My Cinco de Mayo lesson

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My daughter brought home a note from school today. Being the stellar student she is, she immediately handed it to me, stapled to her planner. She was excited about an upcoming classroom celebration, and I genuinely wanted to be excited for her. Admittedly, I read it quickly, thought it seemed a little off, and told her I would select something to send in and sign it later.

And then I thought about it some more.

And then I briefly talked to my husband.

And before I decided to be my normal over-the-top self, I took it to Facebook. I posted a copy of the image along with a basic “THOUGHTS?” and absence of my opinion. I wanted to gain other perspectives before expressing my own.

You see, I didn’t want to fuss too much. Just last week, the parents received a notification that the classroom teacher would be out for a while, and this woman would be the substitute teacher. The letter went on to say that this substitute teacher had a lot of knowledge and classroom experience. I met her, Lydia seemed happy, and truly that is what matters… right? 

So here is the letter:

Honestly, I don’t know where to begin my rant. I’d like to start by saying that I actually feel bad for this woman. I feel bad that she wanted to do something fun for the kids. I feel bad that she didn’t follow correct protocol and run the letter by administration. But primarily, I need to do right by the kids. As an educator myself, I feel an ethical responsibility to correct the situation. As a blogger, I feel a responsibility to make others aware of just how important it is for us to advocate for our kids. As a parent, I feel a responsibility to my children to ensure they learn culture and history, not stereotypes and inaccuracies. As a human, I feel a responsibility to teach compassion over ignorance. So here goes my list of issues.

  1. Superficially, the grammar. It’s atrocious. Please proofread anything that goes home to parents, that gets sent in emails, etc. It’s simple; just re-read and make corrections. I’m hoping she doesn’t write on the board like this.
  2. Food allergies are a serious issue, and schools need to be exceptionally aware of exactly what ingredients are in any dishes that are brought into a classroom. You cannot ask children to bring prepared foods into schools in my district; that is incredibly unsafe.
  3. I don’t know what is worse when it comes to the whole “taking shots” thing. Again, I know she was trying to have fun with the kids, but teaching kids to get drunk? Poor choice. The fact that she was using Mt. Dew, assuming parents regularly give their kids soda? Poor choice. What this teacher truly failed to do in this “fun” activity was remember that she’s the teacher. What is she teaching them? Where is the lesson here? It’s okay to be an alcoholic? Let’s excessively drink soda and pretend it’s alcohol? No.
  4. And here’s the real problem. The real lesson taught here: the assumption that there’s a holiday in Mexico where people get drunk and eat food that Americans think is Mexican. Again, it’s fun to celebrate, it’s fun to have classroom parties, it’s fun to eat, drink, and be merry. It’s not fun to perpetuate historical inaccuracies and appropriate cultures.

Young children look toward their teachers to be their childhood heroes in a sense. Teachers are role models. It’s a huge responsibility you knowingly take on the very moment you step foot in a classroom. Primary-aged children are especially impressionable. They haven’t learned to be skeptics. They haven’t learned to question authority. They are sponges attempting to absorb every ounce of knowledge presented to them.

As educators, we must be dually aware of two very important things: explicit instruction and implicit instruction.

Explicit instruction is what we intend to teach children. We follow guidelines, benchmarks, standards with the hopes of children reaching mastery on standardized tests. It’s a necessary evil in our American educational system, and it serves its purpose at the post-secondary level.

And then there’s implicit instruction. It’s what happens when we teach children things like “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” and “found America”. It’s what happens when we teach children that the British peacefully arrived here and celebrated a bountiful harvest with the Native Americans who gladly shared their land with the newcomers. It’s what happens when we teach kids that slaves were emancipated by Lincoln and were free to immediately join the workforce as respected citizens with comparable wages. It’s what happens every day in this country when people accept what they are told about others who look or speak or dress or act any way that is different from themselves. We reinforce fear of the unknown over perspective-taking. We assume the belief of one individual in a group is indicative of everyone in that group. It’s easiest to believe what you’ve always known to be “the truth” over learning the truth.

I’m 37 years old. I hold a doctorate in education. I have taught preschool, elementary school, middle school, high school, undergraduate, and graduate students over the last almost two decades. I’m going to admit something right now: until about 2 hours ago, I knew very little about Cinco de Mayo. And if you had asked me to throw a Cinco de Mayo party, it would be guacamole, chips, tequila, sombreros, piñatas, and some mariachi music. I want my kids to be better than me.

Here’s an article about Cinco de Mayo from National Geographic that provides a brief historical overview: Cinco de Mayo, From Mexican Fiesta to Popular U.S. Holiday. I encourage you to learn more than you were taught.

On a personal level, I want to thank this teacher for opening my eyes. I want to thank my Facebook friends for their honest opinions. I want to thank you for reading this.

About Carrie Wells, Ed.D.

Dr. Carrie Wells is a college instructor, blogger, wife, and work-at-home mother to two children, Lydia (age 7) and Bryce (age 5). Carrie earned her doctorate in Special Education in 2008. After becoming a mother in 2009, Carrie began blogging as Huppie Mama to share her passions for cooking, crafting, beautifying, and her family. In 2016, she rebranded as Our Potluck Family, and her husband Richard became a regular contributor.
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29 Responses to My Cinco de Mayo lesson

  1. Xenia says:

    Hey Carrie, THANK YOU.

  2. tarafindlay says:

    ‘Shots of Mountain Dew’ wtf?

  3. Wendy Byde says:

    Oh goodness, “shots”? Wow!

  4. Karrine says:

    I am 100% with you accept for the no home prepared snacks in a school environment. As a family with food allergies (and a family history of digestive related illness), my children will have to manage those allergies and in the classroom is a good place to start (IMO). Inform yes, but police no.

    Shots? That is not appropriate. Stereotyping? That is beyond not appropriate in a school setting. I think a visit to the administration is in order.

  5. Samantha GR says:

    Great job! Keep us posted on what the principal responds!

  6. Honestly, I don’t even know what to say about this aside from the obvious. THIS is exactly why leaving South Florida is/was an excellent decision. Of course, this can happen anywhere, but it’s the culture and way of life down here. Party. Party. PARTY! Cinco De Mayo is about so much more than a pachanga. We should be teaching these things.

  7. I hope is okay that I share my “Cinco de Mayo” experience here: http://bit.ly/2qA0Vc7

    • Yes, thank you SO MUCH Carolina! I quickly read it, and I will share it on Facebook. I’m so glad my post reached you and that I can do something to spread the truth about this holiday.

  8. Karen says:

    Wow! Seriously hope she is no longer employed at the school. I would’ve been overly pissed and been in the superintendents office along with the principal and that teacher.

  9. Bahaha I just can’t even!! Good for you for bringing it to the attention of the administration!

  10. TamaraG. says:

    This teacher would have been much better served by having the issue addressed outright versus publicly humiliating her or making an attempt to. What if this was a new teacher, or a substitute that had little experience in the classroom? I distinctly remember my first mistake in the classroom and would have hated for attention to be brought to what I’d done in this way. I appreciated the teachers who didn’t make me feel like an idiot, but instead offered guidance. As a “distinguished” educator, you could have used this opportunity to create a teachable moment. Teaching is hard enough without other educators pointing out our flaws in this way. This isn’t rocket science—-you know this celebration isn’t appropriate without asking all of your Facebook friends what they think. But I’m sure you also know that simply talking to the teacher (and principal if necessary) could prevent this teacher from making such a mistake in the future without public ridicule. We teach our students and children to address issues with their peers in respectful ways but we have to be cognizant of whether or not we are being an example ourselves. This approach to celebrating a holiday was not professional at all, but neither was your approach to addressing it.

    • SM says:

      You said this a lot more eloquently than I did. Yes. There are enough folks attaching teachers, we need not do it to our own. She absolutely was wrong, but we aren’t talking about something that isn’t “fixable.” She was clearly trying to do something good or she wouldn’t have sent it home for parents to see. Some redirection and professional development would make a world of difference and wouldn’t be a public shame to anyone.

    • Stephanie says:

      I appreciate what you’re trying to say, and in other situations I might agree. But a teacher who thinks that taking pretend shots of liquor is okay in any classroom setting does not belong in that setting. Helping her learn about policies on outside foods in the classroom, allergy concerns, running letters by the administration, cultural celebrations? All of that- yes. Help and guidance would be appropriate. But the “shots of tequila” is just terrible judgment.

      • SM says:

        It is terrible judgement. But, I don’t know that it’s worth being fired over (unless it was actually tequila of course). People make mistakes. Maybe she’s not cut out for a classroom. Maybe she just made a really bad call and needs training. As total strangers online, none of us know. But bringing it out for the whole world to see just further pushes the agenda of teachers as a whole being thought of poorly. Teachers are leaving the classroom in droves; we need not turn on ourselves.

    • Jen says:

      I hear what you are saying, and somewhat agree. The grammar, blah. The food, blah. The shots….. oy. However, I do think this is a HUGE teachable moment for the rest of us regarding cultural awareness. Hanukkah is not the most important Jewish celebration just because it is equated with Christmas. Cinco de Mayo is an important historical date like the Fourth of July. For that, this is appreciated.

      The blogger notes that this is supposedly an experienced teacher. The teacher has not been named or identified (unless you know the blogger personally). While it may be hard for her to see this, there are bigger issues than grammar here. While (in my mind) the cultural awareness piece is an opportunity for the teacher to learn, I am not sure someone who thinks kids should be pretending to take shots (with whatever beverage) in school should be there themselves.

    • Adam says:

      No names were mentioned. This was absolutely used as a teachable moment given the information that was shared along with the writer’s own admission of ignorance about the holiday.

      Literally none of what you wrote here is based on any reality given the great pains the writer made to NOT put the teacher on blast (whiting out his/her name; not identifying the school; acknowledging the intent; etc.).

      Stop defending bad teachers – they’re ruining the profession for the good and great ones.

  11. Stephanie says:

    “I encourage you to learn more than you were taught.” THIS.

  12. SM says:

    If you truly wanted to teach compassion, you would have spoken to the teacher privately instead of putting it on blast for the entire world to read on the internet. Are you right to be offended at what the teacher did? Absolutely. Are you a jerk for putting it online? Absolutely. Hopefully somewhere in that doctoral program you were taught tact. Educators are fleeing the system in droves. We need not attack ourselves. Calls for her to be fired are rediculius. She clearly needs some training, but to have her fired? Wow.

    – 17 year veteran teacher

    • TamaraG. says:

      My point was not whether or not she belongs in a classroom. Let’s assume teaching isn’t her calling. Is THIS the very best way to address her lack of professionalism? What is the difference between THIS blog entry and subsequent Facebook post and a child poking fun at a classmate who failed a test? Absolutely nothing. This teachers needs to learn several lessons, that I agree with. The first lesson she will learn though is that a seemingly perfect educator will judge her and ridicule her versus actually providing her with some useful feedback. We’ve all made mistakes. If the author has never made a mistake in her “nearly two decades” in education, great. But for the rest of us, calling attention to mistakes in this way isn’t productive in the least. If anything, it makes her look like a bully.

      • Adam says:

        Anything that calls attention to societal ills is worth writing about. And as I wrote above, the author admitted her own ignorance in the post.

        This wasn’t about this teacher. This was about making sure we teach the next generation to be better than us.

    • Adam says:

      As a 17 year veteran teacher, I’d hope you’d learn how to spell “ridiculous.”

      I’d also hope you’d learn to separate what other people are calling for from what the author has written. The author never once called for this teacher to be fired.

      • SM says:

        If you can’t add something valuable to the conversation, then absolutely pick on someone’s spelling or grammar. I know it’s shocking, but both idiots and intellectuals make mistakes in spelling and grammar. We can’t all be perfect like you, Adam.

      • Mary says:

        Or know the difference between “attaching” and attacking

  13. cemykytyn says:

    We need to be better. So much better than fake tequila shots. *sigh* Reblogged this at IntegratedSchools.org!

  14. Mary says:

    Well said Carrie. Your approach was kind and thoughtful. This was a teachable moment and I hope everything works out for the best

  15. Amanda says:

    Wow! As time draws nearer to public school for my 4 year old son my anxiety grows. I told myself I probably shouldn’t read this, but I did. Whaah!

  16. Alma says:

    Hi! I am Mexican. And I need to tell you that 5 de Mayo IS NOT a National Holiday nor Mexican Fiesta. It is celebrated in just 1 of the 32 states. It is celebrated that Mexico won 1 battle against France. FYI we lost that war.

  17. sathwika says:

    This site looks awesome.

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