Sylvia Saldana, program coordinator for Alpine School District in Utah and I’ve been a teacher for 20 plus years in various areas. I started off with mathematics uh biology, went into French and Spanish and since then gone into bilingual education and uh work with kindergarten through twelvth grade students.
Well um originally uh you know growing up . . . interviewer interupts.
When I was growing up in south Texas um I was fortunate enough to be in a Catholic school. Um my ancestory is Hispanic and so I grew up speaking Spanish and English uh but in the Catholic school we seem to be pretty sheltered. The public schools during that time it was in the fifties, I’m dating myself, fifties and sixties uh there was not uh really uh a lot of help or support for students who did not come into the school already fluent in English and ever since then I could sense that there were some difficulties and the children were getting farther and farther behind so when I went into teaching even though I was teaching mathematics I always found myself focusing on children that had difficulities learning in any setting whether it be the language or uh poor background in their education or what ever and so working with language minority students and culturally diverse students has just be kind of a natural thing for me. Uh in fact uh my first experience as an ESL teacher was when I was in the first grade. Uh I was teaching in a Catholic school and we had some students thirteen and fourteen year olds that had just moved in from Mexico. Of course living five miles from the border it was very common for that to happen. These young men came in and I was in one of the top reading groups and Sister Teresa asked me if I would help them with their reading and so I hadn’t thought about it until I got into ESL and bilingual education that that was actually my first experience as an ESL teacher. So I was working with them on literacy skills and phonics and things of that nature and so I’ve always just enjoyed teaching from the onset as a very young child.
Getting to know studetns and their families has been a very easy thing for me because I’ve ever since I started teaching uh I have always felt that it’s important to have a good communication with the family and so I don’t think of the child as a number in my classroom I like to think of them as a person and and it’s very easy for me to go out and visit the Hispanic community because I’m Hispanic myself and so uh in this area for example I have a lot of relatives and through them and through community interaction uh I’ve gone out and met a lot of the parents of the family of the children that I work with. Um I’ve I’ve always felt that it it has to go beyond the classroom. The children going back to an old quote that we use a lot in teaching, they don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And if students know that you care about them as a person they they will just out perform you know in the classroom because they want you to be proud of them, they want you to uh to feel good about what they are doing and so it’s very important I think to maintain communication with a studetns on a personal level and also get to know their families. Uh I had one situation um when I was teaching down in Texas where I had a student that came in and was well known by all the administrators and all the teachers. He had a tendantcy to be a little rebellious you might say, wore the upsidedown uh crosses uh on his earrings and had the the torn uh Levi Jacket and he’d come into class being the real macho dude uh and yet he had a very very warm side to side to a real fuzzy you know teddy bear type of personality but he didn’t like that to show because it took away from his tough image. Well I knew his mother quite well and I knew that he loved his mother very much and so I took him aside one day and I was talking to him and I said you know I’ve seen you uh working with young children and uh I also know that you love your mother a lot, ola heffa, you know la heffa, you know she she’s the reason that I’m still in school and I said um it probably wouldn’t be very good for this to get out so I’ll just keep it between you and me, oh thanks Mrs. Saldana, and I said but I do expect that you will remember this and that we’ll be able to work together in the classroom and so that really helped to build a bond between him and I. It’s it might seem like blackmaleing on the one hand but you’ve got to use what ever you can and I felt like this was a way for me to build a relationship with a student and uh we never had any difficulties in the classroom, he was one of my top studetns and he shock quite a few administrators when they’d come in to visit the class because that was not what they expected to see.
Most of my teaching experiences as I’ve mentioned has been in mathematics and mathematics has not been a favorite subject for many children and their parents it’s been a major headache. Uh they’ve written books uh such as overcoming math anxioty and things of that nature so one of the things I felt early on is that it’s important for children to know that they can succeed in a class such as mathematics at what ever level. Uh I’ve had students that had major difficulties, they’ve felt like you know I’m taking dummy math, I’m taking you know doorknob math uh all kinds of names and I want them to know that mathematics is something that they’re going to need in their everyday life. So one of the things that I did in one situation to make connection with the student and the parent was I took it upon myself to call all 150 students at their home and ask to speak to mom or dad and of course the first reaction was what did my kid do, what’s the problem, and I said oh no I’m calling to let you know I’m so and so teacher and we are doing some fun things our class is a little different then what you might expect in a math class they won’t be bringing a book home, you’re student is doing very well and adapting to this new situation and who is this that I’m talking to you would hear from the other end. So parents you know very often uh we as teachers don’t make enough communication with the parents that is possitive and I think that would be helpful no matter what color, what race, what background, what language the student is, we need to make that home contact. Uh I think too often we think of our sheltered little classroom where we close the door and no one knows what goes on behind close doors and we need to get away from that mentality. We need to go out and become community members instead of living you know fifty miles away so that nobody can call me or find me we need to be part of the community we need to get involved the kids need to see us at their activities they need to see us supporting them when they’re in in athletics or uh doing any kind of presentation because we are their home away from home and we are their parent away from their parents and I think if we take that kind of attitude we’re going to have a lot more success with our students.
Having grown up in south Texas uh I kind of come from three different cultures. I come from the Hispanic, from the American and from the TexMex. But I’ve always been interested in learning about other cultures and more importantly I like to learn about people and so in my classroom for example I I believe the first two or three weeks should be spent in building a community and so when I have a student it doesn’t matter I’ve had students from Armania, from Korea, from Romania, from a lot of different countries. I want to get to know the student not just so much uh stereotypical things about their culture but personal things about them. Where did you come from, what kinds of things have you been through and so the very first thing that I do in a classroom is have kids write their autobiography in relation to the subject that I’m teaching. Uh having taught various subjects they all lend themselves even mathematics and so I believe very strongly in communication and writing skills and so I start off with write your mathematics autobiography. Then we share it in groups. We share it as a class. We get to know the students. I also have them fill out an application to be a student in that class and in that application they have to tell me about their hobbies their interests, their fears, you know things of that nature. Because the more I know about the student the better I’m going to be able to meet their needs.
As a teacher uh over the past twenty some odd years I’ve I’ve been very fortunate to have experiences uh where I’ve worked with students from many different backgrounds and cultures. Unfortunately many teachers don’t have that opportunity and sometimes they you you have to remember that every person comes at their from their own personal experience and so if they’ve lived in a community that’s very homogenious it makes it very difficult for them as a teacher to be able to relate to students that are culturally or linguistically different than themselves and so I feel one of the most important things uh right now and we’re communicating with universities in the area is to make sure that pre-service teachers before the go into a classroom have had preparation and I think some of the best preparation happens when those student teachers come into a classroom to visit to observe, to engage with the studetns not just to sit on the side lines or read about it. Uh some of the things that teachers run into is they expect students to learn the same way they do and that’s unfortunate because uh especially now with a lot of the talk of the multiply intellegences we’re starting to be aware and I think for many years it’s taken different names, you know there’s different learning styles and just because I learn one way doesn’t mean that I can teach that way and everybody’s going to learn the same way and so I have to be in tune with uh what my students need and that’s why I said it’s very important for us to get to know our students, to get to know what their needs are and to you know if we see some one that’s figity maybe we need to be aware that we need to have some active activities going on in the class instead of just the sit down paper and pencil type. Uh if we have students that ask a lot of questions that should trigger us to to be aware that we need more interaction uh between the students and allow them to ask more questions then just to wait and respond and parrot the things that you know we think that they should be learning. So uh teachers need to just be sensitive to individuals and even in a class of forty that’s something that can be dealt with. For example, with coorperative learning we now have opportunities to group students uh and and make those changes as needed so that we can have students interacting having hands on activities doing a lot of things and it’s much easier to get around to ten groups then it is forty individuals and so you know these are things that teachers are taught in a skill format but we need to focus more on the people aspect of the classroom.
Well uh students that come in from uh various backgrounds from uh Argentina, from Venuzuela, from Korea, Japan, we’ve got studetns coming from Russia now, these are wonderful opportunities for schools that have a tendantcy to be homogenious. Uh instead of having to learn about other cultures and people from text books or video tapes they have an opportunity to have uh a real exchange of ideas with people from other cultures. But we also need to be aware that some of these kids come from other cultures uh maybe five, ten years back and they may not have the expectations, the stereotypical expetations, that we have. Uh we need to remember that culture goes far beyond food and music and dance. Uh it goes to basic home traditions. What are the things that you do in your home? Not does everybody have a pinata on their birthday or do you have you know the Chinese lanterns or you know those types of things but just get to know the person and ask them, what kinds of things does do your grandparents do when they come and celebrate uh you know a holiday with you and what are some of the holidays that you do celebrate? How is christmas different in your country or in your grandparents country because it maybe that these children we actually born here but their families have carried on the heritage and traditions in Americanized versions of Jap—Japan or Korea or whatever and so we need to be sensitive to those types of things.
Well in mathematics uh sometimes we think that’s a real dry subject and all you can do is just algarhythm but if you look at the history a lot of the cultures that are coming in to our area uh those people are desendants of some of the greatest mathemetitions and we need to take advantage of the opportunities that we have to bring those into our classroom. For example, in a mathematics classroom, rather than expecting the child to learn one wrote drill algarythum for a particular type of problem we need to ask them uh do you have a different approach to this I noticed on your paper that you do your division in a different format or your multiplication in a different format, can you share with the class? And I think that values the students it it also makes that student look uh important in the sense that he gets a chance to teach the class she gets a chance to share some of her different perspectives to the problems at hand and so I think it really adds to a classroom when allow the children to share their perspective and it also freeze up all the children in the classroom to know that there’s more than one way to do mathematics.
One of the things that has come along for years and years is this issue of realating school to the real world and more so now I think we’re starting to listen more to what businesses are saying and even though we don’t want to focus on just a student being prepared for the work force we need to relate any class that we have to the real world because that’s where the connection is made for the student. Instead of taking problems out of a book, one of the things that I have done in my math classes is have students write their own problems so for example, I ha—I will bring in adds from uh local stores, department stores, grocery stores, what ever and we go shopping and we do unit pricing and we talk about real life things that they’re going to need in order to survive as parents as uh singles living out there and and dealing with purchaseing a car for example and I’ve had students actually call uh car dealerships and find out how they can buy a car what are the different instalment plans whatever. Uh get information about credit cards and why it what are some of the dangers that are involved. What better ways to learn about percents than to actually go out and see how they are used in the real world. Uh and it doesn’t matter what age the student is. Uh children right now are exposed to the media, they’re exposed a lot of things that we were not exposed to at there age you know in a much younger uh age and we need to take advantage of those opportunities to get children to connect mathematics with the real world uh and history, what ever it is that they’re studying. What’s really happening in the real world and how does that what does that have to do with the real world? One of the other things that I do is I really like to focus attention on personal projects. Pick something that you like be it in another class or in a hobby how does that relate to mathematics, demonstrate to the class, uh either by visuals or by telling us of a project that you’ve done, uh maybe you’re doing a wood working project. Uh one student uh wh—her mother ran a uh a bridal uh I’m not sure exactly what you would call it but you know the consultation type of thing where they help you to uh prepare for a wedding and so she brought in all kinds of information on the costs for a wedding, you know what’s involved in catering, what’s involved in the dress, the invitations and so forth and then she could see that that what very much math related. I had another student who wanted to be a chef and so he had to go out and do some price comparisons at different stores and he brought that in a represented it graphically to the class and so those are really uh easy ways and yet critical ways that we show children that their world does connect with school and school is not separate and apart.
Parents sometimes can be a help and sometimes can be a hinderance but all in all in you know being a parent myself of seven children I know that uh many times we miss interpret a parents lack of attendance of a lack of interest uh we need to be aware that parents have a life and they’re very often trying to keep up you know keep a balance between supporting their children financially and supporting their children emotionally and so it’s important for us to you know not have tremendously high expections of of parents. What ever we don’t do in the classroom they have to do and why aren’t children prepared as they come into our classroom you know and so we need to make a connection with the parents. One of the things that I’ve I’ve felt like I said before is it’s very important for us to communicate with a home not with just the negative things. Don’t’ wait until something bad happens to make that communitcation. Make the call every once in a while and say hi I just wanted to let you know your student’s doing great here are some things that you might be able to do to help them. I noticed that they have not been able to complete assignments, are they working or is it something that maybe you know you need to set up a particular time for study so you can make recommendations but not as I’m the expert and you don’t know what you’re talking about so let me tell you how to fix the problem. Instead learn to negotiate and cooperate and collaborate with the parents so that you’re not uh giving them more work but let—letting them help you with your work in the classroom. Um I feel that it’s really important also to consider the needs of the parents for example in our language diverse um cultures we might have parents that cannot read in English or their native language. What are we doing to provide support in that sense. Many uh people think that parents uh that come in here expect us to prepare their children and fix the problems but they really want to get involved they’re just not sure how to do it. If we extend a hand of fellowship and friendship to the parents, invite them in to share a presentation in the classroom or to visit. Just let them know that they can come and visit any time and provide an interpreter if nessecary. Uh have family literacy programs where the whole family can come in and get involved in uh family math night or what ever subject that you’re working with, have it be a family project and I think parents really want to help and they want to get involved but they also have this feeling of I respect the teacher and I know the teacher knows what’s best. Let them know that you are partners because you’re both interested in the same thing. You’re both interested in educating the child.
Equity is a major issue now a days uh and we talk about it in terms of um sexist issues as well as racist issues you know those types of isms that we have to deal with in every day life. When we’re talking about studetns we we really shouldn’t have to deal with those things if we are really a master teacher because I think any teacher that goes into a classroom really starts off with the idea of I’m here to help a child grow, I’m here to create a life long learner and what ever it takes is what ever we do. If you’ve got a student that excels in subject they’re probably going to be fine with out you in terms of the academics but they need you in terms of the emotion in terms of the affect. Where as you might have a child that is you know doesn’t uh need the social aspect they might be a happy go lucky type of kid but they really struggle with the academics and so you have to tie in with that child and help them to build from those social um qualities and skills that they have to learn coping skills and learn the skills that they need academically and so you have to look at the child in terms of the whole child and not just as a students and when you do that you’re really you know dealing with the equity issue. If you have built a community in your classroom, if you have taken the time to get students to know each other know who they are know what their strengths are and know what their weaknesses are, they will help each other to fill in the gaps. They will help each other to learn what they need to learn and they’re not going to look at whether is some one is making an A with less effort than you are making a B with more effort. It’s really more important to learn. One of the things that I tell students is if you take care of the learning the grades. .
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