Fred Ramirez

FRED RAMIREZ:

with Cal State University Fullerton a teacher educator in secondary education.  Chair for the multi-cultural ed. courses because at Cal State Fullerton we have chairs for different classes and run one of the teacher, pre-service teacher ed. seminars.   Cal State Fullerton has a one year gradual induction program and I’m the seminar coordinator for one of our professional districts and I teach a masters level course on families and schools.

When I taught as a high school teacher I taught both in a parochial school, uh a parochial high school was as school that I graduated from and then I was able to teach in an urban school in Los Angeles.  Um the courses that I taught as a first year teacher, I was one of those that was kind of thrown into everything uh because I was brought in at mid year.  It was quite the experience um because uh I graduated from this place and so my heart and soul was at this school and I was told that the junior class was like the worse class uh and that was and that was my first introduction to teaching um and so I taught, I graduated from San Diego state with a with a degree in social studies because that’s what I wanted to teach but coming in a mid year I was told that I was to teach English um specifically Shakespeare.  Uh I was I was going to be teaching geography, I was going to be teaching um social justice and public speaking.  So I had four four preps um and five classes.  And then when I transferred to the urban school I taught uh U.S. – U.S. History and I think the reason why I I got the job was they asked me if I wanted to teach sheltered kids and I said sure what what is it.  Because I just wanted a job so there great you’re going to teach it.  So I so I taught both uh sheltered ed. and regular ed. U.S. – U.S. history.

Sheltered ed. it’s it’s their first class after ESL and so so it’s um there’s a model um a ----(?)  while I was taking courses in it while um I found out that it was just a good way of teaching all my students.  Um so I so I taught sheltered ed., regular ed. in U.S. History and then a multicultural ed. course.

I think the biggest boundary that we as educators have to cross is the boundaries that we have within our own selves.  Um that’s the biggest thing.  One of the issues that I try to let let all of my students know is um that that population that you’re that you’re probably going to be teaching is a population that that you are not apart of.  Meaning that uh often times we are not blessed to go back to the school that you graduated from.  Um fortunately I was I was blessed with my first job to go back to the first place that I was able to teach and so I kind of knew what the population was.  But still things changed.  Um everything changes every single year um student what you know the style of dress changes the the vernacular changes, um and so um I think the I think what teachers need to realize that um they haven’t been in in in schools while they are in school and so it’s so possible four to five years has has has passed on.  So it’s it’s that it’s it’s that boundary of recognizing that you’re putting yourself in a in a new community, a new environment, and you as a teacher have have to adjust um cause it’s it’s it’s it was difficult for me initially thinking that things at my old school haven’t changed um and then when I went in in there with my own thoughts and my own perceptions of what reality was um it woke me up.  Um because things had changed.

Some of the realities with with diverse populations is that first of all um when I teach my multicultural ed. course in teacher ed. I let my students know on the very first day that diversity is more than skin color and last name.  Um and often time people don’t realize that.  Um when when people look at me some of the things that they may think about is that one I was born and raised in a um urban environment.  I went to I went to urban schools, I was a product of bilingual education, my parents were from a low SES background, um and I speak Spanish.  None of that applies to me.  Um and so one so one of the struggles that often the teachers have is that they forget about this.  That they don’t realize that the that the issue of diversity also means learning diversities.  Um you could you could have a you could have teachers who are who learn in a visual way but they teach in a different way or they teach in a visual way but there’s other students in that class that are auditory learners and so the teacher doesn’t change.  Um some of the issues also with with the area of diversity um is that often most of out teachers nationwide are middle class white females uh and that’s just a given uh and often time they’re they’re they’re going into schools that doesn’t match that population and so they as as people um they may not be used to the type of population or they haven’t had contact with this type of population.  Myself when I um when I taught at an urban in Los Angeles um it was probably about 90% Hispanic uh and so I immediately thought they were all Mexican-American, wrong.  They came from Columbia, they came from El Salvador, um I immediately thought that they all had to parents, wrong.  Um all um a lot of them were coming from single parent families, a lot of them were um were being raised by an older sibling.  Um and so my my my world was jumping up and down um and so I had to learn as a teacher I had to adjust with this di- with this diverse crowd that now I was apart of and because of that barrier I I brought bias into the classroom um and and I found that I had to get over it.  My students didn’t have to get over it, I had to get over it because it was my job to teach um and so so I had to adjust.

I remember when I went to a parent teacher conference which was held at ten o’clock in the morning which most often times parent teacher conferences are and so parents have to take time off of work which is for some parents it’s very difficult and so if they don’t show up then that means they don’t care um and from the educating, uh educator side as well.  I showed up late to a parent teacher conference for one of my students, Doug, um and I came walking in and the look in everybody’s face was just sullen.  Doug was uh was a sophomore um getting D’s, D’s and F’s in many many of his of his classes and the parents we just they they were emotional spent and during this parent teacher conference because all of Doug’s teachers were there, they’re all pointing fingers at, you know Doug’s doing this and he shouldn’t be doing this.  Uh the parents kids were running um all over the you know all over because they had to come so they couldn’t find a day care person to take care of them.  I I come walking in, well hey Doug how’s it going?  And he was just looking at me and and the personable ----(?) do you have any thing to say about Doug?  Why yah he’s a great kid and the look in Doug’s face um I’ll never forget that look.  The look on the parents faces um just because one teacher said something positive about their son their their face just lit up.  The faces on my colleagues faces uh or the looks on my colleagues the look on the principle’s face immediately looked at me and they were like you’re not suppose to be saying this.  My -----(?) Doug has definite, definitely has some problems but he’s doing well in XYZ and if we just work more on XYZ everything else is going to be fine.  Um after that after that since you know I was the last one to speak, the parents immediately came up to me and said thank you so much.  That taught me that I needed to make phone calls, positive phone calls home and one one of the things that was really cool was that when I made these positive phone calls home, um especially after one of my students was getting D’s and then got a C.  I said well I need to call the parents and I said hi this is Mr. Ramirez and the first thing out of their mouths was like well what did he do?  Because parents are use to negative phone calls, oh no no everything going fine I just was calling to let you know that Jamie got a C, and you know he’s doing well and that’s it.  And there was like silence.  Well the next day at at at school everybody knew, all the students know that Mr. R made positive phone calls.  Um Jamie’s scores started to go up more, the next test was given out and then students were like uh Mr. R could you call my parents um and so just by just by doing that and just by having that positive reinforcement changed a lot of things and made me think more about school-home partnerships.

What teaching educators need to do and what teachers need to realize is that the kids in their in their classrooms are somebody else’s children so and this this gets to me.  So what teacher educators need to reinforce within pre-service and in-service teachers is ask them how do you want teachers to teach your kids?  Now teach that.  Teach that way.  What do want teachers to, how do you want teachers to um communicate with you with with regards to your own kids?  Do the very same thing.  Often times teacher educators teach in a way that um teach in a way that we want to talk about --- how to deal with angry parents, not how to work with parents.  Um and and teachers are or some teachers are the very same way.  They just want to deal with parents they don’t want to work with them but they but they can’t forget that those parents love their kids.  Um I’ve been doing this for several years now and I haven’t met a parent yet that doesn’t care about their child.  Um they all do.

Some of the some of the things that schools should be doing with diverse ling—linguistically diverse communities is knowing that often times a lot of you Asian populations, a lot of your Hispanic pop—populations, especially if they’re recent immigrants, first generation U.S. people.  Is that they’ve been trained not to go to schools for parent-teacher conferences, for back to school nights, and it’s and it’s not because they don’t care it’s because they respect teachers and in their um in from their own countries they’ve been taught that uh teachers are in charge of educating kids, the parents aren’t.  So one of the things in which in which schools need need to realize is that they’re dealing with a different culture that may need to be trained about the school life.  And and it and and it just and it just doesn’t come by having the teacher say well you have to come.  The the um the school has to be a welcome, a welcoming place.  Schools are not welcoming places.  Um if you see a parent walk on campus what is the first thing that you’re thinking about?  That their kids in trouble.  Um and so by changing back to school night to a Saturday festival which I’ve been working with schools with.  Changed the whole dynamics.  By sending out personal invitations to the to these different populations then when then when the parent or the or the guardian um gets this note from Mrs. Smith whose their child’s history teacher then that parent or guardian says well Mrs. Smith wants me there so I need to go.  So it’s that personal invitation, it’s that personal touch.  Um what they, what schools need to realize is that it’s a they’re dealing with a different culture completely different culture.  We’ve been taught that that education is everything um there is this one mom who was called into a to a parent teacher conference and the mom was from Guatemala and the teacher wanted to speak to the mom with regards to her daughters behavior.  Um and so so so the teacher was commenting that that this woman’s daughter was socializing way too much and the mom said well good that’s a good thing.  Um and the teacher said no, they, she’s here to learn and the mom’s mindset was that schools were a were a place where the daughter can learn so um so – socialization skills because in Guatemala it’s a completely different system where as here it’s academics.  And so and so that so that there is is um is a clash of cultures um and and so what the teacher needed to do was to realize that this is this is a different state of mind for this family and so they needed work on saying well okay well now how can we make it work so so that this girl learns to be social but also gets the academic and so they had to work on something.

School in part --- partnership differences between elementary and secondary ed. uh huge differences.  Um I think the main difference is is that I think secondary ed. is doing a terrible job with regards to uh educating pre-service teachers.  And the reason why I I say I say that is that in the elementary field they’re teaching the pre-service teachers to be a teacher, to get to know the student, to find out the um how a child develops.  In secondary ed. we’re training people to be content specialist.  We’re not training the to be teachers.  So um so from uh kindergarten through third grade parent involvement is I mean it’s its’ there um the teachers want it the parents want it and then I think around fourth fourth grade, fourth of fifth grade it starts to go down and this is where teachers are becoming more specialized.  Uh and one of things that teachers often see is that well students don’t want their parents there.  Um it’s and that’s and that’s not true.  Um I just got done doing a study along with other people who have who have done the very same thing, looking at students attitudes towards parents and parents in- involvement and mine was at the high school level.  And the and the surveys came back saying that the students do want their parents there.  Other studies were saying students do want their parents there, parents do want to be there and the secondary ed. level.  It’s the teachers that don’t want the parents there.  So that’s the biggest obstacle.  But it’s not the teacher’s fault, again it’s us.  It’s us in secondary ed. um because often times we’re not training teachers to learn about parents.  We’re teaching or we’re training people to be math specialists, to be history specialists, not to be teachers.

Some of the better ways to communicate with with with homes.  There’s there’s many things that you can do.  The first and foremost thing is to make a make a positive phone call home and I questioned that once I was teaching because my main argument is like I have a 150 students I can’t call up all the parents.  Um but I found out that during my prep period I was able to make maybe five five to ten phone calls home and if it was a positive phone call home and I got the answering machine, chances are the student is isn’t going to go back and erase it um because if if you make a phone call home and it’s negative and the child gets home before the parents do they’re going to erase it.  So positive communication’s first.  Secondly what what schools need to realize is the if they’re do—if they’re working with a diverse population there could be um language barriers.  So one of the things that that that the schools are doing are bringing in parent volunteers to um to to act as interpreters.  What what many schools are doing also which which I think is really cool, at least at the secondary ed. level is the newsletters are being sent in dif—in different languages.  But there’s also a um high schools and high school departments like like like what we were doing.  We were we developed a department newsletter, well that would go out every couple months where the students would make it you know and talk about Mr. R’s, you know Mr. R’s class we’re doing XY and Z.  Um and the parents loved it and it it and the kids were not not only learning how to develop a newsletter but they were but they were also um working working on their lan—language skills.  They were working on trying to get all of this information and crunch it down into two paragraphs um and so there was there was more learning that was taking place just doing that newsletter as oppose to me talking about the U.S. and Constitution.  Um and and there’s phone trees that you know um that a lot of schools are doing um but once against it’s uh I think if what one of the better ways to communicate again starts with the positive phone call.  Um but everyone – all the the entire school has to be on board.  Um and welcoming parents into the into the schools.  Um often times – I I remember as a as a high school student um parents hated to go and go to school because the first person that they would meet was the secretary and she never smiled.  Um in fact I still remember her name.  Um because my parents hated going up uh um out there so so even the staff has to be on board with regards to welcoming parents.  Um and so if you if you do this and there’s there’s a lot more many more things that that um that schools could schools could do um it’ll change the whole dynamics of the school for the betterment of of of of kids and that’s why we’re there.

I’m indifferent towards parent like ed-educating parents to be better parents.  Um I think there are parents that definitely need to learn but they – there was this --- when when I was finishing up my dissertation um I was I was speaking to a teacher and my dissertation topic was teacher’s attitudes towards parents and parent involvement at the high school level.  Um and there was this teacher who said oh yah parent involvement yah I’m all for that well what is it?  Oh it’s training parents to be better parents and so there’s this issue of of a lot of parent involvement is parent’s education and they’re completely two different things.  And so I was asking this one of this one of these teachers more questions about this I’m like well um who would train parents to be better better parents and and her response is like I would I would love to do this.  Like great are you a parent, she said no, I’m like do you have you raised any kids, like so how how can you train train parents to be better parents, well in my secondary ed. course I took an adolescence course.  You know I was like ugh, no.  um John John Dewey in his in his lab school uh was one of the first ones who who really brought in parents to train them about about schools, but the training was in was an area of textbook adoption curriculum um and so he was he was training parents to learn about curriculum.  Try to get schools to train parents about curriculum now, that’s one of the issues that teachers fear.  Um there are there are definite skills in which I I think we could we could train parents on like how to work with you kids at at home with regards to um homework and you know all this stuff, but I never took physics and so if my kids ever taking a physics class how you know how how am I going to work with them.  I would I would like to find ways in which I could do it um but I think what what edu—what educators need to realize is that when they have these parent ed. courses they need to identify who their population is and ask them what they want to know.  Um and then parents would have more more of a by-in uh because there’s – I’ve I’ve been to some parent ed. classes and the educators are always saying well the student needs to needs needs to have a quiet place in which they could go you know do their homework and stuff um un uninterrupted and all this stuff.  What they didn’t realize is that in this particular um community a lot of a lot of families are are sharing a two bedroom ap—um apartment you know and there’s maybe three or four families there and so that kids isn’t you know isn’t going to have a space in which they can do their work and it’s never going to be quiet um and so um again I think there’s there’s good parent education that could that that could go on but I think we have to ask the parents what they what um they want to learn.

The ideal school with regards to school-home partnerships would be one in which parents felt welcomed.  That the community felt welcomed.  That there was an open door policy and I’m thinking about a um about a school in New Albany Indiana, low SES, middle school, um the uh projects are uh literally all the way around the school, um high population of African-American kids and one of my colleagues during grad school wanted me to see this school and I said great you know I let’s go over there.  So we so we went over there and the first thing that I noticed was when you when you walked into the school there was posters you know welcoming parents, welcoming everybody, but the school directory that was posted in you know right behind glass, it was in alph-- in alph alphabetical order where the where the school cafeteria person was first um like the janitor was second and the principle was some where you know you had to find him because it was in alphabetical order.  That told me a lot because the principle’s name wasn’t first, the vice-principle’s name wasn’t second and this whole hierarchy.  And I met this uh I met this man and he welcomed me with open arms, oh welcome to my school or welcome to our school dududa you know you can have fun and he was using phrases like our um and these are my kids um and so he took personal responsibility, these are my parents and he told me no one knows that you’re coming but go ahead and do what ever you want go where, go where ever you want.  I and I was like oh know the teachers aren’t going to like this but the teachers were very welcoming and one of the things that I noticed was that there was there was a noise level in this in this school.  It it wasn’t quiet there was there was noise I was like oh my gosh you know there’s classroom management issues.  But know it was it was the students that were raising their hands and they wanted to do work and it was it was it was awesome.  Um then I uh noticed that uh one of the partnerships that the um school had was with a local bank, and don’t forget these are middle school kids, and the bank put a branch in this middle school for the for the reason that parents could do their banking there and it was ran by middle school students.  Um so the students were learning about banking and uh if if if if schools just realized that uh that low SES kids, the black kids, the brown kids, who are coming from situations that you know are coming from single parent families that they can do it if just given an opportunity and the teachers at this school were also alive.  I mean they they they knew that their kids could do it um what the uh and so yet so there was a there was bank branch there, there was a there was a parent training center where parents could come in and receive and work on their um GED’s, their high school you know um graduation and it was it was just this feeling that it it was just a feeling of openness um and the parents bought into it, the and again it started with the principle and when I when I asked him about the teachers um how how he picked his teachers, how he um you know when he interviewed them, he like well the first question that I ask them is do you do do you believe that all students could could learn?  And do do you believe that parents are the most important teacher in a kids life?  He like I just ask them those two questions.  Um and and that’s it.  I’m like well you don’t look at any thing else?  He’s like no, because if they if their if their coming out of a teacher ed. program they’ve already done XY and Z, I already know that, but they don’t – they need to get they need to get over their own their their own um biases.

When I teach pre-service educators when they’re going out into schools uh because Cal State Fullerton has has a gradual induction program.  We just don’t um throw people into a into a school, they’re they uh enter during the fall um and they are there for the whole year um gradually they start to take over classes and one of the things that we’ve found is that classroom management really isn’t an issue.  The first thing that I tell them is don’t go into into the faculty lounge or go there and observe it, write down everything you’re hearing about the school and every single one of my students from the time I started doing this have all come back and said I do not want to go back into into that faculty lounge.  For the reason that that’s where that’s where the teachers are who complain about the school, complain about students and often times aren’t the better teachers.  The better teachers are are are those that my that my students have found are the ones that stay in their classrooms, that work with students during break or that or that their classroom doors are open and students just want to come on in, why?  Because they feel they feel safe there.  Um and so the language of schools is could be both positive and negative.  It depends on where you are at.  Um and often times when I work with my pre-service teachers and giving them skills about how to interact with parents um I I tell them you’re going to get a lot of flack for for this.  This stuff works um but some of the more veteran teachers are not going to like you doing this for the reason that they’re not doing it and you’re and you’re going to get results from it and so it’s going to make them look bad.  Um so I tell them keep it to yourself.  Um um unless it’s unless the principles is very encouraging with regards to calling up parents and stuff.  Because then it’s coming from the top.  Um so that’s so yah um the language of of schools is is one of the things that um that um with regards to academe that that I looked at with regards to the moral life of schools um and one of the things that I learned by looking at the the work Nick ----(name?) is that everything that we do and say within a classroom has a moral component to it um and that made me realize and that made me wake up to this whole issue of what you know what am I saying um I guess that’s why I’m I’m a little bit straight forward um and because because I I know if I don’t say what I want to say and and and if I don’t tell my pre-service teachers what life is really like they’re going to go in there and be totally shocked and so now they come back and say oh yah it’s it’s like this.

I was um a I could talk about what I do with my pre-service teachers by telling uh an incident that I had uh maybe about three or four months ago, because as as teacher educators we often don’t hear back from our pre-service teachers um kind of like high school teachers or teachers in general, we you know we never hear back about what’s about what are students are doing so I was I was out at at a school about three or four months ago supervising and one of my and I walked by this one classroom and one of my former students was there and he’s like hey, Dr. Fred come here come here I’m like no you’re you know you’re teaching something oh no come here uh and this is his first year and it was a Spanish class and and his students were kind of looking out the door what’s what’s going on so he’s like hey you guys this is my professor from Cal State Fullerton and you and you ask me why I’m calling your parents, like every single week, and they’re like yah, he’s like he’s the one and their like looking at me and and there was there was and there was a couple kids in that class that kind of looked at me and said cool.  So uh and so it’s working um and that made me feel really good because here’s a here’s a first year teacher that’s taking a lot of these strategies like making positive phone calls home um making re—reinforcement phone phone calls, having the students make newsletters to give to their parents, uh and the kids like it, and the parents like it so it it does work.

My own personal soap box with regards to educating and teaching is probably around the notion around social justice that we as teachers, we we as educators, we as people, need to work with people to better them um with any thing that they want to do but also we need to get to know them um we need to find out what their stories are because we have our own stories, we have beautiful stories.  Um when I’m teaching my multicultural ed. course it’s often my white students who say I don’t have you know I don’t have a culture you have a culture and I immediately tell them why because I’m brown?  And they well I didn’t I didn’t mean that and I’m like yes you did and it’s okay to think that you just have to learn that this is what you’re thinking uh because what I do the first day of class I show up late dressed as your stereo typical low rider from East L.A. um with my hat my sunglasses my baggy pants, baggy shirt, I come walking in with a total attitude.  Um and my students are always quiet their oh my gosh who is this guy um and then I tell them in academic jargon this is this is how they see me because they only talk about gangs, bilingual ed. low SES that’s the Hispanic kid.  Um but but I’m not this and so I start doing a strip tease and you know I have close on underneath and I and I end up wearing shorts, a T-shirt, and I bring out my hat like a straw hat because I’m a I’m diver um that’s how I look at look at myself.  And and immediately once I start doing this you could see the tension in the in the classroom easy um and I ask them but what if I didn’t do a strip tease and that uh this is the way I was how would you react to me um and so so I try to tell them you need to get to know every single students because I remember I remember at a time and and I think about this kids a lot um because he was disruptive in class and I never liked taking kids out you know outside the classroom.  But I raised, but I raised my finger and he immediately just flinched and he curled up and I looked at myself and and that scared me because here’s a kid who probably was being abused at home, something, something was going on and me as a teacher I’m doing the same thing.  I’m rein—I’m reinforcing what ever is going on into his life um and that woke me up.  Um and as and then so as teachers we need to realize that.  We need to realize that we have a beautiful story about ourselves.  Um I think I think my life is very fascinating because it’s my life but the kids also have great great lives and they probably been been through things that would shock us and so if we share a little bit about ourselves then they’ll share a little a little bit about themselves and then they’ll want to work for you because they trust you and that’s when they start to learn, when there’s that trust feeling um but it’s but as teachers also again we need we need to have the social justice back that that we’re civil servants, that that we’re there for them um and you know and and I’m not saying that we have to drop everything when they call up so we can do things, no, um every single teacher has to find that fine line.  Tape ends.