Shifting from what we teach to why we teach it.

I’m watching the ladies practice their intricate dance routine for the Thanksgiving showcase at school.  I am pulling-up, ticking, and wining in the corner as the girls get frustrated and start doing what Caribbean teen girls do.  They get loud and accents appear.  One of the deans complains about how messy they are and since she thinks her opinion is so important, she verbally admonishes them for being loud, and for making fun of one another when they can’t tic-wine to the ground in time. The students ignore her, shoot me a look and keep it moving.  A few years ago, I would have asked her why she was teaching at a Black and Brown school and working with teens if she hates both cultures.

Today, I come for wyteashers via curriculum and student buy in.

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 12.57.30 AM.pngI am blessed to work in a school where the curriculum is set and #blacklivesmatter paraphernalia paper the walls, however; I can’t teach the units that are waiting for me in my mailbox.  In my personal quest to not be shady, throw subs, and be direct; I’ll just say it.  

The units suck.  

The activities require very low cognitive engagement and do nothing for Black and Brown kids.  Let’s not conflate Black and Brown authors and themes with education that speaks to these students directly and will help Black and Brown kids survive and thrive after being pulled over, passed over, and pushed out of society.  

What do MI GENTE need to learn?  

They need to learn how to recognize and maneuver power dynamics.  

So I’m about to wield the power of being the only woman and Brown person in my Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 12.57.42 AM.pngdepartment to finesse these here units and staff.

Two weeks later and the principal cosigned my ideas, and the English department is cool with me doing my own thing as long as I report back to them how my “experiment at engagement” went.   

Time for some real talk.  

We as teachers are no longer the fountains of content as it was once was.  Content is available to anyone with WIFI, Amazon Prime, or access to the internet in any capacity.  

So what is our job now?  

In my opinion, we are charged with providing students with skills that will directly transfer into their lives.

What does this mean for our B&B kids?  

It means teaching them how to slide up out of the school-to-prison pipeline, and how to create success for themselves and our people.  

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Alongside teaching kids how to annotate, write an outline, and revise a paper, all important skills, this isn’t the heart of my units. My units will give students choice, ownership, and outside of the classroom relevancy. Students will learn computational thinking, global marketing, social media trends, and language techniques through the lens of literature.  

What will they learn, why are they learning it, and how will they learn it?

As most high paying jobs are technology based and most low paying jobs are becoming automated, it is paramount that students know how to engage in the computational thinking of coding and learn how to create something from the codes.  These are two things computers need us to do for them for to work.  My unit will ask students to take the themes I am giving them and code the text for instances where they appear. Students must invent the code, annotate the novel coding for the theme, and then record the frequency of the themes in a graphs.  Next, students will be responsible for dis-aggregating the text even further by coding instances where mystery, tension, and surprise occur and connecting that to the text’s structure and form and share how it connects to the overall themes.

But I’m not stopping there.  

Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 12.57.57 AM.pngStudents then have to research the themes (justice and education) as they are represented in (social) media and track the likes, shares, and views of the pages that reflect the themes revealed in the story.  All of this is underscored by a study in the semantics of language.  Language is the mother of all power dynamics.  If students can master the power of language, explicit and implicit, the world is their oyster.  B&B kids are learning to read and manipulate subs in friendship circles, the workforce, and government structures!  Mira esa viana.

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The train is still picking up steam.

So now it’s been 6 weeks and I can’t stop.

So this next unit will piggy-back off the previous unit and it will be all about research.  Students will choose an injustice that is currently happening in the school. They will research the injustice, because if it’s happening in my school, it’s happening in other schools.  They will present the problem, several solutions, and as many pros and cons of the solutions as the entire 9th grade come up with.

Yup, the other 9th grade teachers are on board.  

The students will then create several proposals on how to repair the injustice.  Oh yeah, Screen Shot 2017-11-30 at 12.58.25 AM.pngdid I mention that one of the requirements is to get a certain amount of parent support and collaboration?  The students will choose the platform with which they will communicate their ideas and stances.  They can rap, dance, draw, make a PSA, write an essay, or do anything that shows mastery of language and rhetoric that attempts to persuade the administration to make a change.  

Imagine what admin will think when they see posters, graphs, and speeches!

Even if they don’t get what they want, they will have learned a great deal.  In life you won’t always get what you want, but if you know how to create your own world, you don’t need wyteashers or anyone else telling you how and why you should be acting and living.  

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