Culturally Responsive Teaching Reflection – Part II

Scott Christian Lecture
Scott spoke about his experience teaching in Nikiski, using his discipline in Language Arts to bring a sense of communal empowerment for his students. I think it is crucial for students to see that their work may have a positive impact on those who they are not connected to…a public audience.

When I was working at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School in Juneau as the Student Empowerment and Support Specialist, part of my duties included programming events and activities for fostering community development; an opportunity came up to combine my passions of teaching and empowering, when the art teacher went on a month-long leave, allowing me to develop my own curriculum. I created a project called “Story Painting” which had students incorporate their significant life experiences into a painting. The project concluded with a student exhibition, which took place during a school-wide talent show, providing an opportunity for community members (parents, district staff) to view student work. The gallery was nothing fancy-thumbtacks on walls-but watching students explain their work to their friends or family members, I got the feeling that their confidence was rising. Because the gallery was done in a group setting, it was safe for some students to publicly display their work, and the end result was really powerful for me.

Alberta’s Lecture (presented by Angie)
Angie spoke about the relationship that school teachers may develop with Elders and how a respectful interaction between the two is necessary. When I think about this concept, I am often quick to think about how this sounds like common sense, but I have to check myself in realizing that I have not, and do not do this often enough.

I saw the power of gratitude when I was invited to make Devil’s Club salve with my students, under the direction of a Tlingit Elder. When the students were done making the salve, they gifted small jars to all of the guest instructors who have come into their classes for the past year. The students also recognized that although the Elder visited the students at the school, in fact, the students were the ones who were invited to learn from the Elder; the Elder was basically allowing the students to take some salve in return for helping her make the batch. I think this level of humility is really moving, and like David Katzeek’s comment on how the youth are equals to the Elders, the students at Yaakoosge Daakahidi really displayed a profound sense of mutual respect.

Ernestine’s Reading
Ernestine Hayes’ reading from her book, The Blonde Indian, was extremely triggering for me. Ernestine spoke about her experiences in her primary school, and how she was labeled as a “Seagull” (“lower-level readers”) as opposed to a “Bluebird” (“higher-level readers”). I remember when I first moved to the U.S., I was put into an ESL (English as Second Language) group. I appreciated the additional support I got in adjusting to a new school, but some of my teachers labeled me as being “slow” because I was not fluent in English. I internalized these experiences, and they had a traumatic impact in my life.

Ernestine also said that you are either fighting against injustices, or perpetuating the status quo, and that there was no neutral ground, a statement which empowers me. Unfortunately, the reality is that White people have created a racist system in the U.S., and that without our choice, we are all part of the system…and this means that our actions may always be politically weighed. It is a stressful feeling, and even suffocating to an extent, especially as a Person-of-Color, but I think that when I step back and reflect on Ernestine’s statement, I know that my future directions become clearer.

 

2 thoughts on “Culturally Responsive Teaching Reflection – Part II”

  1. Hey Chris. Ernestine’s quote about either combating colonialism or perpetuating it was powerful for me as well. It’s a huge responsibility, but it’s undeniable that everything we say in a classroom carries political weight given the unjust system we’ll be working in. It’s gonna take a huge amount of care and focus to be a fair, effective teacher for all of our students, but it’s a necessary task.

  2. Chris- Thank you for creating what sounds like such a positive project with students at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School. I appreciate that you recognized how you could create a safe space for students to display their work — “it was safe for some students to publicly display their work, and the end result was really powerful for me.”

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