Where does a body begin this work?

In the “Centering Intersectional, Justice-Oriented English Education” session at CEE, one of our colleagues posed a question: How do I begin in this work? (Or, to paraphrase our colleague Sophia Sarigianides, how does a body get started?)

In this space, we ask you to share your thoughts on this question. Please share an anecdote from your praxis, or a resource you have found helpful. All ideas welcome.

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  1. My thought is that responsiveness is key. I think it is important to begin by listening with young scholars (students) or teacher candidates to learn about the specific and intersecting ways that systems of privilege and oppression operate in a particular space/community. After reflecting on these listenings, I think about how these systems live in particular interactions, and where they might be resisted or transformed.

    One very simple and small example on positionings: when I was a literacy coach in New York, I noticed that one school posted a sign at its entry, something to the effect of “remove hats and put away cell phones.” After discussion with the teachers and administrators, we reflected on the sort of power dynamic and positioning in play here, and (after much dialogue) shifted it to “Welcome to our teaching and learning community. Because we value the time we spend together here, we ask that all members of the community prepare for our shared work. As a reminder, please take off your hat and turn off your cell phone,” or something to that effect…

    I think that a great entry point into this work is to look at the ways that young people are positioned in learning spaces, and to think about how we can position others– and ourselves– in humanizing ways that value the resources they bring to the classroom. Once I began thinking this way, it carried over to my teaching/learning practice as I designed and enacted curricula….and lead to much more powerful engagement and dialogue.

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  2. I have been struggling with this question since it was brought up at our session. How does one start doing social justice work? How did I start? I feel as though I have always been focused on holding a social justice stance in my classrooms, both as a student and a teacher, but I’m not quite sure how I started!

    This work (at least for me) has come from such a personal place; I always have the lives of my students on my mind and I consider how I can best serve them. I think about the conversations I had with the first student I ever worked with—he taught me so much without meaning to (and without me realizing he was doing so!) and I try to honor his hopes and dreams and aspirations continuously. Another part of my personal concerns includes not showing my students what they need to do to become culturally relevant; my role is not to be a leader, but to support what my students need. In what ways can I help encourage my teacher candidates without guiding them toward what I think is best?

    I did not start out knowing I was doing social justice work with my students. And after ten plus years of working in many different types of classrooms, I still find myself asking for help and seeing what my colleagues in and out of this commission are doing and I looking to my students to see what they need and how I can best assist them. How does a body get started? For me it was by tuning in to my students words and actions.

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  3. Recently, I have been thinking about how to do justice-oriented work as a White professor. In our small group at this CEE presentation, several of us talked about how to both begin and continue doing that work in the high school and university classroom. Melissa Schieble and I have been meeting weekly to read and analyze data about critical conversations in classrooms. At the beginning of each meeting, we’ve come prepared to talk about one article that focuses on Whiteness and/or talking about race and other identity markers in the classroom. So far, we’ve read three articles. All three have helped us think about how to do this work. The articles by Berchini prompted us both to think about our own histories and stories as White females. We found ourselves telling each other stories about issues of race and privilege that have shaped our teaching and research over time. For us, articulating those histories and stories has already been a helpful tool. Perhaps this is a good place to start for those who are just beginning. Here are the articles if others are interested. If anyone has others to share that you think would be helpful to us, please let us know. Thanks!

    Tanner, S. J., Tanner, S. J., Berchini, C., & Berchini, C. (2017). Seeking rhythm in white noise: working with whiteness in English education. English Teaching: Practice & Critique, 16(1), 40-54.

    Berchini, C. N. (2017). Critiquing Un/Critical Pedagogies to Move Toward a Pedagogy of Responsibility in Teacher Education. Journal of Teacher Education, 0022487117702572.

    Thomas, E. E. (2015). ” We Always Talk About Race”: Navigating Race Talk Dilemmas in the Teaching of Literature. Research in the Teaching of English, 50(2), 154.

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