A year ago, I did not think I would be ready for year two of my research. Who am I kidding, at our Heinemann Fellows meeting in Denver last December, I felt my research faltering. But after an inspiring and rejuvenating three days with my co-fellows where Ellin Keene mentored us through a deep dive into our data, I had a realization: if I was going to move my students, I needed to focus more closely on my own biases and how I enacted those biases in our classroom.
My research question—In what ways does the exploration of personal identity through reading and discourse impact students’ perceptions of themselves as stigmatized readers?—made me look long and hard at my teaching practice.
As a college student, at twenty, I found myself under the tutelage of an educator of color for the first time ever. I did not learn from another one until I was thirty. During my tenure as an educator, I have served students as diverse as America itself. I scoured my memory. I can merely recall fewer than ten colleagues of color among the hundreds with whom I’ve worked. In March I traveled from rural Alaska to New York City to visit Heinemann Fellow Tiana Silvas and her colleagues at PS 59. I was looking for effective instructional strategies. At forty, nineteen years into my teaching career, I found what I hope all thoughtful, passionate educators, regardless of race or ethnicity, will someday find in order to better serve our students. I found community—just as I am.
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will
Sing for me . . .
—From Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda
The gray hangs from the February sky like the roof of a tent heavy with rain. It’s during these wintry days when I feel most vulnerable as a teacher. I’m also sensing winter’s hold on my students, and I begin to wonder if I make even the smallest difference for them.
As a reader, I am captivated by characters. Major characters who drive plot or who find themselves transformed by conflict, minor characters who flesh out stories and live in the space between interesting and important, or characters who are easily forgotten.