Tag Archives: education

Formulating my thoughts about the DREAM Act

To be perfectly frank, I’m really ignorant about immigration politics.  If anything, I always felt that because my parents were able to work their way into US citizenships, others should use some elbow grease and work their way into the system.

Yet lately, I wonder why we are so tightfisted about our immigration policy.  On one hand, I think it’s ridiculous that the people on the “legalize” side are complaining about rhetoric and stating that they are human beings and ought to be treated like human beings (because honestly, that just adds vitriole and pathos to the argument, but no real logical or legal clout).

Yet, on the other hand, why are we so unwieldy?  The US is a country of immigrants.  That’s what’s unique about us: none of us (except for the people groups marginalized and dumped onto reservations) can claim to be native americans.  So… what’s the deal?


My opinion? We’re just lazy and pretty greedy.  We don’t want to deal with figuring out new laws or measures.  We don’t want to pay minimum wage for laborers who are currently getting paid 50-80 dollars a day.  We don’t want to figure out the math, provide linguistic help, or deal with culture clashes.  It’s frustrating.  Sure, our economy is in the tank, but you can’t blame that on immigrants – they weren’t the ones with the votes.  Furthermore, the history of our nation is built on exploiting whatever new crop of immigrants came with that era (ie: the Italians, the Irish, the Chinese).  Maybe South/Central Americans and Southeast Asians have already paid their dues and it’s time for them to actually be able to grow into a part of this country.  Sure there would be growing pains, and yeah, maybe our federal government can’t handle it… but I bet each state could figure out the nuances of their populations and economies and sort things out.


Why am I so hot and bothered about this?  Two reasons.

1) JC2 is a phenomenal student. I love what he’s doing this semester – just doing most of his homework and staying engaged – even purposefully distancing himself from one of his close friends during class so that he won’t get distracted.  As a 7th grader, that’s super willpower.  JC2 is also a really amazing thinker and has a crazy brain.  His homework stinks but he remembers everything and he is just really bright at all his subjects.  I am so excited to see where this boy is going to go!  (He currently wants to be an architect).  He and CE (another student) both qualified for the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth summer program.  The only two in my class.  He can’t even apply for financial aid because he doesn’t have a residency card.  That broke my heart, because JC2 was so excited to get to go to a college campus… and honestly, he would be one of my student who would really take advantage of it.  He needs to get out of this craphole environment and see the world that we take for granted.  It sucks.

2)  ER loves history and is just a funny guy.  He is extremely low in all his subjects and I don’t get why.  Maybe he reads too quickly.  Maybe he doesn’t have the willpower to get through til the end of his homework.  Maybe he has testing anxiety.  Maybe a little bit of everything.  He always does all his homework (even though the quality is a bit iffy), and even though he’s older and larger, he has this sweet piping voice.  He also asks me the weirdest questions – I call ER my space cadet.  Some time this month, he has to go back to Mexico for anywhere up to a week to a month because he has to get his papers.  The annoying thing is, his dad is a resident and can apply for his citizenship (which would then allow ER to automatically become a citizen)… but his dad doesn’t want to be bothered to fill out the papers, so ER, his brother, and his mom have to drop everything for some time and go to Mexico to get certain papers and confirmations filled out.  That super sucks.  Mainly, from an educational standpoint, ER is going to miss out on a lot of crucial material – he’s already one of my strugglers.  I’m creating him a packet, but at this point, he sort of needs outside motivation (I mean come on, what middle school boy can self-teach himself while everyone else is chilling?).


I’m not saying grant citizenship to everyone and knock down our gates… I’m just saying that if kids do work hard, or their family members work hard, and are contributing to whatever community they are a part of, why not just give them the stinking citizenship.  After all, all this means is they get some papers, they can stay in the US, they can apply for scholarships and better jobs, and contribute to our drainhole of taxes.  


“Separate, but equal”

Today, to pique my kids’ interest in the government of the burgeoning kingdom of France (currently in the Medieval Europe Unit), I began by posing the question of, “How does the US organize its government?”  We meandered a bit as we broached upon the three branches, and in efforts to explain the power of the judicial branch and to connect it to the thoughts we discussed yesterday about Martin Luther King Jr., I gave a quick rundown of Ferguson v. Plessy and Brown V. Board of Education.

It went something like this:

“So Ferguson versus Plessy was the ruling that made it okay to give white kids and minority kids different schools.  That’s where the whole “separate but equal” idea came from.  So that’s why there were different seats on the bus, different water fountains, different schools.”  

I noticed that most kids were steadfastly listening, but to drive home the point I continued by making it more personal:

“Guys, look.  We’re all minorities.  None of us would’ve been allowed to go to a school with the white kids.  Even if you look white, your last name gives you away!”

I added the last part because some of the kids were sort of shrugging because they were “white.”  Then, I continued.  

“But THEN Brown versus Board of Education showed that it actually wasn’t equal.  So they overturned it and now,”

I triumphantly faced the class,

“schools aren’t segregated and…”

I faltered as I stared at the sea of–what I had just mentioned two sentences ago– minority faces,

“white kids and minority kids can now go to the same school,” I finished lamely.  

I managed to spin this last bit by talking about grown-up stuff (California taxes etc) that made school funding more equitable so even if you don’t go to school with white kids, you still get the same resources (which was a lie, I admit).  Yet I’m sure some of the keener kids got the situational irony: sure Brown V. Board of Education happened; and yet more than half of them have never attended an “integrated” school.

It’s strange – lots of recent issues have surfaced concerning charter schools and segregation.  It’s no lie that certain low-income areas have a predisposition to certain ethnicities and races — and that’s usually where charters go.  In Oakland, families who care about education either go to charters or independents.  The richer kids go to the independent schools and the poorer kids go to the charter schools.  And that’s that.  Having taught in both types of schools, I have to say, the kids are the same.  But, the way they’re handled and disciplined is different (which makes my heart ache a bit when I see kids at my school).  Parents from independent schools know how to advocate for their kids (sometimes to their child’s detriment), whereas the best of parents at my school don’t really know the ropes of US education and most parents are really busy with other things.

At school, I have to tell myself everyday to focus on the heart of every issue, to not get caught up in practices and processes, but to remember the why behind everything my school does.  As I continue with my kids, I’ve been giving myself more liberties from the way our school does things.  Also, as the kids have accustomed themselves to the behavioral demands of the school, I, in turn, can also be more lax with them.

I see this as one stage in my life.. I’m not committed to this profession; if anything, education sucks.  However, I am committed to my students.  I really don’t want to lose any of them to God knows what’s out there.  So even if for now, I’m teaching in a segregated setting due to socioeconomic and political factors, I’m blessed to be an Asian with immigrant parents, with family in South America, who grew up in a lower economic bracket, who struggled in math and didn’t know English in kindergarten, because as “a privileged minority,” I get to cash in on my benefits while still empathetically let them know where they ought to be and where they can go.  [whew, run-on].

The Drain-Tangle that is the CA Education System


How is that nobody knows exactly what to do to earn a teaching credential?  It’s kind of like a sneaky Ponzi scheme.  “All you need is the CBEST and CSET”.  “Now you need to pass the RICA.”  “Oh after that you need the BTSA.”  “Oh and then three more classes.”  “And then you need to renew it yearly with $65 or something.”

It’s frankly discouraging.  While I’m teaching, I won’t really be “clear” to teach until another.. what.. 3 years?  No wonder nobody stays. It’s expensive and time consuming.  Pair that with hours of grading, stress from the guilt of not grading, kids with bad attitudes, expectations that you don’t totally buy into concerning testing, and of course, the general tenor of thanklessness where the only voice for your kind is yourself, and … there you go.  After two years, you’re out the door onto a more lucrative profession.  Honestly, if you can teach, you could probably do anything you wanted.*


*I’m not trying to make an inspirational statement; I’m being objective.  To be able to actually teach you have to be fairly knowledgeable about the subject you’re teaching.  You’re probably most interested in that subject.  You also probably have crazy people skills (balancing the various personalities in one room, the variety of ages you come across).  You are probably very diplomatic (navigating PD, political alliances, unions etc).  You can also multi-task and work efficiently.  Teaching a classroom is like running operations.  Your basic math is probably amazing (calculating grades), AND you’re probably really calculating and smart; able to gauge pros and cons in a minute, finding that grading scale sweet spot so that kids who deserve it get more decent grades than those who slack off.  With all those skills, you’ll probably want something along the lines of your subject and then with the people, operations, analytical, and critical thinking skills, you’re set!  I’d hire you!

Player or Gamer? Lofty aspirations.

I have a few things I want to say.  But, as a teacher, I’m not sure if it’s the best thing to voice things onto a “public blog” (which is partly why my blog has been so quiet lately).  However, I just want to get some ideas out there.

1.  It’s humbling teaching after graduate school.  I realized a lot of my peers used grad school as the launching point for an education-related sector jump or to take that next career step.  Although I’m sure that with the name and the network (and by not being picky and moving to any random state) I could have gotten a “prestigious” position, if I learned anything at grad school, it was that I wanted to have more hands-on experience before I began to make decisions or give advice to others.  Also, during graduate school, I realized I’m happiest when I’m with little people teaching.

So. I went back.  But now that I’m back, it’s hard to balance what I “know” with what’s happening.  I suppose that’s just the reality of the public education system.  In a sense, I’m glad that I am mainly positive about my school, and I do get to see that it’s true – not all charters are alike.  But I do feel that charters reflect the tenor of our nation and this really “assessment-based” curriculum kills my soul a little.  Although if anyone is teaching in that environment, I’m glad that it’s me and not someone else who heart-and-soul buys into it.

Another area where it’s difficult to balance the knowledge with reality is in the area of leadership.  I took classes and read books.  I’d also venture to say that I have a streak of leadership and a desire to hone that.  SO it’s always fascinating to learn how to engage people and lead and collectively effect change.  It’s also really easy to feel entitled.  Perhaps entitlement isn’t the right word since it seems to imply a sense of deserving something huge when really what I feel that I deserve is occasional positive reinforcement, some warning, clear communication, and psychological safety.  I see myself shutting down and getting nervous every time my site director comes in because I’m not sure if she’s leaving me a note or if she’s going to observe my class (and eventually give me a write up or a recommendation to “tighten up my class.”).  I always assume the worst and when I see her, I always try to assert my best attitude.  Frankly, I’m just a wuss.  But then again, what can you do?  It’s your first year, you don’t want to make waves.

From their point of view, I can understand that it’s important to be really tight and tough because of the constant influx of weaker teachers who don’t deliver. But also, if the delivery is packaged in the form of standardized tests…  …

But THEN… it’s not the charters’ faults for being so score-heavy.  It’s their only way of assuring renewal and assuring that students come.  If CA demands it, how can you ignore it?

and AMIDST all this, there are DEFINITE issues of race politics that gets brushed under the carpet.  I’m glad that I can still stand behind my leaders and that I have some great coworkers.  I’m glad that we can commiserate together.  I’m glad that I respect the people I work with.  I’m glad that I have my kids (but even THEY get so tough… this week was so tough..).

Anyway, I guess I got carried away.

Here are some points:

1 – psychological safety is important in the workplace

2 – encouraging teachers to SHARE resources / lesson plans / pacing guides just makes sense. I don’t know why nobody gives me their stuff from last year.  I always try to give out an extra copy of the tests and quizzes I create. Why not? (On another note: ed resources should be SHARED; ie FREE).

3 – I don’t see the benefit of write-ups.  Even rhetorically change the name.  Call them reminders.  OR if there are write-ups (ie negative feedback) then have positive feedback systems in place too.  And no, giving me a few hundred dollars for value-added score improvements or perfect attendance (impossible) is not what I mean.  Just a kind word or two.  Or an acknowledgement that what I’m doing is good.   I start to feel insecure.  And then it makes me become a less effective teacher.  You can’t really put all that blame on me (I’m not trying to write my way out of my mistakes/issues, I’m just saying there’s lot of factors involved).

4 – Happy hours are crucial.

5 – Positive encouragement is honestly the BEST for kids.  Even “inner-city kids who don’t need sympathy but people willing to expect much from them.”  I think only a select few (namely the few that have ACTUALLY EXPERIENCED everything negative that they bring up) can inspire kids with their horror stories of what will happen if they drop out of school.  I would say that the founder of my school is one of them.  Probably because he came from their very neighborhood and has been local for a long time.  For the rest of the cases, it’s pretty condescending AND many of these students don’t need added fear stress.

6.  Our PD was a little laughable.  It consisted of directors swearing and telling us how hard our school would be.  Maybe to scare the new folks in being too soft?  I was directly told that if a student ever said, “F*ck you” to me, to “Say ‘F*ck you right back’.”  (That was a bit hard to swallow since I don’t like that word at all).  Last week, I snapped at a student for his “crappy answer” and my whole class became deathly quiet.  I felt so remorseful and I saw my student’s face drop.  Basically, my students, even if they come from pretty harsh areas (from what the other teachers tell me and from stories I hear randomly from my kids about their lives), they’re still really soft.

7.  The whole reason I even came to my blog was because I wanted to capture this really funny thing that happened in class yesterday.  I tried to remember it yesterday, but I forgot.  Today, I remembered!

[While trying to get students to use a linking verb with a noun.]

Me:  Bob, what will you be when you grow up?

*Bob: I will be a player.

Me:  Um, what do you mean by “player”? (Surprisingly nobody laughed except for one older boy who definitely knew what a player was).

Bob:  I want to play video games.

Me: Oh!  You mean a “gamer”!

Bob:  Oh! Yes.  A gamer.  I will be a gamer.

The end.

math and science and bears, oh my!

I’ve been rethinking the purpose and direction of this blog (hence the long hiatus and a folder full of half-written posts in my drafts).  However, this is a pretty sweet piece of news, “Cal Teach Graduates First Credentialed Teacher”!

Last year California approved Cal’s math and science credentialing program, Cal Teach.  This year, they graduated its first credentialed student (who earned her credential while also working on her Astrophysics degree).

Do you know what this means, potential math and science teachers?  This means that you can graduate with a B.A and a credential!  This means you won’t need to enroll in an additional credentialing program, which saves you a year!

Not to mention, the last I checked, despite budget cuts and all, Cal is a wonderful place to work out your ideologies and challenge your presuppositions to really see what you can do and figure out why you do it.

“Science, mathematics, engineering — these are the elite core professions. And a large segment of our population has been shut out of them from the day they walk into kindergarten class,” said Mark Richards, dean of the College of Letters and Science and one of Cal Teach’s key supporters. “This is more than a matter of competitiveness for our country. It’s a matter of social justice.”

It is also a matter of economics and survival in an increasingly-technological world. The United States currently ranks 48th in the world in the quality of mathematics and science education, according to a report of the World Economic Forum. Another study by the National Assessment of Education Progress reported that less than half of U.S. students are proficient in science, with California ranking shockingly near the bottom of the 50 states.

Unlike traditional models, in which teaching content is divorced from teaching pedagogical skills, Cal Teach relies on an integrated, holistic approach. The program offers students simultaneous access to developing content knowledge and a teaching credential while also giving them valuable field experience by placing them in local urban school classrooms.

Economics, technology, integration, holistic approach, social justice – all in one excerpt?  Bingo.  I’m glad that despite difficulties with the deficit and figuring out how to truly teach, Cal is constantly reevaluating and finding ways to pinch pennies and still offer relevant paths for the future.  Proud to be a bear.