by Sarah Hochstetler
One of my aims in integrating advocacy-oriented thinking and writing into the methods courses I teach is to normalize advocacy in preservice teachers’ (PST) framing of their professional selves. What I mean is, while learning to be a teacher should include content area expertise and pedagogical knowledge, emerging educators need to build skills in advocacy, too. This is especially true when considering how raising one’s voice through writing can work to change the narrative around literacy education.
How can those on the cusp of entering the profession consider their roles as emerging literacy advocates? As with many aspects of a methods course curriculum, PSTs can rehearse advocacy from the position of teachers while they imagine what it might look like to try on and try out the strategic moves Everyday Advocates make. One assignment that invites PSTs into this rehearsal is a long-standing project in my writing methods sections that I call the Inquiry Project (IP). Though its format, intended audience, and options for medium and publication forum medium and publication forum have evolved over the years, what has remained the same has been the focus on PSTs writing for advocacy. This assignment invites PSTs into the discourse of the profession by asking them to: 1) compose an argument around an issue related to teaching secondary English Language Arts (ELA) students, and 2) publicly contribute to ongoing conversations in that area (e.g., submitting an article to a teaching journal, presenting at a conference, reading a statement at the board of education meeting, emailing a letter to the editor, etc.).
While there are benefits to the inquiry at the center of the project that merit celebrating, my aim here is to highlight, instead, a point of tension that tends to arise in the process of PSTs’ thinking, reading, and writing about literacy teaching and learning in this context. PSTs are generally eager to “write a college paper” because of their familiarity with the genre. However, this project isn’t a standard essay: it requires them to think beyond the walls of the classroom, anticipate what an audience of those outside of me and course colleagues may believe about literacy teaching and learning and about educators as advocates, and position themselves as authors whose experiences and ideas add value to our field. So, not only are they composing a public argument in a venue of their choice, they are composing themselves as writers and advocates, as new educators who have unique insight on teaching and learning because of where they are in their journey to the classroom. “Yes,” I tell them, “you notice critical patterns in our work and have innovative ideas that should be shared with others.” For many, this element of writing for publication and growing into (or sustaining) an advocate identity can require a significant shift in their thinking.
In prompting students to develop an advocacy stance through publication on topics that oftentimes challenge the status quo, the Inquiry Project asks, where does advocacy figure into your thinking about yourself as a reader and writer and teacher of readers and writers? At its core, the IP presses itself on PST’ identities and the extent to which they see their ideas as valuable and their voices as worthy of carrying weight in a public space. So, while many of my PST colleagues already claim writer and advocate as part of their matrices of selves, braiding these together for the purposes of joining a larger discourse community to effect change creates a generative pressure point in their novice understandings of who they are becoming as responsive literacy educators.
One way I address tensions that often present themselves when PSTs begin their inquiries is to scaffold them into the work by introducing key components of the Everyday Advocacy website. Specifically, I point to how core ideas from site’s framework move in tandem with the typical organization of the IP: Describe your experiences or how you came to the topic/question (#1: storytelling); Situate the topic/problem (#2: identifying and framing); Propose a new take/solution (#3: taking action). The ideas provide shape for embarking on an advocacy-centered inquiry and writing an advocacy-centered text. Further, I emphasize the Everyday Advocacy Guiding Principle of sustainability, which undergirds my teaching into and through the Inquiry Project with PSTs. The Everyday Advocacy site offers several mentor texts, like these blog posts or materials under Resources, from others for PSTs to review as they give shape to their own advocacy. The message here is this: advocacy is an ongoing part of a teacher’s daily practice. What I appreciate most about this assumption, which is threaded throughout the Everyday Advocacy framework, is that it forwards the expectations of (and provides community support for) an advocate identity. Leveraging one’s expertise to impact classrooms through writing for publication is not a one-time project of informing others--it’s the project of being a literacy educator. Cultivating this stance as PSTs navigate coursework and clinical fieldwork functions to support our future teaching colleagues as they embrace the necessity of speaking up and out about what we know to be true in literacy education.
[This post is a modified version of the chapter “Writing Into Identity and Action” from Fleischer and Garcia’s 2021 edited collection, Everyday Advocacy: Teachers Who Change the Literacy Narrative.]
Sarah Hochstetler is professor of English Education at Illinois State University. A former middle and high school ELA teacher and NWP fellow, Sarah is committed to coaching other educators in stepping fully into their identities as writers and Everyday Advocates. She can be reached at email@example.com.