Saturday, September 25, 2010

United Farm Workers

Library on a Donkey

I came across this story about a teacher in La Gloria, Colombia named Luis Soriano Bohorque.  He puts a library on a donkey and takes the books to children in the countryside around his village.  He saw that many of the students at his school didn't have books in their homes so they didn't have stories to take them to new places or information to help them do research on topics of interest to them.  He didn't turn a blind eye to the problem.  Instead, with compassion and creativity, he set up a library in his house and made a portable book shelf/table to use to take up to 100 books up to four hours away from his village.  He lets children read those books while he helps them with his homework.  He is a saint in our world today.

I hope for the same kind of compassion and creativity that comes from Luis' heart for all of us!

Gotta Keep Reading - Ocoee Middle School

Monday, September 20, 2010

Passin' By

Passin' By

There is a wonderful scene in Harper Lee's monumental novel To Kill A Mockingbird where the all white jury has returned an unjust verdict against Tom Robinson. Atticus begins to wearily walk out of the courthouse. Jem, Dill, and Scout are in the balcony with the black folks of the town.

Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle.
“Miss Jean Louise?”
I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Sykes’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylors’s:
“Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.”

During the first weeks of school, Scout's story came back to me as I was benchmarking the reading levels of our 1st and 2nd Grade students. One of our 1st Graders named M sat down and looked across at me with clear, brown eyes. She is one of our many English as a second language students. Her parents speak only Spanish in the home. Canola and Marcelo Suarez-Orozco have written brilliantly and eloquently about children like her in their book Learning A New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society where they remind us how valuable and vulnerable our immigrant students are in the first years they are in America. M is indeed learning a new land.

"M, do you speak Spanish at home? Do your Mommy and Daddy speak Spanish at home?


"And you speak English at school."

"Yes, I'm bilingual!"

"You are bilingual. You have to be so smart to be able to speak two languages and to help your Mommy and Daddy understand your teachers."

You do have to be smart to live in one land and learn another.  After M finished her benchmark test, after she translated my English into Spanish and the Spanish back into English for me, and stood up and walked with me to her classroom, I felt like saying, "Teachers and administrators, stand up.  M's passin'."

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Moses

New Moses

We made a circle for our guided reading time. I sat down in my trusty old Hinkle rocking chair, and my students sat down crisscross applesauce on their red carpet squares. My second-graders’ stomachs were full and their energy level was low. They were ready to hear a story.
I held up our book, Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, by Carole Boston Weatherford,and they looked with wonder at Kadir Nelson’s cover illustration. I use reciprocal teaching in my guided reading lessons, so I move from powerful predicting to careful clarifying to quizzical questioning to super summarizing to help my struggling readers develop the skills they need to become great readers. I began the powerful predicting part of the lesson by saying, "Let's take a picture walk through this book and predict what we think is going to happen in the story."
When we turned to the fifth picture in the book, we looked at Harriet Tubman sleeping under a full moon among foxes, raccoons, and possums in the underbrush of some woods. One of my students raised her hand and said, "It looks like she's hiding from somebody." Another said, "She looks worried so somebody must be chasing her." I was guiding my students to know the life and work of Harriet Tubman and to understand the contributions she made to the South and to the North before the Civil War. I was trying to help them understand how to make, revise, and confirm predictions in a story. These understandings are parts of the state academic standards for social studies and reading.
As we took our picture walk, though, something happened that reminded me that I'm not only a teacher in my classroom. I'm a learner, too. J, a serious and soft-spoken Latino child, raised his hand and said, "That picture reminds me of my dad. He tried to come here from Mexico. The police chased him and made him go away. He was scared like Harriet Tubman." Wow. I will always remember the sincerity in his eyes as he connected his life to this great children’s book. He helped me understand that the story of Harriet Tubman is still being lived out today in the lives of Latino families in my school and across the country.
The political climate in my state, South Carolina, increases the chances that our state legislature will follow Arizona's lead and pass a strict new illegal immigration law in 2011. We already have a law that Republican Gov. Mark Sanford touts as one of the strictest in the nation. People who scapegoat Latinos for our nation’s problems foment resentment and hate against them. My school is susceptible to this disease of resentment because we are surrounded by it on television, radio, the Internet and in the words of some of our neighbors.
Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds authored the report Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South for the Southern Poverty Law Center. They explain that "Latinos in the South—many of whom came here to escape crushing poverty in their home countries—are encountering wide-spread hostility, discrimination and exploitation." This report helps us understand the struggle for life that many of our Latino students take on, a clandestine struggle like the one Harriet Tubman made all those years ago.
Learning from my children is a vital part of what I do as a teacher, too. The last picture in the book is of Harriet Tubman sitting with a staff in her hand. She is looking straight ahead with calm, courageous eyes and a weathered, compassionate face. Below her are the words, "Well Done, Moses, Well Done."
On that day in a guided reading class in a small inner-city elementary school in Greenville, South Carolina, J was our Moses. "Well Done, J, Well Done."

Monday, September 6, 2010



I like to receive letters.  When I was a little boy, I lived on a straight street and could see the mail truck coming from way down the road.  After the mailman stopped in front of our house, I ran with hope in my heart down our front walkway, through the two maple trees Dad planted when I was born, across the street to our mailbox. Would there be a letter for me? Was someone in the big, wide world thinking of me?

One day last year on the school playground, a second grader handed a note to me.  She said, “One of your students asked me to give this to you.”  I unfolded the letter.

Dear Mr. Barton, hi it Odeth from 2th  grade  I miss you a lot  I wanted to know about you so much  I am being good  I am in 4th grade  Do you miss me.  I live in __________  I go to school in __________  I hope you will come to my school…can you come visit me in school  ask for my name…I am 10 year old  I want you to come to my school.

Your best student,

Odeth was a student in my very first class as an elementary school teacher. I still remember her big dimples and her inquiring mind. I teach in a school where about 1/3 of my students are from Mexico, Central America, and Latin America. Odeth and her family are from Guatemala.  

Michael W. Savage wrote an article for the Washington Post titled “Oklahoma, South Carolina and Utah may follow Arizona's lead on immigration law.” He noted that the political climate in South Carolina improves the chances that our state legislature will follow Arizona’s lead and pass a strict new illegal immigration law in 2011. In 2008, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R) signed an illegal immigration bill into law and touted it as the strictest in the nation. Some state lawmakers are seeking to build on it and introduced an Arizona type bill less than a week after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed her states bill into law.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “politicians and media figures have only encouraged this environment by spreading false propaganda that scapegoats immigrants for our nation’s problems and foments resentment and hate against them. This discrimination against immigrants – primarily those from Latin America – constitutes a civil rights crisis.”

In his Foreword to Three Screenplays, Horton Foote wrote about creating a screenplay from Harper Lees monumental novel To Kill A Mockingbird and discovering “the evil and hypocrisy in this small southern pastoral town along with and through the eyes of the children.”

I hope you will join me in remembering that behind demagoguery, political rhetoric, and laws there are children like Odeth, children with big dimples and inquiring minds, children who send letters hoping to be remembered, children who see.