Monday, December 16, 2013

Pick Afros and Books

You are cordially invited to attend Diversity Gallery's Natural Night Out event this Friday, December 20th, 6pm-10pm at the RAC located on Delmar across from the Pageant in St. Louis.  It's FREE! 

I am scheduled to give my "Books Like Me" workshop, where there will be a display of Black children books best suited for teaching little black girls to love and appreciate themselves inside and out, along with a demonstration of quick and easy lessons to use with selected books.  

Look for this sign:

If there are more hair products on your bathroom shelves... 

than books in your child's library...this workshop is for YOU! 

Like my "From Girls to Goddesses" page to enter your name into a drawing for a free children's book!

Don't miss it!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Putting Parents up on the Learning Game

I am posting this as a quick reference for parents who are interested in understanding Missouri's Learning Standards and Core Standards; changes are scheduled to be fully implemented by next year.  Though these standards or knowledge and skills set the bar for what teachers are expected to teach, they do not dictate the content or methods teachers should use while teaching them.

Therefore, students should not be inundated with content and strategies that fail to serve their learning styles and cultural connections.  What good is setting standards when the material being taught has no life-long learning purpose or cultural relevance?  And how are "gaps" expected to be closed when there is still a void left unfulfilled by subjects that respect who the black child is and how the black child learns?

I intend to post more about this topic later.  But for now, please take the time to familiarize yourself with the general information below.  Also, feel free to inbox or post any questions you might have after checking out the links below.  I will be sure to address them in my follow-up post.

Click here for Frequently Asked Questions regarding Core Standards

Click here to discover the  difference between Missouri Learning Standards and Core Standards

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Race: Card or Reality

I am a former employee of the Ferguson Florissant School District and I can't recall too many times when the discussion of RACE failed to enter one of my personal or professional rants about the climate and culture of the district. Though the district made attempts at facing the elephant in the classroom through such vehicles as "Higher Achievement for All", "Courageous Conversations", or Dr. Hollie's Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning (all euphemisms for RACE), a good-old-boy system prevailed and  returned to school politics as usual.  As far as the Ferguson Florissant School District's current decision to get rid of its first African American superintendent, I am NOT surprised! I am only sick and tired of being sick and tired of the black community's reactionary behavior to racially-charged injustices. Moreover, I am annoyed by those in leadership roles who wait until catastrophic events before addressing the issue of RACE.

I have been a Dr. Art McCoy supporter since the day I met him. Before his official superintendency, he would frequent the McCluer North building and never hesitate to drop by my office to offer words of encouragement and inspiration. I respected his down-to-earth and student-friendly style so much that I even considered staying another year in the district just to serve under his leadership. However, RACE appeared to be his Achilles Heel. And very similar to President Obama, he did not deal with issues of RACE boldly and "courageously" enough for me. I liked him as a person and I respected his passion, but I suspected his credentials, charisma and connections would all fall short while trying to appease a district more interested in maintaining the reputation, wants and desires of its stakeholders (white property owners) than meeting the wholistic needs of the students and families it serves.

The FFSD's decision to relieve Dr. McCoy of his duties may have nothing to do with RACE or the school board being all White, but clearly the all-White school board's lack of respect for his leadership and handling of the situation do! Unfortunately, the elephant will continue to remain in the classroom unless parents and students make a daily commitment to education and district missions. Otherwise, the reality of racism will continue to be perceived as just a playing card .

"If only this same number of people actually cared as much about their childrens educations as they do about the race card.." -Rich Akins

Friday, November 8, 2013

What's your philosophy?

How are you teaching without a philosophy? 

If you don't have one or remember the one you wrote during your teacher education program, you better create one right this minute!

Your philosophy is your gut-guiding belief system that governs everything you say, do and feel about teaching!  Yes...pretty powerful stuff indeed!

I would like to  recommend the following books for your professional library.  May they serve as resources as you write, tweak or update your teaching philosophy.

Yes....I have included many titles by Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu.  I consider him the "Godfather of Educating Black Boys" and the educational guru for how best to teach black children in the classroom.

However, before any author's "Black" authenticity is questioned, please be reminded that these are  suggestions only.  I have not personally met any author listed (except Amos Wilson), but I have made an informed decision to choose what best suits my PHILOSOPHY.  As I recently quoted to a reader of my "Books Like Me" post, who commented and questioned what really makes a book black and whether or not quality is considered or just a black author's skin tone, "we should swallow no one whole" even when they come in blackness.  

That gives you one more reason for having a philosophy:  It will help you to stand for something and prevent you from falling for anything!  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Books Like Me!

I am feeling rather nostalgic...where have all the black book stores gone?  I can't think of one local, black-owned book store where I can "shoot the breeze" about the Black experience and purchase Black-made products.  I am especially concerned about the lack of black children's books readily available.  I have a pretty huge collection of black children books and I often share them with the preschool through sixth grade students I tutor.  I am discovering, however, that they are sometimes reluctant to embrace books with faces and names that reflect their own.

Somewhat similar to the black doll test, they appear to shy away from books with pictures that  look like them or validate their experiences.  Instead, they make requests for books related to cartoon characters, television series or Dr. Seuss.  Though the cause of their preferences may be due to inferiority, self-hatred, white washing, commercialization or simply familiarity, I am more concerned about helping teachers and parents find stories and illustrations that racially and culturally connect to them than I am analyzing the reasons for their selections.  There is plenty of research offering analysis and explanations for why black children do what they do but not enough being done to destroy and rebuild educational systems that continue to teach them to do what they do.

You can start by "blackening" your own home library and demanding your child's school library and required reading lists contain black books.  In my former position as a high school librarian, I  intentionally purchased books written from an African American perspective in order to balance the human story as well as represent the school's student population.  Some teachers thought the books failed to support the subjects/units they taught and others either quietly protested or secretively supported my efforts.  Unfortunately, it is rumored that the present librarian weeded or discarded many of those black books.  The point being, you will need to arm yourself with knowledge and supportive parents before attempting to change a white standardized system of education that preaches about practices of cultural relevancy, but rarely makes "courageous' cultural curriculum changes.

Though you might be forced to deal with staff-- and even student opposition-- when making demands or changes within a public school setting, you are in complete control of determining which books you buy for your child's personal book shelf!  Hopefully, if not now, your children will one day proudly proclaim and comfortably describe their collection as, "Books like me!"

Please contact me if you are interested in building your child's personal or school library.  I am a teacher-for-hire consultant working as a free agent to empower our Black book at a time!  

I may be reached at: 424-777-5107 for fees and details!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Are you the School's Holiday Scrooge?

Do you cringe every time the parties, movies and games start in celebration of holidays during the school year?  Are you more inclined to teach your students the history of holidays instead of posting symbols and decorations that acknowledge them?  Would you prefer to have cafeteria, hall, or recess duty for an entire year if it meant you could opt out of serving on any holiday program committees? Are you embarrassed by teachers who spend more time planning their classroom festivities for the holidays than they do unit lessons for learning?  If you answered yes to at least two out of the four, chances are, you are a School Holiday Scrooge!

I embrace my inner scrooge proudly.  No, I don't run around protesting against other people's right to believe what they want.  Furthermore, I no longer feel the need to justify or explain why I ignore particular holidays unless I am provoked or asked.   I have matured and discovered savvy ways of  "putting the medicine in the food" instead of running around like a self-righteous, preachy lunatic with a chip on my shoulder.  Not only does my new approach set a positive example for avoiding the status-quo of commercialism with confidence and conviction but it allows people to feel comfortable about approaching me and inquiring about my scrooge tendencies.

Nevertheless, there are still chances that co-workers and colleagues will label and judge the School Scrooges regardless of their non-invasive  strategies.  Regardless, we are responsible for ensuring our children trust who we are as teachers, surrogate parents and mentors, despite how different we appear from the rest.   There are plenty of ways to make teachable moments out of topics that rub your own belief system the wrong way without personalizing the subject or converting the students.

For instance, I have been annoyed by all  the standing pumpkin scarecrows and hanging skull heads in an after-school tutoring program where I co-tutor/teach with several other adults since the beginning of October.  Since it's not my personal class space and we are curriculum-free, I did not insult any one's decision to decorate the classroom, issue Halloween activity sheets or plan a Halloween party.  Instead, I "did me" by bringing copies of skeletons and using its connection to Halloween as an opportunity to teach the children about the bones in their bodies.  After explaining how we are all walking skeletons and giving the important roles bones play, we pronounced and identified certain bones in the body.  Then, I gave them copies of skeletons with labeled bones to study and told them to prepare for a game using the handout. No preaching or personalizing required!

The following public library books will further explain information about bones and serve as tactile visuals.

These cool skeleton straws will make cool gifts for providing models and drinking juice rather than eating candy.

They will use the below black napkins (a lot cheaper than construction paper) and chalk to draw their own x-ray skeletons.

  • Skeleton Straws:  99 cents
  • Napkins:  99 cents
  • Chalk:  Zero (plenty left-over from my classroom teaching days)
  • Juice:  $10
  • The feeling I get from knowing they learned something REAL without feeding them candy or being a Halloween Scrooge:  Priceless! 


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Parents should not hear it through the grapevine

So you survived your first parent conference for the year...KUDOS!  Meeting your students' parents can be quite intimidating and stressful, especially for novice, young or youthful-looking teachers.  I recall times I contemplated ways of purposely aging to avoid the often spoken or gestured, "That's your teacher?!", communicated by parents whose imagined picture of me did not match their child's description of my class.  I could always tell when they felt a little caught off guard by my youthful appearance.  I overcompensated by making sure my wisdom, professionalism and maturity spoke volumes, causing assumptions about my age to dissipate.  And then, there were those students who used parent conferences as an opportunity to play matchmaker by introducing their single male fathers and relatives.  Although flattered by their consideration to have me as part of their family, it only added to my self consciousness.

Regardless of what your hangups might be about meeting parents, there is one main ingredient to ensure your success with them: COMMUNICATION...COMMUNICATION...COMMUNICATION!  More than likely, parents will complain about having no communication, very little communication or a miscommunication. Whether it is an excuse for them to pass the responsibility or place blame, it is still your responsibility  to make sure that a parent conference is not the first time parents discover their children are failing or not meeting your requirements and expectations.  With today's technology, there are too many ways to keep parents informed, as well as, means to document parents' message retrieval.  Be sure, however, to check your district's policy concerning social mediums. 

Bottom Line:  Keep every district-approved line of communication open and document it!  It may seem frivolous now, but you will be glad you took the time if ever an irate parent accuses you of not sounding an alarm before failing their child.  And guess will no longer consider parent conferences scary and dreadful.  Instead, you will welcome parents with the confidence and peace of knowing you made every possible attempt to connect.

Now as far as youth and singleness....there are worst job hazards!  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Books by These 25 People Should be in Your Children's Library

Take the Black Children's Book Test

If our children can name and identify twenty-five hip hop artists, make sure they can do the same for the following black children writers and illustrators.



Match the following names with each picture above.

  1. Mildred D. Taylor
  2. Walter Dean Myers
  3. Sharon Bell Mathis
  4. Tom Feelings
  5. Virginia Hamilton
  6. Jerry Pinkney
  7. Brian Pinkney
  8. Ashley Bryan
  9. Julius Lester
  10. Lucille Clifton
  11. Angela Johnson
  12. Nikki Grimes
  13. Donald Crews
  14. Frederick McKissack
  15. Patricia McKissack
  16. Floyd Cooper
  17. Jan Sivey Gilchrist
  18. Jacqueline Woodson
  19. Rita Williams Garcia
  20. Christopher Myers
  21. Christopher Paul Curtis
  22. James Ransome
  23. Angela Shelf Medearis
  24. Bernette Ford
  25. Javaka Steptoe