Category Archives: Diversity

Part 2: How I Stayed in Teaching

This post (the second of two parts) is written by member Lorena Germán. You can read the first part here

lorena-german-2-2-2After teaching at my alma mater for several years, I was exhausted. I was exhausted with the oppressive structure and the feeling of powerlessness as I watched mistreatment of students occur at the hands of teachers, administrators, and the overall system. I saw teachers abuse students verbally and even straddle the “physical abuse” fence. I saw decisions made that were not at all in the best interests of the student. I saw adults blindly follow rules and policies because we all felt powerless to a certain extent. There were days when I felt a part of the problem and not a part of the solution. I watched co-workers leave year after year; the turnover was probably the only constant considering new trends, new curricula, new school leaders, and new projects.

In my last year at that school, I learned about NCTE’s Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award, but I hesitated to apply. I was unsure if I would get it and if it would be beneficial. Ultimately, I applied and then forgot about it until June, when I was at graduate school and received a notice that I was one of the six cohort members that year. Beyond being excited, I felt acknowledged and respected. Acceptance into this program was an affirmation that my passion was being recognized and appreciated.

My mentor, Anna J. Roseboro, was a great mentor and she helped me that year when I was home and pregnant and strongly reconsidering returning to the classroom. I couldn’t go back and deal with that intensity or the oppressive system anymore. Through our conversations and her support, she helped me remember my passion for teaching. She didn’t know what I was thinking or feeling, but her comments kept reminding me of my love for the craft.

The project I took on with my cohort was meaningful, and I really enjoyed synthesizing all of our research and ideas. We presented at the 2015 NCTE Annual Convention in Minneapolis on redefining texts and identifying multicultural texts for use in the classroom. Our presentation was strong and our work was important. It was such a powerful experience for me, and it came at the right time. I’ll always be grateful to the people I met through this experience who continue to be mentors in some way: Anna J. Roseboro, Dr. Mila Fuller, Dr. Isabel Baca, Dr. Tonya Perry, and my cohort members. Through this award, I have expanded my professional network, found a sustained motivation for my career, and acquired the drive to grow and think big.

Lorena Germán is a twelfth-year Dominican American educator working with young people in Austin, Texas. She has been published by NCTE, ASCD, EdWeek, and others and is an active member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. An NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipient, Lorena is a wife, mami, teacher, and writer.   Follow her on Twitter @nenagerman.  

Part I: How I Marched into Teaching

This post is written by member Lorena Germán. This is the first of two parts. 

lorena-german-2-2-2Sometimes we fall into careers as we search for ourselves. Other times we fall into careers in search of answers. I was drawn to teaching against my will, I say, because of racist and oppressive educational experiences.

I was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Lawrence, Massachusetts, a seven-square-mile immigrant city bustling with people from Caribbean and Central American nations. While the majority of the student population is Latinx, immigrant, and Spanish speaking, most teachers are white women. This imbalance caused cultural and language tensions in the classroom.

Here is an example: I can remember sitting in class while one of my peers read a paragraph aloud. He was moving slowly, I guess, but I cannot say I had noticed. The teacher, from the front of the room, said, “My goodness, Jose. If you could only read as fast as you move on the court!” Bravely, Jose finished that paragraph. That was in seventh grade, but I still remember that moment. I cannot imagine that Jose does not. I also cannot remember if Jose ever read aloud again. The teacher’s reference to the basketball court, in concert with other remarks like those directed at other boys of color, demonstrated a pattern. Most of those boys of color either did not pass her class or were consistently struggling with discipline issues.

I remember another teacher, in high school, who stopped speaking to me for about a semester, because I was vocal about my concerns and disapproval of the city’s school committee practices. I remember getting dirty looks from teachers and under-their-breath mumbled remarks while I was walking past them. I was ready to graduate, leave Lawrence for college, and never set foot in those schools again.

It impossible to think about my educational experience and not notice the ethnic and cultural disconnect between the teachers and the students and cite that as one of the roots of the problem. It is also impossible for me to blame students for a system they do not control or have a say in, to this day. My anger was deep and my frustration with education was wide. However, as a first-generation immigrant, I was determined to go to college, take full advantage of our family’s sacrifice, and achieve the American Dream everyone was talking about.

While at college, I discovered I had a passion for working with young people like others and myself who reminded me of my neglected peers. I thought I would dedicate myself to working in nonprofits and extracurricular youth work. I did that for several years and always noticed that my role incorporated teaching and/or education somehow. One year, when I was working as a sales representative at a women’s gym, a co-worker asked me to tutor her daughter in Spanish. This student exclaimed how well I was teaching her and how she was finally understanding Spanish. So one Tuesday night at 8:00 p.m., while sitting with this girl, I realized I was indeed going to be a teacher.

I packed up all of my belongings and headed back to Massachusetts. I had some healing to do—for both my future students and myself. I was not returning to be anyone’s savior. I was not returning with big dreams of massive impact. I was realistic and very clear on the fact that I was willingly taking on institutionalized racism. My goal was simple: I would work hard to be the teacher I never had.

Lorena Germán is a twelfth-year Dominican American educator working with young people in Austin, Texas. She has been published by NCTE, ASCD, EdWeek, and others and is an active member of the Bread Loaf Teacher Network. An NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipient, Lorena is a wife, mami, teacher, and writer.   Follow her on Twitter @nenagerman.  

I Write to Rejuvenate!

This post is written by member Dr. Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar, Early Career Education of Color Leadership Award Recipient.

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MyLinh Tran, Dr. Iyengar, Mario Paman
  1. What has the award meant to you and how has it affected you?

I was thrilled to learn about the award and that my dissertation chair, Dr. Henkin, nominated me for it. I thought the award was for Hispanic or African American educators and that I did not stand a chance of winning it, because Asian Indians are marginalized in the United States. Although we are considered model minorities, we are not well represented in the literature. People now recognize me in conferences when I present in sessions and ask me if I was one of the educators of color award recipients. When I went to India in the summer of 2015, several educators congratulated me on the award. It feels good to know that NCTE recognizes Asian Indian professors.

  1. Describe an experience in your classroom.

When students from single parent families with very little economic support discuss their struggles with pursuing university education, I share my struggles with an alcoholic parent and how my mother raised me with limited resources. Students appreciate sharing such experiences with each other, and they begin to rationalize their decisions in life. On the first day of class, I always make them write on an experience that they cannot forget (happy or sad), and students enjoy the craft.

  1. What drew you into teaching?

My mother was a Montessori educator for 35 years, and she was a wonderful teacher with skills necessary for success as a teacher of young children. She served in rural schools with lack of access to drinking water, electricity, and education for girls. In addition, I had excellent teachers myself who encouraged and inspired me to achieve. Many of my teachers were quick to notice my talent as a writer and appreciated my willingness to share through writing. I think teachers can make a difference in their students’ lives if teachers put their hearts into teaching. That is why I chose to become a teacher, and I did not know that I would move to the United States and that I would not be able to give back to my people in India. However, I have the satisfaction of helping and encouraging students in the United States who may be happy in my classes.

  1. What would you like to accomplish as a teacher?

To help students, especially those who are underserved and from marginalized communities, to achieve mastery in reading and writing.

To help students understand that the teaching of writing is valuable across the disciplines and not just in English classes.

To instill the love of learning in struggling and less motivated students by incorporating culturally relevant materials and contextualized writing workshop.

To facilitate learning in less fortunate but deserving adult students in our communities.

To use the experiences that I gathered through my doctoral program and the professional development experiences at the San Antonio Writing Project for 10 years to help make our society linguistically, culturally, and socially rich.

To help students develop a love for multicultural education, help conduct research-based inquiry, and help establish socially just classrooms.

To disrupt social justice issues, including bullying, micro-aggression, symbolic violence, and “othering,” etc.

To assist aspiring teachers with the latest pedagogical and technological advancements that help teachers deliver their lessons effectively and foster analytical, inquiry-based, critical, creative, and transformative literacy skills.

To establish learner-centered classrooms that will promote interdisciplinary learning and multicultural teaching.

  1. What issues are you passionate about as a teacher?

My primary goal is to establish socially just classrooms that can help disrupt micro-aggression, symbolic violence, or bullying so that all students are happy and have access to a quality education. To mentor students so I can acquaint them with the latest research developments in pedagogy (e.g., a multimodal approach to teaching to accommodate the different kinds of learners in our classrooms). Then, help preservice teachers integrate literature from other countries of the world so all children feel welcomed in our classrooms.

  1. Describe experiences with your students and share recommendations that you feel have helped you as a teacher?

My adult students hesitate to write about experiences that they feel could expose them to ridicule or bullying. I make sure to discuss the civil discourse document that my department has provided me and to establish my classroom as a safe and healthy environment and platform for expression without fear or constraints. I highly recommend that teachers keep an open mind and let the creative juices flow in students. In addition, I allow students to write on topics they choose and topics that are culturally relevant to them until they learn how to write comfortably and efficiently. Writing workshop is the best strategy for encouraging students, especially reluctant ones, to engage in writing.

Dr. Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar is a lecturer in the department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching at University of Texas at San Antonio. She teaches the interdisciplinary studies courses to undergraduate students. She is also the San Antonio and Haridwar Writing Project Teacher Consultant and works for the Center for Inquiry of Transformative Literacies.

Reaching Toward a More Accepting and Equitable Society: The Work of the Language Arts in These Times

This post is written by members Wanda Brooks, Jonda C. McNair, and Kelly Wissman.

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In September of 2016, we published the first issue of Language Arts under our editorship. In this open-themed issue, we included an article exploring various genres of talk in writers workshop conferences and a reflective piece on the potential of Twitter in the classroom. Our November issue, “Diverse Books,” welcomed a range of voices advocating for more inclusive texts, including an essay by Rudine Sims Bishop, one of the field’s most widely cited children’s literature scholars, and a carefully argued take on research and policy related to diverse books by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas.  Our third issue, “Tweens,” featured artwork by and an interview with beloved author for tweens Tom Angleberger. Celebrated author Rita Williams-Garcia’s reflection on her trilogy for tweens also graced the pages, alongside renowned researchers Gay Ivey and Peter Johnston who wrote about the importance of choice and high-interest literature to promote classrooms as engaged reading communities. Our recently published “Viewpoints and Visions” issue includes articles on culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies across grade levels and contexts.

As Co-editors, we are honored to serve in this capacity and to maintain the longstanding tradition of publishing high quality scholarship focusing on language arts teaching and learning related to children of preschool through middle school age.   Within these times marked by profound political unrest and widening inequalities, we believe that the language arts have a central role to play by helping us reach toward a more accepting and equitable society.

Our collective vision for the journal entails three main goals. First, we emphasize children’s literature in a number of ways such as routinely featuring art from picturebooks and novels on the cover of the journal, publishing interviews with notable children’s book authors and illustrators, and having one themed issue annually devoted to some aspect of literature for youth. Second, we try to make even more central the words, experiences, and insights of children as they use language and literacy to navigate, make sense of, and leave their marks on the world.  For example, in classrooms and homes today, young learners are harnessing the tools of digital media to navigate the realm of popular culture while creating their own multimedia productions.  As editors, we embrace these deeply creative and increasingly complex practices of literacy by highlighting the literary, artistic, and analytic work taking place across multiple modalities and contexts. We also prioritize children’s voices and the written and multimodal artifacts young people create. Third, we aim to embed issues related to diversity and social justice throughout the journal. We also feature in the journal perspectives and research that explore the challenges and possibilities of envisioning and enacting “education as the practice of freedom” (hooks, 1994) and the vital role that the language arts may play in this endeavor.  From schools to community sites, from homes to homeless shelters, from street demonstrations to prisons, literacies can profoundly mediate and transform experiences and our understandings of them.

It is our hope that as you engage with the pages of Language Arts that the ideas contained within will inspire you, open up new avenues of thought, and perhaps even provoke a change in a classroom practice or plant the seeds for a fresh way of thinking about literacy, assessment, young children, and the possible role of the language arts to help us realize the democratic promise of education. We invite you to correspond with us on the direction and vision of the journal and to support us in our efforts to make more central the voices and perspectives of students and their teachers as they engage in this important work of the language arts.

We also invite you to write for Language Arts! Please consider adding your voice and perspectives by writing a Feature Article emerging from research you have conducted in school, family, or community settings. You might also consider writing a shorter, more conversational, piece for our Perspectives on Practice column. Visit our website for a description of upcoming calls for manuscripts, including, Reimagining Writers and Writing; Changes in Children’s Literature; Youth Culture(s) and Childhood; Life Lessons: Autobiographies, Biographies, and Memoirs.  Click here for the full calls: http://www.ncte.org/journals/la/call and here for manuscript submission guidelines: http://www.ncte.org/journals/la/write

Reference

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY:                   Routledge.

wandabrooksWanda Brooks is an associate professor of Literacy Education in the College of Education at Temple University.  She teaches graduate and undergraduate courses related to reading theories and literacy instruction.  Her research examines the literary understandings of diverse middle school youth who read African American children’s literature. 

 

jonda_mcnair_photoJonda C. McNair, a former primary grade teacher, is a professor of literacy education at Clemson University in South Carolina. She specializes in literature intended for youth with an emphasis on books written by and about African Americans.

 

kelly-wissman_headshot-6Kelly Wissman is an Associate Professor in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany-SUNY. Across her scholarship and teaching she explores how children’s literature, writing, and the arts can create more humanizing and equitable educational spaces. 

Diversifying Our Professional Literature

This post is written by member Rose Peterson. 

rosepetersonI cracked the cover of the school’s grammar textbook, frantically hoping to find something I could salvage for the next day’s required weekly grammar lesson. I located the section on capitalization, a skill that had proven to be a struggle for my students. I was stunned by the answers to Section 12:

  1. Arctic
  2. Irish, Norse
  3. Scandinavian, Celtic
  4. Icelandic, pro-Norwegian

Textbook bias was no longer a distant problem when I looked from the brown faces of my students down to the whitewashed answers in my grammar textbook. In today’s public schools, black students represent approximately 26 percent of students, 50 percent of students here in Milwaukee, and 99 percent of students in my classes, but the majority of curricular materials continue to cater to white audiences. I firmly closed the cover, and thus began my journey of creating meaningful work for my kids from scratch.

The next logical step on this journey was turning to professional literature. While there is something to be gained from everything read, I find reading professional literature to be stickier now that I am teaching in an urban setting. I get excited about what teachers elsewhere are doing with their kids, and I leap to implement those ideas in my own classroom, forgetting that my kids are still learning how to “do school,” to write one-paragraph journals in 10 minutes, to be quiet for longer than 15 seconds at a time. Everything requires serious adaptation. It is exhausting enough to be an urban educator at all—to remain patient in the face of serious behavioral issues, to attend countless IEP meetings and expulsion hearings, to withstand district pressure about failure rates—but creating, or at least adapting, appropriate curriculum on top of the unique everyday strain is the added weight that drives urban teachers back into the comprehension questions in textbooks.

Nonetheless, my frustration is just a glimpse of the reality my kids experience daily when they try to reconcile their experiences in black communities with the white world that dominates the media. They, too, must adapt everything. Nothing is ready-made for young black kids other than the way of the streets.

As the critically conscious, culturally compassionate NCTE members we are, we have done a great job of advocating for adding diverse texts to our classroom libraries, for offering kids alternative realities to those the world may project. What we sometimes forget, though, is that while we fill gaps in young adult literature, many cultural gaps are ever widening in professional literature. We have authors like Sharon Draper, Kwame Alexander, Jason Reynolds, and Jacqueline Woodson bringing diverse experiences to classroom libraries across the country. Where are equivalent champions of diversity in the realm of professional literature? There are no Penny Kittles or Kelly Gallaghers or Jeff Wilhelms or Donalyn Millers of the hood.

There may be the occasional book—For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood, or classics by authors like Lisa Delpit and Gloria Ladson-Billings—but other than that, the genre is sparsely populated. We see a handful of rotated lessons, the most popular of which relies upon Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. While the album is truly brilliant, this heavily used lesson concept is not enough. First, as any other teacher, urban teachers have dozens of weeks to fill, and a single album is not enough material to engage students for an entire school year. We need more ideas and inspiration for relevant, culturally responsive curriculum than a single album. Secondly, while this lesson is intended to be relevant to urban students’ lives, my kids do not even listen to Kendrick Lamar. They listen to Lud Foe and Bless Team and Lil Boosie. Well-intentioned as it may be, this “social justice lesson plan” ends up being yet another thing urban teachers have to adapt.

I am not in search of a copy-and-paste curriculum; I am in search of inspiration and ideas that come from a place of understanding about black urban students to help me teach them in ways that help them reach their potential instead of assuming they’re already there.

I want to know it can happen. I want to know I am not crazy for believing in my kids. I want to believe that independent reading and writing workshop and multigenre research projects and self-guided learning can work with my urban, black kids. I want to know I am not the only one struggling to figure out how. In order for this to happen, we must diversify our professional literature just as we have diversified our classroom libraries to reflect the experiences of teachers in diverse environments.

Black kids already know that this world is not kind to them. As their teachers, the least we can do is ensure that our professional literature helps us make our English classrooms welcoming and relevant to their lives.

Rose Peterson is a first-year English teacher at an urban high school in Milwaukee. Follow her @therosepeterson.