Monday, May 21, 2018

Graduation speech

Some of my friends and colleagues suggested I post the speech I made at graduation when I received my university's graduate teaching award. It was exciting that people really seemed to like it😊.

Here it is:

William H. Riker University Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching
Graduation, 2018

Thank you Dean Kearney, Provost Clark, and President Feldman. I am deeply honored to receive the William H. Riker Award for excellence in graduate teaching today. Thank you to Jeff Choppin, Raffaella Borasi, and Brian Brent for nominating me and for marshalling the case through the process. And I thank my students and colleagues who took the time to write letters. Most especially, thank you to all the students who have given me the gift of their trust.

I have had the privilege of working with students from preschool to doctoral study over the course of my career. I currently have the privilege of working with teenagers at East High School as part of our innovative Educational Partnership Organization. Teenagers are pretty cool when they are not your own childrenJ. Teaching is a sacred practice for me. When I am working with students of any age, the rest of the world fades into the background and the human beings in the room stand in sharp focus. We know that human learning is all about relationships and that the relationship between what Freire calls teacher/student and student/teacher is where human learning happens. There is nothing more meaningful and exciting than that look, that spark in the eyes of someone who has had a realization or figured out something they’ve been pondering as part of you working with them. I have been privileged to see that look in 3-year-olds and in 50-year-olds. Nothing is more exciting. I love it when students tell me they couldn’t sleep the night after class because their minds were blown. I do the fist pump dance secretly in my office at East when I overhear my 9thgraders talking in the hallway about something we did in class.

A fundamental principle that guides my teaching is based on the work of Jacques Ranciere in the book The Ignorant Schoolmaster, and that is: all intelligence is equal. This view aligns with what Freire calls the armed love of teachers; an indispensable form of love required of progressive educators. As Crampton (2017, p. 19) suggests:
Teachers can and do choose to view each student as good, worthy, and whole, that staying in a deeply interactive relationship is a choice that requires moment-to-moment action. This isn’t pablum, it isn’t teaching ‘because I love kids.’ Remaining in relationship with students — responding with love, care, belief in their goodness despite evidence to the contrary — requires tremendous energy and work. It is generous, but not for reasons of charity or largesse on the teacher’s part, and, I hope, not in ways that would be considered colonizing; it is generous because it leaves open, over and over, the possibility of ‘shared mutual humanity.’
Taking these principles of love and shared humanity into account, teaching becomes showing intelligence to itself. I try to do this by constructing a safe interactional space for students to take intellectual risks, to challenge their beliefs and ideologies, and to step into unchartered territory. I know when intelligence sees itself when that look, that spark twinkles in their eyes. I am honored to be a part of those sacred moments.

I close by saying it is a special honor for me to be the first faculty member from the school of education and human development to receive this award and the third woman - the first in 20 years. Thank you, Dean Kearney. I see the receipt of this award at this time as an opportunity for all of us to work toward increasing the range of what counts as excellence in graduate teaching. I am honored to play a small role in helping this happen.

Crampton, A. (2017). Mobilizing Love in Literacy Classrooms: Connection, Resistance, and Pedagogy(unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare to teach. Trans. D. Macedo, D. Koike, & A. Oliveira. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. 
Rancière, J. (1991). The ignorant schoolmaster: Five lessons in intellectual emancipation. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

I shall not be broken

People who know me know that I am passionate about justice work in urban schools, that I am impatient with incompetence, that I do not play nice in the face of injustice, and that I am a terrible liar who has no poker face at all. What you see is what you get. I hate playing politics.  And I never give up.

I feel like I'm always in trouble, that people dismiss me.  I am full of contradictions. I try to live a life of love but I hate the evil in charge of the US government and the permission it gives to other evil to spread. I am angry all the time. The #metoo movement has touched deeply into my own history and brought out rage. I fight negativity daily.

I will not stand for sexism but am terrified when sexually harassed in the street. Yes, this still happens, even at my age. Recently a man passed me in the street while saying quite loudly, "I wish I could climb that." My heart racing, I did everything I could to get away as fast as I could. I am 6'3" and this sort of comment has been a daily evil. It still terrifies me.

I struggle with staying optimistic in the face of evil. All that is happening in the US under criminal leadership takes a real toll on my soul. The hope I see in Emma Gonzales (@emma4change), the Black Lives Matter movement, and perhaps the #metoo movement fades quickly when the next horror hits the news.

I cannot stop myself from calling out racism at macro and micro levels. My soul hurts at the constant flow of murdered black and brown men and women at the hands of the police state. As a white woman, I fight as an ally. As a mother of a biracial young man, I am terrified of that knock on the door by the police.

When doctors ask their typical questions about whether I feel hopeless or safe in my home, I can't help but hesitate. I usually make a joke, but it is not funny. As long as we have the government we currently have, the answers to these questions are yes, I feel hopeless. No, I do not feel safe in my home, or the street, or the workplace. The evil that runs rampant in government jeopardizes my life, the life of my husband and son, the lives of my friends and colleagues, and the lives of millions of people I don't know but love.

I try to "stay in my lane" as my dear friend George Moses always says. My lane is education, specifically literacy education. Ah, but what a lane that is. I have the privilege of being a part of something grand in a unique partnership with a Rochester high school that gives me hope on most days. The kids are amazing. We have excellence in teaching and in administration. We have made real and meaningful change for the better. It is good.

It is also terrifying, heartbreaking, and the hardest work I have ever done. People who do not spend their everyday lives in high poverty urban schools DO NOT UNDERSTAND what happens there - the tireless dedication of teachers and administrators to make a small, meaningful dent in the lives of the children and youth they love, only to be vilified in the press.

And it can be crushingly disappointing to work this hard and have the state change the rules. It's impossible to survive under constantly changing rules. Get the numbers! Raise those scores! The threat of state closure looms daily. Everyone suffers. Most of all, kids suffer because they get lost in the battle for higher numbers. It's impossible to do what we know is best practice in teaching and learning when you are under constant threat from state sponsored racism. Add to that state sponsored poverty (e.g. redlining) and what appears to be complete indifference to the plight of millions of Americans living in these purposeful conditions and the impossibility weighs heavy. I believe "they" change the rules on purpose. "They" have no intention of letting urban schools find ways to educate youth. This is white supremacy.

But ...

People who know me know that I am passionate about justice work in urban schools, that I am impatient with incompetence, that I do not play nice in the face of injustice, and that I am a terrible liar who has no poker face at all. What you see is what you get. I hate playing politics.  And I never give up.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Refuse to cave

I know it has been a long time since I have posted and there is a lot to catch up on. But...I just had to post today about not being willing to cave. I refuse to acquiesce that students at East don't care about learning.

I have the privilege of co-teaching a high school class that students designed on Hip Hop. It is not a class using hip hop to teach a subject area; it is a class about hip hop. Students proposed it last year and it was accepted as a .5 credit elective. A group of 6 students came to a Young Writers' Camp I ran last August and framed out the curriculum, decided the assignments, and made assessments. It was a beautiful thing. As it turned out, only one of those curriculum writers ended up in the class (long story). We have 17 amazing students enrolled.

The class has only met 5 times, but I have been disappointed because it doesn't seem the kids are as excited about the class as I thought they would be. I rack my brain every night thinking about what we need to do differently. I noticed a couple of things. Attendance is a real problem. This is not news to anyone here or in urban schools generally. I realized there are interpersonal issues the students deal with and it seems like some only come to class when they know another person isn't going to be there. I can see we are competing with multiple other issues the students are dealing with at home and at school. I feel like they are excited but maybe I just haven't learned how to read it.

I say all this because as I have shared my struggle with different teachers and administrators today, the overwhelming reaction is, "welcome to East." Like I am not supposed to expect excitement and authentic engagement from our students!!! This, I refuse to do.

Luckily, just as I was about to finish this entry angrily, I ran into a teacher who talked to me at length about how expectations have been constructed for our students over time and gave me suggestions for where to go next. I was getting really discouraged that all the work we (the University) have been doing the past three years was for naught. It's isn't; I need to see past preconceptions of "engagement" or "excitement" to where the kids live and pull, not push. I knew this, but had forgotten I guess.