Teaching Is…

To celebration Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place May 5th through May 9th, the Center for Teaching Quality is encouraging teachers to share their ideas about what teaching is via social media.

I went back through my photos of the past year, and I dug up some images of my everyday work with my students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, a Boston Public School located in Grove Hall, Dorchester, Massachusetts. I selected photos that represent my daily work rather than photos that seem profound in any way. It is important for people to see how joyful and interesting it is to teach every single day; I could argue that almost every day is a special occasion. There is not a theme or particular order to these photos; they are just images I enjoy.

Teaching Is Teamwork.

Image

My colleagues are my rocks. This photo shows me with Jozefien, my fellow Boston Teachers Union Representative. We try to keep everyone on our faculty feeling supported and cared for in our school community.

 

Teaching Is Inquiring.

Image

This student came to my room for the purpose of taking a mandated test on the computer. I noticed his bass case and asked about it. I was treated to a performance of Metallica and Nirvana songs. A boring test day was relieved by a brief sing-a-long. This young man always says hello and updates me on his playing when we pass one another in the hallway.

 

Teaching Is Welcoming.

Image

This photo is from the first week of school. Students in my ESL class are meeting and greeting newcomer ESL students from the class next door.

 

Teaching Is Performing.

Image

This photo was taken at the television studio at Roxbury Community College. Students had prepared a script using lines from The Autobiography of Malcolm X to perform on a local television show. I accompanied the students using a hand drum. Interestingly, Roxbury Community College is located on Malcolm X Boulevard.

 

Teaching Is Exploiting Our Democracy.

Image

I consciously prepare students to be future voters. In this photo, students are researching Boston’s 2013 Mayoral Candidates online.

 

Teaching Is Publishing Parties.

Image

I love having publishing parties for my students. In this photo, students have just received copies of their “This I Believe” publication. We always have cake at these parties, and you can see the cake on the table in the background.

 

Teaching Is Getting The Whole Community Involved.

Image

I invited Ms. Emily from the Uphams Corner Library (a Boston Public Library) to read to our 6th grade students, who have completed over 1300 minutes of independent reading this year so far.

 

Teaching Is Movement.

Image

Students embodied action verbs found in D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and created movement presentations that showed the Labors of Heracles. Here is a shot from one group’s rehearsal.

 

Teaching Is Dedication To The Advancement Of Learning.

Image

For the past two years, I have organized a Saturday trip to take students to the Boston Book Festival.

 

Teaching Is A Source Of Pride.

Image

I (far right, pregnant with twin girls) was very proud to accept a citation from the Boston School Committee for achieving my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification in English as a New Language.

 

Teaching Is Identity.

Image

You can learn a lot about Angel’s values by looking at his identity sculpture. The base is a skateboard. It is covered in family photos, and he painted a box with a Puerto Rican flag. What does this say about Angel?

 

Teaching Is Getting The Students There.

Image

Quddus (far right) was accepted into Grub Street’s prestigious summer writing program. His mom could not take him on the first day, so she called me to help out. It was no problem to take the train downtown with him, and he had a great experience in this program.

 

Teaching Is Time.

Image

Every week, I offer a couple hours of homework help to my students. Mostly, they enjoy just having a quiet place to work after school, and I usually give them some kind of snack.

 

Teaching Is Making The Call.

Image

Last year, I called the Girl Scouts, and they sent a wonderful volunteer to run a troop for our school. All it took was a call to start a program that is still going strong for our girls.

 

Teaching Is Getting Down.

Image

Why sit and “do” character analysis? Here students participate in using a full body outline to display quotations and inferences about a character from a class novel.

 

Teaching Is Knowing Your Students Will Always Surprise You.

Image

Jose often avoided my classroom last year, preferring to hang out in the hallway and peek into the window. Once we began our unit on architecture and engineering, beginning with the exploration of tetrahedrons, he couldn’t get enough of the class.

 

Teaching Is Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone.

Image

Last year, I was told I had to teach a math unit as part of my ESL class. I dreaded doing this, until I learned of the novel All of the Above. Prior to reading the book, my students built tetrahedrons and explored their unique properties – unlike a pyramid with a square base, the tetrahedron can balance on any side.

Teaching Is Getting Out Of The Neighborhood.

Image

Every year, we take our 8th graders to explore the African American Heritage Trail in Beacon Hill. Here students learn about the African American debate tradition from a park ranger.

 

Teaching Is Arts Integration.

Image

Early in the school year, my students created identity sculptures and then wrote about them. I am not a visual artist, so I enlisted the help of my colleague, art teacher Lynn Rosario.

 

Teaching Is Including the Whole Family.

Image

For the past few years, Mr. Patlan (far right) and I (far left) have taught Tech Goes Home, an evening technology class for students and parents. Here we are celebrating the graduation of 6th grader Randi and her mom Michelle.

 

Teaching Is Knowing What Students Value.

Image

Before launching into writing essays about beliefs, it was important for my students to identify, share, and discuss their personal values together.

 

Teaching Is Doing Something Different.

Image

My students went to see a classical guitar concert as part of a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at the Boston Public Library in Grove Hall. It was a soothing experience for all of us, and we connected in a different way.

 

Teaching Is Facilitation.

Image

This photo shows reader’s workshop in my classroom. Students have a reading and can choose to work on their own, with a partner, or with a small group to discuss the reading as well as answer and generate questions.

 

Teaching Is Celebrating Success.

Image

These students were recognized as outstanding leaders in our school community, so they got to go to a special lunch at Burger King before attending a concert at the library.

 

Teaching Is Getting Help From Your Students.

Image

My colleague Alice Laramore enlisted the help of 7th graders Gladmaya and Rebecca in reorganizing her classroom library.

 

Teaching Is Creative Organization.

Image

I could never figure out a way to organize my students’ headphones well until one day I saw this vitamin box at CVS, and I invented this headphone case.

 

Teaching Is Alternate Assessment.

Image

After performing the play “The Conquistador’s Wife” (about the encounter between the Spaniards and the Mexica in Mexico) with the group Spirit Series, my students created memoirs of their experience as actors. A wonderful young man, Jesus, who is also severely dyslexic, created this cover that shows the battle between the indigenous people and the conquistadors with the feather serpent Quetzalcoatl in the center.

 

Teaching Is Enlisting Experts.

Image

My students have made many trips to 826 Boston, a writing center in our community that offers specialized writing workshop field trips. This photo is from a scriptwriting workshop that my students took with an expert writer.

 

Teaching Is Therapeutic.

Image

I purchased jewelry making materials for 8th grade girls to use after school. These girls were having some difficulties, and I needed a way to re-engage them in school.

Ongoing Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Week 1

Mom: What did you do today?

Jenn: Well, I went on a date with myself, my artistic self.

Mom: (knowingly) And how did that go?

Jenn: Well, I got dressed up. I wore the shirt that you gave me for Christmas. I went to a café by myself, and I downloaded piano music and listened to it for an hour.  I think we’ll probably go out together again. (laughs)

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

Self-dating, which the author calls “Artist Dates”, comprises just one of the unique tasks that Julia Cameron suggests will heighten the readers’ creativity and build their relationships with their creative selves . The Artist’s Way consists of 12 weeks of creativity courses, each with a discussion followed by a series of ten short tasks based on that weeks concept. For example, week 1, titled “Recovering a Sense of Safety” discusses negative self-talk regarding one’s own artistic endeavors as well as examining relationships that have either repressed or championed creativity throughout one’s life time.

In addition to the ten tasks, Cameron’s course also requires a commitment to both daily Morning Pages, three pages of long-hand free writing composed first thing after awakening, and weekly Artist Dates – spending time with one’s self for a couple of hours each week doing something creative.

Thus far, the program is encouraging me to pursue the creative work that I enjoy – writing, playing piano, and cooking – as the author points out that unless we ourselves are doing these creative acts, they will not happen.  She also highlights the importance of letting ourselves “try it to see what happens”. Although I do this with my own students, I often neglect to provide this sort of encouragement for myself. I have also been practicing yoga daily during this time. Between the tasks in Cameron’s book and the yoga classes, I have a sense of peace and my mind has been cleaned enough to allow creative thoughts to enter and creative tasks to occur.

For example, a few days ago, I practiced piano for about three hours straight without even realizing where the time had gone. I faced a difficult piece that I have wanted to play for the past twenty years – this piece has literally plagued me and nearly whispered to me: “You are not technically proficient enough to master me.” I even remember that a friend’s sister, two years younger that me, played this piece in a concert in high school. When I asked her if it was difficult, she said,”It’s not that hard.” As if my question was totally ludicrous. Nevertheless, I have been fearlessly practicing it this week, with many wrong notes, and I feel like I am confronting a demon.

At the end of each chapter, check-in questions encourage the reader to assess whether or not they have completed the week’s tasks, Morning Pages, and Artist Date. Although I have never been much of a person for New Year’s Resolutions (I felt affirmed when my yoga teacher offered that the resolutions we make often do not reflect and in fact actively work against who we are meant to be in this lifetime), this book does seem fitting for the time of renewal and rebirth that occurs at the start of a new year.

Citation: Cameron, J. (2002). The artist’s way. Tarcher.

Note: This book came out over a decade ago; I encountered it on the shelf at the library while browsing. I would expect that many libraries nationwide carry copies. Try before you buy!

 

The Perfect Place for Me: Cabarete Language Institute

Back in March, in the midst of state testing and a flurry of IEP meetings, I was online one night, and I found a $500 plane ticket to travel to the Dominican Republic, where I volunteered for three summers, for three weeks in August. I had neither arranged a place to stay nor did I have any plans of what I would do there, but I decided to buy the ticket anyway.

Myself, Elena, and Nataly (my classmate) outside of CLI on my final day there.

But how would I spend my time? Yes, I can visit friends and former students, but what else? I know myself, and I need to have some sort of schedule. Aha! I can study Spanish at Cabarete Language Institute. I had heard great things about the school from a friend who had studied there, but I had my doubts that I could succeed in a Spanish class. I learned Spanish as an adult from my Dominican and Puerto Rican students in Boston and from living and working in Cabarete for three summers. My Spanish was a teacher’s Spanish and a Spanish from the streets. I could communicate basic information about school events and meetings to my students’ families, even on the phone. But, there are still hiccups, gaps, and stops once the context changed or the ideas became more complex. I had taken Spanish in high school, and that’s how I learned the basics. I had tried a popular course at a local adult education center, but I dropped out because I felt uninspired. I received a scholarship to attend an evening program at a prominent Ivy League university, and the teacher bored me. Although my two weeks at Cabarete Language Institute did not make me a perfect Spanish speaker, they did instill my faith that I was capable of refining my Spanish in a classroom setting. I found that, for myself as a learner, Cabarete Language Institute provided the perfect place for me.

Spanish Immersion
When I entered Cabarete Language Institute for the very first time, Rosa, a cheerful and enthusiastic intern from Venezuela, greeted me in Spanish. I took classes from 10 am – 1 pm each day, and for that time, except for a few clarifications in English, I heard, spoke, read, and wrote in Spanish and Spanish only. Even during our charlar con café coffee breaks, we spoke in Spanish and we were provided with feedback from our fantastic teacher…

From L to R: Elena, Nataly, Me, Al (another student), Rosa, Jessica

Elena
Elena is a teacher’s teacher. As a teacher myself, I judge other teacher’s strongly, and Elena exceeded all of my expectations. First of all, Elena knew her content. Elena is a native Spanish speaker from Spain who has lived in the Dominican Republic for a little under two years. Elena knows her Spanish backwards and forwards, and she even studied philology (which I learned is the history and structure of languages). Elena makes the students feel so welcome and comfortable in her classes – she asks lots of questions, and she is interested in learning about her students. She sets clear goals and she provided us with interesting classwork assignments, such as listening to and dictating lyrics, creating shared narratives using various verb structures, and discussing personal experiences, and homework tasks – such as constructing questions based on common interests and writing summaries of a wordless film. Elena provides consistent feedback and corrections in a way that supports students in their language learning without making us feel stupid or overwhelmed.

Elena (center) in action: a dynamic and professional teacher.

A Welcoming Atmosphere
Jessica, the director of Cabarete Language Institute, was prompt in responding to any communication over e-mail before the class started. When I arrived at Cabarete Language Institute on the very first day, I noticed that the chalkboard in the lobby read ¡Bienvenidos Jenny! The lobby also contained a library of books in a variety of languages, which is a treasure in Cabarete where there are no book stores and a few extremely tiny library collections here and there in shops and non-profits. For me, personally, a particular highlight was the free coffee, milk, and sugar provided by Cabarete Language Institute. I am a shameless lover of coffee, so it suited me perfectly! The classrooms are comfortable and airy, and the teachers and staff are hospitable, professional, and able to answer any questions about Cabarete.

Welcome sign and library in the lobby.

I wish I could spend a whole year at Cabarete Language Institute. Between the wonderful atmosphere, classmates, teachers, and students, it is the perfect place for me. It would benefit my Spanish incredibly to work with a talented and experienced teacher like Elena, and I love the enthusiastic, warm, and caring atmosphere of the school. Although I am now back to my reality in the United States, I am fortunate that Elena and Cabarete Language Institute provided me with the confidence to continue my pursuit of “perfect” or at least “progressive” Spanish.

Change Agent: Orquidea Garcia, Supermamá de Cabarete

In the office of the Mariposa DR Foundation, located on Calle 9 in the Callejón de la Loma in Cabarete, Dominican Republic, Orquidea Garcia is known by her alias:”Supermamá”.

La Supermamá Orquidea (left) with Jennifer Dines (center), daughter Orianna (right) and two of the La Supermamá’s students

In 2010, when I first met Orquidea, she was very excited for her daughter, Orianna, to join the Mariposa DR Foundation’s First Ever Young Women’s Summer Leadership Program , an all-girls summer program that, in its first year, provided 50 at-risk teenage girls with four weeks of academics, activities, and excursions. When Orquidea agreed to join the program herself as a part of the School Staff Training Program, she took the first steps towards her new life as “Supermamá”.

Orquidea’s talents were immediately apparent in her abilities to use her quiet yet radiant personality to engage the Mariposa program’s young women in both casual conversation as well as in their academic work. I remember one day in early July of 2010, I walked into the library at Puerto Cabarete and saw Orquidea with a group of twenty or so girls. Not one of the girls turned towards myself or Mariposa Assistant Director Jessica Lawson when we entered the library. Orquidea had these young ladies completely enamored with a Spanish translation of Tomie di Paola’s Italian folktale Strega Nona. Afterwards, when I commented to Orquidea about her abilities as a librarian, she said: Jenny, tengo mucho ánimo. “Jenny, I have a lot of positive energy.”

Along with her neighbors and best friends, Claudia and Kathy, Orquidea continued to volunteer with the Mariposa DR Foundation, and in the fall of 2011, she was extremely excited when Executive Director Tricia Suriel arrived at her home along with Jessica Lawson to offer her a job working in the office of the foundation.

Today, Orquidea works full-time for the Mariposa DR Foundation, where she serves as the office manager. Each morning, she starts her day by chatting with the program’s young ladies as she prepares breakfast for them and then sends them off to school. Orquidea has gained many computer skills as well as learned English through her work in the office, and she handles e-mail and phone correspondence, arranging trips, appointments, and guest speakers.

Additionally, Orquidea tutors younger girls in mathematics, and she works closely with the girls in the health class alongside of clinical child psychologist Alexandra Milián Martinez. Although Orquidea admits that she worries frequently about the problems that these young ladies discuss in their groups, from typical trials of coming-of-age to more intense personal and family struggles, she loves being able to guide the young women of her community through their teen years and she is learning much from Martinez, her mentor.

Orquidea hopes to complete a degree in psychology at the local university in Puerto Plata, and she is currently taking the first steps towards making her dream a reality – Orquidea is completing her bachiller or high school diploma in evening classes at Puerto Cabarete, a local public school. Orquidea says that working with the Mariposa DR Foundation made her realize that she was actually very smart. Although she attended school through the 8th grade, she didn’t really think of herself as a serious student or learner until she began working with the young ladies in her community.

Between her roles as an office administrator, social work intern, student, and mathematics tutor, Orquidea remains a “Supermamá” to her beautiful daughter, Orianna, now age 13. Orianna graduated from the 8th grade in June, and she will begin classes at Colegio CADIN, a private preparatory school, in Islabón on Monday.

Orquidea is an inspiration to her friends, family, and students in the Cabarete community, and Literacy Change is proud to feature her as our very first Change Agent profile because Orquidea is making positive changes in education in her community, and she is a model of a teacher who is also a learner.

Read with Passion!: “Roslindale event was poetry in motion”

I can’t believe that Rozzie Reads Poetry  generated so much interested. The Roslindale Transcript printed an article about the event online, and it was also featured in the print version of the paper. See – poetry is headline news in our Roslindale community!

 

The best way to begin writing is to begin writing.

“The best way to begin writing is to begin writing.” – Mrs. Dines

Perhaps I wasn’t the first person to say that. But that’s what I tell my students, and I am taking my own advice. I have been pondering the idea of starting an education blog since April when I met Lillie Marshall, the author of Teaching Traveling. As a National Board for Professional Teaching Standards candidate-in-progress, I had been thinking of ways to improve my professional leadership and advocacy, and writing about my passions online – literacy, ESL, and special education – had not occurred to me.

In public education, expressing one’s perspective too strongly can sometimes backfire or be misinterpreted. I wondered how many educators would really put themselves out there in an honest and compelling way. After all, education is honest and compelling work  – teachers work with real live human beings who contain all the beautiful messiness of life.

I began searching for educational blogs, and I noticed how the teachers who write online sound professional, capable, and interesting….and resourceful…and people are truly interested what they have to say, based on all of the comments that their blogs receive. When I came across Shelley Wright’s article on blogging as the new persuasive essay, it made me consider the idea that blogging would help me model academic risk-taking for my students. And I decided it would be worth it.

I am fairly nervous to put myself and my perspectives on education out “there” on the “World Wide Web”. What if it gets too personal? What if I get “in trouble” for something I post? What if people criticize my ideas? Or, worst of all, what if no one cares? But, I am going to take the risk because my students might see me as a model of academic writing, other people might benefit from the resources I post, and I might have the potential to help somebody that I would not necessarily connect with in another way.

My goal is to post on here every day, so look for a little something from me daily, and perhaps I can make a change in literacy for someone, somewhere. There, I began!