Identity in Crisis

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Reader, as you read this blog, I want you to think about 

  • the role of identity in our schools.
  • the need for what Claude Steele calls the critical mass ( what I call my peeps)
  • the trauma many of our children undergo due to implicit bias

I’m often called on by parents to “shadow”their children in schools. Usually, the child has been identified by teachers as being or having a problem.

The following reflection is from a recent two-hour observation of a kindergartner in her school environment. 

When I enter the classroom, the children are sitting on the carpet. The teacher is creating a poem with words that rhyme with Pete (the character about which the poem will be written).  Children are asked to provide words that rhyme with Pete. As children call out rhyming words (eat, meat, seat, street, etc.)the teacher writes them on a chart, praising the children for their responses. 

When the teacher acknowledges Zion’s raised hand, I notice that she mispronounces the child’s name, placing the stress on the second syllable. Hmmm!

 Zion’s (emphasis on first syllable) rhyming word is reet.

The teacher’s response is“That’s not a real word.”Evidently, I momentarily drop my “coach”face because the teacher glances at me and restates thusly: “That was a good try. It rhymes, but let’s use a real word!“

Zion lowers her hand and continues to look on as the teacher coaxes “real words”from other students.

Meanwhile, the teaching assistant moves to the area of the room in which Zion is sitting, and after a moment says, “Should that be a capital EZion? “(emphasis on the second syllable) referencing the sentences the child is copying from the chart onto a slate. Zion appears to ignore her. 

Later on, the teacher asks, “What does Pete do?”Zion raises her hand and answers, “He sleeps a lot.”

“No, we need a rhyming word, Zion! (emphasis on the second syllable) . 

Zion replies, “Well, he eats a lot!”followed by a long sigh. The teacher writes Pete eats meaton the chart.

After a while, the teacher reads her poem and encourages the students to read along. Few children (Zion included) actually read the poem as most appear to be growing restless.

Pete eats meat.

He has a seat

by the street.

He is on his feet

to make a sweet greet.

The lesson is ended and the children are told to close their markers, erase and put away their slates. The teacher moves to the Smart Board at the front of the room and tells the student to gather on the carpet again.

“We’re not using sanitizer, Zion”, she admonishes and quickly glances my way. I notice that there is another girl, not just Zion, sanitizing her hands. Hmmm! Zion replies, “But our hands are dirty!”

As the other children settle on the carpet, Zion moves to a different area of the carpet than where she was previously seated. I notice that she moves farther away from where the teacher is seated and recall that where she was seated before was quite a distance from the teacher. Hmmm!

The teacher tells the students that they may get comfortable on the carpet as they are going to begin reading a video book. “Hey, Little Ant”by Phillip Hoose.

  After a few pages of the book and some discussion about whether or not they would step on the ant and what some of the rhyming words in the book are, the teacher announces that it is time to go outside for recess. I follow along.

Conversation on the playground:

Teacher: Zion’s doing better since we put her on a behavior contract. The guidance counselor came up with it. We give her praise (Something about cubes) when she meets her goals. She only has two goals…Do what you’re asked the first time you’re asked and be kind to others.

Me: Hmmm!

Teacher: (nodding her head toward the playground) Watch! That’s a new piece of equipment. The students are supposed to jump on it and count to twenty in Spanish.

Zion is on the see-saw type of equipment with…wait! Another little black girl! Where’d she come from? Did I mention that in the class of thirteen kindergarteners who were present that day, Zion is the only child of color?

The other little girl gets off the equipment.

Teacher: See what I mean? The other child got off. She’s still on it.

Me: There’s no one waiting to get on. Is the goal to count to twenty and get off or to count to twenty to practice taking turns?

Teacher: Oh! I guess you’re right.

Me: Hmmm!

(We stand in silence for a few seconds)

Teacher: Look at her!  (indicating Zion as she leaves the equipment) She’s mad now!

Me: ( Looking in the child’s direction) She got off. She doesn’t have to like it, does she?

Teacher: Hmmm!

. More to come…

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