At the age of 21, I stepped straight from college into a teaching position in a high-poverty elementary school in southern California. I hope I was able to provide some valuable learning experiences for the second and third graders who shared that classroom with me, but I know I learned crucial lessons from them. I entered teaching as policies in literacy education in California were shifting and I observed children bringing all of their rich knowledge and experiences to bear on curriculum and assessments that too often turned a deaf ear to their valiant attempts to engage. It became clear to me that we need to better understand both how to provide access to opportunities to achieve success in the ways that officially count in US schools and how to expand what counts to include the knowledge and learning that cannot be captured through the instrumental literacies too often at the center of high stakes accountability policies in literacy education. The children in my classroom, many of whom were students of color and all of whom experienced poverty, had been positioned as problems, as risks to the system, before they ever stepped into kindergarten.
What I learned from children in those first years of teaching fueled my future work, from a Master’s degree in English Literature, where I studied critical and feminist literary theories and delved into analyses of gender and race in texts to my doctoral work at the University of Michigan. I have focused my research on questions about the consequences of children’s encounters with school literacy practices for their social, emotional, and academic positioning in classrooms. I have had the privilege of collaborating with teachers, children, and youth on several qualitative studies of classrooms in four state contexts, centrally examining issues of gender and sexual diversity, race, and class in children’s reading and writing practices and what it looks like to pursue equity-oriented teaching. My current study engages the theoretical terrain of critical trauma studies and theories of emotion and affect to consider how challenging life experiences enter schools, the role and consequence of responses to students’ lives in literacy classrooms, and the relationships and emotional, critical stances necessary if classrooms are to be supportive, productive spaces for learning.