Fieldwork Reflections: Linda Christensen

The Teaching of English M.A. program at Teachers College offers a bi-weekly workshop series and colloquium for all student teachers in the program. The goal is to connect M.A. students with the work of master teachers and leaders in English education in ways that will inspire them to implement innovative instructional practices in their own classrooms. The “Fieldwork” strand of the blog provides M.A. students with a forum to discuss how the featured presenters’ work might influence their own practices in the field.

Linda Christensen (Oregon Writing Project): Reading, Writing, and Rising Up: Teaching about Social Justice

Linda Christensen’s presentation reminded me of one of the reasons why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. When I was a victim of injustice as an eighth-grader, my teachers were bystanders. I want to be a teacher who is an ally. Linda reminded me that as teachers, we can do more than just be allies when injustice happens. We can teach for justice by incorporating social justice into our curriculum. We can confront, acknowledge, and discuss the power relationships that pervade our everyday lives, while maintaining academic rigor.

–       Lindsay Morrow

Christensen opened her presentation by telling us how to become “a subversive teacher” to break through “the handcuffs of curriculum.” She spoke of the importance of an empowering curriculum that matters; one in which students feel that their voice is important and that they have something important to share in their writing. She emphasized that all learning must be grounded in students’ life so that they can make connections beyond the classroom and begin to criticize social inequity. While these are the features of curriculum most likely to get cut by policy makers seeking to raise test scores or find an easy way to assess teachers and students, for the thoughtful teacher Christensen’s are the ones that will most elevate students’ understandings of the world around them and most inform their decisions and actions throughout their lives… Even as an adult, I feel that I have benefited by Christensen’s workshop and have learned more about my own sensitivity towards others. I can only imagine the impact this would have on students who are still learning who they are and developing their values.

–       Karen Iorio

More broadly, Christensen’s presentation made me consider how we move from the general to the specific to the universal in the classroom and whether this order is necessarily mandatory.  I came in to the presentation thinking of personal experiences as either a starting or end point to literary analysis, but I now see that as a colleague put it in a Teaching English in Diverse Social Contexts class in the fall, we can be the text.  Not only does this make for an exciting way to generate student writing, I believe that it can also be an important way to engage students in reading too.

–       Owen Lipsett

Despite the fact that this lecture was four hours long, I found myself engaged right up until the very end…As much as I loved what Christensen was saying, I do have one somewhat major concern: what about the literature? So much of Christensen’s lecture was about promoting social justice and exploring aspects of identity; to what degree is Christensen drawing her material from literature? Are discussions about social justice drawn from literature, or is literature used for the purpose of seeking out specific messages?

–       Samantha Hewitt

Throughout the night, we were not only treated as teachers-to-be, but also as adult students. I, for one, enjoyed being in this position because it allowed us to look at topics through two lenses at once. The activity we did during the workshop allowed us to truly see the many different ways that individuals look at situations. Many of us completed the ally/bystander/target/perpetrator activity and came together assuming that we’d all have picked the same people for each role. This was not the case at all! Seeing how adults thought differently about situations only showed us that we need to be prepared for such situation with our students. Many times, since we are new to the field, I think that it is hard for us to plan for such varied answers/outlooks. This workshop allowed us to focus on just that. It also allowed us to see how you can accept everyone’s answers without making anyone feel like they are wrong.

–       Nicole Reda