NOTE FROM DR SAM- This week my blogging partner asked to do a guest blog. It is a powerful piece with a powerful message. Hope you enjoy it. See you next week!
Striving for a Caring Approach to Literacy by Dr. Williams Kerns
The reading wars that we often wage in the literacy field will continue. Arguments over methods of instruction, theories of how to teach key skills, and how to foster comprehension will go on with urgency and the stakes are indeed high. But if the reader will indulge me in this blog, I wish to take a brief break from the battles. In this guest blog, I focus on an underlying need by the student to know that a teacher genuinely cares, and to feel fully valued as an individual.
On Thursday of this week (April 11) I had the pleasure of listening to a talk by children’s book author Angela Cervantes during the annual banquet of the St. Louis Regional Literacy Association. During her talk, Cervantes described an experience that I believe holds important lessons for us as educators.
When Cervantes was 16, she worked as a hostess in a Red Lobster restaurant. One night, she was among the few who braved a winter storm to report to work. As she cleaned a table, she overheard a couple making negative remarks about her that were based on stereotypes too commonly held about Mexican and Latinx people. The couple remarked that Cervantes must not speak English, that she must be a high school dropout. They knew nothing about how hard Cervantes worked in school and her passion for literature. Eventually, Cervantes did offer to serve the couple, while speaking to them in English to the embarrassment of the couple.
In the story told by Cervantes, I believe there are important lessons. We need to ensure that we avoid making negative assumptions and stereotypes about students. Additionally, we need to take strides to ensure that students feel welcome, respected, and fully accepted within a community of learners. To do less than that is, I believe, an act of immorality against the human dignity of the student. I believe that efforts to establish a moral and caring purposefulness in educational practices should be sensitive to the interests and needs of students. Dare I say it – we ought to act with love toward students. I view love within educational practice as both an emotion and a moral decision. We can feel love, but we can also make the choice to act with love toward or to not act with love (Bransen, 2006).
It was not an act of love for the couple in a Red Lobster restaurant to engage in the negative stereotyping of a teenage Cervantes when she was working hard at performing her job. But how often might teachers also engage in negative stereotyping that can follow a student around for years in the educational journey? Far too often. Negative stereotyping can be difficult to shake because a tendency toward confirmation bias contributes to rigidity of concepts within social groups. This means that when a group of teachers may hold negative views about a student based on negative stereotyping, confirmation bias contributes to that negative view becoming difficult to change in the minds of teachers. A literacy teacher might engage in teaching strategies tied to such terms as systematic phonics, whole language, or balanced literacy, but if care – and love – is missing then the educational practice is, I believe, immoral.
Presence (Rodgers & Raider-Roth, 2006) by teachers provides a way to encourage the consideration of considering the affective and academic needs of students. The concept of presence emphasizes reflectiveness and inquiry as well as compassion in responses during the context of teaching. The teacher who develops presence would be alert to the needs of students and have a heightened sense of self-awareness. Dialogue that is open to an exchange of ideas based on mutual respect is an important aspect of presence. Presence can take place while a teacher is grounded in critical reflection. This approach would mean that teachers examine and respond to the diverse ways that children are impacted by life-conditions that often include the denial of equitable opportunities in education. A discussion of explicit or implicit bias provides an example of how the critical examination of educational practices can help teachers to explore their underlying moral beliefs that shape their educational practices.
Students will graduate from school with positive stories about teachers who genuinely cared about their needs and interests while remaining committed to expertise in the executional of teaching practices. I hope that each of us who are educators from Kindergarten through graduate schools will strive to be the caring teacher who is remembered with a sense of gratitude by students. Meanwhile, I also hope that we as educators will strive to be among those who have a positive influence on the lives of our students. Making such a difference includes a strong grounding in the content and pedagogical practices that are encouraged within a professional area. However, there is more to teaching than merely gaining certification that qualifies a person to teach. Ultimately, those teachers wishing to become excellent in their craft would do well to examine the needs and interests of students while also making lesson plans and curriculum design.
Don’t be “that teacher” who is remembered in an embarrassing manner. Be “that teacher” who makes a positive direction in the career and life-path of a student.
Bransen, J. (2015). Self-knowledge and self- love. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 18, 309-321.
Rodgers, C., & Raider-Roth, M. (2006). Presence in teaching. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 12, 265-287.
HERE IS A LINK TO ANGELA’S BOOKS
Copyright 2019 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author or guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
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