The dismantling of bilingual education, the English-only movement, anti-immigrant initiatives, and the inadequate funding and services for emergent bilingual students in public schools speak to a set of ideologies that see minoritized languages as a commodity at best (Cervantes-Soon, Dorner, Palmer, Heiman, Schwerdtfeger, Choi, 2017) and as a liability and danger at its worst (Pimentel, 2011). Arguing that most top-down and bottom-up language policies put in place in the U.S. focus on teaching English (Gounari and Macedo, 2009) leaves not only linguistic imperialism uncontested, but also connects linguistic discrimination to a long history of racism, xenophobia, and classism against minoritized groups. After all, “speaking English, in and of itself, has not led to an improved quality of life for the majority of Latino, African American, and Native American people (Darder, 2011, p. 200). Moreover, US hegemonic ideology towards the language rights of immigrants and minority language speakers have put forward “politics of erasure” (McLaren and Jaramillo, 2007) as a xenophobic act that not only deprives speakers of their first languages but also breaks the link between language to identity and culture. This dehumanizing ideology stops what Fishman (2001) calls “continuity of being.” This “continuity of being” means that language is the linkage of culture, cultural enactments, and cultural transmission; without which a cultural discontinuity might wreak havoc on the individual’s sense of stability and coping mechanism.
These systemic issues are part of the everyday reality of bilingual teachers working with Mexican-American/Latinx across the United States. Efforts towards growing critically conscious teachers (Valenzuela, 2016) are crucial to foster political and ideological clarity (Bartolome and Balderrama, 2001) among future teachers working with Mexican-American and Latinx emergent bilinguals. Athanases and de Oliveira (2008) describe the effectiveness of a socio-cultural-historical approach to bilingual education and history, which guided the pedagogy in the course design. This often includes rediscovering their “bicultural voice” (Darder, 2011, p. 203) and utilizing their own and their students’ cultural and linguistic practices as assets and resources (Gonzalez, Moll & Amanti, 2005), and critical reflection.
Expanding a sociocultural approach, Arellano, Cintron, Flores and Berta-Avila (2016) add a sociopolitical layer to the preparation of bilingual teachers that focuses on critical content knowledge, such an introduction to critical race theories, critical pedagogy, and participatory action research (PAR) (Cammarota, Berta-Avila, Ayala, Rivera, and Rodriguez, 2016). A sociopolitical framework might encourage Mexican-American and Latinx bilingual candidates to explore not only to name the source and history of linguistic, xenophobic, racist, and classist oppression in schools at micro and macro levels but also interrogating conscious and/or unconscious reproduction of oppressive discourses that creates internalized oppression (Urrieta, 2010).
While utilizing critical text to awaken conscientization (Freire, 1970) is widespread in teacher preparation programs, teachers (be it pre or in service) might need more than readings (Cahnmann-Taylor & Souto-Manning, 2015) and move toward turning the classroom into spaces where emergent advocacy in real-life situations—can be rehearsed through the arts, and more specifically, theater. After reviewing at least twenty teacher preparation programs in R1 institutions, Souto-Manning, Cahnmann-Taylor, Dice, and Wooten (2008) concluded that they followed a traditional model based on a solution-oriented preparation in which monologuing professors impart authority of knowledge through texts but also provided a sort of relief as they also prescribe solutions or “best practices”, exempting (pre or in service) teachers from exercising agency. From a critical perspective, Souto-Manning et al envision “social inquiry as practical knowledge” (p. 312) in that action performed and imagined at a personal level is connected to injustice at societal level. Souto el al and Cahnmann-Taylor & Souto-Manning (2015) call for the use of Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed (2000) to place physicality at the forefront of critical teacher education to connect viscerally and emotionally with social justice as an embodied action; two dimensions not readily available when using an intellectual-only approach. This study examines the ways the use of Theater of the Oppressed can channel and guide strong emotions that emerge from the process of critical consciousness among bilingual pre-service teachers.
I stretch the notion of praxis (Freire, 1970) to connect it to kinesis (Conquergood, in Madison, 2011) to focus on how the process of becoming is enacted through the actual doing during struggles and conflict. Freire’s (1970) praxis—reflection and action—should be conceived as what Conquergood (Madison, 2011) suggests: an ongoing process that moves from reproducing the official discourse (mimesis), through sense-making (poiesis) to intervention and change through performance (kinesis). Conquergood urges a shift from “spatialized products to temporal processes” (p. 184), emphasizing the examination of human’s processes of self-making to the transformation of oppressive conditions. Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner & Cain (2003) examine these processes of becoming through spaces of authoring through improvisations—heuristic development—in order to understand how individuals respond and make sense of the social world dialogically. Through a series of ethnographies, Holland et al describe their informants’ complexities and intersectionalities using their improvisations as a starting point to show how they affirmed, resisted and made sense of their identities. Improvisations, as Urrieta (2009) posits “can effect and affect permanent changes in future expected responses” (p. 26) as individuals figure out their role in the world.
As pre-service teachers, daily opportunities to engage in advocacy and activist work in the classroom and schools are scarce. Spaces for improvising future scenarios to learn to “play the game” (Urrieta, 2009) and rehearse (Boal, 2000) “transas, movidas, y jugadas” (strategic and clandestine practices to play the system; Urrieta, 2009) are needed for future teachers to 1) examine how certain discourses of power permeate daily social interactions in a concrete way, 2) rehearse stances and create strategies when tackling daily microaggressions at schools, and 3) develop emerging identities as teacher activists. Therefore, awakening critical consciousness needs to go hand in hand with opportunities to nurture activist identities while engaging in improvisations of activist agency, thus mobilizing what Urrieta calls the conceptual process (poiesis) and the procedural process (kinesis) in this endeavor.
Improvisations might also prevent or alleviate feelings of fatalism or feeling overwhelmed by the task of becoming agents of change (Amsler, in Zembylas, 2013) since rehearsals can help channel strong emotions that come with the potential confrontation of traumatic events. Social consciousness can be a painful and emotional process (Kumashiro, 2002) as this might evoke feelings of disempowerment, anger, guilt, sadness, confusion and many others emotions. Zembylas (2013) urges the rethinking of critical pedagogy addressing its emotional ramification; to recognize systemic and institutional pain “but not for re-traumatizing” (Hermes, 2016).
This critical ethnography (Madison, 2011) took place during in a required class I taught with 20 pre-service Mexican-American/Latinx teachers pursuing bilingual teaching certification in a university in the Southwest. During this semester, the whole class engaged in drama-based pedagogies to deepen their understanding of the topics presented previously in the same session. This pedagogy was modeled after Boal’s Forum Theater (2000), which uses a problem-posed narrative that is improvised and performed by the audience, who have the power to interrupt the play, replace characters and demonstrate solutions on “stage.” Since these pre-service teachers had minimal or non-existent classroom experience, the narratives were extracted from interviews I conducted among bilingual teachers with five or more years of experience. The narratives reflected stories of conflict at schools related to educational and ideological clashes with colleagues and administrators stemming from larger societal and political issues. These narratives or vignettes were then introduced to the classroom for discussion and performance, not with the goal of solving them, but as a way to dip their toes into the field of bilingual education as future bilingual teachers and activists/advocates. The sessions were videotaped and were followed by semi-structured conversations (Alim, 2004). I also collected participants’ reflections and artifacts and generated pre and post fieldnotes. I analyzed the data through an inductive mode approach for analysis (Connelly & Clandinin, 1990) to identify common themes across the data and as a way to allow the participants’ voices that dictate the way this paper is shaped, especially in terms of how the strategies developed by the pre-service teachers were embodied on stage.
In order to show the dialogue during the improvisations, I used Jonsson (2005) and Marin (2007) as models to shape the analysis and reporting of the reenactments and added the number that corresponds to the turns in the dialogue in parenthesis. Both scholars use a format that resembles theatrical scripts for writing up discourse analysis of language features in Chicano theater (Jonsson, 2005), and to employ artistic methods of reporting Boalian work (Marin, 2007). It is important to note that due to space limitations, I translated to English the exchanges during the improvisations, semi-structured conversations, debriefings, reflections, and composite. For a detailed focus on the participants’ linguistic practices see Author, 2019).
Unlike traditional instruction, the exposure and vulnerability of the body through Forum Theater makes hiding difficult. For most participants, stage paralysis was not an issue as they eagerly volunteered to take part in the interventions. However, willingness to participate in the improvisations did not necessarily mean the students were able to channel emotions effectively in order to deliver an effective intervention. Some students displayed strong emotions during the rehearsal and disregarded a careful delivery of the message, taking into account context, register, and power relations. In this section, I will describe each of these reactions and the strategies the students used in order to communicate their thoughts more effectively in order to be advocates within the circumstances
Emotions: Outrage and Paralysis
During the rehearsal of a narrative depicting a bilingual teacher describing how he tried to stop school administration from moving a bilingual student to a mainstream classroom prematurely, one of the participants—Zully—took the stage to play the protagonist. Her intervention consisted of her corralling her fellow English-speaking colleague and antagonist in a sort of fast-paced interrogation in which Zully’s goal was to prove her counterpart wrong by highlighting her inadequacy to teach Spanish dominant students in a mainstream classroom:
Are you the third-grade teacher? (laughter from audience)
Are you going to be her teacher?
Yes, I will
Do you speak Spanish?
Yes (Milagros looked at the audience for an answer) do I? (Audience: no, no, no you don’t) No
If she has a question about clarification in math or science or language arts, will you be able to help her if you can’t understand what she’s saying and she can’t understand what you’re saying?
I can bring someone in the classroom to help with it
So you’re going to bring outside resource and you’re going to interrupt someone else’s day to come help her when she can just stay in my classroom, and I as a teacher can start focusing more on English while you don’t understand Spanish?
In this intervention, Zully questioned Milagros’ ability to provide not only Spanish support (“Will you be able to help her if you can’t understand what she’s saying and she can’t understand what you’re saying?”) but also claimed that she herself—as a bilingual teacher was a better fit to provide support and be a resource for the Spanish- speaking student. Some participants responded that while they agreed with Zully in that mainstream teachers are not as equipped to support Spanish speaking students, her arguments could be easily dismissed by her delivery, making her and her message questionable. The audience rejected Zully’s intervention not because they did not agree with her but because they regarded it as unprofessional, defensive, and disengaging. Several students mentioned a very well-known proverb in Spanish when describing the reason why Zully’s bold intervention was ineffective while agreeing she was right at the same time given the context of the vignette. El que se enoja pierde , became a mantra for the students when trying to formulate and deliver well-thought out arguments while at the same time trying not to antagonize further the interlocutor(s). This proverb entails being knowledgeable of the game at play, being cool-headed and strategic when making a move, and channeling strong emotions to play the game effectively. Later on this section, I will elaborate more in the participants’ response to this proverb and how that response was reflected in the shift in the improvisation.
During the foundations segment in their teacher preparation program, this cohort had to read the book Sylvia & Aki (Conkling, 2011); a chapter book based on the friendship of a Mexican American girl banned from a mainstream school and forced to attend a subpar school due to her skin color, and a Japanese girl, whose family was forced to live in a Japanese internment camp in the 40’s. This book also narrates the story of a court case that was a precursor to Brown v. Board of Education called Mendez v. Westminster. In this court case, Sylvia Mendez won the right to attend the school closer to her house without having to be segregated due to her race. The participants not only read this historical fiction in one of their classes but we discussed this court case as a landmark for the Mexican American community as it set a precedent for equal education access.
After some discussion, I showed them the narrative of a bilingual teacher who was discouraged to use Conkling’s book and the use of material illustrating the Tejano Project (https://ows.edb.utexas.edu/site/tejano-history- curriculum-project). After one failed intervention, some of the participants voiced their concerns about expressing their ideas in this highly emotional scene:
It’s just hard to do it because you can’t, like… when you’re sitting down you think of a bunch of things and when you go out there you just…
Also when words come into play you can’t say what you want to say because you can get tired and you just want to (making a gesture as if slapping someone)
It’s hard to get that person to understand and they say that no
It’s like everything you told them it’s going to be “but this and that” but just to “get in your head, it’s not like” that’s what is hard
Try to convince, like putting like a foot in the door, just a little bit
In this excerpt, Ganiva, Luz, Isabel, and Antoinette elaborated on their paralysis. Ganiva expressed her inability to express all her thoughts at once (turn 1); Luz and Antoinette argued the pointlessness of discussing with someone who was unwilling to listen as the main factor of their silence (turns 4, 5, and 7) and Isabel (turn 8) found it difficult to find common ground and “put a foot in the door.” Paralysis and outrage were also demonstrated through gestures. Antoinette’s gesture of slapping (turn 4) reflected some of her classmates’ thoughts of resorting to physical violence as their last alternative to have the antagonist understand their pledge.
Slapping the antagonist was a reoccurring theme for confrontation. Between the first interventions until session five, as many as seven students found slapping the antagonist—half-seriously and half-jokingly—the desired non-verbal reaction and ultimate solution to the narratives. When discussing the reenactment of the vignette above during an interview, Ursula described her thought process during this performance and how her feelings of outrage would stop her from being able to verbalize her knowledge in an effective way to get her point across:
I was really nervous but my mind went black because you’re just so angry at the situation that your mind doesn’t think about all the examples you can provide, and all the research because we’ve done a lot of readings where it gives you explanation by explanation of why bilingual education is important, what laws helped us get bilingual education When we performed you want to tell them everything you just want to slap them, slap them like ‘what are you thinking?’ (Interview 1)
While Ursula acknowledged her nervousness whenever she volunteered to be part of the improvisation, she admitted her speechlessness was due to her outrage towards the situation presented that did not allow her to show her knowledge of the research and educational policy she was acquainted with to defend her position. Her speechlessness due to outrage brought up a primal instinct towards violence as a way to stop an argument that she felt was violent against her as a Mexican-American bilingual woman and as a professional bilingual teacher. However, the feelings of impotence gave way to a different attitude towards the injustice shown in the narratives. While the students’ goal was still to win the argument, they realized that becoming more strategic could open the dialogue in order to “put a foot in the door,” as Isabel proposed and achieve their objectives of advocacy. Luz described how those moments of discomfort and confusion gave way to a sense of duty.
I actually think it had the opposite effect because we are in this field because we love bilingualism and we know that it’s important so seeing those things make me think that this is something I’ll be fighting against, that I have to make a change, I have to do something to make people realize that bilingualism is important. So I think instead of being discouraged I actually was like “I know why I’m here, I know that I need to do something to change this. (Luz, interview January 30th 2015).
The realization meant being eager to obtain the tools to defend her stance about bilingualism and a purpose to promote change against monoglossic and linguicist ideologies. Enrique elaborated more on his feelings of paralysis actually pushed him to the stage to rehearse the vignettes:
At the beginning, yeah, I felt hopeless but it was a good thing though because I would step outside and it was a mock scenario instead of real life and I was ‘what? I screwed up, I should have said this or that.’ Talking about practice, we need that practice of what I would say so the next time I’d be like ‘oh yeah, I remember that scenario, let’s try that.’ (Enrique, interview February 16 2015).
In spite of his initial paralysis, Enrique felt safe to use the stage as a safe place of trial and error, and how this embodied practice—and the feelings that accompanied it—would be imprinted for later use as a similar scenario arises.
Owning the Game
Boal (2000) envisioned Forum Theater as a way to leave rhetoric behind and move toward action; expecting the participants to jump on stage and try ideas on the go, without much pondering or any kind of conferring with other members of the audience. However, these accommodations did not seem to work for the students, who asked to modify the format. The following conversation right before the end of a session, showed how the participants made suggestions and negotiated changes in the improvisation format after I had asked for feedback:
Is it really hard for you to come here in front and do it? (voices: yeah). why?
because when you’re there on stage you need to have an argument already, an argument already formed.
It’s easier for me to go actually if I have discussed it before we go there
So to have a discussion before. Ok, ok, let’s go that route.
I think a better way to do it would be to divide the class, each group to have an argument, and just a representative of the group to go to the stage with the group’s ideas
Does everyone going to choose their side? (voice: just divide the classroom!)
I say randomly (voices: yes). I think a better way to do it would be to divide the class, each group to have an argument, and just a representative of the group to go to the stage with the group’s ideas
The above feedback I received from the students made sense in terms of their need for peer support both academically (“a representative of the group to go to the stage with the group’s ideas”); and emotionally in order to overcome silence (“when you’re there on stage you need to have an argument already, an argument already formed”). As shown in the exchange above, Luz proposed to divide the classroom into two groups—the antagonists and the protagonists—and confer with the members of the group to gather ideas to utilize during the reenactment. This division would be made randomly so as to avoid having some of the participants only playing one of the characters. This shift promoted more participation, feedback, and collective support during the reenactments and created a deeper bond in the students as they took ownership of the process. The groups would regroup after each intervention in what they called “coaching time,” a time-out period that resembled the time basketball coaches take to discuss last minute strategies with their players. The following exchange is how the side coaching worked for the class:
Their test doesn’t mean they don’t know the subject, maybe they were nervous or got anxiety
How do I know that? (laughter from audience) How do we know that? (more laughter)
Time out! time out!
Do you want to replace someone of stage?
We’re not going to replace, we’re going to help (laughter). (To Paola and Guadalupe, who are on stage) Come here, come here! (Paola and Guadalupe joined Zully and her group and discuss possibilities)
(after some minutes) Time is up!
This is so good! (Paola and Guadalupe went back on stage and Zully and the other members of the group went back to their seats)
Three, two, one, action! (resumed reenactment)
During these coaching times, the groups resorted to the textbook, articles, educational policies, research, posters created in class, and their own ideas on how to approach the vignette more effectively. Some of the participants were so excited about this new dynamic that they would whisper ideas in the middle of the intervention, which resulted in laughter in the class. This laughter was not an act of mockery towards the students who took the stage but a sign of collegiality. In the excerpt above, Zully was excited about Guadalupe and Luis’ improvisation and its possible outcomes after supplying ideas and arguments during the coaching time.
Rules of the Game
Participants’ modification and ownership of the activity was a decisive point in this research. Time spent for coaching and their willingness to replace their classmates on the stage encouraged them to find ways to deliver their message more effectively. As the audience provided feedback at every reenactment; they started to notice some of their classmates were more effective than others in both the content of the arguments but also in the way they conveyed their message. Ana Maria, for instance, was praised constantly for her calm demeanor whenever she was on stage, whether she was playing either an antagonist or a protagonist. The rest of the students looked up to her and used her as a model on how to interact with the antagonist in the reenactments. In their weekly reflections, the participants discussed the desirable traits needed to succeed in contentious situations and identified a set of characteristics they found effective on stage, as well as others they used in their daily life and were shaped by their own experiences. I compiled those strategies and pointers the students created in their post-performance reflections. I shared the composite with the students and they approved this list:
It’s easier to think and process what’s being said if you keep calm
Your ideas won’t be valid if you lose your temper
Avoid yelling and lack of respect
Watch your tone, don’t raise your voice
It’s important to remember you’re in a professional environment
Keep your mind open, there will always be differing opinion
Keep it professional: listen and respect ideas
Use data, theories and research, like the ones written by Krashen, Cummins, and Bialystok
Be polite and look for solutions and don’t engage in personal attacks
Instead, help them see a new perspective.
Question people about their beliefs/thoughts; this makes people think of what they are saying
Echoing the traits the students admired in Ana Maria and the proverb “El que se enoja, pierde,” staying calm during confrontation is the main rule as this facilitates thought process and prevents the advocate from delving into attacks. The students identified that an offensive response might bring to a halt any kind of communication and invalidate the message even if the message could potentially debunk the contrarian argument. They agreed that the way the messenger carries him or herself was as important as the message; hence the need for a certain tone, certain professional language, a certain level of authority and knowledge, a certain level of courtesy and kindness to engage an antagonist, even a certain way to question contrarian arguments. The inclusion of using research done by renowned scholars (Cummings, Bialystok and Krashen) in this list speaks to the need of the participants to use research to back up their thoughts on facts instead of opinions. An example of the use of the strategies the participants created collectively is the following improvisation in which language separation for instruction was debated:
We think students shouldn’t mix their language because they can damage both. We prefer to keep them separate
Recent studies show that using the first language to learn a second one is really beneficial. They’re transferring their knowledge to learn a new language. That’s the reason why we let our students use their first language.
Besides, the concept of codeswitching helps their understanding of themes and ideas they’re learning.
How do we know if our students know both languages at the same level during this time? They can mix languages, but what happens if they mix languages because they don’t know a word, so they say it the other language?
Because we’re looking at out students’ work and we notice they’re not using their first language as crutching, but as a tool to make themselves understood and they’re using language in context.
You need to know your students and their (language) skills
I think we do know our students and that’s why we don’t want them to mix languages. For example, for the STAAR test, they will be evaluated in just one language. So, we want them to practice separating the languages so that they don’t get confused during the exam
Some studies show that bilingual students have higher capabilities and can have better grades than monolingual students
– Using data, theories, research/knowledge and authority
– Offer a different perspective
– Calm and professional approach
– Using data, theories, research
– Find solutions
– Calm and professional approach
– Offer a different perspective
– Using data/knowledge and authority
– Calm and professional approach
– Offer a different perspective
– Using data, theories, research/ knowledge and authority
– Calm and professional approach
The class erupted in applause when this performance ended. During the post-performance debriefing, the audience agreed that the pair the students perceived as protagonists (Luz and Antoinette) utilized evidence in their performance. Luz claimed that her arguments were backed up by research (turns 2 and 8), even though she did not mention specific scholars and studies. Nevertheless, it seemed clear that all the participants were acquainted with those arguments through the class material to consider them valid and strong. The construction of what codeswitching means is worth examining in this performance as it framed Luz and Antoinette’s arguments. Both Antoinette and Luz’ use of the word codeswitching aligned more closely to what translanguaging (Garcia, 2009) means. In turn 5, Luz moved away from the traditional negative connotation that codeswitching works as a crutch by redefining that word, and at the same time reclaiming it. The change in terms without a shift in ideologies is meaningless. The concerns about the faddish use of the word translanguaging over others—codeswitching being one of them—among the community of bilingual education scholars undermines an actual paradigm shift that is critically needed in order to inform institutional perception of minoritized language practices, their speakers, and their communities. Even though the participants were exposed to both terms, the meaning behind the use of the word codeswitching denotes the legitimization of their language practices in class, thus a shift in how they perceived themselves and, as they participated in the reenactments, how they perceived their future students.
In spite of the applause following the performance and the class’ identification with Luz and Antoinette, the consensus was that they did not “win” the argument. Two of the arguments deployed by the students who played the perceived antagonists were concerning. Liliana asserted the impossibility to assess language proficiency in each language without separation and state-mandated testing in one single language at a time (turn 7). The participants pondered their concerns about test mandates, the repercussion against students (academic failure) and teachers (being fired); the long-term effectiveness of translanguaging pedagogies in language acquisition, and local needs.
Beyond the Stage
One of the main accomplishment of the improvisations based on the narratives of seasoned bilingual teachers was that the participants took the advocacy they rehearsed in the (dis)comfort of the classroom surrounded by peers that would provide caring feedback and located it in the real world. During the last session and through the last online reflection, the majority of the participants informed me that they found themselves advocating for language rights and bilingual education among their peers and family. An example of this was Patricia, who reflected on her emergent advocacy:
Lately, I’ve caught myself not only advocating to a larger mass but in my own group of friends and family. Before this year I wasn’t very aware of the importance of bilingualism and how we contribute to devaluing Spanish, so during this semester I’ve notice that I have been talking to my family about its importance and have been more critical of certain activities that I took as the norm. I believe that I have engaged in advocacy by sharing and supporting my ideals and letting others know why I think it is important (Patricia, online reflection)
Patricia also mentioned the changes in her perceptions towards Spanish and how her newly found advocacy disrupted the reproduction of internalized oppression she perceived as “normal.”
On the other hand, Norma encouraged relatives to place their children in dual language programs instead of mainstream classrooms arguing the likelihood of monolingualism when placing emergent bilinguals in mainstream classes.
The same thing happened to my niece. She’s gonna turn one and my sister in law told me she was going to place her in English mainstream classes since the beginning. I told her “don’t do that; she’s not going to develop her academic language in Spanish. She’s going to go through the same thing that happened to me and I don’t want that.” It made me angry (Norma, final class discussion).
Norma’s plea to her relative is based both on the material covered in class and her own linguistic trajectory and her wish for her niece not to be exposed to the kind of schooling that sees bi/multilingualism as a deficit. Ganiva—a participant who happened to be an undocumented student—shared her immigration status to her cooperating teacher and students’ parents:
I thought myself as an advocate in immigration but not as an advocate as a teacher, in the classroom. It was eye opening. It gave me another identity that I can be a teacher activist that I don’t have to separate my identities and that can be combined. My placement is in my community and in my letter to the parents I was open to them and I told them I was a DACA student, if you have any questions you can reach out to me because I’ve been through the process and I have answers. Now I have that identity, I’m a teacher and I’m also and activist (Ganiva, interview)
This immigration status disclosure reflected this particular participants’ willingness to serve her community with her experience and knowledge about the DACA process.
Feeling comfortable during this intellectual, physical, and emotional border crossing—moving from their comfortable desks to the stage, from being students to become teachers in rehearsal—did not occur as soon as I said “action” before each improvisation. The initial reactions to narratives of seasoned bilingual teachers were emotional as they discovered issues pertaining to bilingual education in the United States and its racial, xenophobic, classist, and linguicist roots were both historical (through the textbook/articles) and current (through the the narratives). The improvisations of the narratives merged the historical and current through the invitation to think, verbalize and mobilize their stances, moving the experience to the personal arena when emotions were involved.
Paralysis— both on stage as actors, or outside the stage—was one of responses from the participants. This paralysis was caused by the strong emotions some of the participants experienced when exposed to the vignettes and their juxtaposition with the facts learned in class through the textbook. The reflections written after the sessions show these participants strongly believed the situations presented in the narratives were unjust and they would want to do something about it instead of just letting the situation continue. However, some participants would not venture onto the stage in fear of losing control and appearing too emotional to the class. As the participation on stage was voluntarily and ungraded, three students took the stage only after their classmates encouraged them to perform as per the changes they requested in the middle of the semester. On the other hand, two participants never took the stage but were able to provide feedback and support during coaching times and in whole class discussions throughout the semester.
Outrage was also an emotion the participants dealt with during the improvisations. As they realized the professional context of the narratives, participants understood they needed to move away from reactionary and oppositional attitudes towards the antagonist(s) of the narratives. One common response during the initial performances was resorting to ‘slapping’ common sense into the antagonist so as to gain control of the situation and ‘win’ the argument. However, laughter, which was present throughout, was a signal that reminded them that in spite of the seriousness of the narratives, they were in a safe place to be uncomfortable as they had the support of their peers.
By creating the Rules of the Game, they started rehearsing their teacher selves on stage by imagining what an educator sounds and looks like when confronting differing ideas in professional settings. This prompted them to imagine themselves and act as teachers when on stage and when providing/receiving feedback during the performance debriefings. The participants also deployed the strategies they designed and provided feedback to one another on the effectiveness of the use of such strategies, including providing approach critiques, offering suggestions, and supporting one another during coaching times and in their written reflections. The approach to the game, of course, changed depending on the power differentials, hierarchies of the players and what is at stake. Regardless, the set of rules the participants created became a tool for developing impression management skills to accomplish their goals, and move from a monologue to engage in a dialogue with the antagonist.
The rehearsal of narratives of seasoned bilingual teachers in challenging situations provided the participants with the opportunity to see their roles as bilingual teacher in a different light. The narratives disrupted the common assumption that being bilingual teachers was similar to being a mainstream teacher but instructing in two languages. The embodiment of the bilingual teachers in the improvisations showed the different facets of the profession in the lives of the real-life characters the participants played. The inclusion of the body through Forum Theater reminds us that the process of conscientization can be a socio-emotionally layered process and not just an intellectual one.
...(download the rest of the essay above)