Monday, April 18, 2016

Damn Daniel? Vine? Huh?

As I was handing out scripts during drama club I noticed that one of the fifth graders had written "damn danile" in large letters across the top of her first page. I was surprised. The fifth grade itself was just coming out on the other end of a heavy bullying issue but this girl wasn't one that was involved. Did she somehow miss the message? It didn't seem like her, but why would she write that about a peer? I wasn't aware of anyone in the fifth grade named Daniel but there are some other names similar to it and with her misspelling I wasn't quite sure who she intended to be writing about.

The other teacher and I called her over and asked her why she'd written it. She looked at us like we were from another planet. "It's a vine" she explained, like that was all we needed to know.
"Huh?" the other teacher asked, "what's a vine?"

The girl started to look embarrassed, but maybe that was just being embarrassed for us. "Uh, it's a vine. You know, on the internet. A vine."

"Oh, a vine" I said, like I knew and I got out my phone to start googling the phrase. The teacher turned to me, "No really, what's a vine?"

"I've heard of it...."
I said slowly, "but I'm not sure, it's like, an internet video?" I sounded like a fifth grader myself. It's one of those words kids use? It's not something they talk about on my NPR podcasts.

OMG I'm old.

OH. Wow. My google search brought up a explanation for why the girl may have written damn danile on her paper. Apparently that's a thing. Like, a really big thing. Some guy walks around and his friend says "damn, Daniel" to him in a dramatic voice, commenting on how good he looks. In the type of voice one might take inspiration from in drama club.

Let's put aside the fact that I still don't understand why this catch phrase video thing posted on snap chat (which I also don't understand) would become an internet sensation. The mere fact that I don't know about something the rest of the world is talking about makes me start to feel like a bit of an outsider on this planet. How does one keep up with such craziness? Is there a Wikipedia entry for "things boring adults should know?" In fact, perhaps NPR should make a weekly podcast to catch us 30 somethings up on what we're obviously missing out on with the rest of the world because we are too busy listening to This American Life.

How are parents suppose to keep up with such things? I'm terrified of dealing with trying to keep up with everything as my kids get older. How on earth are you supposed to stay on top of what your child sees with all of the information flooding into your child's world? Sure, this is fairly innocent but what about everything that isn't so innocent? How do you keep up with that?

While I stood dumbly scrolling through the google search results, lost in a sea of popular content I'd somehow missed until this moment the other teacher explained to the girl that although this is a popular internet term it is not intended for school and is actually a bad word. She sent the girl back to her seat to cover up her writing. We spent the next five minutes staring at each other, wondering just how old and out of touch we'd become.

Friday, April 15, 2016

What they offer the world

During a lesson on determining the author's message the fifth graders sat mesmerized, their eyes glued to the smart board, reading along as their teacher read an article about the controversy with the term illegal aliens. They spontaneously gasped, cheered, and booed. The term seemed new to them, and their faces changed as some of them realized this term applied to their grandparents, parents, or themselves.

At the end one boy raised his hand. With a steady voice he quietly explained his frustration, ending with "When you use those words it makes people feel they have nothing to offer the world."

Offer the world. Every one of those children has something to offer the world. Their families have something to offer the world. I'm not sure I've ever heard such a simple yet true reasoning behind not using racist or derogatory terms.

Moments later I pulled my reading group with students from another class who read the same article. One girl, a typically happy, easy going child who has been in the country a year was shaking with anger. I have no idea if the term applies to her or not, but she explained that it would apply to her parents if they came to be with her. I'm not sure the last time she saw her mother and father who are still back in Africa. I can promise you that this girl has something to offer the world. With her desperation to learn everything she can and apply all her new knowledge to every situation around her, she is going to do great things. I'm pretty sure her parents have a lot to offer the world as well.

A map my first grade students made 10 years ago of where they were from.
I hadn't thought much about the term until that moment. I didn't know the Library of Congress had stopped using the term a few weeks ago, and I wasn't aware that the media was making an effort to stop using the term as well. If I am honest it seemed factual - it describes people who are not from here who are in the country illegally. But watching these fifth grade students' faces changed that. Factual or not, as the one boy said, "it makes people feel they have nothing to offer the world." We have some amazing people in this country. I don't care how they got here, but once they are here I'm pretty sure we want them to be their best selves.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mommy Fears and Gaining Insight

I stood in the middle of the perfect preschool classroom and listened to the director talk about the importance of play, the small group, differentiated instruction the children receive, and the deliberate room set up to maximize child engagement. It was perfect. Except that three days a week the day is conducted in Spanish.

The director assured me that I would be amazed at my child's progress and how quickly she would pick up the language. She told me how sensitive the teachers are and how they would be in-tune to my daughter's comfort level. I nodded along because I've given the exact speech many times to parents - although always through the use of an interpreter. I know from my own first hand experience how quickly children pick up another language. It's mind blowing to watch young children adapt and learn English. I tell parents all the time that they have given their child the gift of knowing two languages. 

But my own daughter?

It's stunning to be on the other side and realize just what those parents are feeling. I always knew the parents were worried but this isn't an emotion that can be described through one word. It is gnawing feeling deep in the gut, along with a panicked and desperate need to protect my child. I cannot imagine dropping my baby off to a place where they are not speaking English. To just walk away and leave her there to figure out what they are saying, desperately hoping she will know enough to follow the rules and make friends.*

I am in awe of the parents of the children I teach. They have no choice but to send their child off every day to an English speaking school. And we aren't a bilingual program designed to nurture your child's dual language development. We are pretty much straight English and if the child is lucky people nearby may know some of the child's language in order to communicate in those first few days.

We talk about a silent period students go through when they first enter English speaking schools. I know enough of this to accept it and chalk it up as normal. But to ask my own child to go through a silent period in school? Nothing could possibly seem more wrong. When it is my daughter it does not seem normal, it seems cruel. And my husband and I have a choice. We can choose this for our daughter (and we might, for a variety of reasons. She loves the idea and is currently obsessed with Spanish although she knows about three words. I can recognize my fears come from the same place as when I gasp whenever she eats a whole grape or is on an extra tall playground) 

Standing there inside my almost-dream preschool classroom I was flooded with mommy-anxiety mixed with awe for the parents I work with. In many cases they gave up the comfort and familiarity of their former lives to come to America and to ask their children to go to school in a place where they won't understand the language. Sending their child off to a school where they do not speak the language is a better situation than where they came from. My nervousness about Spanish three days a week for a year seems minuscule compared to the life decisions they have already faced. 

I probably will continue to reassure parents of how quickly their child will pick up English and how much they will love school, yet it will never again be a rehearsed speech that I give without thinking. 

*I don't write this to sound anti-bilingual education. Cognitively I realize that we would be giving my daughter a gift. In many ways this is the perfect situation and we are considering it. I am writing this to recognize how my own internal mommy-fears must also be what other parents feel, yet on a broader scale.