Tag Archives: racism

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.  

English Journal November Sneak Preview

The following post is by Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, NCTE members and editors of the English Journal and guest editors, Sean P. Connors and P.L. Thomas. 

We are delighted to invite you to preview our November 2016 issue of EJ, which—in keeping with the presidential election—is particularly provocative and compelling. In this blog post, we feature the issue editorial, composed by guest editors Sean P. Connors and P. L. Thomas, as well as the introduction to a special section on teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. We hope that the issues highlighted in this month’s EJ will open conversation among English teachers everywhere. —Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski

 From the Guest Editors (Sean P. Connors and P. L. Thomas)
“Visible Teaching: Open Doors as Resistance”

ej_nov_2016_cover-cropped“Visibility,” Michel Foucault famously argued, “is a trap” (200). Foucault reached this understanding as a result of his efforts to theorize the panopticon, an 18th-century prison that was designed to control the behavior of inmates by ensuring that they were continuously subject to the gaze of those entrusted with supervising them. For Foucault, the panopticon offers a metaphor for understanding how power functions in modern society. “It is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen,” he wrote, “that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection” (187). Significantly, Foucault recognized the panoptic principle—that is, the shaping power of the gaze—at work in other institutions, including school.

Given the surprisingly large number of submissions that the call for this issue of English Journal elicited, we suspect that Foucault’s observations are likely to resonate with English teachers working in the current education reform era, a time when local media publish standardized test scores as a way to hold teachers accountable for their students’ performance, when teachers are subject to unannounced walk-through observations, and when they are required to submit written lesson plans as evidence of their having complied with prescriptive standards. As the articles in this issue demonstrate, however, the gaze is not unidirectional. Rather, there are times when people make themselves visible to others for the express purpose of capturing their attention and resisting what they recognize as unfair or unproductive practices and mandates. To this end, Steve Mann, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman use the term sousveillance to refer to a practice wherein people “resist surveillance through non-compliance and interference ‘moves’ that block, distort, mask, refuse, and counter-surveil the collection of information” (333). Visibility, in other words, is not always a trap. It can also constitute a form of resistance, and that is the source of this issue’s call for teaching with our doors open. While the authors whose work appears in this issue of English Journal approach the subject of visible teaching in different ways, they each take visibility as a starting point for considering how teachers can resist education reform mandates that promote, intentionally or otherwise, instructional practices that research suggests are not in the best interest of students. By reflecting on the many benefits that accompany a decision to open one’s classroom door to colleagues, administrators, and parents, these authors celebrate the liberatory potential of visible teaching.

In closing, we return to Foucault’s work, specifically, his admonition against conceptualizing power objectively—that is, as something that some people “hold” and “exercise,” and which others aspire to “seize” and “wield.” Instead, Foucault argued that power is everywhere, with the result that people are continuously able to shape (and reshape) their relationships with others. Rather than understand ourselves as limited in what we are able to accomplish with students in our respective contexts, the authors whose work appears in this issue challenge us to consider how teaching with our classroom doors open constitutes a form of resistance. In doing so, they, like Foucault, invite us to remember that we are always “freer than we think we are” (Bell 83).

Works Cited

Bell, Vikki. “The Promise of Liberalism and the Performance of Freedom.” Foucault and Political Reason: Liberalism, Neo-Liberalism, and Rationalities of Government, edited by Andrew Barry, Thomas Osborne, and Nikolas Rose. U of Chicago P, 1996, pp. 81–97.

Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by A. Sheridan. Vintage Books, 1995.

Mann, Steve, Jason Nolan, and Barry Wellman. “Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices or Data Collection in Surveillance Environments.” Surveillance and Society, vol. 1, no. 3, 2003, pp. 331–55.

sean-connors-photoSean P. Connors (sconnors@uark.edu) is an associate professor of English education at the University of Arkansas. He has been an NCTE member since 2010.



dr-paul-thomasP.L. Thomas, professor of education (Furman University) and former NCTE Historian, taught high school English for 18 years in South Carolina before moving to teacher education. He is currently a column editor for English Journal and author of Beware the Roadbuilders (Garn Press). Contact him at paul.thomas@furman.edu and follow his work at http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/ and @plthomasEdD.

Editors’ Introduction to Special Section on Teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Essays in Conversation (Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski)

When we read Peter Smagorinsky’s provocative article, in which he exchanges racism with misogyny in a quest to cultivate empathy, we were riveted, to say the least. Reviewer comments echoed our sense of the power of the piece. One said she would renew her subscription if we published the article. Another commented, simply, “Please publish this. . . . There will be backlash. So be it.”

We consulted with the guest editors, who concurred. However, upon further consideration, our own editorial limitations became clear. The author of the article is White. Both guest editors are White, as are we. As moved as we were by Smagorinsky’s experiment, we recognized that our own perspectives, despite our best intentions, were insufficient. Fortunately, brilliant colleagues stepped forward in response to our invitations to participate in the conversation. Thus, this section includes an array of voices and perspectives, and it involves diction that may offend some readers. We trust that our readership will appreciate how words, especially those that stretch us into areas of discomfort and even pain, can lead to learning and, perhaps, healing.

Initial submissions by these four esteemed contributors varied in their presentation of sensitive terms. Sometimes the terms were spelled out; other times, they were filled with asterisks or dashes. In the copyediting phase of production, we consulted with numerous experts in language and publication. Ultimately, in the context of academic freedom and with a passionate wish to avoid censorship, we decided to allow each author to determine how to present sensitive terms to express ideas clearly, with intended connotations. Please note that the language employed by each author is presented in the spirit of noncensorship and with scholarly purpose.

We are honored to publish Peter Smagorinsky’s article and to feature exceptional respondent articles written by Leigh Patel, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, and Jocelyn Chadwick—all of whom offer thoughtful, compelling, and invaluable contributions to this ongoing dialogue. We trust you will be challenged, stimulated, disturbed, and enlightened by these articles.

JulieGorlewskiJulie Gorlewski is chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

DavidGorlewskiDavid Gorlewski works with preservice and practicing teachers and conducts research on literacy and professional dispositions.  Both are former English teachers and members of NCTE, Julie since 2004 and David since 2001.

Talking Immigration in the Classroom

This is a guest post written by Katelyn Sedelmyer. 

KatelynSedelmyerThis summer there has been much talk around issues pertaining to immigration. As we head back to school, it’s likely that these public conversations will continue, and as teachers, we know that rhetoric matters. In these times, how can districts and schools ensure that immigrant and refugee students feel safe and free from discrimination? How can teachers facilitate productive classroom conversations about diversity, politics, and current events that affect their students?

Below are some resources NCTE has compiled for teachers looking to have these tough but important conversations in their classrooms.

NCTE positions:  

  1. Resolution on the Dignity and Education of Immigrant, Undocumented, and Unaccompanied Youth
  1. NCTE Position Paper on the Role of English Teachers in Educating English Language Learners (ELLs)
  1. Resolution on Diversity

 Teaching materials:

  • Teaching Tolerance’s resources on the 2016 election, lessons on civic activities and countering bias


Teaching after Tragedy
“Coming to school on tragic days is one of the toughest parts of teaching. It’s also, of course, one of the most important.” -Ken Lindblom
Teaching the 2016 Presidential Election: Racism, Immigration, and Xenophobia

“As educators, there are some important ways in which you can empower students to use the current rise of xenophobia and intolerance in the US and abroad to inspire global competence. Doing this will, in turn, help develop your students into young leaders who can engage with the current political discourse in a way that is meaningful and authentic to their own lives and contexts.” –Apoorvaa Joshi
Teaching Students to Consider Immigration with Empathy
“I ask students to see cultures, including their own, as experiments in sustainability. I encourage them to ask, ‘If we continue as we are (in this case, without immigration reform), what will things look like forty years from now–and what do we want them to look like?’” -Miguel Vasquez

What Undocumented Students Bring to the Classroom
“Classrooms can be forums for the honest, uncomfortable, revealing conversations adults don’t make enough time for in their public lives. Every student has important insights to share.” –Andrew Simmons

Katelyn was NCTE’s policy and research intern in the DC office in 2015-2016. A graduate of American University’s MPA program, she currently works on ICF International’s Youth and Adult Education team. As a former ESL teacher of adult immigrants, she is interested in the intersection of education and immigration. You can find her on Twitter as @katesedelmyer.

The Role of Early Childhood Education and Racism

youngchildrenlearning“Through our teaching of young children …we can affect the most change.”

How appropriate today with unrest (again) in Ferguson, Missouri, that we think about racism and education and what we as educators might do.

The Early Childhood Education Assembly of NCTE  has been thinking about this for some time through their Professional Dyads and Culturally Relevant Teaching project and particularly in conjunction with events like those in Ferguson and Charleston over the past year.

The assembly’s new NCTE Guideline: Statement on the Role of Early Childhood Education and Racism asks us to consider not only what we might do now as racism is visible front-page news but also what might we continue to do to educate our students to recognize the subtle and insidious racism that persists in our society.

The guideline provides us with resources that are

“a beginning, an impetus in support of educators committed to
(a) deepening understandings about institutional and interpersonal racism and its manifestations in educational settings,
(b) understanding the depth and breadth of histories often left out of or misrepresented in our teaching, and
(c) applying new awareness to transforming practice and policy.”

Most of all, the guideline urges us not to be silent.  It reminds us that we “have a clear responsibility and essential role to play in educating tomorrow’s adults so that this kind of hatred and racism is no longer a possibility.”