Good White People

Oh hey! Long time no see! SORRY. Guess what life is a wild dynamic thing that doesn’t slow down for anybody. However, that being said, this post needs to be written. The past week left me feeling rather deflated and frustrated.

With Thanksgiving coming up I feel it is important to address some issues with the holiday and our representations of it. (Especially for you TAPIFers out there!)

But first I ask, what do you do if someone doesn’t know they’re appropriating someone else’s culture? How do you traverse cultural differences, as well as historical differences, to stress the troublesome nature of their actions? How, as a white american, can you/I appropriately explain their flaws and be taken seriously? Without feeling like the great saviour?

As educators, we always need to be open to new ideas. We must activity go out and seek them to be able to provide our students with the most appropriate information. It is our duty to support and empower our learners. We must set an example. We lead by modeling this behaviour. What do we do when parents don’t share similar ideas?

Last week, some parents graciously served the faculty and staff a lovely spread of thanksgiving foods! They always deck out the faculty lunch room and raffle off different items to the teachers. Now, as you may guess, as the theme was Thanksgiving, there was a pilgrim present, as well as, an Indian. The parents were raffling off a pilgrim hat, turkey hat, think that one episode of Friends, and a large feather headdress.

I was on my way to get a cup of coffee when I saw it. Beautiful as it was, it instantly put a pile of rocks in my stomach.

Recently, there have been many movements against cultural dress being sold as a costume. Hipsters at music festivals obviously come to mind for many. Now this is not to say appreciating other cultures in wrong, but if a group is saying what you are doing is offensive.. maybe just maybe you should stop.


Cultural appropriation as stated by James O. Young, “is a sociological concept which views the adoption or use of elements of one culture by members of a different culture as a largely negative phenomenon.” The same way it is offensive to make Black Jokes, or wear blackface, it is offensive to take cultural dress ( i.e. Bindis, Headdress, Hijab, etc.) and wear it as a fashion statement or a costume.


This is a hard concept for many to grasp, like this group of parents. They in their hearts they felt they were honoring the history and people involved. Being that the one wearing the headdress was French, it is understandable. They don’t share our history. They don’t know about the massive genocide of Native Americans that was caused by the European Immigrants. The forced removal from their native lands, forced education of their children in boarding schools where they’d be beaten for speaking their mother tongue. When Europeans first arrived to North America, there were over 300 indigenous languages being spoken, now there are 175 or less languages still being spoken as of about 2008. Many of them on the brink of extinction with fewer than a few hundred native speakers. (x)(x)

But then again, France was also a colonizing power. They had their fingers on the US for a time and helped us gain independence from Great Britain, but their knowledge of Thanksgiving is rather sparse. Logically, at least for me, if I were not in my native country, wearing the clothing of a peoples that had been colonized and potentially screwed over, I would listen if someone told me it wasn’t a great idea to wear it.

Back to the meat of it, the parent did not know it was offensive. Multiple admin members and faculty brought up their concerns and upset over the headdress. The wears reaction, however, was the most surprising. It took multiple times of being told it was offensive before they took it off. Personally, I would want to understand what was offensive in the situation, if I was them, so I could avoid it in the future, but that’s just me. They didn’t think they were offensive. They felt they were honouring the history and the people (and don’t get me started on how the headdress is not associated with the Wampanoag). Which can easily be chalked up to an honest mistake is an honest mistake, but being told multiple times by school officials to remove an object that causes offense should clue you in, not make you put up a wall.

It is understandable to be defensive. To have something pointed out to you, that you were unaware of can be a shock to the body. To quote my dear friend Jeana, who reviewed this piece for me:

Both those offending and those pointing out the offense need to be aware of this initial reaction, and work through it together through open communication in order for a shift and understanding to occur, which isn’t usually the case, and the offensive person just walks around with hurt feelings *ahem privilege. You are educated and aware enough to realize that a mistake made is not a reflection on your character or your value as a person, where as many people of privilege have never been made to make that distinction, and therefore get offended by what they view as criticism.

As humans, we make mistakes, how we react to those mistakes is what makes us good, or better. This situation turned into a large miscommunication on the part of many. It is apparent to many of the American teaching staff, that the French teaching staff do not hold the same idea of cultural appropriation we do.

In a conversation later in the day, a coworker of mine, who is first nations member, was talking with a French teaching assistant. The teaching assistant stated that they were not upset by the headdress, it didn’t offend them. To that my coworker replied (finally) that it doesn’t matter if you aren’t, it is to multiple other people. You aren’t Native American, should you be wearing their clothes? I wish he had spoken up sooner. It would have given credibility to our complaints.

Which brings me to the title of this blog. “Good White People” is referencing the teaching staff and faculty who were upset by the situation. It also references our struggle with this situation. How we want so badly to fight the good fight and empower all, but our voices are not theirs. When my coworker finally spoke up it was a huge sigh of relief. He had the power in the situation, he was protecting the representation of Native American peoples, not just of his own personal group.

I’ve recently been reading “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire, he addresses the tools necessary for educating oppressed students. He emphasizes dialogues and providing students with the language to reclaim their world. It is also important to notice that the teachers are not the most important part of the scenario, the students are. Their voices are. It is not the teachers responsibility to speak for their students, it is their duty to give them power to use their own voice.

When this issue was being addressed and not being taken seriously, I felt like I was being the teacher trying to voice the oppressed students’ needs. I want so badly to be a good white person. Do well by all and support those who need it. However, my support isn’t what many want or need. I’m a white middle class woman. My privilege could be written down on multiple pages. My voice is not theirs. They will never be the same, but luckily, I know this. I still feel I can raise my voice up with theirs when times of injustice and ignorance arise.

Where has this post gotten to.. I’m not quite sure anymore. I’m afraid I haven’t made any new discoveries, only I need to learn more. I need to work harder. I need to not be the saviour, but be the ladder. Be the support

So I leave you with this nice little piece of spoken word. She gets my feelings about being the right kind of teacher.

Olivia Fantini- “On Standardized Testing” (NPS 2015) -Via Button Poetry Youtube Channel

A sweet little throwback

I’ve had this poem buzzing in my head the past few weeks. I wrote it in Spring 2012 for a TESOL course I was taking.

The prompt was to write about where you come from.

This is where I’m from.

I come from dirt roads, dusty and soiled
Lined with raspberry groves, down the gully and snaking up the hills to the sky.
Skinned knees as tender as a first kiss
Lightly tracing the lines on a welcoming face.
Tickling blonde tendrils flowing with the dusty road’s wind carrying those summer sweet smells of sun tea and laughing family.
Dancing on back decks singing of sweetness, a euphoric hymn
Reaching every gods’ ears
Cascading and rolling in scratchy grass clippings

I come from the foothills of greatness
Only steps from tickling the stars and whispering sweet nothings into their twinkling ears.
Losing faith in what’s humanly possible and grabbing onto the rope of what’s possible with the help of star dust.
I have been dusted with stars, curry and bug repellent.
I have consumed stars,
Mutton momos so hot your eyes will drink up the snow packed Himalayas
Thenkthuk so filling the broth would do you in, put you to bed into a frantic dream over the mountains where we can only imagine.
Sandaled feet stepping on stars, freezing to the touch.
Freezing quicker than spit on a negative degree day.

Oh my land I come from
A free spring in a land so bruttle it suffocates the sun that thaws my frozen body.
The cloud of power squelching the light the mountains seek to consume

I come from a stolen childhood, gone too soon.
Snatched away like I was that day.
Dusty roads now soiled and raspberries forgotten.
With a crash and hands so harsh they crawled over my skin like poison ivy.
Leaving lines of hives that reached so deep my blood burned in my veins.
A river of fire being burned alive.

I am underestimated, though I have consumed stars.
Cultures more colourful than any garden and people more beautiful than the sun.
Underestimate me.
Let me overcome your doubts and abuses.
I’ll climb those mountains and lucky for me I was born to run.
Mountains are the play grounds of the gods.
So doubt me I dare you for I am heaven sent.
I have whispered to stars and drank sun tea on back decks.
Let me purge you of your doubts and reconcile your sinner’s heart.
Doubt is the symptom of fear and fear is a poison more vile than a snake bite.
Drink of the stars and lay in the garden around you.
Allow the sun to soak your skin.

I am from powerful women and men.
I am from unadulterated passion for education, whether traditional or playing on mountain tops.
I am from dusty dirt roads, dancing on back decks and being underestimated.
I am me and I believe in myself.

“You’re not a teacher”

Ouch. I know. Luckily, I haven’t had that happen very often, but this instance was particularly awesome.

It was awesome because of what happened afterwards.

I was assisting the English teacher in a first grade class. It was the end of the day and we were putting their water bottles and homework away. I was doing the usual redirecting and encouraging them to put things away so we could finish our lesson. At this time a student made the comment that I wasn’t a teacher. In a way that said “why are you saying things the teacher would say” kind of way. I shrugged it off. Gotta roll with the punches. I hadn’t said anything about it, but the teacher had heard and wasn’t going to let it fly.

Her head perked up and zeroed in on the student who had said it. She spoke to the whole class and told them I was the teacher. She sat down and let me handle them for a good 10 minutes of clean up and get them through their transition. She then told them that I am a teacher and no one should ever say something like that to someone.

It was amazing to have the solidarity with my teacher that she would support and stand up for me like that.

And hot dammit, I am a teacher. Maybe not in teacher’s clothing, but I am.


Sometimes, recently, I had to remind myself to take a break. I came home today and took a nap. 20 minutes curled up under covers, comfy and cozy. A quick 20 minutes and I could feel the wrinkles on my attitude iron out.
Working all day in a role that you love is exhausting. In the moment, it may not feel that way. The ache in your shoulder or the headache aren’t there anymore. You’re using your energy to talk and or redirect. To share and (hopefully) inspire. But then you stop and you’re hit in the back of the legs by a wave.

Your feet feel all the steps you took during the day. Your voice gets that itch, you know the one, it makes you croak randomly, your jaw feels heavy. Words become so so hard.

When you’re almost to the end of the week, and the four days you’ve worked this week have felt like four months. The number of coffees you drink can’t bring the life back to your blood and despite your attempts photosynthesis still doesn’t work in humans.

So sometimes, you need to remember to take care. Eat some ice cream, paint your nails (if you do that sort of thing), take a long shower, and take a big fat cat nap.
Burn out is the biggest killer to young careers known to humankind. I encourage everyone, in a new career or a 10 year professional to take care of yourself. By doing so, you ensure your are well and those around you are well.

This is just a quiet, friendly reminder to you from me, who got a reminder today in the form of a sigh after a failed activity.

Just a kind quiet reminder.

What do you do at an american french school?

I’ve been working at my current school for almost 9 months. I’ve been trying to break down for people what I do and what my ‘title’ means.

In France most schools have surveillants, or ‘wardens’ but here I’m what they call a monitor. Now, that title is extremely vague and misguiding. I do more than monitor and I don’t quite do what a normal surveillant in France would do. They typically attend to students during their free times between classes, lunch periods, patrolling the hall, and some disciplinary actions. The very sound of surveillant is big and scary. I remember seeing them yelling across hallways at students and reprimanding them in all around scary ways. Even though I knew they were some of the sweetest, most generous people in the school.

I definitely never thought I’d be doing anything similar to them in the states. At first I explained my position as a sort of assistant/noon duty type person. You know, those nice adults at recess in elementary school who had whistles and band-aids if you fell. Usually someone’s mom who didn’t work during the day. However, what I know now is much more intricate and elaborate.

Yes, I do lunch and recess duty. I am responsible for some disciplinary actions, but I do classroom support (thank god, I’ll explain) and lesson planning. My position is like a catch all for the things the teachers couldn’t do. I’m the extra hands and voice of reason for a lot of the learning kids do outside the classroom.

My role as a monitor started out as a sort of surveillant position with a hint of daycare teacher. I head up the 1st and 2nd grade garderie(daycare) and it is by far the toughest daycare situation I’ve been in. I average 27 students a day in a room with a max capacity of probably 20. We plan activities, we work until 6 pm and my group is always particularly rowdy. I was coordinating crowd control. I was keeping the peace until we could go outside to recess and I’d have more back up.

I felt (sometimes still feel) disrespected and looked down upon by the parents and teachers. I got looks that made me feel like a lowly babysitter, or like nothing at all. The kids will constantly test us, and at this point of 9 months on the job, they can chalk it all up to the monitor staff being new anymore.

I’ve become a very hard person. It’s amazing I haven’t lost m voice yet. I raise my voice everyday. Not to yell at children (I’m not a heathen) I raise it to be heard. Remember the 27 students average? I have to raise my voice to be heard. If I don’t get their attention somehow we’d never get anything done. I have put so many children into time out, and sent them to the office because I had 26 other students to take care of.

In the end of November, I was assigned (finally) to classroom assistance. I helped the 1st grade english teacher and ESL specialist with reading support and language assistance with a few of our FOB frenchies. The instructor had no idea I have a TESOL certificate, or about my other teaching experiences. Some of the administrators had no idea I could speak french for fuck’s sake. I must have had some mysterious skill vanishing aura around me associate with the title of Monitor.

Since beginning classroom support, my experience at school has gotten better. Some teachers still don’t care about what I do or who I am, but more of them do now, or at least acknowledge my skills. The teachers see us doing our jobs and caring for all the grades. They worry about their classes possibly the cycle they work with, but they don’t have the same amount of face time we have. We are doing teaching without textbooks or proper class setting.

I miss having a classroom, but I still get those chances. As monitors we don’t get time off. All those holidays I had last year in France, I’m working them here. These are my most and least favorite times. I’d love to have a break and recuperate some sanity, but I also get to plan my own ‘lessons’ and activities. I always start the day with the kids and try to encourage learning through movement and vocalization. These days give me so much excitement and happiness and remind me why I love teaching and need to be doing it.

We’re also responsible for the emotions and manners in some cases. We deal with the bullying problems, the scrapped knees, and afternoon exhaust. The roles we play don’t feel crucial all the time, but thinking into the future, we hope we made a difference. We hope our support and care for the kids let them know they are worthy of good things.

My boss has been thinking about renaming our position, because it does not seem to fit what we do. We do more than monitor the students, we do more than surveil the kids. Maybe if our title changes the mysterious skill vanishing aura will be lifted and parents won’t stare at us like we’re just baby-sitters or lowly peons in the school hierarchy. We’ll be acknowledged as the educators we truly are.

So for now, I’m a monitor.

I did a grad school!

Hello my long ignored blog. I apologize for not writing more, but not being in France and having a TAPIF focused (initially) blog made it weird. I didn’t want to make it weird… now it’s weird.

I’m revamping this little blog space to go along with my exciting movements forward in life.

I got into Graduate school! After many months of writing, and stressing I’ve heard from the schools I applied to and will be attending UW for a Masters in TESOL. I’m really excited that someone wanted me! I really had no idea what I was doing while looking into and applying to grad school. I just knew I wanted something within the scope of education. It’s one of the only things I really feel passionately about. Teaching is one of the few skills I will boast about.

So here I am. Starting a new exciting education adventure. I’ve also been working at a great bilingual school in Seattle; exercising my french and tesol skills on the daily.

I can’t wait to share more about my adventures in grad school, life post-TAPIF, and fun lessons and stories about my kids at school.

Thanks for sticking around.


The Emma-pire Strikes Back

Remember that one time I said I’ve have guest bloggers? Well, I’m finally having another guest post from the same lovely who wrote the first one, Emma! This is her short reflection on being back home and how convenient it can be. I can’t help, but agree with a lot of her points. Except the ground floor first floor thing, I’ve always thought the french were crazy for that point. You can find her other post here!

I have hit a momentous mark in being home from France: As of today, it has been one month and ten days. And I have to admit, I’m starting to feel a bit more… normal. I know that everyone talks about how hard it is coming back to the U.S. after being away for an extended period of time, but I always forget how true it is. And even though it has been a month and ten days, and I can maintain a conversation without taking too much time to find the right words, there are still a few quirks about the American lifestyle that I still haven’t gotten used to. Again.
1) The ground floor is also the first floor: After spending all that time in France thinking “Ok, so I have to go to the fifth floor, which is actually the sixth floor”, I now find myself climbing one flight of stairs, looking at the 2 marked on the wall and thinking “How funny. They skipped a floor and didn’t realize.” I’ve been thinking this subconsciously for the past month and ten days, and finally today it hit me: “No, stupid. You’re doing it wrong”. Good.
2) Six o’clock a.m. wake-up calls: Not from my alarm. No. Even though I now have a job (yes it’s temporary, but I’m proud and will shamelessly advertise this fact in this post!) and am taking classes, I really don’t have to be anywhere until noon. Even with a few hours in the morning to run or (more frequently) plan classes and do homework, I still don’t set my alarm until a leisurely 7:30. But without fail, 6:00 hits, and I’m wide awake. I can’t get out of bed on principle; I need my eight (ok, seven) hours! So I just… lay there. I mean, I’ve been sleeping on this schedule for the past 23 some odd years of my life. Why would nine months take all of that away from me? It’s cruel.
3) The radio: I can understand it. I mean, I did reach a level of comprehension in French that allowed me to understand just about everything (even group conversation of five or more people! Again, excuse me for my hubris), but I had forgotten the ease of driving around with NPR, understanding all the witty banter and inside cultural jokes and twists. Word-play is one of the most underrated arts in today’s era, but boy do you appreciate it after the pathetic puns you try to make in a foreign language (e.g. when trying to get a child to eat a kiwi- It’s a kiOUI, not a kiNON).
4) Streets: They are HUGE. I mean, you can park cars on either side of it and STILL drive through. And I don’t mean parking cars by driving up on the sidewalk to do so. I mean six inches from the curb and you can still get your SUV through. ‘Nuf said.
5) Drinking in peace: I’m talking water. Not only am I no longer harassed about having a water bottle with me when I’m out and about, I am joined by the majority of the population. Instead of being gawked at and asked why, I’m told “You should bring your water bottle. It’s a hot one today” by just about everyone.
So though this list is not exhaustive, it does give some food for thought. You never know what you may end up missing. Maybe it’s because they are so little and ingrained in our society that they make themselves particularly loud and obvious at this point in my re-integration. Of course I miss the food and the beer and the wine and the people and the travel and the history and the culture, who wouldn’t? But these subjects are still too painful to elaborate upon at this time. Give me a year, a month and ten days, and then maybe we can talk.