I am a teacher educator, a writing educator, and a practicing writer. In each of these roles, I focus on the ongoing dialogue—the praxis—of form and content, process and product, private and public. Teacher education, writer education, and writing support, in academic settings and beyond, is an issue of justice—equitable access to exploring ideas, to public engagement with one’s work, and to creative self-expression should be a central justice issue for educators, particularly writing and literacy educators. The ideas that have the potential to drive social change are often expressed in written form; the quality of writing (itself a nebulous concept) can determine who will hear those ideas; the quality of education can determine the quality of the writing.
My explanation of the writing process model, popularized by such writing researchers as Flower & Hayes and Calkins, names its five stages as concept, content, connection, craft, and community. I will use this framework to explore my teaching experience, philosophy, commitments, and goals below.
I’ve been a writer all my life; I’ve valued writing all my life; due to extraordinary educational privilege, I’ve been valued as a writer all my life. It is essential that writing teachers are aware not simply of our positionality as an abstract, checking off the isms we have or have not experienced, but that we consider how our positionality has impacted our experience of writing. More than anything, this changes the way we teach.
Since I began teaching writing and teachers of writing, I have been attuned to the nuances of process and stringent about improving the product. However, I had to learn over time the ways that my students needed writing, the ways that marginalized students’ writing had been dismissed, and the ways that a teacher committed to justice could have changed that and could change it now. I’m committed to a casual and collaborative learning environment, and firm in the belief that it is as much a school or educational institution’s responsibility to support the diverse needs of its learners as it is for a teacher to do so, or for the student to know their own. I will always work both to support my students and to make the institution in which I work a more supportive environment. Writing is both individual and systemic, processes and products that exist in dialogue, and that is manifest in my teaching.
I began my career teaching playwriting to middle and high school students in Chicago. At the heart of my practice was always the desire to support my students as storytellers, both creators of worlds and communicators with/changers of the world they lived in. During my last years in the city, I taught GED classes with a multi-service community agency—literacy, job readiness, and mathematics—and helped to create themed community-support learning units. In Pokuase, Ghana, I taught youth theater, with a focus on writing original work, and worked in continuing education throughout my time in Boston.
Much of my work in writing education has been as a writing coach, anchored primarily in Boston. I have a particular investment in supporting both students with disabilities and international students, along with many others who are members of embattled populations. The writer, as an observer, is always slightly out of place; this is doubly true of writers who are marginalized in multiple ways and may struggle when they try to understand, connect to, or actively choose to defy the expectations generated by a culture of power.
My career as a teacher educator began in Boston, where I taught a year-long professional development course to Americorps members who worked at charter schools serving marginalized elementary school students. In my teaching, education, justice, and creation are inextricably linked. I aim to bring this lens now to the preservice and in-service teachers—and future college teaching assistants—in the classes I teach at Syracuse University.
Perhaps the most significant turn in my work as a writing instructor occurred when I was diagnosed with a chronic physical illness and, as an indirect result, began supporting writers at the Access and Disabilities Services office at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As I’ve become a person who both knows her limits and knows how to challenge them, I strive to support students in finding that life as writers—guiding them to take advantage of educational support help articulate and present their ideas, to find joy in and commitment to writing and teaching. I have written and presented about integrating the writing coach model into larger systems of education and support; I see writing as part of a system of communications, and encourage my students to view their writing process as being in dialogue with different parts of their work, their processes and products in dialogue with the work of other writers, and their publications in conversation with a social world.
As a writing coach and teacher, I have frequently seen students at all levels marginalized by the requirement to use writing processes that do not work for them. Often, as a writing instructor working outside of conventional institutions, I found myself providing supports that I feel institutions should provide. Now that I’m working from within the institutions, with both writers and teachers, one of my primary goals as is to impact on institutional reform and institutional learning—through my own written advocacy and my students’ as well as directly through my courses, research, presentations, and publications.
As I develop my work with teachers and my scholarship, I turn more and more to the study of out-of-school time spaces and the visceral, or minor-key, side of writing and teaching writing. One way that writing pedagogy can be linked to justice is by developing writing in community, seeing writing not simply through a process or a sociocultural lens—since of course it is both—but as an act of communication and interpersonal, intersocietal connection.
From my first days of teaching, when I’d work intensively with a partner on curriculum design for youth theater classes, to my life as an educator at Syracuse University, where I’ve worked closely with respected faculty to develop syllabi and classes and joined with a team to train new teaching assistants, collaboration has been at the core of my work. Educators must work in tandem with each other, with their students, with their institutions, constantly challenging and reforming each other, constantly building upon each other’s ideas and words. I want to model it and I want to teach it. I strive to create community in my courses with structured critique, public presentations, and ongoing returning workshops for dedicated students, and collaborate with a wide range of organizations to generate more potent spaces for writers and educators.