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Teachers as Researchers: The Head Teachers of the Mills College Children’s School | Sara Sutherland

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“When teachers conduct their own systematic research into the problems they encounter in their classrooms and schools, they do so not only to address issues that existing research has not and perhaps cannot address, but also with the intent of improving the lives of children, their own practices, and the culture of the classroom and school.”-Andrew J. Stremmel, “The Value of Teacher Research:  Nurturing Professional and Personal Growth through Inquiry” (NAEYC, 2007)


The Mills College School of Education is committed throughout its programs in supporting practitioners to taking a stance of inquiry. At the Children’s School, we are firmly committed to creating a place for everyone to learn, so Head Teachers and student teachers are actively engaged in research. As we begin this year of learning, the Head Teachers each articulated their guiding research goals that provide context for their work with children, families and student teachers.


Seferina Rivera, MA – Infant-Toddler Program, Morning

Seferina Rivera

Seferina Rivera

Seferina is beginning her 11th year as Head Teacher in the Infant-Toddler program. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education, with a minor in Dance and Ethnic Studies, from California State University, Humboldt, followed by her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Mills. Seferina’s guiding research questions this year are What are the ways infants and toddlers learn about culture? What is the teacher’s role in helping them feel connected to their home culture?



Virginia McKone, MA – Infant-Toddler Program, Afternoon

Virginia McKone

Virginia McKone

Virginia McKone earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at University of California Berkeley. She earned her Masters degree in Clinical Psychology from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, and her Masters in Early Education with an emphasis in Child Life from Mills. This is Virginia’s third year as Head Teacher in the Infant-Toddler program. Virginia’s guiding research questions for her work this year are How can I best provide student teachers with the practicum experience that will be meaningful for their varied career paths? How can I help them make connections between their studies and what they experience and observe in the classroom?



Jane Simon, MA – Geranium Preschool, Morning

Jane Simon

Jane Simon

Jane Simon earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Art History from Sarah Lawrence Collegeand her Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from State University of New York at Buffalo. She taught at several laboratory preschools (the Early Childhood Center at Sarah Lawrence College, Buffalo Early Childhood Center, and the Bing Nursery School at Stanford University) before joining the Children’s School teaching faculty over 15 years ago. Jane’s guiding research questions for this year are How can I design program routines and curriculum to meet the challenges of a mixed-age classroom? How can I provide the student teachers of a deeper understanding of their study of early childhood education theory through this practicum experience? 



Rebecca Keller, MA – Geranium Preschool, Afternoon

Becca Keller

Becca Keller

Rebecca Keller earned her Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Documentation, a major that incorporated both Documentary Photography and Conservation Studies, from the College of Santa Fe. She did conservation and environmental education in several venues, including teaching photography, coordinating education for an elementary school garden, and working with the National Park Service, before coming to Mills for her Masters in Early Childhood Education and Multiple Subjects teaching credential in 2012. A 2014 graduate, Rebecca joined the Children’s School teaching faculty this Fall. Rebecca’s guiding research question for her work this year is, How can I support student teachers’ professional growth and development as practitioners?



Jenine Schmidt, MA – Younger Preschool

Jenine Schmidt

Jenine Schmidt

Jenine graduated from University of California, Berkeley, with a Bachelor’s degree in Architecture.  She worked in architecture and real estate, and found herself inspired by and curious about how the role of environment influences children’s experiences.  After earning her Masters degree in Early Childhood Education with a Special Education credential from Mills in 2011, Jenine is now in her fourth year as Head Teacher in the preschool program. This year she is the Head Teacher in the Younger Preschool classroom. Jenine’s guiding research questions for this year are:  How do I develop myself as an anti-bias and anti-racist practitioner? How do I make my process visible to the student teachers with whom I am working?



Paula Buel, MA – Afternoon Preschool

Paula Buel

Paula Buel

After spending 15 years teaching in Bay Area public schools, Paula earned her Masters degree in Early Childhood Education from Mills in 2006. Since then, Paula has been the Head Teacher in the Afternoon Preschool program. Her guiding research questions for this year are How do we have meaningful dialogue that is inclusive of all members of the classroom that is appropriate for very young children? What does it mean to authentically weave in anti-bias curriculum through the year, and how I can best work with student teachers to plan curriculum? 



Nanu Clark, MA – Older Preschool

Nanu Clark

Nanu Clark

After teaching in early childhood settings for 10 years, Nanu joined the Children’s School teaching faculty in 1994. She earned her Masters in Early Childhood Education from San Francisco State, and is the Head Teacher in the Older Preschool program. This year, Nanu will continue to explore an ongoing question: What is the meaning of inclusion and exclusion in children’s play? In addition, this year Nanu will also research How can we as teachers think and talk about race and diversity in a developmentally appropriate way in the classroom?



Jenny Bond, MA – Kindergarten

Jenny Bond

Jenny Bond

Jenny Bond is beginning her third year as part of the Children’s School teaching faculty. She graduated with her Master’s degree from San Francisco State, and is the Head Teacher in our Kindergarten classroom. Her research questions for this academic year are How will more direct and focused writing instruction impact the students’ writing development? How will observing and participating in this more direct instruction support the student teachers’ thinking about writing development for this age group? 



Jenny Rikkers, MA – 1st Grade

Jenny Rikkers

Jenny Rikkers

We welcomed Jenny to our teaching faculty for the 2014-15 school year, where she is the Head Teacher in our first grade classroom. Jenny received her Masters degree and teaching credential from Denver University’s Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound Teacher Preparation Program. Jenny’s guiding research question for this year is: How can I best observe and understand how children naturally learn in a setting without the pressures of standardized testing? Through observing the children’s engagement and actions, how can I best work with my student teacher to plan curriculum? A larger guiding question for Jenny’s research is, How can this experience support teachers who will be teaching in Oakland public schools, where the pressures of standardized testing exist? 



Sarah Sugarman, MA – 2nd/3rd grade

Sarah Sugarman

Sarah Sugarman

Sarah earned her undergraduate degree in Urban Studies with a focus on education from Brown University. She earned her teaching credential from Mills in 2005, and returned for her Master’s degree, graduating in 2009. Before joining the Children’s School faculty in 2012, she taught in two Aspire Public Schools in Oakland, always focused on the 2nd and 3rdgrade age group.  A guiding research question for Sarah’s work this year is How can I make our curriculum on cultural traditions relevant for and personal to the children and families in our classroom community?  Sarah also shared that each year she explores the questions How can I meet the vast range of academic needs in my classroom community? How I can best use my resources to provide differentiated instruction?



Anne Malamud – 4th/5th grade

Anne Malamud

Anne Malamud

Anne is the Head Teacher in the Children’s Schools 4th/5th grade classroom. She earned both her Bachelor’s degree and teaching credential from University of California, Berkeley. After teaching for 20 years in both public and private school settings, Anne is beginning her fourth year as a member of the Children’s School teaching faculty. The guiding research question that is framing her work this year is, How can I be more explicit in guiding my students in developing independence and executive skills through my classroom work to prepare them for success in middle school and beyond? 



Gyasi Coles, MA – School Age Care program

Gyasi Coles

Gyasi Coles

Gyasi is beginning his eighth year as Head Teacher in our School Age Care (SAC) program. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Recreation from California State University, Hayward and his Masters in Educational Leadership from Mills. This year, Gyasi’s guiding research question is How can I best support my student teachers in developing leadership skills through the lens of collegiality? How can my leadership convey my belief that every teacher on the SAC team has relevancy and agency?



Founded in 1926 as the first campus laboratory school west of Chicago, the nationally recognized Mills College Children’s School provides a model setting for child study and teacher education based on the six core values of the Mills College School of Education. The Children’s School is also a base for the advocacy of “best practices” the care and education of young children. Visitors, both from the Mills community and from around the world come to observe. The Children’s School currently serves 145 children between the ages of six months to eleven years and serves as the practicum site for 47 student teachers.


Sara Sutherland, Head teacher at the Mills College Children's School

Sara Sutherland

Sara Sutherland, MA, currently on maternity leave, is an alumna of the Masters in Education program at Mills. She has been a Head Teacher in the preschool program at the Children’s School since 2007. She coordinated this piece during the fall 2014 semester.





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January 5, 2015 at 12:30 pm

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Learning with and from our Colleagues in China | Kathy Schultz

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In late September, Linda Kroll, Betty Lin, Priya Shimpi and I traveled to China as invited guests to the Shenyang Normal University to present at an early childhood conference. Traveling to another country—especially one so different than the U.S.—always opens my eyes to new ways of thinking and acting, offering new perspectives on our own work in the United States.

2014-09-17 18.23.07

We spent the first evening and following two days in Beijing, a city that is a remarkable mix of old and new, traditional and modern, crowded together in a single space.  From our hotel, located close to the Forbidden City—the imperial palace from the Ming dynasty—in a single glance we could see a large Apple Store, high end car and clothing stores (selling Lamborghinis and furs) as well as the traditional Beijing houses built around courtyards and located in hutangs or narrow alleys. These houses are typically built without indoor plumbing and are all connected to communal bathhouses.

2014-09-16 19.12.20

Our first couple of days in Beijing were spent taking in as many sites as possible including the astounding Great Wall which snakes along the edges of mountains, Tiananmen Square that seemed to be cordoned off to prevent collections of protestors, spectacular night markets selling all kinds of delicacies on sticks including grilled squid which was exquisite and snakes and spiders that we veered away from, the traditional historical sites, colorfully lit streets with closely packed venues for karaoke singing, and modern art galleries in a Bauhaus setting. We literally drank in the sites as we simultaneously tried to grasp the life around us, which seemed both familiar and strange.

2014-09-16 19.29.36

The central portion of our visit was in the city of Shenyang. We were graciously hosted by Dr. Dan Fei, Dean of the School of Early Childhood and Primary Education. Dr. Dan had visited the Mills College School of Education the prior spring to learn about our early childhood education programs and laboratory school. We were invited to present one of the four central talks of the conference as well as to participate in a panel discussion. There were between two and three hundred people at the conference, primarily professors, graduate students and programs directors of early childhood education programs from around the country.

The opening talk was given by Xiang Kui-Zhang, a highly respected early childhood education policymaker and practitioner from the Children’s Development Center of Northeast Normal University. I was reminded during the talk and throughout our visit of the limitations of my understanding, as every talk and conversation was mediated through a translator. I was also quite aware of the limitations of my own knowledge of the larger cultural contexts and the educational and political systems in China, which is a vast and diverse country. Dr. Xiang talked mostly about the purposes of early childhood education as connected to building character and lifetime happiness. Echoing debates in the United States, she spoke about the importance of setting different standards for each child and the need to revolutionize how China is evaluating children’s performance. Typical reporting on China emphasizes the uniformity in their education as well as their success on standardized testing. This provided an important counterpoint to that discussion.

Professors Betty Lin, Kathy Schultz, Priya Shimpi, and Linda Kroll presenting at an early childhood conference held at the Shenyang Normal University in China in September 2014.

Professors Betty Lin, Kathy Schultz, Priya Shimpi, and Linda Kroll presenting at an early childhood conference held at the Shenyang Normal University in China in September 2014.

Our own talk focused on the history and scope of Early Childhood Education in the United States, the preparation of Early Childhood teachers in the U.S., and specifically at our school of education, and the history of laboratories schools in the US with an emphasis on the Mills College laboratory school (Children’s School) as an example of the practices and beliefs that characterize our approach to early childhood education. It was difficult to read our audience during out talk, though it seemed clear that many of the participants had serious questions about the relevance of our ideas for their work in China. We had described the six principles that undergird our programs in the School of Education. One of these is that teaching is political. As we state on our website: “Professional practice is political in that, by definition, it is concerned with matters of change that are neither neutral nor inconsequential.” One participant asked, “What do you mean by your statement that teaching is political?” Even as Linda Kroll answered this question, it was quite clear that our understandings of teaching as political and theirs were quite different. While we connect the political nature of teaching to working in the system as it currently exists while imagining and working toward its transformation, my understanding of the Chinese education system is that it is more overtly a political instrument for shaping its citizens. The conference format and the language barriers made this expanded conversation and exploration impossible in that moment.

A conversation, set up as a panel and a question and answer opportunity, followed our presentation. The topic of our discussion was U.S. Teacher Preparation: Current Trends and Movements. The vocal participants in the discussion seemed to have two, somewhat disparate, interests. There was a group of program directors interested in the specifics of how our undergraduate programs were structured. In addition, there were a couple of graduate students who had wide-ranging questions that touched on issues such as the prevalence of child abuse among our early childhood teachers. The first group sought to understand the purposes for a liberal arts education in the preparation of teachers with a focus on the requisite courses for future teachers in the U.S. Ultimately their concern seemed to be centered on the extent of governmental control of the curriculum in U.S. schools. Ideas of academic freedom seemed foreign to them, as was the wide variation in the requirements for early childhood teacher credentialing at the state level. The variation they were more familiar with was in the well-known disparities between urban and rural areas of China. They stated clearly that teachers in rural areas have no education to work with young children.

The second set of questions were posed by graduate students who were interested in the problem of child abuse in China and the U.S. They asked us to explain how we guaranteed that our teachers graduate as moral people. We had no answer to that question and could only say that teachers in the U.S. are required to have criminal background checks that screen known instances of child abuse. An important principle of our program is that teaching is a moral activity guided by an ethic of care. Once again, the nuances of how we enact and interpret this principle as compared to their understandings could have been an important conversation. They wanted proof of outcomes, we focused on the principles and values behind our work.

2014-09-19 14.28.47

Children in a laboratory School in Shenyang, China


After the final talk on the second day, which reviewed the state of Early Childhood Education in Higher Education institutions, we had the opportunity to visit the laboratory school connected to the university and to see the classrooms of the early childhood education program. The laboratory school for three- and four-year olds was stunning. The modern hallways were lined with classrooms for teaching pottery and the arts to young children, as well as several spaces for fantasy play, such as grocery stores with elaborate plastic food and shopping carts and hospitals and barber shops where children were taught not to be afraid of these life events. There was a huge kitchen where children were invited to join the school chefs and a large garden with farm animals.  In the classroom we visited, children were seated quietly reading their own books. It might have been a moment in a classroom in the United States. I wondered what values were embodied in the display of beautiful models as exemplars and the explicit focus on the arts and how they compared to a focus on children’s individual strengths and interests in some U.S. schools. In our tour of the Early Childhood and Primary Education Department at the university later in the afternoon we saw many of these same spaces and emphases including the provision of many varied materials for learning to teach and a focus on the arts. The beautiful aesthetic of the school was reflected in each aspect of the university. Our day concluded with an animated discussion of possible collaboration in the future.

2014-09-19 14.30.46

We took away so many questions from our intense one-week visit including: What are the contrasting ways that teachers are prepared to teach in each of our countries? How do the different emphases of these programs reflect our different conceptions of education including the epistemological grounding of our understandings of learning and teaching? What does teaching as a political act mean in each of our countries and what are the ways we can learn from the values that shape our decisions and programs? As the U.S. seeks to attain the high test scores reported from Shanghai, China reportedly wants to introduce more creativity and flexibility into its education system. While we often emphasize contrasts, the similarities and tensions within each country were equally striking. There is so much we can continue to learn from one another; opportunities such as this one provide both a window into another way of thinking at the same time as they hold up a mirror to ourselves.


Kathy Schultz is  professor and dean of the School of Education at Mills College in Oakland. She is the author of the 2009 book, “Rethinking Classroom Participation: Listening to Silent Voices.”


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December 19, 2014 at 1:32 pm

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Those Who Can, Teach | Julia Beers

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Julia Beers is a Mills Alumna who currently completed her credential program in Teaching through Mill School of Education MEET Program.

Julia Beers is an educator, alumna and completed her teaching credential at Mills College in the School of Education MEET Program. She is currently working on her Master’s.

“Teachers must recognize in a conscious and deliberate manner their own worth as an interpretive community” (Fecho 1993).

Somehow, the pervasive and ridiculous saying, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach,” had escaped my ears until I was in my mid-twenties. I remember hearing it in a movie while working on my credential at Mills and couldn’t believe that this quote could possibly be so widespread. I knew at that point, from first hand experience, what a complex art it is to be a teacher, how deeply one has to know one’s subject, students, and self in order to teach well. This quote seemed profoundly mistaken to me.

Over the years, as I have talked about my work with friends and family, I have been struck by their common misconceptions of what teachers do. When I arrive at a dinner date with friends and say, “Sorry I’m late. I was at work until six today,” I am often met with inquiring gazes, and sometimes asked, “so…what do you all afternoon? Don’t the kids leave at 2:15?” I am continually surprised that many people do not know a teacher’s job goes on long after the bell rings. And so I bring my busy and yet unseen afternoon into the light, telling them about the thought and preparation that goes into each lesson, my assessment of student work, collaboration with colleagues, and communication with parents. Amidst these daily components of my job, I may also share about the unexpected challenges that have arisen on that particular day, working to get Medical set up for a family, keeping a student late to re-teach an important math concept, or gathering classroom materials for a newly admitted student. In telling these stories of what it truly means to be a teacher, I can do my part to slowly debunk the oppressive and mistaken portrait of the teacher that has been drawn in our minds.

So often teachers are overworked and have little extra time to be involved in the creation and critique of education discourse. It is a marginalization cycle that perpetuates itself: policy-makers are removed from the classroom and so do not seek to change the circumstances that teachers face, and since the public is not familiar with the reality of teaching, many continue to believe stories about the lazy or ignorant teacher. Seeing themselves reflected as such in the public eye, teachers often internalize these erroneous concepts, and then remain further silenced. If we are to break out of this system of teacher marginalization, we as teachers must recognize our own worth. Our voices must extend beyond our classroom walls, as we confer and deliberate within teacher communities. We must share our stories with others and develop a language for challenging misconceptions when we hear them. By bringing our expertise into the formal and informal arenas of education discourse, the meaningful, difficult, and activist work that we engage in daily can be more publicly seen and understood.


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May 28, 2014 at 2:33 pm

Respect|Rachel Lefkowitz

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Rachel Lefkowitz is the Program Coordinator, Educational Leadership and Special Assistant to the Dean at Mills College in the School of Education.

My mother went to college with the woman who has become Miss Manners, and now, whenever my mother travels to Washington, D.C., she and Miss Manners get together for tea. I like to imagine these teas: Miss Manners with her signature chignon and long-sleeved, Victorian-inspired white blouse; my mother in her hiking boots and jeans. They must sit in wing chairs, upholstered in some dark material, with the china teapot on a small table in between them. However, once I have set the scene, my imagination fails. What do they talk about? My mother would be completely bored by a discussion of the virtues of blue-black ink and the correct way to accept an invitation. But that, according to my mother, is not really what Miss Manners teaches. She says that Miss Manners’ message is that manners are about what makes the other person feel comfortable.

It is interesting to think of manners that way. It means that I say “please” and “thank you” not just because it’s polite, but because it’s a way to really acknowledge another person’s efforts on my behalf. Manners, then, are not like traffic signals –that is, a clear set of rules to help you be respectful of others. Manners are variable and cultural. For example, I recently received an email from someone who addressed me as Rachel, but who signed herself as Ms. Smith. I was surprised by this; I thought that if she was being formal, she should write to Ms. Lefkowitz. But I sign my emails Rachel, so maybe she was trying to be respectful of what I like, while showing me that she had a different expectation. Or maybe she wanted me to address her more formally because she is a teacher. It was hard to know, because I wasn’t sure what she was thinking.

This kind of misunderstanding must happen all the time, when expectations are not the same. I know that Mills asks Mannersus to be curious as we work and learn, and manners are another place where we could apply that curiosity. I could have written back to Ms. Smith, and said that at Mills we use first names, but did she prefer a more formal title? That would have alerted her to what makes us comfortable, and given her a chance to explain her convention and let us know if that would be better for her. I didn’t do that in part because I didn’t think of it, but also because it is so uncomfortable to call out a difference in expectations. It really underscores that sometimes what makes one person comfortable is going to take precedence. If Ms. Smith had come to Mills, she would have had to use her first name; our culture would have trumped. But could we be more flexible? Could we call some students, professors, or office workers, Ms, some by their titles, and some by their first names? Could we do this without creating a sense of disrespect for any?

I would like to have tea with Miss Manners someday myself, to ask her how we can better create flexibility between cultural practices and manners’ ultimate goal of comfort for others, especially those whose cultures or practices are different. I suspect that we would have an interesting discussion about it because, as formal as she is, she lets my mother’s hiking boots into her beautifully appointed living room.

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May 6, 2014 at 1:04 pm

An Administrator Reflects on Technology | Susan Christopher

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Susan Christopher-Assistant Dean, Director of Enrollment

Susan Christopher-Assistant Dean, Director of Enrollment

The rainbow wheel of doom was circling at a slow speed on my computer screen. As I waited for an automated report to assemble itself into the format I had requested, I felt increasingly irritated:

“Why is this taking so long? This computer is so slow!”

And even after the rainbow wheel disappeared:

“How come this report doesn’t provide all the data I need in one place?!?”

Then, I glanced at the message on my new coffee mug:

“Breathe in. Breath Out.”

With a deep exhalation, I tried to remember when I was first introduced to the magic of the data report I was now so impatiently awaiting.  I recalled my amazement that in an instant, I was provided with a long list of up-to-date facts about individual applicants that I could filter and sort in endless ways.  I had been delighted that I had easy and timely access to thousands of records, and that I could display an overview of our application process with a few quick strokes of the keyboard.  Breathtaking, impressive, and so efficient!

As I glanced again at my coffee mug, I reflected on the contrast between that initial sense of astonishment and my current sense of annoyance and frustration.  I considered how remarkable it truly is that so many dimensions of empirical knowledge about our students, faculty, staff, and alumni can be entered in and drawn out from a single location in cyberspace.  How had I lost that sense of appreciation?  When did I stop marveling at the wonder of technological efficiency and start grumbling about how slow and inadequate these tools are in living up to my need for data?

I suppose the answer lies in our collective expectations about technological tools.  Given the astounding advancements in computing capabilities that most of us in higher education administration have experienced over the past few decades, we assume that our computers will continue to gain speed and capacity as we create the need for ever-more elaborate data presentations.  We expect quick and reliable answers to endless questions posed by those from inside as well as outside the College.  And I think we have grown to rely on these tools as extensions of ourselves, of our own capabilities: any struggles with technology may be perceived as a weakness in administrative abilities.

Office in India

Office in India

In a final exhalation, I reminded myself that administrators only one generation before me had managed to oversee admissions processes and track student enrollment without the aid of any computers.  Indeed, that is undoubtedly still the case in many places in the world.  I chuckled as a memorable image from a recent trip to India came to mind.

While taking an unofficial walking tour of the University of Rajasthan, our guide, Acharya, led us through a central administrative building.  In office after office, we saw enormous stacks of paper.  There were stacks on shelves and stacks on desks; there were stacks inside cabinets; there were whole rooms that appeared to be devoted to storing stacks of paper.  As a fairly recent college graduate, Acharya explained that if he requested his records, a clerk would have to manually search through stacks of papers like these.  It might take months to get a single copy of a required document.  His explanation revealed no sense of frustration or outrage, just calm acceptance.

So I put a copy of that photograph on my desk, next to my coffee mug.  When the rainbow wheel next appears on my computer screen, I intend to recalibrate my response.  I will imagine that someone is moving from one office to another, combing through innumerable stacks of paper, and assembling an astonishing array of data for my use.  I will remember that others perform similar tasks with much less powerful tools.  I will be grateful for the remarkable technology that allows me to complete complex tasks on a daily basis.

And I will graciously accept the gift of a multicolored reminder to simply breathe while I wait.


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April 14, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Perspectives from an ESL student | Zubin Hu

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ImageZubin is a student in Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools. For two different classes, Zubin was required to select a student (ELD student preferred, but not required) from the classroom where he student-teaches. Zubin wrote the piece below in response to case studies he did in those classes. He chose the topic because he had not seen anyone mention anything on it and wanted others to be aware of the differences between the terms.


Some definitions (from

ELL/ EL- English Language Learners/ English Learners

ELD- English Language Development is a system of instruction focused on teaching ELLs to use English proficiently to communicate for various purposes in four language domains – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. ELD is also a class period that all students placed in the ESL Program are assigned.  It has its own curriculum and state standards.

ELP- English Language Proficiency are levels of English language learners’ fluency based on their stage of language acquisition and characterized by specific student language behaviors in reading, writing, listening, and speaking. The levels are determined by State ELPA Test. Level 1 is Beginner.  Level 2 is Early-Intermediate. Level 3 is Intermediate.  Level 4 is Early- Advanced.  Level 5 is Advanced.

ELPA- English Language Proficiency Assessment is the annual state exam for assessing English learners’ growth in English proficiency

ESL- English as a Second Language

To many people, the phrases “ESL”, “EL”, “ELL”, and “ELD” are the same thing. However, to me, they are different. I am an ESL student, and “ESL” is the only one among the four definitions listed above that I’d love to be identified as. Being an ESL student implies that I can speak another language and may have language barrier. On the other hand, being an EL, ELL, or ELD basically means one has language barrier.

For my case studies on language, I found two students whose home languages are not English. However, they both refused to participate. I felt that they both were anxious about English being their second language. One student even lied. He told me that he was born in Berkeley, and he only speaks English at home. I mentioned this to my roommate, who is also an ESL student, and he said that when he was in school, he didn’t want people know that he was in the ELD program because he was worried people would look down on him. When I asked him if he wanted to be identified as an ESL student, he said that would be better for him because he would have the privilege of speaking two languages.

I understand that some other people don’t want to be identified with any of the four terms above. However, we, as educators, should affirm students’ identities and encourage them be proud.

One day while I was talking to my case study student, she reminded me that teachers often tell ELD students to write the definitions in their native languages. I followed this method myself when I was in school and wrote the Chinese translation of the words I didn’t know. I used to read each article at least three times. The first time reading the article, I basically just looked for the words I didn’t understand and wrote down the definition. The second time reading the article, I just tried to make sense of the article. If I found any definition didn’t make sense, I would go back to the dictionary and find an alternative. The third time reading the article, I was trying to understand it. My reading speed was slow. I spent much more time than other students to understand an article. After doing this for a year, I got tired of it and found that it wasn’t very helpful. English is such a complicated language because so many words have more than one meaning. Also, if a word is used in different context, the definition may be different. I then stopped writing the definition for every word that I didn’t know. Instead, I just tried to figure out the meaning through the context. If I still really had no idea what a word meant, then I look it up in the dictionary and choose the one that makes the most sense.

To many ESL students, especially in high school level, math and science are their favorite subjects. Maybe favorite is not very accurate, and I should use easier-to-catch-up-to instead. We come in with some understanding of those subjects. All we need is just to translate them into English and make sense of them.

Math class was very important to me in high school. I built my confidence in speaking and working with native speakers. Even though I didn’t understand much of the language, I did understand the examples or content. When I got home, I just focused on the vocabulary. Eventually, I was able to understand most of the things talked about in class. This approach may be limited to only a small number of individuals, but this definitely works in some cases including my own. I believe that vocabulary instruction is essential to effective math and science instruction. It not only includes teaching math or science specific terms such as “mean” or “percent,” but also includes understanding the difference between the mathematical or scientific definition of a word and other definitions of that word.

How ELL students feel about themselves is directly affected by the education policies put in place for English Language Learners.  Education policy makers set strict English language standards and push for ESL students to acquire English language proficiency at a rapid pace.  This urgent focus on language acquisition creates anxiety for ELL/ESL students.  Are there any influences we, as educators, bring to ELLs?  If teachers are not sensitive to or responsive toward ELLs’ cultural identities, ELL students can be pushed further toward the fringes of the classroom until they ultimately withdraw from the learning process.  If teachers focus so much energy on mainstreaming ESL students, they will place little or no value on students’ ability to speak two languages.  Acknowledging and affirming all students’ cultural identities in the classroom strengthens individuals’ sense of value, and their academic performance in the long run.  Teachers who understand and support the cultural norms of diverse learners help create a nurturing environment for those students, and can then encourage those students to feel more comfortable in taking the risks that can lead to so much learning and development.  By incorporating the wealth of students’ cultural backgrounds into the curriculum educators can advance the learning of all students, meeting the policy makers’ goals and fulfilling our obligations to all of our students.  The question, then remains: how do we build a curriculum that integrates multicultural backgrounds on an ongoing basis, and not just as a one-time multicultural event or activity?

Written by collegialconnections

February 5, 2014 at 1:14 pm

Remembering Richard “Pete” Mesa| Diane Ketelle

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Richard Peter Mesa, the founding director of the administrative credential program and former Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership.

Richard “Pete” Mesa, the founding director of the administrative credential program and former Distinguished Professor of Educational Leadership, passed away on January 2 at the age of 84. Pete’s elegant leadership embodied grace and dignity and is seldom found. His many qualities of mind and character magnified his individual virtues. Pete’s courage, energy, high principles and steadfastness; impartial justice and utter trustworthiness; calm in the face of difficulty; thoroughness in deliberation and mastery over his strong passions distinguished him, as all of these qualities harmonized in his character.  Students will remember Pete as a rigorous professor and caring mentor, while colleagues will never forget his keen intellect, capacity to listen, and commitment to maintaining a small high quality program.  –Diane Ketelle

The San Francisco Chronicle obituary for Pete Mesa can be found here.

Written by collegialconnections

January 21, 2014 at 10:29 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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