Naming my Practice 

by Ashley Schebesta, high school English teacher, NY

When initially faced with this question I was excited…and then absolutely mortified. I believe in so much….wait, do I!? What WOULD my students say about me…about what is most evident in my classroom practices?

After thinking for a couple days and determining only surface characteristics, I decided to ask a former student. Ciara was in my class as a freshman and a junior, and as a senior now enrolled largely in AP classes she is known by her friends and teachers alike for both her candor and her insight: a perfect candidate.

I told her that I really did not want a pat on the back, but instead an honest answer, insight into perhaps something I could not see about myself and my practice. Ciara came back a couple hours later with an answer. Her first word: “equality”. She said that she couldn’t think about my class without thinking about all the work we did with diverse speakers and authors, specifically, she said, “as a self-proclaimed feminist, I always appreciated that fact, and I know my friends did too.”

Well, she left, and I cried. This is something so very close to my heart and yet I would not have been able to name it myself. I glanced around the room at the books I was book-talking with my juniors earlier that day, and thought about how I’d encouraged them to read something written by someone other than “a dead white guy,” The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. I thought about my conversation with my department chair about piloting a senior course next year entitled Multicultural Literature. I thought about my years of work helping to create and integrate professional development with our local Human Rights committee. Yes, this is it. This is my driving passion: teaching and fostering equality.