Between examing the role that Good to Great can have in our schools, I continue to explore what I need to learn about teaching Latino students. In three previous posts, here, and here, I responded to a professional development session in which our staff's effort with Latino students was summarily reproached for its subtly racist undertones. The presentation, though interweaved with some truths, was more for provocation than actual usefulness. I'm tempted to dwell on its need for provocation and not move to the intereweaved truths--I'll refrain for now.
Last year, in my first year at this particular school, I discovered a book, Puerto Rican Students in U.S. Schools, edited by Sonia Nieto. The Daily Grind should fund the purchase of this text, but for now, google books will have to suffice. The truth is that our Latino students do face challenges in finding success within our US schools--we who teach these students should be more educated on those challenges. Yet I can't help but admit that many students of various racial makeup have challenges. Which is why I agree completely with one of Nieto's conclusions about the need for caring teachers--of all the foundational skills needed to succeed with all students, carino, might be the most important.
Nieto concludes, "Care is demonstrated most powerfully through high expectations and rigorous standards, and in teachers' beliefs that students are worthy and capable" (31). The current charter school movement is tapping into the power of carino as a means to improving student learning. We have much to discover about high expectations and rigorous standards.
Sometimes I think teachers of our Latino students, in an effort to care about them, allow themselves to lower their standards and focus too heavily on how the "feel" and less on whether or not they are learning.
She adds that other effective examples of carino include, "...developing strong interpersonal relationships with students and their families, learning about and from them, respecting and affirming their language and culture, and building on these to support learning" (31). At this point, I begin to feel uncertain about what she is proposing. Or, at least start asking far more questions, which would be the better way to describe my uneasiness.
Shouldn't we expect "strong interpersonal relationships" between our teachers and every student? What does "affirming their language and culture" mean?
For instance, in Sweating the Small Stuff, author David Whitman writes that the new paternalistic schools "Street slang, the use of the ‘n-word,’ and cursing are typically not only barred in the classroom but in the hallways and lunch room as well” (38). I know that by "language" Nieto more than likely means Spanish, but what if their "language" is both Spanish and street-slang English? Culture is the learned patterns of behavior, and street-slang falls into that definition.
However, in the end, I agree with Nieto regarding what she more than likely really means. Schools which serve Latino students should be working to create great students. Whitman, in his book, describes Cristo Rey Jesuit High School goal “... to have graduates be bilingual and bi-literate” (139). Not only does this respect their culture, it serves the greater purpose of educating our students to high standards. Now that's real carino.