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Teaching for the Dream of Diversity in Arkansas

P050-359-256-306-00090This blog is written by Dr. Kay J. Walter, active member of the Arkansas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts and Associate Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

 

Our affiliate, Arkansas Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (ACTELA), has a board representing many areas of our state. From the agricultural fields of our east to the rolling hills of our west, our land demonstrates our diversity. Our affiliate members are just as diverse as our geography, and we are very proud of the strength such diversity gives our organization.

NCTE offers a Teacher for the Dream Grant Award to encourage affiliates to embrace diversity and welcome it. This grant provides matching funds for recruitment and professional development for teachers of color.

ACTELA has two grant recipients. Our first Teacher for the Dream, Brycial Williams, works as a kindergarten teacher in the Arkansas Delta. You must travel south nearly to Louisiana, where the University of Arkansas at Monticello stands in the midst of pine forests, to find our new Teacher for the Dream. Both have added a vibrant dimension to the work of our affiliate.

Pamela Jones,ACTELAs second Teacher for the Dream poses with her mentor Dr. Kay Walter
Pamela Jones,ACTELAs second Teacher for the Dream poses with her mentor Dr. Kay Walter

We have chosen Pamela Jones as our second Teacher for the Dream. Pamela was born in Anchorage, Alaska. She is a member of the Yupik tribe of indigenous Americans. Pamela migrated to Arkansas with her father when she was a child. Her education in Arkansas public schools and her studies at University of Arkansas at Monticello make her an Arkansan, but her Eskimo heritage through matrilineal descent defines her as a true minority in our state. She is a preservice member of our affiliate, and she anticipates a successful career in education.

Pamela is a strong advocate for ELA education. She aspires to a career enriching the literacy experiences of very young learners—birth through Pre-K. She sees clearly the need for children to grow up with enthusiastic and compassionate models of communication. She believes

“Literacy education begins at birth. When I brought my children home from the hospital, I decorated their nursery walls with the English alphabet in print and cursive. Their first toys were books!”

She champions inclusivity and knows that our state, nation, and world are strongest when we work together in harmony. Further, she represents the importance of lifelong learning. She is a nontraditional student, and she models the verity that it is never too late to want or seek an education.

Last summer, Pamela enrolled in my travel seminar to Great Britain to study British Authors. In Oxford, she found Inuit relics of her tribal heritage at the Pitt Rivers Museum. She has since added a focus on British literature to her areas of study, which include education and psychology. In December 2016 she completed her first college degree, an AA degree in General Studies and is currently enrolled in courses toward her BA degree.

Pamela’s presence in ACTELA makes clear several powerful statements:

• Culturally diverse perspectives strengthen ELA education.
• Diversity is an asset and all children are priceless to our future.
• Educators from diverse backgrounds can empower student thinking and communication to rise beyond any limitations of birth.

Such ideas are visible in Pamela’s life and ACTELA’s devotion to them is reflected more brilliantly through her.

Rob Lamm presents Brycial Williams with ACTELA's first Teacher for the Dream Award.
Rob Lamm presents Brycial Williams with ACTELA’s first Teacher for the Dream Award.

Arkansas’s other Teacher for the Dream, Brycial Williams, sets an example as a male role model of color his students can trust and look up to. He reminds us often how important it is for children to see a strong, wise, compassionate man excited about learning. He says,

“As a child, I would gather my cousins, in my grandmother’s den and play school. My teachers knew that I wanted to be a teacher. They would give me papers and supplies from their classrooms so that I could take them home for my imaginary classroom.”

As a kindergarten teacher, Brycial is in an ideal position to inspire a positive impression of education. He encourages them to be active learners and communicators, and they quickly become invested in their own learning process.

ACTELA board members support ELA education across our state and nationally through NCTE initiatives and events. Through our own work at universities and schools, we also network abroad. As our interactions grow more global and our connections grow more diverse, our need to learn together expands. For this reason, Teachers for the Dream are ever more important to the success of education’s future.

Learners need to see themselves reflected in their teachers, and Arkansas is doing all it can to encourage our students to become effective communicators, advocates of literacy, and ELA teachers. Our Teachers for the Dream actively seek professional development through NCTE opportunities and take leadership roles in the recruitment of future teachers from all ethnic backgrounds. All affiliates can diversify their perspectives and membership by considering the NCTE Fund Teacher for the Dream Affiliate Award. The submission deadline each year is May 1st.

Dr. Kay J. Walter is a Professor of English at the University of Arkansas at Monticello, her alma mater,  and editor of The English Pub: ACTELA Newsletter. She is a lifemember of her affiliate and welcomes contact from all literacy enthusiasts at walter@uamont.edu