June 8, 2018
As you’re well aware of by now, I like to begin my monthly column with an inspirational quote that pertains to my topic at hand. This time, however, I have taken the liberty — since this is my final column as the outgoing 2018 IPS Teacher of the Year — of providing not one but three quotes that I hope will inspire you!
- “We have become not a melting pot, but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different beliefs.” — Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States
- “Difference is the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace: respect for diversity.” — John Hume, Noble Peace Prize winner
- “Being able to say ‘I am’ is the greatest civil right for all of us. Standing on our own two feet, comfortable and free to be ‘I am,’ will lessen, I truly believe, any urge to oppress, to make someone else ‘other.’ This is why we need diverse books. It isn’t about political correctness. Nor is diversity a passing fashion; rather, it is a significant struggle to see if America can fulfill its civil rights promises of inclusivity — of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. America’s story isn’t done. Freedom comes from empowered voices advocating for justice. Handing a book to a child, you — all of you — are influencing our country’s future story. Diversity in books is a civil rights frontier. As a nation, we’ve made progress. My life’s story bears witness to that. I am optimistic about the future. We all should be. We’re united by our humanity, united by stories.” —Jewell Parker Rhodes, author
One year ago, I was honored to be selected as the IPS Teacher of the Year for 2018 — a role I happily and graciously served during the 2017-18 school year. Several months later, I was also named to the Top 10 finalists for the Indiana Teacher of the Year program. I was overwhelmed by the support for my work, and encouraged by the recognition of the importance of my message.
These honors were the catalyst for me to continue to deepen my own understanding of the role of culture, story and diverse narratives. I discovered that my own personal passion for exploring diversity through literature was one that could be shared to a larger audience, and it is my hope that the resources I provided in the past year have helped you to continue your own journey toward embracing diverse voices and life experiences.
I could not agree more with the statement by author Jewell Parker Rhodes that, “diversity in books is a civil rights frontier.”
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts and resources. Thank you to those teachers and librarians across the district, and indeed the state, for reaching out and asking for support and ideas to diversify your teaching and collections. Thank you to the students and families who each day remind me of the importance of the work of the librarian. I relish seeing reading lives expanded with books that sparked interest and reflected lives. Thank you to the many community organizations I have profiled, and those I missed, that each day provide enriching experiences for our students and families.
A special thanks to Pat Payne and the work of the Racial Equity team. I am blessed to have had professional mentors throughout my career who pushed me to continue to look at my role as a white educator in public education. Pat’s support and guidance over the past four years has kept my feet to the fire, and for that I am so grateful.
Now I find myself in the happy role of introducing your 2019 IPS Teacher of the Year, Alexandria Stewart. I had the distinct pleasure of working with Alex at the Center for Inquiry 2 for one year before she transferred to Center for Inquiry 70 to be part of the team beginning the Middle Years Program there. I also had the chance to read her portfolio, along with the 37 others, and to get to know her work more intimately.
Alex is a newer teacher, but she has been involved with teens and young adults in many roles. She worked with TeenWorks and the Indy Urban Acres programs connecting our young adults to farming and outdoor education, and even more importantly helping them to develop real world skills to use as they move into the job market. She models the importance of community involvement and social responsibility to all who work with her through her own volunteer work with Schools on Wheels Young Professionals Group and her multiple service projects across the United States. She has spent time with the Washington Mandela Fellowship Program, meeting with young leaders from Sub-Saharan Africa when they spent time in the United States.
Alex says of her work: “Community building is a major component of my classroom. Cultivating a strong sense of community in my classroom allows students to develop a deeper understanding of community itself. Students feel safe to debate and share. They begin to truly understand perspective and begin to seek to understand rather than just to be understood. Through community building and service learning experiences, students are inspired to take action and be active participants in their communities within and beyond the classroom.”
Alex is focused on the empowerment of our young adults and I can’t want to see what she will share with us over the coming year about how we can best challenge and engage our 11-18 year olds. At a time where we see so many young people speaking out about the troubles in our communities and world, her guidance on how to support and encourage these future leaders should be fascinating!
She placed this quote from a workshop she attended in one of her essays, and it really resonated with me, as I am sure it will for you as well: “Programs mean nothing unless they are also restoring power, because their impacts aren’t sustained without power.”
“Young teachers need to understand they can empower students by exposing them to social justice issues and perspective taking, discussion, and exemplifying strong character,” said Alex.
I am anxiously awaiting the coming year of her Teacher of the Year blogs!
On a final note, I cannot close my year of writing without including at least a few titles that are on my professional to-be-read pile for this summer. I hope these titles intrigue you as much as they do me.
- “We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy,” by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- “The Librarian of Auschwitz,” by Antonio Iturbe
- “Was the Cat in the Hat Black: The Hidden Racism of Children’s Literature and the Need for Diverse Books,” by Philip Neil
- “The 57 Bus: A True Story of two Teenagers and the Crime that Changed Their Lives,” by Dashka Slater
Yours in books always,