Ok, Yadira Gonzalez. I am a first year English teacher at a high school. I’m at Hanford West High School in California.
Ok, my parents emigrated from Mexico when I was, gosh, about three years old. Um, I was here in the United States until I was five then they took me to Mexico. I studied, um, my entire kindergarten year out in Mexico. I returned to California and I was, you know, taken to kindergarten here in the United States, knew no English, um, all I knew was Spanish, it was very hard, very intimidating for me to be in a classroom because everybody in there spoke English. I, um, eventually learned English about two, three years later, although it was just the conversational English not the academic English, that comes later. Um, I graduated from high school, from Dineubreuna---Dianabiuna (?) Pride School District, that’s here in California as well, and I decided, you know, I wanted to go to college, wanted to become a teacher, decided to major in English because that was the language that I had st---had struggled so much with through out my entire educational career. Um, came to Fresno Pacific, finished up my undergraduate degree in four years and, um, last year I simultaneously taught in the classroom while I was attaining my credential during the night, so.
Ok, my parents background is; my mom attended all the way up until high school in Mexico, my father, he attended two years of schooling, that’s it. And if he knows how to read now it’s because my mom was the one who taught him. And then, I mean---I’ll just tell you a little bit of background about my parents. Now my mom when she came to the united states knew no English now she knows English, became a US citizen, attained her AA degree and now she’s a CNA. So I mean if there’s any source of inspiration it would have to be my mother, for me.
C.N.A. =Certified Nursing Assistant, sorry about that.
Exactly, yes, yes, and then I make it a point to value my students background and experiences because I know, based on my background and my experience, like I tell them, you don’t have an excuse, you know, you can make it regardless of what, you know, your background is. Your experience, your parents educational background, your friends, I mean, as long as you have that desire and that will to learn and to succeed you’re gonna get there. That’s what I tell them.
My teachers greatly influenced me in order to succeed. I remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Leon, who had such a direct impact in my life that she was there for my high school graduation and my college graduation. Um, my high school freshman English teacher, Mrs. Van Wyhee, also had a tremendous impact in my life. She’s the one who gave me that inspiration to major in English, I mean, her---uh---her love of the language, her love of poetry, literature and how she made those connections to my personal life and to the world, really came across to me and, uh, they were a lot---they were my guides. And along with my mom who just was constantly pushing me to go forth.
One of the experiences that I totally remember was that she spoke to me in Spanish; she was a bilingual teacher, that’s the one thing. She spoke to me in Spanish, got my mom to volunteer in the classroom. So my mom would be in there reading in Spanish, you know, to us, and just of valuing my language helped me so much to attain, you know, competence in another language. Just knowing that and then how she kept up on me, my second grade, you know, when I was in second grade and third grade and ultimately when I was in junior high and high school.
No she never did, never. And that is---even until now, I mean, she’s---she’s actually now, she works for the tel---county office. She’s a director out there and she’ll call me like once a year to see where I’m at. So I mean, she’s a---she has never let me go so, I mean, I think that had a direct impact on me.
Yes. She had the same----Ok.
Mrs. Leon had the same experience that I did when she was a child, when she came to the United States. She didn’t know---she didn’t know English. She had to learn English. She---she was the only girl in her family of all boys, you know, and she went to college, she did all these things so when she saw me I guess she saw part of her in me. And that’s what got her to keep track of me and to guide me through out my----learning experiences.
Gosh, that’s a tough question. My mom has always had books around her. My mom has always been very observant, a very social person. She’s---and she’s always, always trying me---to be that type of person. When I was a child I was extremely shy. And she---I mean she was Ok with that but she would read books to me and she would tell me, ‘oh you know, why don’t you do.’ When I was in high school, ‘why don’t you join this club, mija (?), you know it would be nice,’ you know. She always pushed me toward that and my father, you know, eventually he gave because my dad was the typically guy, you know, he didn’t really want me to be involved in school that much and, you know, college---I---I’m the oldest in my family so---college was something that I shouldn’t be doing because, you know, oh man, she’s a girl what’s she going to go do in college all on her own, you know. But my mom luckily, it was like their roles changed once they came to this country and my mom was---suddenly became the leader. And then my dad, once he started seeing my mom and how she was progressing and then he started seeing myself and how I was doing good in school, you know he just---now he’s on my side, you know, and my sisters just have it so much easier than I did. But, you know, they see me as a role model. And like I tell---I think it was a book she read to me, it just---I don’t know her inspiration she just---she’s just been like that. I think she took that from her mother in Mexico.
It was transferred over.
Ok, my brother is in the military right now and it’s his third year. Um---gosh, how has his experience been? My brother and I are opposite. He---Ok, he attended kindergarten, attained the language quite quickly. Um, went to school, decided to, you know, graduate from high school, didn’t want to do the college thing although now he’s really considering it. And, um, my sisters, on the other hand, once they got into kindergarten they already knew English so their experience is completely than myself. And, um, their second lang---I mean, Spanish all of a sudden is like their second language now. My mom’s reading to them in Spanish now, they’re going to be freshman in high school. My mom’s reading to them in Spanish, having them write in Spanish because she doesn’t want them to lose that. But for me it was the opposite type of experience. And of course they’re part---they haven’t had the opportunity to feel outside of the circle---the inner circle in a classroom because they’ve been in it since kindergarten. You know, they had that.
No, no I think they’re---they’re identity is they’re American, they speak English, you know, they’re going to college, that’s their identity. Where my identity, Ok, I don’t know this language how am I going to do this? How am I going to, you know, learn all this stuff with---you know if my mom can’t speak the language and, you know, my mom does this for a living and, you know, it was just totally different. But, I mean, they’re doing really well.
Spanish, my mom----
Ok. My mom would read a lot of fables to me in Spanish. She would have me write the, you know, write about them in Spanish. She would read ‘Novellas’, you know the little comics that they have like she would read that stuff to me. She would also read like---my mom actually got my name from a novel she was reading in Spanish, that’s how she decided to name me. And so novels have---had always been an important part of her life. So she would read like excerpts like, ‘Oh this is really great, mija, here let’s read’, you know, ‘let me read this to you.’ And I’d be like, Ok mom, fine. And I think that all---that transferred over into me because I love reading, I love literature but it was like, Ok, I’m going to do it in English. Because my mom would be like, ‘Ok let’s look at the---let’s look at---this is just an awesome paragraph.’ She would tell me, ‘now let me just read it to you. See how this makes you feel.’ So, I mean, when I came, you know, and reading, when I became a reader it was like oh, this is great. I’d be looking at authors craft and what they were doing and just because my mom transcended that into me. And then like with, um, writing, like I tell you, she would have me write about the book. She would have me write letters to my grandmother in Mexico, that’s another thing that she really had me do a lot. Um, it was just really important for her. Just things like that, I don’t know, and word…
She was---her father was a police officer and her mom was a stay-at-home mom. And they live in, um, Guadalajara, which is a city. I think that really had a lot to do with it. And my mom’s mother, yes, my great-grandmother, sorry about that, my great-grandmother lived in this little, um, town kind of thing, like a little ranch and so unfortunately my grandfather passed away when my mom was pretty young so they returned. But my mom already had all this, you know, schooling and she had that desire and that, you know, that strive that other people don’t have. And my dad on the other hand lived just in this ranch his entire life. So I think that’s the difference. It’s not so much their economic background but just that she was in the city and schools were more available to her. So when she got back to this little town which of the---was about, mmm, half an hour away from Guadalajara, which is a major city, she would get on a bus and go to school. So that’s what she would do.
No, my dad actually participated because, like I told you, he didn’t know how to read or write, he wasn’t very proficient, he just had two years of schooling, so he learned to read and write through my mother.
Yes he did, he valued it so much in Spanish. And now he writes and he reads in Spanish very well, very well.
Yes and it’s ironic because now she’s supporting it so my sisters can have, you know, can be proficient in their native lan---you know that---their very first language. Now she’s doing it---it’s awkward. You know, it’s weird how that happened, what, 20 years later, yeah.
Ok, I’ve got two stories that come to mind. Um, when I was in high school, like I told you, Mrs. Van Wyahee was my---oh, she was a great English teacher, and I was fortunate enough to have her my freshman year in col---in high school and my senior year in high school. My senior year in high school, my final paper I had to turn in, when we got our comments back she said congratulations, your writing is college level. And that gave me---I mean I was just so happy, you know, it was like yes, I can’t believe this, you know, I can---I write---you know I was just very proud of myself. Three years later I’m in a fiction prose class here at Fresno Pacific and I am writing a fiction story and through the workshop I’m told, ‘you know maybe you---uh---you should work on this story, you know, you’re not developing your characters very well, you’re similes are not all that great, you know, the---your symbolism, uh, it’s not working.’ And this came from my peers but also from my professor. And then, um, that just---it killed me, it was like---because that piece of paper was a part of me, you know, I was---I was proud of it. And when we finished that workshop experience I---I walked out of there in tears. And, um, I basically had two choices, number one I---was I going to continue---I cried, I really did. I cried like I hadn’t cried in an entire day, I mean, I cried and then, um, fortunately I spoke to another professor and, um, she motivated me. She was like, ‘well ok, we’ll look at it, you know, let’s look at it, you know, and I’ll give you feedback.’ She gave me feedback on that paper and then we had to do three other short stories for that class. I mean, let me tell you, I had my peers, I got a hold of like the best writer in that class and he proofread my papers, I got his feedback and eventually I got an A in that class. I earned an A, but it was a struggle. And it was---wh---where I once thought that it was a major strength, you know, all of a sudden in college it was a weakness and it was---it was---I wasn’t doing it right, so that---that was painful for me.
Yes and I still remember that to this day and now that I’m an English teacher I reflect on that all the time. Because when I give my students feedback on their papers I’m very careful, I’m very cautious. And because I do not want to hurt their self esteem because I want them to continue writing. And you know that day, when my paper was-----annihilated I wanted to sto---I didn’t even want---I was having second thoughts about majoring in English. I seriously was and I didn’t even want to write any more. Fortunately I’d spoke to the per---correct person who gave me the courage to say, ‘nope, you can do this.’
Ok. Struggling readers, this is a whole misconception that I even had, ok? My students think that reading is reading a text out loud. That’s what reading is. That’s what they had been taught to do, ok. And my very first week at Hanford West High School my students had to read, what story did they have to read? It’s an, now, it was a---it was Gary Soto story, “Blackmail”. And there’s----some in---little interpretation why is this story titled ‘Blackmail’ things that they have to be able to get from reading the story. They couldn’t tell me that and they couldn’t tell me simple pieces of information, of interpretive information, and I was like, wait a second, my kids are not reading. They’re not reading. And so I had them do a little short, you know, quick write, ‘What is reading?’ I wish would have had them so I could, you know, so I could bring them, but some of them told me, ‘oh it’s reading the words clearly.’ I’m like no, that’s not reading, you know? And then, um, I had that response and somebody else was telling me, ‘oh, reading the words clearly and being able to tell another person what that story was about.’ Yes, reading is reading---you---reading is being able to interpret what you read. Being able to tell another person what you read. The being able to take---the---stuff that you read, the text itself, make inferences based on evidence from the text. That is reading. Reading is not pronouncing a word correctly because I’ll tell you this, sometimes my accent will get in my way and I would not pronounce a word clearly. But, you know, I understand what I’m reading, I’m understanding the meaning and reading is not going to go, if I have time to, but reading is also not just answering multiple choice questions. That’s not reading. To me, my concern with my students is, can they articulate what they’re reading to me. Can they articulate it via a verbal expression and a written expression, can they do that. Can they tell me the meaning of that text using evidence. And if they can’t do that, then how do I know that they’re actually reading. Because they can get by with multiple choice, they can. Um, I’m not saying that that---we shouldn’t have multiple choice because standardized tests, you know, we have to face it. But there are, you know, that’s---that’s simple, they can get that based on---they’ve been trained to do this this whole time, to answer multiple choice. And the real world is articulating, it’s communication; it’s writing, that’s the real world.
My personal writing goals?
Oh gosh, that I had---I must say as a first year teacher that’s where I struggled with the most. A lot of my students cannot write, they can’t. And, um, a lot of the things that I did during the entire school year was, I did a writers workshop in my classroom. And what we do is when we read a book, when we read a novel or read a poem I’m having them look at the author’s craft. What is the author doing to get your attention here? You know, can you use this in your writing, you know? Um, I will have them do quick writes and then introduce the essay. So the quick write in lines with what their essay is going to be about so they can’t tell me, ‘oh, I don’t what to write about.’ Because it---they have it right there. Um, we do workshop in groups. I put them in groups according to their proficiency in writing and I have a group leader. Um, I model to them what I want them to discuss in their groups, of course I’m walking around all the time. Um, gosh, I just want them to become better writers and I tell them, ‘writing is a life long process.’ Miss Gonzalez is still in that process. And a lot of---I think one of the most effective things that I did last year was when they had to write their personal narrative. I came in and I read them a piece of mine that I wrote, a non-fiction, um, story, right? I showed them the---my rough draft. I made copies of my rough draft. All the stuff, you know, that I circled that I had to go in and correct and my rough draft was about I think five pages long. Then I showed them my final draft and we compared the two and how it changed because my final draft was about 12 pages long and it included a lot more descriptive details, dialog. And I said, ok, how did---how did I get from this point to this point and I showed them that whole transition. And for them to visually see that and for them to not---and---because a lot times students have the misconception on because you’re an English teacher it just comes right out. And that’s not true because I also struggle and I have to go through that writing process. So the---I showed them my writing process, you know, this is Miss Gonzalez’s rough draft. This is, you know, and then I had to go from here to here, you know, then I did peer response groups, then I spoke to my professor about it, then I did this piece. And I tell them, ‘you know what, guys, this is my final draft but I can still go back and make it better.’ And that’s very important for me. I think in order for them to become better writers they need to learn that writing process. Because if they don’t have the writing process down then how are they going to become better writers?
I had---well it was a mixture.
Ok, this is scary but when I’m comparing---I teach a college prep English class so these are students that if they’re second language learners they’re already at that level 5, which is they’re proficient conversationally and they should be proficient, you know, in academic English. And when I have compared my monolingual students to my students that are second language, that English is their second language, my monolingual students tend to be able to develop their writing a lot more fully than my second language learners. Now my second learn---language learners that are not---that were not fluent in their primary language, my second language learners who didn’t have a background in that primary language, who didn’t have reading or writing. So I have students who can’t write in either their primary language or their second language, they can’t do that. Ok, but I have second language learners that write better than my monolingual students. I’ve got students that (noise) I’m like, ‘my goodness I can’t---you write better than I do.’ I mean I’ve got students that are so articulate in their writing, I can think of one, Naz, he’s Arabian, um, came to the United States when he was in third grade. And his writing is just as good as my honor Shakespeare students, I mean his writing is up here but he’s also very proficient in his primary language. So---if---and that transfers over. And his parents, he’s got parental support.
Well the Gotzski Zone of Proximal Development, that is where you get, uh, students from different proficiency levels together in one group and they work together. So when I have writers workshop I’ve got my monolingual student who writes excellently along with my second language learner who is struggling with his writing along with about two or three other students that are, you know, right in between there and because every, let’s face it, everybody needs help with their writing, ok? And I have a group leader, which is probably---which is more than likely the person who writes the best. Now what I do is, like I told---I model what a writer’s workshop looks like. I model what peer response is the---on my papers. And then when they’re doing those peer response group---at their groups I’m walking around offering advice and looking and, um, making sure I---I’ve taught my high school students that there is a tactful way, that’s what they need to do, there is to---you need to use tact when you’re talking about somebody’s paper because that’s their paper. And like I said I make a reference to my experience in college and how I don’t want that to happen to them. Um, and that really helps them out. Now also what I do is I do mini grammar lessons based on where I see my students are lacking, for example verb tenses, um, contractions like the---hyphens, you know, little things like that, semi-colon use, things that I see my students are lacking in, that’s where---that’s what I base my, mmm---uh-huh, mini grammar lessons on. Because, um, sometimes---my school district has grammar worksheets that I need to teach every day, right. And um, I don’t use them, I hope my school district doesn’t see this, but I don’t use them because if my students know subject verb agreement why am I going to use that? Why am I going to teach that? It’s useless it’s redundant in my classroom. But if my students don’t know the correct form of ‘gosh’, ok let me think of a personal example right now. If my students can’t do contractions correctly or they can’t punctuate correctly with semi-colon use and I see that in many of their papers I’m going to focus one of my mini grammar lessons on that and then I’m going to tell them, ok, look at your papers, you know, where is this on your paper. And that’s what I do.
I had learning edge last semester in January. It was a whole class, yeah, it was a semester long course.
Reading and writing go hand in hand, you cannot teach those separately. That is the main thing that I focus on. That is the main thing that I tell my students, that I tell my colleagues at work, reading and writing go hand in hand. You’re going to become a better writer if you’re an active reader. There is---there are---they are current readers I don’t want you to be a passive reader. You need to be an active reader. So you need to emulate, you know, you need to see what’s out there. And also knowing the difference between expository text and narrative text because there is two---there are too many---there are two different things going on there. When you look at an expository text you read it differently than when you’re reading a narrative and you interpret those differently. And my students---and I’ll tell you one thing, my teaching from the first semester dramatically changed after I took Learning Edge, the second semester. I mean it was a complete transformation and my students saw it and my administrator saw it because now we were looking at text sets, we were looking at writers craft, we were looking at how can I use this in my writing. Why is this an expository text? What’s the, you know---uh---we just looked at all these things and I---all of a sudden reading and writing were all around us, you know, and---oh, that just (resonates) yes.
Oh, goodness, I’m going to do everything that I did the second semester the very first semester. That’s what---that’s the very fir---that’s how---where I’m starting off at. I’m going to look at how my students read right off the bat. The very first week I’m going to ask them to look at an expository text and a narrative text and I want to see how they read that. Because that will help me guide my lesson plans and to see where they’re at in the reading process and in the writing process, that’s how it’s going to change. Completely, it will change completely.
Ok what I’m going to be doing is I’m (interruption).
Ok what I’m going to do is I’m going to give them two pieces, a narrative piece one day and I’m going to have---as long as they want to read this piece. Then they’re going to answer about five questions, those are interpretive questions, that they need to use, right, that they---that they answer using events from the text and I---uh---from this I know if they can infer things from the text. I---I know if their comprehension is there, if they’ve attained a meaning from the text versus the whole multiple-choice thing. And then the expository text will tell me the same thing but it will tell me where they’re at in expository text because I have to tea---not only do I have to teach my students how to write personal narratives, but they also must be able to write expository text. So by---by me getting a sense of where they’re at by reading each of these then I’ll know where to start.
I---as a whole group, they do this individually. They read this, you know, they read this piece and then they answer questions. And then I’ll go and look at it and compare where they’re at and the---it’s---it’s pretty easy. I mean at---that’s what I like about it but that’s what I’ll do.
I think I can tell you a story. One of the things that I haven’t---well one of the requirements, uh, was that my students had to write a Greek Mythology research paper, they had to choose a Greek God and write this whole, I think about five page research paper on this. And I had Andy, who isn’t, I mean he was turned off by school, he really was into the, you know, a different crowd, you know, reluctant to go to class and Andy didn’t want to do this assignment and, you know, they had to internet research, library research, you know. And he told me this, goes, ‘Gonzalez, I don’t want to do a Greek God’, I’m like well then who do you want to do this on? He’s all, can I do it on a Mexican God? And I’m like, yeah sure, you know, um, of course you can, I’ll help you research him on the internet, you know. And Andy was like, ‘but I don’t have the internet at home and I can’t go to, you know, I don’t want to stay after school’ and this and that. And Andy is the type---Andy was the student that every time I would, you know, get to work he would be out there, like at 7:15, with his buddies, you know, just out there having a doughnut, you know, cracking jokes---I don’t know what they’re doing but you know---so I’d be like, ‘well, Andy, if you go to my classroom I can let you use the internet there, you know, and you can do all this research there. And he did it, you know, he turned this research paper in, it wasn’t as long---it wasn’t five pages long, it was about three pages long, typed. He typed it up in my classroom. And I think that when---Andy asked me, ‘can I do this instead?’ I validated that. I said, ‘he’s going---I told my---I asked myself two questions, number one; should I let him do this assignment? And I was like, ‘well no because it’s not on our, you know, it’s not on our course guide, you know, what is my administrator going to say?’ But then number two; is he going to turn in the Greek Mythology research paper? No. I’m like he’s not going to turn it in. So I’m an English teacher, I want him to write. So that what---that’s what made me say, ‘Ok, yes, of course, write it.’ And he, you know, he wrote it.
Ok. I think parental influence is pivotal for a student’s success. And I’m not saying that a student cannot make it if it’s not there because I knew numerous people who have made it without that, but I think parents are a tremendous impact. And as a high school educator, um, I also feel that I call parents---my students---my students have a weekly homework sheet that was their idea as a first year teacher, you know, they’re like---because they weren’t turning in homework, like ‘Miss Gonzalez, why don’t you do a homework sheet?’ I’m like, oh, that’s a great idea, you know, so I started giving them a weekly homework sheet with all their assignments there but, I mean, I sent a note home with par---you know, to parents, you know, they’re going to get this and, you know, just when a student was falling down the cracks, you know, just calling those parents, getting involved with, um, clubs, you know, um----hold on let me rephrase that-------
Um, ok, being involved with, um, there is a---I can’t bel---I don’t remember the acronym, but there is, um, there is an association of parents that each school must have, um, for second language learners. They’re parents of bilingual students who are learning English, I don’t remember what the acronym is, but they---they are---it’s like a sort of a PTA but it’s for them because they also need to be represented in the school as a whole, just getting involved in that. I---as a first year teacher I wasn’t involved in everything but I know that was there. I assisted one of the counselors who had, you know, translating the minutes and stuff. But, I don’t know I think that’s it.
Oh my goodness. Gosh. On my la---the last day of school this year I took to class an apple. And I don’t know, this might be cliché, I don’t if we’re, you know, anybody---everybody knows this story, but I took to class---I took an apple to class. And I asked my kids, ‘all right, how many apples am I holding up?’ One. Ok, cool I just have one. I cut the apple in half and then I said, ‘all right how many seeds do you think this apple has?’ And you know they were guessing, you know, whatever and then I’m not sure how many seeds that apple had but you know, we counted the seeds. And then I told them, I said, ‘ok, well how many apples are in each of these seeds?’ right. And then they thought about it and they’re like, ‘well that depends.’ And I’m like, ‘ok, that depends on what?’ They’re like, ‘on the soil, on how much sunlight, on the amount of water, you know, and how well you take care of those seeds.’ And I’m like, ‘yes, um, yes that’s great.’ I’m like, ‘and what determines that?’ And they’re like, ‘well, the person who plants those seeds, right?’ And I’m like, ‘Ok.’ And I told them, I said, ‘well each of you is a seed.’ I told them, ‘you’re in charge of your seed.’ I gave them that responsibility. I told them, ‘you’re in high school, you’re in charge of your seed.’ And I told them, I said, ‘and as your teacher,’ I said, ‘I will have failed if you don’t want to take care of your seed.’ I said, ‘so I want you to take your seed, take care of your soil, water it, use sunlight,’ I said, ‘but you know what, sometimes your---sometimes your plant, you know, may go bad, it might turn yellow, but the great thing about it is you can put more water and it’ll, you know, it---it can go right back up.’ I told them. And I said, ‘each of you has the potential to become anything you want to be.’ And as a teacher I think that all of us teachers need to see that in every student because the day that I don’t see potential in one of my students, regardless of his background, regardless of what he’s doing in school, that’s the day I should quit teaching. Ultimately. Just knowing that they have that potential.
Oh definitely. I’m still take---and I tell my students, ‘I’m still taking care of my seed,’ because they know I’m starting my masters degree in the fall. And I told them, ‘I’m still taking care of my seed, you know, and every adult has a seed that, you know, you’re responsible for that seed.
I am, uh, doing it in curriculum and teaching and I’ll be focusing on writing instruction.
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