This year we are presenting a series of posts profiling PKS teachers. The second installment features elementary English teacher Paloma Cordova, who is also working to develop a social justice curriculum for PKS. Read the first installment (Q+A with preschool teacher Shihpei Chen).
Q: What brought you to PKS?
I was actually introduced to the school through the former art teacher, who was a studio artist and a friend of mine. She hadn’t done much classroom instruction with younger children before, and I had already been teaching elsewhere for a few years, so I was able to offer her some guidance about what to expect, how to think about classroom dynamics, etc. I ended up coming in to work with her on a few projects – when our current fourth graders were just kindergartners! - and just fell in love with the kids and the school. So when there was an opening for the English position I immediately applied!
Q: Had you taught English before?
I had been a preschool teacher and then a classroom teacher for kindergarten and second grades previously, so reading, writing and expressive language development were obviously core components of each day. But I hadn’t taught English as a standalone subject before, let alone in an immersion environment where it’s actually the “foreign” language. Of course at PKS, most of the children already come in speaking English, but because it’s not the main language of instruction, it’s really exciting to support their growth in this area.
One of the things that I hadn’t expected was how rapidly our students gain English-language literacy skills, given the much more finite amount of time each day spent speaking English. I guess I was expecting more of a lag in the fundamentals of reading and writing, but it isn’t the case at all! Which means that even in the earliest years of elementary we can start to dig in to poetry, literature, and all types of creative and expository writing, all of which they are doing in parallel in Mandarin.
Q: How have you gotten involved in developing the social justice curriculum?
Families may know me as the jovial, coffee-drinking, salad-eating English teacher (and I am absolutely all of those wonderful things!) but I am also a deeply concerned human being who worries for the future of our students, given the divisions in our society, events around the world, and even challenges here in the Bay Area.
I come from a long lineage of social justice advocates. My great grandfather was the first Mexican city councilman of Phoenix in the 1950s, and he fought for racial equality and education rights for all people in his community. My older sister Joselle was born with Down Syndrome and so I have always felt the importance of educating others about disability and having compassion for one another. Our family has always been different and so I appreciate the wealth of knowledge provided by every person and every student I encounter.
The influence of my family and my nearly 10 years of experience in education have propelled my passion for human rights and social justice. For the past two years I have been pursuing my doctoral degree at the University of San Francisco, with a concentration in Human Rights Education.
Since its founding, PKS has embraced the values of global citizenship and community service. While we actively develop habits of character through ongoing collaboration among students, teachers, and staff – these are the traits we hope our children will grow to value and incorporate into their lives – there was no formal academic approach to social justice in the curriculum. I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to help shape that!
Q: How are you undertaking this effort? When will it be integrated into classroom learning?
First and foremost, I’m not doing this on my own! Renee Miller, our Director of Teaching and Learning, is my mentor and partner in this effort. She brings a rich background in progressive education and curriculum development, and has years of experience at a school where social justice was a defining value. She’ll also be the one to help ensure that the curriculum can scale, will be vertically integrated throughout the elementary years, and horizontally integrated in terms of Mandarin and English learning. The English teachers already work very closely with the classroom teachers, but this will add another deeper layer of content cross-fertilization for our faculty.
I’m doing a fair amount of professional development this year in the area of curriculum planning and adolescent social-emotional development, alongside my doctoral studies, which is helping me contextualize the subject matter of human rights and social justice into a thoughtful, challenging and relevant program for PKS students. Renee and I plan to introduce it as part of the regular academic curriculum in the 2017-2018 school year. Students in third, fourth and fifth grade will utilize literature, original texts, field trips, visiting experts, new media and other project work, in both Mandarin and English of course, to delve into these topics.
Q: There’s certainly a lot on your plate right now…
True! But I get to see the best little faces every day, and I believe that this generation of students can absolutely make the world better. That and coffee get me through the day!
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