It was Barbara Bogue’s class, Creative Writing in the Community, that made my writing find relevance. By the time I got to college, education seemed so abstract and fragmented that it was hard to see its impact or decide where it becomes “real.” As a student, I was always told I needed to know something because “one day…” or “in the real world…” Bogue’s class required me to partner with another person from the community and write their story; give them a voice. For the first time, there was a relevance to my writing that literally forced me to connect it to the real world. Something seemed selfish about the nature of writing to me. It felt like more of an act of self-exploration than human connection. I came to feel that if my talents did not serve those around me, I would never feel satisfied. In this class, I discovered my professional life needed to consist of two things: daily conversations similar to the ones that took place in my English and philosophy classes, and service that impacted the lives around me. The next semester, I changed my major from Creative Writing to Education.
The classes I enjoyed most at BSU showed me the power of a classroom, leading me to my discovery that I never wanted to leave it. Literature, as with any art, has the power to bring us together in an effective and efficient way. I have yet to find anything more powerful than a conversation started by some form of text. Ball State then led me to believe that if I couldn’t use my knowledge to enact positive change, that knowledge was useless. My goal as an educator has become to not only replicate this in my own classroom, but in every classroom.
The semester following Bogue’s class, I took an Intro to Education course, and things have grown exponentially from there. While at BSU, I got involved in as much as possible. I became President of Lambda Iota Tau, the English Honor Society, and held open mics. The number one thing that prepared me for the classroom was a program called Urban Semester. This was an immersive program that placed me in an urban education environment for an entire year. I took my education classes on-site while teaching each day, and completed my student teaching at the same school. Again, my education was made real and relevant. I could not have grown as an educator or survived my first years at an urban high school without this experience.
The urban environment is exciting because it is the battleground for educational reform, which I love. For one, urban students constantly demand “best practices.” Second, these schools are often in a state of crisis. This demands constant reflection and professional growth. I have to “bring it” every moment I am in the classroom. Due to this, my school district has provided me with extensive professional development, keeping me on the cutting edge of classroom instruction.
The past three years, I have taught a variety of Language Arts classes at Ben Davis High School, ranging from Special Education, to Honors and Creative Writing. I have worked with Ball State professor Kenan Metzger to create a Teacher Advocacy Group, a group of like-minded teachers that come together to promote positive, professional change in their school building. I presented at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference in Orlando for the third time this month. I was privileged enough to find a group of teachers that were tired of answering the question from students, “Why do I need to know this?” (a cry for relevance). We started examining our teaching and how we could change to better engage students. With the support of the district, we started exploring an instructional methodology called Project Based Learning, where students are presented a real world problem or challenge and then work in a variety of ways to solve the problem or challenge, culminating with a product and public presentation. We started using it in our classrooms, documenting its impact, and starting conversations with other teachers and administration members about what we were experiencing. Project Based Learning has grown from that small group of seven teachers to now being a school district initiative over the course of four years.
My work with this kind of teaching has led me out of the classroom for a while. This year, I took a position as an instructional coach focused on helping staff develop Project Based Learning Units throughout the school district. I teach teachers to find where their content is relevant in the world and bring that into the classroom. I am also working with organizations outside my school district to promote Project Based Learning. The high school where I work will serve as host to the Project Based Learning Institute for the third time this summer, bringing in hundreds of educators from all around the country.
It all ties back to relevance. Barbara Bogue’s class showed me that if my writing was not serving others, then my knowledge and skill was useless. As a teacher, if my expertise in language arts is not serving the goals and needs of my students, it is useless. And as a professional, if my expertise in teaching is not serving other teachers, it is useless. My mission has become to create an educational revolution disguised as evolution, where the relevance is never in question.