Syrian children want to go to school…

I am constantly perplexed at the costs of war: of lives lost, land and livelihoods destroyed, families torn apart. But the loss of education is equally distressing when you consider the thousands and thousands of children not in schools across the world, mostly due to war and poverty. Refugee and help organizations do what they can. Smaller countries than our own take in refugees and even allow them to go to public schools, but many cannot afford to even go there. Under our current administration, there is little chance we can help, other than those who made it here before the “Muslim ban” and from afar, through donation and sponsorship. With all the wealth they have, the upper 1 percent in this and other nations could solve at least the education problem for refugees and the poor, but they do very little. Why educate the “lower class” and the weakened, when they can just keep money and power for themselves? I am ill with anger and sadness. But I will help those I can from my classroom here, and through altruism whenever I can. I urge all reading this to do the same. If the world is ever to have peace and prosperity, we need to educate as many children around the globe as possible…otherwise, we will find ourselves subjugated by autocrats and warlords, and those with money and power. A voiceless people are likely to become an extinct people.

Listen to the stories of the children. Start by changing minds and hearts.


On SLIFE: Journal #1-Summer 2018

I was invited to join an online pilot course on Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education (SLIFE) through the Carey Institute of New York (

I decided to sign up, even as I am completing a rigorous program for my M.Ed. in Multicultural Education and ESL through Northern Arizona University. I figure it can only help me with my capstone course, my final before graduation. Also, I am always looking for new ways to support my most at-risk students. I am going to document my findings here in a journal format.

  • What resources are needed to support your work in identifying SLIFE within your context? Where might those resources be found?

The state English Language Learner Assessment is usually the first tool, but I definitely do not consider it to be the best: It is designed by corporate investors, curriculum developers, and politicians, and bears little resemblance to any measure given by actual ELD specialists. It was designed, after all, to find out what students don’t know, rather than what they do know.

If I was able to help develop a tool for identifying SLIFE ELs in my school or district, I would first solicit the assistance of Language Acquisition in scheduling translators and/or liaisons hired by the district to meet with students and families. I would also ask for help from Refugee organization reps and Culturally Relevant Pedagogy department.

Some kind of screener must be developed to determine students’ strengths and areas for intervention. I know it would need to have visual cues, places for students to show writing or reading skills, and a rubric for oral language skills. I would need administration and student success team members to help come up with the necessary language and format of a screening tool for these students and their families, hopefully with my input as an ELD specialist.  It could be administered with the assistance of a first language speaker, such as a language liaison, to guide them through the process without answering key items for them. They would be there for general support, clarification, and two-way interpretation between myself (as the screener) and the students, as well as their family member. The family member could be part of the screening, as questions about formal schooling and general experience with literacy in the family will be integrated into the screening tool.

I would then arrange screening meetings with the students, their parents or guardians, and a first language interpreter. We would use the tool to guide questioning while practicing transparency about why we are using it. Gaining the trust of new families and students is essential if we are going to be able to apply special interventions.  From there, it would be advisable to have lead teachers and paraprofessionals look over the results of the tool with the principal, the ELD  resource teacher (myself),  the classroom teacher who will support the student into the new school year.  Hopefully, this would help us to determine the best course of the intervention.

Some questions we can ask ourselves after the screening: Can the student use additional phonics support? If they need primary skills, they could benefit by attending a morning group within a primary class. They could go before the bell rings, then return to their regular class after the phonics session. Could the student spend more time in pull-out, so ELD Resource can have a one-on-one session during a planning period, or have them work with different ELLs in different groups to gain skills they need at their level of understanding? Also, what skills and funds of knowledge do they bring with them? Can we utilize these in their classroom, and in small group intervention, to empower them and build on existing knowledge? Can we make sure they are always considered for afterschool programs, and not only summer school? After school should not just focus on kids just below “core” in reading–there should be a SLIFE/ELL support class every semester.

These are just some ideas off the top. More to come.

girl in red short sleeve dress and flower headband holding pen and writing on paper on table

Photo by Pixabay on

We may be the architects of our own destruction…

Gary Howard (1996) asks, (p. 324) “What does it mean for White people to be responsible and aware in a nation where we have been the dominant cultural and political force?

One of the reasons Howard cites (p.325) for those of European ancestry feeling so ambivalent toward the perceived threat of a multicultural society is that–for many of them– persecution, prejudice, and discrimination are part of their own ancestral past, a history that many feel has not been adequately addressed. Weren’t the Irish and Italian immigrants ostracized and often outright killed, even as they settled into large, industrial cities? Weren’t the Eastern Europeans looked upon with suspicion, having to change their sir names and lose their accents, in favor of more Anglicized forms?

Taking this into account, perhaps white American culture should be more mindful of the high cost their own ancestors paid to become part of this nation. Should we not afford the same chance to other races and cultures, who continue to come to our shores looking for the very same things European immigrants sought so long ago? And once here, should they not be given the opportunity, not to simply assimilate and comply with established White norms, but add to the society that has given all of us a chance at freedom and self-determination?

Every time this nation makes room for new people, new languages, and cultural backgrounds, it enriches us all in ways we do not fully realize. It happens so minutely, that the dominant culture believes that these newcomers must be assimilating, becoming “Good Americans”; when actually, they are adding their best to our own. Everyday life—from what we eat, to who we choose to provide us with medical attention—is enriched by immigrant contributions.

Even as many whites rail against “foreigners” bringing crime, poverty, and odd belief systems into their communities–these same whites are more than glad to partake of the delicious foods, the social and luxury services, and professional, thoughtful care immigrant people provide to them, each and every day. Not to mention the often demeaning and difficult jobs they are willing to take on, that white workers wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole.

So, how can white Americans be more responsible? They can own up to the fact that we need immigrant people’s cultural contributions, just as much as they need what a new life in our country offers. We can defend them like our long-lost brothers and sisters. We can throw out common, prejudiced misconceptions. We can help to raise their voices, and give them room to contribute, rather than try to keep them down.

What can be our unique contribution, and what are the issues we need to face?

Howard (p.327) suggests that our white, dominant-culture privilege affords those of us who inhabit it to prosper more easily than our multi-racial counterparts. He also acknowledges that, even when whites fail, they never have to worry that it is because of their skin color. So, I think perhaps our unique contribution can come from our position of relative ease: We can use our privilege to make room for those who do not have it so easy. We can advocate for them. We do not speak for them, but provide them room to speak for themselves. We defend their dignity, we honor their tenacity. We level the playing field, not just for the white race, but to include all players—not to assimilate and deny their ethnicity, but to celebrate it. We should call out institutional racism, and fight for equity for all. White people have the power to do good—that is our contribution. But we must be vigilant not to let that make whites feel superior, however. Instead, we should be custodians and mentors, allies and partners. Sometimes even silent partners.

How do we help create a nation where all cultures are accorded dignity and the right to survive?

Howard states (p.328), that underlying both the denial and the hostility (of whites toward other races), is a deep-seated fear of diversity. White dominant-cultural “guardians” defend the supremacy of a white, European-based, Christian society, that actually does not really exist. We have actually been a nation of many religions and races for much longer, and continue to go in that direction, even as widespread racism and violence has taken hold again. It is all fear-based.

Immigrants and the multi-racial populations typically become scapegoats, when there is an economic downturn, or increased crime. But when we examine the issues at a deeper level, these events are symptoms of the fear that caused them in the first place. Growth comes in fits and starts, but then we defeat ourselves as a society when fear settles in. Violence begets violence. We take two steps back, even as we step forward. How do we change this paradigm? Own up to our cultural shortcomings, and begin to heal. Facing reality is the beginning of liberation (p. 329). As noted earlier, we as a nation must advocate for the marginalized and oppressed among us. Get educated, open a dialogue, and decry racism, violence, and backward thinking at every opportunity. Lose the fear that grips us as a people, before it really is too late…we will become our own undoing. America was not meant to be exclusive–check the Constitution. At its central core, it is a set of agreements that provide basic rights and freedoms for ALL. That has not changed, nor should it, but we can amend and improve upon it to reflect the times. Those times, bad or good, depend on all of us pulling together. Simple, yet not so much.


Banks, J. A. (1996). Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge, and Action: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Gary Howard, Chapter 17-Whites in Multi-cultural education—rethinking our role. Teachers College Press, Columbia University, New York, NY.



My 5th Year

So here I am, entering my fifth school year as a teacher specializing in English Language Development. I am also midway through my graduate degree in Multicultural Education and ESL. It’s been a tough road here and  there, but I have few if any regrets.

The downside of this vocation remains much the same: Limited financial resources and support from the state government, increased emphasis on mandated testing (the worst is a new Kindergarten ELL test, 30 minutes long), misconceptions by the public and even some colleagues about what I do: “Isn’t teaching ELD curriculum harder, because the kids don’t understand anything?”  (One typical assumption I encounter yearly).  Lots and lots of paperwork, scheduling hassles, and documentation. This is the boring stuff.

The upside? Working with kids from various backgrounds and cultures, of course. Working with refugee and immigrant kids, getting to know their families, and making a connection based on trust, by finding common ground. Knowing that these kids, in particular, are eager to learn, and want to go to school. They do not take education for granted. Another awesome part of my job, is I get to teach ESL in my own way–though I do follow a prescribed curriculum, I can adapt it however I see fit, and tailor it to my various students’ needs. I can be creative, I can be culturally responsive. And best of all, I can be myself.

Sometimes teaching ESL, especially as a “resource” teacher, can be very lonely. I cannot collaborate daily with teaching teams. Most of the time, it is “hit and run”: A few minutes here and there with the classroom teachers with whom I share students. I share ideas and data with them, which they sometimes appreciate, but often ignore.

The administration at my school values what I do, as long as I do not step out of bounds, like advocating for my students without “checking in” first–following protocol, etc.  Often I am censored, and not encouraged to take a leadership role as a teacher. So the research and education I am trying to apply to my work is often thwarted. How can I be an “agent of change” or “dialogic” in my approach, when few are willing to listen?

And so, another school year begins, this being (actually) my tenth as a teacher. For half of those years, I have worked directly with ELLs. Who knows where this next leg of the journey will take me?

I am hoping for some commiseration, some input, and clarity from my readers. Please feel free to comment, no matter where you stand. And if you teach ELs, welcome back to the classroom!

Ms. N.




Activism: Does it Matter?

Everyday my Inbox is full of entreaties to protest for, petition in support of, and donate to a myriad of causes. Most are in response to the continuing assault on the environment, human rights, immigrant rights, education, and to fight the Trump administration’s agenda.

Although I am a supporter of the activist spirit (as I myself have been activist, both passive and active), I wonder sometimes how much of what I sign, write about, or donate to, has any effect whatsoever. Sometimes I feel I would be better occupied by continuing to educate future people– so that these same issues, and the clearly destructive decisions by those in control, can at last be eradicated by a more intelligent, compassionate generation.

Of course, how we engage with current events and social issues is also being watched by those whom we teach. How we deal with them is watched by our own children. If we do nothing, say nothing, then they will think there is nothing to be done. And so, the cycle continues.

So—even if it feels as if we gain no real ground by venting our discontent with the status quo and the wrongs of the world, through our passive and active acts of protest, perhaps we should continue to do so. Diligently, conscientiously, but not randomly. We cannot hope to fix everything, especially by passively signing every petition on social media or in our e-mail. We must make our truth a reality by living it.

Being honest about what we believe in and support, without negligent judgement, or pressure (especially on the younger generation) is an important first step. Showing, instead of telling. Encouraging others’ exploration into issues that concern us all. And then, asking those who read or hear us to decide for themselves.

It is our responsibility, almost a sacred duty, to educate and prepare the next generation. But we need to be prepared to ask and answer the hard questions, always and without fail.

And occasionally, delete some petitions in favor of others. Small but significant steps.