Friday, October 26, 2012


Life has been blending into a mix of everything good which makes me refer to my favorite quote,

You must act as if it is impossible to fail. 

That personal mantra has guided some of the most mundane decisions and moments for me lately.  Now when I say mundane, I'm talking about schedules and dinners, finances and everyday decisions that range from disciplining my kids to walking the talk with them and communicating that fine line it takes to create action at home, work, personally, and in the community.   I'm referring to the days when three kids need to be in three different places at the same time, and when the only way to make it work is to give in and say, "One of you is gonna be late."  I'm talking about uneaten lunches made with love and careful picking, and school papers that get returned a day later than the due date.  I'm thinking about the calendars that don't sync and the broken dishwasher and the thought I have from the corner of my brain that says, "We can do without," only to be hit by my conscience every time I don't bother to fill the double sink with soap and rinse water.  

I am trying to run a life that does not fail, and so everyday I proceed as if it is impossible to fail.  And even when I do, I know I'm personally not a failure;  I don't treat myself like a failure - I simply move on, turn my optimism on and appreciate the blend of this rich and busy life I'm living (and loving).  

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Nine Years Old

It started with last minute invitations sent out five days before today. Anticipation and energy fueled this day making it a perfect welcome to being 9-years-old.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Teenagers See it This Way

When I showed the short film, "The Girl Who Hated Books," I didn't expect the tangent I got.  Interested in student voice - an actual professional goal of mine this year, I let the discussion drift from my learning objective to something that turned into this free-flow conversation among the students in my literacy class.

Originally, I thought I'd show the film so we could analyze aspects of independent films.   Little did I expect that the analysis would target a socio-emotional part of the film rather than the art, animation, and purpose.  The thing that stood out to one student ended up resonating for a few more, then a few more, and before I knew it, students were in groups writing down the things parents do that annoy them.

We got there because the students agreed that the reason the main character, Meena, hated books was because her parents' intense affinity for books and reading, was at the expense of giving attention to Meena.  You'll have to watch the film yourself to determine why my students felt this way.

The Girl Who Hated Books by Jo Meuris, National Film Board of Canada

So in the spirit of student voice, here is how they expressed the part of the film that spoke to them most.  Teenage brains work in interesting ways.  Here's what you get.

Top things parents do that confuse or annoy their kid:

1.  They don't listen to our words, just to the way we say something.
2.  Make us get the thing they are capable of getting themselves (a drink of water, for example).
3.  Ask us the same question twice before we can even think of a response to it the first time.
4.  Ask too many "thin" questions.
5.  Wants us to do 4 things at once.
6.  They want us to be independent but then are overprotective.
7.  Getting a sermon after asking a simple question.
8.  When parents think we are texting the opposite sex when we don't even want a boy or girlfriend.
9.  When parents fight and bring their kid into it and then we feel blamed for their fight.
10.  When they say you're too young for this or too old for that (going Trick-or-treating, wearing a costume . . . ) but in our mind, we are just kids.
11. Parents can't be wrong even though they tell us to learn from their mistakes.
12.  We fight.  Two minutes later they say, "I love you," and are surprised when they don't get the same thing back.  We take long to forgive.
13.  Using big words to make a point.
14.  Quick mood changes.
15.  When they talk to my friends.  Seriously, my friends don't know what to say back.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

And How Did Your Week Go?

Adolescence: A period of storm and stress.

Duh, right?

This was evident in the yellow notebook I intercepted filled with entries written by a girl having a relationship with a really cute boy. It occurred to me that the relationship part was imaginary - completely fictional - though in tone, a bit hopeful.  The rest of her characters were not fictional ones at all.  They were students in my class, and her mixed thoughts were indicative of her fantasies and reality as she sees it.  Other than that content, most of her writing was formatted like journal entries, about the boring teacher, the dumb girl she can't stand, and how painful it was when someone stepped on her toe.  

The one and only low point of the week came when this picture was collected after a student reported a  kid drawing "disgusting pictures".   So tell me, was your week punctuated with this kind of nonsense?

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Playing off of numbers is one way to get it done. A few years ago, in order to keep a consistent running schedule I started collecting miles that represent ages. If a friend or family member had a birthday, I would run miles for them - it kept me engaged and positive to know I was racking it up with them in mind. I'm going to start that again after December.

Today I set my alarm an hour earlier to do a 10-minute plank hold, 11 sets of 11 push-ups, and 12 pull-ups. That's because yesterday Misa said, "Mama you should do THIS challenge since tomorrow is 10-11-12. Then we started planning my 12-12-12 Challenge . . .

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Can I "relate?"

Of the many beautiful things about teaching in public schools is that students are learning in integrated classrooms where diversity isn't feared, but embraced.  Teachers I know engage diverse classrooms in real-world applications, with student-centered instruction driven by problem-solving and sound decision making.  For English Language Learners, this kind of academic instruction often challenges them in ways we are only beginning to systematically address.  Rachel Clausen reminds us that the real guts of teaching in a school with a growing Latino population lies in the relationships we build with them and the friendships we encourage and foster between them.  Not only that - Rachel also emphasizes the idea that focusing on similarities rather than differences goes a long way towards "relating." Enjoy Rachel's authentic voice!  

“Es más cómo nuestra tía, maestra Clausen.  Le vamos a llamar tía.”  (“You are more like our aunt, Miss Clausen.  We are going to call you aunt.”)

I fondly remember a recent conversation when a small group of young Latino students I worked with decided amongst themselves that they were going to give me the nickname “aunt,” rather than merely teacher.  Here I was, a young white female working closely with Latino students, finding myself bonded to them in ways that culture, race, or experience could not explain.  If anything, my background in comparison to that of this group of young people could have created boundaries between us, but for reasons I am still discovering it brought us together and created bridges, and continues to on many levels.

Undeniably, it is invaluable to have role models for young people that can identify with them from a cultural, racial, or experiential standpoint.  Especially for students of color, those more obvious connections like being of the same race or having a common native language can create an immediate bond, opportunity for influence, and often deeper level of respect between students and school staff.  Students are able to see and hopefully hear from adults who have overcome many of the obstacles they may face in their education.  Such inspiration is necessary for so many of our students who too often hear negative messages about what their future holds.  To reiterate, having role models that can directly identify with students is irreplaceable.

However, being in a position where many of the students and families I work with may not appear to be “like me,” I have found there is a necessary effort to be made on behalf of the educator or service provider to build trust, foster respect, and hopefully build connections that go beyond the typical denominators we see in most relationships.  In my case, that starts with acknowledging that maybe I can’t “relate” to many of the experiences our Latino ELL’s (English language learners) have had.  I have never had to move permanently to a foreign country and completely unfamiliar culture.  I have never felt the pressure of learning a new language in order to function in my everyday surroundings.  I have never had to interpret for my parents, even while still unsure of myself of what I was hearing and/or saying, merely because I knew more of the language than they did.  I have never known what it was like to see some of my beloved family members leave me suddenly due to the immediate threat of deportation.   The list goes on…

 Nevertheless, I cannot afford to keep my focus on our differences alone.  I can acknowledge and appreciate our differences, but I have to also recognize the common ground we stand on, and incorporate this into my work with Latino ELL’s (and their families).  After all, we share a common love for the Spanish language and incredibly diverse Latino cultures.  We share a common desire to excel, as these are students often have an untouched desire to succeed and defy many statistics confronting their ethnicity.  We share a deep-seeded value of family and recognize that, when the “going gets tough,” family is really at the core of what we have and who we are.  We often share a heavy reliance on our faith and belief in the virtue of perseverance.   We share a desire to feel important for who we are, and where we come from.

When I combine both the appreciation of our differences and recognition of our similarities, something pretty amazing starts to happen in my work with both Latino students and their families: we begin to converse from a mutual foundation of honor and respect.  We begin to laugh together at experiences we’ve both had at misspeaking in one another’s language.  We begin to choose to learn from one another rather than avoid the unknown.  We begin to make the other person feel valuable for what they add to our lives.  We begin to form trust, new levels of communication, and bridges that would not otherwise be there.  What ends up happening, is we find the ability to “relate,” so much so that I guess you could say we can almost become “relate”-ives.  Or so my sobrinos (nieces and nephews) have told me.

Rachel Clausen is a Bilingual Resource Specialist at Sherman Middle School, where she supports Spanish-speaking English language learners and their families.  Outside of school, Rachel can be found mentoring Madison area teens through 12:11 youth ministries, volunteering at her church, watching Badger sporting events, and spending as much time as she with her husband and daughter.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Pedagogy Buzz

Pedagogy has been a buzz word in education for as long as I've been conscious of my practice.  To know and understand how something is taught, and how students come to learn it - is, in a word, teaching.  I barely used the word over the past decade even though every one else has.  I guess I never needed a substitute word for what I inherently understood teaching to be:  an art, a practice, an ability, always changing and evolving.


This past summer I was part of the Hip Hop in the Heartland Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where educators and community leaders together learned the best practices in hip hop and spoken word pedagogy.

Pedagogy.  That word again.

This time though, pedagogy penetrated me like a blazing sun.  My time in the Institute brought all my years in the hood of National City, CA to the forefront.  During this short one-week frame, I recounted my memories of soul music, cruising Highland Avenue cool as can be crazy over the ostentatious show of low riders and antique cars, fashionable starched cuffed Levi 501's and baggy khaki chinos, block and neighborhood house parties.   National City raised us to believe it wasn't a big deal to be smart - everyone in the Granger and Sweetwater schools were just who we were - smart and cool without pretense, and mixing in with true diverse homies of the time as both friends and teammates integral to the NC pride.  That's something neighborhoods and schools north of us just didn't relate to - we were too far south, too close to the Tijuana border, too Brown and Black, too "ghetto."  Writing and coming together as a community of writers and thinkers invested in the art of urban pedagogy provided the open conduit for the latent oxygen to flow a bit more smoothly and effortlessly in me - able to acknowledge and face where I came  from, and do so in a safe and supportive environment where most others were doing the same.

I want to write more about this institute - particularly, Hip Hop pedagogy.  I'll save it for a next professional development post after I spend some time exploring with my current students their voices and realities.  For now, suffice it to say that pedagogy is more than just a buzz word in the field of education.  Particularly in the lives of teachers teaching urban youth, the efforts to take on complex issues affecting the lives of adolescents who themselves must find pathways to learn and understand their identity, is an art, a practice, an ability - always dynamic and always evolving.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Bilingual Education: A Philosophy or A Way of Life

Bilingual education is a hot topic in the spheres of education.  While various camps have questioned the effectiveness of it, most educators I know agree that not only is bilingual education fair and necessary, but bicultural education is a significant part of an English Language Learner's (ELL) life at school.  Shannon Longworth discusses the roles educators play as ELL teachers, along with the role of a student in bilingual education class.  On a personal level, I know Shannon as both a dedicated and intelligent educator, and a chauffeur from time to time during the school year.  If there's one thing that's true about her, it's that she commands respect in her quiet, gentle way of being, not to mention, her admirable skill of navigating her way through ice and snow in 2-3 inch heels!  Read her piece that identifies the various roles of educators and what it takes to be inclusive.  Enjoy!  

During my junior year of college I was asked by a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to write my philosophy of education, which was a challenge at first. Eventually I realized that my philosophy of education was quite simple; it consisted of the belief that all children have the right to a quality education in which they feel valued, their culture is appreciated, their strengths as a student are celebrated, and all of their needs as a student and child are met in order to reach the ultimate goal of education: developing students into productive members of society who can accomplish their personal goals in life, whatever they might be. When I considered what my role as a teacher should be in the educational world, I understood my role to be one of a guide in which I would provide learning opportunities that fit the learning goals and needs of my students, I would provide a classroom filled with a sense of community so that all of my students felt safe and accepted, and I would differentiate my lessons in order to meet the various learning styles of my students. Finally, I saw the role of my students to be one of becoming life-long learners who are committed to their education and their futures.

Now that I am an ESL/Bilingual teacher I find that my basic philosophy of education still applies to how I view bilingual education, however with bilingual education comes an additional set of goals and beliefs. First of all, one of the goals of bilingual education should be to develop and maintain students’ high levels of proficiency and literacy in their native and second language, while learning in the content areas. Bilingual education needs to respect the power of students’ first language and what that means in terms of their relationships with family members, the community, and their home culture. To take away that aspect of their life would not be developing them into productive members of society, but would rather deflate their sense of self and, in the end, ruin their chances of reaching their goals in life. A second goal of bilingual education should be to help students become bicultural. By doing so, more opportunities can open up for these students as they grow into adults who are able to function and maneuver in what often feels like two worlds, their home culture and the majority culture. Finally, bilingual education should encourage family involvement and tap into the funds of knowledge that students and their families bring into the classroom. By utilizing these funds of knowledge, teachers can make school a more inviting place for students and families, and truly empower our students as they learn and work towards their goals.

In bilingual education the role of the teacher is similar to that of the role of the general education teacher in that the teacher should act as a guide and provide differentiated learning experiences for students at all levels. However, often one of the roles a bilingual teacher takes on is that of an activist. General education teachers also act as activists for their students, however in a bilingual setting teachers often face situations that general education teachers do not in terms of the resources they are provided, or the inclusion or exclusion of their students and families in the school community. One way for teachers to help with the inclusion of their students with the rest of the school community is be collaborating with other teachers in the building. By collaborating with other teachers, whether it is with grade level teachers, specials teachers, or support staff, bilingual teachers can help their students feel part of the school community and help other teachers and students see bilingual students as a valuable asset to the school.

As for the role of students, their role in bilingual education is also similar to the “regular” education students. Students in bilingual education needed to be committed to their education; however they needed to be committed to their native and second language as well. In order for students to succeed in the bilingual program they, with the support of their teachers and families, need to be dedicated to the development of their proficiency and literacy in two languages. With the help and guidance of their families, communities, teachers, and schools ELLs can reach their personal goals, as well as the goal of becoming bilingual and bicultural.

Taking on the responsibility of educating our bilingual students should not solely fall on bilingual teachers, students, and parents. In order to utilize this model appropriately there are several key factors that need to be addressed by the district, administration, and staff. One critical component in implementing this model is to have an administration, staff, student body, and community that fully believe in the value of bilingual education and our bilingual/bicultural students. However, actions speak louder than words. We cannot stop at believing, we need to take our beliefs to the next level… making bilingual education a way of life.

Shannon Longworth has been a Bilingual Resource Teacher at Sherman Middle School for 6 years. She enjoys all of the activities that Madison and Wisconsin have to offer such as strolling around the square at the farmer’s market, hiking, camping, and sipping a beverage at the Terrace. Oh, and she loves working with kids!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012


September is overwhelming.  And while schedules and activities are not any different in October, I feel like I am finally able to breathe.  Maybe it's that fall has come gradually and hopefully, and with the changing of seasons, I feel like opening the cage door to let in all the colors, the variety, and the newness.


The big picture!

So what's new here?  So much.  Since this blog is about climbing, culture, cheese and professional living, I wanted to say something about climbing.  Thanks to Katie, I actually got some consistent training sessions in and all I have to say is that I am not the only one who is out and about at 5:30am.  Bold and bright-eyed athletes are out there running and riding along the bike path, and the rowers are out in full form too.

In the climbing gym there was a lot packed into an hour-plus, and for me, it's been worth it.  Training gives me confidence and naturally, strength.  And I am pretty sure my mind has been opened to heel hooks, bumps, hollow holds, pull ups, frenchies, and maximum effort.  Basically, techniques and moves I often fail at during performance.

After this week, it's break time.  And then we'll train again after a little rest and recovery (mostly from our 5:30am sessions . . . )