Okay, besides that part. I had a big interview looming before I started writing this up two months ago. I wanted to feel out some of my thoughts before I was faced with a panel of 15-20 people all staring at me. I couldn’t reveal anything at that time. I typed all of this up based on some possible questions that may be asked. A friend had shared with me what he was asked during his interview the year before so I started brainstorming my answers. Now that the interview is long over, I can share that none of these are what I was asked. But there is still some valuable thought and reflection in my answers…because I never finished this blog post before the interview, my answers may be incomplete.
So who am I? How do I explain my teaching? My passion? Why did I enter teacher? Why did I want to become a teacher?
I left my AmeriCorp time working in a non-profit knowing I had to work more closely with kids. They are our future, the ones with the power to guide us, and we need to value them. I knew that the changes I could make working for a place like the Women’s Center were small compared to the changes I could make in a classroom. Was that naive? I still don’t know. I knew that in a year with the Women’s Center I had only interacted for one day with about 100 kids. In one school year, I would have the chance to interact with 130-160 kids for nearly 180 days. That comes to 26000 plus individual interactions (can I get a math teacher to check that please?). I had a background in Women’s Studies and African American studies. I knew I wanted to work in an inner city school. So, I went back to school to finish a third undergraduate degree in English in order to earn the necessary endorsement for teaching. I was hired at my first interview and spent my first four years teaching there. I loved every single tumultuous second of it. It has been pivotal in shaping me as a person and my beliefs about education.
What do I believe? I believe that every single child is capable of greatness. I know that all children are born with innate curiosity, that as teachers, we have the delicate task of nurturing. I know that in an environment of high stakes testing, too many teachers have fallen victim to fear. They have abandoned their reasons for educating in the first place. They replace best practice, with mandated fear practices in hopes of bumping scores and saving jobs. Or worse, they hold on to antiquated beliefs about what education should be. I also know that I will stand in my door way to protect my kids from any oncoming mandate that tries to harm them and shout down any person who tells me I can’t do what I know to be right for my children based on the research available.
I believe that teaching has to connect to their world. And their world is more than Justin Bieber, Shawn Mendes or sports. Their worlds are full of hunger, divorce, cancer, and death. They are happy. They are hurting. They want to know they are not alone. They want to be treated with respect and they wanted to be treated like adults. They don’t want to be shielded from what life has to offer or the pain that it brings. They want us, as teachers, to know where they are and meet them there. They want us to take their hands, and take them along for the ride. They want to grow and learn. And they want structure. These things aren’t anymore true for the children in Short Pump than they are for the kids growing up in Highland Park.
In my classroom, I’m the facilitator of understandings. I want to lead the classroom to explore, to dig, to express, to rationalize and problem solve. I tell my students that English isn’t a content area. It is a skills class. I’m teaching you to think, to analyze, to create. I’m teaching you to chase knowledge. We don’t “learn English.” We explore the world and while we are doing it, I teach you some skills that will help you explore more deeply while you read or write. In my class, we look at literature through the lens of historical context and modern importance. We place the author and his writing in their time period and explore the possible connections between the themes and the events to what was happening in the author’s life. Yet, this isn’t enough. We must then examine what makes it timeless. How does the story sustain? Why is it still relevant? And then we look at how it is still relevant today in our lives. How does this theme continue to reappear? What universal understanding has mankind internalized in regards to the story? How do we learn something about the human experience by reading fiction? And lastly, I want my kids to feel they have a voice. There is always an opportunity for them to be heard, far beyond the reaches of our school or building. For instance, I wanted to give them opportunities last year to speak to a real congressman, to find out how they can petition for laws, how they can reach out to school boards and education departments to change the way they see experience education. I gave them these opportunities and it made their learning real. Not something they just did to fulfill a course requirement or receive a grade. They were able to see how their learning transferred outside the classroom and their potential for making a difference.
How do I impact student learning in my building, not just my classroom?
I love reaching out to other teachers in my building. I love collaborating across curriculum areas. But even more, I love staff development. I love being an ambassador of staff development and working on the Staff Dev committee to bring relevant, high quality and sustained staff dev to my school. I love reading about strategies, sharing resources and working with other teachers. I want kids to enjoy their time in my classroom, so I like to talk to other teachers about what they are doing and share my ideas as well. People aren’t always receptive to the new. They get comfortable with the status quo. I struggle with how to effectively have these discussions when so many people seem checked out. Recently, I’ve asked a small cohort of teachers to join a reflective practice PLC…a teacher book club of sorts. We will discuss topics of interest, read articles and meet to chat about best practice and how we can improve student learning in our building.
How do I handle controversial topics in my classroom?
With respect and empathy.We talk about a lot of controversial things in my classroom. We look at them from all sides. Therefore, we have to spend a lot of time in my class talking about respect and empathy. We talk about how it is okay to have different positions and that we must learn to communicate rationally, with evidence and with respect, whether we agree or not. I try to instill in them that sometimes the best way to better understand your own position is to actually explore thoughtfully all sides of a topic. Many times, I will ask my students to debate the opposite of their beliefs, just so they are forced to fully understand all sides and develop the empathy that comes with considering other’s perspectives. I always try to stay open. I leave myself open to learn from them. They know that what ever side they take, I’m going to take the other. It gets confusing some times! They try to figure me out. But I also think that sometimes, we have to take a stand on the issues we know are wrong. For instance slavery. We, as a society, have no problem admitting that the holocaust was wrong, but for some reason, discussion of slavery and racism in this country always lead to feelings of uneasiness. I don’t think that many would argue that slavery was right, but many will still argue that racism isn’t real. And this is once place I don’t let much debate occur. We work from a premise in my class that there are in fact structures in place that privilege certain groups. We do not deny these things. We can debate whether Michael Brown’s murder was an appropriate use of force based on the facts, but we will not deny that racism is alive and that race played a part in what unfolded that day.