Former: Secondary English teacher, department chair, and instructional coach
Current: Candidate, Doctor of Education Leadership at Harvard Graduate School of Education
My Coaching Philosophy
I coach because teachers are artists of human potential. I coach teachers to help them see a clearer picture of the current reality in their classrooms while also envisioning the deeper learning we can create together. I coach teachers to find their own power so they can empower their students to make a better classroom, a better school, and a better world.
My Teaching Philosophy
TL;DR: The person doing the work is the person doing the learning.
It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love, the ad said about the Peace Corps, but it’s a perfect way to describe my relationship with teaching and learning. Teaching chose me, but I tried everything I could think of to avoid its call: disc jockey, medical assistant, pet babysitter for the rich, journalist, and finally, finally: teacher.
Down deep, I knew I would love teaching in a way that would break my heart, like all things that truly matter will do to us. And it has shattered in funeral homes as I’ve tucked letters from classmates into the coffins of their dead friends, as I’ve seen the once bright and shining boy scowling in an inky mug shot, as I’ve signed drop papers for children who found more hope on the killing floor at the slaughterhouse than in school.
And yet, sometimes my heart has swelled like an overfilled balloon to see these scenes: Tin, a Burmese refugee who’d shown me a picture of her as a toddler being handed over a razor wire fence into a UN refugee camp bound for America, crossing the stage to get a diploma; Viet, who remembers shivering under a makeshift jungle shower, wearing the T-shirt Harvard gave him with his admission package; and Kayla, who’d spent most of her childhood gingerly stepping past prostitutes and meth addicts outside her front door, now holding a Gates Millennial Scholarship letter that would take her through Oklahoma University and into a public health fellowship at the University of Kentucky.
Part of my fear of teaching was a fear of connecting to pain in my own life. Because I had teachers who gave me books and encouraged me to write, I learned that there was a world outside of alcoholism and domestic violence. Mrs. Belton, my only African-American teacher, taught me to write when I wanted to scream, when I wanted to hit back, and when I wanted to quit. She taught me that it was possible to read and write my way into another life. Becoming a teacher, I felt, would mean that I would have to take up her work and face the darkness in my students’ lives.
As Parker Palmer has written, “ by remembering ourselves, we remember our students.” To honor the work of my best teachers, I have to be a teacher who remembers, even when it hurts. I teach teenagers who remind me of what Lucille Clifton once described: “every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” They are survivors of deep and debilitating trauma, and so they have learned to see the world through suspicious eyes. To be the best teacher to them, I have to remember this and honor their background to gain their trust because I want them to read and write their way out of where they are. I have to remember the words of Rubin Alves whose poem describes hope as “the hunch that the overwhelming brutality of facts that oppress and repress us is not the last word…that the frontiers of the possible are not determined by the limits of the actual.”
For students to risk real writing, rather than trying to conform to an artificial formula, they have to be immersed in writing that, as Herman Melville described it, creates “the shock of recognition” when you see your own experience mirrored in others’ words. I open my first writing workshop by reading an original work from my former students as well as my modeling my own writing. It makes me feel completely vulnerable, but it’s what I’ve found that binds us in a community.
We read “real stuff,” as one of my students says, and we write “down deep,” as another says. Every day. And then we share it. Grecia tells me, “This is the first book I’ve ever finished, Miss.” Chris, 15, who reads on a first-grade level, hasn’t smiled all year. He introduced himself to me as a “bad kid.” But last week, he pushed his journal toward me to show me his first poem. “I’m not as good a writer as my sister,” he said. “But I’m a okay writer.”
It is, as Linda Lantieri has said, a great blessing to have your occupation and your vocation coincide. It is a great honor and privilege to feel the burst of joy that comes from co-creating spaces with my students where learning drives out darkness and dreams begin to thrive.