February marks the kickoff the African American Read-In! Secondary educator Payton Dearmont prepares for celebrating the "diverse ideas, authors, and ultimately, literature" in her Freshman and Sophomore classes. By practicing culturally responsive pedagogy, Dearmont covers her goals of increasing engagement in the classroom, and emphasizing the need for students' sense of belonging.
Take a closer look at the cross-cultural curriculum and Dearmont's insights by clicking read more below!
February: the month of hearts (Valentine’s and otherwise), groundhogs, and presidents; however, this month heralds an important piece of American history that brings to light contributions to society that are often pushed away from the spotlight. Many of us know that February is Black History Month, but what does that really mean?
How can we as English educators, pre or in-service, truly celebrate both the impacts of the past and those that will occur in our classroom? The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) offers us a way to bring diverse ideas, authors, and, ultimately, literature into our classrooms through the National African American Read-In.
What is the National African American Read-In?
This literary tradition started in November 1989, when the Black Caucus of the National Council of Teachers of English accepted the Issues Committee’s recommendation that the Black Caucus sponsor a nationwide read-in on the first Saturday of February, according to the “History of the National African American Read-In” located here. Today, the goal of the National African American Read-In is to “document readers making the celebration of African American literacy a traditional part of Black History Month activities” (“Take part in the African American Read-In!”) and is traditionally celebrated for the entire month of February, beginning February 1 and ending on February 28 or the 29th, as is the case for 2024. Hosting a Read-In does not solely have to happen in the classroom!
In fact, schools, churches, libraries, bookstores, community and professional organizations, and even simply citizens can all participate in this month-long activity. The guidelines to be counted as a participant are simple:
I will be the first to admit that this Read-In is an entirely new concept for me, but I will be implementing it in my own classroom and I encourage you to do the same. The reasoning behind this is simple and factual; we must introduce African American authors, specifically those that have been historically underrepresented in our society, to our students because this might be the only introduction they get. It will also allow us to show our students that we stand with those that have been historically hidden from society and that we are championing diverse, important voices, not just those that are socially acceptable. As teachers, we can be a catalyst for change.
In the school district I teach in, we follow an already established curriculum. However, I can always add poems, short stories, and other supplemental materials that I feel hit the standards and offer my students a wider range of understanding and literary analysis. That is exactly what I am going to do for our African American Read-In. While this year I am starting small with just my classroom, that does not mean that my efforts will have less of an impact.
Every Friday of February, I will be introducing a short poem or excerpt of a short story or novel, all written by African American authors, to all six of my classes. I have not yet picked out the three pieces of literature that I will be reading to my classes, since we only have three Fridays in February where we will be present in the school building with students, I know that I want to start with a more well known author and venture into authors that have not been as celebrated or revered as others. For the First Friday, I plan on starting with Langston Hughes’ “Harlem”, as this poem has positively impacted me and is an introduction to the Harlem Renaissance.
If your students are anything like mine, they like to believe that literature, and by association authors, are stagnant people who only exist in a vacuum outside of the “normal world.” To combat this, I plan on including at least one excerpt from a Young Adult novel that students have the opportunity to check out either at our high school’s library or the local library. Including Young Adult Literature allows students to see that literature, and reading actual novels, is not just a thing of the past, but actively shapes how we continue to live today and how we can improve upon society’s current successes and failures.
Conclusion and Resources
Diverse voices in the classroom are not just a suggestion, but a requirement for a 21st century teacher. We must strive to celebrate ALL of our students in little, medium, or grand ways that show we are an ally and a safe space. No student should ever feel like they do not belong. In my bell work, I include a quote of the day. Something small, yet I feel that the latest one holds weight in this blog post and for the African American Read-In.
Naeem Callaway writes that, “Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life.” Something small can lead to a bigger moment.
If you would like to join me during the African American Read-In or you have further questions about the Read-In, here are some resources that I have found and used for my own processing:
by Payton Dearmont
Payton Dearmont (she/her) is a graduate of Wichita State’s English Education program with a dual-major bachelor’s degree in English Education and Spanish. Currently, Payton teaches Freshman and Sophomore ELA at Eisenhower High School in USD 265 and is a member of both Kansas Association of Teachers of English (KATE) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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