Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my Ph.D. in reading, writing and literacy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1995 and my master’s degree in composition from Beaver College (now Acadia University) in 1981. I earned my bachelor’s degree in English from The Pennsylvania State University in 1974. I am currently professor and head of the department of language and literacy education in the College of Education and co-director of the Red Clay Writing Project, which has been providing professional learning opportunities for teachers in northeast Georgia since 2003.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 1998 after 24 years teaching secondary English in Philadelphia. I decided I wanted to support the teaching practices of pre-service and in-service teachers. I liked that UGA was a public institution with a strong literacy education faculty.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I really enjoy teaching all my courses. However, two in particular stand out. One is “Theoretical Stances on Literacy” (LLED 8015), which explores the dialogical theories of Mikhail Bakhtin and considers what they mean for teaching in contemporary literacy classrooms. The second, “Culture, Literacy, and the Classroom” (LLED 8300), is focused on ways that culture, language and literacy transact in schools. What I like about both courses is they explore interesting and complex theory in ways that ground the theory in the everyday work of classrooms. And, like all courses I teach, I work from a dialogical stance, so students are able to offer and examine multiple perspectives on the issues.
What interests you about your field?
Teaching is a complex and messy process. Helping teachers negotiate those complexities of teaching provides endless opportunities for realizing change within the larger structures of education. Classrooms are cultural contact zones and what those constant transactions across numerous cultures mean for education have been a key fascination of and motivation for my work.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
In 2013 I was named Aderhold Distinguished Professor for exemplary contributions to teaching, research and service. This is the highest honor accorded COE faculty. In 2009 I was named a Fellow of the UGA Teaching Academy and in 2008 was named a Glickman Faculty Fellow by the College of Education for distinguished work in research, teaching and service. In 2004 I received the James N. Britton Award for Inquiring in English Language Arts—which is awarded by the National Council of Teachers of English and recognizes exemplary studies published by English language arts teachers—for “‘Is This English?’ Race, Language, and Culture in the Classroom.” In 2002 I received the Alan C. Purves Award, which is granted yearly by the National Council of Teachers of English to honor the one article published in Research in the Teaching of English during a volume year most likely to influence classroom practice.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
My research and teaching remain in constant dialogue. One cannot be done without the other. Because I take a reflective stance on both my teaching and research practices, each continues to inform the other as I remain in an ongoing state of refinement. Ideas for research come from my teaching, and then the research understandings filter back into the classroom.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
My hope for all students in my classes is that I get their belief systems to wobble. Wobble isn’t change, but it indicates an opportunity for change. And when I write “change,” I don’t necessarily mean that someone once believed X and now they believe Y. Instead, change could mean that I now have new questions about X or that I’ve developed stronger arguments for believing X. However, such shifts in thought might not occur unless students open themselves to wobble. So what I hope students gain is a capacity for finding comfort in uncertainty, in seeing wobble as a means toward more complex and richer understandings for themselves.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal students are the ones sitting in my classroom at any given moment. My job is to find ways to care about and teach all who enter my classroom. So it’s up to me to find ways to see each student as my ideal student.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
Walk through the UGA Trial Gardens or catch a concert at the Performing Arts Center.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Play music, work word puzzles, root for the Phillies, watch movies, read Scandinavian crime fiction, travel and visit my two daughters and granddaughter.
The HBO series “The Wire.” For those who don’t know, the show chronicles life in the neighborhoods of Baltimore where drugs and other illegal economies have become a way of life. Over five years, producers David Simon and Ed Burns depicted how institutions that are supposed to serve the people often only serve those in power. Their drama showed how police mismanagement, labor struggles, political corruption, educational neglect and media sensationalism collude to hold economically poor African-Americans and Latinos in physical and political spaces that offer little hope that they and their children can reap the American promise of equity, opportunity and social justice. I would love to teach a course devoted solely to “The Wire.”
Proudest moment at UGA?
Actually it’s a reoccurring moment. Every time I get to hood one of my doctoral students, I am so proud of them for what’s been accomplished in our collaboration.
(Originally published Oct. 6, 2013)