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On the Podcast: The Dispatch with R. Joseph Rodríguez

The Dispatch: A Heinemann Podcast Series, with R. Joseph Rodriguez

Welcome to The Dispatch, a Heinemann podcast series. Over the next several weeks, we'll hear from Heinemann thought leaders as they reflect on the work they do in schools across the country and discuss, from their perspective, the most pressing issues in education today. Today we hear from secondary teacher R. Joseph Rodríguez. 


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Below is a full transcript of the episode:

R. Joseph Rodríguez:

I think one significant word that keeps appearing would be dignity and thinking about the word dignity, its origin, and how it applies to children and adolescents, their lives every day, how they have their own self-regard, or how we build it for them as teachers and among their classmates. Also, dignity toward families, teachers themselves, and community members.

Edie:

Hi, this is Edie. Welcome to The Dispatch, a Heinemann Podcast series. Over the next several weeks, we'll hear from Heinemann thought leaders as they reflect on the work they do in schools across the country, and discuss from their perspective the most pressing issues in education today. Now we will hear from secondary teacher Joseph. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Joseph:

My pleasure.

Edie:

So great to be here with you in person. So you teach in Austin, Texas, and I'd love to hear a little bit about the school you teach in.

Joseph:

Yes. I teach at Akins Early College High School. It's one of the many high schools of the Austin Independent School District. It's in South Austin. Most of my students are of diverse backgrounds. They identify as Latinx, African American, and white American, Asian American, multiracial.

Our school is named in honor of Dr. Akins, who was a strong leader for the district, especially with integration and building bridges across communities, understanding children, adolescents, their future. He just holds a very special place for all of us who are committed to keeping schools public and open.

Edie:

And you teach secondary, right?

Joseph:

Yes, I teach secondary level, 12th grade English. Most of my students are college bound and some are interested in apprenticeships, pursuing their career further in a specific area of interest, whether cosmetology, being pipe fitters, electricians, just essential jobs for our country and for survival.

Edie:

Yes. Yeah, well said. Great. So next I'd like to ask you, what are the pressing issues in education right now that you're thinking about over and over again, talking about, you're talking about with your colleagues?

Joseph:

I think one significant word that keeps appearing would be dignity and thinking about the word dignity, its origin and how it applies to children and adolescents, their lives every day, how they have their own self-regard or how we build it for them as teachers and among their classmates. Also, dignity toward families, teachers themselves and community members. And part of those community members are authors.

And I think each of these persons have dignity and they're part of our classroom. Especially when I introduce students to authors, they have questions, "Where is this author from? What were they like as an adolescent?" And I try to bring in nonfiction works by the author that reveals their triumphs, their trials, tribulations coming of age, growing up.

So dignity is one. I think the second one would be maintaining hope. Young people, especially adolescents, they look toward adults, how they think, how they make decisions, what they really value and care about. And often my students will tell me, "Why did this person do that?" And I bring them the question of, "What would you do? What would you have done?" And it reveals their values, their character, and how they dignify themselves and others.

Edie:

Do you feel that these things that you keep thinking about over and over again, that there is a focus in the school with this just outside of yourself, but also within your school?

Joseph:

Yes. It appears often, and most of my students have afterschool activities. They're in sports. Some are involved in literary magazines.

Edie:

Oh, cool.

Joseph:

Some of my students are emerging poets and their awareness of literacies, of writers who stand up for honorable pages, whether digital or non-digital, that young people have access to them and that they can join the humanities, that they're part of the humanities, that we keep literacy alive, literatures, the idea to create, how ancient it is, human inventiveness, and that they're part of it across STEM, the arts, and they're held together by the humanities.

Edie:

Yeah. Yeah, that's beautiful. So I like to pivot and ask what you're reading. What's on your bookshelf?

Joseph:

Well, I love novels in verse, and I'm also drawn to literary nonfiction. Most recently I read Zadie Smith's essay about her father. It's titled Accidental Hero, and I plan to share it with my students in a few weeks. But the writer presents herself as a chronicler, an ethnographer, auto ethnographer meeting with her father, asking him about a surviving war.

What was it like? And the bigger question is, what makes a hero? The heroes sacrifice or their success. And I want to pose that to my students, especially in a time when, well, success has to have the human part in it, and often it means a care and awareness of the people who surround us.

Edie:

Yeah. So my last question for you, when you look across the spectrum of education, you think about your own experiences, what are you excited about? What gives you hope right now?

Joseph:

I think my greatest hope is that my students are able to see various worlds that exist for them to be, to exist, to contribute, to invent, and that we march on, we keep going with bravery. And at times there are people who hold us up through a safety net, but we have to stand up.

And sometimes we're bystanders, but we really need to value who we are and lift up the humanities, what it is to be human, staying alive, contributing, and that there are people who we can rely on in the journey to live, to contribute. And I'm a big proponent of the humanities. I think it really gives us a lens to how people thrive, how they survive the tribulations, and that there's always the keeping going.

Edie:

Yeah. I wonder if you would talk a little more specifically about scribal identity, theory of expression in your forthcoming book.

Joseph:

Well, I've always been drawn to the word to write. And in Spanish, the word is escribir and I've learned about the term scribe through various civilizations from Mesopotamia to the Americas, Africa. And there are societies of scribes around the world then and now. And students often resist writing. And I've learned over the years, like from Don Graves to invite students to the page, to the screen.

But today, my students are scribes. They work across various modes, multimodal experiences, expressions and audiences, and they want to write songs. They write songs, they create images, they create footage, recordings. And what I've wanted to do is document the various forms that their scribes expressive. And those expressions are ancient.

And we share a lot with a scribe [inaudible 00:08:46] in ancient Middle Eastern Jewish traditions, where the scribe is honored, this idea of a [inaudible 00:08:54] and that we're keepers of human experience, but by keeping them, we're also sharing them. They're not just archived and shelved. So the scribal identity means that the student accepts values, being a scribe in many forms and modes.

Edie:

Yeah. I love how it sort of lifts up this very inclusive definition of text and writing and expression in the world. I think that's wonderful.

Joseph:

Yes. I think of my students a practice, a metacognition, how they make their thinking audible, visible. And it isn't always on a screen or on a page. It's constantly happening, how they are perceiving language, body language, how humans interact, decisions adults make, and how they're forming their own identities in a plural sense.

When I grew up in the 1900s, there was one identity, and you stuck to it. But I always knew that as a young person, I would want to remind myself, later as a teacher, my adolescent life, that I wouldn't misremember it because that can happen. And sometimes my students say, "Mr., all the adults around us, is it that they're born and then they're old?" And I say, "No, there's something that happened between there."

Edie:

It's in between. There's something.

Joseph:

And then they'll say, "Well, maybe it was a tough teen life." And we talk about angst and look at characters in literature who have some tribulations and triumphs in becoming adult and human.

Edie:

Thanks so much. I can really feel the joy and hope. It's really palpable in this conversation.

Joseph:

Thank you, Edie.

Edie:

So thank you.

Thank you for tuning in today. For more information and a full transcript, please visit blog.heinemann.com.


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R. Joseph Rodríguez is committed to the writing lives of children, adolescents, and educators. He is the coeditor of English Journal and the recipient of awards from the National Council of Teachers of English, Research Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Division of Education Programs. He has published books, research articles, and narrative poems. Motivated by the art of teaching, learning, and writing, Joseph is a reader of diverse U.S., borderlands, and world literatures, including banned and challenged books. Currently, he is a secondary-level teacher of English language arts and reading at an early college high school and a teacher educator at local universities in Austin, Texas. Follow Joseph on Instagram and Twitter @escribescribe.

Topics: Podcast, Writing Instruction, Heinemann Podcast, podcasts

Date Published: 02/21/24

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