Although I don’t want to sell myself as some sort of teaching, reading, writing person of note, I guess I should tell you a bit about me so that you can decide for yourself if I have some validity in writing this blog, right? So, here it goes:
I wanted to be a teacher in high school. Seriously. An English teacher. I was an average student–one of those who just came to class and did good (not great) work and was amicable to teachers and others. I’m sure my past teachers would have absolutely nothing noteworthy to say of me and my high school career. I loved school, though. My mom claims that after kindergarten ended I cried, literally wept, at how unfair it was that there was no school in summer. (By the way, I totally disagree with that sentiment now.) So, in some ways, I guess I was meant to teach as corny as that sounds.
But then I began my education classes at UNC Chapel Hill. Having spent my junior year studying in Montpellier, France and traveling all over Europe (which totally rocked the worldview of this small-town Southern girl), I started my ed. classes a year later than most on the teaching path. After one week in the School of Education, I dropped out. The classes were boring, they were full of sorority girls who wanted to teach cute little elementary school kids for a few years before having babies and being stay-at-home moms, and there was not a smidge of critical anything going on in them. Being high on travel, life, theory and criticism, and literature from my year abroad, and having had my first real experiences with developing my own racial identity, I could not deal with the apolitical angle of the School of Ed. I dropped out, lost my teaching scholarship, signed papers saying that I would pay back the three years I had taken money from the State of North Carolina, and decided that there had to be a more interesting way to become a teacher other than that route. From that point on I was a cultural studies major. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on the power of teaching children of color how to represent themselves through photography and writing based on my work during my second senior year with the Literacy Through Photography (LTP) program out of Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. You can find an excerpt here. Don’t laugh at my overdramatic, horrid undergraduate writing! Seriously.
I worked for LTP for two years after I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill; I ran the gallery education component of the program and worked in two schools. I would take the photography shows exhibited at the Center for Documentary Studies and tour them around Durham, NC, to schools where LTP had programs, to Senior Citizen Centers, and to an amazing alternative-to-incarceration program called TROSA (Triangle Residential Options for Substance Abusers, Inc.) where I would do slide shows, engage audiences in discussion around the topic, and have them write. I taught photography (this was pre-digital cameras, so it was film processing & darkroom use) and writing in elementary and middle schools in Durham and at TROSA and began to cultivate my love of teaching. I loved Durham–still do. As much as I love New York City, I have dreams of having a little house in Durham all the time.
But I began to crave the classroom. I had a friend from undergrad, Kiran, who had moved to NYC and started teaching Science in Chinatown. Back in 1999 they would hire anyone breathing–so the stories went–so two days after my mom remarried, right before I turned 25, I packed my Yoda (my dear Toyota) and moved to Brooklyn. I had landed a part time job as a museum educator at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (CMOM) where I played with little kids all summer and learned of the strange NYC world of nannies. And, the parents who visited–many of them teachers–scared me away from teaching. “Don’t go to the Board of Education–they’ll put you in a school in a bad neighborhood and you’ll get killed!” I heard over and over and over again. New to New York, I believed them. I took a full time job as a grant writer at CMOM and spent one miserable year in a cubicle writing grants until my girlfriends had an intervention with me, told me I had become a cranky bitch, and forced me to see that I hated cubicle life. I quit in June, did temp work, and–as if just for me–The New York City Teaching Fellows was born. I applied, got in, and became a teacher.
From 2000-2001, I taught in Bushwick, Brooklyn at the now defunct IS 111 on Starr Street between Wilson and Central. I taught Eight Plus and ESL, but the school was shut down and I was released from my appointment. Then I moved to Atlantic High School (not it’s real name), where I spent the next 10 years of my teaching career. During those 10 years I taught 9th grade, 10th grade Honors, 11th grade Honors, 11th grade, 11th grade Regents repeaters, 12th grade Books to Film, 12th grade Regents repeaters, and AP Language and Composition, AP Literature and Composition. Ninth grade was–by far–the hardest. I was also the Lead Teacher for English, the Literacy Coach for three years, and the Master Teacher for English for my last year.
I got my Masters from Brooklyn College in English Education while in the Teaching Fellows, and I got my Doctorate from Teachers College, Columbia University, in International Educational Development with a focus on Curriculum and Teaching. My dissertation explored how immigration has created a multi-ethnic schools and the challenges of creating English curriculum for such a diverse student body. It also explored how schools and curriculum are racial projects and how the racial/ethnic make-up of a school and its curriculum creates a unique school-based assimilation process. I am feeling very much done with school right now, but that will probably only last a few more months. But my husband has forbade me from paying any more tuition–ever.
Now I’m an Assistant Professor of English at the City University of New York in a community college.
My current academic conference schtick is a presentation on teaching about bullying/school violence in the classroom.
I am navigating what I am meant to do with my life. Am I meant to continue to teach English (reading and writing and thinking) to populations who struggle in the subject, or am I meant to go teach teachers how to work with these populations? I don’t know. Awaiting some sort of divine intervention on that topic.