Oh, Yeah – I’m the Adult

When I was a child, I believed at some point in my twenties I would become a grown-up. Being a grown-up meant knowing right from wrong and what to do in every situation. It meant being able to tell people what to do and always being correct. From my perspective, adults always knew how to act at all times and when I was the right age, I would, too.

As you all know, this is not the case. I’ll be twenty-eight in February and am still waiting for adulthood to kick in. This isn’t necessarily a problem for most people. It takes time to mature and become a person who makes wise and thought-out decisions; I’m not sure if we ever grow out of making mistakes.

The fact I don’t consider myself to be a “true” adult is important when I manage a classroom. I took classes on student psychology and classroom management. We did activities in college where we role-played student/teacher interactions. However, these experiences did not come close to preparing me to handle the insane situations which arose when I started student teaching.

I was twenty-two when I did my student teaching. I taught at an incredible school with a diverse student population. I had an amazing cooperating teacher who let me make mistakes and gently corrected them without making me feel like a failure. Most of them were small. For example, on the first day I introduced myself as, “Miss Nicole” instead of “Ms. Goebel.” The biggest mistake that stands out, and the first where I thought to myself, “This is my responsibility and I don’t know what to do,” came during group debates.

I taught ninth grade English and my goal was to connect the literature we were reading to current events. We read a portion of “The Circuit” by Francisco Jimenez and one group decided to debate immigration in the United States. The story clearly portrayed the struggles of this family and through research students were supposed to connect this narrative to immigration’s societal impact. One side was arguing for stronger border security and the other for comprehensive reform that let more individuals into the United States.

Students had several days to work in the library. My teacher’s intuition wasn’t fully developed, but I had a sneaking suspicion something was going on with the border security group. I would hear loud laughing coming from the group and I would go over to check on them. By the time I got there, it appeared they were working on researching and writing their arguments for the debate. I know today I should have pushed them and read their scripts.

The day of the debate came. My cooperating teacher was sitting at his desk behind the group and I was sitting among the students. A Latino student, Alexis (name changed), who was frequently absent showed up that day and sat down next to me. I don’t remember exactly how the flow of the debate went, but I clearly remember when Ricky (name changed) began his presentation.

Ricky began reading from his paper a series of stereotypical statements about Latino and Hispanic people. I don’t remember the context, but I can still hear him clearly enunciating, “enchiladas, tacos, and burritos.” At first, the other students in the class were horrified, but as he kept going they started to laugh. I still don’t know if they were laughing because he was making such a fool of himself or because they thought he was being funny.

I could feel my face heating up with anger. I looked over at Alexis and he was vibrating with rage. I had no idea what to do. Thoughts raced in my mind. Do I stop the speech? Do I let him keep going? What do I do when he’s finished? Should I stop the whole debate? I have to make him apologize. How do I explain to the whole class why what he did wasn’t funny? Should I let my cooperating teacher handle this or should I do something?

During his speech, I was frozen. When he was done, the only thing I could think to say was, “Ricky, after the debate I need to talk to you.”

When the debate was over, I pulled Ricky aside in front of the room. I asked him if he knew why I was talking to him. He stated he thought so. I explained the comments he made were offensive and racist. I told him he needed to apologize to the class for the statements he made. When I was finished talking to him, he half-heartedly said to the class, “Hey, guys. I’m sorry,” and sat down.

The apology was not as heartfelt as I expected, but I didn’t know how to proceed. I talked the situation over with my cooperating teacher and the day went on.

Later that afternoon, my cooperating teacher and I were called in to talk to the Vice Principal. He told me that during lunch, Alexis told several of his friends about what Ricky said during the debate. His friends were angry and a group formed around Ricky to beat him up. Alexis told them not to hurt him, and the group dispersed. The Vice Principal stated he spoke to both Ricky and Alexis and advised that we talk to Alexis about the situation.

I let my cooperating teacher talk to Alexis because I felt so much shame about the situation. I should have made better decisions during the process in class to prevent it from happening at all.

There is no easy solution when a crisis occurs in the classroom. You can’t rely on the fact that you will automatically know what to do. Sometimes you won’t. The only thing you can do is learn from it and never make the same mistake again.


Be Passionate, Share the Classroom, and Never Stop Learning

“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” –Bill Nye the Science Guy

In a perfect world, I will be teaching Communication Studies courses at the college-level once I complete my PhD in 4.5 years. After 6 years of undergrad, I just finished my first semester of my MA to step closer to achieving that goal. One of the courses I took, Critical Pedagogy (taught by Dr. Karen Mitchell), asked us to be reflexive in how we share the classroom with our students and how we can best create a space for making visible issues of diversity, privilege, and oppression. My favorite assignment in this class was one where we were asked to write our Teaching Philosophy Statement. After struggling to get my ideas on paper, I realized that this document will never be finished. It will never be perfect because the ways I view the classroom will be shaped by the learning (my students’ and my own; in and out of the classroom) that takes place on a daily basis. Finally, I tried to capture my philosophy on teaching developed as of November 2013 through themes including “Be Passionate, Share the Classroom, and Never Stop Learning.”

Teachers that have most influenced me are contagiously passionate about the material they are teaching. In high school, I hated math. I tend to not have much patience for skills that do not come naturally to me, and statistics was no exception. However, Mrs. Miller loved it. She was good at it, and she enjoyed teaching it. While this didn’t make me like statistics, watching her explain something that she was passionate about gave me a reason to care. This influence resurfaced over and over again in college. The most notable instance of this was with Anna Schony. It would be so wrong of me to not mention how much she influenced my life path. After struggling to find purpose in my collegiate education, I enrolled in her Public Speaking and Interpersonal Communication courses during the same semester. She giggled as she went through the syllabi, and maintained a beautiful balance between being personal and professional during her classes and office hours. The content she taught was relevant and applicable, yet academic. This was the semester that helped me realize that I wanted to teach Communication Studies at the college level.

A few weeks ago, my classmates and I were asked to discuss our teaching philosophies. The passion that radiated from our uniquely constructed documents was unavoidably contagious. It was so special to learn how all 7 of us took a different approach to the assignment, but shared similar objectives. However, the conversation ended up taking a turn that I did not see coming: What happens when students and class activities don’t aid in achieving your course objectives? How do you save face and maintain a safe environment when a student disrespects you and/or their classmates? When do you give up on an activity that doesn’t seem to be working? Is it actually not working, or will it resonate with students after they’ve had time to sit with the material? Won’t it be scary to ask my students for feedback on what is going well and what could be improved in my classes? Will that undermine or add to my credibility as a professional? The answer to all of this seems to be “You’ll figure it out along the way.” There isn’t a handbook that outlines every single problem that could go wrong in your classroom and how to fix it. Through dialogue in my Critical Pedagogy course, I have become more comfortable with the idea of “trusting the process” (which is actually a miracle – there is no doubt that I am Type A).

Even though I have been a student for over 20 years, it’s true that I have no idea what I’m truly getting myself into. It’s also true that I will never stop being a student, and I will not be alone in my professional and academic endeavors. Academia has been, and I believe that it will continue to be, a dynamic place for collaboration and sharing ideas. Dialogue is imperative to broadening our understanding of the world around us, developing new ideas, and perfecting our methods. Most of all, it is important to engage in this dialogue with both our colleagues and our students. Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up having a conversation with one of your students that meaningfully influences their life path.

What’s the Deal with Performance Pay?

by Nicole M. G. Brennan

Economics and organizational studies have found employees perform better in organizations rewarding performance pay.[1] The notion is workers will try harder in their profession because they will get a financial reward. After the passage of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), education reformers discussed implementing performance pay in the K-12 school system. Congress also introduced the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) which offers school districts money to use performance pay measures. If performance pay works in the private sector, why not try it in schools? Well, there are a lot of reasons and I’ll give you a few.

First, schools are not businesses. I’ve heard countless times on radio and television that if only schools were run like a business, we’d see more student success. Let me give you an analogy. Let’s say I run a bakery. When I make my blueberry muffins, I choose the ingredients I’m going to use. I’ll select eggs, flour, and blueberries from local producers. After mixing my ingredients, I’ll put them into an oven that makes them the perfect golden brown. If during the process I notice the berries are moldy or the flour has bugs in it, I can throw the batch out and start over. If my oven breaks down, I’m in charge of getting it repaired or replacing it. As a teacher, I can’t throw out a class of students if they’re not high achieving or have behavioral problems. If the facility I’m working in is faulty, I can’t make swift repairs. Although it is a simplistic analogy, the fact remains schools cannot be run like a business because we don’t have agency over the product. If the schools I’ve worked in are any example, we also don’t have the resources at our disposal to ensure student needs are met before learning can take place.

Second, performance pay isn’t linked to good teaching. In the previously cited article, the authors found in higher education, performance pay increased the amount of time instructors spent researching, but not the success of their students or teaching practices. Additionally, incentives tied to performance have been linked to “teachers focusing excessively on a single test,” changing answers on tests, helping students cheat, and making low-performing students stay home when the test is administered.[2] In my research, I was unable to find any long-term study conducted in the United States (and in a peer reviewed journal) indicating increased student achievement as a result of performance incentives. Those conducted internationally found either modest positive effects or no change at all.[3]

Third, performance pay removes the egalitarian salary structure in K-12 education. K-12 teachers in public schools are paid based on a salary schedule which takes years of experience and education level into account. For each year of experience, teachers move up the pay scale. (Unless there is a pay freeze) As teachers continue their education, they can move over and are compensated. Here’s a brief example:

Years Teaching


B.S. + 15 credits


MA + 15 credits







This method places educators on an equal playing field. A district cannot discriminate against an educator for their race, sexual orientation, religion, etc. as they could prior to the implementation of the salary schedule.[4] If performance pay is implemented, teachers in areas assessed by standardized tests are at an advantage. Instead of an equal playing field, educators in valuable but untested subjects (art, music, physical education) are not rewarded at all – even if they are outstanding educators.

It’s a scary time to be a teacher. It’s easy to scapegoat us for failing schools and to portray our unions as greedy and problematic. If the people who teach were motivated by money, they wouldn’t be teaching. Performance pay is another example of trying to cure a symptom instead of the larger disease: an outdated and underfunded public school system. Do you want innovation in the classroom? Give teachers the feeling of safety and protection to use new learning tools instead of threatening us with decreased funding and firings.

[1] Eric R. Schulz and Denise Marie Tanguay. “Merit Pay in a Public Higher Education Institution: Questions of Impact and Attitudes”, Public Personnel Management 35, no. 1 (Spring 2006): 71-88.

[2] Michael Podgursky and Matthew G. Springer, “Credentials Versus Performance: Review of the Teacher Performance Pay Research”, Peabody Journal of Education 82, no. 4 (2007): 551-73.

[3] Matthew G. Springer and Catherine D. Gardner, “Teacher Pay for Performance: Context, Status, and Direction”, Kappan 91, no. 8 (May 2010): 8-15.

[4] Julie E. Koppich “Teacher Unions and New Forms of Teacher Compensation”, Kappan 91, no. 8 (May 2010): 22-26.

Teaching for Change

This week, Inside Higher Ed, Salon, and Slate reported the story of Shannon Gibney, an English professor at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. While giving a lecture on institutional racism, a student interrupted her to ask why this topic continuously came up in class. Three students from the class then filed a discrimination complaint against Gibney. This situation provides an example to start a discussion about whether instructors should infuse social justice issues into their curriculum. I recently participated in a panel discussion at the National Communication Association titled “Social Justice in the Basic Course: Connecting Content and Citizenship.” In this entry, I will summarize our discussion and try to show the importance of teaching with change in mind in light of the potential consequences. At the top of the page, you will see a link titled “Teaching Resources” which will feature documents and articles which work towards prejudice reduction and community involvement.

Holly Gates, ABD

When determining what content should go into a course, Ms. Gates asks herself, “What are the things students should walk away with?” When answering this, she considers how to take this approach without overloading her students and making them feel shame. In order to do this, she builds trust through dialogue and personal examples. When students disclose things about themselves, she responds with a story to match their experiences. In class,  Ms. Gates uses these strategies to help students use rhetorical theories to better understand identity, audience, hegemony, and diversity. To help students talk through issues, she gives readings, lectures, and discussion to build the necessary vocabulary. Another approach she uses is to tie in current media and pop culture. The additional resources Ms. Gates uses can be found under the Teaching Resources link.

Dr. David Kahl

Dr. Kahl tries to integrate critical communication pedagogy into his classroom as much as possible. The speeches and assignments in his course focus on marginalization and hegemony. The process he uses is to work through conscientization. The steps are 1) Raising awareness 2) identifying avenues for praxis (actions for change) 3) Responding through praxis (taking action) Research topics students can use are homelessness, poverty, hunger, or lack of education. Students are encouraged to focus on issues in their own community.

Dr. Kate Ranieri

Dr. Ranieri encourages critical thinking and discussion through watching and making documentaries. She recommends Banished (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0912574/) and Two Towns of Jasper (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0303411/) to change student’s perspectives. Oftentimes students are afraid to talk because they do not want to hurt someone’s feelings so she has to push them by playing devil’s advocate.

Dr. Cindy Vincent

Dr. Vincent spent a summer doing research with an organization focusing on arts education by homeless and poor people for homeless and poor people. The approach completely altered her teaching philosophy and she approaches her courses in a way students don’t expect. She provides an environment where everyone is equal. Instead of teaching in front of the classroom, it is conducted in a circle. All of the examples for providing concepts to students use social justice issues. Additionally, she requires community involvement by having them complete service learning projects. During class discussions, Dr. Vincent teachings about resistance, stereotypes, marginalization and its benefits for privileged groups, and objectification in the media. She recommends students read “Los Viajes.” Another project she assigns is about citizens’ media; she has students create and enact their own media.

Julie Walker

Ms. Walker taught at a technical college where the student population is different than that of a four year university. Students at a technical college are often marginalized and have experienced the issues she addresses. Her lesson is adapted from one created by the Greater Mankato Diversity Council. Her approach is to infuse issues of social justice into a lesson about audience analysis. Students are then assigned a quiz to assess their learning. Ms. Walker utilizes Michael Heck’s Communication Theory of Identity. Students choose a group part of their identity and then talk about stereotypes related to that group.  During a discussion students discuss where these stereotypes come from and how it leads to discrimination, marginalization, and privilege. Ms. Walker’s recommended readings can be found by clicking the “Teaching Resources” lack.

How should instructors set up the class so students understand the tenets of critical pedagogy and the vocabulary to talk about social justice issues?

One approach is to encourage students to read Chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed which explains the banking concept of education. Then, make parallels between the concepts and the community students belong to. These parallels help students make the connection between power, hegemony, and their own lives.

Another approach is to frontload the class by introducing specific theories. Assign readings and give students the key terms they should understand after they have read the article.

Students can also learn about the issues softly. Throughout the semester, sprinkle in discussions of race, class, gender, ableism, etc. and then at the end of the semester introduce the concepts of power and hegemony.

One way to help students relate and buy in is to be approachable and relatable. Students may be more likely to trust and believe what instructors are saying if they are liked and recognize their own mistakes.

Finally, bring in examples from popular culture and show them how advertisements and media present heteronormativity and privilege.

 How do you deal with students who have strong biases?

Instead of using examples that are close to home use international examples and relate them to the situation in the United States. It is not as personal if the issue is seen abroad first. Alternatively, when a student says a stereotype, talk them through historical examples in the United States. Dr. Vincent found explaining and discussing the genocide of Native Americans provided a framework in the discussion of English as the national language.

When students say something racist, homophobic, etc., say, “Help me understand how you came to that.” Often students with strong biases to a topic have an underlying issue. Students come to class with different experiences, and as teachers we can give them the information. Not everyone will be convinced in a semester. Explain to students listening to alternative arguments helps make them a better writer.

How do you set up classes so you have the time to talk about the content and social justice issues?

First, speech topics and assignments can have a social justice slant. Give students prompting questions to guide their reading. Students could complete an assignment arguing both sides of a topic to see an alternative viewpoint.

To save time on content, go through the textbook and assign specific paragraphs which focus on concepts instead of an entire chapter. This makes any lecture more concise and provides time to apply the material to multiculturalism and inclusion.

Alternatively, we can flip the classroom. Students are assigned the readings and should understand the concepts before coming to class. Then class time is student focused with students taking control and relating concepts to their own lives.

How do you get students to read?

Provide reading prompts to students. If they’re not reading and answering the prompts, give students pop quizzes. If they are still not reading, give students an assignment to teach the class. Students can also have an assignment to create a pitch to sell the class and the concepts they should learn.

Why should classes include social justice content?

The critical approach avoids the banking method of education. Additionally, as there is increased globalization, students need to understand multiple perspectives. It also encourages active engagement as citizens and increases critical thinking.

5 Myths about Teaching and Learning

by Nicole M. G. Brennan

When I was a student in elementary and high school, there were certain myths I had about how school operated. These were terribly misguided and I only realized some of them weren’t true after I became a teacher myself. Some of the assumptions I had about school were based on observations I made and behaviors I noticed in others. Below are 5 of the misguided thoughts I had about teaching and learning and experiences that showed me I was wrong.

Teachers Don’t Have Ears

Whenever there was extra class time after a lesson, and we were allowed to have conversations, my friends and I would talk with abandon. We would openly gossip, make fun of teachers, and complain about assignments. All the while, I assumed the supervising teacher couldn’t hear what we were saying. Surely he or she would stop us?

Nope. I now know these teachers were strategically pretending not to listen. When students are having discussions after a lesson, teachers can definitely hear what you are saying if you use a conversational volume. Unless students consciously lowered their volume, I was able to hear everything. I decided I would not intervene in these conversations or indicate I was listening unless students: a) were talking about illegal behavior or an incident I was mandated to report or b) students were actively teasing or bullying another student.

The conversations I heard were mostly mundane. However, I’m sure a few of my students would be embarrassed to know what I know about them.

Teachers Don’t Have a Life Outside of School

Whenever I imagined my teachers, it was always in the classroom. I knew intellectually teachers went home at the end of the day, but I imagined they just continued being a teacher at home. All they did was grade papers and care for their own children.

I remember seeing a teacher at a restaurant drinking a beer. I thought it was scandalous! I wasn’t able to separate the identity she had in the classroom and her life outside of school. Isn’t she a teacher all of the time?

Well, kind of. My role as an educator is with me all of the time, but I do enjoy activities outside of teaching. I’m blessed to have family and friends who I can talk to about a variety of topics – not always teaching. And sometimes, (gasp), I’ll have wine with dinner.

All of the Teachers are Friends with Each Other

Maybe it was that teachers shared the same lounge or the fact they all enforced the same rules, but I really believed my teachers were all friends. I imagined they would get together after school and talk about students. I thought they all had the same thoughts and opinions about school policies. They were all uniform and supported one another.

However, just as there are cliques among students in high school, I found there are also cliques among teachers. At my first teaching job on the first day of school, one of the older teachers cornered me in the workroom. She gave me the lowdown on the other teachers in my department and explained who I should look out for. At my second teaching job, the two cliques each ate on a separate floor because there was such animosity. I ate on the second floor the first day and felt so uncomfortable I didn’t eat there again the rest of the year.

All Students Have the Same Ability to Learn

Until I was in high school, I thought everyone had the same amount of learning potential. I truly believed that although some students were naturally intelligent, everyone could learn if they tried hard enough. When we read out loud in class, and some students were slower than others, I impatiently read ahead. Why didn’t they just get better? I heard some students in special education got to do easier assignments. How unfair! S/he failed English? But it’s SO easy!

As a teacher, I was able to see the differences in how each student learned individually and the effect their home life had on their academic performance. Coming into school, a lot of my classmates were already at a huge disadvantage because they came from poverty. Many didn’t have the same pressure from their parents to succeed in school and never gained an appreciation and love of learning. On top of this, there are some people who will struggle with a learning disability their entire lives. It is only fair that their curriculum is specifically designed to give them support to learn skills.

Intelligence isn’t everything and school isn’t a meritocracy.

My Teacher Should Let Me Know if I’m Missing an Assignment

This isn’t so much something I believed, but I noticed students expected this out of me. On top of planning lessons, grading assignments, coaching a speech team, and trying to have a personal life, I had several students wonder why I didn’t come to them individually to let them know they missed an assignment and explain again how to complete it.

Umm, no. If school is supposed to prepare students for the “real world,” they need to take responsibility over managing their time and tasks. This is even easier for students to manage now because of online grading programs. You know what would solve this problem? A planner.

Wonder and Worry

by Nicole Brennan

After I graduated with my teaching degree, I spent eight months working at a childcare center. I worked with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers on a daily basis. During my time there, five foster kids came and went. Two of them in particular, twins I’ll call Charlie and Charlotte, had a heart wrenching experience before coming into our care. Their story is not unlike what other children have experienced in the foster care system.

Charlie and Charlotte’s mother (I’ll call her Carol) had them at a very young age. Carol and her boyfriend were living with her parents after the twins were born. When Carol and her boyfriend would get frustrated with Charlie and Charlotte, they would lock them in a bathroom. They turned the fan on so they couldn’t hear the twins cry. Although they were a few months old when they came to the childcare center, Charlie was not much bigger than a newborn. The parents favored Charlotte to Charlie and would feed and care for her more. When taken into foster care, Charlie was skeletal.

We were told Charlotte and Charlie would never go back to their parents. However, within a few months of being in foster care, their mother started to get visitation rights. It was winter, and we would have to get Charlotte and Charlie bundled up to go with Carol. I took my time because I did not know how they were going to be treated outside of our care. I remember getting bottles ready while listening to Carol talk to Charlie in a loving tone, wondering if it was an act she would turn off once she left. I’d watch Charlie smile up at her, not realizing what this person had done to him. It was difficult to watch them leave and I would worry about them until they got back.

I thought Carol would look like a monster, but she just looked like a kid. She seemed normal, not like the sadistic person I imagined could ignore her children for hours and let them starve in a locked bathroom. As the visits got more frequent, we were told she would soon be able to regain custody of them.

One of the hardest things about working with children, and I don’t know if I seriously considered it beforehand, is the emotional toll it takes. As an infant teacher, I wasn’t just a caretaker who recorded feedings and diaper changes. I loved the children I cared for and only wanted the best for them. I thought the best for Charlotte and Charlie would be for them to get adopted by their foster family, who loved them like their own children. However, I could only wonder and worry as the visits got more frequent and lengthy.

Eventually, Carol did regain custody of Charlotte and Charlie. When she watched them, she would lay on the couch while she barricaded them from getting into anything harmful. I was told that at some point she realized she would not get financial assistance for the twins and decided to relinquish her rights as a parent. The twins went back into foster care and were eventually adopted by another family.

As a teacher, I am constantly on the outside looking in. I can clearly see the problems, but cannot offer many solutions. I was powerless in this situation and could only watch and hope for a positive outcome. In the classroom, I can manage the environment and the events in my student’s lives. Once they leave, however, my concern is still there. Unlike other jobs where people can turn their professional identities and concerns on and off, the issues I face as a teacher don’t go away when I get home. On Homecoming and Halloween, I wonder about my college students and if they are making the best decisions. On Thanksgiving, I hope my student whose mother left town without leaving any money gets enough to eat. On Christmas, I pray the kids I’ve worked with have something under the tree this year. These things are out of my control, and all I can do is wonder and worry.

Part IV: Conclusion

Initially, I brought TO (Theatre of the Oppressed) into my classrooms because I was passionate about learning, performing, and putting Boal’s ideas to work on this campus. As I have continued to develop and refine a pedagogy of TO in hope of transforming individuals and society, I have had to accept that I may never know the outcomes of my efforts, for change of this magnitude may take years, lifetimes, generations. But if I trust the method and practice it with courage and conviction, I believe lasting change is possible. I have proof of this in the transformative power of Augusto Boal’s work in over seventy countries in which people practice TO in a variety of settings from homeless shelters to council chambers, theatres to alleyways, universities to prisons.

On March 29, 2009. Boal gave his last public address for World Theatre Day. He spoke eloquently about the transformative power of theatre. “When we look beyond appearances, we see oppressors and oppressed people, in all societies, ethnic groups, genders, social classes and casts; we see an unfair and cruel world. We have to create another world because we know it is possible. But it is up to us to build this other world with our hands and by acting on the stage and in our own life.” I can think of no better goal to begin and end each day I have the privilege to teach than that of building a better, more just world.


I have been blessed to be mentored by many wonderful teachers. In these closing minutes I would like to speak in a bit more depth about three of them.

My Mom and Dad sacrificed so very much to send me and my two siblings to college. My Mom was the daughter of Italian immigrants, and Italian was her first and only language until she started first-grade. She struggled with school her entire life. My Dad, a child of the depression, dropped out of school at 15 to work in the coal mines to earn money for his family. I am an Italian-American coal miner’s daughter, a cross between Loretta Lynn and the Godfather. My parents believed that if they worked hard, they could give their children a better life than the one they had. And each day I have the privilege to teach, their dream is realized. Just teaching mattered to them, and it matters to me.

Another major influence is the woman who was my cooperating teacher when I student taught. Theodora “Tippy” Bach was a pioneer among teachers. She was central to the relative smoothness in Carbondale, Illinois when schools were integrated. Wearing a fur hat and driving through the black neighborhoods of Carbondale in her VW van, she would carry students to speech team practice several nights a week, then carry then back home in time to complete chores and homework. She did this cheerfully and without financial compensation because she believed in teaching for social justice. Teaching was her activism, and it mattered.

On the last Friday of my student teaching she gave a small dinner party for me, and read a poem she had written. I treasure it, and I recite it to myself on those days when I feel most vulnerable as a teacher. In closing, I offer it to you.


by Theodora Bach

I wonder____

                When the rough, unshaped diamond is unearthed,

                From the smoldering, germinating soil

                And is given to the shaper and the polisher,


                His hand is singed by the heat of the forge; or

                                      pierced by the off shoot of the slivers; or

                                      calloused by the tensed grip on the precious metal, 


                His heart’s eye wearied with the long look for brightness.


I wonder.

                If so, I know his wounds.

                I am a teacher.