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1. I Teach Who I Am – Steve Gordon
(What Keeps Teachers Going – Sonia Nieto)

I teach who I am. What I value and believe arises from my personal background and experience--whom I have loved and who has loved me; and the idealistic quests involving myself, other people, and American Society. My identity as a teacher was formed through parents, family, friends successes, and failures. What I decide is true and necessary for my students and me, in both the anxiety-filled nights and clear daylight, comes from my no-longer-negotiable identity, character, and philosophy.

My background helps explain my teaching. My father was a socialist union organizer, and in his household I learned about social and economic injustice and a dream for equality. He had grown up in his father's orthodox Jewish home in the precision of language and reason ultimately using that will and reason to supplant his father's orthodoxy with socialist ideology, which was equally certain about explaining the world. I grew up in my father's Manhattan apartment, finding a part of my identity in this reverence for equality, knowledge, and language. But I also distrusted the certitude of his rational explanations, which could become apologies for inhumane power.

I rebelled at his certainty but never questioned it's motivating dream of knowledge and justice. I rejected his absolute reason but accepted the magic of language. This explains to me why I choose and continue my work as an English teacher in an urban high school.

2. “My Journey”- Junia Yearwood
(What Keeps Teachers Going – Sonia Nieto)

I was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and was raised and nurtured by my paternal grandmother
and aunts on the island of Barbados. My environment instilled in me a strong identity as a woman and
as a person of African descent. The value of education and the importance of being able to read and
write became clear and urgent when I became fully aware of the history of my ancestors.


The story of the enslavement of Africans and the horrors they were forced to endure repulsed and angered me, but
the aspect of slavery that most intrigued me was the systematic denial of literacy to my ancestors. As a
child of 10 or so, I reasoned that if reading and writing were not extremely important, then there would
be no need to withhold those skills from the supposed “savage and inferior” African. I concluded that
teaching was the most important profession on earth and that the teacher was the Moses of people of
African descent. Teachers imparted knowledge and exposed young minds to old and new ideas that
were the keys to unlocking the enslaved mind and forging the way out of the wilderness of ignorance
and subjugation into positions of equality and leadership.

This revelation made my destiny clear. I had to be a Teacher.

My resolve to someday become a teacher was strengthened by my experience with teachers who had
significant and lasting positive effects on my personal and academic growth. I gradually came to realize
that the teachers whose classes I was eager to get to and in whose classes I excelled were the ones who
treated and nurtured me as an individual, a special person. They pushed, challenged, and cajoled me to
study and perform to my full ability. They believed in me; they identified not only my weaknesses but
my strengths and talents. They encouraged me to think, question, and enter the “conversation” on an
equal intellectual footing. They respected my thoughts and opinions and they showed me that they
cared. In addition, and just as important, they looked like me. They all shared my ancestry, my culture,
and my history. They were my role models.
Upon graduating from high school, I taught for about 3 years at Washington High School. I came to the
United States in 1971 and enrolled at Boston State College (which has since merged with UMass Boston)
in 1973, and majored in English. In 1978 I was hired by the Boston public schools, where I have
remained until the present.

My passion for teaching, my sense of urgency, and my commitment to my students have heightened
and are constantly refueled by the daily reminders of the “savage,” cruel realities that Jonathon Kozol
has written about and the inequalities of educational opportunities and preparation of students of color;
the relentless specter of discrimination and racism; the inertia and lack of vision of large segments of the
African American community, political leaders, and parents; the lack of motivation and clear sense of
purpose of many of my students; the disrespect and low expectations of many of my students on the
part of a significant number of my colleagues; and the unpreparedness of many of my graduating
students to meet the challenges of a demanding and competitive world.

The “light in their eyes,” that moment when students are fully engaged and excited about learning, that
Sonia Nieto has written about energizes, revitalizes, and keeps my focused. I share my students’
successes, their challenges, their hopes, and their dreams. My commitment and passion for learning
and teaching wax and wane, sparkle and flicker, but stubbornly keep burning like an eternal flame, a
flame that I hope burns bright and helps guide my students on their academic and personal journey
through life. In the words of Robert Frost, “I am not a teacher; I am an awakener.”

I began teaching as an English teacher in a Manhattan junior high.  After two years, I moved to Boston finished a Masters in English literature and worked as an assistant editor for a textbook publishing house.  Happily, in 1970 I returned to teaching English, first at Dorchester High and then at Copley Square High. in 1977 I realized how little I knew about how students learn to write and how to help them. To try to answer these questions I completed doctoral study at Boston University applying what I learned to my instruction.  In 1987 I joined the Boston Writing Project, and became part of the Urban Sites Writing Network of the National Writing Project through which I learned the power of teacher research to inform my instruction and support teacher professional development. In 1998 I received a Golden Apple award for teaching.  For the last 4 years of my teaching career, I worked as a literacy specialist and coach helping teachers use inquiry to further their craft and improve student achievement and equity. I became a member of English High School Readers and Writers Group engaged in reading and writing to improve our teaching and student learning. I am thankful for this professional opportunity and validation.

  I contributed to Sonia Nieto’s What Keeps Teachers Going and Why We Teach. In my retirement I seek to sustain my work for student literacy, teacher dignity and educational justice.


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