I attended The University of Austin Texas and originally had hopes of becoming a sports broadcaster. However, in the 80’s many women were either becoming teachers or nurses. Thus, I ended up choosing teaching (specifically English) because English was one of my favorite subjects. Throughout my journey, I was shaped by many coaches who also acted as mentors. I played volleyball at The University of Texas, my dad was a coach and my mom was a community organizer and so I grew up around leaders with a change-maker mentality. As an educator, whatever you are doing, you are re-envisioning, setting goals and thinking about how you can get better and create something new within a community of people. This vision always excited me as education is a vocation where constant goal setting is needed. Even after many years of teaching, I have never worked from the exact same lesson or the same unit plan but am constantly changing and re-thinking and revising as the world continues to change around us and the students continue to change as well.
Throughout my journey in education I taught in Texas, Nebraska and then in Pittsburgh. This is my 28th year in the Mount Lebanon School District where I currently teach a journalism class, a senior level English class and facilitate the school newspaper. Prior to this, I taught middle school and dabbled in a variety of different subject areas.
I am part of the Teach Plus Policy PA institute this year and my subset focus group is the teaching and hiring pipeline. This includes thinking about teacher retention, recruiting teachers of color but also thinking about how to encourage excellent individuals to become champions for education. Within my own community, there are certain inequities that exist in terms of socio-economic differences and students who have familial responsibilities at home versus students who do not. I think often about our students of color who emotionally and socially do not have a curriculum nor staff members that reflect their identities. In predominantly white schools, students simply don’t have the vocabulary needed to talk about race. In many ways, the students are at an advantage in terms of attending a well-funded school, having familial support and coming to school (for the most part) well-fed with their basic needs met. Mount Lebanon is certainly an excellent school district within Pittsburgh. However, it is important that students who attend predominantly white schools are prepared to land in a diverse world.
As a journalism and English teacher, I am constantly talking to my students about how they can be a voice for the silenced, and we intentionally search for stories of inequity. I also teach a social roles senior class and we discuss a lot about what power structures look like. We just completed a unit specific to Hispanic Heritage Month and talked about inclusivity for a stronger nation. My students are exposed to disability literature, WEB Dubois, Bell Hooks, and we discuss a lot around who are the gatekeepers of information and what voices are missing (such as women writers and writers of color.) In the past few years, I have had conversations with colleagues in terms of the lack of women writers represented as well as writers of color within the curriculum. There is always work that needs to be done in terms of representation.
I still absolutely love what I do! I enjoy it greatly, and I never imagined doing anything else. I live in this community, feel close to this community and watched my own children attend school within this community as well. Unlike so many other teachers, I am able to teach and empower others, and I am given creative freedoms in terms of curriculum. I truly believe that curriculum should be ever-flowing and constantly changing and relevant to what is going on within the world. I think if other educators were equipped with excellent teachers, and were given liberty in terms of curriculum, trust and funding, our education system would look very different today.
My hope is that schools begin to look like the world we are sending our students into. We need to make sure we are fostering inclusive communities that are intentional and that value children’s social, emotional and physical well being. With that, I think in order for real change to take place, there has to be support at the policy level. If our schools are not funded and our buildings are worn down, how can we expect our students to value education? How can we expect them to feel valued? My hope is that we are able to continue to recruit more dynamic individuals to become educators in the future. I hold a lot of hope in my heart. The students I work with are eager to have difficult conversations, they are culturally aware and culturally sensitive, and they certainly want to be champions of change. However, this should not just fall on the shoulders of the future generation. As adults, we need to learn to speak up, advocate and stand up for the change that needs to take place as well.