Curricular Narrative: My Interview with Debora
This post is one of my assignments for my Curriculum Design course. We were to interview a person about their understanding of curriculum and create a narrative from the exchange.
Debora is a loving, genuine, confident Brazilian woman with a strong belief in God. I first met Debora at the end of 2018 when I came to live with her, her family, and several U.S. veterans that reside in their Texas home. Her husband is from Romania and Australia and they have an adorable three-year old daughter (with another one on the way). Their home was full of faith and diversity with Debora from Brazil, her husband from Romania, employees from Hungary, Jamaica, and Romania, and three residents from Mexico, Trinidad, and Poland. At only 27 years old, Debora has an old and wise soul due to a plethora of challenging life experiences. Despite both her brother dying unexpectedly and her father unjustifiably being deported back to Brazil this last year, she is a positive, service-oriented influencer in her community.
I selected Debora for this narrative assignment for two reasons. First, as someone who speaks multiple languages, her language learning experiences align with my milieu of teaching minority languages. Second, she attended school in both Brazil and the United States. I believed that both of these reasons would influence her definition of the word “curriculum.”
Interview with Debora
I caught Debora first thing Friday morning at the perfect time: before her three-year old was awake. At eight months pregnant, her voice on the phone was tired but kind. I knew we had limited time so I got right to the point. “When I say the word curriculum, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? What does it mean to you?” Her immediate response was, “To me curriculum means a course; what the requirements are for that particular course; what they expect you to learn throughout that course and what you’re going to be learning.” I made a note of her phrasing, “what they expect you to learn” and continued on with my next question.
“So, I’m curious. Did you take any classes in Brazil? Do you remember anything about them?” At first she replied that she did not remember much about her classes because she was only in third grade when she came to the United States. But Debora continued with reminiscing about how she immediately noticed how clean and organized her school was in the U.S. and how thrilled she was to actually have an A/C in class. Remembering her Brazilian classroom, “We had a fan that was super loud, I remember the ticking noises,” she chuckled.
I followed up by asking Debora about her English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes when she came to the U.S. She affirmed that she had not taken any English classes prior to immigrating and then said, “I made friends with the Hispanic people at my school so I’d speak Spanish to them a lot of times and they would translate to the teachers for me.” Her happy chuckle echoed through the phone and I smiled at her resourcefulness as a third grader in such a new environment.
It was then I found the perfect opportunity to ask about the curriculum of her ESOL classes. “What do you think the focus was, the priority of your ESOL classes?” Debora spoke fondly of her first ESOL teacher and said “the goal was to help me learn English, right?” She said that they started with learning the words for professions, objects, and other building blocks of language “to build up to actually making sentences” but they did not work on grammar until much later. “The first thing was not grammar and spelling but to get me to know what things were and, you know, try to pronounce them, try to say them.”
She made clear time and again that the clear priority of her ESOL teachers was to encourage and support them where they were at. “ESOL teachers, you know, I loved them because they would never put us down for not knowing things, but they would always encourage us to try to speak to them, even if (chuckles) it came out wrong or even if we spelled it wrong, it never counted against us at the beginning, you know, until we could actually know what they meant.” However, she did say that while she gives school the credit for learning how to write, she went to a Brazilian church and spoke Portuguese at home so “even though I felt comfortable with my teachers, I believe it was more through socializing with friends that increased that development to be able to speak well with them.”
My original goal was to ask Debora again at the end of our interview about the definition of curriculum and compare any differences in the two definitions. “So again...when you think of curriculum, what comes to mind?” As if right on cue, I heard her three-year old daughter’s happy squeal as she ran in to join our phone party. As Debora attempted to keep the phone from her daughter’s reach, I heard the disjointed words “curriculum” and “course” but I knew our interview had come to a close.
When I reflect on this exchange, I see how Debora’s initial formal definition of curriculum differed from the implied definition of curriculum that came out as she shared about her ESOL classes. Her definition went from a focus on course objectives and “what they expect you to learn” (reminiscent of this week’s readings where curriculum was equated with “rigid regimentation and a discipline that ignored the capacities and interests of child nature” and “increasingly conflated with ‘syllabus’”) to a more fluid interpretation (Hall-quest, 138, p. 376; Ewing, 2013, p. 6). It was when she was speaking of her beloved ESOL teachers that she voiced addendums to her definition such as the clear priority to help them speak and write, disregarding any mistakes and errors in an effort to build their confidence. (Curriculum priorities that I whole-heartedly agree with!)
Ewing, R. (2013). Curriculum and Assessment: Storylines. (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. http://lib.oup.com.au/he/Education/samples/ewing_curriculum2e_sample.pdf
Hall-quest, A. L. (1938). Editorial Foreword. In Dewey J. Experience and Education. Macmillian, Co., pp. ix-xii. http://ruby.fgcu.edu/Courses/ndemers/Colloquium/ExperiencEducationDewey.pdf