Grace Cornell Gonzales joined the Rethinking Schools editorial board last spring, and has been an active, enthusiastic, and thoughtful participant ever since. Grace teaches at Daniel Webster Elementary School in San Francisco. We thought you might be interested in getting to know her a little better, so managing editor Jody Sokolower caught up with her after school one recent afternoon.
How did you first get involved with Rethinking Schools?
I was walking by the Rethinking Schools table at the Teachers 4 Social Justice conference in San Francisco a few years ago. This was my third year of teaching in Oakland, and I was in graduate school. I was talking to a friend about a project I was working on, analyzing the political content of picture books about immigration. Suddenly, [curriculum editor] Bill Bigelow was part of our conversation.
“You should write an article about that,” he said. I was so surprised, because he was someone whose writing and teaching I had admired for years. He connected me to you, and you invited me to your house to talk about the article. I don’t think I would have had the gumption to submit an article cold, so it was wonderful to feel welcomed in.
Most of your articles in Rethinking Schools have been about teaching Spanish-speaking students. How did that become a focus for you?
I studied Spanish throughout school but really started to feel bilingual after I lived abroad–spending a trimester in Chile during high school and a year in South America during college. During high school and college, I taught English as a second language to children and adults, in the United States and in Latin America. Along the way, I learned Portuguese, too.
Because of those experiences, I was interested in language education. I was looking for an approach that valued first languages, one that wasn’t based on a deficit model. In college I took a group independent study class that focused on Spanish dual immersion programs–programs in which Spanish speakers learn English and English speakers learn Spanish in the same classroom. I was excited because that model didn’t isolate Spanish-speaking students the way that bilingual programs do.
Now you teach in a dual immersion program. How has reality matched up to theory?
There are definitely more equity issues than I anticipated–how well does this program work for English language learners, or does it turn out to be more for the benefit of the English-speaking students? I see the problems, but I can also see ways to work around them. It’s a fantastic model. We just need to think critically about what we’re doing at every point if we want to serve all children.
How has participating on the editorial board affected your teaching?
It’s a pleasure to read and discuss all the amazing articles as part of the ed board. It’s the interesting political education piece of my life. I’m learning all the time.
Activism–participating on the RS ed board and being part of Teachers 4 Social Justice–allows me to not despair. Before I was working with both organizations, I felt alone, so frustrated by the horrible politics affecting us as educators. I felt personally beaten down. Now, if something awful happens at the school or in the district, I say, “This is part of a larger narrative. We should organize about this.” It gives me hope.