When my kids started attending a school with a dress code, I didn’t expect my own clothes to change as well. The dress code at the kids’ new school read simply: “No clothes with words or cartoons on them.” I thought I knew why—something about avoiding unnecessary distractions in the classroom. Fair enough, I thought to myself: I want a classroom where my kids can learn. So I got right to work. Out went all the camp shirts with the names of the camps on them, out went the matching Purple Cow ice cream store t-shirts, and good-bye to Hello Kitty imploring us to bike more often. Out went my son’s cheesy Star Wars shirt that I despised and the one with the cartoon of a motorcycle with wings on it that I had always thought was kind of cute. I was left with stripes and solids. My kids didn’t seem to notice. When I dropped them off at school the next day I scanned the other kids’ clothes. I felt curiously refreshed being in a room without words or cartoons on clothes—something you wouldn’t have noticed unless it was pointed out to you, but once you did, it felt
Almost two, I stand there watching and listening, trying to learn to talk. It’s like I knew what was being said but could not say it. Frustrated as people would tease, say mama or dada I would try, but it always came out wrong. Over and over, the tongue twisters made me madder and madder until some days I just would not even try. I knew what I wanted which would make things only worse. I would cry scream and kick and just piss everyone off till I got in trouble. I would walk around the big world; being so little made things much harder on a little guy like me. Every task was ten times harder for me and would get me all upset, especially when I wanted my juice. Seeing how I was only two, I couldn’t get it myself, so I would have to try to get someone to do it for me. Not being able to talk was a big problem because I had no way of telling my dad or mom what it was I wanted. I would try and say juice but it only came out a word that I even thought was strange.
I am a teacher in a Title I school in Phoenix. For the past six years, I have been able to raise the funds to take some of my students to the Grand Canyon to take a class called “Dynamic Earth.” It is taught by the Park Rangers, who specifically deal with education and align the trips to the Arizona State Standards. Many of these students have never been out of their neighborhoods. When we get to the Flagstaff area and view the San Francisco Peaks (our tallest mountains — over 12,000 feet), my students are so excited. Last year there was a thin layer of snow at the rest area. Many had never seen snow. They ran and jumped around it until we had to get back on the bus. Their first view of the canyon was like watching children on Christmas morning or some other special occasion.The Rangers took us to a fossil bed a 1/4 mile down. They all learned that this area was once an ocean. They also learned the types of animals that lived in the ocean. Next, they hiked along the rim and learned the layers of the Canyon. The Rangers teach them the
Constructing a narrative about my own learning story has stimulated reflections on my experiences as a teacher for almost fifty years in a variety of contexts and through all sorts of trends and movements. Out of those fifty years, one decade-length experience I now see as pivotal in the development of how I approach schooling. The lessons I learned ranged from affirming, to challenging, to chastening. My career in education began with stints as a social studies teacher in high schools around Atlanta, then as a guest teacher, responding to invitations by secondary social studies teachers to conduct simulations and role-playing activities in their classrooms, presumably modeling these strategies for them. Modeling did not pay off, if measured by the number of teachers who began using simulations and role-playing in their repertoires of instructional practices. However, moving from school to school in virtually every neighborhood in Atlanta provided opportunities to observe teachers in action, as well as the climate and culture in each of those schools. The differences in resources between white and black schools stunned me. The invidious inequities in black and white schools was manifest before me on a daily basis. But it was the failure of all