Educators Against Academic Excellence?

Posted on February 25, 2020


This post is Part 1 of a 3-part series detailing my experiences as a high-achieving teacher and writing researcher in a school district that was completely disinterested (at best; openly hostile at worst) in my academic achievements or how education research could be used to improve students’ high school experience. 

I have always LOVED to learn. I am an insatiable reader, and I have always demanded excellence from myself as a student. As a high school student, I graduated 3rd in my class. I maintained my commitment to high achievement as an undergraduate student in Secondary Education. Not only did I graduate Summa Cum Laude from EMU’s Secondary Education program, I was a single parent raising two young children.


Cubmaster, Ypsilanti, MI 1990

In my “spare time,” I volunteered as a Cubmaster and Cub Scout Den Leader, and I volunteered at the local organic bakery, the food co-op, and the Farmer’s Market. To give my children a summer camp experience, I spent one summer living at Camp Muhhacke with them, volunteering on the Waterfront as a Lifeguard.

For me, academic scholarship is not divorced from my daily life; on the contrary, my daily life and academic life are tightly interwoven. What I learned at EMU informed my parenting and my work with children; being a parent and youth mentor informed my interests as a scholar. Whenever a challenge appears, my response is generally two-fold: I read the research on the subject and find experts and mentors to learn from in real life.

This is the approach I took as a high school teacher. When an issue appeared in the classroom that puzzled me or when the district took on a new initiative, I would immediately consult the research and the real-life experts, sharing articles and referring school leaders to experts who offered workshops on the subject and doing my own classroom research.

One might think that school leaders would be thrilled to have such a passionate, knowledgeable teacher in their district.

In the case of Adrian High School, you would be very, very wrong. It is one of the most puzzling and disturbing facts of my career, and one that will trouble me til the end of my days.

Do I have evidence for this? Absolutely. Like I said, I am a researcher, and I have a large archive that contains artifacts that prove this fact beyond dispute.

The first piece of evidence is the fact that over the years, my academic achievements were at best, mentioned by an administrator in a sentence in a meeting. For the most part, they were simply ignored. Every time a new “leader” appeared, I would enthusiastically share the research that had been done in the district, hoping that THIS TIME, we could use evidence for deciding school policy. It never happened.

The rejection of academic research by school leaders is why most local residents never learned that over the course of 25-years, my work appeared in 3 books authored by education scholar-leaders; I published many articles alone or in collaboration with colleagues in English Journal; Language Arts Journal of Michigan; Connecticut Reading Journal; Leopold Education Project Newsletter, Strides; and the BIG ONE: PMLA, the Journal of the Modern Language Association of America; and I was invited frequently to speak in Education classrooms at U-M, EMU, and Adrian College, as well as in my professional organizations, National Council of Teachers of English, MI Council of Teachers of English, Eastern MI Writing Project (a National Writing Project site), and Leopold Education Project.

As I said, I found this situation troubling. And it has nothing to do with ego. My motivation for doing all this extra work, for which I not only was never paid, but which cost me money (to take workshops and classes, to be a member of professional organizations, and to attend academic conferences), –was ONLY to be the best teacher I could be for the students I served. The issue at the crux of the situation for me is that by refusing to engage with the research, school leaders at times made decisions that harmed students or least denied them opportunities to learn and grow that would enrich their school experience.

With few exceptions, my colleagues’ rejections didn’t come in a hostile manner. In face-to-face meetings, my colleagues practiced what I call “midwestern polite” rejection: listen politely, change the subject, and move on. Or, the slightly different version: listen politely, make one lip-service acknowledgement, and move on. I found myself wondering if I was still visible or if my voice was audible to my colleagues in those meetings.

If I tried to engage colleagues via email, they would simply ignore it. In my last 3 years of teaching, I devised an experiment where I would share research in a face-to-face meeting, then follow up 3-5 times via email, just to prove to myself that I wasn’t imagining things. I wasn’t. No matter who received them, no matter how many times they received them, there was simply no response.

Ever a curious person, I always wondered, why would educators urge students to do all they could to gain admittance to a university of their choice, only to reject the findings of teacher researchers and scholars working with those same universities as they apply to education?

Why would it be desirable to see a young person begin engaging in college scholarship but undesirable for a teacher to continue engaging in university-based scholarship throughout their career?

A Writing Researcher at Work: A Pictorial History Slide Show

Click the link to see some of my published research.

Part 2 of this 3-part series will be posted tomorrow.