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California Dreaming and the Dream Act November 29, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Politics.
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A stenciled image from a wall in Venice, California reminiscent of the official yellow road signs posted along the freeway outside San Diego. The signs urged CAUTION and featured the same family of illegals running across the freeway. The signs were deemed not PC and eventually removed, but the image left a lasting impression.

Update Dec. 18, 2010 – The Dream Act fell five votes short of passing in the U.S. Senate today. What a wonderful Christmas present it would have been to have given these young people the gift of hope.  Jan

On the front page of The Los Angeles Times today appeared an article Standing up for a Dream – With a vote due soon on the legislation, undocumented students are shedding their secrecy and speaking out. I’ve been meaning to write about the Dream Act for awhile.  With its passage now being considered during this lame duck session of Congress, the time has come.  I can’t stay silent for fear of ruffling a few feathers.

Two years ago a friend of my son’s, who I’ll call Jose (How generic is that?), lived with us for 18 months. When Jose was five, he and his younger brother were smuggled across the Texas border by two strange women – coyotes. His parents had left both boys behind with relatives in Mexico to seek work in the U.S. Jose’s mother, who was 15 when he was born, was converted by Mormon missionaries.  So two boys from Puebla found themselves living on the outskirts of Salt Lake City –  Mormon Ground Zero.

Jose’s parents worked day and night for a cleaning business often leaving the boys to fend for themselves. His father’s brother joined them. They bought a house. Jose and his brother attended public schools. Mormonism fell by the wayside. The marriage floundered. When Jose’s uncle died, his mother returned to Puebla with his younger brother to put things in order. The visit stretched into weeks, then months. She was not coming back, and Jose’s father had no interest in returning to Mexico.

Jose had come out to his mother as gay, but not to his father.  When he did, his father wanted nothing to do with him  (I’m happy to say that two years later, father and son reconciled.)  So here was a boy in high school who to his mind was 100 percent American. His relatives in Mexico were appalled at how poor his Spanish was when he talked to them on the phone. And although he could speak Spanish, he never learned to read or write it.

Long story short – Jose moved in with us.

He couldn’t attend high school, so he studied for and passed the California High School Equivalency Exam. This allows students, in effect, to quiz out of high school and enter community college. But with no documentation, Jose would have to pay out-of-state tuition. He picked up a few cash jobs, but not enough to make ends meet.  Certainly not enough to pay for college. Returning to Mexico was never an option, or at least one he discussed.

For Christmas we gave Jose  a consultation with an immigration attorney through the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.  The attorney laid out Jose’s options.  Getting a fake Social Security card was never an option as that’s a felony which would have prevented him from ever applying for citizenship.  He could petition the court that as a minor he feared for his safety if he returned to Mexico because he was gay. The attorney asked if anyone had ever molested him, or he had memories of abuse.  Jose looked at him blankly.  “I don’t remember anything about Mexico,” he replied.  At the very least we were talking $5000 in legal fees. Then the attorney mentioned the Dream Act.  We were all ears.

Obama had just been elected and the attorney was blunt.  He thought the new president had way too many issues on his plate to tackle the hot button issue of immigration.  Although the Dream Act had the support of both senators in California, as most of those students covered by the Dream Act live in California, its future was in limbo.

Jose thought about his options, or lack of.  He grew depressed.  Four months later, we bought Jose a one-way ticket to Mexico City.  He was returning to a country he had no memory of. I felt like we were sending him into exile in Siberia. His tearful calls confirmed his worst nightmares. The culture shock was overwhelming.

I’m sure there are those who would say, “Boo hoo!  That’s what you get for being illegal in America!” But Jose and so many other children here, including many students that I’ve taught, did not have a choice in how they came to the U.S.  While many have floundered, those illegal students covered by the Dream Act represent the best and the brightest.  I fear that many of our own “legal” children would not meet these standards.  The Dream Act does not guarantee citizenship, but offers a path to legal residency. It offers hope.

Before you make up your mind, be sure to read the link to the article from The Los Angeles Times. I fear that if the Dream Act is not passed, those who’ve stepped forward into the light to share their stories must once again retreat into the shadows.

The Rising Body Count November 14, 2010

Posted by alwaysjan in Teaching.
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Okay, if I had more time, I'd make this pile o' babies look more multicultural like my own students.

I’m afraid blogging has taken a back seat to crowd control. Yes, I started the year with eight additional students. Those eight extra students might as well be 20. Forget Octo-mom. I’m Octo-teacher!

I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of students. When two third grade classes got off the bus to go swimming, the kids just kept a comin’.  It was like the clown car at the circus.

Reluctantly, I’ve switched to two lines. Some teachers do separate lines for boys and girls, but we know which line will always be ready to roll. I’ve tried to equal the odds – literally. Since all students have a class number based on their first name, the odds and evens have their own lines.

The first few weeks, I thought the odds were I was going to go insane just trying to maneuver my class from Point A to Point B. I’ve taken to walking backwards, my hands holding up one finger for the odds and two for the evens. It feels like I’m guiding a jumbo jet to the gate. I have to stand in the middle to keep the lines separate, as the children seem to be magnetically attracted to each other. Once they’ve passed and are standing in two orderly lines, I “take a walk down the aisle.”  “Don’t spoil my wedding!” I say to the kids oozing into my space. My students have taken to humming the wedding march as I move between the lines. You gotta love third graders.

The extra kids mean two more tables of students sitting where I used to store supplies. The supplies now sit in bins in front of my desk. I covered them with pillows and allow those lucky few to “sit in the balcony,” as my entire class can no longer fit on the rug when I do the Word Knowledge lesson.

I began teaching in 1997, the year after class-size reduction went into effect in California. Though a little long in the tooth, I’ve never taught a class of 35 squirrelly first graders doing the potty dance. The teachers in 4th and 5th grade have dealt with larger numbers for years. In theory, the older kids are able to sit still longer. Hey, I said “in theory!” At least they’re no longer wetting their pants (in theory).

But I’ll tell you this. As hard as I try, there’s just no way I can give each one of those students the individual attention they need and deserve. More papers to copy, more papers to correct, more report cards to write, more parents to conference with. This is a case where more is less. Some of the best teachers I know are straining under the weight of additional students. It’s like being a waitress during rush hour when someone has called in sick. There’s no silver lining. And there’s no tips.

Today’s students are not the same students I went to school with in the suburban Midwest. These are kids who too often have received the short end of the stick before they ever set foot in school. We’ve got children in kindergarten who have IEPs (Individual Education Plans) due to severe emotional disturbance and a host of other disorders, some diagnosed, others not. Fractured families and families with both parents working just to make ends meet. I just conferenced with many of my parents and was amazed at how many are under incredible stress, but still confident that I will somehow work miracles with their child. Do they know something I don’t know? Oh yeah, I’m Octo-Teacher.

I came across a hilarious video from The Saturday Night Armistice out of the U.K. Enjoy.