Last night, at 3:00am, Fritz woke up, calling for mama. He fell back to sleep almost immediately. Lucky him. Once I gave up trying, I got online and started researching articles in Spanish about writing workshop to support some upcoming work I’ll be doing. This week, to supplement my part time work with the Heart of Texas Writing Project, I signed a contract to write Spanish Language Arts Curriculum. In addition to writing in Spanish, this summer I will be leading a 3-day training for middle school Spanish teachers–in Spanish. Conducting writing professional development in Spanish, even for teachers who teach in Spanish, is rare. This contract puts significant value on students’ and teachers’ Spanish language development.
The preparation for this work will take more researching for articles, reading, writing, and thinking than it does when I do similar work in English. Hence, the mid-night research, months prior to the work. I came across some great literature and read one quote that, like many things do these days, made me think again about the power of publication.
“El uso total de la palabra para todos me parece un buen lema, de bello sonido democrático. No para que todos sean artistas, sino para que nadie sea esclavo.” ~Gianni Rodari
My translation: Total use of the word for all seems like a good motto, of beautiful, democratic sound. Not so that all will be artists, but so that no one will be a slave.
A few weeks back, I met with a former student of mine, now a senior, and we talked about her 4th grade year in my class. She also told me what she remembered about her 5th grade year in a class, across the hall from mine, that focused entirely on test preparation. In my class we had studied the history of discrimination in the U.S., created anti-discrimination imovies, and presented our writing at La Resistencia, described on their website as “the go-to place for Chicano literature, poetry readings and revolutionary, social justice and human rights texts. It is also a space where intellectual exchanges are encouraged and where finding the right book is a way of life.”
Sitting there with this now 18-year-old, I sat quietly and listened to her recount her experience in 5th grade. The worksheets, the rote memorization, the prison laps around the track, hands behind backs, for recess. I also have strong memories of that year: the push-ups for punishment, the teacher-demanded silent treatment of some students, their fear to answer a guest’s question until the teacher instructed, “Speak.” I won’t forget observing my cherished students’ voices silenced. But I wanted to hear her perspective, unadulterated, and so I didn’t share what I remember, what I witnessed that year. I just listened and wondered if I could have done more.
After she spoke for a minute she said, “It was oppressive, really,” using the words she owns now to describe what she experienced then. “We were oppressed.”
When someone asks me what I do, I tell them I’m a teacher, an educator. I used to teach elementary school and now I teach teachers how to teach writing. But that’s just the easy, surface answer. What my colleagues and I do goes deeper than that. We design liberating curriculum that not only gives all students access to high quality writing instruction, but also guides all students to see the power of their voice to change an audience. We teach writing for that beautifully democratic motto, total use of the word for all.