Painting a Portrait of Visible Teaching with an Activist Educator

By McGovern, Elexia Reyes | English Journal, November 2016 | Go to article overview

Painting a Portrait of Visible Teaching with an Activist Educator


McGovern, Elexia Reyes, English Journal


Visible teaching invites educators to bring activist and change-agent identities directly into their teaching. Visible teaching is working collaboratively with a community to enact sustainable, albeit constantly transforming, societal change. Visible teaching highlights the daily acts of resistance within a teacher's life story that may not be captured in traditional ways of understanding "action" and "change." At the heart of this article is a story about one teacher who embodies visible teaching. This story begins with me, a former high school teacher and then doctoral student, exploring the life work of Chicana teachers who see their teaching as activism-teachers who see both their teaching and ethnic identities as acts of resistance to hegemonic systems of schooling.

The story is written in the tradition of portraiture, a phenomenological inquiry process that seeks to describe the nuances of the human experience within a specific social and cultural context (Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis 3). Portraiture is an appropriate method for interrogating activism within English language arts (ELA) teachers' lives. This way of writing about one's human story allows for creative and analytical writing-important components within ELA teachers' classrooms and personal scholarship. Employing portraiture as storytelling provides nuanced ways to understand the lived realities of activist educators engaged in visible teaching by complicating daily acts of resistance and change. Furthermore, portraiture pushes back on dominant ideologies that insist on curricular standardization. In this portrait, teachers will see the importance of social and cultural context in connecting ELA curriculum to students' personal stories. In keeping with the tenets in the portraiture tradition, I have included Ms. Romero's own words to describe herself and her teaching practice.

Stories produce cultural and historical memories and create meaning in our human lives. As such, stories are an act of resistance. Stories are the artifacts of visible teaching. This is a story about one activist teacher who practices visible teaching; her name is Ms. Romero. Her portrait comes from a year-long ethnographic study conducted in 2012 for my doctoral dissertation.

Ms. Romero is an educator who self-identifies as an activist teacher; she calls herself an "agent of change"-an empowered individual who makes changes within her own classroom, local school, and community, through collaboration with others. In this particular piece of her story, Ms. Romero highlights the importance of collaborative relationships in secondary schools to create engaging English language arts curricula that promote critical thinking with students of color within the context of their lived experiences as young people.

The Portrait of Ms. Romero

Ms. Romero is a "home-grown" activist teacher (Irizarry 87) from South Los Angeles, a teacher who was raised, lives, and teaches in the same community where she serves and who places service to community above personal and economic gain (Urrieta 118); she has twelve years of public school experience and is National Board Certified. Ms. Romero identifies as Chicana "because it's not only a reflection of my Mexican background and growing up and being born here (in the United States), but it's also a political term. For me to own Chicana meant I was owning a political stance about being an agent of change." Both her teacher and ethnic identities, as a home-grown Chicana teacher, are central to her practices as an activist teacher.

Ms. Romero's early experiences teaching in South Los Angeles were isolating. By the time she returned back to the community where she was raised, she had already been teaching for six years in a public school in Northern California. Ms. Romero felt that when she arrived, other teachers and school leaders assumed that she knew what she was doing and left her alone in her classroom. Without the support of other colleagues, Ms. …

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