CRT: Scott’s Lesson and an Earful From Ernestine

Unfortunately, I missed Alberta’s presentation on 6/23. I did read Scott’s lesson he had prepared with his colleagues as a middle school teacher on the Kenai Peninsula. It was a great example of collaboration among disciplines to empower students to take an active interest in their own education by engaging with others in their community. As we’ve addressed multiple times during our class, school doesn’t have to be boring, with a teacher merely serving to dispense knowledge from the front of the room. That may be the old model of teaching, and something I certainly experienced as a middle (junior high) and high school student. In the secondary grades, schools should encourage students to do more than just become expert note-takers. I also took to heart how Scott admitted a learning curve when implementing his curriculum. There were things he would do differently in the future. That’s another lesson I took away from David K.’s talk, that we never stop learning. I can’t ever expect as an educator to have all the answers, nor should I expect that my future colleagues will have the answers. But, as with Scott, teaching is a collaborative experience at its best. Draw on the wisdom of others and the wisdom of experience, and you’ll know how to guide your students toward a more fulfilling education experience.

As an undergrad student at UAS, I’ve know Ernestine for years. Although I haven’t yet read her book, Blonde Indian, I’ve known her to be a passionate advocate for justice in the Alaska Native community. I am also aware of the difficulties she’s had as an employee of UAS. She was very frank about her sometimes tense relationships with her colleagues, but she has demonstrated time and again her passion for teaching. I greatly admire her work, yet I also know that there’s two sides to every story. She can come across as very angry, but much of that anger is justified, and someone has to say those things! While I may not agree on the severity of present-day colonialism, evidence of oppression certainly still pervades our culture, particularly with respect to education. There is a divide between Native and non-Native. The kids certainly know it, and feel it every day. I experienced it personally when I was a student. Now, my hope is to be that one teacher, as Ernestine said, that will change the world. Not too tall of an order. That’s a teacher’s job.

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.


Culturally Responsive Teaching, Part 2

We really have had a lot of good presenters in this class. Scott had a great deal of insight, and I was quite taken by his introductory exercise and its questions for each person to discuss in a group. It was so basic and elegant. It helped us to know ourselves a little better and know one another. I wonder what other settings (even beyond the classroom) such an exercise could be used in?

Ernestine was intense, quite frankly. In fact, she was so intense that she was often a little difficult to listen to. Her story is very inspiring to me, because it represents something that I sort of wished had happened for a man who was one of my best friends in life. His name was Walter Hunker, and he was a brilliant man who spent much of his life on the very fringes of society. I actually met him in a soup kitchen. He was talking loudly, drooling on himself, and unintentionally spewing particles of food at the woman sitting across from him. At first, quite honestly, he didn’t seem like someone I would want to get to know. But later on the day when I first met him in person, I made mention of something related to history, and he asked me a (very indirectly related) question about the Roman Emperor Constantine’s mother, Helen. I was absolutely floored by his question, and as we continued to talk, I realized that he had an encyclopedic knowledge of history and geography. This encounter sparked a long-term friendship, and as I would go to visit him in his dirty, smelly apartment that was situated in a “high crime neighborhood,” I began to realize that this man’s depth of knowledge and understanding of history was superior to that of many of the men who had taught me history over the years. I once asked him why he never became a history professor. He looked at me with a wry smile and gave a one-word answer: “drugs.”

In any event, Ernestine’s story was very inspiring, in part because she is living something that I wish one of my best friends had lived. Hearing her reading, I think he would have appreciated it very much. He liked things that were gritty, because (I think) he had the mentality that it was only in hearing the gritty side of things that one can arrive at the whole truth. He certainly would not have been one to look at things only from the perspective of the white kids with their red-lipped mothers and well kept yards. But on the other hand, I don’t think he’d have been willing to stop with Ernestine’s take either. It just wasn’t how he was. He would want to go and find out how the white kids were perceiving things. Why did they run away from her drunken grandfather and his fish? Why did they make rude comments to her? What were their real underlying motives and assumptions? I doubt he’d have been sympathetic to them, in the end, but he would definitely have been driven to know more.

My friend Walter died last year. I gave a homily at his funeral. He was one of the best men I’ve ever known. And he’s not the only brilliant person I’ve known on the margins of society. But that’s a story for another time.

Rest in Peace and Memory Eternal, old friend.

Walter Hunker Edited

The power of words, tone, and cadence

Having Ernestine Hayes read to us from her books was impactful. When I read her book years ago in New Mexico, I was floored by how much I could relate to her story, despite the generational age difference between us…the place was the same and so was the institution…the institution of racism, knowing your place, belonging, and being an outsider all at the same time. As a woman of color, a Kaagwaantaan, I grow in admiration of her every time she speaks because it is not just about her words, it is also about her delivery.

Ernestine is magic. She has a way of stringing her words together in a seamless fashion that sings to you and draws you into her story so that you might catch a glimpse of what she is trying to show you. I appreciate her honesty and frank wit, especially when she is reminding people of where they are. She is unapologetic for the feelings of others when she speaks on her experiences in her life, what has happened here, and how violence will continue to be perpetuated as long as people stand by and do nothing. The title of her book, Blonde Indian speaks to the power of assimilation that reminds me of books like The Bluest Eye and Black Alice. We need more verbal illustrators, perhaps we can encourage the growth of a few through our educational strategies.

“Do not be one of those teachers that goes into these communities and works for just a year. Do not separate yourself from the community and only spend time with other teachers. Be a part of the community. If you really want to make a difference, make sure you are a part of solution.”

How to incorporate place into the classroom

I remember as a youngster learning about the absorbency of moss while on a hike with my aunt and my mom out at outer point. I remember squeezing the moss and attempting to wring it out-straight out of the muskeg and watching all of the muddy water running down my hands from the small amount of moss, Angie had handed me. Doing this activity increased my understanding of what muskeg was as well as how certain mosses would and could have been used in the past by the ancestors of this area. It was even more interesting exploring the topic in the class as an adult and having to be quiet about the answer. What was originally speculated on my part as youth was able to be confirmed through a fun hands on experiment showing that this moss could easily hold 10x it’s weight in water. Hands on lessons were always my favorite kinds of lessons because I am an exploratory learner.

One thing that I always looked forward to in elementary school were our annual Sea Week explorations where we would head to various beaches around town to explore tide pools and find sea creatures. It was because of this that I appreciated the landed jelly fish study that was done by Paula Savikko. I also find it exciting that she used it as a source of activism for her students by empowering them to learn through their passion for the environment. That type of place based stewardship is important and it makes the lessons more meaningful.

I also enjoyed the math walk. It gave us an opportunity to explore a place that we may not have been that familiar with, to practice skills that we may have not used in a long time, and to appreciate a sunny day while still being productive for class. Being someone that can not sit for very long in a classroom, I think it is going to be easy for me to incorporate active learning into my lessons and facilitations. All of these experiences were very worth while and I appreciate that we had the opportunity to participate in these exercises. I think that it has enriched and reinforced my approaches to learning.

CRT- Scott’s Lesson

There were so many parts of the inquiry based learning article and lesson that I appreciated. Scott talked about how proud his students felt to be authors and in the article he writes “our students acted as historians, scientists, statisticians, and writers.” Instead of just reading other people’s research, students were encouraged to actively engage in the research themselves. This idea not only builds knowledge and critical thinking skills, but also self-esteem… each of these topics are themes that have come up within this course.

The book the students created was rooted in place, it was all about Nikiski. Scott mentioned that many students got to interview their grandparents as part of the project. This whole part of the unit helped students meet the student Cultural Standard A. “Culturally-knowledgeable students are well grounded in the cultural heritage and traditions of their community.” (60) I really like projects that give students a chance to connect with family and view their own family members as experts in their culture, traditions, and history.

Within the article, I really appreciated the way students were given a chance to reflect on the process of building the book about Nikiski. It’s great to hear the student’s voice come out in their descriptions of how they completed each section. Having students write about the process could act as an assessment tool and give an educator the chance to refine the process for future projects.

CRT- Update

Imagination+Imagery+Combined Disciplines= Effective Teaching

Michelle shared a history lesson about the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian islands; she used beautiful black and white photos to guide our conversation and require us to use problem solving skills to discern what had happened. The photos were very powerful, and I could see this being very effective in the classroom. The students get to be detectives, combining imagination and common sense to deduce the story behind the photo.

Scott shared a book he had his students put together in Nikiski. The students shared everything from poetry to statistics, and sought material throughout the community. His students pulled skills from multiple disciplines and were allowed to showcase their own creativity and feeling.

I think both of these lessons demonstrate effective teaching and culturally responsive teaching. Michelle’s lesson started opened with photos and then built on personal knowledge instead of what the teacher already know, or what the teacher expected students to already know. Scott’s lesson allowed students to build their own experiences and use academic subjects to reflect on their community, as they experience it.