Why Diverse Texts Are Not Enough

NOTE: This post was originally published and written for Literacy Today, a publication of the International Literacy Association (ILA). Click on the image at the right to download or print a PDF of the original article (and click here browse the entire issue).

In May 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its Hate at School report. Using information gathered from teacher questionnaires and news media reports, the SPLC found an alarming uptick in the number of incidents of hate and bias occurring in U.S. schools. Teachers reported that the most common driver of these incidents was racial or ethnic bias, with anti-LGBTQ bias a close second. Furthermore, a majority of these incidents occurred in spaces where adults were present: 32% in classrooms and 37% in shared spaces such as hallways, bathrooms, or other parts of the building.

Think about what that means. The majority of incidents of hate and bias occur in the presence of adults.

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Building blocks for online learning

This school year will be my 20th year in the classroom.

For the past 19 years, summer months have provided necessary respite—the quiet pause—I’ve needed to refuel for the coming school year. To refill my cup so that I can arrive well and whole for my students in September.

But during a pandemic that continues to rage—and with racial inequities (which have always existed) laid glaringly bare yet again—this was not that kind of summer.

Instead, much of my summer has been spent in constant, alternating states of fear, anger, and anxiety, as many school reopening plans ask teachers to put themselves at risk by returning to potentially unsafe buildings and working conditions. How can schools enforce physical distancing? Will students be required to mask? Can they wear masks for hours on end? What about ventilation systems? What happens if someone gets sick?

And how can I teach under these conditions?

Like many teachers, I spent this summer, losing sleep, trying to answer this question. And for many of us, this also means figuring out how to teach in entirely new or modified schedules. Based on conversations I’ve had with teachers across the country, these schedules may also not be in the best interest of kids or supported by research. Compounding all of this is the fact that delayed reopening decisions have left many teachers with inadequate time to fully prepare.

We are going to have to save ourselves.

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Connect the Dots

Last year, in my first post for this series, I asked, how do we show up? 

What does it mean to “show up” in anti-racist work? What does it mean to “show up” in educational spaces—educational spaces which (of all places) should be inherently anti-racist but are often not?  

One year later, I’m still asking the same questions.

Part of me hates that I am even writing this post. I want to write about the joy of being who I am and the joy of loving the people I love. I want to write and imagine worlds, as shea martin has said, outside the confines of Whiteness. I want to write about giving my boys haircuts yesterday in our backyard, as streams of sunshine filtered through tree branches that sheltered us.

But here we are. Read More

Guest Post: Many Ways of Giving

This is a guest post by Michelle Martin, PhD, for the #31DaysIPBOC project. Dr. Martin is the Beverly Cleary Professor for Children and Youth Services at the University of Washington Information School.

When I was five years old, two different relatives gave me the same doll for Christmas, a Black Baby-Go-Bye-Bye and a White Baby-Go-Bye-Bye.  Both of them had a little pink car to ride in, and both had curly hair—black and blonde, respectively. As is often the case with “cookie cutter” dolls of the 1960s, 70s and sometimes still today, the toy company hadn’t given a thought to the fact that facial features of the Black doll should be different from that of the White doll. Hence, the only difference between the two was the skin and hair color. Read More

Beyond either/or: agitate for change

Advancing the false idea that teaching through an antiracist lens and developing students’ reading and writing skills are mutually exclusive is a gross misinterpretation of the work I see many teachers do—teachers who engage students in deep learning and support them in developing the skills necessary to be active, informed participants in a democracy.

Excellent teachers know how to help students to develop the reading, writing, and communication skills they will need to be successful in the world and how to put those skills in service of a more just society.

These are not mutually exclusive.

We teach more than skills. And furthermore, we teach more than content, too.

After all, currently there are many people in power who have rich content and disciplinary knowledge. But what comprises that content? What types of knowledge (and whose) is deemed valuable? There are also many people currently in power who also have excellent reading, writing, and communication skills. The question is: how are they using those skills? To what ends? For whose benefit? And at whose expense? Read More

How do we show up?

“Your racial consciousness determines how you show up.”

A few weeks ago,  a small group of teachers—all of us teachers of color—gathered for dinner with Tony Hudson, an Equity Transformational Specialist from the Pacific Education Group (PEG). This year, our district partnered with PEG to facilitate the courageous conversations about race that our schools—and really, all schools—need to have in our classrooms, buildings, systems. During our conversation, Tony pointed out this simple truth: “Your racial consciousness determines how you show up.”

I wrote that line down and have been turning it over in my head ever since.

What does it mean to “show up” in anti-racist work? What does it mean to “show up” in educational spaces—educational spaces which (of all places) should be inherently anti-racist but are often not? And why not?

As long as teachers continue to show up in classrooms racially unconscious, educational institutions will continue to be spaces that perpetuate racist systems and inequities.

Because your racial consciousness determines how you show up.

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Summer, home: A Poem by Joel Garza

I:

Daniel was the son
raised in the valley. A bucket for a
swimming pool. Air conditioning was
hosing down the cement porch,
waiting for a breeze. Him and Mom,
Granny and Papá Romulo.
Then Dad returned from the war. That’s all
I know of the war.
__________His return.

Raul was raised in San Antonio.
Daniel & Raul,
speaking Spanish, singing boleros,
eating raspas, and parting their hair on the side.
Los hijos de Junior y Noelia.
Tan joven, tan guapo.
They knew the valley, they knew
the language.
__________I came late. Learned late.

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We Teach Who We Are: Unpacking our Identities

Reading a few conversations online recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the urgent need for us as teachers to do some hard, internal work of unpacking the identities we bring to the classroom. More and more lately, I’ve seen teachers get defensive in conversations about curriculum, which I’ve come to realize are often really conversations about racism, sexism, classism, and other issues in which arguments about books and the canon have become a proxy.

Teaching is an intensely human activity. The best teachers are those who know that teaching—and students—cannot be standardized. Giving two teachers the same curriculum and asking them to follow it “with fidelity” is an impossible task. Not only are the teachers different individuals, but they’re also charged with the care of dozens of individual children.  We teach who we are. This is what can make our practice so powerful—even transformative—but also potentially dangerous.

We bring all of our identities—and the experiences that informed them—into our teaching. So we have to interrogate the ways in which these experiences have shaped our practices and our relationships with kids. These experiences are those that gave us opportunities to be educated ourselves, which eventually led to our teaching “credentials.” It’s this professional learning and all our years in the classroom that we draw upon when we make decisions. We draw upon our years of kid-watching and theory-making.

But I would argue that it’s often our personal identities and experiences that have the most profound effects on our teaching, and that which most often—and most dangerously—go unexamined. Read More

Disrupting Texts as a Restorative Practice

One of the wonderful things that the #DisruptTexts chat has brought is opportunities to talk with teachers about what disruption can look like in the English classroom. Yesterday was one of those days as our team was invited to talk with teachers at an NCTE Summer Institute workshop run by Ken Lindblom and Leila Christenbury called “Continuing the Journey: Becoming a Better Teacher of Literature.”

Yesterday at the workshop, Ken opened with the question, “What does it mean to #DisruptTexts?” My initial response was to frame it within the context of our classrooms. And so #DisruptTexts for me involves at least two related and necessary moves: Read More

A thought experiment on our reading lives

I‘ve been in a serious writing slump over the last year or longer. I don’t know what it is. I joked with a friend that since I’ve been engaging and thinking more on Twitter that I’ve only been able to think in 240 characters at a time. It’s become a real problem.

But someone suggested seeing the micro-writing I’m doing on Twitter as small, rough drafts—pieces of thinking, some scrappier than others, that I might be able to reflect upon, cobble some thoughts together, and then explore a bit deeper. A few days ago, I posted a thread reflecting on the diversity of my own reading life, so I want to include those thoughts and expand a little on them here.   Read More