Posts Tagged ‘teacher’

NEA Today Article: Border Crossing

August 19, 2008

BORDER CROSSING

NEA Today

By John Rosales

Throughout the year, Rivera High School custodian Ramón Tamayo fires up his grill to celebrate his children’s birthdays. In addition to standards like hot dogs and chicken, his inventive Tex-Mex menu might feature cabrito (roasted goat), menudo (tripe soup), and ceviche (marinated shrimp).

In 2006, when Tamayo’s friend from work, second-year teacher and native New Yorker Matthew Webster, attended the birthday party of Tamayo’s 12-year-old daughter, he learned a classic Brownsville, Texas, tradition.

“They grill on the front lawn here,” says Webster, 24. “In New York, we grill in back.”

Grilling traditions are just one of many differences between these unlikely pals: a teacher and a custodian from separate generations, with diverse backgrounds and a different first language. Yet, their friendship developed around what they have in common: a passion for soccer and a commitment to helping students deal with cultural barriers.

Webster would seek out Tamayo, 54, after school as Tamayo cleaned classrooms during his evening work shift.

“It was our time to talk,” says Webster. “After I found out that he played and coached soccer in Mexico, I asked for his help with the team.”

In addition to teaching English and ESL, Webster also coaches a speech club and the junior varsity boys soccer team.

“¿Cómo se dice esta palabra (How do you say this word)?” Webster says he would ask in one breath, then in the next, “Which is the best soccer team in Mexico?” Tamayo always took the time to answer.

“He took me under his wing,” Webster says. And that’s exactly what Webster needed. The lifelong East Coaster had signed up with Teach for America after his 2006 graduation from Penn State. Traveling down to the Rio Grande Valley, Webster imagined “tumbleweed and cowboy country.” In reality, he says, he found “America’s Mexico.”

He recalls the first time he came to the security checkpoint about 50 miles north of where he would be living. “I wondered what kind of place I was going to…a no-man’s land where they stop motorists and inspect their cars.”

The high school honors graduate and marathon runner who studied in Ireland found himself more than a little disoriented among the farms, fields, and sweat of Texas’ southernmost city.

“I didn’t know who to go to with language and cultural issues,” says Webster.

He felt fortunate that Tamayo was willing to help him navigate his new home, a place of many intersections, between First and Third Worlds, wealth and poverty, English and Spanish.

Tamayo has worked at Rivera for three years but he’s lived in the city for almost 20. He knows many of the school’s 2,000 students and most of the neighborhoods in Brownsville and its sister city of Matamoros, Mexico. Reflective and reserved but not without a sense of humor, Tamayo speaks little English and is known as an excellent cook and athlete who once coached soccer in Mexico.

“He is very important to me,” says Tamayo, in Spanish, of Webster. “We have different backgrounds, but once we got to know each other we found out we have a lot in common.”

It’s not unusual for a new teacher to find a friend or mentor who is an education support professional (ESP), says Laura Montgomery, president of the NEA National Council for ESPs.

“When new teachers arrive at school, there’s always an ESP around to help them get oriented,” Montgomery says. “Teachers and ESPs might have different roles [at school], but they have the same mission to serve students.”

In addition to classroom issues, Webster and Tamayo also enjoy talking about Brownsville’s border culture.

“I taught him to eat Mexican food with lots of chili,” Tamayo says.

Advertisements

Pontevedra, Day 1

April 26, 2008

One of the most beautiful things about traveling is that it absolutely opens ones´eyes to the Imagination of God and the inherent Good in all people.  Whether it´s the stewardess who helps you up to first-class seats and then showers free food on you, or it´s the friendly stranger who takes an inordinate amount of time making sure you understand his directions, it is good to travel because it puts you at the mercy of Providence. 

I find I understand most of the Spanish spoken here in the verdant city of Pontevedra.  My freshman English students, my primary teachers of Spanish over the past two years, would most certainly be proud.  It is humbling and thrilling to put myself in the place of my students coming across the bridge from Matamoros for the first time, to immerse themselves in a language and a culture alien to their ears and hearts.  Everything here in Spain seems new, as it surely must for many of my students the first time they realized that our public schools provide free food for lunches and have a surplus of computers.  As an ongoing Spanish-as-a-Second-Language student, I will try to make my ESL students in Brownsville, Texas, proud of their teacher. 

The chance to study immigration and education with Rotary International is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  New as I am to Rotary, its ideals of worldwide community, peace, and brotherhood sync with my own life philosophy of nonviolence.  As we were greeted at the airport gate by Rotarians Jose and Alejandro, we immediately felt welcome in this new land.  I am struck, though, by the fact that this welcome should not be peculiarly noteworthy if we truly believe in the ¨inescapable network of mutuality.¨ It is sad that so few immigrants receive such a welcome when they come to a new land.  May I learn how to extend this welcome to all.

Nopales, Enemies, and Assets…

April 6, 2008

Gandhi once wrote, “In the dictionary of the non-violent there is no such word as an external enemy” (Satyagraha, 93). This concept is key to understanding the dynamics of India’s liberation movement, King’s civil rights movement, and the ongoing use of nonviolence. For Gandhi, an “enemy” is just someone who doesn’t realize they are his friend yet. If one views opposition as a potential ally, then reconciliation is the aim rather than victory. Victory is achieved together through mutual progress.

Relocating to la frontera, one is confronted with a host of new cuisine. Barbacoa (stewed beef cheek), tamales veracruzano (corn paste baked in a banana leaf), elotes (roasted corn swimming in mayonnaise), menudo (spicy stew made of cow intestines and touted to be the ultimate hangover cure) – all these new foods astound newcomers to the border and remind us all of limitless creativity.

But the food I love best here in Brownsville and Matamoros are nopales.

Nopales are prickly-pear cacti. Their fruits, tunas, are a delicious mix between honeydew and pomegranate. But it is the spiky cacti themselves that are a delicacy here on the border. De-spined, the green fleshy vegetable is diced and stewed for hours. It is often served with eggs for breakfast – mmmm, huevos con nopales in the morning.

I am struck by the nonviolence this food embodies. Most people when confronted with a cactus write it off as something to be avoided, a painful and dangerous plant. Other people would try to clear these cacti from their land, equating them with weeds and scrub. But the Mexicanos and Tejanos on this border look at these short, spiky plants and see nourishment. Instead of a nuisance, nutrition; instead of an enemy, an asset.

In life, there are those who view people as assets, and those who view people as liabilities. Those who call for the mass deportation of 12 million people, even at the staggering cost of $100 billion dollars, see people as liabilities. Homeland Security currently views people as liabilities and threats so much that it is willing to disregard 39 laws protecting men, women, and animals in order to rush the construction of the border wall. Nativistic dialogue from xenophobic showman highlight the worst in us humans, while neglecting to show the millions of individuals committed both to their family and this country.

We must recognize that every person is an asset to our nation if this is truly to become a fully-integrated Beloved Community. As a teacher and a nonviolent social activist, I must look at people and see their potential for goodness rather than their capacity for evil. In the end, everyone’s a nopale – it simply depends on how we look at them.

Teachers as Natural Social Activists

March 20, 2008

    Social activism begins the moment you feel responsibility instead of pity for others.

    While I have long been socially conscious, it wasn’t until I began teaching last year that I became a social activist. When I accepted the impressive responsibility of 130 souls, when I understood that I was entrusted to advocate for these young lives and the community they would inherit, I had no other choice but to begin to take action.

    Teaching has to be one of the best professions for becoming a social activist. Day in and day out, one is confronted with housing policies, welfare programs, child protective services, police, insurance policies, medical bills, immigration laws, educational reform, refugee policies, family reunification bills, literacy initiatives, and a host of other community services and government programs. The classroom is a crossroads of current events and a nexus of legislation and its effects on our most impressionable population – our children.

    I have been criticized from friends and family members outside of the teaching profession when I refer to my students as “my kids” or “mi’jos.” While I can appreciate their concerns, I don’t know if it is possible for a teacher to truly excel at their job if they do not feel like every single student is in someway their child. As I see past students in the hall and quiz them about their success in English class this year, it is more as a parent than a teacher. When I write recommendations for students like Jack, who recently was awarded a hefty scholarship at Our Lady of the Lake in Texas, it is more as a mentor than an academic instructor. When I speak with parents at open houses and conferences, we converse not as combatants but as co-guardians of this child’s future. It is impossible to be a good teacher without feeling this sense of responsibility and investment in students’ success beyond one’s classroom.

    This past spring break, while most of my students sat at home waiting for school to begin again, I had the privilege to march 126 miles against an unjust border wall proposed through my kids’ homes and lives. I was joined by countless other students and educators. I am sure teachers like Elizabeth Stephens, Elizabeth Golini, Andrea Guengrich, Patricia Flanagan, Mike and Cindy Johnson, and Cole Farnum all came to care about the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in much the same manner. All of us have students who have pricked our hearts; all of us feel a sense of responsibility for improving the community both because we see its shortcomings and because we see the enormous potential in each and every one of our students. We hope to help shape a community which will harness the potential for goodness that we have witnessed within every single young person.

    It is my earnest hope that, when I shake my freshman students’ hands on the graduation stage three years from now, that I will be able to do so as a person who has helped to change them and the world they are inheriting. As Cesar Chavez so eloquently wrote,

Once change begins, it cannot be stopped:

You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.

You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.

You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

(“Address to the UFW’ 7th Constitutional Convention, September 1984, pg. 121)

Once my students have learned that “Words are Power,” once they have understood themselves and their own agency, and once they realize that they hold within themselves all they need to change the world – once they know this, I can rest assured that these students will take good care of my future children and grandchildren.

La Frontera or My Students as Teachers

March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday Entrance to UT-Brownsville- March 16, 2008

    We teachers often say that we learn much more from our students than we could ever hope to teach in a year. This took on new meaning as I marched this past spring break on the No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX, from March 8-16. Though I can boast good high school teachers and an undergraduate degree in English from Penn State, my real learning started a year and a half ago when I moved down to la frontera.

    I knew no one. My nearest family was 2,000 miles away on the other border. I drove my Dodge Spirit from the Saint Lawrence of upstate New York to the Rio Grande of downstate Texas. It took me a while to reconcile a New York minute to a Mexican manana, and for the first few months I was overwhelmed with the new culture and my first year teaching. I quickly realized my few years of high-school Spanish class in Troy, Pennsylvania, was probably not going to cut it in a place where close to 90% of people claim Spanish as their first language.

    And so, thousands of miles away from my fiance and my family, my freshman high-school students taught me about family, about priorities, about volunteerism, nonviolence, and communication. When I was forced to condense my 16 years of education into a single lesson plan day after day, I quickly realized the important lessons I had learned over the years and those teachers who had done a great job. My students were patient, and over the semesters I have gained a working fluency from a multitude of one-on-one tutoring sessions, parent-teacher conferences, and after-school “Teach Mr Webster Spanish” classes.

    They must have been so proud when I went from monosyllabic responses to being able to understand when they used vulgarity in the class (well, at least most of them were happy). Some students still express surprise when they learn I have phoned home to their parents to tell them good or bad news about their child’s progress in my class; the other students chime in with, “DUH! Ya el habla espanol!”

    So, it was with great pride that I shared the following article with my students on the first Monday of classes back from spring break. It ran on in La Frontera on March 12, 2008.

“De acuerdo con el profesor de inglés como segundo idioma de la Escuela Preparatoria Rivera en Brownsville y organizador de la marcha, Mathew Webster señaló que su razón principal de estar en contra del muro son sus estudiantes (en su mayoría inmigrantes), que llegan al Valle con sus familias para tener un mejor futuro.
“En mis clases todos mis estudiantes son inmigrantes y como entrenador de fútbol, también todos los jugadores son inmigrantes, los cuales tienen familias y una vida en ambos lados, manifestó Webster. “Por lo que creo que este muro es horrible y una falta de respeto a la cultura, la vida y a las familias”.
El agregó que la idea de reparar el dique y utilizarlo como muro sigue siendo algo negativo para esta región ya del lado de México se verá como un simple muro.
“El mensaje para la gente del Valle es tener esperanza, el muro aun no existe y tenemos la esperanza de que si unimos nuestras voces contra este lograremos impedir la construcción”, concluyó el maestro de inglés.” http://www.lafronteratx.com/articles/fronterizo_18389___article.html/marchan_muro.html

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

In this 15-minute interview, I was able to communicate in my newfound second language that because my students and soccer players are immigrants and have lives on both sides of the river, I believe a wall is a horrible symbol lacking respect for their culture, lives, and families. I was also able to impart that the message this March was trying to send was that the Valley must have hope, because the wall does not exist yet. We must have hope and unite our voices to stop the construction of this border wall.

    My students, barring the one or two who chuckled at my sometimes forced Spanish pronunciation, were overjoyed to see that I had made this much progress. 7th period even clapped for their maestro. I have rarely been prouder, and neither have they.

    After they said they would continue to give me more lessons, I shared the most important thing they had taught me. The primary reason I am against the wall is not the environment it will destroy, the economy it will cripple, the beauty it will abolish, the politics it will play, or the dollars it will disappear. The main reason I am against any sort of border wall is because my students deserve better than a border wall. Because they have taught me the plight of the immigrant in this country, I will campaign with the rest of my life for real immigration reform rather than symbols of evil like a border wall. Because my students and their families deserve to have the same opportunities as people in the rest of these United States, I am absolutely opposed to any border wall or border-levee compromise that distracts from the real, pressing issue of providing for immigrant students through legislation like the DREAM Act.

    To last year’s students of F210 and this year’s students of F114, thank you for the life lessons you have taught your teacher. I pray I have been able to impart some life lessons to all of you as well.

http://s239932935.onlinehome.us/index.php/brownsville-walk.html

Speech for an Education Club at UT-Brownsville

February 25, 2008

    I was asked to come speak here tonight on the No Border Wall Walk, issues of immigration, and my occupation educating high-school ESL students. As an English teacher, it is always heartening to find a common theme, and there most certainly is a vein running through all of these somewhat disparate topics. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way in his essay “Loving your Enemies”:

An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…”

The concept that man is innately good and will do good if educated, encouraged, and allowed to do so by law – this concept shapes my hopes and my dreams and demands my participation in immigration, education, and nonviolent demonstrations such as the No Border Wall Walk.

 

    Unlike many teachers, I had not always dreamed of being a teacher. True, I had excellent teachers and mentors who shaped my young life, but I always thought they had shaped me to be a writer, an artist. It wasn’t until I actually set out to be a freelance writer in New York City that I realized the hard truth – not only was it next to impossible to get a job without first having a job, it also would bore me to death to stare only at words all day long. So, I applied to Teach For America and was accepted to teach English in the Rio Grande Valley.

    At this point, my audience must know that one of my favorite verses comes in Esther 4:14, “…And who knows but that you have come to [this] position for such a time as this?” That is precisely how I felt, coming to Brownsville, Texas, the poorest city in the United States, just as the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. Teaching English-as-a-Second-Language students caused me to experience firsthand the immigration process, the excruciatingly slow wait of approved immigrants awaiting their lottery number, the pained reality that for some families, to leave Brownsville would be to leave their loved ones, huddled just across the river.

    ESL education is my job, and I try hard to equip my students with the skills they need to be literate. My goal is for them to be able to mean what the write and write what they mean, but also to be discerning of any message they encounter. However, I also realize my job as a teacher is only one part educator. The role of mentor has been paramount to my students and to my job satisfaction.

    In an effort to impart the ideas of social activism and nonviolence, while also readying my students for college, we spent a 6-week grading period reading inspiring documents by King, Chavez, Gandhi, Thoreau. Every 6-week marking period, students are required to internalize this spirit of volunteerism and community service. Because I feel most people are just waiting for an excuse to do good, it is easy for me to ask this of my students. And most of them have responded with impressive results. Many students attended school-sponsored service outings to the Gladys Porter Zoo, Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, Boca Chica Beach, and Vermillion Elementary School. Some students even invented their own good turns, from mowing lawns and babysitting to cutting hair and painting a house.

 

    Teaching also excited my passion for immigration issues. Over the years teaching ESL students and other recent immigrants, I have become a staunch advocate of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of a border wall of any thickness or design, our nation and the globalized world need the United States to lead with progressive immigration legislation which decriminalizes immigrants, vastly remodels or replaces the current quota system, and which allows current residents viable means to earned citizenship.

    This passion for immigration puts me at odds with the border wall, for moral issues as well as social, economic, and environmental ones. Because I feel that people are good but sometimes make wrong decisions, I feel that liberalizing immigration reform would allow both American citizens and the 12 million extralegal Americalmosts a chance to do “good” by immigration. Given the opportunity and the hope, would-be immigrants would try the legal means which have previously been denied or delayed them. Given the right laws, Americans could welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms into our diversifying communities, our flagging economy, and our cultural melange.

 

    And that is what finally brings me to espouse nonviolence as the proper and only means of advocating against the border wall and for immigrants and the border region. Nonviolent demonstrations, unlike any other form of protest or persuasion, allows both sides of a conflict the opportunity to live up to their absolute best. The nonviolent protester advocates in a way that encourages goodness, and the opposing groups are challenged to compromise and/or amend their thinking to the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV).

    There are thousands of people in these United States simply waiting to speak out and leave behind the silent majority. Dr King wrote in his Autobiography that, “The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people,” and there are countless Americans stateside and abroad who are trying to end the tragedy. “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This Victor Hugo quotation which Dr. King riffed on many a speech sums up the importance of my life philosophy. The time for immigration reform has come, the need for nonviolent protests is readily apparent, and the necessity to educate our youth “in the ways they should go” (Psalm 32:8 NIV) – all these are upon us.

    Let us work diligently under the assumption that our brothers and sisters are simply waiting for the right opportunity to act on the good. Perfect love, the kind that drives out fear, is necessary to be successful in life’s meaningful endeavors. As former SNCC Chairman and current Congressman John Lewis writes in Walking with the Wind,

It is a love that accepts and embraces the hateful and the hurtful. It is a love that recognizes the spark of the divine in each of us, even in those who would raise their hand against us, those we might call our enemy. This sense of love realizes that emotions of the moment and constantly shifting circumstances can cloud that divine spark. Pain, ugliness, and fear can cover it over, turning a person toward anger and hate. It is the ability to see through those layers of ugliness, to see further into a person than perhaps that person can see into himself, that is essential to the practice of nonviolence. (76)

May “perfect love drive out fear” as in 1 John 4:18, and may everyone begin to work towards their ideals with the inspiring epiphany that all men are not only created equal, but also good. For extralegal immigrants and multi-generational citizens, Christians and agnostics, Republicans and Democrats, all we need is the chance.