I’ve drafted several posts since coming back from NCTE two weeks ago. On one hand, the conference made me feel as if I was stuck between two worlds, neither of which felt like home: I found myself apprehensive about identifying as a college writing teacher amongst thousands of elementary and secondary teachers who, in my mind, put in countless hours compared to the one section I’ve been teaching per semester – many of whom have also balanced graduate coursework on top of their long days in the classroom. To be quite frank, I went to the conference with a deep curiosity about what teaching secondary ed was like, and was questioning my choice to teach at the college level simply because so much of what I’ve done in my English Ed courses has appealed to me in ways that the work of my Written Communication courses has not. At one point this semester, I had considered completing my Master’s degree only to return to school for secondary ed certification. I wanted so badly to reconcile these two worlds that I felt unable to fully embrace. And I wonder if anyone else has felt this split, or if it’s a matter of circumstance: my English Ed courses have been my daily bread, so to speak, and my interests in craft and materiality, identity and practice, ideologies around what “counts” as composing – developed toward the end of my undergraduate program as I became more involved with composition studies – were shelved in favor of literacy development, education policy, and a shameless obsession with young adult literature.
As I’ve worked through my major projects over the last few weeks, however, I’ve found myself returning home. I’m staying up late, drinking bad coffee, connecting with old friends, grappling with concepts that are far too big for final projects (if I were superhuman, I would have written 5 dissertations by now), discovering new talents (I can draw and I like video games!) and re-emerging with a much stronger sense of professional identity that places me in the field that I love for the same reasons that made me fall in love with this work a few years ago: craft, materiality, available and unavailable designs, multimodality, spaces and places of composing, rhetorical situations (real and constructed), the narratives of our students and their experiences in and out of school, the embodied knowledge they bring to the classroom, the stories behind research questions, the generative power of juxtaposition.
To quote Kathleen Blake Yancey, we have a moment. And in this moment, as I am polishing my curriculum vitae (I have one of those!) and finally coming out of the fog that consumed me beginning in the weeks before NCTE and carrying on through the last 24 hours, this is kairos, this is my moment to speak.
For the plethora of graduate students who were required to blog about their assigned readings, thank you. Your work on the internet, likely forgotten as most of it was posted in 2008-2011, has helped me to think about my own work in new ways.
For James Paul Gee, whose work on video games, learning, and literacy development has made it apparent that had I grown up with video games, I’d probably be a gamer. Thank you for reminding me that it’s not too late.
For Jody Shipka whose multimodal reprise has become the rhythm and sound that keeps me going, thank you for posting student work on your website.
For Linda Adler-Kassner who is my teacher crush: through her, I learned the term “pragmatic” and embraced it as my own. Thank you for reinforcing my commitment to advocacy and resourcefulness.
For Derek Mueller who first planted the notion of “craft” and “materiality” in my head: my family describes me as intense and over-analytical, and craft work helped me to channel that energy in an ongoing, generative (albeit messy) way. Thank you for remembering these interests even when I seem to forget them.
And for Aylen who spends hours every day, it seems, talking with me via Facebook messenger about teaching practices, lesson plans, identity(ies), challenges, and victories, you were my mentor for a reason.
This feels so thank-you-speech-y, but I wasn’t sure how else to say it.
As I wrap up my work this semester, I’m realizing that there is so much I’ve done that simply doesn’t fit within the limitations of a project or a blog or a CV. I’m turning in a final project tonight that is by no means complete: I haven’t yet discussed Yancey’s work as it pertains to out of school literacy, I didn’t get to browse the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, I could have devoted an entire section to the materiality of literacy practices building on Wysocki’s work. I didn’t address perhaps one of the most significant issues: while out of school literacies make their way into the classroom, in school literacy practices – ways of thinking, being, doing, and knowing – also make their way outside of the classroom, and realistically do not originate in the classroom though are sometimes awakened in that space. I also know that I left an important piece out of my CV, and there’s nothing I can do about it as it’s already been received at the university I applied to, and that’s okay. I’ve asked my students to take stock of this in their final portfolios as well, asking them what they’ve learned that isn’t necessarily reflected by the outcomes for our program and inviting the to evaluate the outcomes as they pertain to their own, individual, embodied experiences, and I use this space as an opportunity to do the same: nowhere in my CV is there room to talk about the struggles or the difficulties; instead, I present myself as polished, as professional, as composed. But the process is messy, right? And I am transparent. I use language to think, I use writing to process, I use words for play. And the last 24 hours have reminded me of where I started and why I am here: why I read, why I write, why I teach. I stand at the edge of an opening, but I know that I am part of something bigger, and those threads help me find my way back home.