A Prologue

Seven months ago…

…I collapse into my desk chair after 6th period U.S. History. It’s a good class, but exhausting. Thirty energetic sophomores always already eager to learn, full of questions, seeking answers. I’ve taught them for two years – a rarity, and a luxury. I know where they left off as freshmen, know what drives them, know what gets them to show up at school at 8:30 a.m. each day. Most days – sometimes they’re tardy. Sometimes things come up. Chicago is a great city. Chicago is a tough city.

7th period is my prep, and I’ve got grading to do. But there’s the Gmail icon waiting to be clicked, and who can resist that? And there it is, beneath a blue United States Department of State letterhead (eagle and all):

On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, I would like to congratulate you on being selected for the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching Program.

My Fulbright acceptance letter. The letter I’ve been waiting six months to see. The letter I’d never expected to see. Holy… wait – can I swear on a Fulbright blog?

But let’s get down to it. Nine years I’ve taught on Chicago’s west side. I’ve worked and learned alongside some of the best people you could ever meet – persistent scholars with golden funny bones; patient elders well worth hearing; counselors whose couches welcomed teachers just as readily as students. I’ve also seen what inequitable funding, political malpractice, and systemic racism can do to a school community. This is my teaching context – the west side, Chicago’s beating heart.

But mine is not the only context in which learning occurs. I applied to the Fulbright Distinguished Awards in Teaching program to broaden my perspective, to see alternative pedagogical approaches and bring them home to better serve my school community. Specifically, I hope to observe the ways in which teachers in New Zealand ensure that their social studies curriculum is relevant to each student’s culture.

I will use this blog to share what I learn while away on my fellowship. I will also write about things relevant to my school community, as well as education issues in general. The title comes from Chapter 2 of Paolo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.

This is the philosophy I bring into the classroom every day: the idea that learning is fundamental to humanity, and that learning is most successful when done in connection with community. When it comes down to it, this is what the Fulbright program is all about – connecting teachers and students who might not otherwise meet, and empowering them to learn from one another.

I leave in January. This should be fun.

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