“Bringing It On Home:” What VA Teachers, Students, and VATE 2019 Allowed Me to Synthesize

As Jill Nogueras clearly stated at the conference: we prepare students for life because ours is a sustained AND required experience and exposure throughout K-12. I have described Jill’s description as cradle to grave, our preparing ALL our students for life-long literacy. And we do— ELA teachers—PreK-Graduate.

We all teach Hegel’s dialectic model—both consciously, deliberately, and sometimes, unconsciously: Thesis—Antithesis—Synthesis in scaffolded instruction through fiction and nonfiction, both containing writing—from PreK to graduate.

What brought me, however, full circle in the totality of my understanding of what we do emerged so very clearly in the final two days of VATE 2019—a journey that began in the classrooms not only with teachers with whom I collaborate around the country, but also with teachers and students in classrooms in  Virginia whereI have collaborated digitally and in person since 2012. On this trip around the state,  the tachometer stated I had traveled from Sunday to Sunday well over 1,000 miles. I regret not one centimeter.

The culmination of my syntheses for understanding required three seemingly separate people and times and comments, all coming together to create my own moment of synthesis-understanding:

  1. The amazing English department I had the fortune to meet when I began my teaching career at Irving High School in Texas when I was 21: I lovingly and respectfully described them then and to this day as the mavens. Their mantra was “We are the sentinels at the gate for our students.”
  2. Paige Horst’s statement during her Presidential Address on Saturday night: “I have hope for the future.” “Our students keep us alive.” And she continued, “We know this job is with us to save each other and our students. There is no Superman swooping in.” [Italics mine] and Finally, “We can do it.”
  3. Giovanni E. Grassie, my co-author partner said after I arrived home from VATE, “If literature can’t be proactive for students to explore and distill, then it is doomed because it does not reflect the direct concerns of the readers and society in which is survives.”

Suddenly, I totally understood what not only keeps me writing, researching, inquiring, but also, and most importantly, listening to our students and learning from them. As ELA teachers, we really are the last sentinels at the gate of life-long literacy for our students—not to create English-major mini-me’s. No. We are the life-long literacy sentinels at the gate, assuring equity in communicative skills. And, yes, no one will swoop in to help us because we do what we do and how we do it because we feel and love and teach passionately with focused dedication. We believe we can; we know we can.

But…

“We know the job is with us to save each other and our students.” Paige’s comments “brought it on home” for me, as you, Paige, triggered my rememory of my home church as a child in Houston, TX with my parents. College ELA teachers (scholars, researchers, pre-service), HS, MS, Elem, and PreK teachers, we must implode our own self-made moats and drawbridges. To be clear: we ALL must talk, sustain, shore-up, and listen and learn to/from each other. Implode our moats and drawbridges.

Thank you, Stonewall Jackson MS, Culpeper MS, New Kent HS, Commonwealth Governor’s School, VATE, Irving HS grammar mavens, and Giovanni for guiding me to my synthesis.

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