When I began my Doctoral pursuit in August 2008, my very first semester highlights included balancing teaching full-time and going to school full-time, as well as dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ike. During Ike, my home suffered minor damages (lost fence, and a large uprooted tree missed my house by inches), and I was without power for twelve days. Nine years later, a lot has changed, but it eerily reminded me of the school year back in 2008.
Before the Fall 2017 semester could even begin, the remnants of Hurricane Harvey dumped 51 inches of rain on Houston. Many school districts (and my university) never had their first day of school, while others only had a few days of classes before the flooding changed everyone’s lives, and prompted the city to come together to be #HoustonStrong. Although I was spared damages to my home and personal vehicles, I could not leave my home for days (as water surrounded my neighborhood). I could not ignore that just a few blocks down (literally two) there were people who lost just about everything, or suffered major damage that they are still working on four months later. Pasadena ISD, the school district that I worked in for ten years, suffered extensive damage to several of its campuses, and as a former teacher in the district and thirteen-year resident of this community it broke my heart to see people that live down the street on the news needing rescue, or people needing donations at shelters, and not being able to leave my home to help–due to flooding.
It was terrible to see my colleagues and former students who had to leave their homes. As a Texas Association for Literacy Education (TALE) Board Member, when asked by the president “how can we help” I immediately thought of the district that gave me my start in Texas. Through the organization, we were able to make a monetary donation to rebuild the library and/or classroom libraries at Thompson Intermediate–a school who has been displaced, and it is still undetermined when the 900+ students and staff will return. Although I never taught at that particular campus, many of my former students transitioned to that school, and it was the least I could do to help.
Missing one day in college is like missing a week– to kick things off, we had missed nearly a week and a half of instruction. School was set to begin at Texas Southern University after Labor Day on September 5th, however the campus did not open until Tuesday, September 12th. It was a nervous time, as you could feel the frustration of the inconvenience that the storm had caused when you visited places of business around the city. You could see tension, weariness, and sense a bit of sorrow on many people’s faces. But patience was present– a trait that is often lacked in a city as large as Houston (as we are always on the “go”). Although I am a mid-western girl, and hurricanes aren’t the norm for me, I was a 5th grade classroom teacher after thousands of victims from Hurricane Katrina moved to Houston. I knew what Fall 2017 would require. I knew that my semester would require patience, empathy, and lots of creativity and flexibility.
Despite obstacles, I still managed to grow as a professor, and inspire future teachers to be great! I taught two face to face undergraduate courses, and one online graduate level (Masters) course. View and follow my Instagram page for the MANY great things done in my courses since September 2017. Here are some highlights:
Reading 302- Reading Skills Development/The Art of Teaching Reading
In this course, my students managed to make Monday mornings fun and tolerable! This is course is offered to all majors, and I always have a diverse population of students. Although this is a reading course, there were many future math teachers enrolled in the course this semester, and I hope that I was able to uplift their attitudes about literacy, and share with them the importance of the literacy foundation being supported in all subject areas.
On Thursday, October 19, 2017, half of the students* from RDG 302 went to the TSU Charter school and worked with first and second graders to participate in Jumpstart’s annual “Read for the Record” event. They shared the book, “Quackers” by Liz Wong, and presented a mini lesson that the students enjoyed playing a game, and making duck feet and duck ears.
During the busy month of November, the students presented their Big Book and App projects. This allowed students to incorporate what they had been learning about emergent literacy, in a creative manner. They did a phenomenal job, and it was during this assignment that I was truly able to see their growth and maturity over the semester.
*The other half of students assisted with the Book Swap event (see below, RDG 401 for details)
So grateful to provide an opportunity for my students to plan activities and interact with children, and do a good deed at the same time. Today was our “Reading Winter Wonderland” Book Swap. We had a guest author, Ashley B. Patton, and a guest reader, Ms. Elizabeth from the Imani School kick off a great program for the TSU Charter School students. A HUGE thank you to the @bushhoustonlit and Half Price Books for your generous donation of books! The emergent readers in attendance were able to begin an “at home” library today because of you! #LiteracyEducation #TexasSouthernCOE #FutureTeachers #Reading
Reading 401- Reading for Diverse Populations
This course is the course when my students learn about reading, and all of the differentiating that we as educators must do. They learn about teaching to the whole child, and truly creating a classroom environment that is inclusive. The students in this course always mention their level of satisfaction after taking this course. It essentially provides them with a “road-map” as to how to structure their classroom, and how to create not only an effective literacy environment, but they leave having explored ideas to implement literacy in all subjects areas (including the home environment). It also shows them how much we as educators have to collaborate in order to create successful experiences for our students.
Because of Hurricane Harvey, I had to restructure some assignments and events- we did not get to complete our Community Reading Project, but I supplemented this assignment with our department’s annual Book Swap event titled, “Reading Winter Wonderland”. It was a delight to provide a winter themed event for little learners from the TSU Charter School (Banks) in Pre-K3 through Kindergarten! We had a special guest reader, Elizabeth Ellison, a six year old from the Imani School who read the book “The Snowy Day“, and guest author, Ashley B. Patton read her book Sydney Smiles. The RDG 401 students had an opportunity to test out the knowledge obtained in the course by planning and facilitating sessions for the children related to emergent literacy, and winter holidays around the world. The young students were given treat bags, and most importantly, each child was provided enough FREE books to begin at-home libraries–thanks to a generous donation from the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation and Half Price Books.
Lastly in RDG 401, after a semester of writing journals and watching educational and literacy leaders participate in education related TED Talks, my students created their own talks– in relation to literacy and diversity issues. It is always an assignment outside of their comfort zone, but once we meet for the last day of class and watch the videos, the students understand the purpose of the assignment. They learn that as educators, we all have something to contribute (a story to tell), and many times, it takes stepping out of our comfort zones to so.
Reading 873- Issues on Trends in Reading (Masters level course- ONLINE)
At the beginning of this year, I had NEVER taught an online course. All of my course materials have always been online, and I am a huge advocate of using technology with classroom instruction. Although I love using technology, I had never taken that final step to have a class entirely online–as I always felt online courses lacked that personal touch, and building of a community that I work so hard to build in my classes. However, within the year, I have now taught two graduate-level courses completely online.
This particular course focused on current literacy issues, and I had students share their thoughts, best-practice articles, and other resources through weekly Discussion Board postings. The students completed an assignment where they did an evaluation of current literacy programs in use, and it allowed the students to see the processes of implementing new programs into schools and districts. Ultimately, this assignment allowed the students to see the advantages and disadvantages of some widely popular programs being used daily in classrooms.
For a final assignment, over the course of the semester, students researched a current trend/topic in literacy, and had to create an abstract and article that addressed the issue. As a professor that is always encouraging my students to grow as a professional, I am encouraging them (after some editing) to publish their articles/findings in a joint publication in a peer-reviewed journal. As graduate students, their experiences in current educational settings are a voice that needs to be heard.
In closing: An Unexpected Turn
“When one door closes, another one opens…” After a successful year and a half with amazing students, attending every graduation, contributing and supporting every program that my department and college held, and putting forth my best effort (as always) as an educator, scholar, and professional– my time in my visiting role has come to an end. I have grown in ways that I thought I couldn’t. I have proudly and respectfully represented the university presenting at state, local, and national events. I have created curriculum, and contributed to ideas for future growth in the Curriculum and Instruction department. I have taught graduate level courses (online). Most (some haven’t taken it yet) of my students have passed their state Content and PPR exams. Many of my students (my “teacher babies”) have graduated, and are currently teaching.
Although no one can be a “visitor” forever, this was an unexpected turn. However, we are turned away from opportunities for a reason, and I KNOW that I have served my purpose in my role. The ‘recommendation letters’ and ‘letters of thanks’ written on my behalf from faculty and STUDENTS (the reason we have our jobs) have assured me that my purpose has been served, and that I have planted the seeds needed to grow, and strengthened my foundation as an educator. I have shown students through my walk and actions how to be Caring, Competent, Culturally Responsive, and Committed (right in line with the 4 C’s of the College of Education). So thankful for those that offered the opportunity, and supported me in the process– as I was never treated as a visitor.
May my next destination be one where it will be a season of even further growth–a place where I can be a valuable part of a faculty seeking to welcome a first-generation college student, turned professor–a rare but needed presence in academia.