Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Teaching and Community--Letter #7

Dear Governor Ducey,

My daughter’s fourth grade teacher, Ms. Hillyard, has 50 students—25 in the morning, 25 in the afternoon. She teaches in the trilingual program at Puente de Hozho. She is possibly the calmest person I know, asking students if it’s respectful to have side conversations, asking how many pairs of eyes does she require look at her before she begin her lesson, asking if the question a student has is an emergency and if not, could it please wait. She teaches them with respect, which they, after they get their wiggles out, return to her. She has a lot of students who need her attention. They sit with their hands raised. The hands get higher and higher until she either answers them or promises that when she’s done with the lesson, they can talk to her.

Her students come from all across Flagstaff and from the reservation. Some of the kids take Navajo, some take Spanish, they all take English from Ms. Hillyard, who teaches them the difference between active and passive voice, how to draw a reader into your story using good description, how to find setting, character, and plot in a novel, and how to differentiate a stanza and a line in a poem and the how to assign a letter system to a rhyme scheme. She takes classes to teach common core math on Mondays. She’s keeping up and keeping ahead and keeping it together how I don’t know. She has so many students from so many diverse backgrounds and somehow she, along with her counterpart, Mr. Nava, who teaches all of this in Spanish, make it possible for each of them to write an ode, plot fractions on a line, design a science fair project, put on an Americana play, encourage them to read six books in three weeks, and write their own short novels.

Ms. Hillyard is amazing but she is not alone in being so. Ms. Klause and Ms. Kitterman, my daughter’s third grade teachers, kept these amazing students scoring high on the AIMS test while still encouraging them to read for fun, do math for fun, do science for fun. Ms. Evans and Ms. Grimmet in 2nd grade who taught Zoe about wolves as well as multiplication. Mr. Zubiate and Ms. Morales who introduced Zoe to Spanish for the first time and shepherded her through a new school. No one at Puente de Hozho takes the easy way out which is why it’s so hard to see these budget cuts that are designed to make it harder for them. More students in the classroom, fewer aides, less technology, less training in teaching new practices, less support for at-risk students, fewer computers, less support for administration, who, contrary to public belief, actually work to bring outside money into the school, to find support for students who need extra help or an extra challenge, to plan community building activities and who come into the classroom too to add an extra dimension to the lessons. The faculty stay late after school offering guitar lessons, lego robotics, chess club, and gardening club because they believe students should have a well-rounded education.

Here’s an example of how this community building works at Puente. One 4th grader’s family home was badly burned in a fire. The family had to find new shelter. They lost almost all of their possessions. The teachers, administrators and students rallied to support this family, bringing money, clothes, cat food, toys to school. This family could start again, thanks to Puente’s concerted community effort.

There is no budget cut in the world that would stop these people from being the amazing people they are but there are budget cuts that would drive these people away. In assuring that the prison business is flourishing, you’re forcing dedicated teachers out of state where they will find support for their day-to-day work as well as all the extra curricular work they do. These people are Arizona communities being destroyed by your cavalier and presumptuous dismissal of the work they do. The only community I can see you interested in creating is the prison community, which, while a kind of community, isn’t one that flourishes with the dedication and commitment, intelligence and patience of the people who choose to build this one.   

No comments: