Struggles

This is not the paper I wrote. It may have been the paper I intended to write, but I’m not entirely certain. What I know is that what I did write made me ashamed to be called a grad student. A writer.

Right now I feel like Paolo at the knee of Luis, learning how to write. It is with shaky, unsure hands that I attempt to put together my thoughts, my understandings, what I have learned. I am Paolo, writing the five words I know in the mud with a whip, then with a red face, erasing them, embarrassed.

I wonder how much of my struggle with putting the words on the paper has to do with shift in identity. The more I read, the more unsure I become about myself as an educator. I want to say that I agree with the social constructivist approach, that learning can/should be scaffolded, as we build our new knowledge by connecting it to something we already know, but at the same time, I want to step back and allow my students to discover. To take control of their learning and learn not only what is being taught on the surface, but the hidden curriculum (because teachers have it too, though some are more aware than others) as well.

I struggle to find the balance between supporting my students’ learning with direct instruction, allowing them to support each other, and requiring independent practice. Te way we read it seems like one theorist says “This is the way is should be,” and another says “No, this is the way it should be,” and I forget that a balance is necessary and I don’t have to agree with all of what a theorist purports.

Glassman (2001) explains that “Dewey places interest at the center of the educational process [because] interest is not something that can be created within the educational context, but must come from the interaction between the person and the situation” (p. 10). From this account, it seems like Dewey is in favor of problem-based learning, combatting issues of student motivation with interest. Additionally, if inquiry is built through the educational system, then the act of stopping at the next problem disappears and humans are no longer comfortable with a simple, pleasant lot.

But interest is another thing I struggle with. Because of phantom policies in place in schools, those policies that determine what students will learn. Why read Romeo & Juliet? Why read The Odyssey? How do we get past that these texts so culturally entrenched in our society that everyone must read them? (Franzak, 2008). Who decides what texts should hold value, what the purpose of reading is, and what we should teach in language arts classes? All of that said, what, even is the purpose of a language arts class? Sumara (2002) suggests that from reading literature and from learning close reading skills he learned how to pay attention to small details outside of the text, too.

We talk a lot about the need for culturally relevant texts–texts that our students can identify with. I can’t remember whether I made this point in class or not, but that’s easier to do in places like southwestern New Mexico, where the majority of the population is Latino. In bigger cities, in places where it is more culturally diverse, it’s difficult to choose texts that cater to the myriad languages and cultures that a school’s students represent. Understand, however, that I am not posing an argument for the canon. I do think that the texts we choose shouldn’t be bleached, which is my issue with the common core suggested texts for language arts. Many of the texts are in the public domain, and represent a time and place that is not accessible to many students.

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