Attending any professional conference always leaves my brain buzzing with new ideas and a Christmas-morning-esqe excitement about delivering my learning to students. NCTE was no different–it is a convention of crusaders that feels like the best (only?) staff meeting you never want to end.
And I needed it this year.
This year has been different, difficult at times, as I navigate a new school and new expectations, balancing between very traditional American Literature and AP Literature curriculums with the workshop work I know is impactful for students. Truth be told, I have been more of a good employee than an inspiring educator. I have made choices that didn’t rock the boat and those choices often cut student voices. When I wrote about not being there, in retrospect, it is because I haven’t been fully committed to workshop this year. Thus, students haven’t been fully committed to it either.
Chris Emdin, spoken word-educator-scientist, asked, “Are you a good employee or an educator?”
Penny Kittle, workshop Goddess, asked, “What are we going to do?”
“Balance” won’t work any more. There is urgency to the work we are doing. I have to make choices between what builds authentic literacy and what makes me a good employee.
My juniors are leaving for their post-secondary endeavors, majority of them to four years institutions, soon. The end of their adolescent education is upon them and they face down daunting tasks. During her presentation, Penny shared a graphic featured in 180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents (Heinemann 2018) which showcases the urgency of student literacy.
From a survey of college syllabi for freshmen English done by reDesign (2014) shows first year students will encounter:
- 5,000 pages of reading
- 75 text-based discussions
- 20 argumentative or research essays
- And 90-100 polished essay pages
A semi-stunned “Wow” is what I thought to myself as the sweet sophomore teacher from Texas audibly gasped as the data was shown, then unpacked through Kittle’s high school to college transition.
What am I going to do in relation to how much students read and write in my classroom versus how much they need to read and write to be prepared for the rigors of post-secondary school? Am I going to be a good employee and assign The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn before The Great Gatsby because that is what the curriculum guide says? Am I going to educate or follow?
As Ms. Kittle discussed, we have to shift our thinking from one of victimization to one of urgent empowerment, from “Welp, what are we going to do?” to “What are we going to do? What CAN we do?”
It is not too late to save the year.
I will say no (politely). I will return to what works, listen to what students want, and make time for what kids need. I will read with students and write alongside them. I will use my voice and research to justify what many perceive as an “alternative path” to personalized literacy. My duty is to get students on the road to being successful after K-12 by giving them the tools, stamina, and skills to navigate 5,000 pages of reading, text-based discussions, and various writing demands.
Chris Emdin defined teaching as being “the art of the remix.” So come Monday, I am going to remix my approach and re-define literacy in my classroom, and be, first and foremost, an educator.
Maggie Lopez is currently hiking through the arches and right to the edge of cliffs in beautiful Moab, Utah while re-reading 180 Days. She is always grateful for the educators in her life, including the Three Teachers Talk community. You can find her @meg_lopez0.