Well, I'm a student again! It's been more than ten years since I was last in school, when I did my initial certification and a masters in special education (autism spectrum and developmental disabilities) all at once. After I got over the initial school burnout, which really took some time, I was slow to make moves to continue my studies. For one thing, I couldn't afford it, and I wasn't willing to take out more loans. And for another, while I knew I couldn't take isolated courses, and learn, and work towards my plus-15, I wanted to do something coherent. And it took a long time for me to figure out what that was.
Luckily, the journey takes us where we're going, right? So when taking classes started becoming feasible for me, I'd been moving deeper and deeper into this literacy life, and my next step emerged: becoming a reading specialist. It felt just right. Any courses towards it would very likely help me in the work I'm currently doing in the classroom, and when I'm finished, I'll have a wide range of options, and a lot of the possibilities appeal to me. I like having a lot of possibilities in front of me.
I was accepted into a program at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education, and started in January. I'm so happy to be at Rutgers, for a lot of reasons. It's objectively a great school. And, as a public school teacher and advocate who did a BA and an MA in private schools, I'm really proud to be at our state university. Plus, it's deep in my family history. Two of my great-uncles went to Rutgers in the 40s, became a doctor and a lawyer, and were role models for all of us for higher education. (One of them, my Uncle Joe, took me out for a special lunch the summer before my freshman year of high school. I thought it was just a special treat to hang out with me, and I was not thrilled to find out that his agenda was to talk about my college plans. I was fourteen, and I had exactly no college plans. My future plans that summer mostly involved if I was going to join marching band, and what I was going to wear on the first day of school. But it planted important seeds, including how to look ahead to goals like college, and the idea that "you go to school to get an education, not to get a job," which was echoed at the Jesuit liberal arts university where I ended up four years later. I was really lucky to have Uncle Joe in my life.) In addition to Uncle Joe and Uncle John, my parents were Rutgers alums, too, my dad from Rutgers, and my mom from Douglass, the women's college. They met there in 1971, and got married shortly after my mom graduated. My mom has passed away, but my dad still attends Rutgers football games with their best college friend, and I think he's pretty happy that his kid is studying and following her dreams on the banks of the old Raritan. (The phrase “on the banks of the old Raritan” is part of the Alma Mater, if you're curious.)
From my first afternoon in my first class, I knew this was the right choice for me. It was so clear that this was going to be a rigorous program, that the people in charge cared about it, and that the students were invested in it. I for sure had some back-to-school nerves (I felt so out of practice at being a student: Cite sources? I don't remember how to cite sources!!), but it also felt really right.
One highlight that's relevant to my work here at The Liberatory Library, and something that's changed since my first round of grad school more than a decade ago, is that culturally relevant teaching in part of the discussion in all areas of education. I'm so glad that this is included and embedded in teacher preparation and graduate work, and that I was able to explore the academic side of it more deeply, particularly the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings, who has been a leading voice in culturally relevant pedagogy since the 1990s.
In addition to finding this as a theory in the readings, I also had the chance to dive into the practice almost immediately. One of the big projects in my first course was to prepare and give a professional development presentation to the class with a partner. We signed up for topics in the second class, and one of the first choices on the list was "social justice in literacy education." What?? That's something I can do?? I had no idea this was going to be part of the conversation! I'm used to feeling like this (all of this, diverse books, education as a liberatory practice, antiracist work, etc.) is something of a marginal or radical view. And while it may well be, it was also right there in the syllabus. Amazing. I almost didn't choose it, though, because it was so early in the semester, and my back-to-school nerves were telling me to wait, watch a few of them, get my feet we in the class before diving in to presenting myself. Fortunately, I couldn't actually bring myself to not choose the things I was most passionate about, so my heart prevailed over my nerves. I worked with a great partner, and we put together a presentation we were really proud of. For me, it felt like really good practice in talked to a mostly white audience (as so many groups of teachers are) about race, culture, and diversity, and how all of that applies to the literacy classroom. I also got to extend the work from the presentation into another project, a year-long, school-wide plan for professional development. It was supposed to be the ideal of what you'd plan for your own district, if you were given free reign and money wasn't an issue. Really the stuff of dreams. So I included self-selected study groups, where you chose a topic rather than a grade level or subject area, an inspirational author visit from Jacqueline Woodson, and an end of the year workshop with Karen Gaffney at Divided No Longer and her book and program, Dismantling the Racism Machine. Right now it remains a hypothetical project, but there are a lot of good, and realistic, resources and ideas in there.
The third big project was a research synthesis on a topic connected to our classroom work, so I studied reading comprehension for students with communication impairments. The project, and its implications for my classroom, were fascinating. So much so that they warrant their own separate post later.
So that was my first dive into this new graduate school world! This summer, I took two online classes, one on teaching writing, and one on supervision of instruction, and a took a lot away from both. Now I've enjoyed some total downtime in the last days of summer before the new semester starts and before going back to teaching. The only downside to grad school, really, has been that the time it occupies has pretty much replaced the time I was spending in this Liberatory Library world: reading kidlit, reading pedagogy stuff I chose, posting photos and writing about my reading and teaching. I feel like I missed capturing a lot of what happened in the second half of the school year, and I just miss being here. I'm trying to embrace new things, though, and not be hard on myself for not being able to do everything. And I'm trying to soak up as much as I can before diving back into school again.
Writing about practicing literacy and freedom with my small humans.