Spotlight on Alumni: Rosie Frascella ☆
Can you tell us about your Peace Corps Experience?
I served in Mongolia from 2001-2003, teaching English to adults. I lived in a small village of 2,500 people. We had no running water, and electricity only in the summer for about four hours a night. After the crash of the Soviet Union, a lot of people left my village, so there was a high unemployment rate. The village was in a National Park so a lot of people wanted to learn English so they could work in tourist camps, sell their crafts to tourists, or work as guides.
Was there something about your TC education that uniquely prepared you for Peace Corps?
I had a really great experience with the Peace Corps Teaching Fellows within TC. We got a real focus on diversity. The network of meeting different people was really valuable.
How did you find yourself in Mongolia? And can you share a bit about your post there?
I was offered three nominations, and I chose to teach English in Asia. Mongolia was assigned to me, and it turned out to be the best. It’s just an amazing country. 300 days out of the year are sunny. But, that said, it is a harsh country because travel is hard so you are very isolated. I was about three hours away from another Peace Corps volunteer. Politics are not big among the people. They are living out in the countryside. The role of American politics didn’t play into my service.
I went back to Mongolia recently, and the village has changed. Now they have electricity and there is an awareness of politics. So the experience I had in Mongolia doesn’t really exist anymore. There was something very liberating and peaceful about being so far away. I got mail once a week, and if I didn’t get anything it was a sad day! It was interesting that when I traveled into the capital I actually got more homesick. I would get back in touch with my family, get involved with drama with my friends, and I would get so homesick. And then I would go back to my site, and there would be this calmness that would just come upon me. I was young—21—when I went. Before then, I’d be worried about what I was going to do on the weekend, what were my plans for Friday night? And then I got to Mongolia, and my Friday night was reading a book by candlelight. It was very humbling. All the pressures and expectations of my world fell away, and it was very liberating.
My Mongolian experience really helped change the way I saw the world. One aspect was experiencing poverty and understanding just how privileged I am. On a daily basis, I don’t worry about how I’m going to eat. But being in Mongolia, I saw that was reality for many. I also learned the privilege of just being an American citizen, and having that passport and being able to travel around to wherever I want. That awareness helps me with what I do now at the International School. All my students are recent immigrants, some of them undocumented. And I realize what they are up against on a daily basis as I try my best to prepare them for college.
Tell us what you are doing now.
I teach seniors at the International High School at Prospect Heights (in Brooklyn, NY). I teach English and Literature, plus a History class.
I’m a member of NYCoRE, a collective of radical educators. I got involved with NYCoRE when I helped start a group called NYQueer, which was a working group of NYCoRE. The group’s mission is combating homophobia and transphobia in public schools. I’ve done a lot of work creating conferences called “Beyond Tolerance” where we bring students and educators and community members together as a way of sharing resources and best practices. We’re trying to make our schools safer for everyone.
Is this an area where your passions lie?
Yes. Last year I was the advisor of the Gay/Straight Alliance at my high school. It can really be a struggle for kids, and especially in my school, because of the international component. All of my students are new immigrants to the U.S., and depending on the communities that they come from it can be easy—or not so easy—to be gay.
Part of the work we do at NYQueer is to support teachers who want to come out, so they can feel like they are in a safe place and supported. Teachers can share who they are and act as role models. In the wake of rampant suicides (there is a huge suicide problem among LGTB youths), it is critical for kids to know they have a future and can lead a normal life. They can have a partner, have a job and be respected.
Tell us about some of the issues facing teachers today.
I love teaching. And I think it is such an important job–on so many levels. But there is an attack on teachers that is going on nationwide. Sometimes you feel like you are going around with a bull’s eye on your back. As teachers it is important that we fight for and protect our profession. Teachers should be respected and recognized as professionals who really care about students. Our jobs don’t end at 3pm. My kids call me at 9pm if they have a problem. I dream about them at night, I worry about them. You have to be very committed and you have to love what you are doing to be a teacher. Once you stop loving it the kids can tell.
I am a member of Teacher’s Unite, which, along with NYCoRE, is trying to bring educators together to discuss the political issues that affect us, and ultimately our students. An attack on education is an attack on students. I’m a proud union member, but I get frustrated with the UFT (United Federation of Teachers) because I feel like the UFT leadership doesn’t do enough to educate us as union members, and needs to really organize us to stand up to have the teachers’ voice heard in the media.
What’s a hot-button issue that the union needs to be more vocal about?
Testing. Every six months I watch my kids get destroyed by standardized testing and the Regents Exams. And then it’s my job to pick them back up and give them some hope after they’ve been destroyed by this test. I try to give them the skills they need to do well on the test without destroying the soul of my curriculum, while still covering materials that motivate and engage the students. I consider myself a social justice educator and I realize that it is social justice to first and foremost get them to graduate. But it is also my job to help them become critical thinkers. But preparing for these tests does not make them critical thinkers. It’s ironic that there is so much focus on test scores, because to me, test prep just creates bad teachers. It is so much easier to just teach to the test. But, if I want to create curriculum, it is going to take hours outside of the time that I am being paid. But that is where my passion lies, so that is what I do, and that is what I create. I don’t want to do just test prep: It’s not fun for me; it’s not fun for the kids. Our kids are very talented and very creative and they need to be given the vehicle and space to create.
I understand you just completed a radio course. What did you learn, and how does it apply to your teaching?
I went through a program with People’s Production House (a comprehensive media justice organization serving New York City, Washington DC, and the Gulf Coast). I did the class with other representatives from community organizations. We learned how to do audio pieces for radio. I did a piece on the attack on public education and the importance of creating a rank-and-file movement within teachers’ unions. The course was media training and instructional. I learned how to create a feature, how to create a documentary, how to write a piece and how to do a story arc.
People’s Production House has a program called Radio Rootz for youth (they work with young people in communities historically excluded from the media and help them build the knowledge and tools to become the next generation of media makers and civically engaged leaders). Through connections in that program, I’m doing a radio journalism session in my English class. My students will learn media literacy and how to write a news feature, which is essentially a creative way of teaching how to write an essay. We also have an internship program for our seniors, and one of my students is doing his at Radio Rootz. He struggles with school, but when it comes to the radio program, he’s gone way beyond the hours asked of him because he loves it. The kids’ involvement will bring a new perspective to journalism and to media. Our students’ voices are never heard.
Was there something about your TC education that gave you an edge in teaching and that helps you create interesting curriculum (like the media literacy lesson)?
I took some great classes. ‘Teaching of Poetry” with Ruth Vinz and John Brown’s “Teaching of Shakespeare” were both stand-outs. In addition to learning poetry, we wrote poetry. In addition to learning Shakespeare, we acted Shakespeare. That’s critical in terms of teacher education: We need to do the things that we ask our students to do. To teach literature you need to have the mindset of a writer. Ruth Vinz taught me that you can’t analyze poetry without writing poetry and I’ve transferred that to other aspects of my teaching.
For more information on NYCoRE.
To learn about NYQueer.
For more information on Teachers Unite.
To learn about People’s Production House.
To read about Radio Rootz.