Voices Vol 41 No 1


Readings: Thinking Globally and Acting Locally about Identity and Education

By Gail Verdi

I don’t know about you, but I’m always reading several texts at the same time.  I have books on my nightstand like Charlene Harris’ Living Dead in Dallas from which HBO’s True Blood stems.  Some of my friends make fun of me for enjoying novels about vampires and fairies, but I can’t help but read into these texts many of the same cultural conflicts experienced by immigrants and poverty class families.  For me, vampires are the ultimate outsiders.  There are those that are working hard to assimilate by drinking synthetic blood while others refuse to give up the sense of their vampire identity. Then there is Sookie Stackhouse, a human with fairy blood that has gained entre into the vampire world much like an anthropologist studying a new and different culture.  She is neither vampire nor totally human.  She sees herself caught between two worlds. Having experienced outsider status many times in my life, I relate to anyone who experiences a dissonance between who they are and the mainstream (Verdi & Eisenstein Ebsworth, 2009).

I am also reading a text called Understanding English Language in U. S. Schools by Anne Hudley and Christine Mallinson.  The research found here focuses how we perceive what students say and how they say it - based on our perceptions of who is talking.  Therefore, issues of race, culture, region, and ethnicity intersect with our assumptions about English learners who are both native speakers of a dialect (African-American Language, Brooklyn-ese, Standard English) or non-native speakers (individuals who speak English as an other language). The authors argue that the linguistic knowledge presented here should help educators to teach all students how to communicate in both social and academic settings; to distinguish language variations from errors, to assist students in addressing language related challenges on standardized test; and to value students cultural backgrounds, linguistic heritages, and personal identities (Hudley & Mallinson, 2011).

The last book on my current reading list (actually I’m listening to this on my long commute back and forth to work) is New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens by Brooke Hauser.  Hauser, a reporter, used a method called immersion journalism to observe routines and rituals at International High School in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn.  She focused on the lives of five newcomer students from freshman year to graduation.  However, she also provides us with a lens with which we can view the work of dedicated teachers and administrators who work diligently to create learning communities that are socio-culturally and linguistically meaningful for all learners by utilizing culturally competent teaching (Bennett, 2011).  This book makes me think of work being done in schools like East Side High School in Newark where faculty utilize their students “funds of knowledge” to arrange meaningful opportunities to learn both language and content (Gonzalez, Moll, and Amanti, 2005). 

There is one more non-book source that I am reading that I want to share because it deals with the work being done in the name of improving student learning (growth scores), teacher competencies, and teacher education programs.  If you are interested, go to http://www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility and read the document submitted by the NJDOE on November 14, 2011 requesting an Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) Waiver.  The report outlines the state’s teacher assessment program based on a 50/50 teacher evaluation system: 50% will be based on student growth (testing) and 50% will be based on observations and other measures (portfolios/student surveys).  The state has also included a draft model of Core Teaching Standards based on the following strands: 1.) Learners and Learning; 2.) Content; 3.) Instructional Practice, and 4.) Professional Responsibility.  These strands seem reasonable enough and they are based the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC).   Finally, I thought it would be worth sharing a notation in the report which refers to our identities as teachers of English Learners (ELs):
Teachers of Special Populations
During the course of our research, we came to the conclusion that in some cases the framework recommended here may not apply fully.  Teachers of special populations, including ELL and special education students, may need to be evaluated using different measures.  We recommend that the Commissioner convene work groups to determine how best to evaluate teachers who work in these areas. (p. 182)

Gonzalez, N., Moll, L., & Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Harris, C. (2002). Living dead in Dallas.  New York, NY: Ace Books.
Hauser, B. (2011).  New kids: Big dreams and brave journeys at a high school for immigrant teens. New York, NY: New Press.

Hudley, A. & Mallinson, C. (2011). Understanding English language variation in U.S. schools. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

New Jersey Department of Education. (2011). ESEA waiver request from New Jersey.    Washington, DC: U.S Department of Education.

Verdi, G. & Eisenstein Ebsworth, M. (2009). Working-class women academics: Four socio- linguistic journeys.  Journal of Multicultural Discourses. (4) 2, 183-204.

Gail Verdi is the Teacher Education SIG Representative.  You can contact her at
gverdi@njtesol-njbe.org  or at 908-737-3908 if you have any questions or comments about this piece.