This post is written by member Dr. Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar, Early Career Education of Color Leadership Award Recipient.
- What has the award meant to you and how has it affected you?
I was thrilled to learn about the award and that my dissertation chair, Dr. Henkin, nominated me for it. I thought the award was for Hispanic or African American educators and that I did not stand a chance of winning it, because Asian Indians are marginalized in the United States. Although we are considered model minorities, we are not well represented in the literature. People now recognize me in conferences when I present in sessions and ask me if I was one of the educators of color award recipients. When I went to India in the summer of 2015, several educators congratulated me on the award. It feels good to know that NCTE recognizes Asian Indian professors.
- Describe an experience in your classroom.
When students from single parent families with very little economic support discuss their struggles with pursuing university education, I share my struggles with an alcoholic parent and how my mother raised me with limited resources. Students appreciate sharing such experiences with each other, and they begin to rationalize their decisions in life. On the first day of class, I always make them write on an experience that they cannot forget (happy or sad), and students enjoy the craft.
- What drew you into teaching?
My mother was a Montessori educator for 35 years, and she was a wonderful teacher with skills necessary for success as a teacher of young children. She served in rural schools with lack of access to drinking water, electricity, and education for girls. In addition, I had excellent teachers myself who encouraged and inspired me to achieve. Many of my teachers were quick to notice my talent as a writer and appreciated my willingness to share through writing. I think teachers can make a difference in their students’ lives if teachers put their hearts into teaching. That is why I chose to become a teacher, and I did not know that I would move to the United States and that I would not be able to give back to my people in India. However, I have the satisfaction of helping and encouraging students in the United States who may be happy in my classes.
- What would you like to accomplish as a teacher?
To help students, especially those who are underserved and from marginalized communities, to achieve mastery in reading and writing.
To help students understand that the teaching of writing is valuable across the disciplines and not just in English classes.
To instill the love of learning in struggling and less motivated students by incorporating culturally relevant materials and contextualized writing workshop.
To facilitate learning in less fortunate but deserving adult students in our communities.
To use the experiences that I gathered through my doctoral program and the professional development experiences at the San Antonio Writing Project for 10 years to help make our society linguistically, culturally, and socially rich.
To help students develop a love for multicultural education, help conduct research-based inquiry, and help establish socially just classrooms.
To disrupt social justice issues, including bullying, micro-aggression, symbolic violence, and “othering,” etc.
To assist aspiring teachers with the latest pedagogical and technological advancements that help teachers deliver their lessons effectively and foster analytical, inquiry-based, critical, creative, and transformative literacy skills.
To establish learner-centered classrooms that will promote interdisciplinary learning and multicultural teaching.
- What issues are you passionate about as a teacher?
My primary goal is to establish socially just classrooms that can help disrupt micro-aggression, symbolic violence, or bullying so that all students are happy and have access to a quality education. To mentor students so I can acquaint them with the latest research developments in pedagogy (e.g., a multimodal approach to teaching to accommodate the different kinds of learners in our classrooms). Then, help preservice teachers integrate literature from other countries of the world so all children feel welcomed in our classrooms.
- Describe experiences with your students and share recommendations that you feel have helped you as a teacher?
My adult students hesitate to write about experiences that they feel could expose them to ridicule or bullying. I make sure to discuss the civil discourse document that my department has provided me and to establish my classroom as a safe and healthy environment and platform for expression without fear or constraints. I highly recommend that teachers keep an open mind and let the creative juices flow in students. In addition, I allow students to write on topics they choose and topics that are culturally relevant to them until they learn how to write comfortably and efficiently. Writing workshop is the best strategy for encouraging students, especially reluctant ones, to engage in writing.
Dr. Kalpana Mukunda Iyengar is a lecturer in the department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching at University of Texas at San Antonio. She teaches the interdisciplinary studies courses to undergraduate students. She is also the San Antonio and Haridwar Writing Project Teacher Consultant and works for the Center for Inquiry of Transformative Literacies.