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The Storm Part I

Part I Norms for Reading Our Blog

The goal of the Nepantla Teachers Community blog is to provide an honest and encouraging space to navigate sociopolitical situations that occur in mathematics education for the purpose of working towards justice in traditionally marginalized communities. By using the word political, we mean any situation that involves power dynamics.

Each post will be published in two parts (Part I: The first Saturday of each month at 5 PM and Part II: the following Wednesday at 9 AM). Part I will give a math teacher author’s real dilemma that they have recently experienced and to share some information about themselves. Part II will provide an analysis of the powers at play and the author’s response (or lack of response) to the situation. Before Part II is published, readers are encouraged to interact with the author and each other by asking questions, comments, and/or providing ideas on how they would respond if they were in their shoes.

We as readers and/or participants agree to keep the following in mind as we engage with other educators’ sharing their stories:

1. Each author is choosing to be transparent/vulnerable at the risk of disapproval or disagreement. These are not meant to be places of attack but a place to empathize and grow together.

2. We use the word nepantla to connote the space of tension and grey area that people experience as they navigate multiple (and often opposing) philosophies, truths, or identities. We offer this blog as a space to remain in nepantla to guide creative and nuanced responses to the contexts we encounter.

3. Note that all students’ names are pseudonyms. Some details may need to be obscured to protect the privacy of individuals.

Part I: (Written by David Salgado)

There was a point in my life that I thought I knew how to handle any situation that would arise in my classroom until the storm came and destroyed my perception of who I was as a teacher. As a son of a first generation immigrant family, we left our home in Guanajuato, Mexico and arrived to Florida in 1991. Although my primary language was Spanish, I was placed in an English monolingual class. I found it hard to befriend others because I found it difficult to communicate with my teachers and peers. Throughout my 3rd to 8th grade experience, I didn’t really express myself, and the teachers in my life did not teach social skills in class. Once I got to high school, I started to become more self-aware, and realized that I wanted to be a difference in the lives of young people who struggled like I had---I wanted to become a teacher. Therefore, my philosophy as a teacher was to empower students to be self advocates of their academic and social emotional journey by better equipping them to deal with challenges. During my 5th year teaching bilingual classes, I was challenged by two particular students, Peter and John to expand my perspective and skillset on classroom management.

The students were your average pre-adolescent kids. However, the mix of personalities especially among the boys made it a potentially explosive environment at the end of the day during math class. Peter was a student well known at school for his lavish and disrespectful acts to get attention, but he came into my classroom eager to make a change. Peter and John had classes together during 4th grade. Their 4th grade teacher left during December, and the students were left with a substitute for the remainder of the year, who requested to admin that they not be placed together. While they were friends, they also often challenged each other for attention. Unfortunately, Peter was placed again with John, who needed behavior management in controlling his anger. John was quick to let his emotions get the better of him usually ending with his fists doing the talking.

During class, they were on task and went with the flow and nature of the class. They were active and engaged in class but anytime they went to recess, lunch, or prep I was informed that they disrupted the class or had hit each other. Although I had taught several grade levels, I had never had a situation where two students kept choosing not to co-exist. After students returned from winter break, Peter, John, and several students started to negatively act out. The class started to lose their positive incentives. At this time, the other students in the class became frustrated with them because they were losing their incentives too. Shortly after, I learned just how much this would be a problem when I had to call off from work for the first time in late February, due to a heavy storm that flooded my basement.

That same day, I had students emailing me about how bad things were in the class. One email said “I don’t like coming to school when you are not here because some kids think they could do whatever they want to do.” When I came back to work, I heard that several students were disrespectful to the substitute teacher throughout the day but especially during math. That year, math was the last period of the day. The boys proudly battled for dominance by talking back to her, not following directions, being loud, and refusing to do the work. Worst of all, Peter and John had two fights because they were eager to show their classmates who was in charge. Some of the other students followed their lead and before you knew it, the storm had destroyed most of what we had built.

I was disappointed at how the class acted when I wasn’t there. I was angry that they didn’t do any work. I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to help them make better choices when they needed it most. However, I think I felt more like a failure because in the past I had always had a way of motivating my students to do their best. I couldn’t understand how they didn’t care about our class culture. I took it as a personal attack, as if their choices clearly reflected their lack of respect towards me.

My frustration led the way and I expressed how their behavior was unacceptable. I was seeing red. I changed seating arrangements, called parents for conferences, cancelled the upcoming class field trip, and any other incentive activities for the month.

What would you have done differently if you knew you were going to be absent?

How would you have reacted to Peter and John’s altercations?

How would you deal with behavior issues?

Part II of this story comes out next Wednesday at 9 AM. Subscribe to our blog and check it out. Comment below!

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