English teacher — Cleveland, Mississippi
2001 Mississippi Teacher of the Year
Resource of the Week:
Talks with Teachers has developed a new way to help you. Sure we’ve got this podcast that’s great to listen to. Sure there are valuable lessons on our website for all levels that can help your teaching. But the one thing that has been lacking is COMMUNITY. We have a loyal following of listeners, Tweeters, and contributing teachers that have all interacted with us. Yet, we have not allowed you to interact with each other.
That’s where the Talks with Teachers 4-Week Challenge comes in. We want you to do something small each day to grow as a teacher. We’ve got readings, videos, fun, little projects lined up to foster your love of teaching. And best of all, there will be a community forum for you to share your success and encourage others to find purpose and joy in teaching.
Segment I – Background and Inspiration
Tell your story. Where are you from and how long have you been teaching? What classes have you taught?
– Renee teacher English full time at Mississippi Delta Community College. She initially was a journalist in her hometown of Detroit but when she moved to Mississippi to return to her husband’s home state she switched careers and began teaching English. She taught English and journalism for over 26 years before she switched to the community college setting.
Who has helped you in your journey to become a master teacher?
– Mrs. Dorothy Grennell was a veteran English teacher, who taught for 46 years. Renee took over her position when she retired. Mrs. Grennell took her under her wing because her house was across the street from the school. Renee would visit her after school and could cry. Dorothy gave her the materials that she accumulated over 46 years of teaching. Renee has also been a part of many teaching networks of her career such as the National Writing Project, the Bread Loaf Teaching Network, and the Center for Teaching Quality.
It is important for other teachers to know that we all have had setbacks in the classroom. Identify an instance in which you struggled as a teacher and explain what you learned from that experience.
– She taught at a small school and had students that would often loop — she would have them in 9th grade and later on in 11th or 12th grade. She had a grammar lesson that she had taught to students when they were in her class previously and now that they were being asked to recall that content, it went incredibly bad, so bad that she felt compelled to write about it in her teaching journal. That lesson turned in to an action-research project that lasted 10 years all because she questioned why students struggled with grammar. It became a major paper, a website, one of the most fantastic learning experiences she’s ever done and chapters in books that she would eventually write. Sometimes the things that pose the greatest problems become the greatest learning experiences for teachers.
Why are the language arts and literacy important?
–Even though the label on our content is English, she considers herself a teacher of communication. To be able to communicate is the most fundamental human skill of all.
What is one thing that you love about the classroom?
– Renee averaged 100-150 kids a day and if you multiply that by 25 years you see the impact she had on student lives’. Most of all, she loved learning new things. It happened even the day this interview was recorded.
Segment II — Digging into the Teacher Bag of Goodies
What book do you recommend to a teacher striving to improve his or her craft?
Renee likes The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children It is a book that moves her and reminds her of why she dos what she does. She also likes Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave by Barnett Berry. It profiles teachers that do things for the profession without leaving the classroom to do it.
What is one thing a teacher can do outside the classroom that can pay off inside the classroom?
— Participate in Twitter chats. The English Companion Ning is also a great resource to participate in to grow professionally. She is also a former journalist and still stays up-to-date on what’s happening in journalism; she frequently does world journalism searches.
Provide a writing practice that is effective?
– Renee believes, hands down, is to be a writer yourself. We need to write with our students and do what we ask them to do on a regular basis.
Update the cannon. What book, written in the last 10-15 years, belongs in the classroom?
— Renee thinks that there should be more non-fiction that has been ignored over the years. Some suggestions include Dr. King’s Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? (King Legacy) and Mandella’s Long Walk to Freedom.