What is your educational and professional background?
My bachelor’s degree is from Lafayette College in government and law and I went to law school after that. I went to Southern Methodist University. And about halfway through law school, I realized I really enjoy studying the law, but the idea of practicing it wasn’t a good fit for me. So, I eventually became a teacher and had a career change at age 25. I became a first-grade teacher and I taught it for a decade, and then I pursued my doctoral studies at Penn State. My official Ph.D. is in curriculum instruction. But, the less official version of it is my Ph.D. is in elementary literacy and children’s lit. That’s really what I studied – I studied picture books and reading and literacy development.
How long have you been working in this field?
Since 2003, the ’03-’04 year. I’m a newly minted Ph.D. – since August. I defended in June and August is when I graduated and when I started working, at the beginning of the semester.
What is your favorite undergrad experience?
As an undergraduate, I lived in the scholars’ house and twice a week – I always made sure to dedicate time – I would never miss this one thing in college, when I would get together with my housemates. Even though I was an athlete – I was a rower in college – we always got together for dinner on Sunday and Wednesday nights and discuss. The discussion was about a topic of the day or some type of theoretical topic that would come up in my studies, and we would talk about it and debate it. And eventually, what happened was one of our sessions got filmed for CBS News Sunday Morning. That was pretty cool! And I will never forget it was filmed December of ’99 – because it was finals week – and the topic was on materialism in the twenty-first century. I drew the short straw in the house and I was the one who had to defend materialism. I remember the argument that I made on camera – that materialism frees us from the drudgery of menial tasks. I don’t know how I remember that! But I drew the short straw and I had to defend it. Half the house was on one side and half the house was on the other, and they videotaped our debate. A lot of it got left on the cutting floor, but they aired it for CBS Sunday Morning that Sunday morning after New Year’s in 2000. So anyway, that was my favorite college experience – the discourse that we would have. I never knew how CBS knew about us.
What was the hardest challenge of your career?
I think the most difficult part was saying goodbye to my six year olds and explaining to them what I was going to do. I told them I was going to be a doctor of picture books, which made complete sense to them. Saying goodbye to my colleagues was hard, too, but I was really excited for pursuing my doctoral studies and really excited about what was to come, finding my voice as a scholar and researcher, but I was really cognizant that I didn’t want to lose sight of the young readers and the young children with whom I work and whom my scholarship is intended to benefit.
What is your biggest accomplishment?
It all goes back to my students. My biggest accomplishment is this little boy I have had for two years. He came from not knowing what scissors and crayons are. He and his family were Syrian war refugees. He had never seen an apple or a toothbrush until he first got to kindergarten. I taught him for two years andI did hold him back, only because a new teacher would have set him back. … But by the time I was done with him, he went from not knowing what a pencil does to making a mark on paper, to be a reader, to loving books – that is my greatest accomplishment. That child became a lifelong reader.
What is one interesting fact about yourself?
I made a handsewn costume many years ago when I was teaching first grade. It is a pigeon costume for book character dress up day. It was from Mo Willems’ “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” There is a video floating around the internet of me reading aloud, very impromptu, with a former colleague of mine, dressed up in full costume in front of about 120 six and seven year olds. Totally unrehearsed and unprepared, I just had book in hand and acted out the whole book. I think it’s those moments like that you have to take advantage of. I tell my students all the time that you have to be a passionate reader yourself, so that your students will definitely see that.
What are you looking forward to at Framingham State?
Well, I have to say first and foremost that Framingham State has been so welcoming. It really is a very supportive community – faculty, students, and staff. So, I look forward to continuing to become part of this community. That is definitely one thing I look forward to. I am very excited thinking about elementary education and what myself and my colleagues will be able to do to best prepare our majors to be effective teachers. I think we are always learning and growing as educators ourselves, and that in turn will help our students.
What is advice you have for students?
To just be true to yourself and to embrace other people’s truths. I think it is really important to not only understand yourself and what your interests, passions, beliefs, and experiences are, but also to take time to listen to others, to show that you are actively listening, and to build empathy for others.