Why a blog?
For several years now, I have wanted to write about my experiences as a teacher, to share my stories, my students’ stories, and to promote best practices and the importance of creating a nurturing classroom culture. Several months ago, I began meeting with my friend and mentor, Pat, to exchange writing and work on this writing project that I hoped would turn into a book. Not for the first time, I struggled to get words on paper. Whenever I sat down to write, I just stared at the blinking cursor on my screen, frustrated that I couldn’t articulate all that I wanted to say. What did I do in the classroom that made my students feel safe, valued, and loved? How could I help support other teachers who want to better their craft? What could I say that hasn’t already been said?
It took going on summer break, leaving the classroom, walking away from the computer screen for a couple of weeks, and a lot of thinking to get my mind where it needed to be to write. This past school year was hard. We were understaffed in the midst of a district-wide overhaul that won’t be fully implemented until next year. We gained a new superintendent (who got us a raise!) and are now working towards new clearly defined goals – lofty ones that demand a lot from all of us, as all of the best goals do. The end of the year brought even more changes and growing pains, and when teachers were dismissed on the last day of school, I almost ran to the parking lot without saying goodbye to anyone. Two weeks, a trip to Philadelphia, and lots of sleep later, I sat down at my computer to think about writing again. However, this time I didn’t think about what I wanted to say in terms of a book. That was too daunting and limiting for me to manage. I began to rethink my ideas in terms of shorter works – blog posts. For this reason, I have renamed my blog, and from this point forward will focus on writing about education.
Why the name “We Teach Who We Are”
With ten years of teaching under my belt – and there’s nothing magical about the number ten, other than that it makes me feel old – I sat down to outline major milestones in my career. What had those ten years looked like? What had I learned in those ten years? How did my years of experience help shape and prepare me for the years to come?
In 2016, I made the decision to abandon (either temporarily or permanently, I didn’t and still don’t know) my original dream of teaching full-time at a university. That meant going back to school, and it was at the University of New Orleans where I first met Pat (back then I was intimidated by her stoic presence and couldn’t dream of calling her anything but Dr. Austin). She and (the now Dr.!) Desi Richter taught Multiculturalism for the Classroom, a required course that came the summer between my the last seven years in private school and before my first year in a public school. I spent three precious weeks with Pat and Desi and an exceptional group of current and future educators whom I still admire and respect. The first day we were invited to write letters to ourselves that we would revisit the last day of class, and I remember writing the following:
“What could I possibly learn about multicultural education in a classroom full of white people?”
Four years of living in Mexico and three years of working in a private school that was less than welcoming to marginalized populations left me longing to be the best teacher I could be for all students. I had been a minority, an “illegal” immigrant, and attacked and judged for either my ethnicity, my gender, or my marital status, even though what I experienced was not even the tip of the iceberg of what so many minorities live with on a daily basis. As a teacher, I saw firsthand what happened when curriculums, teaching styles, classroom culture, and assignments were completely tailored for one population at the expense of other populations, and I have grown more and more concerned about those who are so often left behind.
The answer to the question I wrote in the letter that day was this: everything. I had everything to learn in this course, and it began with understanding my own cultural context so that I could then understand that of my students. We were assigned to write a piece titled “We Teach Who We Are,” the purpose of which was to “to reflect upon your own experiences (both in and out of school) and consider how they inform your identity and hence your practice. Reflecting upon your unique story (both the good and the difficult parts of it) helps prepare you to serve the students entrusted to your care” (as stated in the syllabus).
This was the assignment that I most enjoyed writing – for so many reasons, but probably because it most overlapped with my background in creative nonfiction. I explored different aspects of my identity – race, gender, religion – and in writing to better understand myself, I grew to better understand my students. When I could identify the pieces of my identity and their origins, I could then take advantage of my strengths and address my weaknesses. I could fight bias and racism – even the forms that are born out of good intentions – and teach ELA in a way that was inclusive and meaningful for all students, not regardless of their identities, but because of their identities.
With this blog, I want to honor Pat and Desi, and all of the educators who have guided me to where I am today. I want to help other educators understand why teaching while multiculturally minded – regardless of your student demographics – is so important. I want to share the most important lessons that I have been taught by the best teachers: my students. I want to join the battle for good teaching. Our students deserve the very best of us as educators, whether we are teaching in a city, a suburb, or a rural community; whether we have five or thirty-five kids sitting in our classroom; whether we are supported and acknowledged by administration or left to our own devices; and whether we became teachers because of our love for content or for kids.
I believe that we – teachers – are the greatest resource we have, and that good teaching practices are best maintained in a critical, reflective community. Whether you find that community in the halls of your schools or on the pages of this blog, I hope that you are encouraged. I’m not sure where this new road will take me, but I want to thank you for joining me on this journey. I also hope that you are challenged and inspired to learn more about who you are so that you can offer your students the teaching they deserve – not in spite of who they are, but because of who they are.