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Friday, October 20, 2017

Realidades about education in Puerto Rico


By: Fernando J. Figueroa

El Teacher (2017)

salon de clasesClassroom from a Puerto Rican school photo from Press Conference of Puerto Rico’s governor about the state of the schools. Credit: http://www.endi.com

The next time you hear yourself complaining about how hard it is being a teacher consider that, you and only you, in the space of 6 hours, are the most transformative force of curiosity and inspiration to the future of a student.

I believe on this and you will need to remember this as you read along.

Every morning over the past month I have added an extra step to my morning ritual.  While I make breakfast, coffee (…a damn good café con leche), snacks and lunches, I stream Puerto Rican radio.  While I execute this perfectly choreographed routine, I listen.  …and it hits me right in the heart. The news are depressing as fuck.

My family is fine, but knowing that mi isla and mi gente, are going thru some desperate times provides me with an endless source of helplessness.  This is exacerbated by the broken communications between the US and the Island.  Every Boricua that I’ve talked to feels this.  As a community we have learned that the word “fine” can mean that your family is just alive or that you are not homeless.

While checking on a Facebook group about news from the island I came across this video:
You can view the video by clicking:”here

Julia Keleher is the Secretary of Education in Puerto Rico.  She is in charge of the Educational System of the island.  Currently out of the 1100+ public schools in the island something like 190 are open.  These schools do not have electricity (and Puerto Rico is hot). The rest of the schools are either damaged or are being used as shelters because whole communities of people lost their homes.  This includes teachers.

The average teacher salary in Puerto Rico is about $33,000 and if teachers do not work, they do not get paid.  Like I said before: desperate times.

Julia Keleher’s job right now is this:  she has to direct people to go back to work at a time when the infrastructure of the system that she overlooks is either damaged, destroyed or overwhelmed, with almost no communication in communities who have no electricity or water or food.
I don’t think anyone or any administrative educational training program, is prepared or knows how to handle a situation like this.  Which brings the question:  Is your school district prepared for scenarios of long term work interruption if the infrastructure and communication collapses?  This is what is staring at Julia Keleher and the Department of Education in Puerto Rico.  Notice that Ms. Devos has been absent on any reporting.

If that was not enough, Julia Keleher is also facing a possible massive exodus of teachers to the US.  Local talent has little or no reason to stay: legendary low salaries and little resources making the Puerto Rican teacher a master of “hacer tripas corazones (meaning: to make the best out of really bad circumstances.)  A Puerto Rican teacher is usually bilingual and resilient.  Try teaching a classroom with about 40 students?  They do this everyday!  California has a student to ratio limit to 32 students per teacher.  Their skills are useless when their homes or schools have been damaged, have no power or water or have been destroyed. Trying to teach students in these settings along with the traumas that the students bring with them everyday (while you haven’t even dealt with your own) it’s a Herculean task! In other words: “esta cabron”.  Why would anyone stay and deal with the unfolding drama if they have a chance to leave?  Yet,  many of these teachers are still showing up to work or trying to figure out how they can best help their communities.
I have hope that mi gente are doing everything humanly possible not to just survive but rebuild even though the devastation is so incredibly overwhelming.  There are pieces of good news here and there. Check this NPR report.

The Puerto Rican diaspora has stepped up and continues to do so.  J-Lo has stepped up.  Even Jennifer Aniston has stepped up.  Puerto Rico se tiene que levantar.  It needs to stand up.  If schools after Katrina where able to start afresh, the same thing needs to happen in Puerto Rico.  The long term economic and cultural survival of the island depends on this. I really want to be hopeful that this could happen.  After all, this disaster has not only forced everyone to start rebuilding from destruction and to question all of our past.  The future shall be what we make of it.

At the same time, I am also the product of the Puerto Rican educational system which makes me a realist, constantly suspicious and a skeptic.  For far too long education has not been a priority for the Puerto Rican government.  No one expects a miracle from them.  The video of Julia Keleher tells this: Here is someone who is stressed out, its trying to do the best they are capable of doing and its trying to hold everything together.  This also doesn’t inspire much confidence in her leadership.  On the other hand I also know that any human being in her position can reach that “fuck it!” moment and just “blow up” on someone.  No matter what decision a leader makes makes he or she will be criticized and judged. This is the reality for education administrators that is often times only talked about during their credential programs and then no more.  On the other hand, and this is the part where you have to remember what I mentioned to you in the first paragraph:
The next time you hear yourself complaining about how hard it is being a teacher consider that you and only you in the space of 6 hours are the most transformative force of curiosity and inspiration to the future of a student.

I hope this is the guiding thought that Julia Keleher and school administrators use in Puerto Rico and in your districts.


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To read the original post, click on  https://elteacherfig.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/realidades-about-education-in-puerto-rico/

Thursday, October 12, 2017

La importancia de entender los comportamientos: Traumas vs Desafío



Como educadores, una de las preocupaciones que tenemos es la manera en que los niños se comportan en la sala de clases. Esto, debido a que, como seres humanos, preferimos a estudiantes con un buen comportamiento y buenas destrezas de resolución de conflictos. Esto haría de nuestras salas de clases una ideal.

La realidad es que no existen los niños perfectos. Ni existen ni existirán. Por lo que debemos estar conscientes que nos corresponde, como educadores, el poder enseñarle a los niños el manejo de sus emociones con la finalidad de que estos puedan autorregularlas. Sin embargo, esto tampoco es una tarea fácil, pues muchos de los maestros no poseen las destrezas adecuadas para enseñarles a los alumnos a realizar esta tarea de resolución de problemas y autogestión. 

Muchos de estos comportamientos no son auto pensados y analizados, sino que son una reacción directa del cerebro a algún trauma que ha recibido el niño. Bien es sabido, por estudios científicos que así lo demuestran, que el cerebro se reconstruye en relación a los traumas con los que se enfrentan los individuos durante su vida. Por tanto, los traumas son un cambio fisiológico en el organismo y no una mera manera de llamar la atención. Es por esta razón que las estrategias de disciplina positiva sirven con algunos niños y con otros no. 

Uno de los mayores traumas, por ejemplo, es la mudanza. En mis años de experiencia como especialista en desarrollo de la niñez temprana, he observado como los cambios bruscos de ambientes pueden afectar directamente a los menores de edad. Estos cambios provocan la creación de nuevos canales en la corteza cerebral que tiene que adaptarse a los nuevos retos del nuevo sistema al que entra. Este es el mejor ejemplo de una restructuración cerebral. Un niño que no cambia de ambientes constantemente solo pone de manifiesto lo aprendido y aprende a regular sus emociones en el ambiente de su alrededor. 

Sin embargo, los niños que cambian constantemente de ambiente, o que son movidos por circunstancias que ellos no entienden y que no han sido planificadas, pueden redundar en cambios que los lleven a las reacciones y no al razonamiento. Estas reacciones son automáticas y son la parte más básica de la subsistencia animal. El niño hará todo lo posible por sobrevivir en su nuevo ambiente al que no fue introducido previamente, ya sea mediante plática y planificación con los padres. 

Por tanto, en la sala de clases no se puede pretender el tratar estos niños con traumas de la misma manera en que se trata a un niño en un ambiente natural. Ellos requieren de mayor seguimiento y mejores cuidados emocionales. Requieren, en otras palabras, de un mayor esfuerzo de entendimiento y empatía. Los educadores deben ser orientados con respecto a este tema, pues es fundamental entender que los niños no se comportan de manera desacertada por querer hacerlo, sino que es una reacción natural debido a esa restructuración del cerebro. 

Es momento de prestar atención, poner mayor empatía y ser más asertivos respecto a la manera en que se tratan estos estudiantes, pero claro está, no se puede ofrecer lo que no se tiene. Por lo que es necesario educarnos, practicarlo en nuestras propias vidas para, luego, ser capaces de enseñarlo a nuestros alumnos y padres. En conclusión, no tome las rabietas de un niño de manera personal, trate de entender qué son esas cosas que han hecho o pasado para que se llegue hasta allí.