers to develop their abilities to teach Computer Science (in between helping to put on an amazing Game Jam AND running a CS camp for our summer bridge program where she teaches kids to code and build robots!) She recently posted this on social media:

Hearing a teacher say “race is not an issue” in lieu of everything going on in our country right now filled me anger. Knowing that my views influence how my students perform, I found myself full of anxiety. How do I address this as a teacher guiding other teachers? I can’t shut voices down. There’s no chance for growth if I do. It’s tough to wait. To listen. To validate. Even when I don’t agree. To choose my words with deliberateness and intentionality to frame the discussion and steer the conversation in a way that challenges current belief systems. How do I empower teachers to learn computer science content and equitable pedagogy strategies within the bigger picture of addressing structural and historical inequities. The same way I must design lessons so students understand why they’re learning what I’m teaching, I have to design discussions so teachers understand the importance and urgency of teaching with equity and inquiry to broaden the participation of female, latino, and african american students in computer science. Guys. It’s fucking Tuesday.

Another colleague of mine recently returned from what I could only gather was an AMAZING time in Chicago with Action Civics LA and the Mikva Challenge conference on New Civics. He wrote this email about another upcoming set of workshops around incorporating Urban Ecology into the Science and Social Studies curriculum. Imagine the power of BOTH of these pedagogical approaches combined!

Hi Mark,
I’m all signed up and pumped up for it.
Hope to see you there!

Still others are leaving conferences feeling empowered, inspired, and rejuvenated to evolve their pedagogy towards more transformative aims.

Leaving the 2015 Institute for Teachers of Color Committed to Racial Justice Conference with a full heart. Thank you 2015 Fellows for your brilliance and corazón. You inspire us beyond words. You are our (r)evolution.

I could go on for days, posting about bookclubs (i know its a conference but don’t tell them that! 😉 and MOOCS that teachers are immersing themselves in. Online discussions and researching other people’s ideas for syllabi here, here, and here. And on this historic day we look for ways to engage our students with our changing notions of civic identity, political involvement, and progress.

Teachers are catching up with old students, scheduling lunches together and talking about college and the future. I spent part of this week in the wilderness, enjoying family and friends… and the FIRST conversation I happened to hear stopping into an Applebee’s in Visalia was a teacher – identifiable by the “excellent teacher” shirt he was wearing – talking about his work that week. Undoubtedly an excellent teacher.

Even those of us who are traveling or taking time at home to rest… we are learning about ourselves, reflecting on who we are and why we are like that, which will ultimately translate into being better versions of ourselves when we re-enter the classroom. As evidenced here by another colleague, a media arts teacher:

Havana has been unlike any other city to me in that I have made crazy connections in a very short time by simply walking through the city. Sitting on the Malecon ended up being a day being led through a bar and an arts space. Another Malecon encounter was during a shoot I was doing with my futurstic lightpainting tool called the Pixelstick, when a Woodbury University professor who knows Jocelyn showed up!! I found a screenprinting studio with decades of history while checking out Habana Vieja. The artists welcomed me immediately and 10 days later I have almost finished print runs of three designs. Another art space I found led to being presented with a soccer and art project proposal. And I also walked right up to a capoeria practice which I had heard may be active in a park near the Morro. They welcomed me in and I got to play in my first practice and roda abroad.
While sitting in a tiny food spot the Cuban next to me asked how my chicken was, and after introductions a day later we began a collaboration with his high school students using the dispoable (sic) cameras I brought. That led to me today sitting in Old Havana´s chocolate shop doing interviews I scheduled, one of which is dance portraiture for a new company that wants to ensure Cubans have access to dance classes that presently are only available to tourists. On the way home I then ended up location scouting for the dance images, making images of the narrow streets with the old buildings that are labeled things like ¨Ano 1904¨ as I walked. One more week to stroll!!!

Teachers… we just don’t take summers off. We are always thinking about how to be better teachers. We are always thinking about students and learning. What are you doing for your summer?

Thinking on AME Charleston, Baltimore, Ferguson, Los Angeles… America

I can’t sleep. My stomach is turning and my soul is falling. How can I sleep when so many others can’t peacefully? It is not about guilt or privilege at this point. It is about genuine fear and despair. Knowing the history and present day systems that help convince a nation that it is the lone acts of individuals that we despise an that when we wake up tomorrow, we must press on for their will always be outlier individuals commit these acts of terror… when I know damn well that institutions and individuals are inextricably linked. One produces and reproduces the other. And that if we don’t acknowledge the truth that our nation is producing terrorism, both at home and abroad, through our media, educational, political, and economic systems… then we will be no closer to preventing individual acts of terror on communities.

And what of community? What does this mean for mine? The community I teach in? The one that I live in? What does this mean for my daughters? What kind of world do I want them to grow up in? Right now not this one… not with these institutionally oppressive systems that mask themselves behind individuals, perpetuating violence against minorities, women, the poor, our own home planet. Individuals ARE institutions… and when individuals are sick with murderous intent and hateful harm… then so too are our institutions. The mirror is reflective of both light and dark. Hate and Love. Despair and Hope. I pray for all those lost. So that we may find a better tomorrow. I WILL fight for this, for it is what I believe in. Join me. Revolution has to come.

Breaking up is hard to do!

I swear I was having Game Designing dreams last night, tossing and turning through decisions about board game mechanics, which story lines, how players would respond… Coming off the high of our first ever C:\DAGS Game Jam event which was undoubtedly a success. I am sure that all of the energy of DML and E3 in town isn’t helping with my difficulty trying to step away from my role as a teacher in the very exciting small school of C:\DAGS, which is on the rise (no pun intended there RISE 😉 )

After presenting the work of Hawkins as a whole at DML alongside some other fantastic educators and researchers and yes… even my nemesis, I was reassured that all of our small schools are on the right track. Dr. Ernest Morrell was kind enough to really help our panel and audience think through what digital learning is and could possibly be. Some questions that Dr. Morrell posited that have been with me since the presentation:

“How do we work with/among educators, students, and community to create/enhance the conditions for equity by design (in classrooms and schools)?

How do we leverage the conditions for critical digital pedagogy?

How do we learn together to do what we want to do better?

What is the theory of teaching that enables our theory (or theories) of learning How do we leverage the knowledge created (by teachers as designers and makers) for other practicing teachers?For those learning to teach? For those who hold the educational purse strings and for those who make educational policy?

How do we use our design talents to begin meaningful dialogues with the larger public?

– How can – Teachers become connected to their own identities as makers, hackers, designers?

How does tech help me to be me better?

What is a theory of agency? What does it mean to not wait for conditions or constraints to be removed?

What is our theory of change? (3 million classrooms, 3 million teachers, 50 million students is the size of the revolution)”

They are very big questions indeed. But I feel that this weekend, C:\DAGS was attempting to really answer some of them in a Hawkins Way. Positioning students, teachers, and community members in a space of intense play and design, on a summer weekend after schools has already let out… utilizing our theory of design thining, small team collaboration juxtaposed with a full on gamified competition. It was definitely one of many first steps our campus has been taking in the direction towards institutionalizing pedagogies of hope and resistance.

Dr. Morrell had a lot more to say in his very concise discussant cameo… but one of the things he left us with was this gem:

“Technologies are tools, love is a foundation, humanity is the end.”

the Game Jam was definitely in the spirit of humanizing play… even if the random theme students had to incorporate into their game design was APOCALYPTIC

C:\DAGS has been my home at Hawkins since we opened our campus… I will miss being a teacher in this up and coming school. But I will definitely take my designer and player mentality wherever I go now… always striving to be a Game Changer.

photo creds: Valerie Olenick

Leaving the nest, soaring to new places

If you have been following this blog in any significant way for any amount of time over the last decade you’ve probably noticed that I don’t post frequently. Which is why you haven’t noticed! It’s ok.  I’ve accepted the fact that although I sometimes pour my heart and soul into this reflective space, it is a far second to the space where I have poured everything into… The classroom. For the last 10 years I have been growing and learning with students in South Central Los Angeles, attempting to teach them about history while simultaneously learning about themselves as young people – not necessarily in that order. I’ve learned so much in my role as a teacher. Too many things to even condense into a summarized or detailed list here (go back and read my blog posts!)

This past Friday the Schools for Community Action at Augustus F. Hawkins high school graduated their second class of seniors.  With these departing seniors, many of whom I taught in 7th, 9th, 10th, and 11th grade, I have also chosen to take a new step in my professional career. Like many of these young people who will be moving into different experiences and roles, so too will I.  

After 10 years of being a classroom teacher, I will be stepping into a different role on campus. I’ve been offered and accepted a position as the intervention and support coordinator at Augustus Hawkins.  What does that mean exactly? Well, in short it means that I will attempting to coordinate the support that our most challenging students need   those that might not otherwise find themselves in caps and gowns. I know that it will be a different sort of challenge than the hardest job I’ve ever had… classroom teaching. And yet I am both excited and nervous to take on the challenge. I know I will continue to have a great team surrounding me and I will be relying on them to support ME as I attempt to coordinate support for others who need it.

I’ll say it again… I have learned so much in the last decade from students like the ones pictured below. Too many things to list. And at a time where I believe our country and world need to key in on the lessons that young people, particularly in working class communities of color are trying to help us learn more than ever… I am going to leave the safety, and discomfort of my classroom to go and learn new things. I will miss classroom teaching a lot more than I probably realize at this point, even though there was a time in my life when I never even wanted to pursue a career in the classroom. Erasing my board last week, a little part of me grew frightened for the future. But that feeling of exhilaration in the face of uncertainty… that’s what makes us jump into the unknown, into the future. So like so many of my former students, and like the younger me, I will once again seek a new adventure… leave the nest, to hopefully soar. #GoHawks