This week doubles as one of the more exciting weeks of the year and one of the more hectic. As we prepare for finals next week at Seattle Prep, finishing up junior and senior grades while preparing freshmen can be a challenge – at least in terms of organization. While I learn to balance this with my newborn son at home, I did take the opportunity recently to reflect upon my year and the contributions I made to my school community. It feels really good to think of the tangible ways I made an impact.
In addition to teaching freshmen and junior Collegios, I joined with a science teacher, a theology teacher, and a Jesuit priest, to create an entire new curriculum in our senior seminar course. While doing that I also coached boys basketball as a varsity assistant. Both of those experiences had their ups and downs, but ultimately allowed me to interact and build relationships with students in a capacity outside my “normal” classes.
At the same time, I served as National History Day coordinator for our school. As participants in the National History Day contest, we had five students reach the state level and I worked with those kids and their teachers through this process. Also I am the freshmen class moderator for class officers at our school. We produced some great school spirit with a class T-shirt that nearly 85% of the freshmen purchased!
I also joined the tech committee where we made informed decisions on technology concerns including our website and grading system. I attended a cultural competency workshop and now serve on a committee to take that information back to the faculty and staff next year. Lastly, at the end of the year I am working with other teachers to revamp the curriculum for Collegio at the freshmen and junior level.
Yet this post isn’t to give myself a high five (or pass out from exhaustion). It is intended to show, and remember myself, that working with students and faculty peers can only make me a better educator. If I only taught in my classroom and went home, I wouldn’t be as invested in the school and as invested in the lives of my students. While students begin to forget some of the content over the summer, my hope is that the relationships I build will keep them yearning to learn despite the summer distractions. Through these various roles, I believe that I do that at Seattle Prep.
Loads and loads of research suggests and points to the fact that parental involvement can improve student success beyond any other measure. While there are some natural gifts that each student is born with, the support of parents can make or break a kid in many cases. As teachers we are charged with finding ways to involve parents in the classroom and keep them engaged (or get them engaged if they aren’t already). On top of grading, planning, and extra curriculars, this can be a challenge to say the least. Now add onto that challenge that many teachers are trying to engage parents from various cultures and languages. This makes it even tougher, but the reality is that it must be done for the sake of our students.
Chapter Ten of Practical Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners by Ellen M. Curtin highlights ways for teachers to get parents involved of various languages and cultures. While she has some great suggestions, I don’t agree with all of them. In particular, she states that a “teacher knows the cultural traditions of all students” and “teacher understands and has knowledge of dos and don’ts, like: is it appropriate to shake hands? How do I address parents?” (Curtin, 235). Recently I attended a Cultural Competency workshop with other members of the Seattle Prep faculty including our principal and Diversity Director. Through my own reflection and experience in this conference, I somewhat agree with Curtin. While I feel it is essential to try and learn the cultural traditions and dos and don’ts, making assumptions based on knowing these can be dangerous. For example, if I make an assumption about someone based on their race or where their parents are from concerning eye contact then I am simply stereotyping. It is vitally important to know students from a cultural perspective, but also simply on a human level. What does respect look like at their house? How about eye contact? Best way to communicate? And the list goes on and on. The problem is that this takes time and can’t be accomplished in the beginning of a school year. Yet, knowing enough about a student’s culture can’t be done quickly either. It requires us to build relationships with students and in my opinion, this is what leads to a positive impact. When students trust us and respect us (in that building of relationships), they want to learn more.