Category Archives: Theory and Practice

What Can White Teacher Educators Do?

Part of my work as a teacher educator is to continually educate myself about resisting the reproduction of racism in the classroom. Part of my work as a white teacher educator is to find opportunities to share what I learn. This post is an expression of the latter.

Without going into too much historical context about me, I grew up in a mostly-white community on the east end of Long Island in New York State. For most of my early life, I encountered people who looked like me. I read books about people who looked and sounded like me. I rarely encountered a discussion about race that made me feel uncomfortable. What I knew of race and racism, I largely learned from television, movies, and books.

Which leads me to part of my point: the print and digital texts we bring into our classrooms have an impact on our learners toward shaping their experiences of the world. With the development of technology especially, I spend a lot of time thinking about this. And right now, I think about it in the wake of the summer we have had.

Alton Sterling.
Philando Castile.

Too many lives lost before and since.

I know that it’s not enough to take stock of and change the curriculum or the books we use to ensure that they reflect a more racially and culturally authentic representation of our society. But for many, it’s a place to start. And I would argue it’s a necessary first step for any teacher educator. While we all know a lot happens in between a teacher candidate’s formal teacher prep training and leading an actual classroom, we also know that a lot of ideas transfer to practice. The things we do in front of our candidates every day make an impact. Just like we teach them that the things they do in front of their students every day make an impact.

I hardly have all the answers, and just like you, I will make mistakes and bungle explanations. But if we don’t, as my oldest and dearest teacher friend often says, “use our power for good,” out of fear of sounding unintentionally racist, we miss the opportunity to be a part of the solution — an opportunity that will present itself again and again if we look for it.

The equity that so many say we want as a society is available, but it will not just magically appear. We have to actively press and urge and uncover. What better place to do so than in the teacher education classroom? In a place where teachers — the people who will literally be teaching the next generation of learners — are doing their own learning?

As we gear up for another school year, here are some things to keep in mind — especially if you teach teachers how to teach, and especially if you’re white. They are not research-based suggestions, but they are firmly based in reality:

  1. Consider the textbooks you’re using. Depending on the dynamics of your department, you may have little wiggle room for choosing textbooks, or you may have complete autonomy. Most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Fight for the opportunity to use alternative texts, especially if compulsory texts are published by large, profit-hungry corporations. Or if that’s not possible, supplement more mainstream texts with ones that more realistically reflect the way structural forces in society actually operate. For instance, when a literacy methods textbook makes a generalization about the low literacy levels of children living in urban areas, pause the discussion to look at what assumptions are being made and what’s not being said. Depending on the context, supplement with articles and blog posts, or even Facebook status updates, from brilliant colleagues who elegantly speak the truth about the way things are.
  2. Consider all materials you use — not just the textbooks. Depending on your discipline and course content, you may be using all kinds of different materials to teach your candidates. I know intimately just how many piles of hands-on resources we teacher educators lug to our classrooms! As you gather your materials at the start of this semester, ask yourself some questions: who are the literacy texts written for? Who wrote them? Who are the characters? What theoretical undercurrents are being promoted by the materials you’re using? What’s not being said? What needs to be said differently? What if we shook up the script on how books make their way to the classroom shelf? What if teachers always got to choose the materials for their classrooms? What if teachers had the opportunity to weigh in on who manufactures their students’ learning materials? What if we had more of a choice to acquire affordable classroom materials from vendors who don’t exploit their workers?
  3. Practice what you teach. While you can do a lot to intentionally decide to choose books and materials that step outside the dominant, white-supremacist discourse that pervades so many of the materials in our classrooms, you have to consider the way(s) in which you teach, too. Anyone who teaches teachers knows that you have to not only know the content that you teach, you also have to know the pedagogy behind the teaching of that content (for more on this theoretical frame, see TPACK). Everything we do — every assignment we give, every discussion we facilitate, every interaction we have in our classrooms — is game for being a teachable moment. Just like K-12 students are sponges, so are our teacher candidates. They pick up on the ways in which we do just about everything.
  4. Own that you don’t know. This summer, one of my teacher candidates shared this observation about my teaching: “You always show us the ways you’re not perfect. You show us that there’s always more to learn.” We hadn’t been talking about race or racism, but the comment touched on something that made me think: we have to admit that we don’t know it all; otherwise, we blind ourselves into falsely thinking that we do. This can apply in a variety of ways to the teacher prep classroom — most certainly to the internet and all other tech-y things coming down the pike — but it can also apply to how we are in the classroom and the assumptions we may make about our students and colleagues, whether intentional or not. We can certainly try and understand what it’s like to be a person of color, but we shouldn’t draw parallels when there aren’t parallels to draw. To put it another way: it’s really okay to try and understand what it’s like to experience racism, but don’t claim to understand when you kind of actually can’t. Parallels can be helpful, but not when they just scrape the surface, and in some cases, even co-opt the narrative.
  5. Don’t token your students. This one’s pretty basic: be mindful of turning to your students of color to teach the class about what it’s like to be a student of color. And also, when you do take time out to talk about racism, structural economic forces, the election — whatever topic disrupts the dominant discourse in your classroom — consider your approach and engagement, generally. How are you facilitating the discussion? Who are you calling on? Do you favor anyone? Ignore anyone? Did you check in with anyone who appeared to be uncomfortable afterward?
  6. Don’t let the tricky stuff go. The night after the non-indictment of the police officer who killed Michael Brown was announced in Ferguson, MO, I taught a class on teaching literacy to early childhood teacher candidates. All day long, I thought about the connections between what I was doing as a teacher educator and what was going on in the country on that day. I wanted to talk to my students — really talk to them — about the work we have cut out for us, and the opportunity we face as teachers to help shift the tide of racism in our society. I ended up poorly facilitating a discussion that night that ended with a white student exclaiming, “but I didn’t cause slavery!?” Clearly, I had failed at helping her see a connection between the non-indictment and the stories about our society that are told in the books on most school shelves. But I share it to say that even with the best of intentions, doing this work does not always mean you’re doing it ‘right.’ We start at the wrong place in the narrative. We make assumptions that are incorrect. We cannot always convince the most conservative, racist, sexist bigot in our classrooms that there is a connection between racism and literacy (or mathematics, or art, or history, or whatever your discipline), but you will make someone who had previously not considered race in the context of their classroom library go home and consider it. As much as I am frustrated by incremental change lately, I have to admit that that is a step in the right direction.
  7. IMG_9029Add anti-racist elements to your classroom. Sometimes, we end up with materials that send a specific message about how things are set up (for example, books in which all the doctors are white and all the nurses are Black, or posters on reading in which all the pictures are of white boys and their puppies, or outdated toys that reinforce the status quo). And in the face of more budget cuts in education, sometimes it’s all we have (which is ludicrous IMHO). If you can’t replace the materials you have available to you in your classroom, then alter them. Here’s a related example: a few months ago, a friend donated her kiddos’ toy cars to our 17-month-old son. And though we don’t need two of these little cars, having two is awesome when other kiddos come over to play! But one of them is a police car, which feels awkward on several obvious (and some less obvious) levels. We haven’t decided yet if we’re going to spray paint it or just try and find another little car to have around, but in the meantime we added a #BlackLivesMatter sign. What if every 2nd grader throughout the U.S. encountered a police car with a #BlackLivesMatter sign on it? How could (or would) that alter the narrative around power and policing? If you’re still not sure about BLM, read this helpful blog post, and consider talking about it in one of your classes.
  8. Listen at least as much as you speak. As teachers and teacher educators, we probably all need to work on this. Myself included. I want to get things right. I have an incessant need to check things off my list and move on. But in reality, the more I stop talking, pause, and listen, the more I learn. While it is our collective responsibility to teach the next generation of teachers how to teach, and speaking to/at our teacher candidates is a huge part of what we do, I want to argue that we have more to learn and teach by opening a dialogue than we do by dictating facts. The next time you find yourself whitesplaining, take a breath and maybe let someone else say something — whether in the classroom, a committee meeting, or anywhere else your daily life might take you. I pledge to do the same.

So in this somewhat lengthy post, I’ve created an incomplete list. There are many other things we can do and suggest. I invited you to add other ideas in the comments section, or reach out and connect to share ideas. I firmly believe that as teacher educators, our daily actions make a difference in the world. If you really think about it, the teacher candidates in our classes — and specifically, methods classes in which we physically teach teachers how to teach — will refer to our classes and coursework for tips on what to do in their own classrooms in the future. Believe it or not, I still refer to those binders my own teacher education professors made me organize so many years ago now…

What I’m talking about here is the traditional legacy of teacher education methods courses: you do with your students what you hope they will turn around and do with their students tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. So if you aren’t already talking about race, and you’re interested in the project of creating an anti-racist society, I urge you to push yourself this semester not to let the little things slide. Push yourself to see if the books you’re using promote colorblindness. Push yourself to see if you can, in your own everyday way, help your teacher candidates see their potential for being anti-racist, anti-sexist educators in their future classrooms. If not today, then when??


Gendering the Policy-Practice Gap

I gave a guest lecture today in a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Course, “Women: Images and Realities.” What a neat experience. Although my work as a professor is always infused in some way by thinking about gender, it is not the main focus of my practice as a scholar. This talk gave me the opportunity to really think through how my research has the possibility to consider themes of equity around gender, too.

In order to prepare for this talk, I revisited my research blog for my dissertation. What a wonderfully reminiscent (and geeky) experience that was! I haven’t stood (at least digitally) in that data space for quite some time now. I was reminded of how much time and effort I put into building the site, thinking through the architecture, and designing the method by which I would import, code, and organize my data. And, of course, it made me think of all of the incredible people who helped me along the way. It was a true learning-by-doing experience.

So revisiting those posts through a gender lens led me to locate some more thoughts on the ways in which teachers who write about their daily lives in blogs educate us about their lived realities. Following is a tiny glimpse of what I found.

Teacher bloggers write about the ways in which dress bolsters the gendered binary that often exists within school spaces. The image of ‘suit’ surfaces here and there, always as connected to administrators. Miss Rim writes, “4 men in suits; 2 in business casual. During a quality review check. They entered. I extended my hand, ‘Hi, I’m Miss Rim.’ They gave me a blank look. No one said anything. I had no idea who they were. They came in to the room, stared at the students’ coat cubby, calculated how many hooks were there, had a debate over whether or not students could or should have a hook for a coat AND a bookbag, or what. They opened closets. They turned the water in the sink on and off. They muttered and whispered. Then someone said, ‘Well, we can always add another row of coat hooks. Or probably 2 more.'”

They also write about ways in which bodies, and their needs, are disregarded. Miss Brave writes, “…one of our staff toilets broke, and our janitor informed us that that’s it, no new toilet part this year. Which means that we have one bathroom on our floor for about thirty people, most of them women, two of whom were pregnant…”

As I went back through my data, and my theoretical frames, I also considered how I might present the theory I used to help me make sense of my data in a more digestible way. So I used political cartoons. I think this one sums up the way I use the theory of political spectacle well. Mary Wright Edelman explains, “words and numbers appear precise and rational; yet depend entirely on context and interpretation” (2004, p. 13):

numbers don't lie

I’m moving in a slightly different direction now with my research — I’m looking at funding streams for technology in schools in New York State, as well as considering how to make sense of both teacher educators’ and teacher candidates’ use of technology, and the impact it has on their pedagogy.

Till next time…





May Day

megaphoneIt seems apropos to post this photo here — in honor of both May Day and #tbt. It’s from a long time ago, but still represents how I feel about speaking out: if we don’t do it, who else will? I spoke on behalf of the United University Professional (UUP) Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee today at our May Day rally at SUNY New Paltz. Here’s what I had to say:

The most recent Census Bureau analysis showed that women—still, after several decades of organizing and awareness raising—make only 77% of what men make, or 77 cents to the man’s dollar. In 1955, nearly 60 years ago, women made roughly 65 cents for every dollar men made. Given the amount of information we have today about the disparities between men and women, I believe we can do much, much better. According to a study conducted by the UUP in 2009, male SUNY employees make roughly $11,000, on average, more than their female counterparts. That’s a little more than 20% of my current salary. And I’ll be honest, I could use that extra money every month, given how inflated food, gas, and housing costs are in this region. According to a pay disparity study conducted several years ago by the SUNY New Paltz UUP Women’s Rights and Concerns Committee, this pay disparity is alive and well right here on our campus. I’m here today to talk to you about why it’s not enough to be aware that men still make more than women—it’s time to take action so that we can close the gender gap in pay. After all, as my sign says, “everyone deserves to make a decent living wage.” 

When I agreed to speak at today’s rally, most people were supportive. But, a few people raised the concern that maybe I shouldn’t speak because I’m only in my first year, and I don’t have tenure. I admit I got a little nervous. But then I thought, if we keep acting in fear of what might happen when we stick up for ourselves, raise our voices, and point out what’s not right, we just feed right back into the status quo that keeps it acceptable to think that the value of women’s work is lower than that of men’s.

Aside from the fact that women aren’t paid as much as men on our campus, there is something else that concerns me—both personally and philosophically. And that is our family leave policy. While we, like other institutions of employment throughout our country, operate under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, this legislation is not realistic.

Previous to the implementation of FMLA, families struggled to cobble together a patchwork quilt of care that often proved inconsistent, unreliable, and expensive. If loved ones got sick, became pregnant, or adopted a child prior to 1993, there was no legislation that protected their jobs or allowed them the necessary time to cope with the circumstances that come with caring for ailing family members or young children. But the thing that no one talks about is that this legislation guarantees employees up to 12 weeks—or 3 months—of unpaid leave. Unpaid. FMLA essentially punishes workers for having babies, getting sick, and being the primary caretakers for their loved ones. What kind of logic is that?

I’m going to be very honest with you right now. As a woman in her late 30s who has worked since she was old enough to get her working papers, and who has always wanted to have children, I’m terrified of getting pregnant, because I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford to take a leave without pay. And that brings me to the subject of maternity leave.

There is no clear policy on our campus for maternity leave—or paternity leave, for that matter. I’m told that if I were to become pregnant, I could borrow days from my sick bank. After working here for a full academic year, I will have accumulated about 12 sick days. That means that at this point, if I were to get pregnant, my paid maternity leave could be up to 12 days, or roughly two weeks. Anything after that would be unpaid. With a partner who can’t afford to pay for our expenses on his own, I’m not sure what to do about this lifelong dream I’ve had of having children. I feel incredibly lucky to have been hired in a full-time, tenure-track job, and I absolutely love coming to work every day, but the reality is, I’m not sure I can afford to have a child.

I use myself as an example not to make this all about me, but to say 1) we shouldn’t be afraid of talking about what is real, and 2) arguing for a fair family leave policy for our work should be the norm, not the exception.

I believe the policy should be that if you get sick, pregnant, adopt a child, or have to care for a sick loved one, you get a minimum of 12 weeks of leave and you get paid. They do that and more in other countries, and in one of the richest nations in the world, I think that’s the least we can do for our SUNY workers.

Why We Need to Organize

The last few weeks have been hard. I still keep reaching for my phone to text or talk to Jean. Everything everyone said about your first year as a full-time professor being tough has been true. The learning curve is straight up: from learning how to decode university- and location-based acronyms and prep for classes to figuring out how to juggle the demands of teaching, service, and scholarship and strategize about how to find a parking spot, I’ve been spending more time at my office than at home, and I’m exhausted. Add the pressure from changing policies in teacher certification requirements to that mix, and, well, my head is spinning. The truly wonderful news in all of this is that I love my colleagues. I love my students, too, but my colleagues in particular are incredibly hard-working, brilliant people who know their stuff inside and out. I feel honored to walk among them every day.

When Jean and I started talking — roughly a year ago — about where I wanted to end up as a professor, I thought out loud about my fears of being able to be an activist in higher education. She assured me that there would plenty of opportunities, and indeed she was right. Today, I had the opportunity to attend a union meeting as the representative for my department.

The last contract, ratified earlier this calendar year, was a tricky one for the constituents: it includes a number of givebacks — some of which are overt and some of which are covertly vague. All come from the same place: to make us work more for less pay. I walked away from the meeting feeling a little bleak. Morale is very low.

And then a few things happened. I remembered back in 2004 (or thereabouts) when I started as an adjunct at Pace University, and helped organize a union there. I thought back on being a delegate in the United Federation of Teachers in the years that followed, and organizing actions with coworkers. None of it was easy, and we didn’t win every fight, but we found opportunities to organize together and be heard. I’m not sure what’s in store here at SUNY New Paltz, but people are angry and understandably so. I wonder what Jean would say…

Radical PossibilitiesA few weeks ago, my colleagues and I took photos with our favorite books to post on a bulletin board in the department. As you already know, Jean’s teaching, activism, and mentorship made an enormous impact on me — how I teach, what I teach, and why. Her call to action in Radical Possibilities is so relevant for me today: we won’t have a voice unless we collectively find one.


I’m officially a month into being a full-time faculty member at SUNY New Paltz, and couldn’t be happier about my new job so far. Everyone has been welcoming and warm, and I instantly felt at home here. My colleagues are hardworking, supportive, and brilliant, and my students are inquisitive and enthusiastic. And have I mentioned the facility!? Old Main, the building where the School of Education is housed, is the oldest building on campus. It recently underwent a renovation, and although the original stairs and beautiful stain-glass windows were preserved, the interior was completely rebuilt. Each classroom is furnished with smartboards, projectors, and document cameras that, from a pedagogical perspective, make interactive teaching with digital components a seamless possibility.

There have been many moments during the last two weeks when I’ve reached for my phone to call Jean Anyon. Despite my happiness over my new position, I have had a perpetual lump in my throat. I miss her terribly. As I expressed in my last post, she was more than a mentor and professor to me and so many others — she provided both professional and personal guidance, and it’s hard to adjust to life without her being an email, text, or phone call away.

She would have wanted to know that I went to the first meeting of our union, United University Professionals (UUP). I was grateful for the opportunity to find out more about the UUP, but the feeling of disappointment in the room about the last contract was palpable. From an important question about family/maternity leave (or lack thereof) to a report on plans to organize for a future contract in order to prevent further givebacks, it quickly became clear that we need to build more local support from the rank and file.

IMG_5574Last week, I received a t-shirt from the Movement of Rank and File Educators (MORE), a caucus of the United Federation Teachers (UFT), in the mail. It seemed like a timely, and necessary, reminder of the work that can be done when workers come together. Although everyone at New Paltz seems very happy to be here, the one thing they often — and openly — vocalize is that they’re not in it for the money. While I agree that education as a career path isn’t always lucrative, I was shocked to find out a year ago when I went on the academic job market that university professors in education make as little as they do.

Doctoral students who are wrapping up their dissertations now are curious, and understandably so, about what they’re facing in terms of salary. After doing some calculations, I realized I’m making less than I was as a 5th-grade teacher seven years ago (in comparison, other universities where I interviewed weren’t offering much more). While context matters to some extent, the facts are clear: the cost of living is going up steadily everywhere, and teachers at every level remain underpaid. When I did a little research online to see what professors in other departments make, I found that business professors at the same level — with the same education as me — make tens of thousands of dollars more. Put simply, that just doesn’t seem right.

When I was an active member of the UFT, I signed on to several caucuses at various points that were fighting to protect members’ rights. At the time, we were lucky if five or ten people showed up to meetings. At a MORE meeting I went to this summer — in July, mind you, when most teachers are taking a well-deserved break — there weren’t enough seats for everyone who showed up. I walked away feeling energized by the reminder that when enough voices come together, people really do start to listen.

It reminded me of the time, many years ago now, when Randi Weingarten (the then-UFT president) called on me in the Delegate Assembly to speak. I turned around to address the largest audience I’ve ever spoken in front of, and started out, “Hi. I’m a teacher, and I’m tired.” The room erupted in supportive applause and shouts, and I knew immediately that our resolution — of which I don’t recall the exact details now — would garner support from members. We’d been working without a contract for several years, and the rank and file was tired of being ignored.

I have a lot on my plate to balance the demands of my new job, and fully intend to do whatever I can to successfully juggle the expectations of teaching, scholarship, and service that come with my new position. However, as I await the arrival of my first paycheck, I can’t help but wonder about how we’ve gotten to a place where 1) we feel lucky if we have healthcare; 2) managing debt (as opposed to being able to pay it off) is the norm; 3) teaching, despite it being one of the most important jobs according to public discourse, continues to be such a low-paying profession; and 4) unions have somehow been painted as an obstacle instead of a vehicle. I worry about our future, America, but hold out hope that it’s not too late to fight for what we deserve.

How Do I Even Express…

getting on the busAs many of you already know, we have lost a brilliant scholar, teacher, mentor, parent, and friend. Dr. Jean Anyon, whose work has impacted the lives of so many, passed suddenly but peacefully on Saturday, September 7, 2013, after a long battle with cancer. While her body battled inwardly to fend off the disease that ultimately consumed her, she worked tirelessly to dedicate her time, passion, and energy to her life’s work of teaching and contributing to — and often resisting — the academic canon.

When I first looked for PhD programs in the summer of 2004, I was in the midst of doing a dance with socialism as a then-member of a large organization fighting for change in our often contradictory society, and stumbled upon Jean’s article “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” As a teacher in a school in Harlem with few supplies and policy-driven expectations that ratcheted up with every day that passed, I was in search of a language to help me unpack, understand, and resist what I witnessed on a daily basis: the overwhelming inequities inside the classrooms of New York City and beyond. Although there were multiple programs in which I thought I could do good work, I decided to take my chances and apply only to the CUNY Graduate Center (GC), in the hopes that I could study with Jean. Her work provided the missing link to helping me gain an understanding of how things really work within the education policy world, and I was eager to get started on the project of becoming a teacher educator under her tutelage.

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Jean, prior to submitting my application. I had read her book Ghetto Schooling and several other articles, and arrived at her office armed with copious notes and stacks of ideas for what I wanted to study at the GC, based on my experience as a NYC public school teacher. I remember her office door being open, and having her invite several current students in during our meeting to meet me. She immediately put me in touch with multiple students via email, so that I might ask questions and find out more about the program in a candid way before I applied. I was so grateful for this welcome. As she would many times throughout the years to come, Jean let me and countless others know repeatedly that we are part of an enormous network of people who share a desire to create a different kind of world. Those who knew her are all part of a community that she built, from the ground up.

As the following eight years passed in what now seems like a flash, I had my ups and downs as a graduate student. Like so many other students, I suffered heartbreak and loss, battled bouts of illness and writer’s block, and struggled through many email exchanges and phone calls in which Jean convinced me that I should stay in the program when I wanted desperately to leave — when I questioned if being a scholar would also allow me to be an activist for the work I wanted to do. Although I took longer than some to complete my PhD, she was my guiding light throughout the entire process. There are a number of memories that struck me last night, as I tried to fall asleep long after bed time. Thoughts of her wisdom, humor, and high expectations for her students cycled through my mind. I thought of:

  • the first time we talked about switching her email account from AOL to Google, and how she struggled (in her wry, humorous way) with accepting Facebook, Twitter, and the ways in which technology was changing communication and face-to-face contact
  • it taking quite some time to convince her that researching blogs written by public school teachers was worthy of dissertation research…and when I did, she was so proud. I look often at the email that she wrote after I submitted my final draft. In three words she summed up everything I was feeling: “YOU DID IT!”
  • the delight that lit up her face when she got an iPad and iPhone and admitted that she, well, could probably get used to this
  • the time she had to have major back surgery and we were all so worried for her…and she unexpectedly sent me in her stead to deliver a keynote address at a new teacher retreat in Columbus, Ohio
  • when she got on the bus with us to head down to DC to protest the war in Iraq
  • when she asked me to coauthor an article that has since become an important piece in explaining why policies such as NCLB don’t work, “No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure
  • when she invited students over to her apartment, or up to her home in upstate New York, reinforcing the idea that while an educational community may start in the classroom, it travels with you wherever you go
  • when she appropriately scolded me for not completing the revisions on an accepted article for Democracy and Education because I second-guessed the points I was trying to make (which would later lay the foundation for my dissertation)
  • how much pride she took in the many accomplishments of her students and the faculty with whom she worked so closely
  • always pushing us to think outside of our comfort zone, and above all, remain ourselves in scholarship, in the classroom, and in life in general
  • how much she talked about her daughter, Jessie, who she loved with all her heart

The memories are coming at me swiftly right now, and I am overwhelmed with emotion at the loss of a woman who, in her “free” time, reached out to act as a parent when I and many others needed it most. She was more than a teacher and a contributor to the canon; more than a friend and a surrogate parent. She meant so much to me, and I hurt in her absence. But I am not alone, and gather strength from the support of the large community she built. We will continue to honor her in days to come, and reach out to one another to find ways to express the loss of someone who impacted so many of us so deeply.

Please join us at the GC in the Urban Ed lounge tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and stay tuned for news of a more formal gathering in the months to come where we can share Jean’s impact on our lives — both personally and professionally — and make plans for how to both pay forward the mentorship she so graciously offered, and ensure the immortality of her brilliant scholarly work.

Grad School and My Health

As we come up to the end of yet another school year, and I begin to think about transitioning to becoming a full-time professor, I can’t help but reflect on the last eight years of schooling, and how I’ve “mediated” my experience with my body. While I’ve encountered many highlights and benchmarks and celebrations, disappointments and frustrations and discouragements over the years — and everything in between — my mind begins to wander, without fail, to all of the ways in which I’ve carried the stress of schooling around in my body.

While I have been lucky enough to cover most of my schooling expenses over the last near-decade through fellowships, building websites, tutoring, taking on part-time teaching gigs when available, making and selling knitwear, and agreeing to odd jobs for cash whenever possible, my body feels like it’s been battered along the way. I wonder to what extent this has been due to having to work around the clock just in order to go to school. Let’s take a look back:

2005-2006: During my first year as a PhD student, I worked as a literacy coach in at an elementary school while going to school full time. I had chronic sinus infections all year, and had to have my tonsils taken out in April.

2006-2007: I decided to resign from my my job as a full-time teacher, in order to be able to accept a graduate teaching fellowship through CUNY — which would, theoretically, provide more time to devote to my studies. The fellowship, which paid me an annual salary of $13,000, required me to teach two college courses per semester. The pay was taxed, and though I was given tuition remission, I had to purchase my own healthcare. In order to make up for the cost, I took on a second job as a proofreader at a marketing firm, and a third job as a tutor.

2007-2009: I joined the fight for adjunct and student healthcare at the CUNY Graduate Center. I initially couldn’t understand why more people weren’t involved, and later realized that it’s probably because they’re too busy. I kept my teaching fellowship, as well as my tutoring and proofreading jobs, and begged my grandmother for extra cash.

2009-2011: I received a CUNY Writing Fellowship at a still-unacceptably-low-but-almost-liveable wage. The salary was about $30,000, and came (finally) with healthcare benefits. I continued to tutor, and took on a part-time literacy teaching job at an elementary school. I also initiated a knitwear company, and began making knitwear to sell.

2011-2012: I gratefully received an Instructional Technology Fellowship, which, like the Writing Fellowship, came with a salary of about $30,000 plus healthcare benefits. I continued to tutor and knit for additional money, and started building websites for pay as well.

2012-2013: I received a university sponsored Dissertation Fellowship of $22,000, with no healthcare benefits. I was forced to make the choice between 1) accepting this distinction, which would afford me the time I desperately needed to complete my dissertation, and 2) continuing on as an Instructional Technology Fellow for a second year, with a decent salary and benefits. I opted for the Dissertation Fellowship, and have paid $225 per month for the student healthcare cobra option. I continued to tutor, knit, and build websites for cash.

I am not totally complaining. Not completely. I am proud of the work I have done, and believe I received a stellar education at the CUNY Graduate Center. I also realize that many, many people face far more challenging, economically crushing circumstances. However, the fact remains that had I not worked three and four jobs for the majority of my time as a graduate student, I would, like many of my friends and colleagues, be facing an even larger mountain of crippling educational debt.

So then, what is the point of being a full-time student if you can’t actually go to school full time!? What are the actual expectations of being a full-time student these days? How does the rhetoric of doing something “full-time” match up with reality?

I started out this post thinking about all of my injuries and mysterious illnesses over the last eight years:  I have broken a bone, torn both meniscuses, suffered countless migraines, sprained my ankle at least twice, jammed my coccyx, had an extended bout with vestibular neuritis, contended with back spasms, and most recently was diagnosed with a labral tear in my hip. But as I started to write, it quickly became clear that the problem was larger than just my health — the problem all along has really been money.

It has been more than difficult as a student to make sure I’ve had enough at the end of each month to pay for rent, food, and healthcare coverage. And while I admit that there have been plenty of other factors at play, I can’t help but wonder at how the stress of having to work so many jobs just in order to go to school has prevented me from staying healthy while being a PhD student.

From Journal to Blog 2: Enter James C. Scott

Looking at some of my teaching journals stacked up, I can’t help but think about how the chronicling of time, events, and thoughts has shifted. I’m also thinking about how the value/power/purpose of these thoughts changes if they remain hidden or become public. I no longer keep a journal in the traditional sense; instead, electronic conversations help me keep track. But there was something methodical about keeping a personal, private, handwritten journal, and as I mentioned in this earlier post, I intend to periodically revisit entries about teaching, since so much of my research is inspired by what’s contained in these well-worn tomes.

This entry from a few years back, when I was a new-ish graduate student and adjuncting at the Hunter College School of Education, led me to consider using James C. Scott’s theory of the hidden transcript as part of the theoretical framework for my dissertation. Something shifted for me that afternoon while sitting on the floor of a Barnes & Noble in Brooklyn and gazing up at the stacks of books. There was (and still is) something wrong with this picture.

March 11, 2008

I found myself at a Barnes & Noble in downtown Brooklyn today, and wandered toward the education section, per usual.  I sat down amid the stacks, and looked up at the books.  These titles stared back at me: Discipline Survival Kit, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, Classroom Teacher’s Survival Guide, Whatever It Takes, Not In My Classroom, How to Handle Difficult Parents, Failure is Not an Option, and Fires in the Bathroom.  My jaw literally dropped – how had I missed this before?

Almost every book title suggests how to survive in the classroom. They point the finger at unruly children, hard-to-handle parents, unreasonable administrators, unknowing policy makers, or teachers themselves (these were my particular favorites, suggesting hot baths and essential oils, eating out a few times a week, and seeking grants to defray the unbelievably high cost of teaching materials).

So maybe it’s not that teachers’ experiences need to be inserted into the public transcript – it’s not a secret that teaching in urban schools can be a challenge, and movies, books, and articles paint a vivid picture – rather, we need a new paradigm for looking at why.

Bike Paths and the Policy-Practice Gap

I’ve been eager to get back on my bike, and have been carefully taking it out for a spin every now and again. I appreciate the time it gives me to think. And almost without fail my thoughts turn to my research and the internet. One morning last week, I stopped at a point on the Kent Avenue bike path along the East River in Brooklyn to look for a second. I remember the first time I’d stopped at the intersection, before there were bike paths or a waterfront to speak of, and couldn’t help but wonder, per usual, at how much has changed. I took a photo in each direction, and couldn’t stop thinking about the ‘policy’ of bike paths, and the enormous policy-practice gap when it comes to biking in New York City.

For anyone who has been a New Yorker for more than five years, the appearance of roads has changed dramatically. With the addition of many miles of bike paths throughout the five boroughs, bikers went from living dangerously at the very bottom of the transportation food chain (right next to rollerskating) to having a major (but marginally safer) road presence. As I gazed southward, and then northward, from my stopping point on the path, I wondered what policies determine the rules of the bike paths. Anyone who knows me as a cyclist knows I can’t stand it when another cyclist salmons (rides the wrong direction on a one-way path). Roads are already fairly narrow in New York, and adding an additional vehicle on a path that’s only wide enough for one bike just doesn’t seem smart. And yet it happens with regularity in New York City. (Don’t get me started about biking on the sidewalk.)

My curiosity led me to find this page on the Parks Department website. It clearly states that cyclists are never to ride on paths meant for pedestrians (i.e., sidewalks), and they are to ride in the direction of traffic. But we see the exact opposite all the time. It got me thinking: is there anything I can learn from comparing the policy-practice gaps that exist in education and cycling in New York?

Thinking about this reminds me of a conversation I had with a colleague about my dissertation a few years ago. I hadn’t yet decided to research blogs, but I knew I wanted to look at the gap between policy and practice in classrooms — that space between the way a policy exists on paper and the way it exists in reality. While thinking out loud about this concept, my colleague asked so what? I remember being floored, and thinking, how can the ‘so what’ of my question be any more obvious? But the question stuck with me. My colleague’s point was, though it is often unfair and unjust, it isn’t rare in our society to have policies that aren’t abided by. Take comparable worth laws, for instance. Men and women are to be paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work; however, it is a well-known statistic that women still make roughly 70 cents to the man’s dollar.

Okay. So. We know policy isn’t always followed or enforced. How does this both resist and reproduce business as usual? Bikers may choose to take a dangerous route when riding the wrong way on a bike path to get somewhere more quickly (and may get a ticket or become injured as a result), but students who don’t have appropriate learning materials in their classrooms aren’t making a choice.

I’m not sure this comparison will go further than this blog post, but there’s something to be said for thinking about why we have so many policies that don’t match up with reality.

Teachers for Trayvon

I joined countless other teachers today in wearing a hoodie for Trayvon Martin. We wore this symbolic item of clothing in solidarity against racism, against brutal misusage of power, against silence. It was another way to express the disgust and sadness that so many of us feel about Trayvon’s murder and what it represents, and, importantly, to continue to talk about it. And it reminded me of another time that I wore an item of clothing in solidarity with a group.

As an undergrad at Princeton University in the mid-90s, I remember participating in Gay Jeans Day — a day instituted on many university campuses to raise awareness about LGBTQ rights. It was simple: if you were in support of gay rights, you wore jeans; if you weren’t, you didn’t. I remember deliberately wearing jeans all week, so that my solidarity was never in question. I also remember being confused that not everyone was participating in such an important, yet simple, act of support.

While the contexts are different in many ways, they are also quite similar. There is something uncomfortable about standing up, about acknowledging that people can be so cruel to one another, about imagining that a tidal-wave-type shift in the status quo might actually be possible. But if we don’t use our voices — and, when necessary, our clothing — to push back at the injustices that so many of us face every day, then we are seriously missing the boat when it comes to dismantling racism, sexism, and bullying of any kind.