Friday, May 22, 2015

Something to Celebrate!

The end of another academic year – The young teachers-to-be who come last fall with doubts and courage are now prepared to "go forth" and do good things.    I am involved with two different programs – so I get to learn and borrow good ideas from each. 
Add caption
I have been with Mills College for the longest – I had Mills student teachers in my own classroom when I was teaching, and I  formed a bond with that program – and now I have been working as a field supervisor with Mills for over 10 years…  To understand the Mills approach see the following: strength of the Mills program is the personal support that the student teachers receive from the cooperating teacher (master teacher) in whose classroom they are working, course work instructors on the Mills campus, from the supervisors (that’s me), and in the weekly seminars when all the student teachers in the program gather to share ideas from their own practice and to learn from each other.  

One of the joys of the program is to see how the group of young teachers meld together into a supportive family – they support and care for each other …it happens each year.  It has been a full year for them!  They share course work in the theory and methods of teaching – with an emphasis on teaching in inner-city schools – complex practical skill building, and a good deal of personal reflection.  They are leaving with a good "bag of tricks" - but more important they know how to keep learning on their own.

Mills Hall - on campus

Teach for America is also selective for the students selected to participate.  In each location, TFA partners with a local university – In the Bay Area it is Loyola Marymount University.  The young interns are trained in an intensive summer program in an inner city community, in the art and skills of teaching… class management skills, presentation and assessment activities, and lesson planning and evaluation skills.  

Part of each day in the summer training is direct hands on classroom experience.  Interns are then hired by inner city districts to teach 5 periods a day, and receive a full beginning salary.  As their teaching commences they also have the benefit of their field supervisor, an in-school support person, weekly evening classes, several scheduled weekend seminars, and reflective team meetings with a small group of teachers who meet in scheduled team meetings.

One common feature with both programs is working in inner city schools.
Following is a list of some of the characteristics of the world that both the Mills student teachers and the LMU/TFA interns have chosen for their work:
 * More than twice as many students are likely to be living in poverty than those in suburban locations.
*  The number of single parent families is directly proportional to the poverty level.  Often the working parent is working and not present to support the child with homework or with issues of ‘growing up”.

*  The increasing proportion of children with non-English backgrounds in urban locations has led to a greater proportion of children with difficulty speaking English in those locations.
* Our Bay Area inner city schools tend to have high proportions of Latino, Black, Pacific Island, Asian, Indian/Pakistani/Afghani students.  The cultural diversity is both a learning opportunity but oftena cause of cultural isolation.
* A high concentration of low-income students in a school is related to less desirable student performance.
* Urban students were more likely to be exposed to safety and health risks that place their health and well being in jeopardy, and were less likely to have access to regular medical care.
* They were also more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior, which can make desirable outcomes more difficult to reach.
* Urban schools had larger enrollments, on average, than suburban or rural schools at both the elementary and secondary levels.
*Urban teachers had fewer resources available to them and less control over their curriculum than teachers in other locations, as did teachers in urban high poverty schools compared with those in rural high poverty schools (figure E).
*Student behavior problems were more common in urban schools than in other schools, particularly in the areas of student absenteeism, classroom discipline (figure G), weapons possession, and student pregnancy.
*Students in high poverty schools were less likely to feel safe in school, or to spend much time on homework than those in low poverty schools.
* Students in urban high poverty schools were much more likely to watch television excessively (figure H) and to require more discipline by teachers in class compared with their counterparts in other locations
*The turn over rate of teachers is very high as teachers come for a year and then move on to “greener pastures”

*Young adults who had attended urban and urban high poverty schools had much higher poverty and unemployment rates later in life than those who had attended other schools
*Is it easy to teach is such a school – definitely there are challenge.  For student teachers or interns raised in a white middle class environment it can be jarring  to learn to navigate a new culture and to find richness and satisfaction there.

Classroom wall poster 
*Is it rewarding – unbelievably – as you connect with real students who may not have had many in their lives who encouraged them and saw their potential – as you create a safe learning environment and build genuine possibilities for kids with a lot of emptiness in their lives.
*It does require courage and willingness to take emotional and intellectual risks… and to see it through. 
So there is a lot to celebrate with this graduation – it has been a challenging year – and time now to relax a bit – before starting to take what has been learned and plan for next year…

Home sweet home

Friday, May 15, 2015

Who is really behind the mask?

It is fun to put on a mask and show yourself to the world with a different face.  When I was a kid, Halloween was special because I got to invent a new self for the day (In the 3rd grade I won first prize because I went wearing a barrel and a dime store mask.  My 'costume' was a nail keg from the hardware store  and I dressed like a hobo with a corncob pipe.)

Did you ever make your own mask when you were a kid?
This last summer in Peru we saw entire parade units of riders, musicians, or dancers all with identical masks. This was a week long festival that celebrated the history of the region, their Catholic religion, ties with the Inca past - including mythological figures... it was grand!
Peruvian dancers with identical masks
Peruvian dancers portraying the greedy rich Spanish land owners
Almost all groups of people since the dawn of time have used masks - often  in  healing rituals or for ceremonies to connect with the forces and elements of the natural world.  Masks have often been an important part of drama - a signal to the audience what part was being playing.  Sometimes they were used to identify with or to mock those public figures loved or reviled.  Often they were worn  in social gatherings to hide the identity of the person ( just for fun).

Healing mask worn by African tribal healer
But here in this blog  I am writing about the 'virtual' internal masks we ‘put on’ when we go out to meet the world.  
In opera the tragic clown, Pagliacci, had to bury his feelings when his heart was breaking, so that he might appear happy and funny to please the crowd. 

Our lives, hopefully,  may not be as extreme as that.  I don’t know about you but I have my repertoire of masks that I have put on when the situation calls for it. 

1.     Many the morning I woke up low energy and sleepy – but when I stepped before my first class I projected enthusiasm and interest in the topic of the day.  Sometimes I surprised myself by growing into my mask.
2.    I wear a different mask if I am reading a children's book to a group of kids and if I am drinking  beer with friends.
3.  I remember being in social situations as a teen.  I felt like I had to be a quick change artist – one mask for my teachers, another mask for my friends, and a third mask with my family…  I felt that I had to meet the differing expectations of each – it became very awkward when I was in conversation with people all from different groups and had to quickly figure out what mask to put on for that occasion.

R. Reagen mask

Over my life, I have become more aware when I slip on a mask, and why.  I suppose that there are times that it is practical or necessary to wear masks.   I actually feels good to wear certain masks.  I tell my new student teachers that when they first think about setting foot  in front of a group of students that it is quite common to think of yourself as an 'imposter' - to think - "What am I doing here - the kids will see that I am not a real teacher!"  I tell them to imagine it like a drama and they should hold in their mind what an 'effective' teacher would sound like and do - then play that role... in a few days time - the role will become natural - and eventually they will find their own true 'voice'... this is called the 'imposters complex'... this is about acquiring masks...

Obama mask
I suppose we all have a social persona – the image of self that we want others to think us to be…
*I have known hyper macho guys that talk and dress to fit their mask image – after a while they begin to believe that they are this guy.  How you talk, your word choice, how you carry your body, how you walk... all part of your mask.
*Being a teen today involves making tough identity choices – There are many identities to choose between; but often the goal is to avoid isolation– Should he or she become a Jock, a nerd, a “don't care less” group , a cheer leader, an intellectual, or artist, or Youth for Christ, or identification with an ethnic group or gang, future farmers, future homemakers …Once a student is drawn into a group it can be difficult to change – the mask may stay for life.
*I have known people who more than anything love good gossip - they may wear one mask when they collect the juicy tidbits and wear a very different mark when they are blasting something by telling stories about their secret lives.
"Ganesh" mask from India
Some identity masks are imposed upon us…We don't choose them, but society may ‘brand’ us because of our race, medical condition, height, weight, sexual preference, profession (Army, Police, teacher, farmer, housewife), athletic skill… to project expectations on to us… Oh he is Mexican, or a basketball player, deaf, or fat... so... he or she must … (you fill in the blank of what society expects).  Ask a member of one of these groups and they will tell you how difficult it is to be seen as an independent person when the masks of society are imposed on you…

Masquerade mask
The curious thing to me that none of these behaviors or expectations  are genetic – not inherited at birth – it is all learned – or chosen during life.  Parents, peers, community culture can all have powerful effects…  Many strong people insist on living outside of the limits that they perceive when young.

Judy and I were just watching a video drama made in Australia – this upper class old woman said – “All my life I have done and acted in the ways that were expected of me – I don't really know who I am”!  Yes I know people like that…

Chinese Classical Opera mask
Now of course if we all went around totally being ‘ourselves– saying what ever our impulse of the moment told us to say and do – it would be chaos… Social filters are necessary for orderly society to exist… This creates a kind of dilemma.  Which of these is true “You can think what you want – just don't say it”  “ Be honest – let people know what you really feel’ “You want people to think highly of you so its best to tell them what you think they want to hear.” “A wise person learns when to stay quiet.”...Are there absolute answers or is it relative?
Alaska native dance mask

This all started with masks –and sometimes we come to confuse who we are with the masks we habitually wear.  What masks have you worn today?  Are they masks that you chose or ones that your society imposed on you? Who are you?

Sports figure mask

Friday, May 8, 2015

Around they go...

Have you ever heard it said that we replace all our cells every 10 years? I have heard variations on this theme for years – and it just isn’t accurate.  Its true that we constantly take in fresh atoms in the food we eat and the air we breath, and of course we lose atoms minute by minute as waste products are given off…but the story of the life span of different tissue types shows that  the life span of cells vary a great deal
blood cells - stained - the purple cells are white cells

Here are some examples
            *  Red blood cells live only about 100 days…as they get warn and inefficient they are removed from the blood stream. New red cells are continually formed in the bone marrow.
          *  Fat cells are replaced at the rate of about 10% per year in adults. The same fat molecules are stored In fresh new cells as needed.
          *   Heart muscle cells are replaced very slowly.  When you are 25, about 1% a year are replaced.  The rate is much less as you get older.
         *  The cells of your cerebral cortex ( brain ) are never replaced – they are repaired but not replaced…   Same with the cells of your spinal cord – that’s why if the spinal cord is severered it can replace the injured nerve cells.
Mesentery - such as blood vessels,body organs
In addition – there is the entire issue of the  growth of the organism.  We all start as one fertilized zygote – there is rapid growth in both the number of cells but also differentiation of cells into specific tissues and organs – the rate of addition of new cells in phenominal in young children and then we settle down in adult hood to maintenance or replacement of cells…

Muscle Cells
You are not the same person that woke up this morning – millions of cells are replaced each minute.  Cell birth and death is a continuous process.  The Smithsonian Institute says that we have 37.2 trillion cells (estimates vary depending on the age and size of person).  The body has evolved to make sure that different cell types can perform their functions efficiently, replacing some rapidly, maintaining others for the long term


I like to remind myself that  the atoms we ingest are not created new for me or destroyed when I use them.   They were all here at the time of the astronomical  “big bang” – then buried in the soil, dissolved in seawater, and involved in the continuous cycle of growth of the organisms.  Atoms  are passed from air and soil to organisms and animals in predictable pathways.  For example - CO2 in the air  can be taken in by corn plants – I eat the corn – I release CO2 and solid waste back into the system where it cycles again – No atoms created – none destroyed.

The Bible speaks of humans passing from dust to dust... it is more accurate to say that our atoms pass from one living organism to other living organisms.

Skin and hair follicles
The foods I eat come from all over the entire world – beef from the hills of California, sardines from the North Pacific – sea weed from Japan in my Sushi – Sugar from beets grown in Idaho – Peanut butter (peanuts grown in East Africa – apples and tomatoes from my back yard.  And for a time these atoms become part of me – but only for a time – before they rejoin the great swirling exchange of atoms in this universe.  Interesting to imagine that I still retain atoms in my body from every meal I have ever eaten – when I was a child, my meals at home and in travels to foreign lands...  still there…

Adipose cells - "Fat"
I like to remember that some of the very same atoms currently in the muscles of these fingers which which I am typing these words have spent part of their history in the muscles and organs of dinosaurs – in giant condors – in earthworms – in jellyfish - in past humans - in giant sequoias and prairie flowers. And when I’m through with these atoms they will be passed on through countless more organisms that  haven’t yet even evolved.

nerve cells

Suppose that radioactive isotopes are given off by a nuclear reaction and suppose that I ingest those radioactive atoms (such as Carbon – 14 or Iodine – 131)  These two can be incorporated into tissue where they can have an ionizing effect within the cell.  Some radioactive isotopes break down fairly rapidly – but others can remain for years – even a lifetime – and  - radioactivity in the cells of the human body continue to cause their damage.  Our bodies can repair a certain amount of radioactively induced damage – but if you need a reason to oppose nuclear testing or nuclear bomb explosiions – here it is.  Some of the radioactive waste from Chernoble  is still circulating in the atmosphere and has been ingested by every air breathing organism, continuing to do damage to human cells...

Smooth epithelial cells

So there you got it – While many cells are replaced – built of new stuff from the foods we eat… and many cells are retained a life time – but with repairs and adjustments as needed.  What a collection of cells we are... enjoy your cells - all of them.