Begin with Identity… Yes, Gender is Part of Me

At a NSTWP Professional Development Advanced Institute I was co-facilitating, there was much discussion on student culture and identity and using an asset model to best serve our students. My thoughts are this. If each individual being a part of a wider system, and many systems at once, is not aware of his or her identity, this causes potential problems within any network that he or she is a member. If a person’s identity is not recognized, affirmed, and responded to, this, too, can cause hiccups in that particular network completing its job and/or fulfilling its purpose.

On a separate project focused on Young Men, Writing and Literacy, I am working with other teachers across the country, the College Board, and National Writing Project to examine how to best serve our minority male students. We pondered the impact of gender in the literacy education: Is gender a significant issue to consider when teaching minority males? Here are my two cents… okay, maybe more than two.

Gender cannot be overlooked in an urban high school classroom, especially at the Freshman level. During the first week of school, students tend to separate each other by gender. There are the girls on one side and the boys on the other. Both genders taking a look at the other seeing who is cute, who isn’t. This is an act done by both genders.

At the beginning of the year, practically everyone tries. It’s a new year, and no one wants to disappoint. They see it as their opportunity to shine: to either continue their previous behavior or turn over a new leaf or figure out what is cool: smart or not. Unhappily, school smart does not win many prestige points on our campus.

As the year continues, it seems like a habit for the males to choose one student to represent their gender, one who will try and be the intelligent, well-behaved male student. I cannot understand this phenomenon. I know my girls are still very much teacher pleasers. If they don’t always have the right answers, most of them will try to out do each other on projects with artwork, colors, handwriting. But what happens to my male students?

I can say that as the year progresses, my newly arrived immigrant males become more aware of their financial duties to the family. They feel pressure to provide for their families either here or in their home countries. This leads to focus on work: more demands on time, shifts in priorities. In that respect, for most of my male students, their culture asks males to be the providers so many of them see education as secondary or tertiary or even further down the list of main concerns.

Coupled with the responsibility of being the provider, the question arises: when do my teenage boys get to be just that, teenage boys? When do they get to step away from the identity as provider and all of the responsibilities that go with that and be kids? For many, the response and the opportunity to be a teenager with fewer responsibilities and burdens is in school. Since, many of them are treated like children in the classrooms, it makes it that much easier for them to fall into seeing school as a social haven rather than a place of discipline and hard work. Besides, they have that already at their paying jobs.

We cannot overlook gender and its impact on teaching minority males or any student for that matter. If we do try to avoid how gender influences learners and learning, we might as well try to ignore culture. We might as well try to disregard identity altogether. That would be a disaster because teenagers are about finding their identity, about exploring, acknowledging, and respecting who they are. It is when people do not do this, when people discount, underestimate, disrespect, belittle, or even just ignore someone else’s identity that problems arise. If we want to reach all of our learners, identities must be the beginning. We need to understand who our students are, and gender plays a part in this discovery.


Because of NWP

I choose to teach. I choose to work in an urban school. I choose to explore various strategies to engage my students and help them feel more invested in their education. I choose to spend my free time collaborating, inquiring, and composing with like-minded educators. I choose to do so because of National Writing Project (NWP).

Because of NWP, I have grown as an educator.

Because of NWP, I have grown as a writer.

Because of NWP, I have grown as an advocate for my students and fellow teachers.

What is NWP? It’s an invaluable network of educators investigating literacy education, discussing what works and doesn’t, and combining efforts to best serve our students and teachers. Ask anyone who has participated in an NWP event and just wait for the positive comments to abound. I can honestly say that every NWP experience from the Annual Meetings to midweek Skype conversations has inspired me. I have left every occasion feeling renewed and resolved to do more to better teach my students. That’s why I, along with the more than 130,000 other educators who participate in NWP professional development annually, keep coming back for more.

Because of NWP, I reach out beyond my classroom and my students to share not only what I have learned but to learn from others as well. Young Authors’ Camps, District Writing Institutes, blogging, tweeting, researching, facilitating and developing professional development, online discussions about gaming, ELL literacy instruction, equity, and so much more. NWP has given me the confidence, the knowledge, the motivation to be a teacher leader. NWP teacher consultants (TCs) assume roles that surpass the boundaries of the four walls of the classroom. NWP TCs enthusiastically accept additional responsibilities to further their own knowledge and skills, all the while knowing that they will openly share this with others. Why? Because of NWP.

 A couple of weeks ago, one of my adminstrators asked one of my students how she has improved so much since last year. My student said it was because of me. We teach for moments like these. We strive to have a positive impact in our students’ lives. But how do we achieve this? Well, if that same adminstrator were to ask me how I was able to make such a difference, my response would be:

Because of NWP.

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Reading Enrique’s Journey

As part of my work with North Star of Texas Writing Project (NSTWP), I am participating in research about Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction (CMWI). It focuses on how to strengthen academic writing for ELLs. The research group is reading Sonja Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey. Thus far, it is incredible. I have chosen to discuss any interesting moments from this powerful read here on my blog. More coming soon…